Thoughts on faith, forgiveness and achievement
Many of us learn early that people disappoint and things break. So we turn inward, to ourselves, and we (1) isolate our tender places from others and (2) get really good at something like making money, playing a sport, relying on our own talents and skills as a self-created, self-centered support team.
We become self-sufficient. Or at least we think we do. That’s a myth. It doesn’t last, if only because we grow older and physically decline (sorry, but it’s true, no matter how hard we train), get cancer, watch the economy shift and our wealth decline, etc.
It just doesn’t work. All our my-way self-reliance does is leave us isolated and alone. Only one thing does work (sorry, but that’s true, and this from a guy who has stubbornly tried all the other doors): That is trust in God. When we finally figure out that handing over our emptiness, our loneliness, our need to scare away the two a.m. demons – when we finally learn to trust God and hand it over to Him, man, that is freeing and reassuring. That is a truth we can hang our hat on.
My point: When we learn that we can rely on God for peace, joy, happiness, then have learned all we need to know. This is not a “maybe,” not a “probably,” but a fact. Hand it over to God. Just trust. He knows what He is doing. — jri
“The truth is that self-sufficiency is a myth perpetuated
by pride and temporary success. Health and wealth can
disappear instantly, as can life itself. Rejoice in your
insufficiency, knowing that My Power is made perfect in
- Sarah Young
Jesus Calling (April 30)
Bonus: Handing over our insufficiency to God actually puts everything on God’s shoulders. I have been known to pray, tell God that I will wait upon Him and trust, and end my prayer by saying, “Good luck, God. Sorry about leaving you holding the bag, but you did ask for it.” And then I would roll and get a good night’s sleep. The key is to trust that whatever He brings us as His solution is the best one … even if it does not seem quite right at the moment. Just trust. He never disappoints if we ride it out to the end. Amen.
DailyConnections May 2, 2016
|In God’s Pocket:
Much of the time, when God answers my prayers, I don’t even see it happening. I spent much of my life kicking against the goads, doing everything one way: MY way! Fortunately, somewhere along the way, God gave me the gift of morning prayers. I don’t remember exactly when or exactly how, but I began reading scripture and praying every morning. It just happened. Correction: It did not just happen; God did it without briefing me first.
I prayed for many things, no, not selfish things, but good things. When I prayed for myself, I often found myself asking for three simple blessings: “Lord, please give me faith, strength, and guidance.” He did. What a wondrous way to start a day – talking to God and asking for His favor!
When God gave me the gift of Susan, I got a gift wrapped in a gift: Thanks to her late brother Phil, she had become a woman of faith. She was also becoming a woman of prayer. So, these days, every day, first thing when we’re both up, Susan and I give thanks, read scripture together, and pray for others. We never planned it. We never said, “This is what we are going to do.” We just starting doing it. What an awesome gift.
My point: I don’t have a clue. I just know that prayer is the most powerful gift God gives us. It strengthens us in times of difficulty; it opens up doors when we are in need of guidance and direction; it helps those for whom we pray, especially those who do not know how to pray for themselves and those who have no one else praying for them; and it centers us and reminds us that God knows exactly what He is doing. Exactly. — JRI
“Morning by morning he awakens me
and opens my understanding of his will.”
— Isaiah 50:4b
While our morning prayers follow a specific pattern, they are far from formal. They’re mostly like a chat among three very special friends – God, Susan and me – enjoying a cup of morning tea or coffee. We laugh. We interrupt each other and comment on passages, events and people. Sometimes we complain, knowing that complaints can be the most honest of prayers. Sometimes our morning prayers are rote and feel devoid of feeling. Sometimes they are passionate and filled with the Spirit. When we are on the road together, we do our prayers in the car. When apart, we do them on the phone. They are an important part of our day.
If you would like to begin morning prayers, but are not sure where to start, here are a few suggestions that will take no more than 30 minutes each day: (1) Write down individually one thing for which you are most grateful this day, and then share it. For us, it can be as broad as “grace” or as specific as a butterfly seen in the garden. (2) Select daily readings. We generally use Forward Day by Day or The Upper Room. We also include the daily reading from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. (3) Make a list of others who need your prayers, and pray for them by name each morning. (4) Be flexible. Add, adjust and change your prayer patterns as you are comfortable. Sometimes when we are in a hurry, we do abbreviated prayers. Sometimes we include a brief reading from something we encountered the day before. Most of all, just talk to God, thank Him and offer Him your day. Enjoy.
April 27, 2016
Update: I wrote last month that I felt compelled/ urged/ pushed to talk to a very ill family member about his faith. Like Jonah, I wanted to avoid the issue and run away (and hope I’d get swallowed by a big fish). I confess that I kept putting it off for better than five weeks. Well, here’s the rest of the story, as they say:
My brother-in-law, Richard, circa age 53, has cancer. He learned yesterday morning that he has between one week to three months left. He is down to 130 pounds and very weak. When we learned of this, Susan was in her Tuesday morning church small group. Also, Susan and Richard’s mother, Peggy, was in another small group. I was working in my office.
Here’s the God’s-gentle-hand-part: Immediately upon getting the call from Richard’s wife, the wonderful women in Susan’s group and in Peggy’s group, miles apart, circled the prayer wagons and surrounded them both (more like inundated them) with love, support and prayer for them and for Richard and for Mary, Richard’s wife. Perfect timing.
Me? Without taking the time to think and find convenient excuses, I hopped in the car and drove the half mile to Richard’s house. And Richard and I talked. No, I didn’t lay hands on him and raise my eyes and voice to heaven. We just talked. We agreed the whole situation sucked. Then I reminded him that God loves him and that there is absolutely nothing he can do about it. He told me that he and God have had that talk, that it’s all okay, and if he has to die soon, at least “I get to see my dogs, my brother, and Dad.”
That was it. Nothing all that dramatic. But the absolutely awesome thing was that God’s gentle, guiding hand did it all with perfect timing for Susan, Peg, and me. And Richard seems accepting of the inevitable. And we have all been inspired by the love and support of our church family.
I do not have an appropriate quote today. So, I just want to thank everyone who has been praying and caring for Richard, Susan, Peg, and Mary. Please, please, please continue those prayers. Also, a special prayer for Marjie Sinclair, who has been gently prodding (more like shoving) me to step up with Richard. Marjie, you are a wondrous and annoying hair shirt, and I appreciate you.
God bless to all. – jri
March 30, 2016
One of my first major disappointments in life took place when both The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel split up in 1970. My faith in the permanence of life was further challenged when Sonny and Cher divorced in 1975. By then, my personal philosophy was: Blessed be he who expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.
I think we’ve all been disappointed in life — from relationships to heroes to jobs to the fact that we all get old and the inevitability of gravity becomes apparent. Only one thing has proven to have staying power: the power and promise of God.
My point: When we open our hearts and let the Lord in, life makes sense. And, no, it’s not about demanding a pony and then whining because God has something better in mind. It’s about when we learn to truly trust and accept that God is the real deal, honest and perpetually constant and reliable, when we can say, “I got you, God,” that is the day all disappointments end. Just trust. — JRI
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says
the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not
for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”
- Jeremiah 29: 11
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, I recall casting about for something to believe in. My faith had faded away from an indifferent church and a God who seemed very, very remote. And I was never very big on trusting people. So, like so many others, I focused on being part of something – whether it was pride in attending The Ohio State University or, eventually, being a committed Green Bay Packers fan. I also put my faith in science and my own rational powers and mental skills. However, it wasn’t until I was able to believe and believe in Jesus Christ that everything made true sense, that I knew I would not be disappointed. (I mean, even The Packers let me down from time to time.) God answered my prayers and my questions, put me in a wondrous, peaceful marriage with Susan, and He reminds me, sometimes daily, that He will do it His way, and it will all be okay if we just trust. I got God … and God’s got me.
March 24, 2016
You could say that Rascal and Max are rescue dogs – Rascal from behind bars at the Humane Society, Max from the side of a busy road. Today, they spend their days lounging in the sun or under my desk, chasing other dogs around the dog park, playing tug-of-war with their chew toys, or just snugged up, on, and around us watching television in the evening. They are saved and safe, without a worry in the world.
I guess the same goes for Susan and me. God found me wandering around in what had become an aimless life, and Susan had seen more tough times than you would think. Now, together, we spend most of our days in joyful wonder – contented, at peace, free of guilt, anxiety, or worry, saved and safe, snugged up in the arms of the Lord.
My point: All we have to do is let God in, and He will bless us with peace and joy beyond our comprehension. Life will still have its challenges, but they are so much easier to handle when we put it all in God’s hands. He will rescue us from our foolishness, from our arrogance, from our stiff-necked stubbornness, from ourselves and from the world. – jri
“For he has rescued us from the kingdom of
darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom
of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom
and forgave our sins.”
- Colossians 1: 13-145
Especially with Rascal, it was not always easy. At one point, because he was usually totally happy and often totally indifferent to being trained, we at one point considered giving him up. But we persisted, and, yes, we also compromised a lot, adjusting our definition of a “good” dog. Lots of patience helped. And today, he is a borderline model dog … borderline. I suspect that God has similar patience with me. Though Susan is perfect, I still need some work. Woof! Thank you, Lord. Amen.
DailyConnections March 22, 2016
The most difficult challenge I’ve taken on is to learn how to lay down my sword. You see, we live in a flawed, fallen world, one filled with danger. As a result, many people I know are filled to the brim with fear and anxiety; they live their lives cautious, wary, ready to strike first or run fast. Gotta be, right? (Aye, there be dragons on land and sea serpents in the deep.)
Many of us awake in the morning with a start, fearful of a long list of dangers: We are afraid we’ll never be quite good enough. (Of what? Fill in the blank.) We’re afraid that we’ll fail at something or everything. (Again, fill in the blank.) We’re afraid we’ll be hurt in our relationships, that we’ll look foolish or thought foolish, that we’ll be late for work, fired from work, be discovered to know a whole lot less than we want people to believe, or that our secret sins will be uncovered.
Me? Given to believe I was never quite good enough, I lived in fear. My compensation? I got tough. Very tough. Borderline mean. I swung a broad sword and cut a wide swath wherever and whenever threatened (sometimes, whenever approached – better to strike first and ask questions later).
Meanwhile, God watched over me, quietly guided and protected me. And over time, a funny thing happened. The more I lay down my sword, the more I began to trust that God not only loved me, but that he had everything covered, and the smaller my fears became. These days, though occasionally I still awake with a start and reach for my old, trusty sword, I find that I am increasingly able to leave it rusting in the corner of my past.
My point: I let God heal me of my fears … and He did. And you? Just say, “Here I am Lord,” and He will do the rest. He can make you joyful, peace-filled, free or fear and anxiety. Just ask. Oh, and then remember to say “Thank you, Lord.” After all, God is in the miracle business, the transformation business. And if He can change me, he can change anyone. Anyone. – jri
“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be
radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their
— Psalm 34: 4-5
Trusting God was not easy for me at first. Even today, Jesus and I sometimes have fairly blunt conversations when things do not go quite as I had planned, and I strike out in doubt, fear, anger. I remember when I first began trying to open up to God, to let Him in. I felt like the wolf, Two Socks, in the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves, pacing warily just out of John Dunbar’s reach. I even told Jesus once: “You didn’t tame me. I let you touch me.” But touch me He did. Thank you, Lord. Amen.
DailyConnections March 15, 2016
Witness/Confession Time: I was in a borderline dither this past week. A family member is seriously ill, riddled with cancer, taking ever-increasing doses of morphine for the pain. Susan and I have done small bits to help out. His time seems short.
He is not an active, practicing believer. I am. That’s the rub. Doesn’t that mean I should reach out to discuss his salvation and his soul? I have felt increasingly pushed and prodded – though far from motivated — by the Spirit to visit and talk about these issues. And I have been resisting doing so tooth and nail. (Irony: I can write about faith, and I can stand in front of hundreds of people and talk about faith, I can even chat about faith with other people of the cross, but I am lousy at – dread? – the idea of one-on-one witnessing. I suspect there’s something about my Roman Catholic background here.)
I have found myself awakening in the middle of the night in that anxious, borderline dither and feeling “encouraged” to make the visit. My response? I kept thinking of Jonah running west when God told him to go east. Even getting eaten by a big fish didn’t sound all that bad in comparison.
So, I prayed on it. I asked God for guidance, for strength to make the visit, and for the words to make it a success. I struggled honestly with this issue, doing my best to give it over to God, something I’m not all that good at. Well, albeit reluctantly, I finally agreed that – as ill-equipped as I was for this task — I would do what He asked of me. (The thought of this family member dying without the benefit of at least discussing his salvation may have also been a factor in guilting me into obedience. Whatever works. I’d do it, but I wasn’t going to be happy about it.)
Still, part of me said, “Why me, God? Why not find somebody else?” Well, He did.
The phone rang in the middle of our morning prayers the other day while I was praying for strength and guidance on this very issue. It turns out that a friend had brought up the situation with another friend, a woman, a minister who does end-of-life counseling. She offered to help. (Scary that it never dawned on me to get in touch with her myself.)
Instantly, all my concerns melted away. We contacted my sick family member (who, by the way, was quite open to getting together, but he didn’t “want to be preached at”) and set up a time for both of us to visit this week. I’ll let you know the outcome.
My point: God came through. Grace fell like rain. I asked for help … and, like always, He sent it. Thank you, Lord. – jri
“Prayer can do anything. Because with God,
‘all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26)….
So this is not just a harmless little church ritual
we’re talking about. Nor a pitiful beggar asking
for a handout he’s almost sure he won’t receive.
There’s raw power here. There’s access to God
- Stephen & Alex Kendrick (The Battle Plan for Prayer)
When called to serve, is anyone truly prepared? Joseph was a young twerp with a talent for annoying his older half-brothers, but God chose him to help his people. Moses was a reluctant leader who tried to beg off becoming his people’s leader (partially because he was not glib of tongue) and ended up bringing them to the Promised Land. David was a young shepherd who eventually became a great warrior and king. And look at the disciples: self-absorbed bumblers who often make me think of the Three Stooges times four … but look what God did for and with them! So, when God calls, I guess the only thing we need to do is say, “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
February 23, 2016
I am hesitant about broaching the topic of Jesus to non-believers. With one fellow in particular, whenever I bring up the subject, usually inviting him to church, his response is always the same. He brushes me aside with the words: “Oh, I believe already.” He thinks that is enough, and we never get beyond that point, even though he leads a very secular, sometimes immoral life.
Is that enough, announcing belief and then doing nothing with that alleged faith? No. Even if living a moral life, do we not have an obligation to actively practice and share that faith? I suspect so.
My point: Faith, like love, is a verb. It calls for action. It is not something we should put in our pocket and, except for an occasional visit to church on Sundays (and God should be so thrilled that we came to visit), hide away. That’s because faith is not about us alone, but about sharing and helping others – believers and non-believers alike – about sharing the gift of faith we have been given and spreading the word, supporting others and drawing strength from them in return. Faith should be active. That is how they grow. That is how we grow. – jri
“So we are lying if we say we have fellowship
with God but go on living in spiritual darkness;
we are not practicing the truth but if we are
living in the light, as God is in the light, then we
have fellowship with each other, and the blood
of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
- 1 John 1:6-7
This is not just about my vaguely believing friend. It is also about me. What am I doing with my faith? Though I can stand on a stage and boldly, joyfully preach to a thousand people, I am uncomfortable sitting down one-on-one with non-believes and semi-believers. Do I give away enough pocket crosses? Do I say “God bless you” enough in the grocery store checkout line? Do I act like a follower of Christ among strangers, or am I rude or crude in public, an embarrassment to the cross I wear around my neck? Do I step up enough? Today, without guilt or angst, I will try harder. Please join me. And God bless.
February 2, 2016
We’ve heard the phrase and seen the signs: You can’t fix stupid! It is a way of dismissing certain people and certain behavior as being beyond change or redemption. And I’m sure we all know people who do seem hopeless. It may be true for us: We cannot fix stupid.
However, it’s not true for God. That’s one of the things God does: He fixes stupid; He takes the hopeless person and fills him or her with hope; He takes the lost cause and fixes it with ease; He fixes stupid every day.
My point: Never give up on that lost cause or that lost person. God can fix the most broken life. He does it every day. So, just trust. – jri
“Whenever he was put into chains and shackles –
as he often was – he snapped the chains from his
wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong
enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered
among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and
cutting himself with sharp rocks.”
- Mark 5:4-5
“A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw
the man who had been possessed by the legion of
demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly
sane, and they were all afraid.”
- Mark 5: 15
People can and do change. I’ve seen young women trapped in a hopeless cycle of sex and drugs turn away from their self-destructive lives and turn to the healing and forgiveness only God can offer. I’ve seen men transformed from lives of crime and self-absorbed self-centeredness into men of faith and pure joy and selflessness. Yes, God does fix stupid.
January 18, 2016
Silence is not my forte. Those who know me know that I am a talker. Ask for my opinion, and I’ll share it. Don’t ask for my opinion, and I’ll share it. And when it comes to talking to God, I’ll pray, I’ll sing, I’ll shout, often beginning with a big-winded, “Oh, Lord!” and go from there.
But once in a while, a deep silence comes over me, a deep, peaceful stillness in which the only sound is my centered breath. Those are the times when I am not so much praying to God as simply sitting quietly in His presence, in His great tranquility. It is the best prayer, a wordless prayer, and I suspect it is the closest I will ever come to heaven this side of my mortality.
My point: We do not always have to talk to God, to fill the silence with our words, or even our thoughts. We can just be with Him in the knowledge that we are wholly loved, wholly understood, wholly protected, wholly whole. Be still. – jri
“Be still and know that I am God!”
~ Psalm 48: 10a
Susan and I pray and read scripture together every morning. Sometimes, we lapse into a momentary silence. When that happens, I think we need to just let it go where it wants to lead us.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 7, 2016
“God didn’t do nuttin!” From my limited experience, it seems that the number one reason people turn their backs on God is because they figure He let them down. He didn’t give them that for which they asked. It’s not that they do not believe in God. They’re just not on speaking terms with Him.
These folks misunderstand. They want a step-n’-fetch servant for their God. They want to snap their fingers and, poof, God ponies up their latest request. (Oh, and just for the record, this is generally the only time they talk to God – not to say thanks or tell Him how much they appreciate him – just to hand Him His next set of marching orders. “Come on, God, step lively, or I won’t believe in you anymore!”)
My point: God is not our servant; He is our God. Yes, Jesus came to serve, but not as our personal slave, employee or fairy god mother. God answers prayers, but I haven’t seen much evidence that He’s big on being ordered around. Talk to God. Yes, tell Him what you fear, what you believe you need, and what you desire, but also tell Him thank you … in all situations. Then just be patient and trust. God answers prayers. Always, and in His own sweet time. – jri
“God is not our bellhop and doesn’t owe us an
immediate response…. [U]sually He waits.
For the perfect time. And His time is always
gloriously better than ours.”
~ Stephen & Alex Kendrick
The Battle Plan for Prayer
I personally rarely argue with God these days. Sure, once in a while, I get frustrated because He doesn’t hop to it when I have a problem. However, when Susan and I pray (and we do so with more and more confidence), we always start by (1)praising God for His majesty, from the sunrise to the ordering of the seasons to His wisdom in ordering our lives to miracles and prayers answered; this is followed by (2) thanking God, for He has showered down grace like rain on us; after that, (3) we ask – not order, but ask – for His intercession and favor, not just for ourselves, but for others; and then, (4) we go about our days in confidence that He is in charge. No, God is not our servant. He is our awesome God. And, yes, in His own sweet time and way, He answers all our prayers.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 5, 2016
I often forget to say thanks for the miracles that crowd my life. Maybe that’s because my life is filled with miracles: the gradual improving of Susan’s stomach condition; the restoration of a once-broken relationship with one daughter and the creation of a stable, against-all-odds joyous life for another; the loss of everything I had once desired, replaced by everything and more of what has brought me peace and joy … blessings I could never have thought to desire, let alone ask for. And much, much more.
Why do I tend to not say thanks for the miracles in my life? I think it is because they come in such subtle ways. You see, at least for me, the miracles don’t generally arrive in big thunderclaps. Instead, they sneak up on me; I just wake up one day and a long and pesky problem is solved, a prayer is answered. I almost don’t notice it.
Today, no point, just a suggestion: Every morning, before we start our morning prayers, Susan and I each and separately write down in a book the one thing we are most grateful for that day. Sometimes it may be something big like a restored relationship or a spiritual or physical healing. Other days, it may be something subtle like the beautiful sunrise or, as I was traveling last week, “for a set of seats in the Denver airport without armrests,” so I could stretch out and get some sleep. What this does is remind us to be grateful each day for something … for everything. As a result, we find ourselves aware of the multitude of miracles that surround us each day. – jri
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person
has great power and produces wonderful
~ James 5:16b
What does the above quote from James have to do with miracles? Sure, once in a while, God just drops a miracle on someone. However, I have found that the miracles in my life come as the result of asking. They come from prayer. I don’t know about being a “righteous person”; I’m more flawed than a fresh paint job in a tornado. But I ask. I pray. And I keep praying. And so far I’d have to say I’m batting about .999. (The restoration of the broken relationship between my son and me is still in the works, but it will come. And any prayers you could send in that direction would be wondrously appreciated, too.) God answers prayers — in His sweet time and in His sweet way – but He answers them… ALWAYS. Just trust. Just keep on praying.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
December 17, 2015
I once had the Midas Touch: I succeeded at everything I attempted. And that success made me arrogant. (Or maybe it was my prideful arrogance that made me successful.)
It was all fool’s gold, however. I was not all that happy; nor were those around me. So, when it all came tumbling down, I was alone. (Or maybe I was alone all along, but was too arrogant to pay attention.)
My point: Our gifts and talents are gifts from God. Being proud and arrogant about them makes us fools. – jri
“The deception behind pride is that it makes
us believe we’re much more important than
we really are …. We get into trouble anytime
we overlook the fact that that our lives are a
gift from God and we are undeserving of the
mercy, grace, and blessings He has given us.
That’s why pride is one of the greatest sins of
all. It leads to every other sin.”
~ Stephen & Alex Kendrick
The Battle Plan for Prayer
These days, if I’m proud of anything, it is how blessed I am, how God in His mercy has guided me away (well, mostly) from my arrogant, prideful ways. I no longer keep score or compare myself to others. Instead, I just try to love them. And if I boast of anything, it is of God’s glory.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
December 8, 2015
I confess that I have grown bored, bored, bored with my hard-nosed intellectual friends. Educated and knowledgeable about just about everything, they are erudite, self-assured, and inclined to drink only fine Madagascan wines (and only after swirling it and sniffing it and pronouncing their informed assessment).
Most of all, if ever I would dare to speak of anything as silly as faith or God in front of them, they would smile pityingly (dare I say, with ennui?) and look at me as if I were pleasantly simpleminded, if not hopelessly retarded. (Well, at least they never patted me on the head and sighed, though I suspect they wanted to.) They were too smart, too astute, too too too to believe in such a stupid concept as God.
Finally, I realized, “How sad.” These are the people my father used to caustically refer to as “brilliant morons,” highly educated men and women who did not know how to think for themselves and who were afraid to open their hearts, minds, and souls to the possibility of knowledge beyond knowledge, of understanding beyond understanding, and of Truth beyond knowing. Usually relying heavily on science, these brainiacs too often failed to realize that science is nothing more than the discovery of small bits of the incredible system that God put in place. Contrary to what many of them think, every new discovery does not disprove the existence of God; it verifies it.
My point: Wisdom, knowledge, and faith are gifts, gifts that cannot be discovered or unearthed by study, research, or logic. So, I guess we should be pityingly patient with our over-educated, intellectual friends. Maybe someday, maybe, they’ll get it. Poor souls. – jri
“The message of the cross is foolish to
those who are headed for destruction!
But we who are being saved know it is
the very power of God. As the Scriptures
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the
So, where does this leave the philosophers,
the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters?
God has made wisdom of this world look
~ St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:18-20)
Just for the record, and I say this both defensively and tongue in cheek, I am one fairly well-educated guy myself. I have a handful of college degrees, usually am reading between four and six books at a time, know a decent wine from syrupy swill, and am generally thrilled by discoveries in science. Oh, and I also bring 65 years of worldly experience and personal observation to the table. I believe in God (no, more than that, I will dare to say that I know, love and respect God) and I respect science. Just saying.
December 3, 2015
If you have ever owned a goat (and from personal experience, I must recommend against it), you know that if you want the beast to go from point A to point B, it will go anywhere but point B, even if point B is where good food and a clean and dry stall await. It is the nature of goats; they are determinedly stubborn creatures.
I know people who are similar. God offers them a life of peace and joy, of happiness beyond comprehension … and they know it. However, it would require doing things God’s way. Their response: No way. If they were to put their attitude to music, it would sound like the Sammy Davis, Jr., song, “I Gotta Be Me” or Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” So, they live their lives their way – stubbornly, defiantly, and ultimately miserably. Plus, they usually make everyone around them miserable, too.
My point: Don’t be a goat. Don’t let a senseless and stubborn heart keep you from a life of joy and peace. At the very least, just try doing it God’s way. Today is December 1. Give it this month. Read the Word of God. Pray. Most of all, just stop trying to tell God what to do and try listening … if only just for one month. And pay attention to what begins to take place in your heart. I guarantee that you will see and feel a difference. It’s a good life, the life God has chosen for you and for all of us. – jri
“What sorrow awaits those who argue
with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who
shapes it, saying,
‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
‘How clumsy can you be?’”
~ Isaiah 45:9
I was once like the goat – defiant for the sake of defiance, stubborn for the sake of stubbornness. I would see the way, the path of true joy and peace, clearly ahead, and I would turn my head and trot down the other road. Even when I got everything I set out to acquire or achieve, it never worked out. The pleasure and satisfaction were short lived … always. Then one day I said, “Okay, God, I’ll try it your way.” I started out accepting God’s will, feeling at first like a man going to the gallows. However, my heart slowly softened and opened. I went from begrudgingly accepting God’s will to willingly embracing His will, to actively seeking His will. These days? Well, I want nothing more than to do God’s will. I guess you could say I’m all in. Oh, and not only is my life filled with peace and joy, but those around me are a lot less miserable, too. Amen.
4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506
December 1, 2015
It’s nearly mid-October, and, even down here in sweet Georgia, the gardens are pretty well done for the year. Between Susan’s efforts and those of our generous neighbors, we have eaten fresh chard, squash, hot and sweet peppers, and more this year, restocked the rosemary and basil jars, and put up enough tomatoes for several gallons of pasta sauce. It’s hard to imagine this cornucopia of produce came from tiny seeds and little seedlings.
Then there is the other garden we get to plant and do our best to nurture. The gentle reminder comes from one of my favorite Bible quotes. Rather than attempt to explain it myself, I invite you to read the following verse from the book of Hosea about the best kind of harvest. It is beautiful. – jri
“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of
and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
for now is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come
and shower righteous upon you.’
~ Hosea 10:12
Susan loves the garden. She loves preparing it, planting it, watching over it, protecting it from (and sharing it with) marauding rabbits and ground hogs. I sometimes watch her working in it – tying up plants, weeding, checking for rot and other problems. She works methodically, with focus and confidence, and peace. In our own lives, we do our best to plant those seeds of righteousness and till the ground of our hearts. And, ah, every day we harvest a bumper crop of blessings, with grace and joy and friendship showered upon us. Life is a blessings. Amen.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
October 9, 2015
At our men’s small group several weeks ago, a friend was lamenting that he was a hair’s breadth away from quitting his new job because his supervisor was making his life downright miserable. Though he has decades of experience, she criticized everything he did, picked at this, commented negatively on that, and in the probationary review, came to the meeting with pages upon pages of notes with which to censure him.
So, at the end of our men’s meeting, when we go around the table and share prayer concerns, we were all sure our friend would pray for a bolt of lightning to strike the supervisor, or at least for guidance about what to do about his situation. Instead, we were all stunned and then delighted when he surprised us all by praying for this supervisor, by asking God to bless her, and to give him understanding, strength, and guidance.
The point: Well, this one’s pretty simple. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. Our friend did just that. Good advice for all of us. Pray for those who torment us or who we would like to kick so hard in the butt that their teeth flew out. Not only is it what God said we should do, but it will make us feel better and help remove the bitterness inside. –jri
“But I say, love your enemies! Pray
for those who persecute you! In
that way, you will be acting like true
children of your Father in heaven.
For he gives his sunlight to both the evil
and the good, and he sends rain on the
just and the unjust alike.”
- Jesus (Matthew 5:44-45)
P.S. on that story: The supervisor in turn was censured by other members of the staff and backed off. Though there will probably never be any love lost between my friend and the supervisor, he expressed marvel at how the job has turned around, and he is so glad he did not act rashly and quit. Funny how God handles things, eh?
September 22, 2015
In the past, I could have been the poster child for those “stiff-necked people” God referred to in Exodus 32:9 (“’I have seen these people,’ the LORD said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people.’”) Self-reliant to a flaw, I bowed down to no man, woman, or beast. Even when I began to notice this God by my side, I made it clear that He was welcome to come along for the ride, but I was going my way on my terms. If He wanted to help, that was fine, too. Otherwise, He could just keep out of the way. I had things to do.
Eventually, one day, (I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but I think it had much to do with being tired of living with/ignoring that something-missing feeling, that hole in my soul), I bowed my head, dropped to my knees and said, “Lord, I’m tired. If you lead, I’ll follow.” Bam! Burdens lifted! Soul healed! Humbled, yes, but joyful and fulfilled to the point of being giddy. Wow!
My point: God has a better way. His path is one of pure joy and peace. (And, yes, there are adventures and excitement, and seeming setbacks waiting, too, so things are never dull.) The Lord’s way is not enslaving, but awesomely freeing. Oh, and He will never lead us astray … ever. Just trust. – jri
“Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
‘This is the way you should go,’
whether to the right or to the left.”
— Isaiah 30:21
Every morning, Susan and I sit at the kitchen counter and pray together and read the Word of God. We begin by thanking the Lord for our blessings, and often we recall where we have been in our lives (alone, in emotional pain, hunted and haunted by the struggles of the past) and express our gratitude for where we are today: loved, accepted, at peace, surrounded by loving friends and family members, free of anxiety and worry. Then, each morning we commit ourselves anew, freely offering ourselves to follow where He wants to lead us: “Lord, not our way, but yours.” Nice.
September 17, 2015
I used to love swinging the sword of my own dynamic ambition. I had plans; I had goals. I drove myself relentlessly, often working 70 hours a week. Every night I’d fall into bed exhausted, but satisfied. I was master of my destiny, and I was very successful. I accomplished everything I set out to achieve.
Then I found a better way. I gradually came to realize that nothing I had accomplished really mattered. I had not only wasted 25 years climbing a ladder that was leaning against the wrong wall, but it finally dawned on me that there was also an easier way, a much easier way. What I finally figured out was that everything is God’s, not mine, and all I had to do was ask Him what He had in mind for me, and He would give me what I needed … though, no, not always what I wanted.
So, I do not work so hard anymore; nor do I have a list of goals and agendas for achieving them. What I do have is everything I could ever want, need or desire: good things, including accomplishments, love, faith, family, friends, forgiveness, freedom from guilt and anxiety, a gentler spirit (I like me better these days, and I think others do, too), along with a joyful heart and a peaceful soul. In short, I have everything I could possibly need. Oh, and the bills get paid, too.
My point: No matter how much we may want to think otherwise, our life is God’s. We have no power. And the things we accomplish without God’s help are worthless. But we can have everything – everything worth having — if we just ask, and then trust and leave it in God’s hands that everything He has in store for us is good and worthwhile. – jri
“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests
be made known to God. And the peace
of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
- Philippians 4:6-8
I turn 65 in two months. I am already celebrating it as one of the most personally fulfilling birthdays of my life. Why? Well, for one thing, my lifelong desire to write and get published a novel, a decent book of literary fiction, has finally come to fruition. Captain Jolly’s Do Over comes out this month. I am as delighted as a kid on Christmas morning. Second, though supposedly retired, I am teaching three sections of freshman composition/writing at the University of North Georgia. I love teaching, and I have great classes and great students. And this is on top of all my other blessings. How did I get here? I just let go and trusted God, telling Him: “Lord, you lead; I’ll follow.” Nothing could be easier.
September 10, 2015
We have it made! Just think about this tiny list of our everyday, mundane blessings: We flip a switch, and we have light, heat, air conditioning (Oh, thank you, Lord, for the AC in Georgia in Jool-eye.) We turn a faucet, and, as if by magic, water pours out … both hot and cold. Awesome! We open the refrigerator and the pantry and, well, holy cow! Our biggest food decision is not where we will find anything to eat this day, but which foods to eat. (And maybe we should cut back, because we’re getting a bit too chubby.)
But wait! There’s more! We don’t HAVE to walk anywhere. We can get into a car, turn a key and drive. (Sure, that beater of a car may be old, but it runs … well, most of the time.) When out and about, unless we act real stupid, we have no fear of being arrested (yes, even if we’re black). Also, there is little risk of being attacked and harmed. We can curse out the government, even the president, and we cannot be arrested. Freedom! If we do get in trouble, we cannot just be thrown into a cell for months to rot. We have due process through the right to a timely and public trial (no secret trials behind closed doors). These things are unheard of in much of the world!
And there’s more? Really? You bet. When we get sick or injured, we have this incredible healthcare system. Life expectancy in 1900 in America was under 50 years of age. (I recall my grandparents seeming very old in their 60s.) Today, thanks to antibiotics, new drugs, incredible, computer-assisted surgery, and more, life expectancy in the U.S. is around 82 years. That’s a 32-year increase since my grandparents were children!
My point: Holy mackerel! We should be walking around with big freaking grins, ear to ear, all the time! So, the next time you flush the toilet, say, “Thank you, Lord.” Walk into the doctor’s office and say, “Thank you, Lord.” Walk into the grocery store, stroll down the aisles, just shake your head in awe as you look at the amazing choices on the shelves, and say, “Thank you, Lord.” – jri
“Thank God for this gift too wonderful
–2 Corinthians 9:15
Before eating (though I sometimes forget when I am alone), Susan and I try to remember to thank God for the gift of each meal. We do this each time we eat at home. We have also become comfortable doing it in restaurants, as have other friends with us. (If you know Larry Green, imagine him and me holding hands, bowing our heads, and giving thanks.) People sometimes watch and sometimes make positive comments. I guess it is a form of witnessing. But all we intend is to make sure we remember that we appreciate that all we have – all of it, without exception – comes from God. Amen.
July 22, 2015
These are tense times. In the U.S., the dissension and anger today reminds me of the late 1960s and early ‘70s: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, race and anti-war riots, even the shooting of college students at Kent State. In the rest of the world, I can only think of Europe and the Pacific Far East in the late 1930s: the rise of bloodthirsty tyrants like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, along with the brutal, seemingly unstoppable expansion of the Japanese war machine. Every indication today is that we are on the verge of similarly challenging times. And many people I know are either worried or worried and angry.
This is where, as I did last week, I urge followers of Christ to turn to their faith. If ever there was one, this is the time for prayer. No one individual can change the course of history. However, millions and millions of Christians, heads bowed in prayer, can make a difference. Pray for the world, pray for our nation, pray for our children and grandchildren, pray for the mercy and grace of God. Pray.
My point: The answer to the challenges facing the world today is not worry and anger. It is prayer. That is the most powerful weapon in the world, more powerful than rocket-propelled-grenades, AK47s, tanks, and, yes, even nuclear bombs. Pray. – jri
“Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
Or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper –
it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”
– Psalm 37:7-9
Believe it or not, I’ve tended to be a contentious person, always drawn to the challenge. Especially when it comes to politics, I often tended to swing a large sword. Today, I realize that I am not going to change anyone’s mind. Today I try – and I aim to try harder – to remember my own advice: “ Only talk politics with people who agree with you! Pray for the rest.” Life is so much better when I remember that. And it is even better when I remember that I am not in charge. God is. Period.
July 21, 2015
Stop fretting. I know people who are angry and worried sick about what everyone else is doing. They are offended about same-sex marriage; they are upset over Muslim erosion of our culture; they lose sleep over immoral or amoral politicians. On and on it goes. And they are miserable.
As followers of Christ, they seem to forget that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. You see, it’s not our business. We are not in charge of fixing the world … saving it, maybe, but not fixing it. That’s in God’s hands. Let it go and be joyful.
My point: God has a plan. Just let it unfold. Just trust. Be at peace. – jri
“And this is the plan: At the right time
he will bring everything together under
the authority of Christ – everything in
heaven and on earth.”
– St. Paul (Ephesians 1:10)
I’ve searched the Bible for instructions on telling people what to do and how best to boss them around. I came up empty. I did find plenty of references to loving others; to leaving judgment up to God; to pulling the plank from my own eye before attempting to pluck a splinter from someone else’s eye; and to go ahead and cast the first stone at a sinner, but only if I am sin-free myself.
So, it seems to me that Jesus taught us about what WE should do, how WE should behave. He had very little to say (in fact, I think He was silent) on the subject of attempting to whip others into shape. So, just love one another, and that includes loving men and women of different sexual and religious practices and even – oh, my God – politicians and people of other political beliefs. God really does know what he is doing. Trust Him. He’s got it covered. He’ll sort it all out in His own sweet time. Relax. Enjoy. Just trust.
DailyConnections July 16, 2015
We tend to be a sad, frenetic species. This is especially true in America. Even though we are a society overflowing with abundance, prosperity and opportunity, so you’d think we’d be downright joyful, many of us are wretched. We seek ever-stranger sexual thrills, mutilate our flesh with “body art” and piercings, gorge and starve ourselves, mentally and sometimes physically change our gender, drink, smoke, and drug ourselves into oblivion to escape … to escape what?
Want out? Then walk into a church … and by that I mean a Spirit-filled church, a church where the people know they are unconditionally accepted and welcomed, as they are, by a God whose love is unshakeable. And, yes, they are unconditionally accepted and welcomed even if they are sexually oriented differently from others or show up with tattoos, just as they are unconditionally accepted and welcomed if they have committed adultery, harmed others, sinned so badly they believe they can never be forgiven. They can, and they are.
My point: God loves us. He loves all of us, without exception. When we learn that, when we believe that, when we understand that we can trust God totally and in all circumstances, then we will put aside the angst, the anger, the pain, the sadness. – jri
“God loves you, and there is absolutely
nothing you can do about it.”
– Church banner
Susan and I are blessed to be part of The Highlands United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Georgia, a church filled with loving, accepting men and women, and joyous children. Even though I tend to forget how great God is, my heart swells with that wondrous love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit when I am among these other clay-footed believers inside the walls of that modest building. Thank you, Lord, for bringing us home to this place.
June 30, 2015
During a financially devastating time in my life (a business failing and a divorce pending), I had to/was ready to sell my big house on Lake Michigan (aka my monument to me). The deal was going slowly, and I had about a hundred bucks to my name.
The realtor, a gruff fellow named Tony Jeanquart, was handling the deal. He knew I was in a world of hurt. One day, out of the blue, he came by my house and handed me a check for $2,000. I looked at him, and he shrugged. “It’s a loan. It’s a gift. It’s whatever you need it to be.” And he walked away and never mentioned it again. That money got me through the next month until the house was sold. The money was a Godsend. More than that, though, was the out-of-the-blue gift from a man I knew slightly then, a gesture that made me feel a little less alone. (And as my life changed, I sent him a check for $100 every month for the next 20 months.)
Tony is one of the many, many people who have “paid it forward,” who have been there for me during times of need – from my brother, to our church family, to my two wondrous daughters and step-daughter, to several special cousins, and many, many, many more. I couldn’t name you all. But I am grateful to you all.
God has blessed Susan and me with love and incredible peace in recent years, along with the wondrous gift of enough. We lack for nothing. So, as Jesus Christ paid it forward when He died for our sins, I in my small way pay those blessings forward and ask the Lord to bless you with peace and mercy and joy this day and all your days. Amen. – jri
“For God so loved the world that
he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal
– John 3:16
June 9, 2015
Yes, we do tend to reflect our parents’ characters and influence. If Dad couldn’t hold down a job, odds are we too will have a lousy work ethic. If Mom beat us, odds are that we will be violent parents. If our folks were emotionally cold or highly critical, odds are that we will have poor self-esteem and often feel we are worthless, never quite good enough.
It doesn’t have to be like that. God set us free from the bondage of our parents’ sins. We are free to be the person the Lord wants us to be and to reach our full potential as His children. Those chains can be broken.
My point: Do not let your past determine your future. Turn your fears, your doubts, and your anxieties over to God. He has plans for you, and those plans are to not be pulled down by the past. Just ask. Just trust. He cares. – jri
“’What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the
parents’ sins?’ No! For if the child does what
is just and right and keeps my decrees, that
child will surely live. The person who sins is
the one who will die. The child will not be
punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent
will not be punished for the child’s sins.
Righteous people will be rewarded for their
own righteous behavior, and wicked people
will be punished for their own wickedness. But
if wicked people turn away from all their sins
and begin to obey my decrees and do what is
just and right, they will surely live and not die.
All their past sins will be forgotten, and they
will live because of the righteous things they
– Ezekiel 18:19-22
“You’re just like your father/mother!” is a curse (the gravest insult) sometimes spit out by an angry parent or spouse. My father was emotionally cold to the point of cruelty. In a sense, I was raised in the cage with the wire monkey (versus the one with the fur-covered stuffed animal). I grew up shy and totally lacking in self-confidence. So what? I addressed the issues. Through my determination and the help of the Lord, I turned it around. My weaknesses became my strengths. I broke the chains and shed the sins of the father. If I can, you can, too.
May 27, 2015