Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When the unthinkable happens

   There are times throughout the course of our lives when we see or hear something that shakes us to the core of our souls, and if we're not careful, it can have such an impact upon us that we can even begin to question how any loving God could allow such things to happen.

   Just recently, we all witnessed an event of this magnitude unfold before us as the news broke about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.

   I can't even begin to imagine what the family members of these little children are going through, or what they will go through in the years to come. Nothing that any of us have experienced - no matter how tragic - can even begin to compare.
   I can't even begin to understand how anyone could do somethning so incredibly evil, and I can't imagine any group of victims that would be more innocent and undeserving of such an act.

   What's equally as horrific to me is the reactions of those who would attempt to use this event as a opportunity to promote their political or social agendas within just a few days of this incident. I think of the families of these beautiful chidren, and how painful it must be for them to not only have experienced such a horrific loss, but to then see the pictures of their children being used by people who care more about their own agenda than they do about the heartache these families are enduring.

    It is out of our own anger and frustration that we respond the way that we do. I understand that. But before we even consider speaking out about what we believe the solution to this problem is, we need to first consider, and respect, the need for these families to have some privacy as they attempt to work their way through the unimaginable pain, loss, heartache, anger, and confusion they are certainly feeling.

   As I attempted to gather my own thoughts on this, I could only come up with one answer that made a difference in my mind. Would it help these families to know that answer? I don't know. At this time, probably not. But it's true, and it's comforting for me to know.

   The only way any of this can become even slightly less painful is if we can remove ourselves from the situation for just a moment and look at it from an eternal perspective. Please know that as I write this, I absolutely despise the evil act this man carried out. I can't help but to see it as the most despicable, cowardly, evil thing that anyone could possibly do.

   But know this: He didn't win. Evil didn't win. In fact, within a fraction of a second, in the twinkling of an eye, evil suffered a convincing loss. You see, these children, these completely innocent victims, are today in paradise. In Matthew 19:14, we read;

 "Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

   I didn't know the man responsible for these horrific acts, nor have I heard much about him. But judging by his actions, I think it's a pretty safe guess to say that when he took his own life, he went to a very different place.

   But here's the amazing and beautiful truth about what is the reality of today. These beautiful little children are in the presence of God Himself, where they will reside for eternity. The beauty of what they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing is just as far removed from our understanding as are the acts which sent them there.

   If they could speak to us at this very moment, I truly believe they would say something very similar to this: "It is so incredibly beautiful here.......Please know that we are so very loved, we are so very safe, and that we will never again feel pain, or illness, or fear. We are in the arms of Jesus Himself, and we can't wait till you get here so you can see it for yourself."

   I believe that they also know where their killer went, and as unimaginable as it may sound, they would want us to forgive him and move forward. After all, the evil he inflicted upon our world doesn't even come close to the evil he will be the victim of for eternity.

   We're only human, and we can only see events like this from a human perspective. It will hurt for a very long time, because these children aren't coming back. But if we believe, we will be with them again, and that will be the most beautiful homecoming we could ever imagine.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 400-lb Gorilla

   Have you ever heard the phrase "They're ignoring the 400-lb gorilla in the living room?" I'm sure you have. In fact, I'm quite certain you're heard it used on many occassions. It's a cute little phrase that causes genuine laughter whenever it's spoken. Why? Because it's rediculous. I mean, nobody could possibly ignore a 400-lb gorilla in their living room, could they?

   Can you even begin to imagine the kind of damage that a 400-lb gorilla could do if left alone to do whatever he wishes in your living room?

   Worse than that, can you even begin to imagine the kind of damage that a 400-lb gorilla could do to you and your family if you allowed it to roam free in your home? And I'm not just talking about the physical damage. Imagine the emotion and psychological damage that would be inflicted upon you and your family.

   You'd all all be living on edge, doing everything you could think of to avoid upsetting him. No room in the house would feel safe. After all, a 400-lb gorilla could make toothpicks out of any door you might install, no matter how secure it may look.

   On the outside realm of the rediculous, your only hope in being able to live peacefully with this monster would be if it came and went as it pleased. When it was in your home, you'd weigh everything you did, but if it left to go hunting (or whatever 400-lb gorillas do for enjoyment) you could walk through your home freely. Of course, you'd always have one eye on the door just in case he returned, and you'd immediately feel your entire body tense up whenever he did.

   You might be wondering by now where all of this is going. I mean, nobody here would believe for a second that I'm really trying to come up with feasible ways to live peacefully with a 400-lb gorilla, would you?

   Of course I'm not. But there are people who attempt to do so every single day of their lives.

   Rediculous! you might answer.............but unfortunately, it's the truth.

   What I'm talking about here is people who live with abuse in their homes. Be it physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional, it all has nearly the identical impact on the hearts and minds of it's victims. It's my personal opinion that psychological abuse is the most destructive, because there are no physical signs of abuse. There is no evidence that can be shown in court, unless of course the abuser is foolish enough to admit to his deeds. And trust me, they rarely are. In fact, the denial of abuse itself becomes part of the abuse.

   The sad part is that the vast majority of the people who will read this will fit into one of just a few categories. As sure as you're sitting there, you either:

1. Have been abused.
2. Are being abused.
3. Have been abusive.
4. Know a very close friend or relative who fits into one of the above categories.

   And what do all of these have in common? They are almost always ignored.........just like a 400-lb gorilla in the living room.

   Just last year, I had the priveledge and the honor of  being invited to attend an 8-week workshop on domestic abuse offered by Turning Point in Crystal Lake. Turning Point is a home for victims of domestic abuse that offers not only a home for the most at-risk women, but which also provides intense counseling, representation, and assistance to these women in a wide variety of areas.

   I learned quite a bit during those workshops, but two facts have stayed with me, and I think of them every single time I hear about domestic abuse.

1. The average number of times an abused woman will leave an abusive relationship, and then return to that relationship before leaving for good is 7.

2. The first question people ask when they hear of someone being abused is: Why does she stay there? While the question itself is understandable, it's the wrong question. The question should be: Why does he abuse?

   While this blog is far too short to cover all of the reasons for both, the short answer is this: Men who abuse do so because, deep down inside, they believe the only way the woman in their life will stay is if they assume absolute control over them as a person, thereby forcing them to do so by use of fear.
   The other side - why these women stay - can be due to one simple thought. These relationships rarely, if ever, start out by being abusive. More often than not, they begin with the abusive man showering them with love, affection, and attention.

   As the relationship grows, a cycle begins to take shape. This cycle is evident in every single case. There's abuse, followed by repentence, followed by what can be a long period of time of what can be considered as normal behavior.
   As time passes, the women in these relationships often see their abusive mate not as abusive, but as the man they first met, back when he was showering her with love and affection. Or they will see him as the man who seems to live a normal life for long periods of time. In either sense, he's not seen by them as abusive. He's seen as a good, hard working guy who gets angry at times. Unfortunately, the longer these relationships continue, the more difficult it is to end them. As the years pass, homes are purchased, children are raised, and the risk of loss becomes exponentially greater.

   But just as the 400-lb gorilla lives in the living room, so does the abusive side of the men in these relationships. The women will change their behavior, thier lifestyle, and even their friends to avoid upsetting him, and when he does become upset and abusive, they will often blame themselves for causing that behavior - just as if there really was a 400-lb gorilla in the living room, and she decided to go to the kitchen for a snack during his feeding time.

   It's long past time for us as a society to stop ignoring the 400-lb gorilla. If you're being abused, please, remove yourself from the cycle and seek out some qualified counseling. No matter how much you believe it's possible, and no matter how much you change your behavior to please him, you can't change his behavior by yourself.

   If you know someone who's being abused, please, talk to them. Help them in any way you can. But most of all, believe them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Back to square one

   I have a love/hate relationship with computers. There are times when everything works well, and I love that I'm able to accomplish the tasks they allow me to accompish. But then there are times when nothing seems to go right. For whatever the reason, my computer seems to make it's own decisions, far removed from what I'd like it to do. When this happens, I tend to stare at the screen for a few seconds, wondering what the heck is going on.
   The worst part is when I've tried everything I know to correct the situation, and the problem remains. I then do what most of us do. I go online, type in a Google search that best describes the problem I'm having, then weed through the hundreds of articles posted online until I find something that makes sense. Of course, what I've discovered is that just because something makes sense does not mean that it will correct the problem.
   If I'm not able to find the solution to my problem online, I'll ask friends who have some level of computer savvy if they know what I can do to resolve the issues I'm experiencing.

   I like to think of myself as a patient man, but I'll readily admit that certain computer problems I've experienced have made me want to open my studio window, grab my computer, monitor, keyboard, and any other items I may find on my desk, and launch them out the window, chuckling gleefully as they crash on the driveway below.

   On occassion, I've had to take whatever project I'm working on back to page one. Regardless of how much of my heart and soul I've poured into that project, it's sometimes easier to just start over than it would be to try to trace back through every step I've taken and correct each misstep. When I do this, I'll usually come across a step that I recognize as being the one that sent my entire project into a tailspin, and it all suddenly makes sense.

   When starting over, I'll usually be asked one simple question: "Are you sure you want to delete this?" I can't even begin to tell how how many times I've stared at the screen when that question has popped up and said " really." It's hard to throw away something we've poured so much of our heart and soul into.............but sometimes we have no other choice.

   Ahhhh............if only our lives were as simple as computers.

   If we could only find ourselves in bad situations, and hit CTRL+ALT+DELETE, or ESCAPE, or something, and find ourselves back at the point where a bad decision was made, fully able to start over as if what we had done had never happened, but armed with the knowledge of where we had made a wrong turn.

   Unfortunately, our lives are far more complicated than our computers. Even if we do decide to start over at some point, we'll still have to live with the heartache of knowing where we went wrong, and the damage we've done to ourselves and to others with our words or actions. We will still look back at the time we spent pursuing things we shouldn't have, and wish we would've spent that time pursuing the things we should have. We'll still have moments when we look back over the years and imagine where we'd be today had we stayed on the right path.

   Fortunately, God - in His grace - has offered us a DELETE button. He is always there for us when we feel lost and confused. He's always willing to forgive and restore us.

   No matter where we find ourselves in life, and no matter where we have made wrong turns, we can always depend upon Jesus' words written in Matthew 6:25-34

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. "

   No matter where we might find ourselves, we can always stop and make the decision to " first his kingdom and his righteousness....."

   Will this take away the pain of knowing how we have hurt others? No. Will it remove us from the natural consequences of our actions? No. But it can and will bring us back to square one in aligning our lives to the will of the God who created us.

   At that point, we can ask for forgiveness and know that He has forgiven us. And what's more, we can move forward in confidence, and when we once again come across the same step that sent us into a tailspin in the past, we can take a different step being blessed with the wisdom and knowledge that can only come from having experienced the results of our initial misstep.

Friday, November 30, 2012

My rotten, no good neighbor

   I have a neighbor who lives next door to me. He calls himself a Christian, but I'm not so sure about that at times. You see, he says all of the right things when asked, but I see how he acts and I hear how he talks when nobody else is around. I sometimes wonder why God would ever listen to him when he prays. I mean, he says and does some pretty rotten things at times.
   I know many of the people who attend his church. They seem - for all intents and purposes - to have their lives together. There's a clear indication that these people are truly following their beliefs with all of their hearts. They smile, they're compassionate, and it seems as though they really love their God.
   There's a lot of happy Christian couples in his church who show up every week and really seem to work well together. They're committed to each other, and to their faith. They sit next to each other at church, intently listening to whatever the lesson may be, and then really appear to put what they've learned into practice.
   But my neighbor? Not so much. I've seen him at his church. Often times, he looks really distracted, as if there's a million things on his mind that are drawing him away from learning anything. And while everyone else stands up to sing, he looks around the room, half-heartedly mouthing the words to the songs without really considering their meaning. His heart just isn't into it.
   In fact, on the surface, it looks as though he sits through the service every week, then immediately forgets what he was taught as soon as he hits the door and comes back home. He agrees that what he's being taught is true while he's sitting there, but then lives out his daily life in complete opposition to what he knows he should be doing................What a horrible hypocrite this guy is.........I gotta tell ya, he really disgusts me at times. I mean, how can this guy even call himself a Christian???

   Yeah, the more more closely I watch him, the more convinced I am that he's not a Christian, and the more convinced I am that God wouldn't possibly want to hear what he has to say. I'd be willing to bet that he spends a lot of time "praying to the ceiling," because there's no way that God hears him. I mean, why would He even bother?  Furthermore, I don't see any way that God could possibly use him - being the person he is.

   Do you think I'm being too hard on him? Do you think I'm being far too critical? Well, I have to disagree with you whole-heartedly. In fact, If you'll let me, I'd like to point out why my thinking is absolutely biblical, and why I am absolutely on the right track when I condemn him right where he stands.

    I'm simply following Jesus' directions in Matthew 22:37-39

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’

   You see, this isn't really about my's about me.

Did the light bulbs just go off??.......You see, if I truly "loved my neighbor as myself," while at the same time listening to the self-talk that sometimes goes on within my own mind, I wouldn't think very highly of him, would I? 

    I've heard it said that if we had a friend who talked about us the way we talk about ourselves within our own minds, we wouldn't be friends with that person for very long.

   We tend to condemn ourselves right where we stand on many occassions. How can we possibly love our neighbors as ourselves while we're continually condemning ourselves in our own minds? That shouldn't be. The only way we can possibly love our neighbors as ourselves, and to do so in the way God intended us to is if we first remember these words:

   "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." - Romans 8:29-34

   It's been said that before we can love others, we have to first learn to love ourselves. Those are very true words, but not from the perspective of thinking we're somehow better than or superior to others. Before we can truly love others the way that God intended, we have to believe that God loves us just as we are. Does that mean we shouldn't always strive to be better? Not at all. But right where we stand today, just as we are today, God loves each and every one of us more than we could possibly imagine.

   Don't ever let your own negative self-talk prevent you from believing that.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why does this guy write so much?

   I can still remember the first time I became involved in writing on a regular basis. It began innocently enough. I was involved in a football pool at work, and I thought it would be a clever idea to write a brief and exceptionally sarcastic newsletter to all of the members each week, explaining the various reasons why anyone would make the kind of rediculous picks that some of them had made the previous week.
   I covered everything from apparent psychological disorders to temporaray insanity, marital problems, and even down to what could only be explained as a lack of blood flow to the brain of the member who decided to pick the teams they had. After all, nobody in their right mind would've picked that team over the other one. I took a great deal of pleasure in offering up my own explanation as to why they had suffered from such an incredible lapse of reason.

     I wrote the fiirst one, and then passed it out to each member along with the results of the previous week. What began as my having fun (at the expense of the pride and dignity of the other members) eventually became the high point of the week for many of us. The guys involved couldn't wait to see who I tore into this week, and I know that, over time, a few people joined the pool just to become part of it.

   It was during this time that it became clear to me that I might just be good at that sort of thing. I knew this because I received very positive feedback from everyone who would take the time to read what I had written. In a very odd way, my success there eventually involved into my writing many short articles, this blog, and has even led to an effort on my part to write a novel, which is still a work in progress.

   I've written more things in my life than I can count, but I still have this deep drive to keep writing more and more. It has rarely, if ever, felt like work to me. It just seems to come naturally to me, and I enjoy doing so more than the vast majority of things I'll do on any given day.

   I've never been paid a dime for anything I've written, and that's ok with me.

   Since taking my writing in a different direction - that being writing for the sole purpose of inspiring and encouraging others within their faith - the rewards I've experienced have been exceptional. There are very few things that mean as much to me as hearing someone say: "Steve, thank you so much for writing that. I really needed to hear that today." It brings a sense of joy and fulfilment to my heart that I can't even begin to describe.

   So, what are you - the reader - supposed to take away from what I've written so far?

   It's very simple. Every week, we sit in our churches........or come up with reasons why we don't belong there. We hear people take the pulpit and talk about giving. We naturally assume that they're only talking about giving financially. This frustrates us at times, because many of us are struggling to a great degree financially. We hear the words, but we can't think of any way to give at the moment.

   But there's a gift you've been given freely, and it's one that can be passed to others with little or no effort on your part. It's the gift of who you are. It's the gift of who you were created to be.

   It means more - to someone - than you could ever possibly imagine.

   I remember way back when I was just a teenager. (Yes, I can still remember that far back) I was considering getting involved with a project that I was certain I'd be good at, but one which I wasn't sure anyone would appreciate. The mother of a very good friend overheard me talking about this, and said the following:

   "Do you truly believe that you have a gift in that area? Because if you do, refusing to move forward in it is not only robbing yourself of the opportunity to use your gifts, it's also robbing the people around you from enjoying them...........and that is extremely selfish of you."

   Those words have stayed with me for over 30 years, and they still ring true to me today.

   I have seen first hand what God can do with our gifts, if we'll just take the first step of using them for Him. The rewards we experience personally when we do so are far too great to even begin to explain. I won't know the full extent of those rewards, or how far God can take what I offer up, until my work is done here and I move on to be with Him.

   But this much, I do know: Using my gifts has never felt like work.

   What gifts do you have? How can you use them? Where are they needed most? If you ask those questions, then act upon the answers you receive, your life will never be the same, and you will never regret acting upon them

Monday, November 19, 2012

Squirrels of Worry

                It was a crisp, Fall day, and I decided to take a long walk in the park across the street from my home. Having nowhere that I had to be, and no pressing issues at hand, I wasn’t in much of a hurry. I was just enjoying the weather and getting some much needed fresh air. It’s a fairly large park, with walking paths that wind through play areas for children, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and heavily wooded areas. There were very few people in the park, and I found myself alone with my thoughts as I walked at a casual pace, taking in a deep breath every so often to enjoy the scent of nature all around me. There was a slight chill in the air. Not enough to make me feel uncomfortable, but enough to cause me to keep my hands in my jacket pockets. If I stood still and exhaled heavily, I could see just a slight trace of my breath in the chilly air. It was, in short, the kind of beautiful Fall day that many of us who’ve grown up in the Midwest have learned to love.

                As I walked along the path, I began to hear the squirrels running across the dried leaves that covered the ground. There were no outside noises from traffic or people or construction of any kind, so the sound of the leaves crunching under the feet of the squirrels as they ran across the wide open fields became more and more apparent to me.

                I then began to notice a different sound  - the sound of the nails on the squirrels feet digging into the bark of various trees as they scurried up the sides. When I first began my walk, I barely even noticed the sounds. But the longer I walked, the more obvious these sounds became. In fact, as my ears became more in tune to these sounds, the more constant they became, and what felt like almost absolute peace and quiet when I had started out had become a near symphony of sounds - some very near, some farther away, and some way off in the distance.

                As I continued to walk, I knew that these furry little creatures were running through the fields and up into trees because they had become startled by me and were simply trying to keep their distance. But as I stopped for a moment and looked around, there seemed to be literally hundreds of them. The thought occurred to me that – had they banded together and decided to take me out of the game, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I could never possibly defend myself against such a great number of these small, nimble animals with their sharp nails and teeth.

                It was at this point that an extremely valuable life lesson dawned on me. These little squirrels that surrounded me were very symbolic of the worries we all face in our day to day lives. We’re walking along, trying to enjoy all that life has to offer, and we suddenly become very aware of all of the little worries that scurry around in our lives. In fact, the more we focus upon them, the more we see and the louder they become. We sometimes begin to add them up in our minds, turning them into larger than life threats that keep us locked in fear of moving forward and enjoying our lives the way that we should. In fact, we can become nearly paralyzed in fear as we imagine all of the things that could possibly go wrong on any given day.

                It is during times like these that Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 can feel like a breath of fresh air to us.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

            The next time you find yourself walking down whatever path you may be on, and you realize that you’ve suddenly become very aware of the sheer volume of things that cause you to worry, take a deep breath and remind yourself of Jesus’ words. Don’t allow the “squirrels of worry” to change the direction of your path, or to take away from you the breath of fresh air you’ve just stopped to inhale.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'd rather just sit on my hands

   We have busy lives here in America. It's astonishing to think about - all of the time we spend chasing down various pursuits, sticking to schedules, etc.. There are many days when we feel as though we started working the moment we climbed out of bed, and didn't stop until our heads hit the pillow at night.
   Sometimes days, weeks, months, and even years go by so quickly we don't even notice how much time has passed, and in the end, another day, week, month, or year has passed and we wonder what we've done that has really made a difference in our lives or in our world.
   It's not that the things we wrap ourselves up in aren't important. We need to eat, we need to clean, we need to be productive members of society. We pour countless hours into these pursuits, many times feeling as though - in spite of our best efforts - we've ended up right back where we started the day before. It is at times like these that we can fully relate to Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes 1:2-8.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

  What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
  Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
  The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
  The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
  All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
  All things are wearisome,
more than one can say"
   As I look at my own life, and when I look at the preponderance of unecessary garbage that fills my thoughts, my hopes, my fears on a daily basis, I sometimes feel as though I've missed the whole point. In fact, when I truly focus upon that side of my life, I begin to feel an incredible draw toward getting back to basics - a draw to eliminate all that is unecessary and start over again, focusing intently on what truly matters.
   Here in America, we tend to want a quick fix for everything that ails us. We want fast food to cure our hunger, strong medicine to heal our pain, and who wouldn't love it if scientists were to invent a single pill that would cause us to lose weight, grow back our receding hairlines, eliminate all of our various sagging, wrinkles, and gray hair?
   What if I were to stand here today and tell you that if you truly wanted to do something that would change your entire focus - something that would immediately release your heart, mind, body and soul from all of the garbage that has beaten you down throughout this entire week, and something that would energize you and release a mighty work of God's Spirit within your life - it could happen for you in just 15 minutes per week? Would you laugh? Would you think I'm insane? Would you say that nothing is that simple?
   Well, it's true. Every Sunday, in every church across America, people gather together for various reasons. Some come to be taught, some come to be entertained, and some come simply because they believe that doing so will somehow gain them favor with the Lord. But there's something very wrong within many of our churches. We have somehow become a church filled with spiritual "consumers." People come with the mindset that they want to be taught, enlightened, moved, or instructed, but the vast majority of us have never been taught about the most important reason we're there.
   We can be taught countless lessons, we can be led to countless passages of scripture, we can bow our heads and agree in our hearts with what other people pray, and we can still walk away feeling little or no change in our hearts or minds. So what are we missing? What is it that we tend to disregard without much thought? The answer can be found if we ask ourselves just one simple question: What is the main purpose of our gathering? The answer can be found in Psalm 100:1-4
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
     Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
       Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
     Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name
   We are to come together with one simple praise......our.....God. How important is this, and how does God respond when we do this? The answer can be found in 2 Chronicles 5:13-14. Solomon had spent many years building the temple, but when did the Spirit of God actually make His presence known within the temple?
"The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God"
   Years of hard work and preperation had gone into building the temple, but the Spirit of the Lord didn't show up until ........."Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
   Many of us go to church every week without ever fully understanding what true praise and worship can mean in our lives. It is the true, heartfelt expression of love, honor, and respect directed toward the God we serve, and nothing moves His heart more than when His people gather with that sole purpose in mind, raising their hearts, voices, and hands in truly heartfelt praise that rises up from the core of their souls.
   I sometimes wonder how it must break God's heart to see His people sitting in His church, not feeling even remotely moved to join in singing praises to Him as those around us do. To see us sitting on our hands, looking around, waiting in the lobby until it's over, reading our bulletins, or thinking about all of the completely unecessary things that fill our minds. He is God. He has blessed us in ways we never could've imagined. Our very existence depends solely upon Him..........and yet, we don't feel any need to sing His praises. 
   We have many reasons why this isn't a part of our weekly experience at church. We don't have good singing voices, we don't feel comfortable singing in front of others, we don't care for the style of music, the volume of the music, and the list goes on and on. Many of us even feel so uncomfortable about this, we'll arrive late every week simply to avoid the whole experience. But God doesn't care about how our singing voices sound. He doesn't care if we sing off key. He doesn't care if we prefer old hymns or newer music. He simply wants us to offer Him praise from the core of our souls - and doing that for a mere 15 minutes, once per week, can and will draw Him more near to us than we've probably experienced at any time during the week. And that, my friends, can be an absolute game-changer.
   Do you want to get back to the absolute basics? Would you love to have a starting point for the upcoming week that can absolutely center you, ground you, draw you more near to God and provide you with a spiritual "ground zero" from which you can build your next week upon? It all starts there. Worship and praise is the absolute center of where we're called to be. It should continue throughout our week, but it has to start somewhere. Why not make it start this coming Sunday?  

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Election of Fools

   There are things we hear on a daily basis that we've heard so many times, we just slip right past them without giving them much thought. It's not that we necessarily believe these things to be true. We've just become numb to them.

   One of these statements jumped out at me over the weekend. During a report on the upcoming election and the impact of Hurricane Sandy is having on it, the reporter said; "Mother nature really threw us a curve ball on this one. Suddenly, all of the things we've been fighting over have become meaningless. The economy, abortion, gay marriage, none of those things matter when communities are coming together while fighting for their lives."

   Mother nature??? Really???

   I don't claim to have any inside information on what God is doing in this world, or why. God doesn't let me know ahead of time what His plans are, nor does He ask my permission before He acts. But I do know this: We have seen more catastrophic natural disasters in the past 10 years than we've seen throughout the rest of my lifetime.
   As these events occur, we hear the blame being placed on everything from global warming to Mother nature. As I've watched these stories break on the news, I've never once heard a reporter say; "Hey, this might sound crazy, but is anyone else getting the impression that maybe God is getting a little ticked off with us?"

   Before I start getting hate mail with people asking me why God would be punishing good, honest, hard working people, families with young children, etc., let me respond by saying this: We are one nation, under God. We stand together, and we fall together. We argue and debate where our country should be heading, but in the end, the leaders we elect make those decisions for us based upon what we tell them we want. If God chooses to discipline us as a nation in an effort to show us the error of our ways, He will do so wherever and whenever He chooses to do so. And yes, innocent people will be hurt.

   We've all watched as this upcoming election unfolds. We've had the negative campaigning up to our eyeballs. We see a government that refuses to deal with the REAL issues, but one that instead fights with party politics, with the only goal being re-elected for their next term. Our government, which was created with very strong Judeo-Christian underpinnings, has become utterly useless due to greed, dishonesty, and a lust for power over the people it's supposed to serve. As believers, we can see the unmistakeable truth in these words:

"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
   For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools."  Romans 1:20-22

   Yes, our nation has sadly become a nation of fools - claiming to be wise.

   Do I personally believe that Hurricane Sandy is God's way of trying to get our attention? Yes, I do. I don't think it's any coincidence that a "freak of nature" hurricane would strike at the heart of our country's economy, taking a path that hurricanes simply don't take, and right at Washington D.C., within days of what might be the most important Presidential election we've seen in our lifetimes.

   So, what can we do about this? Of course, we can vote, and we will. But the most powerful thing that any of us can ever do is to pray for our country. Pray for our leaders. Pray that God would move in a mighty way to put the people in office who will follow Him, not the most recent, trendy polls. Pray that Godly men and women will be lifted up during this election, and that we can begin the process of moving our nation back to the place where we can proudly announce that we are "One nation, under God."


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eating the Wounded

   When I was growing up, I had some very stubborn thoughts about what I would eat and what I wouldn't. Most of the time, I wouldn't eat certain things simply because of how they looked or smelled. Sure, I would hear the advice of others. "How do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?" seemed to be the most common response to my culinary prejudices. But I always had my reasons for not eating certain things, and my gag reflex was seemingly convinced that those prejudices were valid.
   Sometimes it was as simple as seeing someone I didn't care for eating those things. I would watch them enjoying certain foods and think "That's just disgusting." Somehow, in my twisted way of thinking, my distaste for those individuals would transfer to a distaste for the food they ate. Hey, don't judge me.........We all have our quirks.

   It wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I decided to try to put these culinary prejudices behind me and to start trying foods I had never tried before. In an exceptional burst of bravery, I began trying to eat things like lobster tail, sour cream, halibut, broccoli, cauliflower, etc..

   I'll be the first to admit that I was uneasy at first.......... I didn't just dive right in with a mountainous fork-full..........I took a small taste..........then waited. What I found was that I had missed out on some very good food for a very long time. So why did I wait so very long to try these foods? The answer is simple.........there was something I had seen, or heard, or felt, that made the idea of even trying these foods repulsive to me. There were experiences in my life that had shaped my thinking about these foods. There were people in my life who had said and done certain things that cemented those beliefs in my mind. There were also people in my life who had no idea how to cook or present these foods to me in a way that seemed palatable.

   I believe there are a great deal of people who feel the same way about the church.

   How many times have you heard someone say they would never step foot in any church because the people inside are hypocrites? How many times have you had someone attack your beliefs, and then immediately share with you a story of how someone, at some point in their life, had believed the same things you believe and had treated them horribly? Or had done some really horrible things to others?

   As bible-believing Christians, I believe that we sometimes act in ways that cause those who don't share our beliefs to point their fingers and say: "I would never be able to follow a God who treats people the way that I see you treat others."

   Have you ever heard anyone say: "Those Christians just think they're better than everyone else?"

   Why do they say those things? Because many times, that's exactly the way we make them feel through our words and actions. Many times, and in many ways, we reject nearly everything about them. We reject their judgement, their abilities, their thoughts, their accomplishments, you name it. We sometimes feel justified in doing so because they are not using their gifts, talents, and abilities in accordance with our own beliefs. But are they not valuable in God's eyes, regardless of their beliefs?

   In Psalm 139:13-14, it's written;

 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

   Do those words apply only to those who believe what we believe, or do they apply to every single person on this planet?

   In Matthew 11:28, we read;

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

   I don't read anything in there that says; "But until you do that, you hold no value as a person."

   You see, every single person on this planet is exceptionally valuable to God whether I agree with them or not. If God has created them, and.........."Knit them together in their mother's womb"........ and then tells them "Come to me, and I will give you rest".........then who am I to condemn them where they stand?

   There are millions of people walking this planet right now who have been wounded in unthinkable ways by people who have claimed to believe what we believe. They have experienced "Holier than thou botulism" at some point, and their belief in God has been colored by what they've experienced from those who claim to follow Him. They don't need to be rejected for feeling hurt and angry about this. We do no good in "eating the wounded."

   Every single person on this planet has exceptional gifts, talents, and abilities. They were created that way. If they come to faith, and God begins to empower those gifts, talents, and abilities with His Spirit, then we will watch in awe as we see those gifts, talents, and abilities used in ways that will have eternal spiritual significance.............But those gifts, talents, and abilities still live within these people regardless of what they believe. Why? Because that's how they were created.

   It is not our job to judge the hearts of others. It is not our job to determine whether or not their gifts, talents, and abilities are useful. It is our job to accept them, love them, appreciate them, and live our lives in a way that makes them say "Wow........there's something very different about this person......I want some of that in my life." Declaring war on them will never make them feel all warm and fuzzy about sitting next to us in church and singing songs with us.

   It is our job to show that the lives of faith we lead are palatable...........and to do all we can to avoid giving them a "gag-reflex" when they think about stepping into our churches.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Being chosen

   I distinctly remember standing in the schoolyard with a group of about 20 other guys from the neighborhood. We'd decided to play a game of kickball, but we first needed to pick teams.
   What you have to know about me is that, when I was in grade school, I was kind of in the middle of the pack as far as height was concerned. I was a bit on the chubby side. I guess I hadn't quite grown out of my baby fat yet. I wasn't what you'd call a good athelete. I mean, I was ok, but I was never one of the first kids picked.
   Whenever I'd find myself in a situation like that, my hope was always that I wouldn't be the last one picked. I didn't mind being in the middle of the pack somewhere. I just didn't want to be the last one standing.
   I do remember a few occassions when I was picked far later than I would've expected. I'd see the number of remaining players get smaller and smaller, and my stomach would knot up. Another kid would get picked, and I'd say to myself; "What?!?! You picked THAT kid before me?!? Are you kidding?!?! He's blind as a bat, crosseyed, smells like cheese, couldn't catch a ball to save his life, and his pants fall down everytime he tries to run fast!!"
   But whatever the reason, there were times like those. Times when I had to wait far longer than I'd assumed I should. Of course, whenever that would happen, I would make a point of absolutely playing my heart out to make the other team captain regret not picking me earlier. Sometimes that would work out well. Other times, I'd make a fool out of myself and get picked even lower for the next game.

   That happens to us quite often in real-life too, doesn't it? We get passed over for a promotion while somebody else we feel is far less qualified gets the job. We get laid off while others whom we've regularly out-performed remain with the company. We get audited by the IRS when our neighbors who get away with murder on their taxes are never even looked at. It never seems right or fair, but it happens all the time.

   That happens at times within our faith too, as well as within our churches. It can happen within a very wide variety of circumstances. There are people who wonder about God, not knowing exactly who He is or what they should expect of Him. They might look at others and be in awe of their faith, but remain absolutely convinced they could never be like that. Often times they will say; "Wait a minute!!.......Isn't that the guy who used to do this or that? And now he's talking about God all the time??.......They will, at times, be very skeptical of the changes they've seen......But even in that skepticism, they will still say a prayer every now and then, not really knowing if those prayers are heard, but feeling better about verbalizing them.
    There are people who are hired or elected to various positions within our churches: Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Worship Team Leaders, Youth Pastors, etc... Sometimes we're a little miffed that our guy wasn't chosen, or maybe even that we ourselves weren't asked to fill that role.
    If we feel that way about others who we see God using in various ways, we've lost sight of something very important. In fact, we've lost sight of what's most important of all.

   God's timing is absolutely perfect - Not only in our lives, but also within the lives of everyone around us.

   In Ecclesiastes 3:10-11, Solomon wrote;

   " I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

   And in Psalm 139:16, his father David writes;

"Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

   The bible is very clear that we are all called when we're called, and chosen when we are chosen. This is all in accordance with God's will, and God's timing. What's more, it is God Himself who decides who is called, so none of us might boast of being so incredible that God had no other choice but to call or chose us.
   In his book "God's Pursuit of Man," A.W. Tozer writes;

   "Not by might or by power, neither by native ability nor by training are men made apostles, but by God's effectual calling. So it is with every office within the church. Men are permitted to recognize the call and make public aknowledgment before the congregation, but never are they permitted to make the choice."

   So it should be clear that the people around you who have been called to specific tasks are there for one reason alone - because God Himself called them to do so.
   But what if you're reading this and thinking: "Steve, I don't even go to church. I haven't been to church in 20 years?" Those of you who have never felt a specific calling - those of you who have often had a feeling deep down inside that you want to know God, or want to know more about Him, but have no idea where to even start. I have some good news for you. The fact that those thoughts burn within your heart from time to time is evidence that God is calling you. How do I know this? Well, in John 6:44, Jesus said the following:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day."

   How better might one describe a burning feeling in your heart to know God better than to say you are "Being drawn?"

   So where do you go from there? First and foremost, pray. Ask God to speak to your heart. Trust me, He will. Second, get yourself a good bible. I'd personally recommend the New International Version, but that's my own preference. Third, pray and ask God to send you to the church "He" wants you to go to. Once again, He'll answer. Something will jump out to you about one or another.
   But most of all, never forget these words:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8

   God doesn't play hide and seek with people. He plays seek and find - a game where He's always standing right out in the open, but one which requires us to open our eyes and truly see Him. No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, no matter where you've been, God wants you to know Him right now, just as you are, and right where you stand. You don't have to be the little chubby kid on the sidelines any longer, hoping that you'll be chosen. If these words resonate within you, you already have been. Now it's just a matter of wether or not you'll jump into the game.



Thursday, August 2, 2012

Do Christians hate those who disagree?

   I remember when I was a very young boy watching my father paint our house. The man was an absolute master. Exceptionally talented. He carried within him an artistic ability that most people will never know.
   No matter what he set his mind to when it came to painting - be it a home or a piece of art - the end result would always amaze me. He would pour himself over every last detail until it was perfect in his eyes. While doing so, he would correct things I never knew were wrong in the first place. He just knew somehow that it needed to be better.
   One summer, when I was about 14, he decided to take me under his wing to teach me the right way to paint. I'll never forget the first time he handed me a brush and watched me as I painted the first few strokes. Before the brush traveled more than two inches, he shouted "Stop!"

   "What's wrong, Dad?" I asked as I jumped away from the wall.

   He then spoke for a good five minutes about the proper way to hold a brush, where to begin my first stroke on the wall, how the bristles should lay into the corner, how to feather the paint as to not leave excess paint on the wall, and on and on the lesson went. By the end of the day, we were both frustrated. I was frustrated because I thought he was picking on everything I did, and he was frustrated because he truly wanted to teach me how to do things the right way, knowing that if I listened, any job I took on from that day forward would not only go well for me, but the finished product would be just as beautiful as if he himself had done it.........He was right. I went on for many years after that summer painting countless houses, and recieved many compliments for the work I had done.

   I can't imagine what his response would've been had I come to him a few days later with a sponge, and said "Dad, I'm gonna use this from now on to paint houses instead of a brush. It just feels more natural in my hands."
   If I had thought that way, I'm quite certain that with enough practice I would be able to pull it off. Sure, I'd have to invent my own ways of hiding the imperfections, and the corners might be a bit of a mess, but even those could be given a bit of an artistic spin to make them look closer to the genuine article.
   He may have eventually accepted that this was just my way of doing things. He would never agree that it was the right way to do it, and he could undoubtedly show me many hard, cold facts to prove that his way way the best way for everyone involved, but he would accept that I do what I do, and accept that I'm happy with that.

   But what if I then came to him and said "Dad, this is not a's a brush, just like yours?" And what if I went further and said; "Not only do I believe this is a brush, but you have to accept the fact that it is. And furthermore, I want the schools to teach that it's a brush, equal in every way to yours. And I don't ever want it said again that my brush is in any way inferior to yours. In fact, I want stores to begin selling these as paintbrushes."

   He would probably hold up his brush, look at me very sincerely, and say; "Son, this brush I am holding was specifically and perfectly designed for one purpose. To paint. The sponge you are holding was not designed for this, but you have modified your use of it to accomplish your goal. You've done some beautiful things with it, and your work has value. But it will never be brush."

   Would I be reasonable to then call him intolerant? To accuse him of using hate-speech? Would I label him as being a bigot? Would I call his remarks "anti-sponge?"

   As rediculous as that example may sound, it's exactly what's been going on within the whole gay marriage argument.

   A quick, preliminary glance at the male and female anatomy would point out the obvious conclusion that these two bodies were specifically designed to fit together perfectly. A deeper study of the emotional and psychological qualities of each sex would show that, when approached as originally intended by God Himself, the two coming together as one become far greater than just the sum of their parts. There is an amazing interconnectivity that makes each better simply by the addition of the other.

   As Christians, we believe that the institution of marriage was not created by man. It was created by God Himself. Since we did not create it, we have no right to re-define what it is, no matter how compelling we feel our arguments might be to do so.

   Does this mean that we hate homosexuals? Absolutely not. Does this make us bigots? Intolerent? Again, absolutely not. It simply means that we believe there is a perfect union, created and ordained by God Himself, and this union is what we call marriage. It was beautifully created and ordained by a very personal, loving God, and it is the very best union known to man. It is absolute perfection. It was His gift to us, that we might know the incredible love and intimacy that can only be found there.

   For us, as believers, to be asked to agree that a relationship between two people of the same sex is absolutely equal in every way to a perfect union, created by God Himself, between a man and a woman, is simply unreasonable.  

It makes about as much sense as a young boy demanding that his father call a sponge.......... a brush.

   Does that mean that homosexuals are somehow less valuable than us? Absolutely not. Does it mean that God loves them less than us? Absolutely not. It simply means they are trying to paint a house with a sponge, and somehow they have succeeded in convincing many others that they're really using a brush, and that us "conservative brush-painters" are evil and intolerent for continuing to insist there's a better way.



Thursday, June 21, 2012

One sunset

As some of may have noticed, I've spent some time away from writing recently. This was due to one simple problem........... I just wasn't feeling it.

While that may seem like a bit of a lame, vague excuse to most of you, there's something you need to know about who I am. There's something about my mind that won't allow me to be creative if my heart isn't in it. I just can't force it. If I do, whatever I create seems incredibly shallow, empty, and hollow. I appreciate the prayers of those of you who have been praying for me. I assure you, there's not some major dilemma in my life. I just had to change my perspective.

Doing so is what has led me to write what I'm about to write, and I sincerely hope that it inspires you in some small way. If it does, then I thank God for inspiring me to write it.

So, here's my question? Is it possible to lead the most powerful, productive, influential life we can possibly live with just one simple step?...........I say yes.

Ok..........So now you're thinking I've lost my mind completely.

But hear me out...............

As I sat at work today, I opened a photo I have on my phone. It's a simple photo that I took from the deck of my home. I was sitting outside one night as the sun was going down, and I thought it was truly a beautiful sunset.

As I gazed at the photo today, a thought came to me. It inspired me so much, I began to write it down. It went something like this:

"With every single sunset we see far off on the horizon, it is setting not only on the surface of the earth, but also upon everything we've said, done, or accomplished on that day.

We will watch various sunsets with a variety of thoughts as we think back upon the day that has just passed. Some days, we'll gaze into that sunset feeling a deep sense of accomplishment and value in what we've said and done, and in how we've spent the day. Other times, we'll feel a strong sense of remorse for what we've said and done - or for what we've failed to say and do. We'll all see the same sunset..........but we'll all view it from our own very personal and unique perspective.

But the beauty is that every sunset is followed by another sunrise, within which lives a renewed sense of hope and purpose, and yet another opportunity to be exactly who God designed us to be for that day. The previous day is gone forever, but the new day has dawned.

That's how God created it to be. The day begins, and we do our work. Sometimes we do very good work. Other times.........not so much. But when that day is over............we rest........and the sun will always rise again tomorrow."

So, back to my question.............Is it possible to lead the most powerful, productive, influential life we can possibly live with just one simple step?.............Yes.

The answer?..........Live just one sunset at a time.

Is it important to plan for the future? Is it important to set goals for ourselves? Absolutely. But that's not what I'm speaking of here.

What I'm speaking of is waking up everyday, with that new sunrise, and starting with just one thought. "Ok,'s a new day. I know you're here, and I know there's work that your have for me to do. Please show me what that work is, be with me as I step into it, and guide me through it as I try to do the best that I can to please you in it."

Don't think about what tomorrow will bring..............think about how close that next sunset is, and what you want to feel as you watch it set. Taking that one simple step will never make us perfect. We will fail miserably at times. But living within that mindset, just one sunset at a time, will allow us to string each sunset together with the next one, and the next one, until they eventually create a life that's incredibly beautiful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The problem with technology

I have an extremely intense "love/hate relationship" with my electronic gadgets.

   The problem is that they will always do one of two things. They'll either make my life easier, or make it exceptionally more difficult.

   Consider my computer. Before buying it, I did quite a bit of online research using my old computer - which, btw, only cemented in my mind the need to buy a new one due to the amount of time it took the old one to pull up various websites I needed to visit.

   Once my decision was made, I went to the store and purchased the one I'm now using. I was like a kid in a candy store when I brought it home. I couldn't wait to put it together and begin using it...........Then it happened........... Before I could use it to it's full potential, I was asked a long series of questions by my precious new device. Questions such as "You have changed this setting.......Are you sure you want to do that?"

    ......................Um....................Not really..............Should I be?

    "Would you like to return to the default setting?"

    ......................Um................What's the default setting? Is that better? And if so, why?

   And on and on the questions went. But then it became far worse. After it was up and running, I had to install some of my old software that I really enjoyed using on my old computer. That's when I ran into various types of compatibility issues, out-dated drivers, loss of sound and/or video. It was maddening, but not at all uncommon. We've all experienced these things, and before we know it, the device we bought to make our lives more efficient has taken a month worth of our free time just to figure out how to use it.

   Then, just to enjoy an intense and mind-numbing exercize in futility, we give up on the computer or the software and call the "1-800-I don't speak a word of English, but I'm here to help you" hotline.

   You'd make more progress taking your computer and pounding lumps in your head with it.

   Here's where I need to make a confession. I'm one of those people who will buy something new, completely ignore the owners manual with the exception of the occassional glance when I'm completely lost, and just hope for the best. Maybe that's just a "guy thing," but I usually start out with a fair amount of confidence that I'll figure it out for myself as I go along. I mean, I tend to believe I'm a fairly bright guy..........Not a genius by any standard, but I'm certainly not stupid. "How hard can it be?" I ask myself with a confident smirk.

   It doesn't matter what the gadget is. It could be a computer, a tv, a stereo component, a DVD player, or even down to a coffee maker or  an electric can opener. I always do the same thing. I pull it out of the box and stare at it for a few seconds.........then dive right in. Part of my problem is that I'm firmly entrenched in the "instant gratification" mindset of our age. I want it working, and I want it to work NOW!!!

   How often do we do that in our spiritual lives?

   How many times have we been in situations that are difficult for us in various ways, and we just kinda wing it, hoping for the best? How many days go by when nothing extraordinary happens, and so we just go through the motions, assuming that if nothing is exploding or falling apart, we must be doing something right?

   That being said, how much more complicated is life than a computer? How much more complicated is our faith than a DVD player? How much more complicated is our God than all of the appliances and gadgets in our homes combined? And yet............we glance at our bibles from time to time, if we even do that. We offer up short prayers without giving them much thought.

   Many very wise people over the years have referred to bibles as a type of "owners manual" for our lives, and I absolutely agree with that line of thinking.

   If we truly read our bibles.............If we study them and reflect deeply upon what we've read.......If we pray for God to give us His wisdom and insight as we read and reflect, it would be like having the owners manual for our entire lives right in front of us, being explained carefully, patiently, and thoroughly by the writer Himself.

   Hebrews 4:12 says:

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

     That's not just a book, my friends.............That's a living, breathing, active owners manual that, once taken in and reflected upon, is able to "judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

    Is that what we want? Do we want God to speak to us on a level far beyond just giving us a list of rules and instructions, but as deeply as showing us the very thoughts and intentions of our hearts? That's who we were created to be.

   A.W. Tozer wrote:

   "For life we are wholly and continually dependent upon God, the source and fountain of life. Only by full dependence upon Him are the hidden potentialities of our natures realized. Apart from this we are but half-men, malformed and unbeautiful members of a noble race once made to wear the image of it's creator."

   Do we want to realize our full potential as created by the Lord Himself? Then we must take the time to read our bibles regularly. Study it. Reflect upon it. Allow God to speak to us through it. We can easily disregard this thought, believing that our lives are just too busy or complicated to do so. If we look at any day of the week, we can surely find the time somewhere to do so. And what will we be missing out on if we choose not to? The ability to realize the hidden potentialities we were created to live out by God Himself.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Does God really hear us?

How do you feel about your prayer life? Pause on that for a second before moving on and really think about it. How do you truly feel about it?

   Do you feel indifference? Do you pray at times simply because you believe that you should? Is it a chore, or some sort of requirement you want to get out of the way before going to bed at night, or before going to work in the morning?

   What is it that you believe you've accomplished after praying? What do you say? Do you speak to God as if you're reading a laundry list of requests? Do you feel as though you don't know what to say, so you find yourself cutting things off, not wanting to bother Him? Do you believe he has more important things to do than to listen to you? Do you recite memorized prayers because you believe that's what He wants to hear?

   If we're honest, we'll readily admit that we've all felt these things at times. We've all offered up quick prayers without thinking much about them. So, how do we change this? How do we make our prayer life more dynamic, richer, and deeper? How do we pray in a manner which our God would want us to pray?

   First of all, I truly believe that we need to pause before we utter our first word in prayer, and allow ourselves to meditate upon who it is we're talking to. Not to rush ourselves at all, but to truly meditate upon it for a few minutes. Jesus Himself, when teaching us how to pray, began by saying: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

   In Genesis 1, we read the story of creation. We all know the story. We've heard it a million times. God created the heavens and the earth, and then filled them with living things. Plants, animals, birds, fish, and finally humans.

   We've heard that story so many times, we sometimes flash right past those words without giving them much thought. The story has become so ingrained in us, we tend to take it for granted. We say things like "God has always been here, He's here now, and He'll always be here." We readily agree that He knows all that was, all that is, and all that is to come.

   But if we truly allow our minds to wrap around that thought, there is an obvious conclusion we should be able to draw. If, when God created the heavens and the earth, if when He created us, He knew all that was to come for the rest of eternity, then did He not also, at that very moment, create the day we find ourselves in right now? Did He not create the life we are living? Did He not create the circumstances that led us to the place where we find ourselves bowing our heads in prayer? If He created the first day, with a full knowledge of what would also occur on the very last day, wouldn't He have also created every day between the two?

   A.W. Tozer writes: "God did not create life and toss it from Him like some petulant artist disappointed with his work. All life is in Him and out of Him, flowing from Him and returning to Him again, a moving indivisible sea of which He is the fountainhead."

And also:

   "Whatever else it embraces, true Christian experience must always include a genuine encounter with God. Without this, religion is but a shadow, a reflection of reality, a cheap copy of an original once enjoyed by someone else of whom we've heard."

   This God, who created all there is, who created life itself, did so because He wanted us to know Him, to love Him, and to have a true, deep, meaningful relationship with Him as our Lord and our God. It's really that simple.

   He is not our buddy at work, or our pal at the bar. He's not a genie in a bottle, here at our beckoned call to give us whatever we want whenever we choose to dignify Him with our attention.........He is God. And yet, while being God, He "inclines His ear to us." (Psalm 116:2) 

   In Him is all wisdom, all knowledge, and every good thing. Every blessing you've ever received originated in Him. So how does this translate into our prayer life? Simple. If we'll simply pause to remember who we're talking to, it will always create within our hearts an immediate sense of awe, a deep sense of humility. But it does more. It puts our hearts in a place where we can truly hear Him as He speaks to us through His Spirit.

   In Ephesians 1:18-23, Paul writes:

   "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

   He has made available to us ".........the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe."

   This, my friends, is the God we are speaking to when we pray. He is "........far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come." And we are ".........the church, which is His body......"

   If He is far above all rule and authority, which He truly is, then He has the power to change anything and everything without even raising a hand. We need not focus upon the world, or the cares and concerns that come from living in it. We simply need to remember who He is, because who He is changes everything.

   If we approach every prayer with that mindset, we will be forever changed, and we will never look at prayer the same way again.