Monthly Archives: November 2020

A Gift Just for You

A few entries ago, I promised to offer you either some of my short stories or devotionals for reaching 100 subscribers. Since I prefer to give you a choice, below are two flash fiction stories (both previously published at Go Havok), and a series of devotionals I wrote for my church:

Stories: The Eye (thriller) and Voices in Twilight (science fiction).

Devotionals: A Glimpse of Faith.

They’re all in Adobe PDF format, which can be read by any computer as well as uploaded to Kindle and/or Nook (although the text size can’t be adjusted).

Forcing Gratitude

Interesting title, don’t you think? Is it even possible? Can gratitude really be forced?

For someone to attempt to force others to be grateful, the answer is no. One can act grateful for fear of certain consequences, but in their heart and mind, I’ll wager they’d be far from grateful. I’d even bet they’d be angry and resentful.

I’ll admit I’m of the latter. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, while no one is forcing me to be grateful (as such), I am having a difficult time convincing myself I should be. That’s the whole reason behind the holiday: to express our thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all our blessings.

And I should. Intellectually, I know that. My heart, however, is stubborn. It prefers to mope. To be resentful and keep count of all my losses, frustrations, and failures.

Even pointing out how many have lost more than me isn’t enough to pull my heart out of its malaise.

I know I’m not alone. No one is enjoying (except for politicians, bureaucrats, and tech companies) the current upheaval, the loss of liberties, and the general isolation from friends and family. The latter is especially difficult to accept right now considering Thanksgiving has always been about gathering and sharing in the year’s blessings.

We can’t celebrate that one cornerstone of the holiday this year, whether by a number of family members choosing not to, or by government edict. What, then, is the purpose of celebrating it now when it’s largely stripped of its meaning?

I know what some of you are thinking: I can still celebrate with my immediate family. I can still celebrate with others online. I can still count my many other blessings–for which I am self-aware and honest enough to know they’re innumerable.

Yet ignoring what my heart is telling me is not a solution. It’s pulling the wool over my own eyes.

Unless someone can show me different, no scripture exists that states we must ignore our griefs. And that’s what I’m feeling: grief over losing my country; grief over losing my God-given liberties; grief over my forced isolation; and grief with the certainty it’ll only get worse.

So while God doesn’t demand we never grieve or ignore it, he expects us not to wallow in our grief and provides ways to rise above it. I’ll admit when I searched for relevant scriptures, I was inundated with so many possibilities, how could I possibly narrow it down?

So I concentrated on Psalms, because David so often wrote about his own doubts, struggles, and grief:

Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

In short, no matter how much we grieve, God is there to lift us up. We just need to take a moment, be still, listen, and healing will come. As long as we believe he will. While gratitude can’t be forced, doing so is certainly in our best interest. Otherwise all we have to hope for is despair.

100!

I just received a notification that my humble blog has reached 100 followers. In today’s online world, that number may seem anemic, perhaps even something to avoid bragging about.

Considering I write more than market this blog, 100 followers is more than I expected.

So now I have to find a way to thank each one of you… perhaps share one of my short stories? A series of devotionals I wrote for my church? Reader’s choice?

I’ll let you decide.

Bowing to Nebuchadnezzar

I ran into a friend this morning and we got to chatting. At one point she mentioned the book of Daniel, and it reminded me of something I wrote back in 2015. After reading through it again, it seems even more applicable today and worth a repeat:

Yesterday a friend and I talked on Facebook about all the horrible things going on in the world. She commented, “Seriously I do wonder if we’re now living in the end times. The world is in a dreadful state and it is just getting worse.”

To which I responded, “I used to think that, but—at least from what I read—globally before and during WWII things were a lot worse.

“Some days I wonder why God is still waiting and wish he’d just end it already. Other days I’m grateful he’s not, because it gives everyone more opportunities to both spread and understand the truth.

“I feel selfish by wanting it to end, because it’s coming from a place of fear in that I don’t want to see my nation fall, or for my good life to end.

“I have to constantly remind myself that God is still in control. Even if there are hardships I can’t even imagine to come, I know eternity with God awaits me.

“I just hope I continue to have the wherewithal to show God’s love to others, but I sometimes (often) wonder why I bother since so many hearts are hardened against him.

“At least that’s how it seems. I could easily be wrong about that. I’ll never know when my words or deeds will influence someone the right way. Jesus didn’t give up; God hasn’t given up. Nor should I, because then I am no good to him or those who need him.”

I’ve heard a few people express concern that Christians are about to enter an era of persecution in Western countries including the United States.

I often wonder the same thing, especially recently, but then I thought, are trials and persecutions a bad thing—at least as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned?

In all instances when people or government tried to eliminate Christians and Christianity, they have instead resulted in explosive growth. Today, the highest percentage of Christian expansion is occurring in China and other oppressive regimes where it’s supposed to be illegal. Our country is also experiencing revival in spite of state and local governments shutting down or restraining churches.

It’s easy to stand with the faithless when they’re standing. Not so much when they all sit down. That’s when the faithful are noticed. It’s frightening to be singled out and take the risk of being vilified at best–killed at worst.

But that doesn’t mean we should sit down. It’s during the times when the faithless sit down that we must stand up taller. If we don’t, we show the world that we have fallen prey to our own fears; we prove our own faithlessness and even distrust of God’s promises.

After Nebuchadnezzar built his 90-foot-tall golden statue in the book of Daniel, all people from every nation were required to bow down to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. They stood up when everyone else bowed. The king noticed and demanded they be thrown into a fiery furnace. Because of their faithfulness, the fires didn’t touch them, and the King and all his men bowed down to worship God.

Sure, their faith led them into the furnace, but it also led them right back out again.

I like to say God loves paradox. He uses our weaknesses to show his strength. He uses the darkest moments in our lives to reveal his grace, his love, and his promises.

He uses the world’s attempt to kill Christianity in order to further his Kingdom.

We must be part of that, otherwise our own faith is meaningless.

Therefore, do not be afraid of today’s or future trials and tribulations. Don’t fret about governments’ attempts at restraining or destroying the Church or our faith. Welcome them, because it’s at those times people will see Jesus most clearly. Our mortal lives and daily comforts should be the smallest price we have to pay to help accomplish it.

The Liberty to Walk Away

I’ve expressed a few times lately that we need to look for what the Bible doesn’t say as much as what it does say. This is another such time.

One statement I’m hearing a lot lately is, “If you love your neighbor, you would do X.”

Ever since I heard it the first time, it’s been eating at me. What’s so bothersome about it? Is it not scriptural? After thinking about it for a few weeks, I finally understood.

The entire statement is absurd.

Nor is it scriptural.

How’s that for an audacious statement? Read on, and I’ll explain why.

The most obvious one is what the scripture in question actually says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What I call the biggest little word is missing: If. Meaning there are no qualifiers attached.

Loving one’s neighbor can take many forms, and yes, that can include doing X if someone asks us to (the key word being “ask”). Yet there are things we must never do.

One is to use force or the threat of force to make sure people do something or act a certain way—such as through local or federal authorities.

The worst part of the statement is it implies that anyone who doesn’t do X doesn’t love their neighbor. As such, it’s an attempt to shame people into compliance. That’s coercion, the other thing one must never do.

Liberty is defined as:

• the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views

• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved

• a right or privilege, especially a statutory one [such as the US Bill of Rights]

• the power or scope to act as one pleases

But what does the Bible say about liberty as well as loving one’s neighbor? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they go hand-in-hand?

The story of the Good Samaritan is the oft-cited example of loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

The Cliff-Notes version is a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Three people encounter him: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan (it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?). Only the Samaritan stops to help him.

So now we need to look for what’s not said. In this case, no angel (nor God) came down and demand of any one of the men to stop and help. The story also doen’t include any authority forcing the three to act, nor do any of the men complain to the authorities to force the other two to act. They all had the option to walk away. Including the Samaritan.

Mark 10:17-22 has been sticking with me lately:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (ESV)

The key statement is in the last verse: “He went away sad…” Yet the verse, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” is equally poignant.

Jesus loved him, and because of that, allowed him the choice—the liberty—to walk away even as it may have broken his heart to do so. He told the man the truth, and with conviction, which is important. But again, looking for what isn’t said, he didn’t threaten or force the man into changing his mind with local/worldly authorities, or coerce through shame.

We are called to be just like Jesus, and that includes giving people the liberty to make their own choices, to walk away without us piling on threats or shame as they do so.

So in answer to the question I asked above, loving one’s neighbor must include liberty, no “ifs” about it. We can’t do one without giving the other.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV): “and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

Welcome to My Home

First a disclaimer: The above picture is not of my home. Mine’s far messier, and nor does it have a working fireplace.

Everyone has their house rules, both for those who live in it, and their guests.

One thing I always do when entering someone’s home is take off my shoes and treat their property as well as or better than I treat my own. Because that’s how I respect them and their kindness for allowing me into their home.

One thing I would never do is barge in, criticize them, their home, or their family and other guests. That would be rude, and would likely earn me a well-deserved kick out the door.

I treat other people’s social media pages the same way. That’s their home, and as such deserve to be treated with similar kindness and respect.

That’s why when I see someone post something I find objectionable, I scroll on by. It’s not my place to figuratively scream at them in their home uninvited. The only time I might step in is if they post something factually incorrect, but I will always be kind, and show them the facts via links or other means. That is still showing them respect, and most–if not all–have expressed their appreciation.

Now for my own social media house rules:

If you don’t like, or happen to disagree with anything I post, you don’t have to scroll on by. Come on in and let’s debate! All I ask is to refrain from personal attacks against me or my other guests.

The only other thing I will warn you of is that my social media house is rarely clean, and you may want to bring your own snacks. Coffee and tea will always be available, though.

When God Sings

Here in the States, we’re spoiled by many things. That includes not having to wait long for election results. As such, we’ve forgotten how to exercise patience.

For what appears to be exactly on par with the rest of 2020, we are forced to wait to find out who wins, and not only nationally. Some local elections can’t be called, yet, either. Part of it could be they’re as yet too close to call, or many ballots have yet to be counted (and some have yet to be delivered by the post office I’ll bet).

Many believe this is one of the most important national elections of our lifetime, so I can see why people are nervous and anxious. The number of people who voted alone proves that.

I am no exception. I, too, wanted results when I awoke this morning, but I’m also not surprised nothing was made official. Because that’s 2020 for you.

But I’m also not one to wallow in that anxiety (much), because it doesn’t change anything.

Yet God knows me better than I know myself, because I woke up to the lyrics of a song by Tasha Layton called “Into the Sea (It’s Gonna be Ok).” The lyrics parading through my mind were: “I hear the Father singing over me, ‘It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay.’”

I will take that with me, not only during this nail-biting wait, but whenever I’m feeling lost or anxious.

I hope you, too, can sing to yourself, “It’s gonna be okay.”

You can find the entire song on YouTube here.