Let’s Get Real!

I’ve got nothing against Santa Claus really. He seems like he is a pretty good guy, rewarding good kids and sternly disapproving of the bad ones by dashing their hopes and dreams of Christmas morning treasures by issuing them a simple lump of coal. He lives in a place no one else really wants to live, maybe it is for privacy or maybe because he got the place super cheap.

He hires elves to work for him; he may or may not be an elf himself. I have heard he was but most of the movies show him as a regular-sized guy pretty much on the fat side.

He works hard all year to carefully craft the highest-quality toys to give to the kids that are deserving.

He gives coal to the bad kids.  I have no clue where he gets the coal. Maybe he owns a few mines and sells the coal through the year to finance this enormous toy-making operation.

No, I’ve got nothing really against Santa, well, maybe one thing. He is fake. He doesn’t exist. He has never existed in anything even close to what the stories say. So yeah, I have a problem with Santa. He is not real.

I know, it is June. Why am I thinking about Santa? Well, I am not really thinking about Santa. I am thinking about Jesus.

From a young age I was taught about Jesus. I was taught about Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, John the Baptist and all the rest of the characters in the bible, big and small. I learned the stories of the perfect life of Jesus. I learned the stories of greatness and of failure of the other biblical characters. They are great stories. They inspire me and encourage me to be a better person.

But recently, I have found that no matter how much my life had changed because of God’s Word I still had a problem with it. Deep down, in a way I didn’t want to admit, I felt they were stories.

I didn’t think that they were stories like Santa Claus where one day I wake up and dad says, “Son, there really isn’t a Santa Claus. But be a good boy anyway because it is the right thing to do.” I believed these stories were from God but I always insulated them from true reality.

When I saw the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’, I saw gore and ugliness that events like whippings and crucifixion really entailed. It really didn’t quite break through for me, though. It was just recently that I began to change the way I viewed God’s Word.

These stories are real. I need to slow down and really picture what happened in them. Jesus didn’t die in perfect camera angles with perfect lighting and scene composition. He died the way men die. It was creepy. He was hanging on a cross, bleeding real blood. He felt pain, unbearable pain worse than I have ever experienced. It wasn’t a movie scene; it was a brutal example of how men can hurt other men.

John 19:18There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

There they nailed him to the cross…how many times have I read and heard those words and quickly registered a brief glimpse of what might have happened according to my semi-make-believe frame of mind.

But those words aren’t a fairy tale or a fable. Those are harsh reality. Men actually nailed, they took spikes of metal, and drove them through another man’s flesh and into a wooden beam. Blood poured out. Cries of anguish and groans of intense pain filled the air. This really happened. It happened as sure as the Nazi prison camps exterminated millions of Jews, as sure as a heart attack gripped my grandfather’s chest and stole his last breath, as sure as a brain tumor took away my best friend after torturing him for months and months.

This “story” is real. The entire bible is real. I can’t read it like it is allegory or a giant book of parables and fables. These things happened here on this earth.

2 Timothy 3:15 You have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

It is time for me to look at the scriptures differently than I did as a kid. I was taught them, but they must be applied to my life, not because it is a good idea and so that I can be rewarded when I get to heaven. They are real. My salvation is real. I won’t wake up in heaven one day and hear the bible was all just a good book of stories. It is God’s history with mankind, written to teach me what is true and to help me see what is wrong and teach me to do what is right.

God, help me to grasp the reality of your Word! Place it in my heart and make it a part of who I am. Teach me all the things you desire for me to learn. Amen.

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Does God Goof?

When the Jewish people got their first king, they got a guy that looked like he was going to be a great king. Saul was anointed by God to be king of God’s chosen people. They got a tall, good-looking guy. They got a brave warrior. He could do it all. He was the total package. Surely, this was going to be the guy that led Israel into greatness.

1 Samuel 9:2 His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.

1 Samuel 9:21 Saul replied, “But I’m only from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel, and my family is the least important of all the families of that tribe! Why are you talking like this to me?”

He was humble too! Yeah, this had to be the perfect king.

But this was not the case. Saul disobeyed God and fell into a life of jealousy and insecurity.  Saul’s track record of being a good man, of being humble, wise and courageous fell apart as he became vengeful and afraid. Saul had been divinely anointed and failed. He had lost his kingly swagger and become just a guy that was in way over his head. He even had a medium try to call his dead mentor back to life for advice.

1 Samuel 28:15 “Why have you disturbed me by calling me back?” Samuel asked Saul. “Because I am in deep trouble,” Saul replied. “The Philistines are at war with me, and God has left me and won’t reply by prophets or dreams. So I have called for you to tell me what to do.” 16 But Samuel replied, “Why ask me, since the Lord has left you and has become your enemy?”

Had God made a mistake? Did God say, “Oops! My bad!” and then anoint David? Of course not. Even now I can’t see all of the reasons God did what He did. But the Israelites were people and people want a king that looks like a king. They wanted a king with the bloodlines of a king.

They knew what they wanted in a king and God knew what they would accept in a king. They weren’t ready for a David with a sketchy family tree and a very unkingly appearance. But God worked everything out so that the shepherd boy became king. If David was here talking to us right now, he would tell us that it was all God…even the Saul years.

I have to tell you, sometimes life looks exactly like I think it should look. All is right with the world. I can take pictures and they look right. I can go through my day and it feels right. I wonder how God could make it any better than it is. Things are just the way God intended them to be. That’s about the time I find out that some part of it isn’t what it seemed to be at all, it blows apart and nothing looks right or feels right anymore. I catch myself wondering what God was thinking. Did He goof?

Galatians 3:8 What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.”

God is doing so much more than I can possibly comprehend. Everything He has done had been to fulfill His plan to restore and perfect us. His plan for each of us is intertwined in its tiniest details. When everything blows up and things get tough it is all about me and it is all about everything else all at the same time.

Job 34:12 Truly, God will not do wrong. The Almighty will not twist justice. 13 Did someone else put the world in his care? Who set the whole world in place? 14 If God were to take back his spirit and withdraw his breath, 15 all life would cease, and humanity would turn again to dust.

God is handling all of my world, all of your world, all of the world of the ones I love even if they don’t want Him to. There is no stopping what He does, there is no wrong in what He does and there is no weakness in what He does.

God, help me see you above the disappointment, fear and selfishness that clouds my views of what You are doing in my life. Remind me that You make no mistakes and You are not going to break or falter. Amen.

Welcome to Rock Bottom

Last night I spent a couple hours with a guy that is currently sitting in a painfully uncomfortable place many people refer to as “rock bottom”.  So, me and a few friends pulled up seats next to him in a place we once hoped we’d never return to and we talked.

I can recall rock bottom, the place that holds an uncounted number of unwanted conversations, lots of thoughts that scare me to think I once considered them sane, pain on the inside that hurt so bad I could feel it physically and no hope, not one iota of hope.

I remember sitting there with no hop at all and thinking, “If I ever get out of here, I’m never coming back.”

But last night I returned as I had many times before, not as a broken and hopeless man, but as a ray of hope.

See, I wasn’t pulled up from rock bottom to sit in my house and enjoy life in front of the TV or to keep my lawn mowed or to sit in church and look all churchy.

God pulled me out of that place so that I could spend time being filled with hope and light and return to that very place and empty myself of it there for the hopelessly lost.

Matthew 25:44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

I’ve often been guilty of looking at someone in need and thinking, “What can I do?”

Sometimes the answer is nothing.  But last night, I was called back to rock bottom to sit beside someone and offer my hand to show them the way out, offer my shoulder as a place for tears, offer my heart to show them love and offer my scars to show them healing.

It is so easy to hold back and take the old approach, “You made your bed, now lie in it.”

Even though I made that bed myself and lain in pain, guilt, regret and remorse thinking that tomorrow isn’t worth living, I have had the gall to think I shouldn’t get myself dirty trying to lift another out of that turmoil.

But every time I offer my hand, I am not just putting a hand out to another, I am guiding that hand into the hand of God.  I am showing that person that there is grace, enough grace, more than enough grace to cover all the mistakes, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the darkness that is pulling them past the point of no return.

No one deserves that grace.  I didn’t.  Yet it is freely given and I have the opportunity to share it if I am man enough to do it.

Matthew 25:45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

No, Jesus didn’t save me from myself and bring me here from rock bottom to never return.  He put me in a mission field to reach those that others find unreachable.  If I refuse, I am refusing to put my hand in the hand of Christ.  By reaching out to the least of these, Christ reaches out to me.

Misguided by Math

A friend of mine wrote the other day about how math misguides our minds in following Christ.

In math, two negatives make a positive.  I lived my life this way for decades.  If someone did a negative thing to me, said something negative about me, took anything from me, looked at me the sideways or just rubbed me the wrong way, I reciprocated in kind, performing a negative back hoping for a positive outcome.

That NEVER worked.  It hardened my heart toward others, made me think that hurting other people is usually justified and took up a lot of my time with me attempting to right the wrong in my life by doing wrong.

It is utterly stupid logic.  It works in Algebra class but not in life.

Another mathematical fallacy in my Christian walk is that if I give myself away to God, I have less.

I have less of some things for sure, guilt, hate, anger, fear and a whole list of other wonderful past times that I really wish to disengage from.  But by ridding myself of those things I have more.

Those things consume me, making me less.  So, by holding back from God and keeping what I perceive to be mine and not God’s, I allow myself to be eaten away by the cancerous parasites that go with it.

Matthew 10:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?  Is anything worth more than your soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. 28 And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” 

I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to gain the whole world.  At this point, all I really have is what Christ has provided me.  My efforts have been great but my reward has been small.  But Christ in me has flourished over the last several years.

I have so much more by letting go of all.  Christ’s words ring true throughout my being.

Yet, another mathematical conundrum arises.  If I give all, have I given all?  It seems that once I have let go of everything, there is more left to give.  I am blind to what I hold back from God until I release the things that block my vision.

But, it seems so much easier, more natural to let go now because he has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I empty myself of me, he fills me with himself.  But he even goes beyond that, he permeates my being.  I am still me, but I am the guy he created me to become.

Math is great for a lot of things but math logic does not apply to my spiritual life.  I have to replace my tendency to write equations that complicate my life and make it less than it should be.  I need to live by God’s word and his promises to live a life abundant in him.

When Greatness Arrives

Everyone has their own view of what greatness is. My views on greatness, as I suspect rings true with most people, are weighted heavily in favor or what I am not. In my eyes, I have never achieved greatness and at my age, the opportunity to taste greatness has probably passed me by.

David was called by God as a young boy and by the age of thirty had been established by God as a superstar in the kingdom of Israel. Jesus had completed his ministry here on earth just a few years over the age of thirty. Paul had written five or six letters that would become books in the New Testament by the time he had reached my age.

Greatness for me seems to be a fleeting ghost that appears vaguely in the corner of my eye and vanishes before I can look it right in the eye. It seems to only show itself to a select few and even fewer can grasp it and hold on to it long enough to experience it. So life gets kind of boring and I fade into mediocrity accepting the inevitable mundane existence God has doomed me to.

I have to be honest and admit that my desire for greatness often is driven by pride and when I didn’t get the greatness I desired I blamed God and got mad at him. I have to keep His Word in my life in order to keep my thinking right about things like this. Greatness isn’t about being better than everyone else. Greatness isn’t about human feats of strength or writing deep and meaningful literary works or even being a great leader of men.

Greatness comes to men, not when they are standing tall and conquering the world but in their time of suffering and loss, in the midst of their weakness and when they have nothing left to lose.

Christ showed the pinnacle of greatness that is known by man, not by conquering a world of people that had turned their backs on God, but by giving His life to make a way for them to find God.

Paul was found traveling on the road to Damascus by God, knocked to the ground and struck blind until he could finally see the way to greatness.

David was taken from a field watching sheep to stand before a giant and slay the enemy to show the world that there was greatness in him and that he would be Israel’s greatest king.

So where does that leave me? Where is the greatness God has for me? It is seldom too late to find the greatness that God has for me. Nebuchadnezzar, say that five times real fast (no that won’t make you great but it will definitely tangle your tongue), was called to greatness in a dream. Daniel told him what the dream meant.

Daniel 4:27 ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.’

Here was King N’s call to greatness. He was given a chance to repent and be merciful to the poor. But the king would have none of that and he lost the position of greatness in the land.

Daniel 4:33 That same hour the judgment was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws.

The king of the land went nuts and lost all he had. Then at the very darkest moment, he found greatness.

Daniel 4:34 “After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal.

Daniel 4:36 When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before.
37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.”

He became a king that served his kingdom. He didn’t achieve his success until after he lost it all. For me to achieve greatness in the Kingdom of God I have to lose it all. I must seek greatness that is not glorifying me but demonstrates the greatness of the one who lives within me. I must crumble and fall apart to let His Glory be the greatness that will be my legacy.

Philippians 2:5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

After a lifetime of botched attempts at greatness in the Kingdom of God driven by pride and self-gratification, six years ago, I lost it all. I lost the desire for everything I held as meaningful and started to rebuild. Men may never see the greatness that God is placing in my life. But I now know where greatness is and that to achieve it I have to continue to let go of everything, everyday to touch it.

Psalm 145:3 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. 4 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. 5 I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. 6 Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness.

David found his greatness by writing these words and living them. David found his own greatness to be meaningless. The greatness of the one that He served was where his strength came from.

God, humble me, even though I may lose all. Take away my desire for prideful and self-serving adulation of men. Be the greatness inside of me. Amen.

Doing My Job

Occasionally, I run across people that are employed in a job where their primary function it to be nice to the people they deal with that are terrible at carrying this function out. I feel like they say, “Here ya go, now, go away!”

There have been times that the person was so rude that I asked for a manager. Once, I found out the offender was the manager and he didn’t want to hear my complaint. I don’t go to that place of business any more.

Sometimes, a person can’t help but point out to you through their actions that they are bad at their job, or maybe they are just burnt out and just don’t care. I’ve gone through some times that I really didn’t want to talk to other people and just wanted to be left alone to do my work. That’s why it is probably best that my primary function is geeky engineering stuff and not spending the day on the phone answering questions or handling an endless list of complaints.

In fact, I have the ability to do more than become unhappy with someone doing a bad job. I can find something wrong with someone doing an OK job. Not only that, I can usually find something to complain about when someone is doing a great job. Just the other day, I mentioned that a guy was enjoying his work too much. How is that even possible? My complaining nature found a way to express itself even though the young guy was doing the best he could possibly do to make me happy. I can be a real jerk sometimes.

I really need to cut people a break. Sometimes I rationalize and say they don’t deserve it but really, how can I possibly know what that person deserves? Besides, do I really want people to give me what I deserve? What others deserve is a good rule of thumb, I guess, if I am only receiving grace from God that I deserve but I don’t deserve any of it. Nada.

Galatians 6:4 Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5 For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

What would happen if I applied the standards I hold others to in my own life? I have to be honest here, my work would improve. I’d stop cringing when certain extensions popped up on my work phone and I’d be more interested in helping than cutting the call short. I’d realize that even though my day is going kind of crazy and I am having a little trouble coping, I am still obligated to treat others with respect and kindness. I’d walk in the door at home in the evening and not be filled with anxiety when I find out that my work day isn’t really over.

Paul tells me not to pay careful attention to what others are doing, or even to pay careful attention to what I am doing. He says to pay careful attention to my work. Honestly, I’d rather pay careful attention to vacation but that is only a small part of my year. It is my work that sustains my household and pays the bills and if I don’t make every effort to do it well, I become sick of it. I become judge and jury at work and when I do that, I don’t get much done and subject myself to the judgment of others.

The more I read God’s Word, the more I notice scripture I once glossed over. I really didn’t want to pay attention to one that told me to work and to do that work better and to basically shut up about the job everyone else is doing. I guess that is why for decades it seemed like God’s blessings in my life didn’t seem to apply to work.

Galatians 6:7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.

I’m learning that going through God’s Word and picking and choosing what to accept and what to throw out is pretty much mocking the justice of God. I’ve been guilty of more or less rewriting the Word of God to suit my vision of what I want God to be like. So I’ve spent a lot of time harvesting a distaste for my work, dissatisfaction, anxiety, worry, disappointment and a complete lack of contentment. That’ll make a person hate work.

Lately I have been taking God to work and trying my best to follow his guidance for work. I still have a lot of decades old bad habits but work isn’t scaring me anymore even though at times I am overwhelmed by my days. I’m getting more done and spending less time being unhappy with the work of others.

In a few minutes, I’ll hit the shower and head to work. I’ll be expecting some good harvest today.

A Great Big Dose of Forgiveness

I am really in no mood to write about forgiveness. I am more in the mood to write about mixed martial arts or World War II. I’d rather sit and watch a couple of revenge movies and watch some bad dudes get what they have coming to them. I’d like to hear about bad things happening to evil people.

So, I guess I need to think about forgiveness. Recently a friend of mine said, “I know I need to because I really don’t want to.” He was talking about something else but I have had that on my mind and realize that it applies to several parts of my life. Today it applies to forgiveness.

Romans 7:15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

Forgiveness is one of those things that I tend to think I can put off. In fact, I enjoy putting it off. I hang on to the wrong someone else does and hate them for it for a while. I think I deserve to feel this way because I have a valid reason. I know this isn’t true anymore. I know what holding on to hurts can do to me. God tells me to get up and get on with forgiveness and reconciliation.

Matthew 5:22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Refusing to forgive takes me down a treacherous road. It takes me down a road that I have proven too clumsy to navigate. It takes me into darkness. Darkness has been a really bad place for me. It has nearly claimed me as it own swallowing me into its mystery and terror. I have to flee from darkness and stay in the light if I want to continue to grow in my relationship with God and all the others He has placed in my life. Forgiveness can restore the light where darkness is creeping back in.

1 John 2:9 If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.

I don’t believe that I can judge someone and proclaim them not a Christian and hate them. Hate is a virus that, once allowed to live inside me, spreads to all regardless of faith or favor. Hate knows no bounds and desires to take over my life. It must be pulled out by the roots and cast into the fire.

Hebrews 12:15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

I surely cannot allow bitterness into my life. It doesn’t just affect me. I will spread it about like wildfire. Others will be consumed by it and distribute it and I will destroy the peace of many.

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

This is going to be a hard day for me as I work toward forgiveness. When I forgive someone once, I must prepare to forgive them over and over again. I cannot do this on my own but only through Christ living inside me. I tend to hate and want revenge. He forgives and makes a way for reconciliation. He is my only hope today and every day.

God, make me more like you as I struggle to forgive others. Help me forgive even those who don’t deserve it, those who hate me in return, those that continue to do me wrong and those who mock me.

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

A Gift of Peace

When I was in eighth grade I asked my parents for a gift for graduating from junior high. We didn’t really graduate from junior high school but I saw something about graduating from junior high on TV, maybe it was ‘Leave It To Beaver’ or maybe even ‘The Brady Bunch’, and as the end of eighth grade approached I thought it sounded like a great idea for me to get a gift.

I surely deserved a gift of recognition for enduring the hardships of my first eight years of going to school. As I sit here I don’t remember many things about the eighth grade that made it stand out from other years other than I didn’t get suspended from school like I did in seventh grade even though I did spend more time in detention.

So, I guess since my parents were so glad I didn’t get suspended again they agreed to buy me a gift after I finished that school year. I don’t know if my siblings took advantage of this gift-getting opportunity. They should have since I paved the way for them to get some good stuff out of mom and dad. I was the oldest and had to set precedent for them to have it easier than I did growing up. Sometimes it worked the other way, though, and mom and dad had to be harder on them so they couldn’t get away with the stuff I did. That’s probably how it worked most of the time.

The gift I wanted was a Garcia Mitchell 300 reel on a six foot long Garcia Conolon rod. I know you must be shocked that I wanted a fishing rod and reel. The reason I wanted this particular one is because that is what my Grandpa had. I got that reel and spooled it up with line and used it for many years. I have no idea where it is now but it was always one of my favorite gifts ever. I caught a lot of fish on that set-up just like Grandpa had with his. When it came to fishing, I wanted to do it one way, like Grandpa. This gift made me feel like him when I stood out there on the pond bank early in the morning, especially a few years later after he died.

A couple years before this I changed my perspective in what gifts I asked for. I quit asking for toys and started asking for more things an adult would like. Hot Wheels became less desirable and something to play music on became more desirable. A cassette tape recorder was my weapon of choice for music, no CD’s or MP3’s had been invented yet. My desires began to mature and it was reflected in the gifts I received.

When I became a Christian, I heard that God wanted to give me gifts. I have never been shy about asking for things and so I asked for things. God has always provided me with what I need and more. It wasn’t until the last few years that the gifts I asked for really began to change. I have been asking for Hot Wheels and GI Joe’s. Those things only last for a while and then I would have to ask for a new toy. It became time, actually it was long past time, to ask for things that would endure, things that will change my life and the lives of others.

Lately things have been going against my grain. I am in a constant state of discomfort because I cannot see how God is going to work some of the situations in this world and my life to any good at all. So I have been approaching God asking for a few things which have not necessarily come in abundance but they have met my needs.

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

I am afraid, discouraged, weak and beaten down. The gift I ask for is simply what God promises He will do for me. This is life-changing. I know it is. It has changed me.

Philippians 4:7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

To experience God’s peace that no man can comprehend, to be guarded by it makes it possible for me to face today and not fear tomorrow. I am so thankful for what God does for me on a daily basis. Even though people may fail me, situations and circumstances do not go my way, possessions break and are tossed into the garbage, God is here for me.

He is here.

He isn’t far away watching helplessly as I struggle. He isn’t crossing His fingers hoping that somehow I can find the courage to make it to Heaven and see Him face to face.

He is here.

No matter how I feel, how tired I am, how weak I am or how hurt I am, He strengthens me. He holds me up though I should have already fallen. He is victorious and He is seeing to it that I will be victorious as well.

God, please help me to know these things, not just in my head but in my heart and soul. Help me to know them just as I know that my heart will remember how to beat and my lungs will not forget how to breathe. When I know these things I will have your peace. Amen.

John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

A Cat Story

I remember back to some point in junior high school that we got a cat. This wouldn’t have been a big deal because we had cats before, lots of cats. This cat was different. It was a Siamese cat that was going to live the privileged life of actually being inside the house.

From day one this was the most comical cat we had owned. I really appreciated the way it would hide and wait until the perfect moment to jump out and attack just when it would cause the most possible stress on a person’s heart. It would run at its victims on its hind legs pawing at them with its front “hands”.

Thankfully, claws were not involved in this game. Otherwise the attack might have ended with a kitten being launched through the air off the top of a foot. We named the kitten “Pillsbury”. She was a pretty good cat for a cat and the whole family at least liked her and some even loved her. It is funny how something as rotten as a cat can become part of the family.

One day she got outside and didn’t come back. We looked for her and called her but she didn’t come home. I pretty much just thought, “Well, that’s the end of that!”

But my sisters both were really upset and sad that the pretty little cat had disappeared. So mom and dad took us to get a replacement for Pillsbury. My sister, Mary, picked the runt of the litter and we took it home. We named it “Betty Crocker”.

We had Betty Crocker for less than two days when there came a knock on the door. The neighbor stood there. Herman had a huge Great Dane that was somewhere between the size of a horse and a pony. Well, Herman’s dog had been acting strange the last week or so. He had been fixated on a certain tree. Finally, Herman decided he needed to see what all the hubbub was and went out to that tree. There was a terrified and frazzled Siamese cat up there. She had apparently been there for two weeks.

So after a certain amount of trouble with a precariously placed ladder and a bit of coaxing the semi-insane Siamese known as Pillsbury was returned home. It was a triumphal moment as she was returned to the safety of the home she had strayed too far from. I remember thinking, “Oh great! Now we have two cats.” I don’t know if I typed that last sentence with the degree of sarcasm I was shooting for. Think lots of sarcasm and multiply times fourteen.

I do have to admit that I would not have wanted to be that cat. Two weeks in a tree with a relentless Great Dane ready to have some Siamese food barking and slobbering all over the place has to be a pretty harrowing experience. By the time help arrived, the cat was so screwed up mentally she didn’t know if we were helping her or the Great Dane. She didn’t come running. As far as she was concerned we were there to feed her to the dog and get him to finally shut up.

2 Corinthians 1:8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9a In fact, we expected to die.

That is pretty close to what the poor cat went through. It is pretty close to some of the things I have gone through. While my “expected to die” moments have been more mental and spiritual than physical most of the time I have nonetheless had many times that I expected I would not survive being crushed and overwhelmed. I have felt alone and trapped in a big tree and my only way of escape was blocked by the demons trying to consume me.

It is hard to sit and wait for help when I am starving and exhausted, frozen in fear and unprotected from the elements. But after going through a lot of these problems I have learned two things. Number one: Stay home where I belong.

Psalms 73: 28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

Number two: My help will come from the Lord. I can rely on Him.

2 Corinthians 1:9b But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.

I need to avoid putting myself in peril, venturing out into the behaviors and gray areas that have proven time and again to make me feel like that cat.  If I feel the need to have an adrenaline rush in my walk with God, then I should obey him more and dare to take this walk deeper than my courage has allowed so far.

This is how I learn to rely on God to rescue me over and over.  My confidence is in him.

The Cheater

I have fished a few fishing tournaments. They were long ago and far away. Somewhere around here I have a picture of the fish that won me a tournament on Mark Twain Lake. Oh, I found it.  No gray hair and I look like I can smell a skunk.  That hat is huge and where is my shirt?

Most people didn’t catch a single thing and one guy caught more fish than I did but my one fish outweighed all of his put together. It was a pretty good feeling beating all those guys in all those boats and being declared the winner.

I fished a couple more tournaments and decided that fishing should not be work and went back to just being a fisherman. Fishing in tournaments means less napping in the shade and less wandering aimlessly around a lake and more casting. There is pressure to win. This pressure to win is the catalyst for something that I hate to see in fishing, golf, football, business and life in general. Cheating.

At Montauk State Park there are derbies held from time to time with prizes awarded for trout caught there in the park. There was once a guy that participated in these, he is no longer alive but his reputation lives on, who felt he had to win at all costs.

He was well-known for the large fish he caught in the park. Then he became well-known for going to a certain pay-to-fish place where great big fish can more easily be caught and then bringing them to the park and claiming to have caught them there. Sometimes he would weigh in the same fish more than once by filling its belly with weight so that it appeared to be a heavier fish. He even weighed in fish that appeared to be partially frozen claiming that he caught them just that morning. The water in the Current River doesn’t run that cold.

This man wanted to win so bad he spent more money than he could win to get his name on the leader board. He wanted his name on a trophy so much he would be willing to do anything to beat the honest guys that played by the rules. He would do all it takes to tip the scales in his favor.

Proverbs 11:1 The Lord detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.

God hates cheating. Don’t for a second think that I am saying I am better than this man. I have been guilty of cheating too. I know what he went through. He took something he loved and sucked all the joy right out of it.

At some point in time, he was just a happy fisherman on the Current River catching trout and enjoying nature. When he died he was a man without friends and a soiled reputation and no one he knew from the sport he used to love wanted anything to do with him.

To be an accomplished cheater I have to also become a good liar and a thief. Why would anyone want to cheat in the first place?

Proverbs 11:2 Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Pride is the root of cheating. The desire to win at all costs, to get the glory, to be the best is firmly rooted in my pride. But pride leads to disgrace. Just as sports stars are disgraced by steroids, businessmen are disgraced by illegal trading, politicians are disgraced by scandal, I am disgraced by my sins.

Disgrace is a good place for me to find humility, though, and good things are right around the corner from there.

Proverbs 11:3 Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people.

When people think back about the life of the man that cheated his fishing friends out of their rightful winnings in the trout derbies, how different would it be if he had devoted his life to living out just these three verses in Proverbs? How much impact could applying these three sentences to his day-to-day life create? What if he had only applied this wisdom to his tournament fishing? A guy like me would not even know he ever lived.

It is only because of his dishonesty that I know of him at all. If you Googled long enough you could find the stories of his treachery on the internet. His legacy is there for all to see.

Cheating can be a blatant in your face kind of thing but usually it is subtle. It can be just a finger on the scales, a lie cloaked as an honest mistake or subterfuge carried on in a secret life. But I must remember that no matter how large or small it is, it is wrong.

God hates cheating. No matter how skillfully I hide it, He can see it. Even if I convince myself I am not cheating, He can still see it. Before a fishing tournament, the scales for that tournament are certified. This means they are checked for accuracy and condition prior to being used. Sometimes scales can be all out of whack and the owner doesn’t even know it.

This morning, I am going to be certified. I am going to be sure that I am suitable for the balancing act of the day. I am going to try to be honest and humble.

Psalms 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Amen.