Getting Close

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NLT

Relationships are built. Love too. But love takes a lifetime.

She worked one office over from me. Little did I know she was on the way out of a decade-long abusive relationship. When I discovered she would soon be available, I began planning how I would woo her. As it turned out, I didn’t have to do much wooing—she took care of it. She baked goodies for me—ones she was trying to sell to raise enough money for her down payment on a necessary surgery. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach—and she marched right in.

Less than two years later, we were married. That was almost twelve years ago, and I love her more today than I did then. She is my best friend, my supporter, and my greatest cheerleader. Where I go, she goes, and where she goes, I follow. We are still working on getting closer and building our love.

According to the psalmist, God is only a whisper away from those who call on Him. We must come by way of confession and repentance initially, but thereafter He wants to be involved in every detail of our lives. And will if we’ll ask.

Building a love relationship with God takes a lifetime—just as it does with my wife and any other important person in my life. If I take the relationship for granted, it will turn sour, lose its vibrancy, and eventually grow cold. As I nurture my relationship with my wife, so I must do the same with my connection to God.

Talking to God is essential. If I never talked to my wife, things would go south in short order. Pray without ceasing was the apostle Paul’s advice. God is with me all the time; I just need to be aware of His presence, ask His advice, and seek His direction.

Occasionally, I’ll write my wife a love poem. She loves them, and I always get a big hug and sloppy kiss. God also wrote a love letter He wants me to be intensely familiar with. Time in His Word is vital in building a love relationship with Him. His Word instructs, warns, encourages, and comforts. All things a love letter should accomplish.

God wants to get close to You; He’s merely waiting for the invitation.

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God’s Resume’

You placed the world on its foundation so it would never be moved. Psalm 104:5 NLT

Without one, getting a job is almost impossible.

Over time, my resume’ has grown from just a few sentences to several pages. Thanks to layoffs and better opportunities, my list of work experiences increased. So did my education. Also included were things I did that I wasn’t paid for. Important just the same. And of course, I have references who will verify my character and work history. My resume tells a lot about who I am, what I’ve done, and what my aspirations and skills are.

Reading it, however, wouldn’t tell you everything about me. Each employer or prospective employer asked me questions my resume’ didn’t answer. I’ve had to elaborate on what my duties were at previous places of employment, explain gaps in my work experience, and clarify why I left places of employment. My resume’ is a capsule of my life history.

God, too, has chosen to give humanity a resume’. I became familiar with it at a young age as I began to notice the world around me. As I got older, I considered that chance couldn’t explain everything I saw. The laws of nature functioned in an orderly manner—not haphazardly. I marveled at the expanse of the universe and the beauty of the nature around me.

And people. Gomer Pyle, from the Andy Griffith sitcom, said it best: “People sure are odd.” Myself included. But they are odd in a nice way. All different. All talented and gifted. Surely not mere fate that we happen to be who we are, living on a planet that is just far enough from the sun so we won’t burn up and just close enough so we don’t freeze.

If nature and people weren’t enough to point me to God, He decided to write His resume’ in what became known as the Bible. I saw and heard about that resume’ at an early age. I listened to Bible stories before I could read, and I read the Bible myself as soon as I could. His resume’ told me about His unconditional love, the sacrifice of His Son, and His offer to give salvation to any who would repent of their sins.

God’s resume’ is humbling and thought-provoking. If you haven’t read it, check it out. It will change your life.

Intimidated

As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. Acts 22:6 NLT

“Intimidator.” He was once proud of the name—but not anymore.

Richard and his brothers had a reputation. Brawny and bad to the bone, they didn’t take anything off of anybody. Messing with them was bad news. They would gladly take you down—for little or no reason at all. Their violent words were matched by violent behavior. Fights were their business, and they went looking for them. Richard wore his nickname well and was more than willing to show anyone why he had it—until someone more intimidating than he was showed up.

Richard discovered God wasn’t scared of him and was more than willing to fight for his soul. He couldn’t bully God . . . couldn’t even touch Him. But God could fight him in ways he couldn’t defend himself against. He could hurt his conscience and his heart. He could bring out the soft side of him that he let no one else see.

Richard still speaks about his nickname—but in the past tense. That’s who he was, but it’s not who he is now. He saw the light.

Paul saw a light too. He was also big and bad—but in the religious field. This new “Way”—Christianity—had to be stamped out. So he busied himself arresting Christians and dragging them off to jail where many of them were killed—until he saw the light. The same light Richard saw thousands of years later. The light of a greater “Intimidator.” An intimidator who informed him he was traveling the wrong path.

God doesn’t intimidate with catcalls, fights, and threats. He intimidates with the truth about me. I’m a sinner in need of help, and He’s the only One who can assist me. I can’t work to be good enough for Him to accept. Someone better than me—someone perfect—had to suffer for my sins. And in His love, God allowed His Son to take my place on a rugged cross. All He asks for in return is my love and obedience.

Relationship was why God created us in the beginning and why He allowed His Son to die for us in the end. No matter how intimidating we may try to be, we cannot out intimidate God’s truth about who we are and what we need to do.

Feeling intimidated? Accept God’s truth, love the Great Lover, and experience life at its best.

Accused

You gave me victory over my accusers. Psalm 18:43 NLT

Accusations can sting—especially the false ones.

Norris couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Didn’t you know she was ____?” “Couldn’t you smell ____ on her breath?” It was bad enough that he’d just had his wife confess unfaithfulness and tell him she didn’t love him anymore. Now the spiritual leaders of the church he pastored were accusing him of a cover-up. But he didn’t know she was ___. And he had not smelled _____ on her breath. He had his suspicions—but no solid proof. There was nothing he could do but resign.

I’ve experienced a little of what Norris tasted. I, too, remember a time when a comment I made was taken out of context, and it almost cost me my job. Being falsely accused hurts—and can bring with it a high cost.

What the psalmist was accused of, we aren’t told. The missing information isn’t important though. He trusted God to give him victory over his accusers.

Jesus was familiar with false accusations too. When He cast out demons, the religious authorities said He was empowered by the prince of demons. False accusations eventually led Him to the cross.

Early Christians also knew about false accusations. Ironically, they were accused of being atheists. Not because they didn’t worship or believe in any god but because they would not acknowledge the Roman Caesar as a god nor believe in the Roman pantheon of gods.

False accusations are a part of life at some moment during the journey. They may or may not have anything to do with my faith, but more than likely they will. Those who accuse have ulterior motives. Perhaps they want my job. Maybe they hate the morality that comes along with my belief system.

Jesus responded to false accusations by making Himself as a sheep going to slaughter: silence. Reacting with anger, cursing, or other forms of violent behavior won’t do the trick. Nor will appealing to my legal rights. These things will only serve to damage my witness before others.

The best course of action is to turn the matter over to God. He said vengeance belonged to Him—not me. Praying over the matter and praying for the person making the false accusations will bring peace to my soul and keep me from doing something that will hinder the cause of God.

Let God handle false accusations made against you.

When the Battles Come

You have armed me with strength for the battle. Psalm 18:39 NLT

Some battles have nothing to do with wielding a weapon.

Military blood runs through my family veins. My father did a stint in the National Guard and then the Army, serving overseas in the Formosa Crisis. My father-in-law retired from the Army, doing time in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. A brother-in-law served in the Air Force, and a nephew did time in Iraq. Even both of my children did short stints.

When I entered my teenage years, the Vietnam War was nearing an end—at least America’s involvement in it. The military draft was still in force, and I feared I would end up in a war that seemed to have no end. But it did end—along with the draft.

Though I’ve never served in the military, I admire those who have and do. And although I’ve never fought in a military battle, I’ve fought a number of other battles: Are my parenting skills up to par? On what grounds do I make this decision? How will I care for my aging parents and in-laws? Should I keep this job or look for another? How will I pay for the move? Why am I depressed? Can I get through this divorce? Will I ever find someone to love me?

The psalmist was familiar with military battles, but he was also familiar with other battles that didn’t require picking up a weapon. Regardless of what type of battle he fought, God armed him with the necessary means to fight it.

God gives all the armor I need to fight my battles with the enemy of my soul—and also the battles I sometimes fight with God. He gives me the helmet of salvation. Thoughts determine actions. I have the power to think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. I have a breastplate of righteousness, given when I placed my faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is my shield, and I take the gospel of peace wherever I go. My clothes are girded with the belt of truth—which determines everything I say and do. And I have God’s Word to guide every decision I make and action I take.

When the battles come, victory is certain if we adorn ourselves with the full armor of God. Don’t let the battles of life defeat you. Claim the victory that can be yours.

Prayer: Father, thank You for giving us the weapons we need to be victorious over every one of life’s battles.

Traveling with Firm Footing

He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. Psalm 18:33 NLT

Where I walk determines how I travel.

I learned the art of careful walking when I backpacked in the mountains. Trails were littered with rocks, roots, and dead leaves, making paths uneven and slippery. If I wasn’t careful, I could twist my ankle, catch my foot on a root, or slip on wet leaves. More than once, my feet magically disappeared from under me. Having to watch my step while hiking made me wish I was like a deer.

While visiting our friends in Henderson, Colorado, we traveled to the Rocky Mountain State Park. The mountains are aptly named and peered at us through the car window as we wound around the curves. Suddenly, mountain goats appeared. We pulled to the side of the road for a better view. They were surefooted like deer and scaled the rocky surfaces—never slipping, as I would have.

I doubt the psalmist referred to God giving him the ability to climb a mountain without falling, although he was familiar with mountains. The mountains he needed help climbing were similar to mine: financial, spiritual, emotional, relational, educational, and parental. I’ve discovered life is filled with such mountains. The psalmist scaled them because God sured up his feet.

Slipping on the mountains I climb is inevitable if I don’t let God help me scale the heights. Through prayer, meditation on His Word, and wise counsel, God gives me wisdom to know the right steps to take. Even when I neglect these things and fall, He’s more than happy to pick me up, steady my feet, and nudge me along.

Although I sometimes fall out of neglect, I periodically fall because God lets me. Falls teach me important lessons. I need to pray before I make decisions. When I make decisions that take me out of God’s will, He will discipline me because He loves me. Occasionally, God leads me over rocky slippery paths to prepare me for an upcoming assignment.

While it’s my responsibility to watch the path I’m traveling, God will give me sure footing so I can travel it.

Travel your life paths with confidence. God will give you sure footing to walk down each one.

Doing Anything with God

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.
Psalm 18:29 NLT

As Stephen Winter said, “Life is not ‘Hollywood’ perfect.”

Nathan found that out too. For fifteen years, he ambled in the wilderness, leaving God on the back burner. His marriage to his high school sweetheart was marred from the beginning when on their honeymoon night she said, “I miss my momma.” Six months later, she was leaving him for one of his work cohorts. After a short fling with him, she moved in with another man.

For three years, Nathan left women alone. Then he decided to make a fresh start in a new town where he met a young lady, fell in love, and married two years later. He finally made his way back to God, but watched this wife go through a mid-life crisis and leave him and their two children sixteen years later.

Once again, Nathan wondered how God could have allowed such a thing to happen and how he would ever get through the mess he was in. But he did, and four years later God sent him a wonderful woman who pulled him out of his depression and repaired his broken life. He discovered he could do anything with God, but nothing without Him.

David the psalmist was a military man and a king, but he had passed through his share of hardships on the way to his present position—and still faced them. When the time came for the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, David’s father didn’t even invite David to the selection party but left him in the field tending sheep. Later, after becoming king, one of David’s sons led a rebellion, ran him out of town, and then topped off his insolence by sleeping with his father’s concubines in public view. But David made it through each of his tumultuous episodes because he discovered he could do anything with God.

I’ve discovered what Stephen, Nathan, David, and many others, have: life isn’t perfect just because I have chosen to follow God. God doesn’t promise it will be; He simply promises that with His strength I’ll get through, that the trial will contain a seed from which I can learn valuable lessons, and that I’ll grow spiritually if I’ll respond with trust instead of bitterness.

With God’s strength, you can face whatever life throws your way. Trust Him when the trials come.

Prayer: Father, enable us to meet life’s trials in Your strength, rather than in our own.

Drinking Confusion

You have been very hard on us, making us drink wine that sent us reeling.
Psalm 60:3 NLT

Life is filled with periods of confusion.

Lonnie had listened to church folks tell him how much God loved him. One day he acknowledged his sin, repented, and accepted Jesus as his Savior. But he was confused shortly thereafter when, at a church business meeting, the church voted to excuse themselves from a local men’s fellowship because African American churches were joining. Didn’t God love all people?

Garrett was confused too. He had accepted Christ when he was younger but had grown further away from Him. He and his wife rarely attended church. His first marriage had ended in divorce, and the present one was in trouble. Then his wife’s drinking problem led to a wreck that killed their youngest child. Couldn’t God have prevented this?

Carine had a heart for children’s ministry. When a new Vacation Bible School director brought in numerous children from the community, her heart was touched. She decided to begin a van ministry. Every Sunday, she picked up children and brought them to church. When teachers threatened to give up their classes, when no one would sit with the children, and when no one made any attempt to speak to them, Carine was confused. Didn’t Jesus tell the little children to come to Him?

David was also periodically confused. If God favored Israel, why did He occasionally let their enemies defeat them?

I, too, can throw my hat into the ring of confusion. God, if You love me, why the divorce, why the financial struggles, why the rebellious children, why the unemployment, why the layoff, why the betrayal, why the death, why the sickness, why the…

David discovered confidence in the midst of his confusion. But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack (Psalm 60:4). Whether it looked so or not, God was in charge and in control. What appeared as a mess to David wasn’t to God. What appeared to be unconcern wasn’t at all.

The only way I can walk through periods of confusion with my faith intact and my eyes looking upward and forward is to believe the same. God loves me and is ordering the steps of my life—even when the evidence seems to point to the contrary.

Don’t let life’s periods of confusion dampen your faith in a loving God.

Identity: Was Versus Is

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:27 NLT

I wasn’t sure who I would become, but neither was I always positive I wanted to remain what I was.

In fifty-six years, I’ve been many things. I was a preacher’s kid from the time I was eight years old until my dad died when I was forty-nine years old. I was once a grandchild. That identity vanished when my last grandparent died. For a short period, I was an Orkin exterminator. Crawling under houses, seeing animals I didn’t care to see, hitting my head, and smelling odors convinced me I didn’t want that identity.

For two years, I was a warehouse worker. Someone else decided I shouldn’t continue that identity when they laid me off and never recalled me. Then I became a textile worker for four years. I went from weaver to floor sweeper to supervisor. When I answered God’s call to enter the ministry, I went from being a textile worker to being a preacher. Along the way, I was also a teacher for eight years.

All of those things are positions I once held—things I was once labeled by—but they weren’t who I was. As a nine-year-old lad, I listened to my dad explain the plan of salvation. I chose to ask Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my heart. I pledged to follow Him as my Savior. At that moment, I became what Paul classified as a new person. Everything old passed into the past, and a new life began. From that moment, I was a Christian who might be a preacher’s kid, grandchild, textile worker, Orkin exterminator, teacher, or preacher. My real identity, however, was bound up with Christ.

Another identity I left behind when I chose Christ was sinner. I love the song, “I’m Just a Sinner Saved by Grace,” but I question the theology. Yes, I was saved by grace, but the Bible doesn’t continue to classify me as a “sinner” now that I’ve received Christ. In fact, it says I’m a saint. I’m not perfect—and won’t be this side of heaven—but I am a saint because Christ has given me His righteousness. I am God’s child, friend, and a joint heir with Christ.

Knowing who you are is crucial. It determines your actions as well as your attitudes when you face difficulties in life. What is your true identity?

Wind Grabbing

I observed everything going on under the sun,
and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:14 NLT

The parking lot symbolized what once was but would never be again.

In the early 1980s, Ryan’s Steakhouse was the most popular eating establishment in Greenwood, SC. You could choose from a bar of meats, salads, vegetables, starches, and homemade desserts, or you could order from a selection of juicy steaks. Sunday lunches—as well as Sunday nights after church—witnessed a packed restaurant.

Then other popular restaurants encroached on Ryan’s territory. Places like Chiles, O’Charley’s, and Outback Steakhouse. Ryan’s cut out their signature steaks and went solely to a food bar. Crowds thinned. And one day they closed their doors. Financial struggles—along with waning crowds—made the decision.

What’s left of Ryan’s is on my daily walking route. As I walk up and down its parking lot, I think back to what once was. Cars packed the parking lot and overflowed into a neighboring restaurant’s lot. Lines of people snaked out of the front door, waiting to pay and be seated. The smell of steaks simmering on the grill filled the air—along with conversations and laughter as people mingled.

But not now. Grass grows through cracks in the asphalt. Leaves and pine straw litter the lot. Empty pallets, pieces of rock, and other left-behind paraphernalia spoil the ground. As if someone was in a hurry to leave—or reluctant.

I long for the “good ole” days as I walk through the deserted parking lot. Yet I know they’ll never return. What once brought satisfaction to many—myself included—won’t ever again. King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, knew disappointment as well. He hadn’t sampled Ryan’s, but he had everything else. As the wealthiest man alive, he could, and did. However, nothing brought him lasting satisfaction. Pleasure was always one grasp away. Just when he thought he had found it, the wind blew it from his grasp.

Such is the nature of things, whatever they are. Restaurants, relationships, play toys, possessions, power, prestige. They’re all temporary—here for our momentary enjoyment. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said to store our treasures in heaven . . . to invest in what outlasts time. Those things that will have a lasting influence long after we’re gone.

The Ryan’s of the world lose their popularity—and maybe even close their doors. Your life, too, will one day end, but you can leave a legacy for others to remember and emulate.

Prayer: Father, guide us to invest in those things that will outlive our lives.