Thoughts on faith, forgiveness and achievement
I’m seeing something akin to mass hysteria sweeping the country of late. No, I am not above it. I also struggle with concern (aka angst) over events in America and the world, from mass shootings to violent, angry protests to outpourings of a whole lot of hatred from different “sides.” We live in uncertain, unsettling times.
This is nothing new, of course. The world has always been a place of war, famine, violence, hatred, bigotry … a very challenging place. As followers of the One God, however, we have a few special gifts that can/should help us rise above the fray: faith, hope, and trust. The Lord is where we should turn to get our strength and our guidance.
My point: Put our faith in God, not in flawed leaders, causes, or world movements. God is in charge, even though at times it may not seem to be the case. So, what should we do? That is between each individual and God. All I know is that we should not be afraid. Instead, be strong and trust. Oh, and do pray. It does make a difference, a big difference. — jri
“This is my command — be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your
God is with you wherever you go.”
- Joshua 1:9
I tend to be outspoken and not all that tolerant of views that I find hopelessly difficult to support. So, I apologize if (no, not if, but when) I have reacted with anger and sarcasm rather than with love and understanding. You see, responding with patience and love – I suspect/know that that is the truly strong response.
Jesus, who when last I checked, is still the King, had a lot to say about love and tolerance. Here are just three points he made: (1) “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13: 34-35). (2) “The second [commandment] is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12: 31). (3) “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5: 44-45). I think that pretty well sums it up. Love the Lord. Love your neighbor and your enemy. And do not be afraid. Amen.
July 14, 2016
Last week, God and I were talking in a twilight dream in the middle of the night. It was a peace-filled time of quiet prayer and silence. I felt loved and forgiven, very close to God, and there was no anxiety or remorse.
At one point, God asked: “What do you want?” I hesitated, knowing He meant what was my heart’s desire, and I knew He would give me whatever I asked, just as promised, just as He always had.
I thought of literary fame, financial success, a better, bigger home – everything from the pony to the Mercedes Benz.
That’s when I blew it. With clarity and confidence, I said, “Whatever You want for me is fine, Lord. Whatever you want for me.”
Then I heard God laugh (it’s a wonderful sound), and I had to laugh, too, before I slipped back into a deep sleep.
My point: Maybe, just maybe, I’m learning to put my trust in God rather than in my own woefully flawed hands. Very nice. – jri
“Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s
Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like
and the justice of your cause will
shine like the noonday sun.”
— Psalm 37:4-6
I do not have everything the world says I should want. I once came close, and that was when I really blew it. I had reasonable wealth, and I was arrogant and self-righteous. I had respect from others for my skills, but I had very little love … and the love I had I tended to drive away. Today, as I have said before, I have exactly enough – no more, no less – and I have all that I need, including the love and patience of a devoted wife, children and grandchildren who love and accept me as I am, friends, challenges to keep me on my toes, and the knowledge that I am safely in God’s hands. So, I guess I have more than enough. My life is blessed. Thank you, Lord.
June 15, 2016
Pushing my cart through the grocery store, I was feeling surly, beset by a series of nagging, gnat-like annoyances and what-if concerns – none major, but all distracting. My mood was sour, dour, and grumbly.
Then turning onto an aisle, I saw a woman wearing a nice T-shirt. On it was one word, boldly written in glittery, cursive letters: BLESSED. I stopped, stared for a moment, and started to chuckle. As she passed, I pointed to her shirt and said, “Yeah, me, too. It took your shirt to make me remember. Thank you.” She just smiled, and we both went on our way. (Who knows, she might have been thinking, “Strangest pickup line I’ve heard.”) As I finished my shopping, though, I was joyful and mindful of how wondrously blessed my life truly is.
My point: I love those little God Wink moments, those times when God slaps us upside the head, as they say (sort of like a V-8 moment), and reminds us that He is always with us, and He always cares. All we have to do is be open and aware, focusing on all the beauty and the overflowing cornucopia of God’s blessings rather than on the occasional problem and setback, especially the itsy bitsy minor ones. – jri
“And we know that God causes everything
to work together for the good of those who
love God and are called according to his
purpose for them.”
- Romans 8:28
Without planning or forethought, I find myself these days perhaps several times a day speaking aloud something like, “Lord, thank you for the gift of this day” or just “Jesus, thank you.” It reminds me that I am blessed, that I am bought and paid for by the ultimate sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. Bonus: Several weeks ago, Susan told me that when she is around and hears me say it, perhaps in the next room, she is reminded to give thanks, too. Try it. Simply uttering your own simple profession of faith can change your day and others. So, thank you, Lord, for the gift of this day. Amen.
June 1, 2016
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In my early faith days, I’d ask God for help achieving my goals. I’d give Him my list and ask Him to bless it. Always indulgent of my whimsy, He’d often/usually give me that for which I asked. Problem: Few people, including me, have any idea what they really want or, more to the point, what will bring them genuine joy, peace, happiness (versus pleasure, comfort, distraction from problems).
These days, I’m much more inclined to ask God to show me what He wants me to do … and then ask Him to help me achieve it. Ah, much better. These days, even though there are problems, my life is double-dipped (with sprinkles on top) in joy, peace, happiness.
My point: It’s called The Way. It’s God’s way, and there is no other way worth pursuing. Sit back. Be patient. Wait on God, and He will show you the way He has in mind for you. Just trust, be patient, and be ready to respond when you get the tap on the shoulder. – 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
Over the last few years, the men of my small group have periodically led Bible studies and presentations for the broken men at Set Free, a local drug rehab facility (and the place that saved the life of Susan’s brother, Phil, who then brought Susan to faith). We’ve gotten to know the guys, many of whom have no family or friends outside the facility. Before I began a study earlier this month, one of the men came up to me and said how glad he was to see us. “We thought you’d forgotten about us,” he said, since we had not been there in several months.
Well, over lunch with a friend, Larry, the other day, the two of us sketched out a way to make sure we returned to Set Free on a regular basis, at least once a month, and that we had men who could lead the studies. We also outlined how we could be spiritually supportive of Pastor Aaron, the director, who dedicates himself 24 hours a day to helping others and, as it turns out, could use a little faith fellowship of his own.
Larry and I believe – no, not in a smug way — that God laid it out for us. Though we had not seen it before, the need was two-by-four-across-the-bridge-of-the-nose obvious; so is the apparent course of action. God’s Way.
Three favors: (1) Please pray for the residents of Set Free, and especially for Pastor Aaron, a good man who takes no salary and lives on the premises; (2) please pray that as we set up this seemingly simple ministry, we follow God’s will and not ours; and (3) if any of you men in Gainesville would like to volunteer for the rotation at Set Free, please let me know. Thank you, and God bless.
May 24, 2016
I had a friend who only showed up when he needed something. If I helped him, he’d disappear until the next time. If I hesitated, he’d boldly attempt to manipulate me into granting him what he wanted. If I said, “Sorry, I can’t help you this time,” he would be hurt, angry, offended. I have managed to avoid that “friend” for the last 30 or so years, and my life has been much better for it.
However, aren’t some of us like that when it comes to God? We ignore Him, couldn’t care less what He would like from us and wouldn’t think of saying, “Thank you, Lord; I’d like to share some of my good fortune,” when everything goes our way. Then, lo and behold, we are in trouble, and we show up with a “Hey, God, old buddy, old pal, gimme this (or that).” And if He doesn’t pony up pronto (snap fingers here), we are aghast and disappointed and claim He is a fraud, a phony, no god at all.
My point: That’s not how we should treat our friends, and that’s not how we should treat our God. Instead, how about if we take a little time each day to spend with Him? Read His book. Talk to Him, thanking Him for blessings, and, yes, also asking Him for blessings, for strength and for guidance. Oh, and listen to Him. He knows better than we what we truly need. It’s called a relationship. – jri
“Since they refused to listen when I
called to them, I would not listen when
they called to me.”
- Zechariah 7:13
As a child, I thought of God (always God the Father) as a remote and not-all-that-friendly deity, more interested in punishing me when I screwed up than in loving me. I still have a hard time talking to Him, and I shake my head in disbelief when reading about all the smotings from the Old Testament. Instead, these days, I prefer to address my prayers to Jesus (God the Son). When younger, I saw Him as a less-than-appealing goody two-shoes who got suckered into dying for a bunch of worthless people (that would be us). Over time, though, I began to recognize that Jesus is truly a God of love, who took my weaknesses and sins onto His shoulders. It was His choice. Now, I see Jesus as a friend and a brother, as well as King and, most of all, as the epitome of pure love. So, Lord, no laundry list of favor requests today. Just a thank you for everything … and it’s a long thank-you list.
DailyConnections May 17, 2016
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Rod lived under a cloud. He was a mope. Nothing went right for him, or so he believed. He always expected the worst and just knew that the toast would always land jelly-side down. I once asked him if he thought it would be pretty neat to win a million dollars. His reply: “I’d probably have to pay taxes on the money.”
Many people are like that — blind to the good stuff around them, always focusing on the weed at the far end of the garden and not seeing the riot of color from the beautiful flowers surrounding it. They worry and expect the worst. They miss the simple “miracle” of warm water coming out of the shower at the twist of the faucet each morning; they forget that the car (and they have a car, maybe two!) starts pretty much all the time; they do not notice that they have a home with a leak-free roof; they take for granted that they probably have at least one person who loves them (you really only need one, that and a good pet); they do not give a thought to the fact that they can get out of bed in the morning and … well, that they have a bed and can get out of it.
Then there are those who are awesomely blessed … and they know it. They may have a lot; they may have very little. (I think that depends on how you define a lot and a little.) They may have never been sick a day in their lives; they may have recurring bouts with cancer, and all the staff in the emergency room know them by name. Regardless, they live joyfully, in a mope-free zone. Their secret? They have learned to just trust. They are men and women of faith who believe (and believe in) the promises of the Lord, and they know that, no matter what comes, those promises are kept. Always. So, they do not worry about tomorrow. Instead, they are joyful for today.
My point: Do not worry. Do not fret. Just trust. God has it covered, and He has blessed you mightily – yes, you personally. — jri
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray
about everything. Tell God what you need,
and thank him for all he has done. Then you
will experience God’s peace, which exceeds
anything we can understand.”
- Philippians 4:6-7a
I know that people without faith (and many with it, also) think the above advice sounds like W.C. Fields’ cure for insomnia: “Ah, yes, get lots of sleep.” All I know is that I am prone to worry and over plan, to work out the details of what will take place six months from now. However, as I am learning to trust that God is really not pulling my leg, that He is serious, I am also learning to let go, to leave it all in His mighty hands. The toughest part is when things do not go as I had hoped, when the friend dies, the dog runs off, the relationship fails. But when I am able to look through those times to the other side, I realize that even things that I would tend to see as tragic are leading to things that are blessed. That’s grace. Those are miracles. So, no moping. Just trust. God is in charge, and He knows exactly what He is doing.
May 12, 2016
|In God’s Pocket:
Perfection! Back when I was a hard-driving businessman, I accepted nothing less from myself (and often from others). Three things resulted: First, I was successful, very successful. Second, I was relentlessly, ferociously miserable in my quest for this myth of perfection. Third, I made others, those around me, miserable, too. You see, perfection is an impossible quest, a fool’s quest.
These days? Oh, I still try to do things right, but I recognize that there is no such thing as perfection. Thinking I, or anyone, can achieve it is pure hubris. (Now, there’s a word I love.) The goal of perfection, pretty much by definition, leads, ultimately, to failure.
My point: We should accept ourselves as we are. Sure, work hard to achieve goals (write the best books we can write, work to lose those stubborn 20 pounds of extra weight, do our jobs to the best of our ability, keep that lawn looking good, etc.), but we should not let ourselves be driven by our goals. In this world, there is only one who is perfect. That is our Lord. So, we should give thanks and try to accept ourselves just as we are … beautifully imperfect. — jri
“Because you are human, you will continue to make
mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free
life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures can be a
source of blessing, humbling you and giving you
empathy for other people in their weaknesses.”
— Sarah Young
Jesus Calling (May 9)
The other day, I was expecting to win a writing award. (That’s right, “expecting”; talk about hubris.) I did not win; not even an honorable mention. So, I pouted for a day … and then had to laugh. I reminded myself that my purpose in writing books is to write the best books I can and to help others better understand the human condition; maybe I’d do better is I wrote about zombies and vampires, but I do not see the sense of that. So, my name will probably not replace Stephen King on the New York Times Best Seller list. Oh, well. I like what I’m doing, and my wife likes what I am doing, and a number of others like what I am doing. And that’s good enough. In that respect, my life is purfect (and, yes, I did that on purpose). Thank you, Lord.
DailyConnections May 10, 2016
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