You gotta have heart

cliffside

…your old men will dream dreams… Joel 2:28

I sat there staring at the sky, trying to wrap my head around it. It was definitely blue, brilliant and stunning, but a blue unlike any I had ever seen before.

And the water—well, that was a whole other story. From my vantage point atop the cliff it could have been a sheet of glass stretching to the horizon; crystal clear, a little deeper blue than the sky. Sort of. Or maybe it was just reflecting the sky.

The people who name paint colors would have had a field day with what I was seeing.

Whatever the hue, it took my breath away. When I finally breathed in again, I caught the faintest scent of… something beautiful… like…

I chuckled. “I give up,” I muttered to myself. What I was seeing was vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t prepared for how intense it was. It wasn’t disconcerting—nothing had ever felt so concerting.

So I sat there—peaceful, content, oblivious to time—waiting for Him. He would come; He was why I was there. That much I knew.

And now for the rest of the story…

Holy guacamole, Batman!

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

avocado

It’s been a rainy summer here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s good, though, as all that free stuff means I don’t have to pay the city for it. While I didn’t plant vegetables this year, I did explore fruit-i-culture; more specifically, the Persea americana, commonly known as the avocado. In the process, I learned a lot about fruit bearing, both botanical and spiritual.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Avocado: you either love it or you loathe it. While there’s typically very little in-betweenism when it comes to one’s relationship with avocado, I definitely fall into that camp. To me, it doesn’t have much taste at all, kind of like eating mushy thick green air. However, I eat it all the time.

All. The. Time.

‘Cause it’s embarrassingly nutritious.

If Jesus had passed out slices of avocado along with the loaves and fishes, those five thousand people He fed would have also gotten:

  • a boost to their immune system
  • a drop in their high blood pressure
  • a little extra help fighting off 1st century cancer. (And possibly more, since Jesus would have been the one slicing it up.)

The fat it contains—and it does contain a fair amount—is monounsaturated fat, the good kind. (Never thought I would use “fat” and “good” in the same sentence.) Your cholesterol levels will thank you.

And now for the rest of the story…

Walking on Bare Concrete

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Summer is back with a vengeance — so is the need to recover from the lazy non-summer months (which in Florida, are few) and tackle long-procrastinated-on home improvement projects here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) And whether I’m having a DIY moment inside or outside, I have a lot of time to talk to or (even better) listen to the Lord. Invariably, by the time I put down the shovel, the paint brush, or the watering hose, I have an idea for a blog post.

Below is the first one for this season. Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Time has a way of getting away from me. (Hold that thought for a moment…more to come…)

The past few weeks I’ve been making final preparations for the book I’m writing. To date, I’ve made umpteen editing passes through my manuscript. I’ve also allowed 3 times that many days to go by without writing something new for Clay. (I’m not sure what 3 x umpteen equals. A scad? An oodle? A triscuit?)

Those famous, fortunate, and affluent authors who can hand a raw book manuscript over to a publishing company and then head to the beach while waiting for a formatted proof copy to come back ready for corrections and final approval don’t know what they’re missing. Or maybe they do; maybe that’s the reason they’re at the beach: they’re celebrating all that free time under their beach umbrella, waiting for their next cold beverage to arrive. The self-publishing rest of us are forced to do our own formatting and spell-checking and reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of our fledgling books while chained to a computer wishing we’d had the foresight to buy stock in Microsoft Word back when it was affordable.

In the end, though, it’s been worth every keystroke, as I’m happy with the progress on my book manuscript. I do feel bad that I put all blog activity on hold, though. My poor Facebook followers were subjected to republished versions of former posts while waiting for something new to come out. As I hadn’t sent out one of my “A new article on Clay” emails in a “triscuit,” one of my subscribers asked me if I had dropped him from the distribution list. Another friended me on Facebook just to make sure I was still alive.

Like I said, time has a way of getting away from me.

And now for the rest of the story…

In the cards

“With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

On March 14, 2012, I published my first blog post for “clay.” From the start, I felt that God’s plan for “clay” was that it would be based on my own personal experience as a fairly new Christian instead of about interpreting scripture or sermonizing. So that’s what I set out to write about.

Along about the same time, I took 40 Bible verses I had collected, printed them out on small cards, set them on the kitchen table in a stack, and started memorizing them one-by-one while I ate breakfast.

Although the blog and the memory verse project weren’t intended to be related – at least that wasn’t my plan – I learned really quickly that it was God’s plan…

The first blog post I worked on was one that I tried to write totally on my own without making sure my thoughts were in line with the Lord’s. As a result, it was awful. It was about tools and Home Depot, or something like that. I can’t recall now what personal spiritual revelation I thought I could communicate by writing about my cordless drill…

In my desperation to write something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to put my name on, I finally asked God for guidance. (More than a few people have drawn closer to the Lord through desperation.) Although asking God for guidance would have been a really good first thing to do, rather than smiting me with writer’s cramp and refusing to help me, He graciously showed me that I had just memorized a Bible verse from my stack of cards that would be the perfect inspiration for a blog post.

As a result, that inaugural post was based on the first verse in that stack of 40 cards: 2 Corinthians 4:18. It was a great verse to start with:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

At the time, God was teaching me to turn my attention away from the selfish pursuits of my old life toward the God-centered focus of my new life. So my take-away from this verse was the importance of spending my resources – personal, financial, and spiritual – on things that would have significance in, and even beyond, this life; things like writing for “clay,” being faithful and sacrificial in my giving, and seeking to live a more holy life.

With God’s help and guidance, I wrote my next blog post on the second Bible verse from the stack of cards on the kitchen table, followed by the next, and the next. (Talk about playing the cards you’re dealt…)

I thought I had just collected 40 verses that I liked; however, it became obvious that God had directed me to each of them (a perfect example of the sometimes mysterious intersection of personal volition and divine intervention). And although I had shuffled that stack of cards before setting them on the table, that by no means meant they were in any sort of random order. As I wrote each post based on the most recent verse I had memorized, I began to see God’s sovereign omniscience at work. Instead of being 40 random Bible verses, these were actually 40 verses that, over the course of this past two-plus years, were applicable to what was going on in my life just when it came time to write about them.

Tell me that’s not amazing.

All that being said, today’s verse, Matthew 19:26, is the 40th memory verse; the last card in the stack; the perfect verse to close out phase one of the memory verse project.

There have been a couple of verses similar to this one that I’ve written about (Matthew 17:20 and Luke 1:37), but the message bears revisiting. Jesus says:

“With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Simple. Straight forward. Specific. The perfect reminder that He was in control of something as seemingly insignificant as that stack of Bible verse cards: the selection, the shuffle, the timing. That may not seem like a big thing to you, but that stack of verses and the resultant blog posts basically tell the story of my life as a follower of Jesus this past two years.

Sometimes it causes me to just shake my head, speechless…

So as not to miss the main focus of what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 19:26, though, I should point out what I think is the key word in this verse: all. All things are possible. All things. There’s not a thing in the world that isn’t possible with God.

Knowing a majority of the people who read “clay” are Christians, I can just hear the “Amens” and words of affirmation go up from the crowd. “That’s right – God can do it! Just look at this entire universe He created! ♫ Our God is an AWESOME God, He reigns from Heaven above… ♪ ♫”

But do you really believe that? Before you get to the second verse, I want you to think about it.

Of course, as Christians, we talk the talk when it comes to God’s almighty abilities. But do you walk the walk? Do you really believe that anything – everything – is possible with God…?

Do you believe…

…that God can actually speak to us through the Bible? That, even being written by dozens of authors over thousands of years, it’s still His Word? That His Spirit can move in our very being and direct our actions so that we are drawn to passages that speak to us at just the right time? That it’s the only source of truth?

…that God can physically heal any illness, disease, or condition? That he can eradicate cancer cells permanently, double the pumping capacity of a weak heart virtually overnight, do away with debilitating pain?

…that God can heal the heart of a mother who’s lost her son – some might say her best friend – to a slow and heart-breaking death? That He’s able to wipe away the tears she still cries every day, years later?

…that God can awaken a country that has turned its back on Him? A country that legalizes things that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible on the one hand and criminalizes things that are straight from the pages of the Bible on the other? A country that doesn’t hold life sacred, especially the lives of those who are most defenseless?

…that God can save anyone and forgive anything, even that person you know who’s up to their neck in sexual immorality? That He can save the guy who isn’t content to merely tune religion and spirituality out, but is hateful and vocal in his loathing and disdain for it, even posting sacrilegious content on Facebook on Easter Sunday? That He can forgive the girl who filmed her own abortion and said she felt “super great” about it? Can God make these people new creations?

I have to answer “yes” to all these questions and believe that all these things are possible, as they’re representative of the people and things I’ve been led to pray for by the Lord since I became a Christian.

I’ve been praying for two individuals in particular who, if there were degrees of lost-ness, would be two of the most lost people I know. One has a vehement hatred for Christians and Christianity; the other a worldly hedonistic attraction to sexual misconduct. Over the past four years, I’ve prayed for them both dutifully.

Quite often, though, I would find myself starting that prayer for their salvation with, “Lord, even though it’s unlikely that either of these two will ever turn to you…” I considered myself just being realistic, acknowledging that I was praying for them as God had led me to while still sharing a little secret between Him and me, something to the effect, “You and I both know it’s never going to happen.”

But earlier this week as their names came up during my Prayer Time, that all changed. Just as He has done time and time before, the Lord reminded me of the verse I was in the midst of writing this post about:

“With God all things are possible.”

I won’t detail that conversation (because it was long and makes me look really bad), but before it was all over, I was already envisioning the day when one of them would come to me and tell me they had surrendered their life to Jesus, thanking the Lord for His goodness and mercy and grace. I finished Prayer Time that morning soggier than a bowl of yesterday’s cereal.

I also had to admit something to God I wasn’t aware of about myself: I didn’t really believe He was able to save everyone – certainly not those two. But I guess you could say that, one morning this past week, I learned how to pray believing. And although “possible” doesn’t necessarily mean “probable,” He showed me that betting against the house definitely wasn’t His desire for me. He expects me to trust Him, to believe He is who He said He is and that He can do what He said He can do.

This isn’t new.

In the 3rd chapter of the book of Daniel, Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown into a furnace and burned alive because they wouldn’t worship anyone but God. In verses 17-18 they told the king who had commanded that they be put to death:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not…

First and foremost, they believed God would rescue them; but the fact that He may choose not to do so didn’t challenge their faith in Him one bit. They still believed he would.

So even though God, in His sovereign wisdom, may choose not to answer my prayers for people’s salvation and healing and prayers for my country, just like those three guys in the furnace, I still have to believe He will.

I have to believe that…

…God can use His Word – the Bible – to change hearts and lives.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

…He can heal bodies…

[Jesus said:] The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. Matthew 11:5

…and spirits.

He heals the brokenhearted…Psalm 147:3

…He can awaken nations.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

…Most important, He can save anyone from anything.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Titus 2:11 (emphasis mine)

Without believing that “with God all things are possible” – and doing so with no reservation, no hesitation, and no equivocation – none of us has any hope; none of us can be saved.

Without believing that God could save the most deceived, prideful, self-centered, sinful, lover of pleasure rather than lover of God through the most unlikely but beautifully orchestrated salvation experience, you wouldn’t be reading this right now – at least not typed by me on my computer. Instead of writing a blog about my spiritual life, I would have spent the past two years using this computer to pursue activities that are unsavory, activities that I’d rather not discuss in detail. (Again, ‘cause it would make me look really bad…)

But that’s not what happened. God had other plans: he made the impossible possible. And if He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

Even if you haven’t experienced the “impossible” in your life, believe that…

“With God all things are possible.”

…if for no other reason than because Jesus said it was true. Shuffle the cards and set them on the table and see what happens.

As for me, I’m going to take Him at His word. Thanks to His doing the impossible in my life:

  • There will be more blog posts based on all new memory verse cards.
  • There will be more prayers for lost friends and family and nations.
  • There will definitely be eternal life.

Actually, I’m already experiencing eternal life – I just haven’t gotten to the really good part, yet.

But I will one day – it’s in the cards.

To the nth degree

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ephesians 3:20-21

When I was 12 or 13, my sister and I, along with my cousins up the road, created our own township in my Great-Uncle Buford’s backyard. His backyard was the perfect place for us kids to play, as he had a collection of ramshackle sheds, barns, and lean-tos he had built to hold farm tools, woodworking equipment, vegetable canning supplies for my great-aunt – basically, the random stuff old country people collected and held on to in days of “yore”.

We laid out streets on which to ride our bicycles amongst uncle Buford’s outbuildings and we each chose a profession. My oldest cousin was the banker and kept tabs of everyone’s bottle caps, our currency. (The more common the soft drink – RC Cola or Sundrop, for example – the less the top was worth. I’m sure that illustrates some economic principle perfectly – the law of soda and carbonation, maybe.) He also created checkbooks for each of us to use to draw funds from our stash of bottle caps stored in the bank vault (which, best I remember, was a shoe box).

I owned the store where I sold jars of my great-aunt’s canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes. No credit cards were accepted – mine was strictly a bottle cap-only business.

My youngest cousin was in charge of law enforcement and would stop anyone who ran one of her imaginary stop signs (which tended to move on an ever-changing and unpredictable whim) and levy some sort of fine. She was always on the take, though, and could be bought off for a couple of Nehi Grape Soda tops.

Down past the garden in a copse of pine trees, was our residential neighborhood. My dad brought us each a big cardboard box from the manufacturing plant where he worked and we cut a door and windows and arranged the fallen pine straw as best we could on our individual plots to give our kid-size McMansions some semblance of curb appeal.

Not only did these activities help develop my imagination, they kept me busy and out of my mama’s hair.

Without the internet and video games as distractions, it was much easier to develop a rich imagination that kept one from ending up on the 10:00 news for all the wrong reasons. And mine was indeed rich. In addition to being retail entrepreneur in Backyard-ville, I pretended to be a rock star and lip-synced to the latest 45s with a toilet paper roll as a microphone, built condos for my sister’s Barbie dolls out of album covers, and flew around the house wearing a super hero cape made of a bath towel.

It was never boring being me.

That imagination continued to follow me throughout my life. Eventually I traded in my cape for a drafting table and began imagining the cool house I would design and live in when I became an architect. Later, I banged out tunes on the piano, imagining the huge choir and orchestra I would conduct one day while they sang and played one of my compositions, a piece so moving and powerful that it would bring the audience to their feet in tears and thunderous applause. (One thing I never had to imagine was being overly dramatic.)

But neither of those ever came true. In fact, none of my imaginings came true: super hero, rock star, seller of canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes – none of it. Big dreams; unfulfilled life…

…At least until June 17, 2010. On that Thursday morning the faithful, loving, merciful, gracious almighty hand of the one true God (as David so beautifully wrote)…

…lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:2)

On that day I became an adopted son of God, a follower of Jesus, a Christian. Exit unfulfilled life, stage left; enter Spirit-led life, stage right-hand of God. For all my life I had imagined with my imagination and not God’s. Suddenly, anything I could ask, anything I could imagine, anything I could hope for, He could do to the nth degree without even breaking a sweat. (I realize that totally anthropomorphizes the Lord here, but you get my point.) He makes what I always thought was a vivid, well-honed imagination, sharpened from years of wishing and dreaming and flying around the house wearing a towel, look like a pre-schooler’s crayon drawing hanging next to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

God’s imagination and His ability to make it a reality is infinite – and not only as revealed in the spectacular, like the creation of everything we see, but also in the comparatively simple human things he enables us to do. Paul said it beautifully in his letter to the church at Ephesus (3:20-21):

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

(I especially like how Paul puts an exclamation point at the end.)

So keeping that verse in mind, let’s revisit my unfulfilled past life…

Designing a house? I absolutely could have done that. Composing a moving piece of music? I could have done that, too. But instead of choosing salvation by faith in Jesus early on in life and letting God work through His Holy Spirit, possibly opening up an opportunity down one of those paths or one far more fulfilling, I chose another path: a dead-end path that seemed exciting at first but ended up being self-indulgent and empty. And as Shakespeare wrote, “There’s the rub.”

Although God in His love and mercy saw fit to bring me unscathed, for the most part, through those dark times (in spite of some of my best efforts to the contrary), He let me go my own way down the path I chose – though, thankfully, not forever. Looking back now, I can only imagine (that word again) the blessings He might have had in store had I chosen a life of faith in His Son.

However, during these past four years – again, His love and mercy ever on display – He’s made up for the time I wasted by giving me opportunity after opportunity to grow my relationship with Him and take stuttering but sure steps down the path of sanctification. (Of course, He never makes me walk that path alone.)

Here are some of those steps:

The B-I-B-L-E

As Psalm 119:105 says. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” I recall day-dreaming through Bible reading before I became a Christian. The classic Bible verses were OK – John 3:16, for example – but anything that didn’t make it on a sign at a football game was of no import to me. Now, though, I can’t get enough. I’ve read it through twice in chronological order and at least that many more times in bits and pieces. (Right now, I’m doing a topical study on end-times prophecy – you know… just gettin’ ready…)

And now that I have a living relationship with the Lord, it’s never just passive reading – it’s an interactive adventure. These are God’s words, and reading them is like having a conversation with Him. Sometimes a passage I’ve read dozens of times before will suddenly hit me like a Blackjack dealer in Vegas. And when it does, it may be just the card I was hoping for or it may be the one that makes me “go bust.” (Let’s just think of that as conviction.) Either way, it’s worth the odds.

Let us pray

I’ve developed – am still developing, actually – a pray-without-ceasing kind of prayer life. I’m learning what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, and when to talk and when to listen. And when it’s time to talk, I’m learning to do just that – talk to the Lord just like I would a cherished friend. No pretense (He can see right through that); no Pharisaical pride and pomposity (nothing will shut Prayer Time down quicker than that); no pity party. Just seeking Him with simple, straight-shooting supplication, and – all too often – sorrow at falling short of what He wants for me. But He’s quick to forgive. He’s even teaching me to pray in public without my voice going up an octave from panic. (Talk about doing immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine…!)

Testify

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would be blogging about my spiritual life – I used to not even have a spiritual life. Yet, here I am, depending on God to give me the words to share what He’s done for me, writing about the day-to-day process of living out His will for my life, testifying to His ability to truly and totally make a new creation out of the vilest sinner. Because of God’s hand on my life, what I write may even touch hearts and lives, or have eternal significance, or be turned into a book. Again – immeasurably more…

Re-imagined

Because of that new-found relationship with God, I find my imagination lingering on totally different things:

  • I imagine how things I’ve read in the Bible really took place, like what that wheel within a wheel looked like that Ezekiel saw and what John heard in Revelation 10:4 when the voice from Heaven told him: “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” I’m dying to know.
  • Speaking of Heaven, I imagine what it’s really going to be like. While reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, my imagination truly soared, as he piqued my interest with his own interpretation of what the Bible says about eternity. Maybe once I’m there I truly will conduct a composition so moving and powerful it will bring the heavenly hosts to their feet. Except that any adulation will be directed to the Lord and not to me – and, miracle of miracles, I’ll be totally fine with that.
  • I imagine what it will be like when I meet Luke and Ruth and Rahab and Daniel face-to-face. Even better, I imagine that day when I finally meet Jesus face-to-face. (Actually, I can’t even comprehend what that will be like; at this point, I typically have to just stop and mull on that one for a while.)

So even though I’ll probably never become an architect, or build that cool house I imagined; even though I’ll never tear through Gotham City in the Batmobile or leap tall buildings in a single bound; even though this blog may be the most significant thing I ever do while on this earth, I have something bigger than rock stardom and composer fame to dream about – this former kid-encaped-in-a towel is now imagining what God has for him in this life and, more important, in the next.

Whatever it is, it will be to the nth degree more than I could ever ask or imagine.

Forever and ever, amen

I will praise you forever for what you have done. Psalm 52:9

Do you think about what will happen when this life is over? If Christ returns to snatch the church outta here before you finish reading this, would you – just a teeny bit – want to ask Him, “What took you so long?” I do – and I would (just a teeny bit).

Jesus’ return can’t come too quickly for me – I’m ready. I’ve taken to driving without my cruise control on so that, in the event He comes while I’m on the road, my car won’t go careening down the interstate unmanned at 65 miles an hour. I even made my sister promise to swing by here on the way up so we can go together.

There is definitely nothing holding me here. Maybe it’s an age-related thing. (Not that I’m all that decrepit – yet.)

I recall having dinner a few months ago with some 50-somethings and a 21-year-old. As everyone at the table was a Christian, conversation turned to spiritual matters during dessert. And since, at the time, the U.S. was mired in some embarrassing political stand-off or economic crisis or international scandal or the other with no relief on the horizon, the unanimous sentiment was that the Lord’s return couldn’t come soon enough.

With one abstention: the 21-year-old, who kind of gave an “I want to have my cake and eat it, too” response.

This (relative) youngster is a Christian and is prepared to meet Jesus in the air when the time comes, but is also looking forward to finishing college, starting a family, and embarking on a dream career.

And I get all that, especially from one too young to have experienced high cholesterol and creaky joints or the hopes of just going quietly one night before some dread, painful malady has you in its grip. Possibilities for the future look bright when you’re 21.

So, yea – maybe it’s age-related. On the other hand, maybe it’s that I’ve studied God’s word enough and followed current events enough to know that the future isn’t going to be all that bright. Just as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:12:

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”

Look around. In the U.S. alone, violence, greed, deceit, and sexual immorality are on the rise. In other parts of the world Christians are being persecuted – even murdered – in record numbers.

With more of “the increase of wickedness” to look forward to, who wouldn’t want to be done with this world and on to the next? (Except maybe those adding to that increase…)

Most likely, though, this fascination with the next life has little to do with age or the condition of the world and a lot to do with what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11 when he said:

He has also set eternity in the human heart…

Good answer. Maybe I’m thinking more and more about the next life simply because eternity is in my DNA. Because of my faith in Jesus, I know I will be around forever. And quite frankly, I’m ready to put on my-my-my-my-my boogie shoes and get that party started.

Which begs another question: Do you think about “forever?” I mean, exactly how long do you think that is? My initial thought is that forever is a really long time; but, at some point, it’s bound to lose any connection with time at all; it just goes on both ways with no starting or ending point – forever ago and forever after. Forever.

Thinking about it too hard makes one of my eyes twitch.

So regardless of the reason I’ve got heaven on my mind – age or current events or even my human hard-wiring that makes me want to live on – it’s important that I not lose sight of the fact that everything in this life and the next is ordained by God; and, as such, is worthy of my praise. That’s why I love what David writes in Psalm 52:9:

I will praise you forever for what you have done.

During my Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) I always thank God for things He has done, sometimes in broad strokes (“thank you for your blessings”) without going into a lot of detail. But when I stop thanking Him in broad strokes and start thanking him for particular blessings, I quickly find myself getting overwhelmed with the potential volume. (Which is actually a good problem to have.) Once this life is over, though, time won’t be an issue; I’ll have a lo-o-o-o-o-ng time to praise Him and let Him know just how grateful I am.

Until then, though, one final question: what has God done in your life lately that is praise-worthy? Although it would seem that none of us should have to think too hard about that one, sometimes the reality of everyday existence can deal us a blow.

I’ve recently been asked by a dear friend to pray for a two-year-old boy who has just been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. His father, a missionary in Ireland, has started a blog detailing this journey; a blog that’s not just about his son’s struggle to live, but one that praises God for His sovereign goodness and wisdom.

Almost every post is filled with some sort of praise: praise for barely perceptible decreases in the amount of infection in his child’s body; praise that he ate some peas; praise that his swollen face is a little less so; praise that he’s still alive.

For me, that tends to put it all in perspective. If a two-year-old eating peas is praise-worthy – and it is – I should have no dearth of things to praise God for.

If I interpret Paul correctly, one of the great blessings of heaven will be the ability to look back at this life from the other side and see God’s goodness and mercy and grace in every moment of it.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, he says:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…

In other words, I’ll be able to see everything clearly; and by doing so, I imagine I will have no other response than to start with “In the beginning” and keep on praising God forever – or until He gets tired of me. I can see it now – Gabriel will meet me at the door to God’s throne room and make up some excuse why He can’t see me…

“Hey! God said to tell you He really loves your little praise chats – He does, really – but He’s in a meeting with the multitude of the heavenly host for, you know, a really long time so can He call you? Like, maybe in a few thousand…millennia…? Great! Buh-bye, now!”

Just kidding. God will never tire of my praise – and I will never tire of offering it. (And Gabriel will never say “buh-bye.”)

The last verse of the classic old hymn of the Christian faith, “Amazing Grace,” says it perfectly:

When we’ve been there ten-thousand years bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.


So how about you? (sorry – more questions) While you may not be sitting on the curb with your bags packed waiting for the rapture express, have you at least bought your ticket? There is a lot of different thought on whether we’re actually near the end of life as we know it and, even if we are, in what order events will occur; but no one denies that everyone will have an exit from this world, whether a supernatural one or just a plain old kick of the bucket.

So do you have an exit strategy? This life isn’t all there is; and forever – however it plays out – is gonna be a while. You don’t want to spend it separated from God.

And you don’t have to. Romans 10:13 says:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Be sure that includes you. If you’re not, here’s a great resource that will answer any questions you may have:

What is the plan of salvation?

Once you get that all squared away, let me know – me and my sister will swing by on the way up and get you…

Dear Carmen

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

Dear Carmen –

You may not remember me – after all, I was just one of five American guys who built your new home in Guatemala recently – but I remember you; in particular, I remember your smile.

I remember because I never saw you without it. When you met us there on the side of the mountain that morning and told us “Si” we were building “su casa” – your house – there it was; the whole time you and little Jenny sat and watched us digging and measuring and sawing, there it was; when you loaned us a hammer when ours broke, when I saw you at church across the mountain, when we came for your house dedication service the morning before we left (and borrowed your hammer again) – there it was.

It was a pretty smile, a friendly smile. It was more than that, though. I mean, your smile was definitely pretty and friendly, but it was also… What’s the word I’m looking for? Radiant, maybe? There was a sense of peace to it, a feeling of contentment. Which, from the start, had me a little puzzled.

How to put this…

We were building you a basic 12′ x 12′ house out of wooden posts and corrugated tin with no electricity or running water on a flat spot dug out of the side of the mountain. I’m pleased with the fact that Eddie, Perry, Paul, Cliff and I made it solid and plumb and square but, when we finished, it was still just a 12′ x 12′ house built out of wooden posts and tin. Under the circumstances, your peaceful, contented smile had a sort of “what’s wrong with this picture?” feeling to it. But, in spite of a situation that to some would seem hopeless, you seemed anything but.

Maybe the Nueva Versión Internacional Biblia we gave you at your house dedication service can shed some luz. (One good thing about the Biblia – it’s full of luz.)

In Hebreos 13:5, the author writes:

Manténganse libres del amor al dinero, y conténtense con lo que tienen, porque Dios ha dicho: “Nunca te dejaré; jamás te abandonaré.”

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

You told the seminary student who spoke at the dedication service that you were a Christian – that made me muy feliz. I was so glad to learn that, because that means that Dios promise in Hebreos 13:5 is obviously the secret to that peaceful and contented smile. And even though you seem to have very little materially, you actually have la perla de gran precio – the pearl of great price – that Jesus taught about.

That’s worth infinitely more than a fancy house or a wallet full of money. I know, because I’m a Christian, too, and I don’t have either of those either. Please know that I’m not comparing my situation to yours, although I think that maybe it’s all relative. Obviously God has blessed you just like He has blessed me – in different ways, but still according to His good and perfect will.

I have to tell you something, though: while I was there in Guatemala, I struggled with trusting God to keep this particular promise. I had kind of a “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” test of faith.

It was my first mission trip and I really didn’t know what to expect, money-wise, so I didn’t bring a lot with me. I thought I had enough, but there was just so much need around me and so many opportunities to give that I wanted to be obedient to what I felt God was leading me to do and give as much as I could when the opportunity presented itself. Before I knew it I had three days left to go and all I had in my wallet was a Visa card and enough U.S. dollars to pay the toll between the airport and my house when I got back home. I didn’t have any more Guatemalan Quetzales and I didn’t see a single credit card-swipe terminal in all of Chimaltenango.

But, as you can testify, Carmen, God is faithful. He kept assuring me that He meant every word of Hebreos 13:5 – that He wouldn’t leave nor forsake me.

And He didn’t; He made sure I didn’t miss a meal:

  • Bro. Johnny loaned me a few Quetzales to tide me over, which I was actually able to use to feed someone else in the group who had also given all he had. The last night we were there, I had 40 Quetzales left and he had 5 – our bill was exactly 45 Quetzales.
  • Ellen unexpectedly bought several of us breakfast at the airport the day we left. (You remember her – she preached Tuesday night when I saw you at church. What a heart she has!)
  • Mark and Carolyn insisted on paying for my dinner in the Atlanta airport before my flight back home – again, unexpectedly, although by that time I knew what God was up to. I could have easily used my credit card, but that was just His way of using these dear new friends to drive the “Never will I forsake you” point home. (Always a lesson with God.)

I’m sure, considering your circumstances, my money woes while I was there seem blown way out of proportion; and I suppose you’re right. It certainly wouldn’t have killed me to miss a couple of meals. But that wasn’t God’s plan. His plan was to use me to testify to the richness of His blessing, the faithfulness of His promise, just like His plan for you. For me, it was a few meals; for you, it was a new place to live.

I may never see you again in this life to tell you how God used you to bless me; how He used our contrasting circumstances to remind me to, like you, trust that He will never forsake me. But I know I will see you again in a better place than the side of that mountain; a place with no need left unmet; a place where both of our little houses and empty wallets will be a distant memory.

And on that day I’ll get to see your peaceful, contented smile again; but better than that, I’ll get to see who you’re smiling at – Jesus.

I’ll be smiling at Him, too.

Until that day, Dios te bendiga, Carmen – may God bless you…

Will the real Holy Spirit please…stand up

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. John 16:13

To Tell the Truth was a television game show that featured a panel of celebrities who would ask questions of a group of three unfamiliar contestants to try and determine which one, for example, was the youngest guy ever elected governor of West Virginia or which one actually played Big Bird on Sesame Street.

The rules of the game were fairly simple: the real Big Bird had to answer each question truthfully; the two Big Bird imposters, however, were allowed to lie.

It was obvious none of the celebrities on the panel had any experience in interrogation — the show was just meant to be fun and sell bottles of Geritol. Sometimes the panel got it right and sometimes they didn’t. As a result, the imposters could win a lot of money simply because their answers sounded good.

Which begs the question: how can you know without a doubt that something is really the truth? Just like on the TV show, To Tell the Truth, it isn’t always easy; and once you turn off the TV, determining what is really the truth isn’t all fun and games. Unlike the panel of celebrities, you and I can’t always judge that something is the truth just because it sounds good.

Just ask Eve.

There she was in the Garden of Eden, the most beautiful place imaginable, with not a care in the world. Good stuff to eat everywhere, no laundry to do, perfect marriage, when she heard…

“Ssssssssssss… Did God really ssssssssssay…?”

One minute she was listening to the snake tell her what she wanted to hear and the next she was wearing fig leaf underwear and trying to hide from God. And take it from me — that never works. (The hiding from God part, that is — I don’t have much any experience with botanical underwear.)

It is possible to tell if something is the truth, however, if you know the one speaking it to be trustworthy. In my experience with the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Spirit of Truth, I’ve found Him to be all that and more when it comes to truthiness.

And while I don’t recall any deities ever appearing as contestants on To Tell the Truth, if the producers were looking for a contestant who would tell the truth no matter what, they couldn’t find anyone better than the Holy Spirit. He, of course, would have to be contestant number three. (I’ll wait…)

As long as we’re casting, they could recruit the devil to play one of the imposters, as he has no problem not telling the truth. (However, he’s pretty busy these days, so I don’t know if he would have the time.) He would have to be contestant number two, though — no way he could be number one (not on my show). Contestant number one would be someone used to shooting from the hip, like a politician.

I imagine that particular episode might go something like this…

• • •

[Camera close-up revealing three individuals in silhouette. Lights up on each individual as they speak.]

Announcer: “What is your name please?”

Contestant number one: “My name is the Holy Spirit.”

Contestant number two: “My name is the Holy Ssssssssssssssspirit.”

Contestant number three: “My name is the Holy Spirit.”

Announcer: “Two of these individuals are imposters. Only one is the real Holy Spirit — and He is the only one sworn…To Tell the Truth.”

[Cue theme music.]

“Geritol, America’s number one tonic, presents: To Tell the Truth. Now here’s your host, Joe Ravioli.”

[Cue applause.]

• • •

Now that’s a show I would like to see. If the Holy Spirit starts making appearances on TV I may have to call and have my cable service hooked back up. Imagine the impact He would have as a guest on a show like The View.

 

He certainly had an impact on me when He started making appearances in my heart. Even in the days before I came to faith in Christ, He began whispering truth to me. (If you’ve read my testimony, This is my story, you are already aware of some those truths.) He showed me that:

  • I was indeed lost and in desperate need of a savior. (True)
  • Nothing I could do — go to church faithfully, tithe regularly, sing in the choir, be the son of Christian parents — made one bit of difference in where I would spend eternity. (Definitely true)
  • The enemy was using my “pridefulness” to keep me from surrendering my life to Jesus. (True — unfortunately)

At the time, however, I found His truths to just be annoying. I was having a blast wallowing (or “wallerin’” as my Granny would say) in the muck and the mire of sin; plus, contestant number two was good at telling me exactly what I wanted to hear: “Fuhgeddaboudit — you’re ssssssaved already.”

But wallerin’ in sin wasn’t God’s plan for me (for any of us, actually). His plan was for me to see the truth of my spiritual situation and surrender heart, soul, mind, and strength to Him.

And that’s when the wallerin’ ended and new life began.

When I surrendered everything to Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately took up residence in my life, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 6:19…

…Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…

…and in His doing so, I saw John 16:13…

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

…come to life. The Holy Spirit began to influence everything I thought or did or even thought about doing. He became sort of like a spiritual barometer dwelling in me. In 1 Corinthians 2:10 Paul refers to this influence as “the things God has revealed to us by the Spirit.”

But don’t think that He works independently of God. In fact, as Henry Blackaby writes in his study course, “Experiencing God”:

An encounter with the Holy Spirit is an encounter with God. Because the Holy Spirit is always present in a believer, He can speak to you clearly and at any time.

As a result, the Holy Spirit began to reveal the truth — the true truth, God’s truth — of the life I had been living:

  • The things I was medicating myself with — whether via my mouth, my eyes, or my ears — were leading me down a self-destructive path. As a result, when the Spirit of Truth moved in He helped me clean house, both physically and spiritually.
  • The company I was keeping just helped enable my sin habit. Once I became a Christian, though, the Holy Spirit guided me to actively seek out and — for the first time ever — enjoy the company of other believers. (I’m convinced that instructions in Hebrews 10:25 about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” includes hanging out with my friend Greg at Denny’s after choir rehearsal, diving deep into some tantalizing bit of theology and annoying the server by occupying one of her tables until really late.)
  • I was using the gifts and abilities God had given me — musical, writing, intellectual — for my own glory and selfish use. But the Holy Spirit guided me to my current church home before I was even a Christian (you know, just getting a little jump on things) where I began playing piano and singing in the worship ministry. Post-salvation, He inspired me to start this blog and share what God is doing in my life. Without God speaking to me through the Holy Spirit, though, anything I write here would be nothing more than typing practice.

So speaking of truth, let’s see how the Holy Spirit is faring back on To Tell the Truth

• • •

Host: Now panel, you will each ask questions of our three contestants. Remember — only the real Holy Spirit is required to answer your questions truthfully. Let’s begin tonight’s questioning with the lovely and talented Catty Carbuncle.

Catty: Thank you, Joe. Contestant number three, does God speak to us mainly through you, or through other methods?

Number three: Through me. Even when He speaks to you through the Bible He uses me to reveal the truth in His word to you.

Catty: Thank you, number three. Number two, same question.

Number two: Occasionally He speaks through me. Sometimes, though, He speaks through psychics, mediums — even tarot cards or the horosssssscope.

Penny Crass: Really? The horoscope? I knew it!

Catty: Thank you, number two. Number one, your answer?

Number one: I’m sorry — I was tweeting my PAC. What was the question?

• • •

Since the real Holy Spirit (contestant number three) is being His usual truthful self, I imagine He’s going to receive few, if any, votes. Not because He isn’t convincing, but because the truth He reveals doesn’t sound good to the panelists…

• • •

Host: Let’s continue our questioning with Sipsey Rivers.

Sipsey: Contestant number three, when Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” was he really saying there is only one way to heaven?

Number three: Yes — Jesus said He was “the way and the truth and the life.” The Apostle Peter later said, as recorded in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Salvation by faith in Jesus is the only way.

Sipsey: Interesting. Number two?

Number two: Well, of course, times have changed since Jesusssssss said that. He is definitely one way to heaven, but there are others, like being a really good person, being kind to animals, and doing your part to save the planet. In Abominations 66:6 the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Only really bad people like child molesters or murderers won’t go to heaven.

Sipsey: Thank you, number two. By the way, I love that verse.

Number two: One of my favoritesssssssssssssss…

• • •

The book of “Abominations” — you’ll find it right after the book of “Malfeasance” and right before “1 Qualms”… Contestant number two, the old ssssserpent, is doing just what he does best — distort God’s truth. In this case though, what he’s saying goes way beyond a fib to fool a panel of celebrities. The denial that Jesus is the only way to God is a lie straight from H-E-double-hockey-sticks. Proverbs 16:25 actually warns us of hearing what we want to hear and its repercussions:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Ouch…

Every bit of truth I need to know has already been recorded in God’s word. The Bible (the real one) is many things — history, poetry, action/adventure, romance novel, guide to living the Christian life, manual on how to be saved, warning instructions — but in all these, in every word of every verse of every book, from cover to cover, it’s about truth.

And the revealer of that truth? The Holy Spirit Himself. And if He can do it for hard-headed me (and He can, and He has) He can do it for anyone.

Sounds easy, huh? But in the spirit of total honesty, it’s not. Sometimes the truth is hard to accept. Sometimes I struggle to listen with my spiritual ears and not with the ears that hear what I want to hear. Without the Holy Spirit guiding me into all truth, I may end up voting for the wrong contestant…

• • •

Host: OK, panel – it’s time to vote for contestant number one, number two, or number three. Are you all marked? Catty, for whom did you vote?

Catty: Well, Joe, I voted for number two, because he gave us so many more options for reaching God; and I know God isn’t so holy that he would keep a long-time animal lover like me out of Heaven.

Host: Sipsey, what about your vote?

Sipsey: I’m forced to agree with Catty. I voted for number two because I liked the way he quoted scripture. Abominations 66:6 is a verse I live by daily.

Host: Penny, your vote?

Penny: I voted for two as well. Anybody who knows that God speaks to us through the horoscope has got to be the real thing!

• • •

Ssssssomebody’s gonna win a lot of money.

So my question for you is this: Who would you vote for? Is the Holy Spirit guiding you into all truth? If you’ve trusted Jesus as your Savior He should be. If you haven’t, let me share what may be the most important truth in the whole Bible with you:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

And that’s the truth.

Now — will the real Holy Spirit please stand up…

• • •

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Happy re-birthday to me

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If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

Three years ago today around 10:00 a.m. EST I was reborn…became a new creation…became a Christian…got saved. No matter how you say it, my life changed in a way that I never would have imagined possible. Much of that change is discussed throughout this blog, with posts about experiencing God in a personal way, growing in faith, and truly understanding the meaning of God’s grace. If you’ve read more than a few words of “clay,” you know the changes in my life were significant.

Prior to June 17, 2010 I was mired in a life of sin. Having rejected God’s offer of salvation over and over during my 52 years—an offer I was well-versed in, as I grew up hearing the gospel preached time and again—I was without hope and bound to spend eternity that way. And, as I believe in a literal hell as described in the Bible, that’s where my rejection would have landed me.

Ponder that for a moment—I definitely have, especially today.

But there was hope—I didn’t have to continue in the life I was in; I didn’t have to spend eternity separated from God, from everything good. Because of that hope, I can spend eternity in God’s presence. If you’re not a Christian, I know it may be hard to imagine just how incredible that will be, but do this: think of the greatest thing that could ever happen to you—winning the world’s biggest lottery; being handed the keys to the house of your dreams in the location of your dreams with the car of your dreams in the garage; being able to travel the world for the rest of your life; having anything or anyone you want – and multiply it by the largest number you can think of.

Even then it will still pale in comparison to what awaits you as a follower of Jesus.

So maybe you’re thinking, “That’s fine—if you believe all that.” That’s fair and something that, on my pondering occasions, I’ve mulled over.

I would be dishonest if I said there hasn’t been a moment when I’ve thought: What if there isn’t really anything after this life? What if we die and that’s it—no heaven, no eternity? What if that’s just a dangled carrot to get us to love each other, to be good and kind, and to get us to dangle that carrot in front of everyone else?

I can say with certainty that this life isn’t all there is, but what if it were?

So what? It wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

There’s no way I would go back to the life I lived three-plus years ago. Those changes in my life I mentioned earlier have been the stuff I could only dream of before. Today, those dreams are reality. Today…

I have peace:

“The Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

I have purpose:

“My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

I have love and support, both from an army of mortal spiritual family to a host of the immortal:

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91:11

I am blessed – abundantly:

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

I have a personal relationship with Jesus:

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20

I have nothing to be afraid of:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

If you’re not a Christian, maybe you just think it’s all about the “thou shalt nots”; that you would have to give up all the stuff you like to do. Again, that’s fair. That’s what the liar who whispers in your ear wants you to think. It’s easy to buy that lie. Sin can be pretty attractive.

Granted, I quit doing some things that I knew were not pleasing to God, but they were things I haven’t missed one bit. They were all unhealthy physically and emotionally anyway, so no big loss.

So even if all I ever experience as a follower of Jesus are the things I’ve experienced so far, that would be enough to convince me to give up everything I’ve ever had, ever known, or ever been—or ever will have, know, or be.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

That’s me—a new creation. And today is my re-birthday.

• • •

Today can be your re-birthday, too. Maybe you’ve thought about it before and procrastinated, or thought you were OK, since you’re kind to animals and people and give to the Red Cross.

Or maybe not…

Do you feel a tug at your heart? An unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach that all isn’t right? A desire for more than the father of all lies is offering? A gnawing that, if something were to happen to you, you’re not sure if you would be with God forever?

It doesn’t have to be that way. All that can change right now with a simple, sincere prayer. That prayer can sound something like this:

“Heavenly father, I admit that I’m a sinner and that I’m sorry for the life I’ve lived. I believe that Jesus is your son, and that He came here to earth to live as one of us—but a perfect one of us, one of us without sin. I believe that He freely gave His perfect, sinless life to pay the sin debt I owe, a debt I could never pay on my own. I also believe that You raised Him from the dead. I ask You now for Your forgiveness of my sins. I want Jesus to be in control of my life.

“Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me and for giving me eternal life. Amen”

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• • •

To see what God is doing in my life since my re-birthday, click here or on the logo below and follow me on Facebook.

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