“Hello God…”


So… here’s a story for you.

Apparently, today…I spoke with God….ON THE PHONE!  I couldn’t believe it!  I wanted to ask him all a bunch of questions.  How long will I live?  When will your Son return?  Can you give me the money I asked for?  I had an incredible conversation with him.  He told me how big He was, how much money he makes and how he affects my entire life.  He told me that I needed to satisfy his needs.

Now before you go all crazy on me…  I did have a conversation with someone today who told me he was my god.  He told me how big he was in business, how important he was to my job and how I have to do exactly what he wants.  Here’s the reality… what he does isn’t all that.  In fact, it doesn’t affect me at all.

The problem was this person saw himself through the eyes of his pride rather than the eyes of God’s love.  It’s like this…  A person is born, lives and works in a small town.  They are friendly, successful and enjoy their work.  However, that same person only does work in that same small town.  They never go outside of that town.  As the town grows, so do they.  As the town buys, he becomes richer.  No matter what happens, everyone knows him and he knows everybody.  When someone from the outside comes into that town to try and do business with him, he refuses and begins to tell that person how important he is and how he is the only one who can help the newcomer in business.  He then compares himself to God and says how nothing happens without his knowledge and authority.   What he does is he only sees himself through his own eyes.  That is called pride and it is the cause of so many of our problems.

We have redefined pride to communicate our feelings towards life itself.  We say things like, “Have pride in your country” or “Take pride in your work”.  The problem is when we “take pride” in something, we communicate how good we are.  When we have pride in our country, we say to ourselves and others, “My country is so important and the best in the world”.  We emphasize “My” rather than “country”.  When we “take pride” in our work, we communicate that our efforts are what get us where we want to be.  But both of these understandings couldn’t be further from the truth.

The book of Proverbs has some good things to say about pride and how God views it.

“When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

“A person’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” – Proverbs 29:23

Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” – Proverbs 16:18

Pride is one of those things, we have twisted.  Isn’t “funny” how we do that?  We take the things God calls bad in life and twist the definition to fit our own desires?  We do this with literally everything.  God says to Adam, “When you eat of the fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die.”  The serpent then says to his wife, “Will you surely die?”  They focus on their desire to eat good fruit rather than God’s command and viola…we have sin.

When God tells the Israelites to leave Egypt with Moses, they do.  But when they become hungry, they focus in on their own stomachs rather than where God told them to go.  They complain about how good it was in Egypt.  How slavery wasn’t that bad.  They focused in on themselves and what they wanted rather than God’s command for them.

When Nebuchadnezzer (king of Babylon) defeats, captures and enslaves Israel, he believes that he is the greatest king to ever live.  He allows a decree to go forth to worship him and only him.  He felt he was so good at what he does that no one can touch him.  (Until God makes him lose his mind…)

Pride is no different.  God warns us that when pride (focusing on ourselves and our own abilities) enters into our life, the next thing that comes is dishonor, depression and destruction.

When we believe we are the best at what we do, we dishonor others and treat them improperly.  We communicate how good we are rather than help them at what they need.  We puff up our own ego to the detriment of the emotions of those around us.

When we believe we are the best at what we do and someone proves us wrong, we become depressed.  We go from the “drug induced’ high of pride to the “withdrawal” of depression instantaneously.

When we believe we are the best at what we do and are proven wrong, we can also enter into a destructive way of thinking.  We think to ourselves, “I am going to prove them wrong’ or we convince ourselves that they don’t know what they are talking about.  We then go after people and position in anger only to succumb to sleepless nights and people removing themselves from us.  We destroy relationships and ultimately we destroy ourselves.

Pride doesn’t build up… it breaks down.  Pride doesn’t give…it takes.  And this is the polar opposite of what God wants from us.

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” – Romans 14:19

“…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-17

We are called to build up, not break down.  We are called to encourage, not discourage.  We are called to speak the truth in love, which means we have the ability to share truth without sounding like we know everything.  We speak the truth because we care not because we have more knowledge.

When we build up, it benefits everyone.  When we build up, it gives to others out of love.  When we build up, we execute the exact evidence of God’s love and purpose in our lives.

As we build up, we no longer need the approval of others.  We no longer need to dwell on our past problems.  We no longer need to prove everyone else wrong.

Doesn’t that make you feel free?  When we forsake pride and embrace God’s love, we begin to love others by serving others.  When we forsake pride and embrace God’s will, He grows His church.  He displays His love through our acts of love and kindness.  God is praised when we obey His calling to build up.  God is honored when we help those who cannot help themselves.  God is worshipped when we surrender our pride and embrace His love.

Can we do that today?  Can we serve others and show them how much God loves them?  Can we forget about our denominational differences and display God’s love by serving side by side?  Can we admit that we aren’t the best and aren’t perfect and encourage someone who may be struggling with depression?  Can we finally show the world that what God has commanded is the best and what we desire is nothing in comparison?

Let’s do that today.  Let’s build each other up.  Let’s forsake pride and embrace God’s unconditional, always forgiving love.

God bless and encourage someone today.

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From Perfection to Forgiveness


Normally, I do not do political posts, but the last year of so, I have been watching the political climate and reactions thereof.  What I have found is quite disturbing.

What happens when one politician disagrees with another?  They call each other names.

What happens when one politician wants their agenda to pass but someone else’s to lose?  They create sympathetic stories for their specific view.

What happens when a bunch of politicians get together to question someone who has been selected for a specific position?  The politicians require perfection throughout life.

Perfection.  It’s a crazy word.  We use it when we call someone a “perfectionist”, someone who needs to have everything in order perfectly, in their eyes, otherwise they cannot proceed.  Perfection, however, goes way beyond our culture of needing our books alphabetized on our shelves, or our knick-knacks perfectly lined up on the window sill.  Perfection is something we, as human beings can never achieve.

Perfection can be defined as:

  • A condition, state or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
  • Completely and totally flawless, without blemish

Here’s a question we should all ask ourselves in the mirror at night… did I live a perfect life today?

I know I didn’t.  When I get cut off on the highway, my mind and sometimes my mouth exude “words of encouragement” – NOT!  Sometimes, when my kids say or do the wrong things and I overreact to their actions or words, I remain imperfect.

Over the last few weeks, and more so today, we are seeing, before our very eyes, the hacking of political chaos.  When one side does not want a nominee, for whatever their reasoning, they require total lifetime perfection.

It is very unfortunate that we, as a country, have stooped to the level of requiring perfection from all that we disagree with, meanwhile, we do not require perfection from ourselves.  No longer can someone make mistakes, if they don’t think like the majority.  No longer can actions be problematic, if they don’t agree with the news agencies.  No longer can our words be honest, in love, without the repercussion of persecution and name calling.  It is very unfortunate, but there is someone who does not require perfection.

Long ago, a carpenter left his family business and began to recruit people to be his students.  First, he chose someone who was a political thief.  He picked someone who stole from his own people in order to make himself wealthy all the while paying the government only what they required.  He also chose a fisherman who had a way of not keeping his mouth and sometimes his actions unfiltered.  He chose two brothers who always fought and had anger management issues.  A prostitute followed him.  A woman who couldn’t hold a relationship together followed him.  In fact, he also chose a banker who would eventually betray him.

In the same light, this same man was rejected by the political leaders of is day.  They felt that their motives, their actions and their agendas were perfect and if he wouldn’t follow their ways, he couldn’t be perfect either.  The problem was this man was perfect.  The only one who ever was and the only one who will ever be.  Yet in spite of his perfection, he does not require perfection from us.

This man is Jesus.  He died so that we may live.  He is perfect.  We are not.  He chose imperfect people to accomplish His will in this world.  This is the beauty of the Gospel.  Jesus does not require our perfection, but He requires our obedience to Him.  Part of being obedient to Him is to forgive others who have wronged us.  It is not about not suffering the consequences to their actions, it’s about the position of being human beings, made in the image of God, in need of a Savior.  Forgiveness heals both the offender as well as the victim.  It allows us to free our minds and hearts to give that person another chance.

When Jesus was asked about how many times to forgive someone, here is what He said…

“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Now that’s an odd way of answering a question but there was a reason why Jesus said it this way.  In biblical times, it was thought that if you forgave someone seven times, you were considered above reproach.  It was also understood that if that person wronged you an eighth time, they no longer were worthy of your forgiveness.  What Jesus was communicating was not to forgive a specific number of times, but to forgive unconditionally.  This means that as those who wrong us over and over again, we should forgive them over and over again.  When we do this one of three things will happen.

First, they’ll keep wronging us, we’ll keep forgiving but at some point, the relationship will fade and the two will part ways.

Second, the person wronging you will get tired of your forgiveness and will leave because their wrong will appear to have no effect on you.

Third, the person who is wronging you will stop out of guilt and will change their ways and wrong you no more.

We all want the third option, but the first two are realities as well.

Today, we are watching as Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford go before the Senate Committee to testify about Judge Kavanaugh’s actions back in High School and College.  We are watching the deformation of character from both sides, but we are not seeing acts of forgiveness.

At the same time, this should be a warning for us as well.  The sin we act upon in private, in our past, will one day surface to the top of our public lives.  Should Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford done the sinful things they both did in their former days?  No.  I feel for Dr. Ford.  But I also feel for Judge Kavanaugh.  Both are now suffering from their prior actions.  Both are trying to save their professional and personal lives by accusing and denying their actions.  The question in my mind is not whether they did those things or not.  The question in my mind is, “What about all of our public figures?  What is in their past that is questionable or rebellious that would disqualify them from their office?”

I am confident that if we were to use the same rule of judgement as we are seeing in today’s hearings, almost all of our current politicians would be disqualified from their office.  I am also confident that if our leaders were to begin showing acts of forgiveness, our country would be greater than it has ever been.

When we require perfection, we abandon forgiveness.  When we require forgiveness, we accept imperfection and embrace our commonalities rather than our criminalities.  Our country needs to be forgiven and needs to show forgiveness.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 (NASB)

We NEED to turn back to God.  We NEED to forgive others.  We NEED to look hard in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Was I perfect today?”  And if, like me, you can answer, “Not perfect”, then we have the opportunity to ask God for forgiveness.  And guess what…. He will.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9 (NASB)

God is ready to forgive us.  We just need to admit our wrongs to Him.  Once we do that, He will give us what we need to forgive others.

If you and I have been forgiven by God for all that we have done, then why can’t we show that same forgiveness to others?

No one is perfect.  No one ever will be.  Let’s begin the healing process by first asking for forgiveness, then giving forgiveness to others.  God bless and let’s forgive someone today.

Better Together


Over the last number of weeks, there has been a reoccurring theme in my everyday life…unity.

Everywhere we look, there is something or someone trying to divide us.  Whether it is CNN versus Fox News, who is for versus who is against the President, Republican versus Democrat, or one of my favorites, those who are tolerant versus those who are intolerant.  No matter where you look, there is a “spirit” of division that is increasing in strength and power and for evangelical Christians, this is becoming an increasing problem.

What problem you may ask?  Well, if you’re in any church regularly, you will find those who stand on one of the sides of the political/social fence.  The problem comes in when those same people decide to take a stand for one of those sides.  Once someone does that, another person comes around to argue how wrong the other party is.  Then over a very short period of time, this argument increases in intensity and frequency causing a division among those who are supposed to worship together.

When outsiders come in, they don’t see this behavior right away, but as they come week after week, some of them make the assumption that our churches are divided just like the rest of the world.  They question whether they should they keep coming or just stay home?  They hear about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them, but in reality, they see people who are supposed to be joyful and changed, but those same people argue over divided topics of the day.  The actions of individuals taint the Good News for plain old regular news.

So how can we change this perception?  What can we do to ensure the Good News stays good?  We need to be better together.

In John 13, we see Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet.  Then during the Passover meal, he lets his disciples know that Judas was going to betray him.  Judas immediately leaves and the rest of the disciples stay with Jesus.  Right after Judas leaves, Jesus communicates the following:

“A new command I give to you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35 NIV

Did you notice something?  This is a command, not a suggestion.  Jesus knew that his disciples weren’t going to agree on everything.  In fact, Jesus, being God, knew that over time, there would be various denominations based on how people interpret theology.  Unfortunately, He also knew that over time, the “love of most will grow cold.”  It is because of this love growing cold that division reigns and grows stronger.

So how do we love one another?  How can we show the world we aren’t like the rest of the world?  We can do what Jesus did.

Remember, right before Jesus tells them to love each other, He goes out of his way to wash their feet.  This action of washing their feet was a representation how to love, forgive and serve others.  Jesus wanted to display the kind of love we need to have with others.  First, as his new command was to love each other, he also wanted us to forgive each other as well.

Peter tried not to have his feet washed by Jesus, but Jesus told Peter that if he didn’t allow him to wash his feet, Peter could not have any part with Jesus.  Then Peter said, “Then wash my whole body.”  Jesus then reminded him that only those who are dirty over their entire body need to be cleansed.  Peter only needed his feet to be cleansed.

What Jesus was telling Peter was, “Son, I have already made you clean.  You don’t need that.  What you need is forgiveness in your daily walk.  That is why your feet are dirty.”  Isn’t that a wonderful application?  Our walk in this life is not a clean one.  Many times, we do things or say things we regret.  We shout when we should be silent.  We act when we should wait.  We look towards when we should look away.  No matter how you dice it, our daily lives need daily forgiveness.

This is where the command of loving each other comes in.  Just as Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, signifying daily cleansing, Jesus also did the washing.  When we forgive others for their sins towards us, we wash their dirty feet.  When someone forgives us for something we said or did, they wash our dirty feet.  We display our love for each other by forgiving each other.

We also display our love by forgiving the sins of others outside of the church.  If you look at any social media outlets, you will find millions of postings pointing the finger of negative news from one person or group of people to another.    We hear things like, “It’s Obama’s fault” or “It’s Trump’s fault”.  We read posts which invoke hatred rather than love.  We see images of condemnation rather than forgiveness.

Prior to Jesus’ death, he was asked, “How many times should we forgive others?  Seven times?”  In biblical times, it was thought that forgiving the same person for the same sin seven times was enough grace and mercy.  However, Jesus had a different idea towards this.  His reply was, “Seventy times seven.  This is how often you need to forgive.”  It wasn’t the number that was important but the idea of forgiveness.

We can’t keep track of how many times we forgive others, especially, if it is continual.  Jesus knew this.  So he gave the disciples a number they couldn’t comprehend, according to their tradition.  The disciples immediately knew that forgiveness should be unconditional and ever present.

What would our society look like if we stopped all the division and presented a pattern of forgiveness?  Forgiveness to those who sin against us over and over again.  Forgiveness to those who display hatred towards Christ and His church.  Forgiveness that is unconditional and ever present.  How would our neighbors react if our display of love went beyond those who look or act like us?  Forgiveness is not just for those who attend church, but it is also for those who are lost.

We also display our love towards others by serving them.  Jesus served his disciples.  He didn’t want them to wash his feet.  He wanted to wash theirs.  This meant that as a leader, He was willing to do the dirty work, while others reap the benefits.

Imagine if churches today, served their communities.  What if the church went out of its way to serve the community they worship in?  In biblical times, the temple was the epicenter of society.  Everything revolved around the temple.  Markets were all around the temple for travelers who couldn’t bring their sacrifice.  People met, worshipped, talked and lived around the temple.

In Acts 2, we find the early church serving their community while meeting in the temple for worship.  What would our communities look like if we centered everything we did around the church?  It used to be.  What would happen if we tried this again?  How would the people in our community react?

Down the block from my church is a Sheik Temple.  No matter what time of the day or evening, there is always hustle and bustle around their temple, why?  Because they believe in community living.  They live, work and shop in places owned by them.  They know that if they support each other, they also support their local temple.

This was the early churches mindset.  The early church went out of their way to help others.  They took care of those who were left for dead.  They adopted unwanted children.  They gave to those who were in need.  They supplied the needs and cares of those they lived among.  Why don’t we do the same today?  It is because we have forgotten the new command Jesus gave to love each other.

When we love each other, we will have a tendency to forgive and serve each other.  Once we do that, we then move into our communities and forgive and serve them as well.  In this way, we display the kind of love Jesus commanded and when outsiders see this, they will know we are His children.

However, when we share hateful, hurtful or condemning words, we prove to the world, that our form of Christianity is no different than the rest of the world.  Our calling was not to stand up for one political agenda or another.  Our calling goes beyond the boundaries of the United States.  Our calling goes into all the world.  Our calling is to love one another and love the lost.

We are called to live lives that are different than the rest of society.  One way we can display that difference is in loving each other, loving outsiders and serving our communities.  Once we get a handle on that, then we can discuss the differences.  Only when we display our love towards all and serve all, can we understand that the things that divide us are not meant for our good, but are meant to destroy.

Live different lives.  Live better lives.  Live unified.  Know that we are all better together when we love others just as Jesus Christ loves us.  God bless and encourage someone today.

Like our Fore-Fathers


Have you ever read something and just can’t get it out of your head?

Yesterday morning, as I was doing my devotions, I read through Amos 5.  Although the entire chapter was intriguing, I found a few of the verses quite compelling to my mind:

“Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?  It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him.  Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20 NASB)

It wasn’t the prose that gripped my mind, but it was the essence of what these words mean.

At this time, Israel had rejected God and gone after idols and sensuality.  They had rebelled against the very one who had rescued them time and time again from their enemies.  The kings of Israel had decided that it was better to lead the people in the ways of immorality, idolatry and ignorance.  They had experienced the temporary happiness of wealth, wine and women and forsook the eternal joy of their Creator.

However, even though they had forsaken God, they still observed the “rules” and “traditions” contained within the Torah.  They completed the festivals, burned the offerings and did each task as required, but their mindset was one of rote instead of gratitude.  We know this by God’s reaction to them in the next few verses:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24 NASB)

The Israelites continued to worship in the methods and traditions they always had.  They completed the tasks and rituals they were supposed to.  They sang the songs and recited the prayers as they had always done.  However, their hearts were not present.  So why did this grip me the way it did?  Recently, as I study church history, I noted a pattern within the church that is exactly the same in ancient Israel.

There are two topics here that are very prevalent within today’s church.  The first is concern with the End Time events.  When will the Lord return?  When will the rapture take place?  When will God’s judgement be poured out on sinful mankind?  These are the questions of today.  We discuss, debate and degrade each other when we cannot come to a consensus.  We concern ourselves with the details of the events, the bewilderment of figurative or contextual language.  We look toward the sky and cry out to God about the sins of the earth.  We sing the songs of the Psalmist and shout praises from the mountaintops.  Yet in all of this, we forget the heart of God and where His heart remains; for the lost.

This is not to say that the topic of the return of Christ isn’t important.   It is.  Paul, John, Daniel and others examine the events surrounding this time, which is yet to come.  However, as we read through the text, we seem to forget that it is not a time to rejoice in, but to mourn.  We mourn because those who reject Jesus Christ as Savior will suffer His wrath and eternal damnation.

God had picked Amos, the shepherd, to proclaim His words to His people.  God wanted Israel to know that the day of the Lord is not something to look forward to.  It is a day to beware and mourn, a day of reckoning and a day where people will run from one tragic event to another, only to find themselves in the grips of death.

Amos said the day of the Lord is like a man who fled from a lion but meets a bear as he flees.  Or after he flees the bear, he runs home, exhausted only to lean on the wall to be bitten by a snake.  Then the venom of the snake rushes through his body and courses through his veins.  It begins the process of breaking down blood cells, killing the coagulation agents and finally killing the tissue it comes in contact with.  It is a time of great suffering for those who do not believe.

We have forgotten the love, grace and mercy for the lost.  We proclaim about injustice in the world.  We cry about our rights being taken away.  We shout against Republican or Democrat, Socialist or Communist.  We forget that it matters not what party you belong to, what color you are or what social environment you are a part of.  What matters are there are lost people who don’t realize that they are headed toward eternal separation from God.

It is when we forget about the lost, that God deems our worship invalid.  When we forget the lost, our songs are just noise from our lips, not making any sense nor pleasing to the ear.  When we forget the lost, our offerings are rejected and not used, our sacrifices are looked upon as dung.  When we do not have the heart of the Father, there is no use in our worship, no worth in our worship.

When I look at social media, I find many who proclaim the rights of American over the love of Christ.  Many proclaim the evangelism of democracy rather than evangelize the lost, showing that the love of democracy supersedes their love of God.  This is the basic definition of idolatry.

Like Israel, we have a golden calf.  I love my country and know beyond any shadow of doubt that this is the greatest country in the world.  I love the stars and stripes, Old Glory.  The red stripes representing the blood spilled to unite our country and fight the tyranny of England.  However, I love the stripes of Jesus Christ all the more.  His blood which was spilt to save us who are lost.

So how do we solve this dilemma?  How do we change our mindset and actions?

First, we must repent.  Repentance is turning around and walking the opposite direction we have been going.  We must forsake our idols which so easily entangle us both individually and corporately and turn around toward the cross of Jesus Christ.

Second, we need to study.  Scripture has been given to us for our benefit.  It proclaims the love and redemption of God and provides us insight into how to proceed in sharing God’s message.  It warns us, encourages us and teaches us about the wonderful saving message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Third, we must pray.  Simply put, praying is how we communicate and commune with God.  It is how we cry out to Him when we are hurting.  It is how we proclaim His glory.  It is how we intervene for our loved ones and it is how we show our concern for the lost and our enemies.  Prayer is an essential part of our daily lives.

Fourth, we must fellowship with other believers.  This is more than just spending time together.  It is an intimate process.  Because of Jesus Christ, our lives are intertwined with each other.  We are now brothers and sisters.  Regardless of our looks, cultural background or past experiences, we are family and are to care for each other.  We are to share our struggles, confess our sins and encourage each other into a closer relationship with God.  Without fellowship, we deny ourselves the necessary nutrients for our spiritual bodies.  We starve ourselves from the relationships God desires us to have with each other.

Lastly, we must reach out.  This is more than just sharing the Gospel.  It is getting involved in people’s lives that are lost.  It is caring for those who don’t care for us.  It is loving those who have been deemed unloved.  The best example of this was Jesus Christ.  He ate with the dredge of the earth, tax collectors, adulterers and sinners.  He healed those who were hurting and freed those who were slaves.  Like him, we too must not be afraid to associate with those who are hurting, with those who are hungry and with those who are thirsty for something more than just this life.

The Scriptures have warned us.  We are not to be so enamored by arguable doctrines rather we need to be enamored by sharing the heart of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.  As we move away from our idols and toward the cross, we will find that the things we once fought for are just like a dust in the wind.  We will find ourselves loving others as Christ loves us.  We will find ourselves serving others and sharing the Gospel with those in need.  We will find that our own hearts and those of our churches will once again be transformed because of the renewing of our minds.  We will find that all we stand for can be solved if we just place our trust in Jesus Christ and His mission, to seek and save those who are lost.

God bless and encourage someone today.

I Survived and Lived to Grow – #isalt


As I lay in the hospital bed, I could not help but think, “Will I ever be able to use my hand and leg again?”  When the doctors checked for feeling, I could feel the pressure of the needle but my body would not react to its force.  Depression began to worm its way into my psyche.   The doctor had told me that I would probably get most of my motion back but could not guarantee it.

After my release from the hospital, I continued to drag my right leg and watch as my right arm flapped in the wind.  Depression continued its work.  I began to wonder what life would be like with one less arm and one less leg.  No matter what happened, my arm and leg would be a reminder of my stupidity that fateful night, the night I was hit over the head with a hammer.  During my internal battle of and sorrow of “Why me” syndrome, I was reminded of my past.

When I was younger, I had made fun of people with physical disabilities.  It wasn’t because I enjoyed it, but rather to hide the pain inside of me for being different than other kids.  Instead of feeling compassion, I was a fighter.  I physically fought others for many years.  In my mind, if I made fun of others for their problems, mine would just go away.  However, I was so wrong about that.  Here I was, disabled, possibly permanently and began to understand the hurt and pain I once caused in others.

It was then I decided to plead with God.  I asked Him to give me back my leg so that I wouldn’t have to drag it everywhere, but if He felt I didn’t need my hand or arm, He could keep that.  Although I continued to fight the depression and anxiety of PTSD, I also knew that God would answer me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted.

The very next morning, I got up out of bed and realized something incredible.  I didn’t have to drag my leg anymore!  My prayer had been answered.  I was able to skip, hop, jump and walk like I did before my “accident”.  God had given me back my leg.  My hand and arm were a different story.

As time went on, I went to physical and occupational therapy for my arm and hand.  Today, I have full motion of my arm and most of the motion in my hand.  It was in this very situation, God taught me “I survived and lived to grow.”

Most of us survivors will wonder and ask the ‘why me’ question.  Why did I survive?  Why didn’t God take me?  Almost always the ‘why me’ question is not one of selfishness or pride, rather it is a way which we express our desire to grow.  We want to grow.  We want to become better than we were before.

Psalm 1 shares this very thought of living to grow:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Have you ever gone camping and looked at a tree that grows next to a river?  Usually, the root structure is deep, the tree is properly nourished and if it is a fruit bearing tree, the tree has good juicy fruit.  If you look into the reason why, it is because of its deep roots.  The deeper the roots of a tree grow, the more likely it will withstand the hurricane force winds when the storm comes.

The same is true for us.  When we survive tragic events, if we have shallow roots, we will sway with every emotional thought that crosses our mind.  If our roots are deeper, we may falter with our emotions for a short time, but ultimately, we will stand tall once again after the storm is done.  We do not survive because we have deep roots, we survived so that God can teach us something and make us grow.

Just as the Psalmist stated, if we do what is right, if we avoid sin and if we read and study His word, our roots will grow deeper and our lives will become healthier.  This doesn’t mean we will heal physically completely, but it does mean that our mental and emotional state will be better because we have grown to trust in the Lord.  When we trust in Him, our lives will prosper.

When you have an opportunity, read Psalm 1 but also read Psalm 116.  The writer of Psalm 116 clearly shows how focus on the Lord is the very reason why we survive.  Below is an excerpt from Psalm 116…

I love the Lord, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

 

When God spoke with Jeremiah, he stated the following in Jeremiah 26:11 (NASB):

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

God never intends for us to continue to suffer in the midst of our tragedies.  God intends for us to grow from our situations and grow closer to Him.  God does not intend to hurt us, in fact just the opposite.  God wants us to understand that He has a plan for us.  It is a plan to allow us to grow, bear fruit and help others with similar situations.  Growth is not something we do, rather it is the result of our relationship with God.  When we get closer to Him, we grow.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we grow.  When we read, study and pray, we grow.  When we let go of the feelings and emotions that keep us slaves to our situations, we grow.

Our lives have a purpose.  God desires for us to walk with Him toward His plan for our lives.  The question becomes what we will do with what we have been given.  As survivors, we have a unique opportunity to positively affect others through our growth.  We can express our compassion, explain our lessons and encourage others to continue to fight in this battle of survival.

Recently, the subject of growth has come up again.  Over the last few weeks, our church has seen two of our oldest trees collapse from wind and rain.  In both situations, little to no damage occurred but one of our Elders noticed something.  He stated that both trees didn’t have a good root structure.  Their roots were too shallow.   If the trees had deeper roots, then the tree would not have fallen.

The same holds true for us.  As we grow from our situation and grow toward God, we will discover at one time our roots may have been shallow, but now they begin to grow deeper toward the nourishment that God provides.  However, if we reject this growth, if we reject His plan for prospering us, we will end up like the fallen trees with shallow roots.  On the outside, we will appear healthy, but because our roots are shallow, our lives will fall and potentially hurt others.

If we grow in our relationship with God and move our lives closer to Him, He will give us water and nourishment which will make our roots grow deeper so that when tragic events occur, we will be able to withstand the storm.  The question becomes what will you do next?  Will you allow your tragic event to become a crutch toward depression or will you grow from it so that God can show His love toward others who are suffering the same way?  It’s your decision.  What will you do?

To hear what our pastor shared with us concerning growth, just use the link below:

https://www.facebook.com/lifechristhope/videos/1022463191227667

God bless and encourage someone today.

I Survived and Lived to Forgive – #isalt


On June 4th, 1993, I went to bed as if it were any other night.  As I slept soundly, I suddenly heard the scream of my mom as she burst into my room yelling, “Someone is stealing your car!”  This must be a dream.

I jumped out of bed and ran towards the door.  I thought to myself, “This must be a dream and if it is I can do anything and not pay for the consequences.”  Running out the door, I began running toward the street.  As I approached my car, I saw the figure of a person halfway inside my car.  I yelled an obscenity or two and decided in that moment, that I would kill who ever this person was.  It was my dream, so I would have superhuman strength to overcome my foes.  As I came to the passenger door of my car, the person suddenly stood up.  There was no where he could go.  I had him.  All I had to do was to grab him and snap his neck.  Then I would wake up and I would chalk this up to another nightmare.  As I went to lunge toward him, I hesitated for a moment.  It was in this moment, that my dream would change my life forever.

As I woke up from my dream, I heard a voice say, “One, two, three, lift.”  I couldn’t move.  What was happening to me?  Why couldn’t I move?  I began to scream out and fight my restraints.  The voice said to me, “Joe, if you don’t calm down, you will die.”  It was then I immediately realized, my dream was not a dream at all, but my reality.

I could feel my heart pounding through my chest.  One EMT was working on me, while the other drove, racing me toward the hospital.  Was I going to die?  Why me, why now?  I hadn’t even begun to live yet.  I cried out to God, “Lord, please don’t let me die today.  Please calm me down.”  No sooner did I utter these words that I felt a hand upon my shoulder.  I suddenly had a peace I could not explain.  Immediately, the EMT uttered, “Whoa.  What just happened?”  When I asked him what happened, he said, “Your heart rate just went from critical to normal.”  Then a song entered my heart and I could not help but sing, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way.  To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

I knew I had a long road ahead of me, but I also began to understand what forgiveness was about.  But what about those who did this to me?  Could I really forgive them after what they did to me?  It was then I was reminded of what Jesus had done for me.  His life was filled with helping others, loving others and spreading the Good News to those around Him.  Yet in all of this, there were still those who wanted Him dead.  They beat him, laughed at him and beat him some more.  They took his tattered and torn body and hung it on a criminals cross.  In all of this turmoil, in all of this strife, He still uttered these words as He looked toward heaven, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  How could I do no less?  How could I not forgive them?  Maybe they were on drugs.  Maybe they had been convinced that the criminal lifestyle was their only choice.  Either way, I was lost at one time.  I was violent in my younger days and yet in all of this, God still forgave me.  It was my responsibility to show them the love of God in the same way, by forgiving them.

Our tragedies are not there to make our lives easy or simple.  They are situations which are there to teach us valuable life lessons.  Sometimes we have placed ourselves into those tragedies by our bad decisions.  Other times, we are placed there by other individuals.  No matter how we enter into those tragedies, we need to realize there is a greater plan for our lives that we may not fully understand.  For me, I needed to be reminded of the valuable lesson of forgiveness.  In Matthew 18, Jesus taught this same lesson to his disciples:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” – Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

Right after this, Jesus tells a story of a man who owed his master a lifetime of debt.  The master forgave him of his debt, yet when someone owed this same man a day’s wages, he became violent and refused to forgive the man of his debt.  At this, the master heard about the man and threw the man in jail because of his lack of compassion that was shared with him.

What I found astounding about this story is that Peter did not ask about forgiving strangers.  He asked about forgiving his own people, his brothers and sisters.  Yet Jesus shares a story about a master and a servant.  This leads me to believe that Peter and Jesus were on two very different pages.

I think Peter thought that he was asking a great question.  He probably thought to himself, “Well if I forgive my own people seven times for the same sin, then I must be a good person.”  Yet Jesus’ response was quite different.  Jesus responded “seventy-seven times”.  What Jesus was saying was, “I know you think you’re being a good person by forgiving seven times, but really you should forgive them every time.”   In some translations, they record Jesus’ response as “seventy times seven”.  Either way you look at it, Jesus wants us to forgive unconditionally and freely.

Not just that, but Peter thought his question was supposed to be for those he knew, his friends and family.  I’d like to think that Jesus was using His coaching expertise when He responded to Peter.  Instead of answering Peter’s question concerning his friends and family, he told him a story about a boss, his employee and a stranger.  Jesus wanted to let Peter know that it doesn’t matter whether you know the person or not.  It doesn’t matter if they are your employee or your boss.  It doesn’t matter if they are family, friend or stranger.  Forgiveness is to be given out to everyone.  No one is beyond forgiveness.

When the criminal, on a cross next to Jesus, repented and asked Jesus not to forget him, Jesus responded, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.”  In his last dying breaths, Jesus forgave a total stranger who deserved his punishment.  The criminal deserved to die for whatever he had done.  His punishment was just, yet in all of this Jesus still forgave him.  AMAZING!

Likewise, we need to forgive those who’ve wronged us.  We need to forgive them like Christ has forgiven us.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (NIV)  Jesus expects us to forgive each other.  We need not to hold any grudges.  Holding grudges will only lead to more pain and suffering.  Haven’t we suffered enough in our tragedy?  Haven’t our anxieties, our fears, our anger toward others been enough pain?  Then why not forgive?

To get us from a place of fear, anxiety and anger, we need to forgive.  Forgiveness is not a simple step we take, but is a lifestyle which Christ commands.  Forgiveness is how we view the other person in light of Christ.  Even if the person is unrepentant, our job is to see them as Christ desires for them with His forgiving heart.

This world is filled with people who refuse to forgive.  If you take a look at the news, you will find person after person who refuses to forgive others.  Our society is treading down a path of unforgiveness, so it is now our time to shine!

We not only need to forgive others because it was commanded, but we need to forgive others so that the light of Christ may shine!  Yes it is true that our situations may be tragic and life altering, but that doesn’t mean we can’t shine in this time of darkness.  The light of Christ can shine through the darkest of times in the darkest of places.  The light of Christ can show the world forgiveness is possible regardless of our past or current situation.

Yes forgiveness is hard but it is so worth it.  When you forgive others, you will have a peace you won’t be able to explain.  It took me a while to discover this.  Even after I left the hospital, I got so angry at times that I literally beat a tree with a baseball bat.  One year later, that same tree died.  I thought I killed it.  But yet again, God reminded me that forgiveness is necessary.  From that point forward I decided to see people in light of Christ.

We are all lost at some point in our lives, yet Christ saved us.  We all do something that is sinful and against all that Christ stands for, yet Christ forgave us.  We all think we are in control of our lives, but through our tragedies, Christ still guides us.  We all suffer in this life, yet Christ still reigns.

Don’t allow your tragedies to stop you from forgiving others.  Don’t allow the anger, fear or anxiety to define your future.  Allow Christ to show you that you are worth the effort and in return show others they are worth the effort by forgiving them.  Forgiveness happens when we give up our anger, fear or anxieties to Christ and in return, He teaches us how to forgive those who have tragically harmed us.

Remember, you and I survived and lived to forgive.

God bless and encourage someone today.

#isalt


Have you ever wondered if tragedy in our lives were meant for something bigger?  What if the terrible circumstances we faced was simply a lesson to teach us?  How does depression, anxiety, cancer or other life problems play into our happiness and joy?  Do you believe God has forgotten about you during the dark times of your life?  Does the darkness in your life create a sense of hopelessness rather than hopefulness?  Have you ever asked God, “Why is this happening?”  If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked these questions and more.

If it tragedy hasn’t happened to you already, don’t worry, it’s coming.  Tragedy happens to all of us.  Whether we find out our child is a drug addict to our spouse cheated on us.  In more recent days many have had the horrific experience of trying to hide or escape from an active shooter.  Others have been told that they only have a few months to live.  Maybe you have been falsely accused of a criminal act and are in the process of trying to rectify your situation.  Regardless of your tragedy, does it control you or do you grow from it?

Many years ago, I had to face similar questions.  I was sent to the hospital due to a hammer blow to my head.  After my stay in the hospital, I had to deal with the post-traumatic stress that ensued.  For months, I had to deal with the anger and fear of hearing ambulance sirens.  I even beat a large tree in front of my parents’ house with a wooden baseball bat (a year later that same tree died…maybe I hit it too hard…).  I had to deal with my past actions, my present situation and my future all within a short period of time.

Like most people, I have had to deal with seeing someone die, a child needing surgery, the loss of a close friend and relative(s), car accidents, anxiety/depression and unemployment, just to name a few.  However, within all of these circumstances there were valuable life lessons to be learned.  Sometimes, it was to trust God more.  Other times it was to point out areas I needed to clean up in my life.  Yet no matter the tragedy, no matter the lesson, I survived for a purpose.

#isalt is an acronym for “I survived and lived to..”  Yes, the rest of the sentence isn’t there.  I did that purposely.  Why?  Just because you survive something doesn’t necessarily mean you understand the reasons.  What do you do with your experience?  How do you handle the tragedy and help others?  Do you help others or do you wallow in the fear and anxiety because of the tragedy that befell you?

This series will hopefully help you not only to understand the reason for the tragedy but also move forward from it.  Tragedies should not hold us back from moving on.  They shouldn’t create a sense of paralyzing fear but rather a sense of purpose.

Our lives have a purpose.  You and I have survived all this time for a reason.  There is a purpose for our lives, whether we believe it or not.  The question is, what are you going to do with your tragedy?  Will we recognize the purpose or just live with the pain?  How can we move forward in the mist of the tragedy?  Hopefully, #isalt will answer at least some of these questions.

Beginning next week, you will see titles with the (#isalt) next to it.  As we move forward together, I will be tweeting using #isalt to make it easier for you to see.  If you’d like, please share a snippet of your story so that others may benefit from knowing that we are not alone.  We are survivors.  We are loved.  We are created in God’s image and He has a purpose for our lives.  We live so  that others may hear the wonderful story of the love of God, through Jesus Christ.

God bless and encourage someone today.

#isalt