jesus_helping

God: Nice Thought or More?

Back in April, I was thinking about how people think and act about God. Later, I saw a commercial of a show that Morgan Freeman was narrating about who God is across cultures. Watching the promo, I noticed a pattern emerge. To many of them, God was a concept, an abstraction that made them feel good.

Is that the reason many professing Christians aren’t standing out that well in a broken world? Like the rocky soil in Mark 4:16-17, they accept the thought with joy. Did you accept Jesus with a good feeling but no real life change?

A good feeling is temporary, an intangible thought doesn’t trigger change unless it’s accepted wholeheartedly. A term going around for it is practical atheism–where someone believes in God, but behaves like there is no God. He’s just a concept to them, like charity is something that is nice.

Do you fit God into your life when you find the time?

May I be so bold as to say it should be flipped?

God isn’t a concept. He’s the sovereign creator of the universe. A nice thought doesn’t get you through life’s struggles, the emptiness, none of it. That requires something bigger than you. I was told to have faith in my darkest time. Faith is having a trust in something. A nice thought that requires something or someone.

When God arrives, what I call a Godquake happens, everything is shaken up. An overwhelming feeling occurs, your heart breaks as it feels like everything is being pulled out. Then the dirt is scraped off, the gunk poured out, and it’s put back as good as new.

God is so big that when he comes in, things get knocked over.

It can happen at church during altar calls for prayer. It can happen in your home during a really good time in prayer and praise. I don’t cry, for me to shed a tear is rare. I was raised that it wasn’t manly, a foolish thought that was conditioned in me. But I cried so hard in my office at home that I couldn’t see while singing At The Cross (Love Ran Red).

Why?

Because it’s personal, more than a nice thought. Look at the chorus:

🎶At the cross
At the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You
I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red
And my sin washed white
I owe all to You
I owe all to You Jesus🎶

My life was surrendered to Jesus, I had done a great job at screwing it up. The fact that he put me back together is awesome because of why he did it. It wasn’t anything I deserved, yet he took the hit for me. Everything I had done wrong doesn’t weigh on me. Now it’s a cautionary reminder of where I came from. I truly owe all to him, he saved my life.

Yes, it’s a gift I can’t repay, and I follow him in gratitude for what was done and is being done now. It’s not like a codependent parent bailing you out again and again that you can call when needed. He picks us up, knocks off the dirt, and says follow me. 

You do follow then. Life is shaken up and you fit in his agenda rather than Jesus fitting in yours. God is the priority, so everything else is seen as a loss in comparison.

An idea cannot do that for long. Like a new toy, it’s forgotten after a while. It requires grabbing onto someone, not something. Life changes when we embrace two people, and is never the same.

Your spouse.

Your child.

With both, your dreams and priorities change. It includes them now, their needs come before yours. That’s what it’s like with a relationship with Jesus, things change.

He’s the perfect spouse, selflessly giving you what you need. Because of that, you listen and go with him wherever you go. Like it’s obvious you’re married, it should be obvious by how your life is now that Jesus is a part of it.

To see what the self-sacrificial love of God is like, look at a parent’s relationship to their kids. What would you do for your kids? What would you do to protect them?

Anything. And instruct them to stay away from things that can hurt them.

It’s the same with God. Do you know Him like that?

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Defeating Busyness on the Road to Nowhere

Have you ever felt like a hamster on a wheel going nowhere, no matter how hard you run? I watch stacks of books to read grow, hours at work increase, and time to enjoy myself decrease. It’s pretty miserable.

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Summer Streets 2011: Human Hamster Wheel

 

I remembered something Tim Ferriss said on a podcast once about conducting an 80/20 analysis. First, let me explain what 80/20 means. It’s the Pareto Principle where 20% of your actions result in 80% of the results. It’s the minimum effective dose. What does that look like in application?

Enter the 80/20 analysis.

Matt Bodnar has a post titled How To Perform An 80/20 Analysis. Check it out. I did it myself and these were the results.

  • Which 20% of my reading covers 80% of my knowledge?

The Bible, how-to books, broad books on just one big question. Because of that, I began to revisit books that I had learned a lot from before and always return to for reference. While reading new books is great, five new ones came in last month, but I need to get a really good understanding of the ones I use the most. A lot of them are on the Equipping the Saints page.

  • What 20% of my income do we need to live?

It’s obviously more than that. My books don’t fly off the shelf and I’m giving away the last one I wrote. However, our budget is set up where we can live off of less than 40 hours a week of my income.

I say that because the further you go up the ladder, the more time a company wants from you it seems. Or you have a lot of expenses so you need more than 40 hours. Because of that, I don’t plan on going much higher, takes away too much time at home. If push came to shove, I would be fine back on the floor. People matter more than a high salary and/or overtime.

  • What 20% of my time brings me 80% of my happiness?

Friends, home time, and working with my wife in ministries. The fact that she’s almost as involved as me is wonderful.

Find the 20, then focus on the 20. I plan on looking at this a bit deeper. As I typed this, I thought of the two greatest commandments. Summed up, love God and love people. Those two sum up the entirety of the moral law. Not a one of the 10 Commandments doesn’t fall under them. 80/20.

What’s yours?

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Lessons From Grief: “New Normal”

Grief sucks, plain and simple. It’s teaches us quite a few lessons so we can help those who are currently struggling through it. You learn some surprising insights from it, one being that you gain a new identity.

Have you lost someone and found that nothing feels the same? A new normal has to arise, with a new identity of sorts. I’ll let C.S Lewis explain:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend.”

C.S Lewis The Four Loves

When you lose someone close, they’re a friend whether they are related or not. That part of you that they could get you to reveal is hidden again. How we act around one friend is different than with another. My wife sees both the extremely goofy and analytical sides of me. My best friend enjoys engaging the part of me that goes deep into obscure topics that would bore my wife to tears.

The part someone brings out is gone when we lose them. It’s hidden away, just a memory. A hole is formed and it has to be filled the best way possible. That involves a change, a new normal–not moving on, but forward.

Some of the changes I went through is I began to legitimately care about people. Before, it was all about me. I opened up, appreciated life, and realized that a lot of life’s squabbles are petty and stupid in the end. It leads to regret when one of you dies.

As we grieve, we’ll adapt, becoming someone a little different. It’ll hurt still, and don’t worry, you won’t forget about them. As time goes on, other parts of your personality and life experiences will be drawn out. Like a music talent that was dormant or neglected will return. We grieve, but we also grow.

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What To Do When You Can’t Sense God

Some things are probably left buried. Except they have a tendency to rise from the dead. I got the “brilliant” idea to check my progress and revisit the last months of 2013 when everything changed. Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I read the first three chapters of A Ronin’s Journey, the book project I’m working on now.

Those three chapters contain the immediate aftermath of the death of my godson. When I looked up, the unshed tears were blurring my vision. I was emotionally drained, three months in thirty minutes. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea. I had picked a scab and it started to bleed again.

It threw me out of whack as the memories flooded back and bowled me over. I had wanted to remember the root of it all and I got it in spades. The agnosticism, tragedy, introspection, more funerals than I care to count, criminal record, a life spiralling out of control and failure.

Waking up the next morning, I felt like there was a divide inside me. An emptiness, God on the fringes barely noticeable. Think of the sun on a thick, cloudy day, the light is there but the source isn’t as evident. I remembering hearing that this happens sometimes, and taking a principle Jesus told his disciples, I remembered what he had done in the past.

I began by searching my notes from 2014, like the Beatitude notes, when I went through the 19 Mercies from the Ragamuffin Gospel, and the sixteen page Gospel Epic I explored “How Much Does God Love Me?” I began to feel better, the gap was starting to close. Maybe I could even write again?

No. The divide wasn’t quite gone yet

I searched a favorite site, GotQuestions.org, asking about spiritual emptiness. First, for any born-again Christian, it’s a feeling but will never be a fact. Every follower of Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Why I was feeling it, I don’t know.

The answer included four steps to help.

  1. Desire to be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. So I took a walk and prayed for just that.
  2. Confess anything I did wrong and ask for forgiveness for anything known or unknown.
  3. Present every area of my life to God for control. I made another lap of the plant, going through my mental checklist. What would God have me do at work, home, on the blog, with friends, and at church?
  4. I moved on, accepting the promises of the Holy Spirit, and asking according to His will.

Whatever caused it, whatever the reason, all I know is I got God “back” after going through the process over the week. He encourages us to look for and ask repeatedly. By it, we learn reliance on Him. That empty feeling was horrible and a reminder of how much I need God. I don’t want to go through that again.

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How Well Do We Know Ourselves?

sherlock-holmes-glass_550Can someone completely know themselves? I was asked that awhile back. Despite years of personal introspection, I had to say no. You can have a good enough grasp to know how you’ll act or react, but can’t completely know.

In Discovering You, I wrote about the self-discovery process I used to find out what makes someone tick, namely me. Personality tests, questionnaires, brutally honest friends putting up with my questions, and books; we love to take tests to see who we are or who we’re like. To prove my point, I’ll just type two words: Facebook quizzes.

I know how my mind works, how it processes the world, a basic idea of which script I am on (see ConCom), how I was designed, and an idea of the purpose I serve. I know how I’m perceived and how my writing is usually seen. I’m pretty confident in it all.

Except I was confident before.

Trauma and tragedy have a way of kicking over our apple carts and smashing them into dirty applesauce. That’s what happened to me after my godson. I retreated back into my head. Life’s experiences are what teaches us what we’ll do and trains us to overcome it. Experience is better than a book in teaching; the book helps us to conceptualize and understand it in application.

Romans 5:3-5 goes into the process of it. Suffering hurts, but we press forward. That builds inner strength and perseverance. From that our characters are forged even more, some of the rough edges knocked off or polished up even more. The forward process gives us hope, or it should. Unless you’re in the same spot exactly, you’re moving forward.

James 1:2-4 shows the importance of it. Trials are the testing of our faith, which develops our perseverance, and that makes us mature and complete. If we continue forward without our hearts becoming bitter, and more experienced, then that’s growth. We know the fields we’ve walked through and can successfully face the same trials and setbacks as before. It’ll hurt, though; I revisited my greatest trial and it threw me for a loop for days. I’ll get into that next week.

For now, I’ll sum it up like this. We have an idea of how we’ll act; life is what shows us if that’s true. It teaches us and sometimes the lessons are so very hard. We can come out of it broken, but better, experienced, and more mature. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

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Who Reads This Blog and What Do They Think?

Ronin s Journey   Seeking First the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness And Making An Impact In LifeA few weeks ago, I did a survey to get the pulse of my readers. You can still participate here. I wanted to know who you are, what you like and don’t like, what changes would help, and what challenges you face. This was to help me to serve you better. The results were surprising. Ready?

Who Reads This Stuff?

Gender

  • 60% are women
  • 40% are men

Age

  • 35% are 35-44 years old
  • 25% are 25-34
  • 25% are 45-54
  • 10% are 18-24
  • 5% are 55-64

General Belief in God?

  • 55% believe God is real and interactive in the world.
  • 25% marked other, specifying apatheistic, spiritual, and Wiccan
  • 10% believe there is nothing supernatural or outside our physical universe
  • 5% are not sure or believe God’s set it all in motion and left the universe alone afterwards

Specific Religious Beliefs? (Could mark multiple answers)

  • 55% are Christians
  • 25% identify with no religion
  • 25%  marked other, specifying heathen, spiritual, Wiccan, and identifying with many religions
  • 15% are Protestants
  • 10% identify with Buddhism or Native American
  • 5% identify with Inter-denominational, Judaism, and Catholicism

Favorite Subjects on the Blog

  • 45% like the mentorship/leadership posts (which are kind of rare)
  • 30% like the Christian Living posts on how to better follow Jesus
  • 15% like when I break down a Bible passage
  • 10% like the apologetics posts

No one likes the evangelism posts according to the survey. However, I weave both evangelism and apologetics into most posts.

The Best Part of the Blog

  • 55% like the depth of the posts
  • 35% like the practical information
  • 5% like the ease of use
  • 5% clicked other, writing in that it makes them think. If I can make you think, then I consider that post a success.

How Can I Improve (3 people skipped it)

  • 41% want a FAQ page. I don’t get any questions so if you have any, ask and I’ll see if I can answer them.
  • 29% would like shorter posts. I’ll try to keep it under a 1000 words unless it takes from the depth of the post.
  • 29% clicked other, and wrote in the following: not a thing, follow your muse, keep your editor (Hi Nay!), keep doing what I’m doing (I will but with more focus), and adding a categories page. I have a search bar on the right-hand side under the heading TOPICS where you can search by categories.

Read Any of my Books (multiple choice)

Your Biggest Challenge

  • 70% say it’s Life
  • 30% got specific: trust issues, forgiveness, health, self-hatred, anger, being judgmental, a life of nothing but work.

The last section was really important. I’ve walked or am currently walking all of those paths. Overall, you guys gave me a target to focus on and I thank you for that. Remember, if you have a question you want me to answer about myself or a topic, post it in the comments. The interesting and recurring I’ll start looking into answering and adding to the FAQ page you requested. Some may become a blog post.

Superhero

Real-Life Superheroes?

What is the attraction of superheroes? Comic book based TV shows and movies are killing it right now. Non-comic geeks can tell you the origins of Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. What’s the allure?

Most of them have secret identities, a double life, one average but when duty calls they suit up. They look like anyone else, but are something greater. We live vicariously through them, aspiring to be something more.

Even up to my twenties, I would draw myself as a superhero. Usually a small twist on a current character. I wanted to be something more. These thoughts returned as I watched Man of Steel.

I wanted to be Superman, nothing could hurt him, really. He was a good guy that you could count on. Wolverine was a favorite for a long time, rough and tough, no one messed with him. Despite his demons, he had a heart of gold underneath.

Spiderman, witty and smart; he’s just fun and dealt with real life as well as supervillains. A relatable character, with a lot of bad luck, yet he persevered.

Batman?

If you know me, then you know I love Batman. Why? Because he’s good at EVERYTHING! A genius, top fighter, has a plan for everything, doesn’t stop, and just plain, frickin’ cool! He’s complex, and honestly, very scarred. Still he does good. It’s his mission.

I’m growing almost as fond of Captain America as I am of Batman. Chris Evans’ portrayal is so endearing; he’s just so unbelievably good and honest. A good-hearted runt that became more. Like Superman is to DC, Cap is the moral center of the Marvel Universe.

What do these teach us?

Despite tragedy, they do good, they persevere, whether their world exploded, family died, or like Wolverine, everyone they love dies while he lives. They help stop it from happening to others. Where you could easily crawl into a hole deep inside yourself, they refused to.

The world is a harsh place. It’s also good and beautiful. They preserve the beautiful. A cause is good. However, the center of the cause should be people. It’s more than a concept; it’s a reality. I watch broken people who have emerged from their trials, helping other broken people every week. They bring a double-edged sword that is experience and empathy. They’ve been there.

Jesus gave the disciples and Christians today the Great Commission.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

That’s the cause. The center is people, though. Look at the second greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 NIV

So who is the neighbor? Jesus was asked that.

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 NIV

The answer was the parable of the good Samaritan. To sum it up, he made the questioner answer his own question.

““Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10: 36-37 NIV

SuperheroThe past is the springboard to the future. First, climb out of yourself. Then start helping people up. We may not have superpowers, but we can make a difference. It’s about people, help one and their world is changed. Now suit up and go.

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Death, the Unexpected Eventuality

Sometimes I arrogantly think death cannot surprise me. It’s a really stupid thought. A couple of months ago, two of my friends died. One, unexpectedly in an accident, and the other in a fight against cancer.

One was my buddy from high school. He was always up for talking about cars, going riding around, and never turned down a fishing trip. Time and life stepped in and my group of friends grew apart, as life went on. In that moment we came back together.

People grieve differently. I will get quiet, walking away to process it. If it hits really hard, then I’ll write a poem. My wife wanted to get a card. A nice gesture, but to me, it feels empty to get a sympathy card full of cliches.

I would rather have someone just sit with me and listen. Like Job’s friends in the the Bible. My friend Bobby listened to a rambling two hour monologue over the phone after my godson died. Other family came from hundreds of miles to just be there for us.

A week after my buddy’s death, Randal, Howls coauthor and coeditor, died of cancer. I thought of him daily, he was wrote down on my prayer list. Earlier that day, I had checked his Facebook page to see if I missed a post. Nothing since December, and it was a post that I would expect from him, a rant. Surely he was doing well, I thought.

It wasn’t well.

This is one thing that gives me hope at funerals, when I hear that they were in a saving relationship with God. If so, then I’ll know I will see them again. If not, never again, and the hope dies, and pain rises. With these two, I have some confidence, if not assurance. I’ll close with a poem I wrote after the funeral:

 

Did You Whisper?


My heart is heavy
and burdened
Lord.


Death after Death.

Twelve in Four.


Twelve people
gone in
four years time.

Whos next?
Tick-tock.

I have a hope.
I have a freedom.

My own death
does not
hold the grip
that it did.

I have died twice
already.

Is my hope
the same as
my friend’s
hope?

That is
my burden today.


I will see the others again.
They are where I will be.
Is Michael there?
Is Randal there?


Michael was pursuing you.
Seeking and knocking.
Did you whisper in his ear?
Did he turn and come near?


Did he know
his time had
arrived?

The seed was
being sown.
Did it take root?

Randal lived
on his terms.
As mortality
approached…

Did you whisper in his ear.
Did he turn and come near?

Was he lost or
a prodigal
far from home?

I joke
that I want to see
crooked halos
on saved sinners.

It’s a
plea
as well.

Did you whisper in his ear?
Did he turn and come near?

Was my hope
their hope?
Are they waiting
on me in the
Glory?