Two Paths

Everyone has to walk their own path, make their own choices, and deal with the consequences along the way; unfortunately our paths cross with others and we can be affected by it…like getting into an accident in an intersection – sometimes the damage is minimal and repairable, and other times…not so much.
I think the hardest thing for me, however, is to watch someone and not be able to help them; to see them making choices that will hurt them, and walking down a path that leads to destruction, and I have to accept that it’s their choice.

Imagine the incredible aching of God’s heart as He also has to watch so many of His creation turn and walk away from Him and all that He has offered them…

Over the past several years there’s been a popular teaching that people want to accept because it makes them feel better, however, it is contrary to what the Bible teaches. Some say that God is a God of love so therefore he wouldn’t send anyone to hell, and everybody gets to go to heaven. They are right, that God is a God of love, but he is also a God of perfect justice Who judges with perfect righteousness and holiness, and he has prepared a place for the wicked who hate him and who rebel against his ways; people who think their ways are better than God’s ways.

My reply to this false concept of “everybody gets to go to heaven” is, why would “they” want to? If they want to live life their own way according to their own “rules and morals”, and ignore the fact that God created them, and established “laws” to live by, they reject everything about him, mock him, insult him, etc,- why would these people want anything to do with spending eternity with someone they hate?

The beautiful part is that God does still love them, he just doesn’t force them to believe in him, or love him back. And, he’s waiting for the day that they will respond to His love and turn from their wickedness SO THAT He can save them before it’s too late.

“Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Notice how it says those “who are eagerly waiting for him”)

Hebrews 10 describes how God’s enemies will be destroyed along with all those who turn away from him to their own destruction (their choice). I think the problem is that the enemy of God has deceived many and distracted them from the truth that there is a spiritual war going on, and we each have to choose sides.

Hebrews 10:37-39 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.”

Which side will you choose?

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Choose Love

If part of my purpose is to love no matter what, then the hurtful things that others do, whether intentional or unknowingly, should not matter to me…unless I take offense. One goal of a follower of Christ should be to NOT be easily offended.

I must always keep in mind that the One I follow and learn from, came to a broken and lost world to bring healing and restoration, and as He went about fulfilling His purpose He didn’t get caught up in the politics of the day, or theological arguments, or whether or not one sin was “worse” than another.
He came to teach the truth and to set the captives free.
He wasn’t mad and bitter when others disagreed with Him or didn’t understand His mission; He wasn’t even bothered by His own mother, brothers, and sisters who called Him crazy. And while He may have seemed a little ‘annoyed’ with His closest friends who were a little slow in ‘catching on’ to what His purpose was, He still loved them and ‘put up with them’. And even though he called the people of that generation, ‘wicked and perverse’, He chose to take the punishment for their sin so that they wouldn’t have to. The night that He ate His last dinner with those who knew Him best, He spoke many words to them in an effort to prepare them for what was to come as they fulfilled their purpose on the earth as they continued the work that He began.
Twice He said to them, “This is my command: Love one another”.

This seems so simple in words but clearly, we are living in a time when people do not know what real love is. The word ‘love’ has been overused and misused. We say things like, “I love chocolate!”…”I love sports!” …”I love horses!”…”I love pizza!”
But real love, according to the source of Love, is when you are willing to put someone else’s needs before your own; to lay down your life for another, unselfishly and sincerely concerned about the well-being of another.
We have allowed a wicked and perverse generation to twist and distort our understanding of true Love. What a sad time we live in; but what a perfect time to choose the Way of Love and start living it out every day.

We are all created in the image of God but we certainly don’t reflect that. One person came to make a difference and bring hope for a lost and dying world. He asked His followers to do the same; it’s a perpetual commandment to all who choose to follow Him and to be like Him.

Love is not easily offended.
Love is patient and kind, not jealous or rude.
Love is not boastful, prideful, or selfish.
Love is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over someone else’s faults, but
Love rejoices in the truth.
Love always bears up; always trusts; always hopes; always endures.
LOVE never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)love

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Truth is a Lifeline

I’ve always questioned everything. Just because “everyone” accepts something as true doesn’t make it so. Most people are too lazy, I suppose, to question and think about stuff, or maybe too stupid to think for themselves.

I could never just go along with certain things just because “that’s what’s always been done”, or “traditions” and “teachings” of men. Likewise, I can’t continue doing anything, or “believing” anything that has no eternal significance.

We live in a world that is under the influence of evil and deceptions of all kinds. It’s mind-blowing to me how many people don’t want to know the truth because they enjoy the “pleasures” of living in the deceptions.

Over 2000 years ago Pilate asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” We live in a postmodern world that denies that truth can be known, but that’s a lie because Jesus said, “I AM the Truth…” and we can know Him if we want to. But once we begin to live in relationship with him, he opens our eyes to the deceptions all around us and we have a choice to make; trust and follow Him or, continue living in the world and believing the lies. Jesus also said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…” Which means we are set from free from sin, free from condemnation, and free from death (Romans 6:22; 8:1–2). The foundation of knowledge and understanding is established when we believe in who Jesus is and what He came to “do”:
“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23–24) (The words of Jesus)

However, simply believing who Jesus is, isn’t enough because the Bible states that “even the demons believe and tremble..” but, obviously they are evil.
Once we have a foundation laid by acknowledging and confessing who he is, then Jesus says we must “hold fast to his teachings” which means we not only believe but also obey his teachings.   As it is written in the word of God:  “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16, ESV).

If we really know Jesus we cannot live as the world lives, trying to conform to their thinking and adapting their “beliefs”, teachings, and traditions. I’ve tried.
It doesn’t work.  It only brings inner struggles and frustrations, and lack of peace and joy.

It takes courage and determination to not only live in the truth, but more so to live OUT the truth. Because once a true disciple starts living as he is called to, ridicule and rejection abound. This is when you need to be more concerned about remaining in pure faith then caring if people “like” you or not, or whether or not they “understand” why you do what you do, or more so why you WON’T do what you don’t do.

I write this from a place of spiritual grief. I see so many people caught up in wrong thinking and pointless living; strangers and people I care deeply for. I’ve lived in the dark, and I’ve lived in the light. I hate the dark. The hardest thing for me to accept is that although I know the Light brings Life, some people still love the darkness and choose to stay away from the Light, rejecting the Truth and embracing deception and ultimately, eternal death and darkness.

I can’t understand why anyone would do this, but I can respect that we all are free to make our choices, and I can still love people where they are.

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The Word Lived Out

While working at a hotel, I had many opportunities to interact with people from every walk of life.  On occasion, my interactions would become somewhat personal; more than just checking someone in for a night, answering frequently asked questions, explaining how to adjust the TV in their room, or helping them find the best place to eat.  Some of those encounters turned out to be, what I refer to as, God-moments; divinely orchestrated opportunities allowing me to let my light shine, by offering some encouragement through a friendly word of hope, helpful words of wisdom, or a light-hearted, humorous perspective to an otherwise frustrating circumstance.  These moments always developed seemingly out of a practical need of a guest, however, I usually didn’t realize it until after the fact.

I remember one unique encounter with a stranger that transpired on a quiet night when I didn’t have much to do.  It began with a plea for help, followed by a casual conversation which turned into serious moments of confessions, contemplation, laughter, and tears.

This particular guest had come to the front desk to ask for my help in successfully placing her take-out order.  She explained to me that the phone in her room didn’t seem to be working, and she was frustrated because all she wanted to do was eat some pizza and relax.  Looking at her with a puzzled expression, I proceeded to ask the normal questions I would have asked anyone in this situation.  Through the process of question asking, it became clear to me that there was something else going on “under the surface”.  This guest-in-need, who quickly professed our new-found friendship, appeared to be trying to hide a wounded soul and an aching heart.  My questions led to a somewhat relaxed confession from her, “I’m sorry. I’ve actually had too much to drink…maybe that’s the real reason I’m having trouble with the phone.”  We both laughed, and I told her I understood and would be glad to help her out.  She handed me her credit card and asked if I would order her a medium pizza with everything on it. “Do you think a medium will be big enough? Have you had dinner yet? Are you hungry?” she asked.  “No, I’m not hungry, but thanks!” I replied.

I dialed the number to the pizza delivery place while she stood by patiently waiting and smiling.  With the order placed I hung up the phone, handed her credit card back to her, and told her it would be about 30 minutes.  “Should I wait for it here?” she asked.  “You don’t have to,” I explained, “You can go to your room if you’d like, and I can tell the delivery person where to bring your pizza when it arrives…It’s completely up to you.”  She decided to stay in the lobby and wait.

After a few minutes of waiting in silence, a conversation began. Wanting to explain to me the reason she had too much to drink earlier that evening, she described how she had spent the day in an uncomfortable, heart-wrenching situation she would have rather avoided because she knew the painful past that she had been running from for the past eighteen years was going to come rushing in, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.   “My grandfather passed away and I came back for the funeral,” she began, “I moved away when I was twenty years old, and I haven’t been back since.  I haven’t talked much to my family since I’ve been gone, either.  I’ve just been busy living my own life, trying to forget the pain of my childhood.”  She continued to tell me how she had spent all day trying to pretend that everything was fine, and trying even harder to convince herself that the things of the past couldn’t hurt her anymore. However, it was obvious as she told me her story that the pain was still very real, and being around her family trying to avoid all the uncomfortable questions was more than she was prepared to deal with.

I mostly listened, offering a sympathetic smile now and then, and only speaking words of support or understanding where I felt they might help. I empathetically offered examples of my own painful past, and we connected on similar hurtful situations that we both had experienced.  As I shared some of my memories, she would occasionally reach out grabbing my hand in excitement as she realized that I could relate.

As I listened to her sharing parts of her life with me, she would unleash certain words and vulgarities that I would rather not hear, but never once did it ‘offend me’ or cause me to try to end our conversation.  I just listened.  Because, in that moment, I came to realize that it wasn’t just about ordering a pizza for a stranger. It was about letting a stranger know that someone cared enough to listen and that someone else knew and understood, at some level, that life is hard at times, and, at times, life just doesn’t make sense.  It was a chance to encourage her with the truth that although life can be hard, and sometimes painful, it’s never so difficult that we should quit or give up. I wanted to speak words of comfort that might give her hope and possibly help her sleep in peace that night.  In a somber moment, she looked straight at me and said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this, I usually don’t open up this way, especially to strangers…but, you have such sweet eyes, there’s a kindness in them, and yet a strength. I know that you have experienced a lot of pain in your life, but it has made you stronger….”

Then she suddenly blurted out, “OH! I just need to give you a hug!”  And, she did.

In fact, we hugged several times during our conversation, and also shared laughter and tears. Yes, I know the alcohol probably had some influence over her words and actions, but I also believe that the kindness of a stranger at just the right time can be the perfect remedy to a soul in need.

Before the pizza arrived, I had the opportunity to share with her that God was the source of the strength she could see in me, and the hope in me was available to her as well.  “Bad things happen in this world and evil does exist,” I explained, “but Jesus can heal our deepest wounds, fill our hearts with His amazing Love so that we can forgive others who have hurt us, and give us hope as we continue living, knowing that one day all of these things won’t matter anymore.”

She thanked me for listening, for sharing, for caring, and for making her laugh.  After she signed the receipt for her pizza and thanked the delivery guy, she gave me one more hug and said, “Stay strong and keep smiling!”  As she hurried off to her room, I wondered if she would remember our conversation, I was hoping that it wouldn’t just become a blur to her, but that maybe it would be the beginning of her finding healing and reconciliation, and that she might even consider continuing to seek this hope that I spoke of, instead of continuing to run from her past.

Later that night, as I was alone and thinking about something she had said, a smile came to my face as I realized that it wasn’t really me that she was so comfortable ‘opening up’ to, but, in fact, the very One who is able to bring true healing and wholeness to her soul, the One who dwells inside of me and gives me strength, hope, and love for others. It was because of my own experience of painful circumstances that I could connect with her, and it was through my own healing that I was able to offer words of hope and comfort.  Because I decided to let Love guide me, and because I chose to be sensitive to the needs of another, I was able to be a living example of what I believe.   As I considered my encounter with a stranger, this thought came to me:

“If you’re really going to love people, you can’t be offended by them; if you REALLY love people, you love them right where they are…in all of their ‘mess’.”

Suddenly the words found in 1 Corinthians 13 rang true to my heart, “If I could speak all the languages of men and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy to understand God’s secret plans, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  I could give everything I have to the poor and even sacrifice my body, but if I didn’t love others, I gain nothing.”

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Peace Through the Storm

I had a few errands to run yesterday afternoon. As I drove, I could see the clouds forming in the west. “Looks like that rainstorm they promised is about to arrive…” I thought.
As I drove, I kept my eyes on the sky almost as much as I kept them on the road. Mostly because when you’re living in tornado country that’s what you do, but also because I really enjoy watching the formation of clouds. They amaze me.
The clouds quickly turned very dark and ominous. The air was still and humid, and as I drove into the town of my destination, the warning sirens were blaring. At 4:00 in the afternoon people were everywhere; driving, walking, and going about their normal routines. But, as I looked around I could see most of them were doing the same thing as I…looking at the sky and listening for the message to come after the siren finished. Then, there it was. As I sat in the truck with my window rolled down I heard, “SEVERE WEATHER WARNING. TAKE IMMEDIATE SHELTER.”
I wasn’t finished with my errands, so I drove on and kept watch of the clouds in my rearview mirror. Arriving in the next city, I heard the sirens blaring there as well, the clouds had grown even more dark and ominous, and the wind was beginning to blow. Instead of passing the Braum’s, I decided to pull in, thinking, “A hot fudge sundae sounds good.” Standing in line, I listened as the workers all nervously chatted about the gathering storm outside. I took my delicious treat over to a table at the window so I could watch and enjoy the weather. I love a good storm. Lightning strikes, booming thunder, rain coming down sideways, and I sat peacefully eating my delicious mix of hot fudge, vanilla ice cream, and nuts. “What a beautiful way to spend part of my afternoon.” I thought. Soon the side door was getting pulled open by the wind, and then it would slam shut. Next, there was a torrential downpour, quickly followed by hail. I finished my sundae and sat watching and waiting for the storm to pass. It wasn’t long, just long enough for me to take a break in my day and rest.
I finished my errands and drove home in the rain. As I arrived, I glanced at the sky and was treated with a beautiful, complete, double rainbow. “WOW!” I exclaimed. “Beautiful.” No matter how many times I see a rainbow, I always feel like a little child seeing one for the first time, with awe and wonder filling my heart.
The day was coming to a close, the evening was peaceful and calm. I didn’t have a care in the world.
As I woke up this morning, the sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue and the Lord whispered to me, “Welcome to another day.” As I sat drinking my coffee and enjoying the quiet morning. It was as if He was talking to me about yesterday’s storm, and helping me remember the peaceful feeling that I had through it all.
I let Him guide my thoughts, as I begin thinking…
“Why was I so calm and peaceful?” –because, I had everything I needed; shelter, information, a place of rest, a yummy treat to enjoy, but most of all assurance. The assurance that I belong to God, and He is in control of every detail of my life, and…every storm. (Hmmm… I need to remember this daily.)
He is a good God.
The rainbow is not only beautiful and wonderful to look at, for me, it is always a symbol of His faithfulness and a reminder that He can be trusted because He is true to His word.

Desert Streams's photo.
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He Loves Me

I like daisies; they remind me of being a child. I would lie in the grass and pull off each petal one at a time alternating with the words, “he loves me…he loves me not…he loves me…he loves me not…” always hoping that with the last petal the words would be – “he loves me”. There was never a specific ‘he’ in my mind, it was just the hope that somebody somewhere did love me.

As an abandoned child dealing with the emotional effects of rejection; I always struggled with believing that someone could actually love me because if my own mother who had given me birth could walk away from me, why would anyone else want or love me.

So, now you may be wondering why I like daisies if it seems they would remind me of a ‘sadness’, but, the reason is because I now know without a doubt, that no matter how many petals I pluck or what words I may end with – I AM Loved. God loves me – always and unconditionally.

It’s taken a lifetime for me to know it AND believe it, but once I stopped looking to people in an effort to try and know or understand love and instead let Him in all the way, choosing to trust Him no matter what, I have experienced Love and acceptance that has changed the way I see others, and He has taught me to confidently love others the way He loves me, and I no longer fear rejection.

And it’s this confidence of His love for me that keeps me trusting, or in some situations, brings me back to trusting Him because I know that He wants what is best for me. It always comes back to KNOWING God, and Trusting Him no matter what.

Desert Streams's photo.
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A Simple Bike Ride

There have been many moments in life when I found myself asking, “What was I thinking?!” or “What have I gotten myself into?” Five minutes into my bike ride on a sunny Saturday morning, and I found myself asking those questions again.
As I encountered the first incline, I began talking to myself, “What were you thinking, Jonah? you know there’s no such thing as a simple bike ride here in Fort Worth; it’s up, down, then back up again…everywhere you go.” I laughed at myself, and despite my already ‘burning thigh muscles’, I pressed on.  As I rounded the corner and saw a continual climb up another small incline, I hesitated and for a brief moment found myself thinking, “OK. No. I’m not up for this..” –but thanks to two of my character traits, tenacity and determination, I pressed on convincing myself it would be worth it.

Unfortunately, I can also be impulsive at times, you know…not thinking things through all the way; I had made the choice to NOT wear my glasses, reasoning that I really didn’t need them to ride my bike. During my first decline, I was trying to get used to the brakes and going a little faster than I should have been.  My front tire hit something in the road, which I wasn’t able to see clearly without my glasses, and the tire wobbled, the brakes slid, my hands gripped the handlebars tightly, my heart skipped a few beats, and then I realized just how quickly that could have turned out very ugly. Again, I questioned myself, “What was I thinking?! I can’t really see small rocks and other debris as I’m moving quickly down the street! oh well, guess I better be careful!” And, the bike ride continued.

My ‘self-chatter’ slowly turned into talking to God:
“Ok God, I’m second guessing my decision and starting to think that where I’m headed is further than I thought, and I’m wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.” As soon as I heard those words spoken out loud I immediately said, “You know…I feel like that is the underlying theme of my life story, with You always saying to me, “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into”.”
I laughed at that thought, and then sincerely prayed, “but, here I am so I want to make the most of it. Use this time to teach me something good, speak to my heart whatever I need to hear; give me another ‘life lesson’ please.”

Within a few minutes of silence and consistent pedaling, the lesson began:

“Just relax and enjoy the ride, slow down, don’t try so hard, just remain consistent and enjoy the time that you have.”

hmmm…I began to wonder if that was what He had been trying to teach me with the whole ‘Be still and wait on the Lord’ theme that had been going on…for years! hahaha!

So… I slowed down, relaxed, and found a comfortable pace. I started looking around and enjoying my bike ride. Before I knew it, I had reached my destination and with pleasant surprise I declared, “whatdoyouknow! that wasn’t so bad after all!”

After completing my errand, I returned to my bike and was getting back on when I heard a heavily accented voice from behind me ask, “Vand to trade?” I turned to see an older gentleman walking toward his electrical scooter. I glanced at him, then at his scooter, and then replied with a smile, “No thanks. I need the workout.” He looked at me and responded with a confused look on his face and questioned, “Vy?!” Without hesitation, I shouted back over my shoulder as I rode off…”It’s what keeps me strong!”
A small voice ‘inside my head’ replied, “Exactly!”

As I continued my pedaling, I pondered the meaning of the ‘exactly!’ and my thoughts immediately returned to the confused ‘why?’ that came from the stranger…and it occurred to me that I had been asking God “why?” a lot lately in all of my confusion about life’s little trials, struggles, and disappointments.

There it was, my “ah-ha! moment”.
I had answered my own “whys?” with my response to the confused man-“It’s what keeps me strong!” And God’s response to me was “Exactly!” I wondered if He wanted to add, “you’re FINALLY gettin it!”

Just as muscles don’t gain strength without ‘stress’ being put on them, our faith does not strengthen without being put ‘under pressure’ and ‘tested’ now and then.

I rode on with anticipation of more learning from the best life-teacher ever! I love the way He meets us where we are and speaks to us in a way that we’ll hear him- IF we’re listening.

As I came upon the steepest and most intense part of my return ride, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way, but I was going to give it my best effort. As I felt my pace slowing and my muscles aching and burning, I decided to recite truths that I knew, “The Lord gives strength to the weary”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, “The joy of the Lord is my strength”, etc.. and as I was pushing myself to persevere through my huffing and puffing….this thought came to me:

“It’s okay to get off and walk when you need to, as long as you keep moving; Do what you can do and keep moving toward the goal. Don’t focus on how hard it is; think about how good it’s going to feel when you finally get home knowing you completed what you set out to do. Give yourself grace when you need to, relax, but keep moving forward.

I stopped, got off my bike and started walking. As I began walking my legs were feeling a bit wobbly as if they were about to give out. However, I felt a sense of accomplishment as I thought about the reward I would receive for pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do. As I reached the top, and the way plateaued, I saw a young, healthy-looking man on the opposite side of the street…walking his bike. Then I heard this,

“It doesn’t matter how ‘strong’ you are, sometimes all you may be able to do is walk.”

I smiled as I thought about the much needed ‘life lessons’ I just received, at ‘just the right time’ from a simple bike ride. I had set out that morning with the purpose to build strength in my body, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the process at the same time. Likewise, every trial and every struggle can be used by God to strengthen our faith and build our perseverance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our ‘journey of faith’ along the way.

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