Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"What can I do to help you?"

Occasionally I quote or refer to Chip Brogden. His teachings are ‘the rest of the story’ and provide comfort and guidance to those who have been disappointed by modern Church as an organization and left only to find themselves in a spiritual wilderness. 

Of course, I subscribe to his website, I buy his books, and read his teachings, that he so freely gives. I’ve been reading him long enough to be able to say with confidence that he is the real deal in this age of religious illusion. I recently received an email from him that asked, “What can I do to help you most?” Though it sounded personal, I know he sent it out to his subscriber list. Chip doesn’t know me from Adam. (remember that old saying?) 

But God knows me and He knows exactly what I need at the exact moment I need it so those, like Chip Brogden, who are devoted to serving Him, often say and do exactly what God wants even to total strangers. God's blessings are always multi-dimensional.

We serve an amazing God!

Before I opened the email, I had spent some time laboring over another email to a friend whom I met in a Christian forum. I, as usual, discovered that my perspective and forthrightness was a tad too real for that group, so I had to quietly stop posting. It is never my intention to offend or cause dissension. Where is the fruit in that? But my friend and I struck up what was once referred to as a pen pal relationship but instead of pen/paper/stamp, we enjoy the convenience of the digital age. Turns out she wasn’t offended by what I posted in the forum. And it also turns out she is a precious daughter of God and sister in Christ. I treasure her words and ideas. 

But, back to the email from Chip. I sent my email to my friend and then opened Chip’s. It was what I call a confirmation moment. And this is what it confirmed:

The flesh is consummately self-centered. It’s a condition we are born with. It begins as a tool for survival but if we don’t evolve and grow out of the basic instinct, we become so self-involved that everything is measured against our own personal internal struggles. If we are insecure, if we don’t feel loved, if we are scared, if we are subject to temptation, if we feel worthless. We micro-focus on these issues and in so doing are compelled to take our spiritual temperature many times a day. Did I do that wrong? Should I have said that? Is God mad at me because I forgot to recite a verse this morning? Did I mishandle this? Why? Does it mean I am not a Christian? Am I good enough? If not, then am I really saved? How can God love me–I am so bad?

This was the topic I was expressing myself on to my email friend, and this, in part, is what I had just sent to her before I opened Chip’s email:

If you are constantly wondering if God loves you, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is your life better now than it was before you were saved? If yes, then is that not an indicator of God loving you? What would your life be like otherwise? If your life isn’t better do you still feel God’s hand in your circumstances, an invisible strength, an inexplicable peace? A sense that He has a good plan for you no matter what?

2. What is your expectation that God should do for you that you think would make you feel loved? What else should God do so that you feel worthy to be loved? Are you projecting the lack of love you felt as a child or some pain you have suffered from someone else onto God as though His love is as limited as human love? 

3. Would you still serve God for no other reason than because He is worthy and not just because you want to go to heaven? (Yet though He slay me will I trust Him ...)

If salvation is only about you, how you feel, what your circumstances are, having your expectations met, your self esteem shored up, you, you, you...have you missed the point that your salvation is about Him, for His sake, what He needs from you, not what you need from Him? (He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake). Our blessings and the assurances of His love come to us not because we are worthy but because He is. It's really all about Him, or should be. Right? 

God’s love for us is indeed unfathomable and is never about us deserving it. It is Christ within us that deserves love. God loves that we accepted Christ to dwell in us, that we gave up what we needed to give up, that we agreed to trust HIm, though He slay us. 

We speak about mercy and grace but we don’t really understand these concepts. We keep searching ourselves to try to understand God but our human understanding is pitifully myopic. When we are constantly looking inward instead of out and up, all we are likely to see is our unworthiness which overshadows our being able to see His ability to love the unlovable. Until we can stop focusing on ourselves, we are forever stalled out, stymied in what could be our opportunity to grow up spiritually and find the peace and joy that surpasses all understanding–enabling us to learn more of Him because we need less knowledge of ourselves. 

Otherwise we stay on a treadmill of preoccupation of wondering if we are loved instead of jogging out in the world showing others what God’s love looks like. God’s love reflected in everything we are, everything we do, everything we say. How can we tell others with confidence that Jesus loves them if we don't believe He loves us? 

Satan works overtime trying to keep us mired in the mud of SELF because it keeps us busy seeking fulfillment within ourselves instead of just serving Jesus because He deserves our devotion and thereby finding our fulfillment outside of ourselves.  

So, to paraphrase Chip’s question, perhaps we should wake up every morning and ask Him, “What can I do for You today, Lord?” 

For HIm,

Monday, October 20, 2014

How to Spot a Hero

On October 20, 1948 an unlikely hero was born. Here’s why he is a hero.

He was an only child and one would think that meant he was likely spoiled. Not so much. He was born to parents who had been raised in the Great Depression and then spent the first part of their young adult lives meeting the sacrifices of World War II. In that setting and circumstances, first and foremost, he was embedded with the understanding that the measure of a man’s worth was not how much he had but how hard he worked for and appreciated whatever he had. 

He was a latch-key kid long before the term was coined. Both parents worked so even as early as nine years old, he came home after school and took care of himself proving himself worthy of such trust. He had a daily list of chores that he knew he had to perform and he did because he knew there’d be consequences if he didn’t. He did what was expected of him, not because of fear though, but because he lived with two parents who, by example, did what was expected of them. Regardless the difficulty. Regardless the hours put in. Regardless the sacrifices. Regardless the work far exceeding the leisure allowed. His mentors instilled in him what was once more common–a highly developed work ethic. Thus he grew up responsible and accountable. 

By example, he also learned the lessons of doing the right thing, telling the truth, meting out fairness to others, all these values and more, in a time when a man’s word was his bond. 

Times have changed along with how to define a hero, who is more likely to be a work of fiction. Prosperity and abundance have devalued the importance of building character, one task at a time, by working hard, waiting and/or saving to get what one wants or simply doing without. Learning all manner of skills for the sake of being well-rounded is no longer on the to-do list of the generation that is slated to inherit the harsh reality of the future. Modern employment is all about specialization, limited labor, benefits and rights. But history has more than proven that the heroes of turbulent eras, when heroes are always most needed, are those who put in the time and effort, early on, to learn a little about a lot of things and a lot about more than a few things–and the integrity it takes to make those skills meaningful in the broadest good.

Sixty-six years ago today, an unlikely hero was born to a pair of hard working middle class parents. He is a hero in the real world. He doesn’t wear a robotic suit nor does he have super powers, but because he willingly steps up and does what needs to be done and because he earned his skills the hard way he usually knows how to do it. He metes out fairness though sometimes it looks like toughness in the here and now when toughness is easily mislabeled as unfairness. He is a hero but not just because he willingly does what needs to be done, but rather because he never asks for anything in return other than what he demands of himself. He is a hero because he can be counted on in the eleventh hour and in the clutches. 

It’s not all that difficult to recognize a real hero in this narcissistic age because they are usually the quiet fixers and never draw attention to themselves. They ride in on a white horse, render the bad guy useless and then ride off into the sunset without expecting fanfare. 

Another way to recognize a hero is to ask the damsel in waiting who appreciates him and has a long running list of the good things that can be directly attributed to him and his heroism. 

Happy Birthday, Poppy.

For Him,

Matthew 12:35 - A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Delivered - A Testimony

We can read good words, we can hear good, sound advise without listening but mostly we all have to find our way through this challenge we call life. The point of giving testimony about one’s own struggle to come out of the depths is for those who are ready to receive. 

Chris Rose’s testimony is a powerful call to rise out of the darkness of sure death into life-giving light. 

For Him,


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Art of Zeal

The young man came to wash the windows. His quiet, confident demeanor clued her immediately that he was way more than what he seemed to be. While he was deftly shining the windows in her office they exchanged a few pleasant words. He commented on the quotes up on her walls. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” and “The more that you read the more things you’ll know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go.” He seemed genuinely impressed and posited that she must be a teacher. She assumed he probably hadn’t come across too many old ladies sitting at their computer surrounded by stacks of books and quotes about learning all over the walls. 

Since she couldn’t explain in a few words she just smiled instead. 

A couple hours later he was done and wrapping up to leave. As she stepped out on the front steps to thank him and say goodbye, she sensed he clearly seemed to want to say something so she lingered to give him an opening. He said he had talked to her husband who mentioned that she was involved in writing and publishing.

And the conversation began. 

Over the next 30-40 minutes they talked about publishing in general, education, philosophy, the sad state of young people in entitlement mode, what it’s like to really have character building work ethic, and the importance of attitude. She learned that he had a masters degree in education with a minor in philosophy, but that he chose to work in something else because the education system disappointed him so much when he first tried to apply his degree that he couldn’t find his groove. They mind-melded over the certitude that the work one does is not what matters but rather the energy, enthusiasm and zeal one puts into it that defines success.

“He gets it, “ she thought, “He is rare.” She told him so.

He was obviously glad if not hungry to be able to freely discuss such weighty topics with another human. He expressed his frustration that most people are only able or care to talk about superficial things, minutia, the stuff that makes good headlines in the tabloids. She told him she felt his pain. 

She shared with him the Cliffs Notes version of her background. She prefaced it by saying that she was born with an insatiable drive to learn and do things. Not anything in particular but just an irrepressible interest in generally everything and desire to try her hand at doing, making, building, creating something out of nothing with a focus on problem solving. She said it started out as a habit then evolved into a discipline. Over time, all the disconnected little bits and pieces added up. During the times she needed to make a paycheck, those odd skills and abilities she had acquired by hands-on experience gave her opportunities to do and learn even more. They both agreed and concluded that the building blocks a person is made of are all the things added on while immersed in each learning curve one at a time. 

Emboldened that he didn’t appear to be bored by her words she then did something she never, ever did, and especially not to someone she had only just met. She confessed that she had the equivalent of no less than four resumes but that she didn’t think it was something to brag about because it was more an exposé that she was a patchwork amalgamation, the piecemeal results of a myriad of exploring, trying, failing, trying again, making do, making again, doing again and moving on to another trying. But she quickly added that she could never talk about it because, firstly, it came off as self-promotion, and secondly, no one would believe it anyway even if they understood it. She also confessed that she had grown so accustomed to keeping this topic in the vault just mentioning it made her squirm in discomfort.

He nodded as though he totally understood so she bravely continued and seized the opportunity to address the depths of her lifelong frustrations for always having been an out-of-step visionary accentuating that even notable visionaries aren’t too welcome or understood in the moment they are looking out to the future, so she had no choice but to accept her lot as a non-entity if not a pariah. 

She admitted she finally faced the reality that she’d have to make peace with that or quit and for her quitting was not an option. She had to accept that she was a hopelessly open-ended doer who wanted to do things even if no one else ever saw or acknowledged what she did and so she usually amused and satisfied her desire by doing things that were often ahead of her time. She quoted to him the words that she had called on to console herself time after time, “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the one doing it.” 

She concluded by emphasizing that she wasn’t complaining because she had always known God’s hand was in every detail, all her life, even if she hadn’t known the end story or the whys and wherefores. She said she had imagined herself striking an unspoken bargain to be allowed to do things even if she would never be credited for having done them. And since contracts with God are non-negotiable, that was that, as they say.

The young man seemed to understand completely all that she said and she so appreciated it as one of those golden moments that one can only hope to happen a couple times in a lifetime, if ever. 

She marveled to herself,  “Someone gets me.”

Thus the moment was enough to encourage her to keep on, to not give up the one art she had remaining to her–the writing. She heard the old mentor voice inside her head (the one that always found a way to yank her up by her bootstraps in sagging moments) reminding her that the letting go of the other stuff, those things that required physical commitment that she could no longer step up to was a mere blip in the continuum and that she could write with the same zeal she had when she was designing and making things for no other reason than the art of doing it. The voice, tough as always, reminded her that she had been invisible, out of step and often irrelevant all of her life so what was the big deal now? Losing her zeal was the only thing that has never been an option. 

“Get a grip,” the voice grouched.

Oh that voice! She could not count how many times the voice had had to chastise her to stop wallowing in self and just get on with it. “Just do and let God decide what He wishes to use to glorify Him. Did you think it was about you?” 

Once again the voice had zeroed in on the sweet spot–the nerve that could jerk her back into balance.

When the young man left, she encouraged him by pointing out that she could see he was a highly successful person. She didn’t have to elaborate because he knew exactly what she meant.

For Him,

(Psalm 92:12-15) The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  (13) They are planted in the house of the Lord; They shall flourish in the courts of our God.  (14) They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and green:  (15) To show that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.      

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Then Sings My Soul

In the midst of all the ever mounting bad news there is this golden hope: from this point forward, no matter what the world thinks of us, says about us, or does to us, we have the Balm of Gilead to calm us and guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. Those who simply cannot understand this, who make fun of and scorn those who do, are poverty stricken and should be pitied because they are missing out on a huge benefit of being a member of the Body of Christ. Notice I didn’t say ‘Christian’. That’s because the title or label has become synonymous with being a religious fool. And perhaps rightly so. While we were sleeping the wolves have sneaked in and decimated the flock. Chip Brogden says we need to give up referring to Christ’s people as the ‘church’. He prefers to use the ancient term, ‘Ekklesia’ which is a broader term that leaves out man-made doctrinal differences. 

But what’s in a name? God knows who we are and what we call ourselves matters less than what we do to represent Him. When one is older than dirt, like I am, for example, representing Him means less physical activism and more prayer. More quiet worship and praise. Amazingly this is where we find our comfort in the here and now. While it is awesome to know, no matter what, we have eternal life to look forward to, we can find in praise and worship that we are held up and assured as the hounds howl and the demons snarl and bang at the door. Let me just say peace in the storm is no small perk.

I just finished reading Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan. It is a collection of stories about the origins and authors of the old standard hymns that have been employed for centuries by the faithful to lift their voices in melodic praise for Him. Each hymn is reproduced next to the story of how it came to be. From the first entry, The Lord Bless You and Keep You, I alternated between being weepy and overjoyed. I didn’t realize how many of the 150 hymns I knew at least the first stanza to. Every page turned brought me back to an old friend I didn’t even realize I had missed. 

As I read the histories of the devoted individuals who recorded the depths of their souls into poetry put to music over the span of hundreds of years, in spite of all the differences, upbringings, often dire circumstances of their lives, the tragedies and struggles of the authors, I found a single characteristic that could describe them each and all–unwavering faith that our Sovereign God, Creator, is also unwavering in His promises to those who choose Him. Life here on earth is often nothing but trials and tribulation. Non-believers like to say there can be no God because a good God would not allow such trouble. The authors of the old hymns could never have been disillusioned by such a myopic concept. They lived, suffered loss and survived troubles most modern Christians would be hard pressed to endure. 

And yet they praised Him. In their faithfulness, they left a stunning treasure of words and notes that provide a way for the devoted mind to express itself, the heart to bare itself and the soul to sing. 

I know modern worshippers prefer a rip roaring concert, ear drum destroying cacophony of amplified noise to feel as though they are in a state of devotion and who am I to say they aren’t? But I, personally, am not comforted by most of the new praise and worship music. I can most definitely be entertained by it but not necessarily brought to a place of feeling as though I have entered my closet to request a one on One audience with my Creator which is what I need more and more now. 

I trust His righteous character;
His council, promise, and His power;
His honor and His Name’s at stake
To save me from the burning lake;
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

The Solid Rock - Edward Mote - 1834

For Him,


Thursday, October 2, 2014

It's Done!

If something is worth doing, it’s worth finishing... no matter how long it takes. ~ A.S. Fields

In the Spring of 2006, my then twelve year old granddaughter, Olivia, and I were having a friendly discussion about low-carb dieting, with desserts being the central focus. She dug heels in on the side that low-sugar or sugarfree low-carb sweets could never measure up to the real deal. Before the conversation concluded we had formulated a challenge. She’d make a dessert and I had to come up with a low-carb equivalent–that tasted as good as hers. 

It was one of those innocent throw downs, like a friendly game of Chinese Checkers but with a twist. The object was not to have a winner and a loser but rather to end up with two winners. The onus was on me to make that happen, of course. Being the owner of a small POD publishing company it seemed like a no-brainer good idea, at the time, to bring the recipes together in bound printed form and so we launched with a noble, albeit vague, plan to publish our results. 

And then life happened. Busy. Busy. Busy. Both of us. An apt analogy would be that it was like watching molasses pour out in slow motion.

There were lo-o-o-ng stretches where the project was so far down the ‘to-do’ list it wasn’t even on the list. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays we’d usually make the most progress because cooking and baking are naturally scheduled activities in those seasons. We always projected that we’d get the lion’s share done during the breaks–Spring and Summer. Nope. Amazing how little leisure time there is nowadays for young people. Every minute spoken for in some activity or obligation.

We lurched along, one recipe here, two there, during the last of her middle school years and then her high school years. To our credit we never gave up completely but neither did we ever project when it would be done so we never had the hot breath of a deadline scorching our necks. I cannot say there ever was a time that we fully despaired it would not be completed. If we had tried to made it fit a rigid time goal we might have given up. Any other publisher would have cancelled the contract long ago. In this case I’d have to say that not being on a deadline helped prevent it from dying so it most certainly was a leg up that I had a shoe in with the publisher. 

Nevertheless, it became one of the last remaining things on my bucket list.  A sobering admission if ever there was one. 

And then, eight years plus later, the stars aligned, or something, and suddenly my ‘to-do’ list dwindled down to manageable numbers perhaps owing to a mindset of semi-retirement. This past summer, Olivia, between working and hunting for an apartment closer to Georgia State University, where she is now a Junior, came in and out long enough for us to get the last of the recipes tested and photographed. 

I have been involved in publishing in one way or another for thirty plus years, you’ll have to trust me on this, a cookbook is another species altogether, from other tomes, even worse than a craft book, when one is speaking of the potential for typos. I can say with the authority of sweat-on-my-brow experience that I know the exquisite joy released like a rush of fresh air in that moment when there is nothing left to say but, ‘it’s done!’. 

But this time ‘it’s done!’ announced more than a finality, it was a summation of the growing up years wherein my granddaughter moved gently from a shy preteen with braces into a confident, graceful woman. Further, it can be said that ‘it’s done!’ sealed something far more important than just the completion of a project for me by putting a punctuation point on a sentence that needed finishing before I no longer had the choice.

‘It’s done!‘ at the end of a long run also proclaims that the greater lessons learned rise up in triumph over all the struggles and frustrations when the end was no where in sight. To hang on, to believe, to trust that if you just keep on keeping on, you will likely discover that crossing the finish line turns out to be much less important than all the adding on to yourself that occurred because of the doing not just the finishing. It is, after all, the tedium in the valley that remains long after the flush of accomplishment on the mountain top so quickly fades away.

Of course, I always see the greater message in everything and for me this addresses the daily modern challenges we face individually as well as collectively. We need more than courage to continue in the face of adversity, nowadays, we need a certain kind of pluck that can only be found in unquenchable faith to keep us keeping on when the end is nowhere in sight. 

To trust that He is with us in the difficult doing as we are shaped for the purpose of glorifying Him in the finishing.

For Him,

We are inclined to think that everything that happens is to be turned into useful teaching. In actual fact, it is to be turned into something even better than teaching, namely, character. The mountaintop is not meant to teach us anything, it is meant to make us something. There is a terrible trap in always asking, “What’s the use of this experience?” We can never measure spiritual matters in that way. The moments on the mountaintop are rare moments, and they are meant for something in God’s purpose. ~ Oswald Chambers
LInk is up in Amazon!
Dueling Spoons at Amazon

Olivia and I are committed to donate a dollar from every sale to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.   http://www.gamountainfoodbank.org