Going Dark?

In spy circles, the term “going dark” implies a complete lack of communication or presence.  Seeing that it’s been almost a month since my last post on here I suppose my absence could be construed as “going dark.”  Truth is, over the course of the last few posts, I found that my mind, my wellspring of interesting spiritual insights from an everyday guy’s perspective, was “going dark.”  Despite a conscious effort to approach each entry prayerfully, open to what God might want to say through this medium, I just wasn’t feeling it.

I have to confess that I started this blog partially as a means to create an outlet for people to discover my writing, hopefully prompting them to buy my novel(s) (I put the parenthetical “s” on there in the hope that someday I’ll get back to working on some of the many story ideas that percolate in my head.  Right now that’s also on hold.)  I also started this exercise as a way to keep my writing sharp through consistency, and finally, I always have been curious what it’s like to be a newspaper columnist and blogging is probably about the closest an average Joe can get to that type of writing experience.  So although I have made maximum effort to glorify the Lord in this space, the undertaking was something I jumped into without really seeking His guidance first.

More practically, let’s face it, summer is coming, it’s staying lighter longer, the weather’s getting nicer, and sitting down to write isn’t as high on the potential activity list as it is in say, mid-January.  So in many ways I’m not totally surprised that it’s been difficult to keep up with this blog over the long haul.  If the Lord doesn’t build the house, in vain the builders labor.  I hope that the material on here speaks God’s truth the way that He wanted me to.  As hard as I try to, I still find it difficult to be prayerful and contemplative before leaping into one activity or another.  I also find the voice of our Lord very difficult to hear.

The last few months have been a time of self-discovery, as well as a time of God bringing me back to earth. When I first published Winns and Losses, I immediately thought “Okay, here we go.   God’s true pupose for my life is finally coming to pass.  I’m finally going to get my writing out there, sell a ton of copies, and be able to write for a living.   Yay for me.”   Needless to say, it didn’t quite happen that way.   Shortly after publishing, I also started to ravenously digest a bunch of author discussion boards and such, all about how to market your writing.  I really wanted to put myself on the J.K. Rowling, but in the realm of Christian fiction, fast track.  I was sick of going into the office, sick of doing anything for a living that wasn’t being a novelist and a writer.   My attitude was messed up.

Four months since publishing, I sit here having sold a whopping nine copies.  I don’t check my Amazon and Smashwords sales reports like clockwork anymore.  I haven’t written much of anything lately (that’s pretty much what I’ve been saying, hasn’t it?)  Briefly that might have been out of a sense of “What’s the point?”  As time’s gone on, though, I’ve discovered that I had lost sight of all the non-writing things in my life that give it balance.

Too often I tend to look at God’s plan for my life as a destination.  Like at some point the veil will be lifted and He’ll show me, “Here’s what I put you on this earth to do.”  In this time of “going dark” as a blogger/writer/novelist/wannabe, He’s shown me that His plan for my life is far from a single destination.  It’s the daily journey of being a husband/dad/son/friend/technology consultant/volunteer high school football coach/golf enthusiast/Star Wars fan…you get the picture.

God’s will is in the moment.  His calling and what we do to pay the bills may cross paths or they may not.  That’s for Him to decide.  Our mission is simple.  Live the life that He’s put in front of us to live.  For me, part of that means writing when He leads me toward writing, and going dark when He’s got better things for me to do.

Thanks for sticking with me on here.  I’ll be around.

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The Hunt Is Over

As long as my daughter still believes in the Easter Bunny, my wife and I will spend Easter eve looking for new and creative hiding places for her basket of goodies, and dozens of plastic eggs.  Let’s face it, Easter egg hunts are fun, no matter how old you are.  There’s something about finding a little hidden surprise that brings out the kid in all of us.

While the hunt may be on for eggs and baskets this Easter season, as every other before it, the hunt for Jesus was over long ago.  He’s not in the tomb, though Mary Magdalene and the disciples spent some time hunting there.  He made sure they didn’t have to hunt long, and neither do we.

We can find Jesus even easier.  He’s either already in your heart, if you’re a Christian, or standing outside waiting for you to let Him in, if you’re not.  If He’s in your heart, show Him all the love you can, and thank Him constantly for His Easter miracle.  After all, it was for you, as though you were the only person on Earth.  If you were, He still would have gone to the cross for you.  That’s a treasure far greater than any chocolate bunny.

If He’s not in your heart, what are you waiting for?  Don’t let another Easter come and go still hunting for the peace, joy, love, and salvation only He can give you.

The miracle of Easter is for you.  The cross is for you.  Jesus isn’t in the tomb.  He’s at the door.  Let Him in, and let Him change your life.

Longer Than We Want

We hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party at our house recently.  It turned out to be a great night and everyone had a blast, but it started out a little slow.  Mostly family showed up first and we all just sort of stood around.  Then I had to run out for another bag of ice to get the coolers properly filled.  Meanwhile one guest had to drop out at the last minute.  Right about then I was questioning whether the party was such a great idea.

Sometimes, when God calls us to start doing something, things don’t always fire up right away either.  We jump into His new mission for us with gusto at first, ready to change the world.  Within a short time, a funny thing usually happens. Namely, not much.  The world seems to go on more or less as it did before we embarked on our high and mighty divinely inspired calling.  Contrary to what we expected, we don’t find ourselves at the forefront of some great movement of the Spirit.  The sound of the crickets chirping seems to be the loudest voice we hear.  At that point, the easy thing to do is to give up, thinking it must all have been a big mistake.  But that’s the biggest mistake.

Rarely, at least in my walk with the Lord, does He move at a pace that we humans would call “quick.”  To embark on a new adventure with God is to commit to a turtle-slow, steady, often times patience-testing process.  Results are invisible, imperceptible, and we often start to think, impossible.  Why would God work with us in this way?  To torture us?  Hardly.  He loves us more than we can ever possibly know.  The truth is, God isn’t messing with us when He gives us a calling and nothing seems to happen after we answer it.  The truth is, unlike us, who are concerned with results, God is concerned with effort.  Obedience is what He’s looking for.  He is ready and willing to open the floodgates of results, but only after He’s sure that we’re really in for the long haul.  The only way we can show Him that we are is to press on, even as nothing seems to happen.

If we press on in faith, believing that God will eventually bless our efforts, we can be assured that He will.  That doesn’t guarantee us that we’ll always know when, or how.  The most agonizing truth of it all is that the impact of our calling may not even be realized in our lifetime.  Or if it is, it may only be somewhere so far removed from our scope of life as to render it unrecognizable as the fruits of our labor for Christ.  As long as we continue to obey and press on, we need not worry about whether we see any tangible results.  When we labor for Jesus, we labor not in vain.  The joy of our work well done won’t elude us forever, but we might not find it until Kingdom Come.  While that’s longer than we want, if that’s what it takes to build our faith into what the Lord wants it to be, it’s never longer than we need.

Judge Not…Including Yourself

A while back the Lord impressed on me a need to have a more gentle spirit.  I sense that I’ve come a long way from the hot-headedness of my younger days.  Most of the time now my more tempramental outbursts are reserved for household projects.  I realize that the transformation is all the Holy Spirit’s work within me, however this morning I found myself contemplating how, lately, it seems I have had a gentler spirit.  In that thought was just enough self-congratulation that I should have known I was in trouble.  When we try to judge our own spiritual success, we lose sight of the Lord.  Once that happens we’re bound to fall flat on our face.

Fast forward twenty minutes or so, to me sitting drinking my morning coffee, unprepared for my fun-loving daughter to suddenly decide to climb up into my lap.  There went my coffee, all over her back, my front, and the chair.  Thankfully it wasn’t hot, but I was.  While stopping short of outright yelling, the way I voiced my displeasure could never be categorized as having a gentle spirit.  In that moment, I was a failure.  After the shirts had been changed and the coffee sopped up, I realized the irony of the circumstances.  Moments after mentally patting myself on the back for my spiritual growth, I failed in the very thing I had felt so good about.

It’s okay to recognize God’s work in our lives.  I know He has been giving me a gentler spirit.  But when it comes to spiritual growth, only God can truly judge how far we’ve really come.  It’s not up to us to gauge how we’re doing in the areas of our lives where God wants to transform us.  We can reflect back on our day and note times where maybe we reacted how He would want us to, where we might not have previously.  Proper reflection is helpful in showing us the dark corners that still need His light as we seek to “kill our old man.”  After that, though, our immediate reaction needs to be to thank the Lord, and ask for Him to continue working in us.  Any sense that we had a hand in it just sets us up for failure like my spilled coffee incident.

It’s our human nature to judge ourselves.  We constantly self-evaluate against whatever standards we set.  As Christians, the standard is always Christ.  But we need to realize two things:  First, only God should judge us.   Judging ourselves takes our eyes off of Jesus, and once we do that, we’re bound to fail.  It’s God working in us that brings about our spiritual growth.  Only He truly knows how far we’ve come.  We can sense the change, and be excited about His work in us, but measuring our growth is His place, not ours.

That brings us to the second reality:  we’re never going to measure up.  At least not until we are home in His Kingdom.  As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, there will be plenty of victories to be sure.  But there will still always be defeats.  I categorized my own reaction to the spilled coffee as a failure, and maybe it was.  But the truth is, if that hadn’t happened, something else would have at some point.  We’re only human, and we will never be perfect.  By leaving it to God to judge, we don’t have to worry so much about it.   Our failures are left at the foot of the cross.

Jesus yoke is easy and his burden is light.  Let’s not make it harder and heavier by trying to judge on our own how well we’re doing at following Him.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit be the judge.

Rapture?… Feeling Lucky, Punk?

Let me start off by saying up front I’m not an end-times prophecy expert.  I’ve read the Left Behind series and found it to be quite exciting and enjoyable.  Jerry Jenkins is a great storyteller, and Tim LaHaye has obviously spent years studying Bible prophecies as they relate to Christ’s return and the events that Revelation describes.  I have read Revelation several times but when it comes to other passages relating to the end times, I don’t always even know I’m reading one when I am.  So I’m no expert.

I do believe in the rapture, for the simple reason that the Bible says we know not the day nor the hour of Jesus’ return.  If His second coming is only slated for after the Tribulation, and we believe Revelation’s timeline, then we can at least ballpark the day.  At some point the Antichrist is going to come on the scene.  While he may not be recognizable right away, sooner or later it’s going to be pretty obvious who he is.  And once the events described in Revelation begin to occur, it’s pretty easy to start a countdown clock to Jesus return.  So I believe that, whether it happens like Left Behind or not, we faithful believers can look forward to our Lord returning to bring us home to his Kingdom before the rise of the Antichrist.

It sure would be nice to escape any intense suffering like the events John foretells in Revelation.  However, after reading the Psalms, I got to thinking about the parallels between the end times and God’s deliverance of His chosen people Israel from slavery in Egypt.  For example, the ten plagues, and the so-called “bowl judgements” have some similarities, water to blood, darkness, and so forth.  Once Moses led them out of Egypt, the Lord made sure they never suffered at Pharaoh’s hand again.  But before that, they suffered quite a bit.  There was no rapture then.  No miraculous rescue lifting them out of Egypt before their enslavement.

While Israel remain God’s true chosen people, as Christians, we are God’s chosen people by “adoption” through Jesus death and resurrection.  We share in Israel’s inheritance.  But if we are to share in Israel’s inheritance, should we not also expect to share in their suffering?  What makes us so special that we should expect a get out of tribulation free card?  Maybe Jesus suffering on the cross and the miracle of our salvation means that we won’t have to endure Revelation in all its fury.  I hope that’s true.  It would be nice to dodge the Great Tribulation bullet.

But while I look forward to the rapture, if I indeed live long enough, I don’t think we can take for granted that believers aren’t in for a bumpy ride, even if we are to be spared the worst of Revelation.  Anti-Christian sentiment and society’s moral decline have us heading in that direction.  The Bible is full of stories about fiery trials of faith.  Since we know God never changes, we know He still allows His faithful to be tested today.  As Jesus return gets closer, I would expect that testing to only get tougher.

So however Revelation unfolds, we need to at least consider the possibility that we believers, pre-rapture, will still be tried like never before.  While we can look forward to a clean getaway when our Lord does return, like the kid staring down the barrel of Dirty Harry’s magnum, we need to be prepared for the possibility that there’s still one left in the chamber.

Faith Lessons From a Famous Beagle

Snoopy is a big hit at our house.  Either on DVD or VHS, we own every Peanuts special ever made.  My daughter has a stuffed Snoopy who has taken on a life of his own.  She constantly admonishes me to “make sure Snoopy behaves, or he doesn’t get his root beer.”  Lately he’s been sacked out on the sectional in our family room.  Seeing him there got me thinking.  Snoopy’s approach to life holds some valuable lessons for us Christians.  Here are some that come to mind, in no particular order.

1.  Eat heartily.  Snoopy makes short work of a full supper dish.  We believers should be equally ravenous when it comes to our spiritual food:  God’s Word.  We can never get enough of the Bible.  Every one of us should try to devour a heaping helping of it every day, even if we don’t always understand everything we read.  God honors our commitment to His Word, and blessings will flow from seeking it daily.

2.  Play, even when there’s work to be done.  Even when you’re setting up for that outdoor Thanksgiving feast of popcorn, toast, pretzels, and jelly beans, there’s still time for shooting a few baskets, or a quick game of one-man (dog?) ping pong.  No matter how busy life gets, we need to find joy and fun in the midst of it.  No task is so important that it can’t be interrupted for a brief look outside or a quick glance at a comic strip, or whatever brings a smile to our faces.  God gives us life to be lived to the fullest.  Take the opportunity to enjoy the little moments around you, even if it means winding up all the department store’s music boxes and dancing with a couple girls who think you’re really a funny looking kid.

3.  Some battles aren’t worth fighting.  That folding chair kicks ol’ Snoopy’s butt pretty good in Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Sometimes we exhaust ourselves trying to prove ourselves right, or to win over people who just don’t see things our way.  How often have relationships been fractured by trying too hard to prove to the other person that we’re right?  Better to agree to disagree, and keep the relationship intact.  Who knows, eventually you may come to see things the other person’s way, or they may come to embrace your point of view by seeing your actions back up your words.

4.  We fight an unseen enemy.  Satan’s out there, trying to lure us away from Jesus by any means he can.  Just like Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel, hunting down his airborne German adversary, we too need to put on the Whole Armor of God from Ephesians 6, and be watchful and wary for sin trying to get the better of us.

5.  Indulge your imagination, even if those around you don’t get it.  Snoopy’s battles with the Red Baron are an escape from his ordinary, mundane dog life.  We need to escape reality once in a while too, whether it’s reading a book, watching a movie, meditating, whatever gives your mind a break.  Who cares whether those around you understand?  The Peanuts Gang don’t get Snoopy’s WWI flying ace routine, but does that ever stop him?

6.  Like Woodstock, Jesus will always be ther for us.  Woodstock isn’t always the most with-it or cooperative bird, but he’s there when Snoopy needs him, and Snoopy would do anything for him.  And it doesn’t matter to Woodstock what Snoopy does to him, in the end he forgives all and he’s still Snoopy’s faithful friend.  Just like Jesus still wants to hang with us, no matter what we may have done.

7.  Sometimes it’s best to just lay back, wait on the Lord, and see what happens.  Charlie Brown wants to fly his kite in the world’s worst way, but no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t seem to pull it off.  After throwing it away in disgust, it winds up in the hands of his sleeping dog lying atop his doghouse.  With absolutely zero effort, Snoopy has the kite flying perfectly in no time.  Often, our biggest victories come when we stop trying, give the problem to God, and let Him take care of it.  How much smoother things go with our Lord in control.

Now that I’ve put the images in your head, you know you want to go back and watch all those Peanuts specials again.  Thanks, Charles Schultz, for giving us Snoopy.  May we all learn to live our spiritual lives a bit more like him.  Then maybe my daughter will let us have our root beer.

Interview Today on The Christian Authors Show

I had recently taped an interview for The Christian Authors Show, an internet radio show, to promote my book Winns and Losses.  You can check it out here:

 

http://www.wnbnetworkwest.com/WnbAuthorsShowChristian.html

 

It will be running all day today, until midnight tonight.  It lasts a little over 15 minutes.

No Job Too Small

Battling a sinus infection this past week, I tried several options in my quest for relief from the congestion.  While some worked better than others, all were temporary.  As ailments go, mine was minor.  Certainly many suffer from much worse.  My approach to my situation got me thinking though.  Through it all, whether because of the relative insignificance of it, or because of human nature causing me to try to solve my own problem, the one remedy that never dawned on me was to just ask the Lord to heal me.  As Christians, prayer should be our first option, in all things.  But how many times do we overlook it in favor of more “common sense” solutions?

Sure, we pray for our cousin who gets cancer, or for our unemployed friend to find a job.  We hit our knees early and often for the so called “big stuff.”  But what about when we get a cold, or we can’t find our keys, or our computer program we worked on for three hours won’t compile?  More than likely we run ourselves ragged trying to fix our problem by our own devices.  Meanwhile, God is sitting there patiently waiting for us to come boldly to his throne.

As people we hate being bothered with trivial things.  Foolishly, we project that same attitude on God.  Truth is, God wants to take care of all our problems.  Nowhere in the Bible is the saying “God helps those who help themselves.”  Part of His perfect love for us is that He’s always there for us, no matter how large or small the request may seem to us.  His storehouse of help is limitless.  There’s only one condition.  We must ask in faith.  It’s not always easy, often for the same reason we didn’t ask in the first place.

We might take the time to pray, but deep down we think our problem is just too little for Him to want to bother with.  Our prayer becomes little more than lip service, and when it doesn’t seem to work, we lose heart.  Or, we pray, then we resume trying to fix things on our own.  Once we do that, we take God off the job.  What we really need to do is wait.  God doesn’t need our help.

So next time you’re faced with one of life’s “little” problems, get on your knees, put God on the job, and let Him get it done:  His way.

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Tebow-Lin Mania-Sanity

The legend of Jeremy Lin continues.  After hitting the winning three-pointer for the Knicks last night, Lin’s escapades have taken on the same level of public wonder that Tim Tebow and his miracle comebacks for the Broncos inspired this past NFL season.  Granted, Lin’s story is hardly a carbon copy of Tebow’s.  Lin played in collegiate obscurity at Harvard, was cast off by two other NBA clubs, and played in the basketball equivalent of the minor leagues earlier this year before injuries forced him into the New York lineup.  Oh yeah, he also was sleeping on his brother’s couch until very recently.  Tebow, lest it be forgotten, was a Heisman Trophy winner, a first round draft pick, and the object of a public campaign by Bronco fans to convince the team to make him the starting quarterback.  While not public knowledge, it’s also a good bet he has enjoyed the overnight comfort of at least a pillow top or memory foam for the duration of his NFL employment.

Yet there is another common thread to these men beyond their Paul Bunyanesqe athletic exploits.  Both have an unswerving devotion to Jesus Christ.  If you don’t know Tebow loves Jesus, you don’t know that Denver has thin air.  While some, even Christian former MVP QB Kurt Warner, may think his public demonstrations of faith are a bit over the top, few would dare question their sincerity.  By all accounts Tebow is as worthy a spokesman for Christ as you’ll find.  Though Lin maintains a lower profile about that aspect of his life, his faith has become public knowledge with his rise to fame, and he too is widely lauded for backing up his beliefs with his conduct.

Tebow is quick to sqash the notion that any of his on-field success was the result of divine intervention, whether that theory grew out of his vocal devotion, or because of his relative lack of skill as a professional QB in the eyes of most.  I have yet to hear the same theory proposed regarding Lin.  Perhaps that’s because he’s obviously a very good NBA point guard by the common standards used to judge such skills.  Perhaps it’s becuase Tebow has rendered it a “been there, done that” topic.  Regardless, I’m sure both men reject the notion that God tips the scales in favor of the team with the most ardent believers.

I totally agree with that stance, yet as Christians, we really shouldn’t be surprised at the individual success of either of these guys.  Acknowledging Christ before men should be rewarded.  Matthew 6:22 clearly states “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”  It’s not that far-fetched to interpret “all these things” to include athletic success.  Sports for Tebow and Lin is their ministry, and in today’s sports-crazed society, what better witnesses could the Lord choose?  So next time an athlete comes seemingly out of nowhere openly professing his faith in Jesus, don’t be shocked when sets his sport on fire.  After all, we’ve seen it before, long before Lin, or Tebow, with a guy by the name of…Kurt Warner.

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Idol Time

When we think of idols, the vision that usually comes to mind is some little bronze statue, or golden calf, or some sort of physical representation of a spiritual being other than the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.  Really an idol as the Lord speaks of it is anything that we give a higher priority than God in our lives.  For me, that idol is time.  Everywhere in today’s society, we’re reminded how little time we have.  Time is…money, fleeting, short, of the essence, a wastin’, running out…the list goes on.  Finite and un-recoverable, there is no more precious resource than the hours, minutes, and seconds that make up each passing day.  We all long to have control over how we spend our time.  For me, that is why time is my idol.  To have free time becomes priority one.

Before my daughter came along, it seemed like I had a lot more time.  I could play video games, read, write, pray, do household projects and rarely feel rushed or have a sense that I was neglecting some important aspect of my life.  Ever since I became a parent, it seems as if I have no time at all.  Truth is, I have the same amount of time I had before I became a parent, it’s just that the activities and responsibilites that fill it have increased, seemingly exponentially.  Prioritizing is more of a challenge than ever.  Many times I find myself responding to my daughter’s requests with “just a minute” and often that minute turns into five, or ten.  I look back and realize that usually whatever it was I was putting her off for wasn’t nearly as important as spending time with her.  I was just trying to hold on to time, to make it mine and mine alone.  As bad as I am with her in that regard, I’m a hundred times worse when it comes to time with the Lord.  My kid might have to endure a five or ten minute delay before playing Barbies or hide and seek or whatever game she’s picked out for us.  Jesus has to endure an entire day.

It’s especially poor form for a guy who chose Matthew 6:22 as his “life verse.”  A brief history of my attempts at “Seek ye first:”  I used to pray in the shower, but I didn’t think that was giving Him quality time.  I used to pray in the car on the way to work, but I risked missing somthing funny the guys on the radio were talking about.  So now once the TV’s off, the laptop’s set to hibernate, and sleeping clothes are on, then, finally, I hit my knees for a yawn-filled, half-conscious, spare change worth of time with my Lord.  Quiet time?  Sure.  Quality time?  Hardly.  “Seek ye first?”  The first shall be last, apparently.  Time seemed more valuable doing something else, so Christ gets the leftovers.  It’s an easy trap to fall into.  Unlike my daughter, God doesn’t beg for us to spend time with Him.  He wants us to, for sure.  More than anything He longs to commune with us, but He never nags for it.  What happens is the One we most need to spend time with becomes the One most easy to neglect.  In this world today, where time seems scarce and obligations seem never-ending, more than ever the most critical time is the time we spend on our knees.

As for me, I’m going to ask Him to help me live up to my life verse’s admonition and let go of my idol, time, by offering it up to God.  I’m pretty sure if I put Him first, there will be plenty of time for everything else.

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