Thoughts on faith, forgiveness and achievement
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
Dear Jesus: You were very gentle on me … but don’t forget that you didn’t beat me; I let you win! And that’s why I love you.
I am not afraid of God. Never was. I guess I just don’t scare easily (except when it has to do with snakes). Sure, I suspect He could smite me with a terrible case of scoliosis that would bring me crashing to my knees. Or he could lay a mystical staff across my stubbornly stiff neck and push until I fell.
But He never did. Though I realize now that He was always with me, guiding and protecting me, He pretty well let me go my own way and, ultimately, gave me everything for which I asked (and that, ultimately, turned out to be punishment enough).
I now know that the game was rigged: In this wrestling match of wills, God let me win fall after fall … until one day I finally let Him win.
So, today, Jesus and I are friends. We are brothers. And while my prayers these days often include laughter and sometimes playful complaints, I never forget (nor do I want to forget) that He is my Lord and my Savior. I willingly seek and try to follow His will. I give Him what I can. He gives me all I need. – jri
“So the LORD must wait for you
to come to him
so he can show you his love
– Isaiah 30:18
To me, one of God’s most interesting mysteries is that my surrendering to Him and kneeling before Him in total submission has not made me a slave, but free. He released me from the chains of fear, guilt, sorrow and uncertainty. He also blessed me far, far, far beyond what I could ever imagine. Thank you, Lord. You are awesome!
May 5, 2015
The finger pointing has started regarding the Baltimore riots. Who is to blame? Somebody has to be fired or prosecuted or at least publicly humiliated. [My favorite in these situations is when members of one faction demand an apology, and if they get it, they say (A) it isn’t enough or (B) it isn’t sincere.] It’s the same in Washington. Closer to home, it’s also the same in our own lives.
We seem to have a need to judge others. As a species, we pick at, gossip about, find fault with, and tear down others. Or we just sit in smug silence, reveling in our own superiority. We tend to demand perfection from others, although we are completely willing to overlook our own flaws. Most of all, we seem to feel we have to judge, to form an opinion about everything, to weigh in and vote yea or nay on every person or issue, even when we know little or nothing about the facts. Whew! Downright exhausting.
My point: Stop judging. As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love one another, not judge one another. Not only is it what Christ told us to do, but it is so much easier. So, here’s your homework (and mine, too): Today, when you meet people at work, in the grocery store, or driving on the road, don’t judge. Just love. Even if they do something that seems outrageous, just nod and say to yourself, “Lord, bless this person.” That’s called love. – jri
“Most important of all, continue to
show deep love for each other for
love covers a multitude of sins.”
– St. Peter (1 Peter 4:8)
As for the rioters or the police or the politicians in Baltimore and elsewhere this week, just remember that the Lord told us to love our enemies. I know, that can be a tough one, but keep in mind that even that person we judge to be hideous, well, he or she is a child of God, and is loved by God just as much as we are. So, just let it go. Just love each one. Just try.
April 30, 2015
Some people scoff at the idea of prayer. They say people pray to reassure themselves, to calm their own fears, but other than that, it does no good, accomplishes nothing. And then there is the curious fact that there are very few (I’ve seen none) spontaneous cures or burning bushes resulting from people praying. Hmmmm.
So why do we pray? Well, I’m not a biblical scholar. However, I know that prayer changes things. It changes hearts and minds and lives; it gives strength and brings about positive results … often very concrete results. Oh, and BTW, prayers are always answered. However, I have found that they are almost never answered in the way we expect. God has a better way. I’ve seen it time after time after time.
My point (and I think I’ve proven it poorly, but God is beyond proving): Pray! Pray in thanksgiving for all your blessings, if only to say, “Thank you, Lord.” And pray for forgiveness, pray for strength, pray for guidance and enlightenment. But also pray for others (prayers of intercession), not just for yourself: for the spiritual, physical and financial healing of others, for healing of their relationships, pray that the lonely will be surrounded by family and friendship and love, that nonbelievers may be gifted with faith, that the lost will be given hope. Why pray? Because prayer works. Prayers are answered. (And in case you have questions, ask me: God has granted me every request I’ve ever made, though never – I repeat: NEVER — in the way I asked.) So, these days, I just say, “Thank you, Lord; whatever you have in mind for me, that’s fine with me.” Amen. – jri
“Therefore confess your sins to each
other and pray for each other so that
you may be healed. The prayer of a
righteous person is powerful and effective.”
– James 5:16
For Susan and me, one of the favorite times of each day is our daily prayer time together. First thing in the morning, we sit down and read the Bible and prayer. We devote maybe 30 minutes to offering prayers of thanksgiving, reading of the daily Bible selections (We use Forward Day by Day and Jesus Calling), sprinkled with lots of personal comment, laughter and special petitions and thanksgiving as Susan and Jesus and I come together to talk each morning. And, yes, we have a special intentions prayer list of people who are in need of prayers. We even make a point of including the names of some people for whom we believe nobody else prays. And, yes, those prayers are heard and answered. God seems to like us, and He listens to us. Oh, and, yes, we also get a real spiritual rush from this time of devotion.
April 28, 2015
It was a weekly ritual between Angie and me back in the 1980s: “So what did you learn in Sunday school?” I’d ask at dinner each week. (These were the days when the Catholic Church had lost its way and, at least at the local level, had forgotten what it believed. Activities, it turns out, consisted mostly of putting crayons to biblical coloring books.)
Poor Angie, a grade-schooler, would stammer as her older brother and sister hooted and smirked at my request/demand that she stand and deliver. Finally, she’d blurt it out (the same answer each week), the always safe answer: “Uh, uh, Jesus loves me?” (Note the question mark.) I was always disappointed and often irritated.
The point: In truth, she actually got it right every week, a lesson it took me years to learn. Jesus loves us. That’s it. That’s all. If we ever get that, we have it all figured out. — jri
“A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another; just as I
have loved you, you also are to love
one another. By this all people will
know that you are my disciples, if
you have love for one another.”
— John 13:34-35
The good and wondrous news about Angie and me: Though she is passionate and fiery and outspoken (not sure where she gets that), we have always borne a deep love for each other. (Before I had heart surgery several years back, she and I had not been on speaking terms for more than six months. When she heard I was in the hospital, without hesitation, she and her sister, Nicky, flew to Georgia. Spiritually, we have not been apart since.) My greatest joy about Angie is that, in spite of my oft heavy handed efforts to pound the love of God into her head, she and her family are now believers and regular church goers. (And, oh, how things have changed: Her daughters love going to church.) So, for me, maybe this blind pig found an acorn. Or maybe God just did it in His own, sweet way. All we had to do was let the wondrous love of God in. Thank you, Lord.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 22, 2015
The band in church this morning played “Beautiful Things.” It’s one of my favorite Christian songs. (The chorus is below.) It made me think of the tulips that came up in our garden this week. We take a lot for granted, but think about this: Several weeks ago, all we could see was dirt (attractive dirt, but dirt nonetheless). Buried below was a handful of gnarly looking tulip bulbs. Ugly? Sort of. Plain? Most definitely.
And then, KAPOW! As if overnight (it took several days, actually), these absolutely beautiful flowers (not just one, but a flock of eight, and more getting ready) sprang from the ground. Something from nothing. Splendid beauty from plain, ugly dirt! Awesome.
Here’s the point: That’s what God can do with us! That’s what He does with us every day. He takes tired, old, sinful souls and makes them beautiful. No one is too bad, too sinful, too far gone. God is in the miracle business. Turn your pain, your sadness, your tiredness over to God. He will make your old soul radiantly new and beautiful. – jri
“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us.”
— Michael & Lisa Gungor (Beautiful Things)
Susan and I have seen our share of sorrow, loneliness and pain. Today, however, because of the miracles we have let God perform in our lives (correction, our life), we are joyful. God has transformed us. The best part: It’s soooooooooo easy. We just handed our life over to the Lord, trusting that He knows much better than we what we need. (God always gave me everything I asked for. It’s just that for years I didn’t have the sense to ask for things worth having.) Thank you, Lord.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 13, 2015
“Aha, this Bible is full of inconsistencies,” I’ve been told by a few non-believers. “Just look at the gospels. All the stories do not match.” Scrupulous scholars love this. For example, two criminals were crucified beside Christ. In one account (Luke 23:42), one of the criminals repented: “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’” However, in another account (Matthew 27:44), the two men were referred to as insurgents and both of them mocked Jesus: “Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.”
Here’s the problem, at least as I see it (though, keep in mind that I’m no Bible scholar): Approaching the Bible from a purely academic point of view will reveal what appears to be a jumble of disconnected stories, many of which seem primitive, quaint and naive from our modern, sophisticated perspective. The problem is that you cannot approach the Bible from a purely academic point of view.
My point: Follow these three steps: One, open your mind and put aside your preconceptions. Two, open your heart and be prepared to seek what is truth. Three, open your Bible and read. No, you do not have to believe, but to truly understand the Bible, you cannot approach it with a closed mind. Oh, and if you already have faith, the Bible makes complete sense, although it may well take years to truly understand all its beauty, as its Truths become apparent with time and study. – jri
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on you own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.”
~ Proverbs 3:5-6
One of the many great beauties of the Bible is that the men who compiled it were not afraid to include all four gospels, along with their apparent discrepancies and contradictions. The gospels were four different accounts of the same events, recorded by men who had different recollections, perceptions, and reasons for writing their stories. The stories in the Bible would make lousy fiction, but they make awesome Truth.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 7, 2015
What if Jesus had never come into the world? What if God did not exist at all? What if we humans were in truth nothing more than naked apes, just cunning, awkward-looking animals in a world in which morality, if asserted at all, was arbitrary and humanistic, a world in which might made right? What if human life, especially that of females, had almost no value, and dignity were reserved exclusively for conquerors and pompous kings? What if we lived in a world of darkness, of weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Some people might say we already live in that world, that earth is full of greed, brutality, violence, injustice, prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, indifference and cruelty.
Yes, this is actually true, BUT there is a small – though awesomely powerful and stubbornly inextinguishable — glimmer of light that bathes the world in hope. That is because Jesus did come into the world, and right and wrong are not arbitrary, and each individual human being has a special and blessed dignity, uniqueness, and precious value. Best of all, there is the promise that, ultimately, this light will overcome the darkness.
My point: This is Maundy Thursday, during which we celebrate the Last Supper, the washing of feet, the agony of Jesus in the garden, and, in many churches, the stripping of the altar. The next day, Good Friday, Jesus is beaten and killed, and he descends into hell. He is gone. We are alone. Just imagine if He had never come. Imagine if there were no glorious return, no Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Just imagine and give thanks for the cross and the Resurrection. – jri
“For once you were full of darkness,
but now you have light from the Lord.
So live as people of light! For this
light within you produces only what
is good and right and true.”
~ Ephesians 5:8-9
For me, the stripping of the altar at my old Episcopal Church on Maundy Thursday was the most powerful service of the year. I would sit in the pew and watch as, in silence, the candles, linens and all other items were removed from the altar, including the Missal stand and book, all evidence of the presence and existence of Jesus Christ. It was left bare. Then the Paschal candle, which had remained lighted and flickering throughout Lent, would be carried out. The service ended in silence, without benediction or closing hymn. Finally, the lights were lowered. Darkness, emptiness, and silence filled the church and the world. What a reminder of how the world would be if Christ had never come into it.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 2, 2015