Tag: Grace

The Evidence

There is nothing like ripe, fresh fruit.

To be able to pick a piece of fruit from the tree and eat it is one of the great experiences of life.  

I remember, years ago, when I lived in Oak Harbor, Ohio and experiencing the thrill of picking cherries from our trees in our back yard.  I still remember climbing those trees and sitting high up on one of the branches and picking and eating fresh cherries by the hand full.  I still reflect in amazement that was part of my childhood.  I surely did not appreciate the experience at the time.

I am not sure that I can ever remember eating cherries in my adult life that were as fresh and sweet as those I picked back in those days.

Fresh fruit is the ultimate sign of life from a fruit tree. It tells you, without any doubt, this tree is alive!  And because of that life we enjoy the fruit.

There is one more thing I think about when my thoughts wander to this topic of fruit-  fresh fruit has a sweetness to it.  It’s as if one of the great evidences of fresh fruit is a sweet subtle taste that makes you want more.

So what is the evidence of life for the Christian?

What tells the world, as they walk by, that you are alive in Christ?

It’s the fruit!

Here’s how Paul describes the fruit that comes from us when we are alive in Christ,

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

The thing about this kind of fruit is that others should be drawn to it, there’s a https://syntheticgospel.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/good-tree.jpgsweetness about our lives that should make them want to be around us.  The fruit of the Spirit coming out of our lives should draw others to us and ultimately to Christ.

It’s the same thing that happened when Jesus was here… people loved being with Him.

The fruit of his life was sweet and refreshing.

So this is what I am pondering today. In clear self-evaluation, I am wondering if the fruit that I produce is pointing others to see Christ in me?  I want to be recognized by the fruit of the Spirit.  However, I am reminded of the times that no one could see Christ in me because I was too full of myself. 

There was no room for fruit to grow.

Too often, I was caught up in the throes of the dogma of religion and not in living in the freedom that being alive in Christ brings. 

As I reflect, my challenge to you, is for you to evaluate what is the evidence of the life of Christ in you?

Does the fruit of your life have the sweet taste of God’s presence or the bitter taste of self and religion?

Is there evidence that you are alive in Christ?  How does it taste to those around you?

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Being Real: Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

I have been attending church pretty much every Sunday since I was nine years old. 

I am not uniqBeing Realue in that… I am sure many of you who are reading this can say the same thing. 

My church did indeed preach the Gospel. 

Salvation was offered to those that trusted in Jesus Christ and believed that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect, sinless life and was crucified on the cross to pay for the debt of sin that mankind had committed.  He rose from the grave three days later and now sits at the right Hand of God.  All an individual had to do was ask the Lord for forgiveness and accept Him into their life. 

This is still what I believe.

However, growing up in a church that tied the reality of your relationship with Jesus Christ based more upon the length of your hair and your basic overall appearance is not what everyone else experienced. 

The church during that period of time was caught up in what was commonly called “legalism”.  The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible.  It is a term used to describe a belief that emphasizes a system of rules and regulations for achieving spiritual growth and evidence of salvation.

The truth is, however, even true believers can be legalistic.  As a believer who has endured the worst that can come from the judgment from other believer’s, I can speak with authority on this subject because I am a recovering legalist.

I spent a good portion of my life judging other people in their walk with Jesus Christ.   For many years, I sat back and did my spiritual evaluation of other believer’s, all the while my own spiritual flaws were masked and hidden by my own self-righteousness.  It is one of the greatest shames I carry in my life. 

I have always said that my greatest failure in life was not the fact that my first marriage ended in divorce.  My greatest failure is that I was part of something that judged and hurt those that struggled in this life.

I am a recovering authority on the subject of legalism.  However, it is not the intent of this post to cover all the issues that come with this subject but I do want to discuss a few of them.

I have always referred to the principles of legalism as “the list”.

dont_listIt was the first thing we gave to new converts. The list was made up of all the things that you were supposed to do and not supposed to do if you wanted to keep God happy and remain spiritual.

Most of the things on the list were good things—some of them even came right out of the Bible.

But some of them didn’t.

They were passed along to me from several sources, some from the traditions of my church, some from my training and education but mostly they were instilled in me by my Pastor. I was “taught” that if I did the things on the list that my life would be good. It was like a bill of goods…if you invested yourself into keeping the list you could reap the benefits of God’s blessings and find true happiness in this life. I bought it… hook line and sinker.

The “list” really came down to one question: “Real Christians don’t ______?'”(You fill in the blank).

Jesus died and rose again, martyrs were split in two, and the Church has prevailed for almost two thousand years against the gates of hell so that Christians today can live out this ever important testimony to a waiting, watching world to tell themselves that… Real Christians don’t ____?

Well, I believe it’s time to get a few things straight. The world isn’t waiting for Christians; the world doesn’t care.

In fact, by a large margin it is only other Christians that care about what other Christians do or don’t do.

Why have Christians made such an important issue out of keeping to this list? I believe it’s because we want something clearly identifiable that will distinguish us from the world. We want to be different. We want being “born again” to evidence itself in some clear, tangible way in our world.

That much is good, but Godly men and women have historically distinguished themselves in much more important ways than keeping a list of do’s and don’ts. 

Christianity gravitated to this list of do’s and don’ts because it spells out the distinctiveness so clearly. However, the problem and the danger at hand is that being born again can become a simple matter of following a prescribed formula as opposed to living a vibrant joyful walk with Jesus Christ.

Not that there aren’t any do’s and don’ts in the Christian faith.

Can you SpotThe New Testament is full of directives for Godly behavior. But the Biblical guidelines are much different from the ones found in popular Christianity, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the difference.

The rules for behavior in the Bible deal with less noticeable things and it involves commands which are harder to fulfill than the non-issues that we have created for our own Christian identity.  So we need to ask ourselves a few questions…

  • Which is easier to follow: Real Christians don’t envy or Real Christians don’t dance?
  • Which one gets noticed first: Real Christians don’t lust or Real Christians don’t smoke?
  • Which is harder to comply with: Real Christians love their enemies or Real Christians go to church on Sundays?

To tell a believer that they cannot dance, smoke and that they should go to church each and every Sunday is easy to define and expect from a believer.   Obviously aspects of behavior such as envy, lust and loving our enemies are so much harder to define and to follow.

I can maintain the “list” and still fail in the envy, lust and loving my enemy’s part and many other tenets of God’s desire for my life. 

Truth is…I believe maintaining a list of do’s and don’ts is a dangerous way to assume Holiness and approval from God.

But that is not how the legalist sees it. The legalist creates their own manageable system of weighing and measuring people.  They become like the Pharisees, who regulated righteousness into a long, involved list of steps and procedures, cumbersome indeed, but fulfillable.

So, in many of our churches, I’m afraid it comes down to maintaining this list of:  Real Christians don’t ______ for many believer’s.  They never have to grow past the need for the list and never really have the need to learn or experience what grace truly is. There isn’t any need for them to do so.

Don’t you think Jesus Christ died for something more?

That being said… many of the principles on the list were good ways to live your life and I am sure good ways to keep you on the right path. But surely they were not absolutes as they were presented.

More importantly none of them had virtually nothing to do with my salvation. Without sounding like an immature Christian, the length of my hair, the music I listened to or the fact that I went to the “movies” should not have defined my Salvation. What it actually did was reduce my spiritual walk to a list of bare-minimums-I-have-to-do-to-be-a-Christian.

I struggled with keeping up to the tenets of the list.  My spiritual life was at best “yo-yoSurvey questionnaire” Christianity. Keep the tenets and all was good… fail at one and you were failing and falling fast away from God.   

My walk with the Lord was filled with up’s and downs. Mostly downs because I couldn’t keep up to the standard of the list.  It did not keep me from trying…I was taught the list was the key to my successful walk with Christ.

The problem was what the list did to my Christianity. It became way too much about performance, and not enough about the reality of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Spirituality” became more of an issue of conformity and obedience rather than living out the fruits of the Spirit as God intended.

The progression of the list leads to what I call “the line”

The line is when you consistently keep the tenets of the list.  When a person kept enough of the list to be what they felt was “spiritual” they could draw a line of distinction between themselves and from those who did not.   If a person could make it to the line, he could feel good about Measure Uphimself and his personal relationship with God.

By measuring up to the line, a person could feel like he was good with God. And he could also feel like he was better than others. I cannot help but think of it as spiritual arrogance.

But sadly “the line” leads to “the look”.

Appearances became the most important part of life. And what was seen on the outside was prioritized over what was happening on the inside.

It’s not that some good things weren’t happening on the inside in my life—they were. But things like peace, love and joy weren’t as important as the Bible says they should have been. And no one was judging my spirituality by that. They were judging me based upon the tenets of the “list” and how close I was to their “line”. 

Both of these things made the “look” all the more important in my spiritual walk.

list2When you are a legalist, you spend a lot of time evaluating others, making sure they measure up. What does their “list” look like?  Does their list include all the important things that are on my list? And where is their “line”? Is it up there where it should be?  Or could I consider myself more spiritual since my line is higher? And do they “look” like they should? Or could I look down on them for looking weaker than me?

This evaluation was often called by some pastor friends as “fruit inspection,” which obviously refers to the verse in Matt. 7:20 where it states, “Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

All masked in the name of spirituality, when in actuality it was judgmentalism.

Many Christians wait and watch to be entertained by the latest episode of spicy details in the rise and fall of another believer. What we have here is not just another failure of a believer but clearly an in-house problem among our body of believers as a whole.  notgossip_lg

From my personal experience, sometimes the greatest gossip opportunities are the very “prayer meetings” we have in some of our churches. Prayer requests masked in the intent to “share” a little of what we heard or know about the failure of another believer.

Nothing but plain gossip if you ask me… but that is another discussion for a different time and place.

One of the most troubling things about legalism is that it keeps us from growing to be totally dependent on God.  Jesus saw legalism in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for their rules, but never for their discernment. Here’s the thing: When we depend on a checklist of rules to determine our decision-making process, there is no room for discernment. The Pharisees’ mindset would be “Give me the law. I want the rules so that I don’t step out-of-bounds.”

Following a checklist rules reveals something else: it reveals a lack of faith in God’s leading in the lives of others.  It says, “My confidence is in man’s teachings” rather than in Christ alone.  But God has a much better way. His way requires a daily surrendering of our will to His.  His way bears fruit.  It’s not burdensome and it’s not bound by legalism.

Ironically, I’ve been wrestling lately with the flip side of being a recovering legalist.  I struggle with judging and we_all_sinbeing critical of those who are caught up in throes of legalism. I find myself making fun of them.  I find myself even thinking that I am somehow superior to them because I see the error of their way and I found the right path.

This type of judgement is just as bad.  It shows my attitude and posture towards other Christians in whom I perceive the tendencies of legalism. Christ has been so patient with me, yet I’ve not always been as patient with them.

Instead, I’ve become so preoccupied with what I perceive to be their tendencies toward an imbalanced judgement of others and a separatist denominational spirit that I’ve sometimes lost sight of God’s grace in their hearts and ministries. This too is a legalistic tendency and needs to be erased from my life.

I also see that attitude among other believer’s that have come out from that background.  The very same haughtiness and judgment that I have witnessed in those that held to legalistic rules and regulations I see in those who are critical of  legalism.  They have no idea that they are just as guilty.

Thank God for Grace… after all, it’s His work, His power, and His presence in our everyday lives that becomes our true source of confidence and strength as we follow Him together.

I am still in recovery and I have a way to go. But now instead of keeping my eyes on the deeds and actions of others, I will fix my eyes on cross of Calvary.  I am starting to see forgiveness much differently than I have in the past. In the past I would simply ask God to forgive my unforgiveness of others… the older I get I see that God wants me to ask forgiveness of those that I have something against. Like Jesus Christ who forgave those that betrayed Him, I need to forgive those that have done me wrong.

So if you can relate to this story, please let me know… there is strength in numbers.  I need to continue my path to recovery and your invited to come along for the journey.  Maybe we can all find forgiveness along the way.

 

Finding Grace at the Foot of The Cross

Let me start off tonight’s posting on grace with a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I admit that I have issues with forgiveness which I’ll explain in a minute.

Second, I have issues with feet. I am not a fan of bare feet. I don’t like touching feet or feet touching me.  I can’t explain it, it’s just one of those things.

Forgiveness and feet are just two of the MANY things I have issues with.

I’m just being honest here. I know we’re supposed to forgive and I really do wrestle with situations where I should.  I’m working on it and God’s not done with me yet. 

Now what do these two issues have to do with grace?

In John 13:1-17 we see Jesus do the unthinkable.

He is just days away from dying on a cross for the sins of the entire world.  He’s with his closest frithe-last-supperends eating dinner. He knows them… He know what is going to happen.  He is with the very men that will soon scatter.  They won’t have His back.  One will betray Him outright.  Another will deny he even knew Him.

If these people were in my life and I knew that they were going to walk away, betray me and deny they even knew me, do you think I would want to share a meal with them? Would you?

As if the meal wasn’t enough, He goes far beyond the call of duty.  He takes the role of a servant and washes their feet.

He washed the feet of friends that would bail on him.  He washed the feet of the man that would betray Him.  He washed the feet of the man that would completely deny knowing Him.  He knew exactly how it would all happen.

These men didn’t deserve the forgiveness of the Savior.  They didn’t deserve the act of humility given to them by having their feet washed by God’s Son.  No…  they did not deserve these things but that is what Jesus Christ gave them.

That is Grace.

When I thinkfeet-wash3 about this act of grace and the one which would soon follow, I am ashamed of my inability to forgive.  I am saddened by my lack of grace in situations.  Should I wash the feet of those I may have issues with?  Could I even do it?  Could I wash the feet of those I need to forgive? Is an email saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” a modern-day version of that?  Could a phone call be like filling that basin and kneeling before those I need to forgive?  I think so but I am not sure. 

This I do know… I am starting to see forgiveness much differently than I have in the past. In the past I would simply ask God to forgive my unforgiveness of others… the older I get I see that God wants me to ask forgiveness of those that I have something against. Like Jesus Christ who forgave those that betrayed Him, I need to forgive those that have done me wrong.  That needs to begin this week.

Jesus was placed on the Cross for our sin. This is a critical point that cannot be missed – Have you accepted His grace?  Have you accepted Him as your Savior? Maybe today is that day. Maybe this week is a week to finally accept the grace that is found at the foot of the Cross.

“…And we will never be able to wash the feet of those who have hurt us until we allow Jesus, the one we have hurt, to wash ours.” – Max Lucado

That is Grace.

Amazing Grace

I never thought God could use a trip to Seattle to teach me a lesson about grace.

A few years ago I had a meeting in Seattle, Washington.  I arrived in Seattle on a Monday night around 11pm.  I was weary from a long dayseattle and ready to check into my room at the Holiday Inn express. It’s not my hotel of choice, but it’s where my meeting was being held early the next morning. Like is or not, it’s where I was staying. Or so I thought…..

The nice people behind the counter at the hotel kindly informed me that all of the rain they recently had damaged a number of their rooms and I was going to be “walked to the Hilton.”  The next thing I know, I am given directions to my next destination. When I walked into the lobby, it was pretty clear that this was certainly not the Holiday Inn. From the valet parking at the front door, to the lobby big enough to land a plane in, as the man behind the counter said

“wow, this is quite an upgrade from the Holiday Inn.”

When I finally got to my room, the square footage of the room seemed to be larger than my house, robes in the closet, Starbucks coffee on the counter, even a telephone next to the toilet in the bathroom. This is the kind of place you see in movies and never dream of paying for. I was like a grown up version of the kid from Home Alone. The most amazing part came in the morning when I got my bill. It literally read $0.00. That’s right. No charge. Free. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. The Holiday Inn had paid the bill in full.

You probably see what I am getting at here. Isn’t that something like the grace we have been given by God?

I had a debt to pay. A large debt. I did not earn this place. There was nothing I did, could have done, or will do to ever have made that possible. Someone else paid my price. All I needed to do was gladly accept the offer, and follow the directions to Paid_in_Full[1]get there. Even though my original plans were “damaged,” someone had noted my situation and provided a better way.

That alone would have been worth it all. But remarkably, they also paid my price in full.

We all have a debt of sin that we need to deal with.  We all need someone to pay the debt for our sins.  There is nothing we can do to earn the payment that needs to be paid.  All we need to do is to accept the payment for our sin that Jesus Christ made for us on the Cross of Calvary.  It was free… no charge. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It was this free gift that allowed you and I the ability to have our sins forgiven. All we have to do is accept this free gift of Salvation.

Now that really is, as they say, Amazing Grace.

Sweet Words of Healing

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

This week I had the honor and privilege to attend the funeral of Nancy Schueren.

Nancy SchurerenI was saddened by the loss of someone who for the greater part of my elementary years and a good portion of my adult years treated me like a son.  Her son Steve and I had bonded as friends in early 1971 and she immediately took me in and thus started her influence on my life that has lasted over 40 years.

I could no more deny the influence of the Schueren family in my life than I could deny the influence of my own family.  I have written about my friendship with Steve in my post called,  “Save Me a Seat – A Tribute to Steve Schueren” (Click to Read)   This was my tribute to honor Steve and his life.  I wrote it because I had been carrying a lot of guilt and shame because I had let him down in our friendship.  I wrote it because I could not bring myself to go to Steve’s funeral, but I had to in some way give honor to him.  I just could not go and face the Schueren family with my guilt, shame and embarrassment of my failure in my Spiritual walk, not to mention my failure to be the friend that I should have been to Steve and to his family.

I did not write it to get a response from anyone.  It was a just an attempt to clear a burden and weight on my soul.  To my surprise, my tribute to Steve has been read over 7,000 times since I posted it.  I am thankful for that because hopefully people will see what a good man he truly was.

Now to the rest of the story…

For most of the last eighteen years I have spent a lot of time and effort avoiding situations where I would feel uncomfortable and most assuredly I would avoid those situations where  I would make people feel uncomfortable with my presence.  Mostly it was spent in avoiding those who knew me from my former life.  When someone in the ministry fails in their walk with Christ there is a very high price that is paid.  Forgiveness is not something that is offered from other believers easily.  I would avoid as much as I could so as to not cause offense.  When I would be in situations where I would be around someone from my past I would try my best to avoid any direct interaction and most assuredly I would avoid eye contact at all cost.

One Sunday morning, just after Steve passed away I was walking to my car after the morning church service.  I was doing my usual head down and walk in a straight line out to my car.  No eye contact.  No conversation with anyone.  That is when she stopped me.  One of those 7,000 views of my post was read by Nancy Schueren. There was no avoiding the contact.  There was no avoiding the conversation.  I had no idea what to say and I surely had no idea of what she was going to say to me.

Nancy had indeed rforgiveness-2009ead my post about Steve and she grabbed my hand and pulled me in close and looked me in the eye and her first words were, “Thank you for your kind words about Steve and know that I have forgiven you.”    I cannot tell you the  weight that was lifted from my heart.  I have to be honest with you… this was the first time a fellow believer had ever looked me in the eye and told me they have forgiven me since my divorce which at that time was 16 years earlier. 

Those words spoken by a woman broken by the loss of her son were sweet words of healing to my soul.

It was the beginning of the healing of some of the wounds to my heart and while I still struggle with the lack of forgiveness and acceptance from other believers I will always savor the reconciliation and forgiveness from a woman I have looked up to for all of my life.

This week, as I dealt with her death, I remembered  as I listened to her son John and her grandson Jared speak at her funeral, although wounded and hurting from their loss, they were using words of love, healing, and encouragement as they honored a mother and grandmother that was now in arms of Jesus Christ.  These spoken words were sweet, healing, like a warm blanket to the hearer.  I longed to hear more.  I was amazed as I listened.

Our words make a difference.  They can  heal and comfort or hurt and cut to the heart.  We are most Sweet Wordscreative AND most destructive when we speak.  We choose which we will do…build up, encourage, love and comfort or hurt, destroy, and wound.  Our words are powerful!!! Our words are a reflection of our heart.

The Schueren family,  hurting from the loss of their mother and grandmother, was encouraging and comforting others!  Sweet and healing only begin to describe what the kindness of the lips can do in the lives of others.  We all need to know we are loved, to know it from those we care about and when the words of another are encouraging, healing, and loving it changes everything.  It changes us.

I’ve been thinking about these things since I left the funeral.  I am embarrassed at the thought of what may be said about me when the time of my passing is announced.  The footprints of the legacy I left behind will speak for itself.  I cannot change the legacy that I have left behind nor can anyone else that reads this post.  The only option is to live today with the hope that people will find the last years of our life will be found to have been lived in faithfulness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that we spoke words of forgiveness and love for our family and to those who we met along the way.

What I saw in the Schueren family this week were sweet words, kind words, encouraging words.  I wonder how we could change this world if we decided to only speak those types of words.  I long for the day in heaven when those are the only words we will use.

I know that the last 15 months since Steve died were so hard on Nancy and she paid a price with her physical body as she dealt with the loss of a son.  A parent is not supposed to out live their child.  It is one of the hardest experiences we face here on earth.  I am comforted only by knowing that she and Steve are re-united in heaven.  

Thank you Nancy for your influence and for your forgiveness… maybe you will be there when Steve saves me a seat next to him on my first day in heaven. 

 

Write On

Sometimes you just can’t win. 

Some well-meaning friends have taken a portion of their time recently to provide some insight into my writing.  It’s not that I am not appreciative of the input.  Like everyone else I like to be liked. 

Some encouraged me to write the same way I have been writing for the past few years.  Short illustrations of what God is doing in my life and trying to be an encourage people to live for Christ.  They tell me to write for the sake of others who are facing similar struggles and goals for their life. 

Others feel that I write too much about my relationship with Jesus Christ.  Even a few asked me to spare them the gruesome details of the failures in my life. They say,  “Don’t hang out your dirty laundry for all to see.”  They tell me that it is self-serving and it shows that I have not truly moved on in life.

Honestly, I don’t feel that I’m doing that.  But what do I know?

So, who do I listen to? 

I see the casualties in the blogosphere.  Dead, unfinished, incompleted blogs that were started with good intentions.  People who get the idea that they want to start a blog and start writing.  Some with the delusional idea that they even want to write a book.  It starts with the premise that they believe they have something to say, something that will be a help and will be an encouragement to another person.  It is done with all the vigor and excitement that they can muster.  The ideas are just flying all over the place. They sit down and empty themselves into a post and when that first post is revised a 1,000 times they finally post it and in many examples it usually isn’t that bad.  

Then the problem starts.  It doesn’t take them long to realize that writing is hard.  They spent so much emotion and personal information in that first post that they find,as they sit at the computer, they are staring at an empty page.   If they are lucky, they may post a few more and then it happens.  They quit. 

As it does for the vast majority of those that start a blog it sits empty and eventually deleted because of inactivity.  It is like the one-hit wonder of a rock band.  They get one good song and they can’t seem to get past it and eventually the creativity is just a rehash of the original song.  They all just start sounding the same. 

If anything I struggle with that.  I am open to the fact that my writings may be repetitious on some level.  I have fallen in to the cycle of being torn between wanting to quit or being compelled to continue on.  Then just about the time I am about to quit, I ask myself,Have I caused others undue heartache and pain through my actions in this life?”   Without a doubt!  Am I pleased about that?  Absolutely not!  “Do I want to correct the pain I caused others in this life?”  Of course! I have found that the only avenue I have to try to make these crooked paths I once walked straight again is to write.

There is no doubt that my failure in my life is something that is still not completely healed.  The pain of it sits just under the scar that I carry on my heart.  Sometimes the fog of life only lifts long enough to allow me to see the face of God, the Scriptures He left to be our lifeline or even the outstretched hands of family and friends.  I am thankful for those times when I see Christ so clearly but does one’s heart or spirit ever become truly immune and insensitive to heartache?  Immune in a sense but the pain still persists.

At times I am blinded by circumstances and need God’s healing hand lovingly applied to my scars that I carry.  The evidence of a scar does not always show the true damage that was done in a person’s life.  That scar we carry on our heart and in our life is only an indicator that the healing process has begun.  It is no longer an open wound but is still a long way from being completely healed.  I fear that some of the pain I carry will be with me until the Lord calls me home.

But this I know… in my heart,  I know that for every scar I carry and the pain that sits just below the surface, I am reminded that it is just another opportunity to tell another story.  

At this point in my life, I will listen to these promptings and I will continue to write!

So here I sit, baring my soul.  Some will be blessed by my comments, encouraged to know that they are NOT alone.  Others will be critical that I have been so honest and transparent.  Some will stop reading because all I talk about is my relationship with Jesus Christ.  For those that would stop reading because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I am honestly saddened.  It is not my intent to cause offense.

Because only the sovereign God knows my heart, my struggles, my joys,  my pain, my all. 

He knows why I do what I do. 

In the end, only God will be my judge and for now He wants me to “write on”.

And so I shall…

Better Than a Hallelujah

It’s a quiet night around the Lee household tonight… Pam and I had our grandson over the last couple of days.  A great time of playing and watching him explore and grow.  It is amazing to see how a budding toddler mind processes things.  I have been so blessed with having him in my life.  He has a way of bringing a smile to my face and melting my heart in one swoop.

In celebration of surpassing 400,000 visitors to this blog, I want to post a true reflection of what is going on in my heart. I want to do this for the sole reason to make sure that I have a documented record of the fact that I feel that the season of life I am going through right now are the best times of my life.  

I have to admit that I wasn’t always confident that I would be around to enjoy the blessings that I have in this life.  Having the wonderful joy of having my grandson and the rest of my family be a part of my life is something I do not take for granted.  I have created some messes in this life and tonight as I sit at my desk trying to think of a way to put my thoughts into words, I am so thankful for the time that God has given me.  I know that it is only by His grace am I here.  

So how I can capture the events and all of the wonderful aspects of my life and never forget them?  These are truly the days that make up my favorite things in life.  I keep reminding myself that when life was so hard years ago and when I thought life would never be good again… I have come to realize that love and forgiveness heals everything.  

I honestly believe that.  I believe that love and forgiveness heal all things.  However; they don’t make everything  perfect.  As I have written before…the bad choices I have made in my life and the sin, which is often the result of my poor decisions, left scars.  These self-inflicted scars that I incurred on my spiritual body cannot be fixed by a Band-Aid and a heavy dose of Neosporin.  All of the bumps, scrapes, bruises and cuts I have experienced in my spiritual life are fixed by the tender loving care of my God and the heavy dose of forgiveness that He provides.   The same is true for you. When we ask God to forgive us for our sin and our transgressions, He does just that.  He forgives and He heals.  He no longer sees the scars of our spiritual life.  They are covered in forgiveness and love.

However; the scars that God no longer sees are still in clear view for those around us on this earth.  Most times the only time I am reminded of the scars of my spiritual life are when other Christians point them out to me.  Which has happened more times than I care to remember.  God is faithful to always truly forgive, man is not.  It has been my experience that most Christians never really forgive other believers for the failures in their life.  People around me, brothers and sisters in Christ are still dealing with me as a failed man.   Even though my first marriage failed over 17 years ago, for many of them, they have not forgiven me. I have men who are serving as pastors, deacons and leaders in their respective churches that still will not talk to me to this very day.  I have tried to re-establish relationships with those who were my friends all those years ago and for the most part it has been to no avail.

There is tension. There is pain.  There are scars.  

Forgiveness is not a Band-Aid you slap on an open wound.  And though forgiveness is something profound, it is not everything.  Healing is a broader process in which forgiveness is a stage.  It is when you learn to love again is when the healing becomes complete. 

I am learning to love again and I am learning to forgive. I am not the man I was all those years ago.  I was given another chance.  In many ways my walk with the Lord is so much more real and personal than when I was in full-time ministry.  I have learned so much and I clearly understand what it means to be a broken man kneeling before God.  Please do not misunderstand me, I am not perfect…far from it.  I still struggle with the “old” David some times.  Like the Apostle Paul, I am sure I will struggle with the man I used to be until the day I die.  I still do things and wonder where my head is at. 

At times I still struggle with wanting to ask God a lot of “why” questions. First and foremost, why has God spared me? Why am I here, enjoying the love of my wife and family? Why would God allow bad things to happen to the people I love?  Why would God take my loved ones while there was so much more life to live? Why did God allow close friends of mine to die from cancer?  Why would God not heal a man of God and allow him to suffer from a depression that would lead to him taking his own life?  I ask these why questions because I know that God has chosen to keep me here when He has chosen to take good servants before me.

The “why” questions are so tough, but I ask them even though I know He is sovereign and in control. I believe God is good and that He has the power to change all of my circumstances.  It is not mine to question God, but in the back of my mind it’s harder to understand when He doesn’t change those circumstances and I have to live with what He has placed before me.  The good and the bad.   I am undeserving of the good things in this life that He has allowed me to be a part of.  I don’t understand it because I am not worthy but there’s a reason for that too—and it’s all out of His love for me.

The reality is that He is in control and is taking care of me. I look at my life and I see the years that I created a lot of damage. The years where I can see the ashes of the man I once was… settle on my children and my family.  To this very day, I can still look back and see the places where God took control when what I was doing was not in His plan or desire for my life.  In spite of my actions, He allowed me to walk out of that dark period of my life into the light of His love. I know that I am a better man because of the experiences that God has allowed me go through.

As I move through the second half of my life, I am reminded of the song, “Better Than a Hallelujah” by Amy Grant.  I remember hearing the song for the first time.  I was driving my car and I had to pull over because the lyrics spoke to my heart in such a real way.  I know what it is like to be a broken man and I know what it is like to cry out to the Lord when all I felt around me was misery.  During those times when God saw my broken heart, I am sure to Him my cries were just like the lyrics to this song:

“We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the Mess we are, the honest cries of breaking hearts… are better than a Hallelujah”

Those lyrics, “Beautiful the mess we are,” and I immediately thought of the verse, “In our weakness He is strong.”  In my greatest times of weakness He was my strength and my sustainer in this life.   He has allowed me to enjoy the fruits of this life. He has allowed me to overcome some things that I could only do because of His immediate presence in my life.  He has allowed me to love and enjoy this season of my life. He gave me another chance to get it right.

Apart from my primary love for Jesus Christ, I am so thankful for the blessings of this life and the following blessings are really the focus in my life right now…

#1. My wife.  

I have been blessed with such a wonderful woman who is a great mom, friend and partner to me. I am a very lucky man. I have been amazed in this season to watch God’s activity in her life. Her passion for Christ, challenges, convicts and encourages me.  I love that God has given me a front row seat to see His glory shine through her. She is so talented and her heart is so in tune to the things of God.  She’s incredible and I am humbled and thankful to be a part of her life.  Thirteen years — that’s how long we’ve been married to one another.  Thirteen years feels like a life­time, yet in so many ways it seems like not enough — so much has changed —  times change — we’ve changed.  We have had our hard times — we have those times when we both want to go lock our­selves in a room just to get a moment of quiet. We have times when we just don’t know what will come, and times when we wish what had come had not. We have per­se­vered over the hard times we’ve faced and those hard times we faced them together, as one.  It has been the most amazing  13 years of my life.  We have come a very long way and stuck by each other’s side through a lot of challenges. She has shown me what its like to love and be loved and that’s my happiness. It’s all I need to have the most amazing life I can possibly have, and thank her for it. She is, by far… my favorite and my best friend.

#2. My Grandson

I have been so blessed with having him in my life.  When he is at my house and I walk through the door and I see him raise his arms for me to pick him up…I am smitten .   This season of my life is so special to me.  I have to admit that I wasn’t always confident that I would be around to enjoy the blessing that I have in having him be a part of my life. 

My promises to him:  

I promise to pray for him always. I will pray for his health. I will pray for clear direction from God for him. I will even begin praying for the right wife for him, even though that’s years down the road.  Above all, I will pray for his salvation.  I pray that he will discover the grace that comes by faith in Jesus Christ.  Nothing is more important.

I promise to always be there for him. I want to be with him as much as we can be together. The years will go by rapidly, and I want to spend as much time as possible with him. I already have plans of taking him on special trips, to football games, or wherever he would like to go. Of course, I don’t know what paths he will pursue, but I will be there to encourage him and to remind him that he can do anything in God’s strength. It will be so exciting to see how God will direct him and how He will use him.

But I realize that this life is brief. I will be gone for most of his years. I pray that I will leave to him a legacy of love, a legacy of joy, and a legacy that demonstrated a heart committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, can I say that my years with him were not lived in vain.

#3.  My Children

I am thankful for my children.  My love for them is immeasurable and I have enjoyed watching them grow into adults. Parenting is the kind of job for which there is no practice.  You give it your best shot, and trust that it is enough.  You hope that God will make your children resilient enough that they don’t suffer too much from the mistakes you have made. 

Know this… I realize I made mistakes.  Sometimes I pushed too hard; sometimes I did not push nearly enough.  At times, I may have seemed distant. At times, too involved.   Sometimes it may have seemed that one or another of you got all the attention, and you were left on your own. Though I do not really think any of you were loved with any less intensity, I imagine you may have felt neglected or unimportant when my attentions seemed focused elsewhere. 

As a blended family of hers and mine… two girls and two boys… thrown together like a modern-day Brady Bunch (probably a bad analogy… we were not that cheesy…at least I hope that was the case) there was no such thing as “step” anything.  I loved you all equally and tried to be the best “father figure” I could be to you.   

Crystal… she has made me so proud. I am filled with joy when I see the home that she and Clay have made together.  It’s hard to believe that they have been married for over five years.  With Crystal pursuing her teaching career and Clay chasing after a career in music, I know how hard it has been for them, but they make it work.  I am so proud of her academic achievements and the teacher that she has become.  I am so blessed to have been able to watch Crystal grow into the strong Christian woman she is now.    I am equally so proud of Clay and the success he has had so far.  More than anything else, I am so proud to see them build a Christian home and be great parents to Indy.

Nathan… I started writing this on his birthday…October 25th.  That day was so magical 26 years ago when God brought him into my life.  I will never forget holding him in my arms for the first time. He brought such joy in my life… he was always “Dad’s Boy”. The burden that Nathan has had to deal with more than any of other children is the fact that he looks just like me.  I am sorry about that.  I loved watching him play sports throughout the years… He has made me proud.  I see him now setting the course of his future and I pray that he will continue to grow in the grace and love of Jesus Christ.

Adam… In many ways he is so much like me and in other ways so different.  He is as independent as I ever was and lives his life that way. He is a driven and goal orientated person.  He lets very few things get in the way of the things he wants out of life.  I am proud of the fact the he is pursuing his degree and I have no doubt he will be very successful in whatever he does in his career.  Like me, he will have to learn life lessons the hard way.  I often wish he would choose an easier path in life and though I don’t agree with some of the decisions he has made in life, I love him dearly and I am proud to have him as a son.

Cassidy… I only have one at home now and I am excited to watch her life unfold. Cassidy is the baby of the family.  She and I have a special relationship… during the early years we were not always on the same page as to who was in control.  We had to come to some “understandings” over those early years.  I have loved to watch her grow and when she reached a critical point in her life where she was making decisions that would determine her future… she chose the right one and lives a committed life for Jesus Christ. 

Cass is very talented…her voice is my favorite female singing voice I have ever heard.  I have yet to listen to her sing without tears streaming down my face.  I pray that never ends.  I assume that she has a few more years to go before she will “leave the nest” and she is now dating a fine young man by the name of Andre Guzman, who loves the Lord as much as she does. I am thankful that he is part of her life. 

When I look at Andre, I see a reflection of a much younger me. Now, I don’t mean he looks like me (Nathan has to carry that burden).   I am referring to his situation in life is very similar to what mine was all those years ago.  A young man, on his own, falling in love with a beautiful girl and trying to find his way down the path to his future.  I found my way and I am confident that he will find his.  Just know that Pam and I will always be here to help along the way.   

For all of you… Your mother and I have been blessed to see you grow and find your way in life.  We have watched you stumble, and tried hard to let you trip and fall but still be there to help with your cuts and bruises, as we did when you were small.  I believe that the hardest thing for a parent to do is to let go—whether it is taking off the training wheels on your first bike, sending you off to camp, watching you go to college, or seeing you walk down the aisle for marriage.

In closing, I am thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.  I am extremely grateful for those of you that consistently read my blog.  God has blessed me more than I ever could have imagined. And yet…while I am thankful I realize that God could change my circumstances. There are no guarantees that He will allow me to be here to see how all of this turns out.  With that being said… never question nor doubt… my life has been full and I have loved the second chance that God has graciously given me.  I live with no regrets.  My prayer is that I will always be true to my God and that I will continue to grow in His grace as long as I live.  May I live the rest of my days as an example of a man who loves his God, his family and pointed others to Jesus Christ. 

If these be the last words I ever write…may this testimony forever be… “better than a hallelujah” to the ears of God. 

 

Live Like That

Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I’m only just a memory
When I’m home where my soul belongs

Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song

I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

If love is who I am
Then this is where I’ll stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back

I want to live like that
I want to live like that

Am I proof
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true

People pass
And even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed
When they see me, do they see You

I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

If love is who I am
Then this is where I’ll stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back

I want to live like that
I want to live like that

I want to show the world the love You gave for me
I’m longing for the world to know the glory of the King

I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

If love is who I am
Then this is where I’ll stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back

I want to live like that
I want to live like that

God Is Just Not Fair

I remember when I was a kid, I will would repeat these words whenever I felt I was wronged by another person, “that’s not fair!”.   Truth is… it probably wasn’t fair but my mom taught me early on that life wasn’t fair.

I have had this lesson proven to me in a variety of ways over the years.  Without boring you with the details of a sad story about how I was done wrong at some point in my life, take my word for it,  I have lived most of life knowing that life wasn’t fair and it never would be.

It didn’t make much sense to me as a kid, but I now find myself repeating it frequently to my own kids.  As I have grown older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, I have come to appreciate the simple truth of that statement.

Fairness has become the battle cry of our society.  When something isn’t fair, it is viewed as inherently wrong or even evil.  We have gone from a culture and society here in the United States which was built on the idea of equal opportunity and “evolved” into a culture that expects an equal outcome.  Kids do not fail, everyone gets a trophy, and people bring presents to a birthday party for the other kids in the family because they don’t want them to feel left out.  We live in a culture that demands fairness at all times and in all respects.

The problem is – fairness is NOT a biblical concept.  The God we serve is a God of justice, but nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that he is “fair.”  Indeed, the idea of fair is a very human concept.  The Bible never attributes the idea of fairness to God.

Let me explain…

Jesus didn’t carry any swords or spears.   He didn’t have an army behind him. His only weapon was his mouth, and it was his message that got him into trouble.   He made people so angry that they wanted to kill him.

His message was seen not merely as wrong—it was dangerous.   It was subversive.   It threatened to upset the social world of Judaism.   But what kind of message could make the religious leaders so angry that they would kill the messenger? One idea that could anger the religious leaders is found in Matthew 9:13:  “I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” Jesus had a message of good news for sinners, but people who considered themselves good often thought that Jesus preached bad news.

Jesus invited prostitutes and tax collectors into the kingdom of God, and the good people didn’t like that. “That’s not fair,” they may have said. “We have been working hard to be good, and why can they get into the kingdom without working hard? If you don’t keep sinners out, it isn’t fair!”

Jesus was preaching that God is not fair. Most people think that fairness requires equal treatment for everyone, but when it comes to salvation, God simply isn’t fair. Even today, people don’t like to hear that idea.   Good Christian people want God to be fair—but he isn’t.

GOD IS MORE THAN FAIR

God is just…not fair.   The title of this post is “God is Just Not Fair”.  When the word “just”  is used as  it is in the sentence, it simply states that God is “the same as” not being fair.  However, when you use the word  “just” as an adjective the definition of the word changes.  For example,  Merriam – Webster dictionary defines the word “just” when used as an adjective as follows:

1
a : having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason : reasonable <a just but not a generous decision>
b archaic : faithful to an original
c : conforming to a standard of correctness : proper <just proportions>
2

a (1) : acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good : righteous <a just war> (2) : being what is merited : deserved <a just punishment>

b : legally correct : lawful

By definition…it means that God is reasonable, faithful, proper, righteous, deserving and lawful.

So in fact God is  “Just” which is more than fair.  His grace is far beyond anything we could deserve.  God is generous, full of grace, full of mercy, loving us even though we don’t deserve it.

That kind of message bothers religious leaders and all who say that the harder you work, the more you will get; if you behave better, you will get a better reward.  Religious leaders like to have that kind of message, because it makes it easy to motivate people to work hard, to do right, to live right.

But Jesus says, It isn’t so.

If you have dug a really deep pit for yourself, if you have messed up time and time again, if you have been the worst sort of sinner, you don’t have to work your way out of the pit to be given salvation.  God simply forgives you for the sake of Jesus.  You don’t have to deserve it—God simply does it.  You just need to believe it.  You just need to trust God, to take him at his word:  Your sin debt is removed from the record.

But it seems that some people are distressed at this kind of news. “Look, I’ve been working hard to get out of the pit,” they might say, “and I am almost out. You mean to tell me that ‘those’ people are pulled out of the pit instantly, without having to do any work at all?  That’s not fair!”

No,  grace is not “fair”—it is grace—it is a gift we did not deserve.  God can be generous to whomever he wants to be generous to, and the good news is that he offers his generosity to everyone.  It is fair in the sense that it extends to everyone, even though this means that he forgives some people a big debt, and some people a smaller debt—the same arrangement for all even though there are different circumstances.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the church or how many sacrifices you have made; those are nothing in comparison to what God is giving us.  The Apostle Paul worked harder than any of us; he made more sacrifices for the gospel than we realize, but he counted it all as a loss for Christ.  It was nothing.

To be completely honest,  we really do not want what is fair.  Because fair for us is hell. We do not deserve the gift of grace that God gives us. If God were merely “fair” we would all have to pay for our sin.   That payment for our sin would eternal separation from God.  I believe that it would mean an eternity in Hell.  Jesus Christ paid the debt of our sin by His death on the cross.  By His resurrection we have the hope of an eternity in Heaven with Him.  It is a free gift and nothing you  can do will make you worthy of God’s grace.

So is God fair?  No, He is not fair… He’s “just” and I am so thankful that He is.  How about you?


A Chance Meeting… Along the Way

No one seemed to notice him as he stumbled into McDonald’s.  It was evident that he wasn’t able to stay dry on this stormy day.

I immediately recognized him.  I do not know him but I had just passed him walking along the highway on my way to lunch.  As I drove by him,  he trudged through the rain, walking to his destination.  I did not give it a second thought.  Just another homeless man who I pass along the way.

He enters the restaurant and walks towards the counter.  I am sitting at my table with a newspaper spread out and just taking a few moments to catch up on the news.   I don’t know why but I look up from my newspaper and for some reason I watch him as he struggles to get a few coins from his well-worn pants and hands them over to the cashier.  I watch his feeble hands caress the cup of coffee that he just purchased.   The man looks up and his eyes catch mine.  I immediately look down at my newspaper.  I did not want him to see me staring at him.  He obviously had been homeless for quite some time.  I try to resist the urge to look up, I give in and take another look at the homeless man.  He is still looking at me.

His prominent chin rounds out while his lips seem to fold over his gums as if he were missing teeth.  The pale pink-white skin resembles rough parchment paper that had been crumpled too many times.  His eyes are worn but kind,  an indiscriminate color of blue.   He appears older than his actual age. His mouth keeps a permanent expression that is somewhere between a smile and a frown.  The harshness of a hard life lived on the streets fills in the lines on his face and his brown hair hangs like limp thread.

He appears like he wants to speak to me, but I do not know this man.  A small voice in my head says to speak to him but my instinct says stay away.  Something is wrong.  I look back down at my newspaper and force myself to not look up and resist the small voice in my head that is telling me to speak to him.  Eventually he leaves and I see him walk out into the rain.

I pretend to read the paper, I start to wonder about the life of this homeless man.   Where did life take that once innocent little boy, and what twisting, tearing winds tore him apart?  What major event changed the course of his life?  What was his home life-like, and what issues of life was he avoiding?   I wondered if anyone  had ever said, ‘I love you.’ to him?  Did his parents abandon him when he was young?  Did someone break his heart?  I dismiss these random thoughts and try to focus on the sports page and eat before my lunch gets cold.

As my lunch hour comes to a close, I rush to my car because it is still raining.   Suddenly I notice that the man had not left the parking lot.  He is crossing the parking lot heading in my direction.   I turn my head and hurriedly get into my car.  I press the lock button and hear the reassuring click of all the doors.  Next thing I know he is knocking on my window.  I feel the shot of adrenaline cross my stomach and I am on the verge of panic.  I desperately look to see if anyone was around.  No one was.

I reluctantly opened my window a crack.   “How can I help you?” I ask.  I was sure that he was going to ask me for money.  I quickly glance at my cup holder to see if I had any extra change to give him.  It was empty and as he started to speak, I thought that I was going to have to give a few dollars from my wallet.  I notice that his rough, calloused hands went into the pockets of his stained coat. Then it hit me…he was going to rob me.   He looked at me and he said, “I wanted to give you this.”   I started to feel an uneasy , sick feeling in my stomach.  My mind was racing, trying to figure out what this man had that was so important that he would continue to stand in the pouring rain in order to give it to me.   He fumbled around and then he pulled out a gospel tract called, “Where are you going?”  and slid it in the opening of the window.  Before I can respond, I look up and he is no longer at my window.  He was trudging his way across the wet parking lot in the rain and soon he was gone.

I just sit there staring at the worn and torn gospel tract in my hand.  I wanted to tell him that I was a believer.  I wanted to tell him that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.  I wanted to tell him that I believed that Jesus Christ was the only way to heaven.  I believed that Jesus died for my sins and that there was nothing I could do to earn my way to heaven.   Because the debt of sin was paid by His death on the cross, I could have eternal life.  I wanted to tell the man that I had asked God to forgive me and save me from an eternity of hell.  I indeed knew where I was going after I died.

As I sat in my car, with the sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the car, I start to feel the guilt and shame that comes with realization that this man who had nothing and lost everything in his life cared more about the souls of others than I did.  In my shame, I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually witnessed to another person about the relationship I have with Jesus Christ.

There are so many avenues we can choose to take in our life.  There are wrong paths and right paths.  I have taken a journey down both of these paths.  I have learned valuable lessons on each path.  But the sad truth is that for most of my adult life I have traveled a path that could best described as a “gray path”.   This  “gray path” is best described as when a believer lives their life in such a way that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  However, they do not have a real regard in sharing their faith and being a true “witness” for Jesus Christ.  They become very comfortable just living their life, going to church on Sunday’s and for the most part doing whatever they want the remainder of the week.  This would describe me.

Sitting in my car on that raining day, holding that worn and torn tract made me realize that I have neglected my responsibility to be a witness for Jesus Christ.  I believe that God intended for that man to speak to me that day.  I see that I need to be open and not so judgmental.   Along the way of living out my life, I now wonder how many friends will I leave behind because I failed to witness to them.

The truth is that everyone is looking for God.  Many people may not want to admit that but it makes it no-less true.   I should have been the one that gave that man a gospel tract.  I should always be the kind of witness that sheds light on what it truly means to live for Christ.  We have a responsibility to those we come in contact with along the way of this life.


Hearts that never mend,
The tears that never end,
And words that go unspoken every day,
Love we should have shown,
Dreams they could have known;
If only we would have told
Them along the way.

And who are we to say we really love Him,
When all we seem to do is throw His love away?
Will we smile when we stand before Him
And laugh all the hours away,
Or cry for the friends we left behind along the way?

The race is never run,
The battle’s never won,
And time just keeps on turning, burning away.
Bless me, Lord, I pray,
Fill my cup, we say,
While a million souls are dying along the way.

And who are we to say we really love Him,
When all we seem to do is throw His love away?
Will we smile when we stand before Him
And laugh all the hours away,
Or cry for the friends we left behind along the way?

I know that I am a better person and a better witness because of that chance meeting along the way.

The question is…  who are you leaving behind along the way?