It Wasn’t For Nothing

This morning after I had finished my daily YouVersion readings, I was scrolling through Instagram a little and stumbled across a post that caught my attention.

There on the screen was a middle-aged man in a gray tee-shirt lying on his back in his driveway, blankly staring up at the sky. He’s not hurt — at least not physically — but he appears to be all but spent. Worn out. Defeated. Exhausted. Overwhelmed by whatever was happening such that all he could do was lay down on the hard cement next to his car. The caption of the video read, “Imagine Jesus whispering this to you…”

What made me really stop and watch — aside from the fact that 99.9% of all social-media posts are NOT of people laying on their driveways — was that it captured my mental picture of myself lately. My initial reaction was, “Oh my God, that’s me! How did they know? That’s exactly how I see my life right now! That’s exactly how I feel inside!”

And then the man closes his tired eyes as a quiet voice begins whispering to him. He doesn’t sob or convulse in tears, he just lays there, listening silently.

It wasn’t for nothing.
   Everything that you’ve been through,
It wasn’t for nothing.

I created you with purpose
   And even through the darkest valley,
You continued to love Me and follow Me.

And I will bless you.

And then I began to sob, those big, ugly, heartfelt sobs that come from the pit of your soul. These beautiful words ministered directly to my heart this morning in a way that nothing else has been able to for quite some time. Again, how did they know? How could they have seen? After all, I hide my emotions pretty well to everyone at the gym, at church, and of course, everyone I work with. How could anyone know exactly what I’ve been feeling, and more importantly, what I’ve been needing to hear for so long?

But He knew. And He cared enough to simply drop that into my feed this morning.

He always knows. And He cares. Our Father sees us in our hardships, our sorrows, our pain, our messes — yes, even in the messes that we ourselves have made — and He cares. He loves us and He cares.

The last seven years of my journey here have been one major upheaval after another, with some better and some worse (and some very worse!). There have been so many changes, transitions, and surprises (especially within the last year), that I almost don’t know where to begin. And while each setback or major life-change is understandable (or even sensible) within the context of the different situations and circumstances at the time, when stepping back and looking at the journey as a whole, it seems like nothing short of a train-wreck in which very little makes sense anymore. No train-wrecks ever make much sense.

But when we go though these deep, dark valleys in which we can’t even begin to see the end, He sees and He knows. Sometimes we run, sometimes we walk, sometimes we crawl, and sometimes when its all just too much, we lay down and stare up at the endless sky above us, searching for a glimmer of light to give us just a little more hope to keep going.

Our faith in Him, our trust in Him, our love for Him, and our dogged clinging to Him through it all — it matters. And it matters greatly to Him. As Job so aptly said during his own ordeal, “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him.” (Job 13:15)

It wasn’t for nothing.
   Everything that you’ve been through,
It wasn’t for nothing.

I created you with purpose
   And even through the darkest valley,
You continued to love Me and follow Me.

And I will bless you.

It isn’t for nothing. He sees and He knows.

It’s my hope that others will see this and be ministered to just as I was today. Regardless of how we may be feeling or what’s overwhelming us, our Father knows. And He cares. And one day when we finally meet Him, He’ll wrap His strong, gentle, loving arms around us and whisper directly into our broken hearts:

“It wasn’t for nothing…”

@jesusthegreatlight
https://www.instagram.com/reel/CX1LofUh2V7/

Posted in Christian-life, God, New Beginnings, Personal, Prayer, Refactoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO

After not blogging for months (or longer!), this will be the second post within the last few days! I suppose that’s what happens when juggling work, writing, and just life-in-general. I’ve found that reading a couple of books outside of whatever topic I’m entrenched in between writing projects (and just along the way) is a good way to refocus, re-energize, and of course, relax.

The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO” is a book I stumbled across several months ago, likely because it had “surfer” in the title — and “saint” — which is rather rare in itself (the “CEO” part wasn’t quite as appealing to me, to be honest). And I don’t usually go back and re-read very many books, but this one was an exception because of some of its insights and perspectives into inner heart-work, failures, human-nature, wisdom, and just life in general. So last week before the holidays, I began to re-read it to see what more I could glean from it.

The book is mostly written from a First Person point of view around a character named “Jack” who was recently in a bad car accident that put him in the hospital for several days. The day after he wakes up, an older man (“Cal”) with terminal cancer is wheeled into his room and they strike up a conversation. Cal begins to tell him about his life, his family, his successes and failures, his regrets, and the wisdom about life he’s acquired along the way. During their exchange and long discussion, Cal tells him about the Final Questions when we get to our life’s end (according to the book) and how he learned to answer them:

1. Did I live wisely?
2. Did I love well?
3. Did I serve greatly?

They continue their discussion long into the night and Cal tells him about the three mentors that helped him answer those Final Questions for himself. When Jack wakes up the next morning, Cal has died in his sleep from the cancer. Upon his discharge from the hospital, Jack is given a package at the checkout desk — a letter revealing that Cal was actually Jack’s father who left when he was little, along with three first-class airline tickets to introduce him to his three life-mentors: the Saint (a priest in Rome), the Surfer (an ex-marketing guru in Hawaii), and the CEO (a finance executive in New York). Each mentor has agreed to spend one month with Jack, teaching, guiding, and sharing life with him in order to help him begin to answer those three Final Questions for himself — something that had taken Cal most of his life to do.

So off Jack goes, first to the Saint to learn how to live wisely, then to the Surfer to learn about loving well, and lastly to the CEO, who taught him how to serve others. In the end, he is transformed from the inside-out and his life-perspective and philosophy becomes radically different as he is taught to embrace all of life, not merely the good times/events, along with him learning how to answer those Final Questions for himself.

The book contains a great deal of wisdom about living day by day, about learning from our big failures and disappointments in life, about dreams and goals, about relating to others, and about being thankful or even joyful about the many “gifts” that come into our lives each day. While much of the book is good in that regard, as a Christian I tend to disagree with several of the underlying premises in the book, such as “looking within yourself for the answers” and “recovering your true self that was diminished as you were socialized”. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we don’t have all the answers and that our hearts are easily deceived, so we need God and His Word/Presence to give us true wisdom, self-control, and to remake us from the inside out (Romans 12:2) and continually transform us.

As with many other self-help and philosophy books, using the “Eat the meat, Spit out the bones” methodology still results in gleaning a good amount of wisdom and perspective from the book. All in all, “The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO” is a great read for anyone starting out, getting a new start, or just going though their adult years (especially their middle-age years!).

In the end, we’ll all have to answer those Final Questions for ourselves: “Did I live wisely?”, “Did I love well?”, and “Did I serve greatly?”.

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Chains of Darkness … Released!

Now available on the Kindle and in paperback!

My latest novel (“Chains of Darkness”) is ready for Kindle download at Amazon.com! The book is also available in paperback format.

“Chains of Darkness” is the third book in “The Days of Noah Series.” The series consists of three books so far (in order): “Rise of the Anshar“, “Fountains of the Deep“, and “Chains of Darkness“.

The synopsis for the book is:

The Great Flood has begun, and every living creature which had the breath of life has died. All have been destroyed, mankind and beast and bird alike, everything and everyone – all except for those with Noah in the Ark. Outside its walls, they can hear the storms raging and the destruction continuing to sweep over the earth.

But among the dead and the dying, the spirits of the giant Yarim, the Anshar, the Nephilim, and the other unnatural offspring of the fallen angelic Watchers awaken to find that they are neither living nor dead yet doomed to roam the earth. Meanwhile their fathers, the fallen Watchers, have been sentenced to the gloomy dungeons of Sheol, awaiting their final judgment at the end of time.

This is their story, how the once-mighty Watchers fell from grace and then corrupted the entire world. This is the story of the great giants who once roamed the earth, defeating dragons and conquering kingdoms. This is the story of the First Ones and the world that they built, and how their people spread over the earth before the Flood.

This is a story of the First Age, when dragons and giants freely roamed the earth and mankind lived for hundreds of years. Paradise was fresh in our memories and still sought by those who yearned for it. The earth was young, unmarred, and bountiful — and ripe for subjugation by men, giants, and demons.

“Chains of Darkness” is the third volume of “The Days of Noah Series”, a collection of novels which are set in the age before the Flood of Noah that chronicle the events of the First Age and then the replenishing of the world after the Flood until the time of Abraham.

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Two New Books for 2021!

Now available on the Kindle and in paperback!

My latest non-fiction work (“A Tale of Two Women”) is ready for Kindle download at Amazon.com! The book is also available in paperback format.

The synopsis for the book is:

A Tale of Two Women: Sarah and Hagar. One is famous in many circles of faith, while the other is relatively unknown. This is the story of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and her servant Hagar, as well as the two sons that they bore to him, one who’s later referred to as the “son of the promise” while the other is simply known as the “son of the bondwoman”.

While most books written about Genesis 12-25 tend to focus on Abraham (the friend of God), God’s promises to him, and his great faith in God, there’s more to his story – much more. This book concentrates on the “first family of faith” of Abraham and Sarah and digs into the personal dynamics of their marriage, their family, and many of the trials, pain, and heartache that shaped them and the many peoples which would later come from them.

Abraham’s story isn’t just about him and his life of faith, but about him and the two women in his household who daily influenced him and his faith – as he influenced theirs. As we are shaped by our trials and the people around us, so he was shaped by his own trials and those around him. In studying the lives of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in depth and in the context of the rest of the Bible as a whole, we can be better equipped to answer the hard questions of trials and suffering when they come into our own lives, regardless of how much we’ve been blessed.

In addition to “A Tale of Two Women”, another book is now available as well (“Making a Great Life”) for Kindle download at Amazon.com and in paperback format.

The synopsis for the book is:

So you’re an adult and heading out on your own now – congratulations! While there are many self-help books on “adulting”, this book focuses on the core principles of building a solid foundation for your life and providing practical, everyday advice about how begin start this new and exciting – and often frightening – journey into adulthood.

The main principles discussed in this book are “Learning and Growing”, “Discovering Your Identity”, “Wealth and Money”, “Hopes, Dreams, and Disappointments”, “Love, Relationships, and Heartbreak”, “Self-Control, Self-Care, and Seeking Justice”, and “Working, Living, and Finishing Well”. The sooner you start building your life’s foundation on wisdom and sound, sensible advice concerning your identity, character, dreams and goals, relationships, working, self-control, and money, the better-off you’ll be.

Whether you’ve recently had your eighteenth birthday or you turned eighteen awhile ago, this book will benefit you in your endeavor towards independence, self-reliance, and building the life you want.

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Recapturing Joy in Difficult Times

With the close of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, people have many different feelings about the year ahead. We’re not merely wondering if it’ll be good or bad, but if it be relatively normal and uneventful after the last nine months (thankfully we skipped the murder-hornets!). Imagine that – most of us are just hoping for “normal” now! And while 2020 began with its typical share of hopes and expectations that most new years bring, very few expected it to turn out the way it did, both with the pandemic and its effects on much of our former ways of life.

Ironically, for years a number of people have been praying for our nation or even our world to be shaken up a bit (so to speak), to help us get back to what’s really important in our lives, to force us to slow down, disconnect from our culture and its entertainments, and reconnect with our marriages, children, and families. For years, various commentators and thinkers have been asking what it’ll take to get people to become more engaged – really engaged – with what’s really important in life, what’s happening in our culture, our political system, and even our own families. Many people were busy but bored, comfortable but not content, and we took many things for granted but were not grateful. We prayed for a revival in our land, something that would wake us up from our spiritual stupor. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Might I suggest that they got what they asked for, that we got what we asked for? It’s not too soon to say that, is it? If it is, don’t shoot me – I’m just the messenger! Sometimes, God has this way of answering our prayers yet not at all in the way we would expect or even want. He promises to send revival but never in ways that we seem to expect. He doesn’t do that to be cruel or anything, He just has His ways of using bad things for good, even if it’s not always exactly what we’d call “good”.

In my own family and our personal lives, this year was an incredibly challenging, difficult, and trying year – and one that we hope we never, ever have to go through again. The pandemic only added to the challenges, and there were many times in which it felt like our joy and happiness were being stolen right out from under us. During these times of testing and trials, the old adage of “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on for dear life!” certainly applies! And of course, we were not alone; there are many people and families going through difficult times, and the pandemic only added to it.

Yet while we often try to escape or avoid trials and terrible years like 2020, God is still present. He’s still on His throne, He still loves us, cares for us, provides for us, and He’s still at work in our lives, despite how tumultuous the times are. His purposes and plans for us and the rest of the world will not be thwarted, regardless of what transpires. In the Big Picture of both our lives and eternity, little has really changed, except perhaps that we’re not as certain of today or tomorrow as we once thought we were. But life in this fallen world is uncertain – it always has been since Adam and Eve’s transgression.

When I look over the last year or so and take a step back from everything, I can clearly see how our Adversary continually schemes and plots to steal not merely our happiness, but also our joy, our security, our trust – and even sometimes our faith. Consider how easily so much of our lives, security, routines, and “normalcy” have been disrupted by a microscopic virus we cannot see, touch, hear, taste, or smell. And even though God knows this, He allows it to happen. Why? For His purposes and His glory.

Over and over in the Bible, God tells us to praise Him, to give thanks, to sing, to not be afraid, to rejoice – with no clarifications or conditions attached. We are to do these things not merely when times are good, but when times are bad – especially when times are bad. Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible was written when the days were dark and the nights were long, from dungeons, in captivity, and from wilderness hideouts. It’s not in times of ease and comfort that we tend to draw closer to God, but in times of trials and tribulations. And global pandemics.

Might I suggest that God’s purposes in the midst of not only this pandemic but in all of life is to help us find our joy, security, and comfort in Him – and ultimately, only in Him. Anything less is a form of idolatry as far as He’s concerned. He loves us too much to allow us to settle for second-best, for things that won’t really satisfy our souls, for anything less than Him. By Jesus’s work on the cross, our Adversary knows he’s a defeated foe, and for those of us who are saved, that our eternal life is secure in Christ, that we’re no longer part of his kingdom. So what does he do? He seeks to steal our joy, our gratitude, our blessings, and keep us focused on this world and our problems rather than on our King.

The first and greatest commandment is for us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second is to love our neighbors as ourselves, meaning anyone and everyone. The greatest, most desperately needed cure for this broken world isn’t another vaccine for a tiny virus, masks, or more social-distancing, but for us to love God with everything we’ve got and to love one another as ourselves. We are to look to Him for our source of joy, security, comfort, and well-being. We are to be thankful, to be a blessing, and to be joyful in all we do.

So in the midst of this pandemic and throughout life’s times of trials and tribulations, how do we recapture our joy in Him? First and foremost, spend time with Him, His Word, and His people. It may not be easy nor comfortable at times, but important, life-altering things rarely are. Second, enjoy His creation and explore the world around us, even if it’s only on a screen at times. Third, use whatever opportunities you have to draw closer to Him, even if they may not make sense to others – or even yourself sometimes.

For myself, over the last year or so (but especially since the pandemic hit), I’ve gotten into the habit of getting on the YouVersion app first thing in the morning and going through the Daily Story, along with at least one devotional plan (and then some). I do my best to get up early and take a long walk to a nearby park to start my day with Him, and then sometimes again in the evening at sundown.

When something wakes me up in the middle of the night (or I simply can’t sleep), I use that time not to worry, think, or fret, but to pray and seek Him. After all, who’s to say that He wasn’t the one who woke me up early or withheld sleep from me in the first place? Perhaps He wants to hear from us just as much as we want to hear from Him? These habits weren’t easy to start and more out of necessity than anything else.

As the new year begins and this pandemic continues, let’s try to use these trials for His glory, our benefit, and to redeem the time that God has given us.

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A Dead King and an Ex-President

The 2020 US election is over – and has been for several weeks now, despite all the lawsuits, court-rulings, petitions, investigations, accusations, etc. As with most of our elections for the past 30+ years, one-third of the country is happy (or relieved), one-third is disappointed (or furious), while the other third is rather apathetic.

As a more-conservative American, I’ve had mixed feelings about President Trump since he announced his candidacy in 2016, liking many of his policies for promoting and protecting American interests yet being rather embarrassed by his abrasive personality and polarizing behavior. He may have a commendable work-ethic, great policies for America and Israel, and be able to get many things done, but he was far too polarizing, uncharismatic, and even rude and immature at times.

One thing that every viable candidate needs to win and hold democratic office is to be gracious, likable, and not too polarizing. One can differ with others (especially their enemies) and still not be antagonistic towards them. Ronald Reagan was fiercely opposed by his political rivals and the media, yet was still a likable person, which was reflected in his two landslide elections. The same can be said of George W. Bush, who was also continually opposed and maligned while in office but was not overtly antagonistic towards the press. Not so with Donald Trump.

Something that deeply grieves me about modern America is how we’ve lost so much of our “Americanism”, our reverence for God (if not the simple respect for Him and His basic laws like the Ten Commandments), our love of country, our common values, and our ability to be polite, kind, and even civil towards our fellow countrymen while greatly differing with them on various issues. Our history as a country and a culture has been mistaught (if not perverted) for several decades, and we’ve become more and more divided in the midst of this culture-war that began in the 1960s. The media, our culture, and our politicians are responsible for much of the divide, but in the end it comes down to us, our choices, and our values as individual Americans.

If I can be a bit personal for a moment, I had been hoping that the Biblical promise in Genesis 12 that states, “Those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse Israel will be cursed” that is often cited would apply to this election, particularly after all that President Trump has done for our Jewish friends in the Middle East. There has been no other American president who has so staunchly defended Israel and her interests as President Trump, and it’s unlikely there will be another like him anytime soon. During his short term in office, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and encouraged many other countries to do so (which several did), along with fostering numerous peace-deals and normalizing relations between the Arabs and Israel, while not pressuring the Israelis to exchange land for peace (which only emboldens their enemies).

The result of this election (along with others in the past), usually makes me consider where God stands when it comes to nations, rulers, and politics in general. I often don’t understand why He allows things to go certain ways that seem to break His promises to reward those who follow Him and His laws. And it’s not merely that way in modern times, but over the long course of history, particularly Israel’s history. Some of the best kings’ reigns were cut short, while some of the worst kings ruled for far longer than they should have. Why? Why wouldn’t He reward good kings with long, prosperous reigns and the bad ones with curtailed reigns? Sometimes it simply doesn’t make sense!

For example, the last good king in Judah/Israel, King Josiah, was an excellent ruler who completely cleaned up the nation after decades of Baal-worship, debauchery, and idolatry. He re-instituted the Passover, the reading (and following) of the Law, the Temple sacrifices, and led the way in trying to draw the nation back to God. Yet look what happened to him: he went out to battle (though he’d been warned he shouldn’t!) and was slain by an errant arrow. Consequently, King Josiah’s death led to the Babylonian Captivity and the destruction of the entire nation – her people suffered like no others have in the history of the world (just read Lamentations).

So why did God allow King Josiah to die? After all, God could have protected him and saved the nation – but He didn’t. Of course, God has His reasons and is completely sovereign, and since He knew the peoples’ hearts, He knew they were merely going through the motions and still secretly worshiping idols. Though Josiah had purged all the idols from the land, the people were completely hardened against God; they had turned to Him in pretense to obey their king, not genuinely in faith in keeping with true repentance. Jeremiah’s early ministry while Josiah was still alive exposed the true condition of the hearts of his countrymen, particularly those within his own family.

Throughout history, there has continually been a struggle between individual freedom/liberty and political power. A king, military, or party rises and gains power, abuses that power, the people or their opposition revolts, and the cycle continues. In American history, the transfer of political power has usually been very peaceful, with little bloodshed when a new Congress or President takes office. That hasn’t been the case for most of human history – America has been the exception rather than the rule.

Our unique Constitution divides political power among three branches of government, espouses individual liberty, limited government, and federalism, and its system of checks and balances has consistently slowed the encroachment of our liberties by our own government. However, the further we get away from the Bible and the Rule of Law it promotes, the more liberty we individuals lose to our governing authorities. If we’re increasingly immoral, divided, and lawless as individuals and as a culture, the more immoral, divided, and lawless our government will become. And it certainly has.

Like ancient Israel/Judah, the demise of our chief executive shouldn’t trigger the demise of the nation IF (and that’s a big “IF”) the people of that country are civil towards one another, living morally and uprightly, following the Rule of Law, and “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). But as I observe American culture, politics, social-media, attitudes, and civility (and lack thereof), like ancient Israel/Judah, I cannot say we are – much at all in fact. It’s increasingly difficult to discern the truth on any significant issue because truth has become so relative in our society.

So then what are we do to as Americans in our deeply divided nation and culture? It’s really quite simple, and it’s the same message that God has proclaimed all throughout history: repent and seek His face.

Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Love one another and treat your neighbor as yourself.

If we really do love our nation and want to see it preserved, we must learn to love one another – regardless of our opinions and politics.

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Knowing and Being Known

“You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting…” (Daniel 5:27).

These were the words which were read from a wall in ancient Babylon to an ancient king who’s time was up. And while this divine proclamation was first made over 2,500 years ago on the very night of Babylon’s fall, these sobering words should still cause all of us to carefully consider our paths in life, particularly when it comes to our eternal future.

One of the most sobering (if not scariest) verses I’ve long pondered and even worried about is found in Matthew 7 (specifically, Matthew 7:21-23), which involves Jesus addressing some of those who will one day stand before Him. To their surprise and dismay, He will mercilessly condemn them to the Outer Darkness:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

What has always really gotten me about this passage (to put it mildly) is that the very ones Jesus calls “evildoers” were completely convinced they were following Him and were by all accounts His disciples. They were doing everything in His Name such as prophesying, casting out demons, working miracles, and bearing all sorts of other spiritual fruit, yet He plainly declares to them, “I never knew you!”

If that doesn’t give every single one of us who profess to follow Him a long moment’s hesitation, then perhaps we need to re-read His words ― and maybe several more times for good measure! In their words and deeds, weren’t they in fact “doing His will”? And “you who practice lawlessness”? What on earth does He mean by that? Those people He’s condemning were doing all sorts of good works in His Name and likely not breaking any “laws”, nor practicing what we would consider to be “lawlessness” (idolatry, murder, stealing, adultery, etc.).

However, those standing before Him were indeed breaking one law ― the primary One. The One Law that really matters. The One Law that God raises above all others that says we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Matthew 22:37, Jesus citing the Sh’ma from Deuteronomy 6:5). And while they were doing good works in His Name, they weren’t exactly “doing His will”, meaning to love Him with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Now, it’s one thing to be loved by God and us to acknowledge Him as God and even fear/revere Him, but quite another thing to actually LOVE GOD, to enjoy God for who He is and for who He reveals Himself to be in His Word. After all, isn’t everyone inherently loved by God simply because He’s our Creator? (Of course, God has those He likes and dislikes, loves and even hates at times, such as Jacob vs Esau in Malachi 1:2-3.) However, the fear and reverence of God is still a far cry from actually loving God as you would your spouse, children, parents, etc.

Really, truly, loving God means knowing God, and that’s where we should really start to realize that we’re in over our heads, as CS Lewis discovered after the death of his wife in his book, “A Grief Observed”. When his time of grief and suffering came, he found that God felt as if He was nowhere to be found, unlike the rest of their relationship when life was good:

“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” 

And then elsewhere in that same book, he considered his feelings and beliefs and wrote:

“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

What if we only “think” or feel that we know Him, but we in fact do not? What if God isn’t who we believe Him to be at all, and we’ve been inadvertently fooled by our Sunday-school teachers, pastors, and even our own studies, thoughts, and feelings? What if we live our entire Christian lives self-deceived to the point that we “know” we’re saved and on our way to Heaven, only to find out on that Day we really aren’t? Personally, I can’t think of a more disappointing ― and utterly terrifying ― thing in the universe! And that’s the thing that used to worry me every time I read that Matthew 7 passage.

However, a year or so ago I was reading an old Desiring God post titled “Knowing God Versus Being Known by God“, when the following verse jumped out at me from 1 Corinthians 8:3:

“But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”

While I’ve read that verse and passage many times over the years, I never really had an “AHA!” moment until I’d read that short DG post. Suddenly, the roof was opened and bright sunlight streamed in. I must’ve read that verse over and over that night and thought about it for a long time. In my mind, that “What if I’m weighed and found wanting?” question was finally settled in my mind and heart, and it opened up an entirely new line of thought, prayer, and contemplation.

Instead of me worrying over and over about the Matthew 7 passage (among others), the answer was right there in front of me the entire time: “If we want to be known by God, we are to simply, purely, and completely LOVE God just as He tells us to in His Primary Law”. That’s it. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Our everything. Nothing more, nothing less.

Our “good works” and the rest of the tangible fruits of “doing His will” naturally flow out of that love, His love for us and our reciprocal love for Him. The tragedy of those being condemned in Matthew 7 are that while they were doing good works in His Name, they really didn’t love Him nor know Him, and therefore He didn’t know them either. Even in their response to Him, the focus was on them and what THEY had done rather than on Him and what HE had done for them on the Cross. The Gospel is all about HIM and He has done, not us and our works.

How important is His One Law that towers above all others? Well, to start off with, it’s mentioned five times in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the first several books of the Bible which was to be read and recited often among the Israelites. It’s also explicitly mentioned in the first three Gospels (Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27) by Jesus Himself.

So then the question becomes, “How exactly do we love God?” By obeying Him and keeping His commandments, namely the first two: love God and love others as ourselves. While we have five “love languages”, God really has only one: obedience. But even that one starts with and is firmly rooted in love:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” ― John 14:15

Does that mean we are to diligently keep the hundreds of commandments as specified in the Torah and the Old Testament? For Jews at that time, yes ― but like the Pharisees who kept the Letter of the Law (rules and regulations) but not the Spirit of the Law (intent/motives), they could not because they did not love God nor love others. Because of that, they fell far, far short, showing their dire need for the Promised Redeemer regardless of how well they kept the written and oral Law.

So what are we to do now in the Church Age, in which through Jesus fulfilling the Law and establishing the New Covenant, God has broken down the distinction between Jew and Gentile and divided the world between the “saved” and the “lost”? Exactly as Jesus said in the Gospels:

Love God and love others the way we want to be loved. Forgive as we would want to be forgiven. Bless as we would want to be blessed.

It’s that simple yet that daunting, that easy yet that difficult. In fact, sometimes loving God and loving others is the hardest thing to do in the world, especially when they’ve hurt, insulted, betrayed, or maligned us in some way. Any way. Every way. And loving God? It’s hard to love God when it feels like life (or even He Himself) is completely against us. It’s hard to love God when we can’t see, hear, or feel Him. It’s hard to love God when we’re downcast and brokenhearted, particularly for long stretches of time. It’s hard to love God in the dark seasons of trials and waiting.

But that’s where His unchanging, everlasting Word comes into play, the timeless passages about Him being for us and not against us (Romans 8:31), about Him never forsaking us (Hebrews 13:5), and the multitudes of psalms, Jesus’s words, the Epistles, and rest of Scripture are to be our comfort and strength in our times of trial. We are to rely upon Him and His Word and not ourselves nor our ever-changing thoughts and turbulent feelings.

And then the Payoff ― being known by Jesus and God Himself on that great day when we stand before Him and He welcomes us into His Kingdom― is far worth whatever grievance we may have against anyone or anything in this life.

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The Author of Life … Released!

The Author of Life

The Author of Life

Now available on the Kindle and in paperback!

My latest non-fiction work (“The Author of Life”) is ready for Kindle download at Amazon.com! The book is also available in paperback format.

The synopsis for the book is:

When you think about God, what’s the first image that pops into your mind? Even when you hear the word “God”, what feelings arise? Are those thoughts and feelings of a loving, forgiving Father or a harsh, distant Judge or Someone in between two – or perhaps even something else entirely?

Could it be that because of our preconceptions, culture, and own personal history, the very word “God” itself colors our views and perceptions of Him at a fundamental level? What if our biases have actually blinded us to Him, His Word, and His heart?

What if we were able to reset those preconceptions and free ourselves from the baggage of our biases, perceptions, and our past experiences with God and those who claim to know Him?

What if we could start over from the beginning and learn about God without all our preconceived notions getting in the way and just learn about Him as He is, or rather, who He’s revealed Himself to be in His Word and throughout His Creation?

What if we could re-learn and re-think what we each individually believe about God and honestly get to know Him not as this distant, abstract religious entity but as something of an Author – the Author of Authors – who has a grand story to tell that He wants to share with each and every one of us?

The primary purpose of this book is to re-discover the Author of the Bible and examine precisely why He describes Himself as the “God of Living”, the “Living God”, and of course, the “Author of Life”. It’s my hope that its readers would get to know Him as not as some Cosmic Wizard Behind the Curtain, but as the Author of Life, the Writer of the Greatest Book of All Time, the Creator, the Grand Storyteller, the Artist, the Architect, the Master Builder, and the Great Genius who not only created all things and set them into motion, but who created living, sentient beings who He desires to have a personal, intimate relationship with: each one of us.

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That One Thing

“A man after God’s own heart…” If there were ever a title or a commendation to receive from God Himself, that would be it. In the entire Bible, there is only ONE person given that commendation (aside from Jesus Himself, of course!): David, the lowly shepherd-boy from the hills of Bethlehem who became a king.

Despite his sin, adultery, murder, and dramatic failures as a father, David was still known as “a man after God’s own heart” and he became the standard by which all the other kings in Israel and Judah were measured, and most of them never even came close to measuring up to him. They may have believed in God and faithfully followed Him, but none followed after Him with their whole heart like David except for Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Kings 18:5, 23:25).

What was it about David that made God give him that incredible, personal title? Was it his courage, his military prowess, his administrative skills, his many accomplishments, his musical or poetic abilities, his integrity, his character, his faith, or his reliance on the Almighty, particularly when running from King Saul? Partly yes, but personally I think it was none of these.

I believe that the main reason why the Bible refers to David as “a man after His own heart” was because what David wanted MOST in the world was very simple: he just wanted to be with God. Nothing more, nothing less. David’s entire life and walk with God can be summed up as him wanting simply one thing – just ONE thing that He treasures the most: relationship and fellowship (and obedience, of course). In fact, even after He gave David anything and everything he could possibly want, David still wanted that ONE thing. And David himself says as much in Psalm 27:4:

One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. 

What did David want more than anything else in the entire world? To be with the Lord, to behold His beauty, and to inquire of Him in His temple. To simply sit at His feet and love Him. That was David’s One Thing.

Though I’ve listened to the songs of the late Rich Mullins for more than twenty years now (and even wrote a book about his songs, “Walks with Rich”), there was one song that I never really connected with until I began writing this chapter. The song is called (ironically), “One Thing”, with the main chorus/verse being “[You’re] My one thing! You’re my one thing! And the pure in heart shall see God!”

While it’s a decent, catchy song, I never really quite dug into what the song was saying before – to my great loss. Perhaps even without himself knowing it, Rich Mullins somehow linked one of Jesus’s Beatitudes from Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” with Psalm 27:4’s “one thing I ask… to see God”. And now that that connection has been made for me, it’s rather hard to let go of it! (Thank you, Rich – I owe you yet another one!)

Curiously, there aren’t too many other people/characters in the Bible who have that same simple yet fervent “one thing I ask” heart and mentality that David does – not even Jesus’s disciples had that same fervor, though Peter and John came close, I suppose. But there was one person that Jesus specifically calls out as having that One Thing that He desires the most, and that’s in the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42:

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’s feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary’s One Thing was the same as David’s in Psalm 27: to simply be with the Lord, to sit at His feet, and to look upon His face. If David would have been there along with them, he and Mary would’ve probably been making a complete nuisance of themselves in trying to be the one closest to Jesus! Mary was completely devoted to Him and loved Jesus so much, and simply wanted to be in His presence as much as possible.

According to John 19-20, she followed Him from His trials to the cross, remained at there close by at the cross, likely went to the Tomb with His body (the Garden Tomb is less than a hundred feet away from Golgotha), then on Sunday was the very FIRST one to go to the Tomb, even though she knew she wouldn’t see His body because of the stone covering the entrance, which she assumed was still there. And then upon seeing the stone was rolled away and that His body wasn’t there, she ran and told the disciples the news.

Several of the disciples returned with her to see for themselves, saw Jesus’s grave-clothes lying there (with no body), and then they returned to where they were staying. However, Mary remained there by herself – weeping – she simply wanted to be close to Jesus (even though He had died), but now He wasn’t there and she was very upset that His body had been stolen. Knowing Mary and her great love for Him, if he would’ve been there, she probably would have visited His grave every day for the rest of her life! As she gazed into the Tomb to look for Him again, she saw two angels inside – but then she realized someone else was standing behind her. From John 20:15-16:

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Who was the very FIRST person to see Jesus after His resurrection? It wasn’t Peter, James, or John, His three most faithful, trusted disciples, but Mary – the one person who had found the One Thing that He desires most and who simply, solely wanted to be with her Lord. The “pure in heart”, or those who have found that One Thing that God desires most, are the ones who will see God. Like Mary. Like David. Like Rich.

And hopefully, like you and me.

 

Note: Excerpts taken from “The Author of Life: Hearing and Knowing the Heart of the Living God” (Available in late April 2020 on Amazon!)

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Fountains of the Deep … Released!

Now available on the Kindle and in paperback!

Disclaimer: though this book was actually released in late December 2019, this announcement is better late than never!

My latest novel (“Fountains of the Deep”) is ready for Kindle download at Amazon.com! The book is also available in paperback format.

“Fountains of the Deep” is the second book in “The Days of Noah Series.” The series consists of three books so far (in order): “Rise of the Anshar”, “Fountains of the Deep”, and “Chains of Darkness” (currently being written).

The synopsis for the book is:

After the great contest with Enoch in the Temple, the bloodthirsty Anshar have been defeated, but their presence has not been fully extinguished from the earth. Mankind continues to multiply and spread across the face of the earth, bringing corruption, violence, and war with them wherever they go.

In the dark realms of the Underworld, the demons hunger for revenge against their greatest Enemy who thwarted their schemes imprisoned their brethren. Their king plots his revenge to assure their victory, and the stakes have never been higher: another defeat will mean never-ending torment in the bowels of Sheol. And while the struggle for mankind’s allegiance has been lost, the struggle for mankind itself is just beginning…

As more of the earth is explored and settled, a group of nomads stumbles upon the Lost Garden, the place rumored to be where boundless power, wisdom, and even immortality dwell – where once men dwelt with the gods but were banished after angering them. With their discovery, a brutal conqueror known only as the Overlord sets his sights on retaking the Garden and thereby becoming the Lord of all the earth.

This is a story of the First Age, when dragons and giants freely roamed the earth and mankind lived for hundreds of years. Paradise was fresh in our memories and still sought by those who yearned for it. The earth was young, unmarred, and bountiful — and ripe for subjugation by men, giants, and demons.

“Chains of Darkness” (Book 3) is due to be released in the latter half of 2020.

When God Destroyed The World

When God Destroyed the World

BONUS BOOK! In keeping with the “Days of Noah Series” format, much of the research, sources, and notes included in the Appendices of “Fountains of the Deep” have been broken out into a separate, shorter book called “When God Destroyed the World”:

What if there was a world of both wonders and horrors, a world that we can barely imagine, which was actually the reality at one time in our ancient past? What if there really had been a near-perfect world marred with terrible violence, slavery, corruption, wickedness, injustice, brutality, and unimaginable perversions, and that was the civilization that men, women, and children had to live in?

What if there really had been a world filled with fallen angels, demons, giants, dragons, monsters, zombies, and vampires and they walked among us? What if there really had been a world in which demons tangibly interbred and corrupted mankind and produced all sorts of monstrous, tyrannical perversions? What if that had been humanity’s reality in the distant past – but there was no hero to end the nightmare and save us?

That was the all-too-real world that Noah, Methuselah, and Enoch’s generations lived in – the world that God destroyed. But why did He go so far as to wipe out the entire world? Why did He take the extreme step of intervening in our ancient history and essentially start over with Noah and his family?

This book is only available as a Kindle Single on Amazon.com.

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