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Archive for the ‘God’s guidance’ Category

 “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked .’I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ (Acts 9:3-6)

Marcus Vinicius is a hothead.  He is also impulsive.

These traits are not curious considering he is a young Roman general. He wants what he wants and he has the authority to get it.

And in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis , what he wants is a woman named Lygia.  She is the adopted daughter of a retired general, and technically a prisoner, as she was captured in war.

Marcus pursues Lygia, but she rejects his advances even though she is attracted to him. Lygia is a Christian, devoted to her Master, and doesn’t see much of a future with this renowned, yet pagan hero.

The young lady’s beliefs are no impediment for Marcus, however. He offers to build a large cross monument in honor of her religion.

Lygia tries to explain to Marcus that Christianity is a matter of the soul, not one of symbols.  Finally agreeing to marry Marcus, she lets on that not only is he in her heart, but Jesus is there too.

Marcus doesn’t get it, though. He thinks he has to share Lygia’s love with a dead man. Even the Apostle Paul, who is in the room with Lygia and Marcus, cannot persuade Marcus of the truth.

In typical fashion, Marcus become angry. As a final demonstration before leaving Lygia’s presence, he rips a cross ornament off her wall and breaks it in two.

Eventually both Marcus and Lygia become caught up in the persecutions of Nero, who has conjured up a fable in which the Christians are blamed for the burning of Rome, which he himself instigated.  Lygia is thrown in jail with many other Christians.

Marcus ends up in the same prison with her for opposing Nero’s persecution. He’s not a  Christian, but he has no love for the crazy emperor’s injustices.

The jail is adjacent to the arena where prisoners are sacrificed to the lions. One by one the Christians are marched out to die.

According to tradition, on the road from Rome  the Apostle Peter met the resurrected Jesus. He asked his Savior,”Where are you going” (Quo Vadis in Latin)?  Jesus told Peter that he was going to Rome to be crucified all over again, obviously a reference to what is happening to His disciples, who Nero is nailing to trees and lighting on fire.  Peter thus gained the strength to return to Rome, where he is eventually crucified on a cross upside down.

In the movie Quo Vadis, the imprisoned Peter comforts  Christians before they face the lions.  They march into the stadium singing, causing consternation in Nero.

Marcus, Lygia and the latter’s giant bodyguard Ursus  are the last to enter. This is because Nero’s wife Poppaea has arranged a special death for them.  She is angry with Marcus for rejecting her advances and jealous of Lygia.

The plan for extinguishing the lives of the three doesn’t involve lions, though. Poppaea has produced a special show for Nero and the crowd.

Before going out to their presumed murders, Marcus explains to Lygia his continued questions about her Christian beliefs. Lygia sees that he may doubt, but als that he is a seeker. She encourages him by telling him that Christ is in his heart more than he knows.

Now in the stadium, Lygia is tied to a stake (her own cross) .  A bull is let into the arena. In between the girl and a death by goring is the powerful Ursus.

Ursus puts up a good fight, but is obviously no match for the final battle with the bull.  However,  something amazing occurs.

Marcus has been brought out in bonds to observe the death of his beloved. As he watches the struggle of Ursus he prays,”Christ, give him strength.”

Ursus defeats the bull, much to the crowd’s delight. Eventually, Marcus and Lygia leave Rome together to begin a new life, an implied one of faith.

The character Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis is illustrative of how faith in Jesus is not necessarily something that comes like a lightning bolt. In Marcus’s case, his coming to belief in Christ was a journey.

His path began with outright opposition to a religion he did not grasp. It culminated in a decision  to step out in trust and call on this Jesus  in whom his beloved believed.

The catalyst for this prayer was his desire to save Lygia from a horrible physical death. Whatever his motivation, his pleas to Jesus showed that his faith in the power of God was genuine. After all, Marcus was a general and understood power.

What Marcus experienced is described by the Apostle Paul. He describes our experience as similar to that of a person who has had a veil removed. Once it is gone, we see God more and more clearly and are transformed to His likeness (II Corinthians 3:18).

Marcus’s experience is different from that of  Paul, however.  While the apostle, himself blinded in terms of faith in Christ, had come to the Lord in a flash, Marcus’s route is more circuitous.

The long journey of Marcus to faith is comforting to me. As I slide down the other side of middle age, I am distraught over my mistakes in life and how dense I have been in not seeing my unbelief and flaws earlier.

For example, I have been reading a  book recently about a certain aspect of the Christian life. In it are surveys which basically help you to ascertain how you are doing in this particular area. I have been reading this book with some despair over what it has revealed about my life.

On the other hand, I know my only hope for true change lies in Jesus. Marcus Vinicius took a long time to figure this out, but God was patient with the general and drew this lost man to Himself.

I am putting my hope in Christ to do the same for me, especially  in this aforementioned area of need. Quo Vadis.

You choose. I’ll follow.

 

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The Lord is my shepherd;  I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows;  he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name (Psalm 23:1-3).

These days of summer I am wont to taking a walk into my Virginia town of about 75 minutes. This journey takes me through the agricultural section of the local university, a large concern.

Every time I make this trek I see something different. For example, last week there were four young bulls playfully fighting, their heads focused inward toward each other. Their bodies jutted out from their heads, making the latter the center of a black kaleidoscope.

Yesterday I passed two flocks of sheep which I had not previously seen. I supposed that not having seen them before  was due to my having gotten out earlier this particular morning.

The sheep in the first flock ignored me, diligently munching on the green grass in their pasture. All except one that is.

This black-faced rogue stared through the fence at me, almost angrily. It was as if it was telling me to get them out of there, or to give them something more than the grass all around.

I thought,”Even for a sheep, the grass is always greener on the other side.” This sheep didn’t know what was good for them.

Here God had provided for their need that which was particularly suited for their position in life. Yet, this particular animal appeared to want something different, perhaps even wishing they were walking outside the fence with me on the way to the coffee shop instead of chewing on a blade of grass!

This sheep reminded me of Harvey Cheyne, a character from a Kipling novel. I learned of him from a  1996 movie called Captains Courageous, which adapted the story for television.

In this story Harvey is an extremely rich 16-year old who is also a self centered brat. On an ocean cruise he falls overboard and is seemingly lost.  However, he is picked up by a small fishing vessel captained by the demanding Captain Troop.

Harvey remains in character after his rescue, insisting on special treatment. He tries to bribe Captain Troop to take him back to shore. Troop tells him ‘no’, noting that they would be out to see for several months to fish, which was the crew’s livelihood.

Troop makes the boy work, something he is not accustomed to. Harvey refuses and hears from the captain,”You don’t work, you don’t eat.”

After a period of resistance, Harvey slowly comes around. He learns the fishing trade with the help of Dan, Captain Troop’s son. He also learns some life lessons and matures into a fine young man.

David Jeremiah tells a similar story of a man who is out to sea on a small raft when a storm hits. As much as he tries, the man cannot prevent the craft from sinking.

Like Harvey, he is picked up by another vessel, this time a large ship. The captain of this boat tells the man,”I’m sure you don’t mind helping out in the galley. We are short handed.”  Unlike Harvey, the man is so happy and grateful over being saved that he is willing to do anything.

David Jeremiah likens this to our salvation through Jesus Christ. We are in the place of rescue from our dire straits at the point of salvation, but we are not saved to inactivity. Jeremiah points out that we are saved by grace, but also for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I see a lot of application to the stories of Harvey and the man on the raft. I too have been rescued.

During the previous year I was alone in a foreign country, with no family or Christian fellowship. I cried out for rescue from these lonely circumstances.

During this time I was tossed about as if I was on the ocean. I felt adrift and pleaded with the Lord.

Finally, this summer God heard my cry led me back home.  I am finally with my wife and children and ecstatic to be home and connected to my friends and church.

However, I am also currently unemployed. I can see from the episodes o f Harvey and the raft man that I have a choice to make in terms of how I view my new condition.

I have determined that I should not expect to sit around my house and do nothing as Harvey did.  The crew (my family) needs my help, not a freeloader.

Part of me does feels like Harvey did when he was first rescued. I have these thoughts of being too important or too “good” for certain tasks.

However, another part of me knows that I may have to take what seems to be an unpleasant job in order for me and my family to continue to survive. I am so grateful to be away from my own personal “ocean” that I am willing to do anything to avoid being tossed overboard again.

I have a suspicion that even work with menial tasks can teach me something new and lead to a broader ministry. In Captains Courageous, Harvey plans to build a hospital in Captain Troop’s hometown out of thanks and gratitude once he is back on shore.  He can do this because through his perseverance in his messy fishing job his life is restored.

I believe God can lead me in the same way, taking what appears to be a dead end job and make it into something special. Looking at others and thinking that they have it better than me, or that my little “pasture” is too beneath me misses the point of who I am and what God has created me to be for His glory.

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“Rulers lead with my help, and nobles make righteous judgments (Proverbs 8:16).”

I took a walk though my neighborhood today, as I am wont to do on Saturdays. It doesn’t hurt that I live next to the largest lake in Finland the fourth largest in Europe. This body of water is a beautiful piece of creation and is ubiquitous in this area.

The lake is lined with pleasant  birch forests. So after a few minutes I am in the woods.

Today I had a plan where I wanted to hike and thought I knew where I was going. However, I somehow took a path I had never been on before.

This trail led me right to a small point on the lake.  It wasn’t bare. It had several small birch on it.

Right in from of me on this small point facing the lake was what amounted to a kitchen chair. It was íf God had led me out there and said “sit a spell”.

The Psalmist wrote some  lovely words for this kind of situation:

  “My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8  NLT)

In my case though I got the impression I was just supposed to sit there and listen. So I sit in the kitchen chair and watched the current flow out into the lake from the inlet nearby. Finland isn’t the noisiest country at any time, but today out there in the forest by the lake it was silent as a mouse.

Some decisions are staring me in the face right now, and as I watched that current it came to me that much of my life I had been swimming against God’s flow.  When I get into a tight spot as I am in now I tend to go to war and do everything in my power to get out of it. 

The end result is that I end up spending years going down a certain road. Looking back, I am wondering if I made the right choices.

In an episode of the TV medical drama “House”, which is winding to its conclusion in the next couple of shows, Dr. Robert Chase is evaluating his own past decisions.   A patient has made him confront his life.

This particular patient isn’t just anyone. It is the hospital coroner, a man named Dr. Treiber.

In his post Treiber sees all the mistakes. When he does autopsies, he knows which doctors messed up.

As a result, the only doctor in the place he really trusts is Gregory House, for whom the show is named.  Furthermore, even though he is a member of House’s team, Treiber does not like Dr. Chase at all.

While working on Treiber, Chase discovers why. The coronoer had applied for the same fellowship under Dr. House which Chase eventually received.  Here’s their  conversation:

Treiber: Quit my other program, relocated, broke up with my girlfriend. Then your father made a call, and suddenly you had the spot.

Chase: That was almost ten years ago.

Treiber: Do you know what I could’ve done after even three years with House? Gone to the CDC, W.H.O. Started a diagnostics department someplace they’d never even heard of such a thing. You’ve been given everything. Looks, talent, my future. Nine years later, look what you’ve done with it.

Chase is speechless.  He knows Treiber is right.

In a subsequent conversation with Dr. Taub, another House team member, Chase discusses the future -and the past.

 Chase: How long do you think you’ll work for House?

Taub: As long as he lets me.

Chase: When House was in prison, you worked at Mercy in plastics, right? Know what I did? Surfed. For nine months.

Taub: Yes, and if I didn’t have two daughters and alimony, I might have done the same.

Chase: A fellowship’s supposed to train you to stand on your own. Foreman’s Dean of the hospital, Cameron’s head of emergency medicine in Chicago.

What brings matters to a head for Chase is that he suddenly becomes the  point man on Treiber’s case. House has run off with his friend Dr. James Wílson on a road trip. Wilson is dying of cancer and confronting his own issues.

Chase, knowing how Treiber feels about him, doesn’t tell his patient that  House is gone. Treiber is just told that House authorized his treatment. Thus, Chase has lied to his patient.

In the meantime, Chase has told one of the House team doctors he is quitting after the case. Chase discusses his future with his boss and friend Dr. Foremen.

Foreman: You’ve got everybody worried about your quitting.

Chase: You here as my boss or my friend?

Foreman: If I was here as your boss, you’d be suspended by now.

Chase: I’ve learned a lot here. Enough to run my own team. It’s time I moved on. Unfortunately, that’s how I felt last year. And the year before that.

Foreman: Maybe there’s a reason you haven’t left. You need structure. And support. Somebody else calling the shots.

Chase: You didn’t come down here as my boss or my friend. You came down as House. You’re trying to insult me into making a decision.

Foreman: We’ve both seen it work. Either you rise to the challenge and quit, or you stay. As a team member.

Chase is left to ponder Foreman’s charge of  indeciseveness.

Treiber’s condition worsens, and Treiber learns the truth. Typical of the show, however, Treiber’s condtion is solved, but this time by Dr. Chase.

When Treiber tells Chase that he himself probably wouldn’t have come up with the diagnosis that saved his life, Chase credits House’s teaching. Treiber replies, “This wasn’t House.”

Later, Chase sees Foreman in the hall and tosses him his locker key. Foreman makes one last ditch effort to keep Chase on board:

Foreman: “I’ll give you your own team.” 

Chase: “Thanks. But it’s time to step out of the shadow.”

Foreman: “It’s about time.”

Sitting by the lake today I thought the same thing. It’s “about time” I quit making bad decisions based on my own insecurity. 

I have spent many years under God’s tutelage. I know  His methods and ways.

It’s time to get out of my comfort zone.  If I don’t, I won’t be at peace with myself the rest of my days (Isaiah 50:11).

It’s about time I became a leader.

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“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9) 

According to intercultural communication expert Galina Elizarova,  with English, everything is articulated in a logical way. The English speaker is straightforward and seeks to get the message out in the shortest distance, especially if he or she is an American.

Elizarova notes how lawyer-oriented we are, with all our details and interpretations. Everything has to be spelled out.

 Conversely, she explains that Russian, her native tongue is expressed quite differently. Whereas an American textbook teacher’s manual will tell a teacher,for example: “Have the students write a dialogue. Put them into pairs”, a Russian would consider that quite silly.”Why”,  a Russian might respond,”of course you put them into pairs. It’s a dialogue.”

 While the Americanl communication is more of a straight line, the Russian counterpart is illustrated by more of a broken line. Some things are articulated and some things are implied. The context is relied on to interpret the message.

 Before I get on my high horse and criticize the Russian communication methods, I need to heed Elizarova. She notes that Russians believe there way of communicating to be world-class, and cites as evidence the great literature of authors such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

 Elizarova says that someone who is not aware of the Russian language may hear a discussion and think it is “like a hell. What are they talking about and how do they manage to understand one another?”.

 She cites an example of a terrible miscommunication between an American exchange student and her Russian host mother. It was an episode which left the Russian lady feeling very betrayed and the exchange student, who considered herself quite “Russian”, very confused.

 The host mother got sick with a very bad flu. The American girl, age 22, came to the door of her room and asked her if she could go to the disco.

 The Russian woman’s reply in her language from her sickbed was,”You may if you can.” The American girl processed this through her grid, which came out with: “ ‘You may’=’I have permission’; ‘if you can’=’I am not sick, so I am able to go’.” Off to the disco she went.

The American girl from her point of view was being very responsible at her age even asking for permission. The Russian woman was really saying,”You can’t go because I am sick and I may need some help, like water or something.”

She expected the American to get the context. The Russian host Mom expected the girl to be mature enough to decipher and decode the message she was sending from between the sheets with a high fever.

I sometimes feel these days that I too am expected to  try and decode what God is trying to tell me. However, there is no Star Trek communicator or Google Translate website that will unravel His message.

A friend just posed this joke which applies on his Facebook wall:

For spiritual math nerds:

Jesus was teaching his disciples and said,”The kingdom of heaven is like y=2-6 (x squared minus 6). One of them leans over to his buddy and asks,”What´’s that all about?” The other disciple answered,”Oh, He’s just teaching in parabolas again.

Given that I hated geometry in school, and any kind of math for that matter, you can see through this bit of humor my frustration with God’s communication. However, I know Him well enough I believe to think that He does want me to know His message. God is not in the business of making the finding of His will like some kind of shell game where I have to guess where the object is.
It’s not His fault I find His communication so cloudy. As Richard Niebuhr noted in his work “Christ and Culture”, Jesus is not a part of culture or even “above” culture. He is transcendent. Jesus is in no way subject to or related to our culture; He transforms it.
God’s made his transcendence clear through the prophet Isaiah. He said that His way of thinking and His way of doing things were not ours –not even close (Isaiah 55:8).
 Paul echoed this view of God in Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
   How unsearchable his judgments,
   and his paths beyond tracing out! 
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counselor?”[ (Romans 11:33,34)
Thus, as a Christian I am faced with a God  who seems to be speaking Klingon to me. Although I want to follow Jesus, the communication is so high context (out of this world) that I don’t get it.
Larry Crabb in his book “The Silence of Adam” seems to have an answer to my dark dilemma. Crabb says it is my job, not God’s,  if I am to be a manly man, to speak into my darkness.
Unmanly men, says Crabb, walk around asking God,”What should I do?.” As the author notes, these men say,”There has to be a code.”
 Nope, there isn’t a code or a decoder.  Crabb writes,“God knows what we should do. Surely He will tell us…He is telling us what to do, but it’s not a code. He tells us to be men, love Him and then to do whatever we think best.”
To repeat Crabb: It’s our job to speak into the darkness. If we are followers of Christ and are doing our best to seek Him, Jesus whispers in our ear,”You can do it. Go get ‘em tiger.” Jesus isn’t a micromanager.
 The problem, says Crabb, is that there is a second underlying question to the “What should I do?” interrogative. It is,”Do I have what it takes?”
 Where we men especially fear to step into the darkness is in our relationships, says Crabb. However, he says we have to do so, giving others freedom, “releasing all efforts to control the outcome.”
 This is quite a hard teaching for someone like me, the ultimate control freak. While Jesus isn’t a micromanager, I am. As Crabb says, there are no guarantees, however.
 What he says unmanly men do is stick to the comfortable, stay with what they know, and avoid risks. What he calls for is for us men to step into the “mystery of relationship” and yet to avoid lighting our own fires as we do.
 I recently had an interaction with a lawyer by Email. I believe this woman was getting very frustrated with me because I was trying to cover all the bases and stay away from any kind of risk, or at least keep it to a minimum. (Maybe I should have been a lawyer!)  Only when she assured me on a bunch of counts did I give the go ahead to proceed.

I am in a pretty dark place right now. I have no idea what to do.

Oh, I take that back. I think I know what I should do, but I don’t have the resources and it scares me to death. Like I did with the lawyer, I am trying to cover all eventualities and avoid losing face, or worse.

This is where trusting God in the darkness comes in. I am following Him these days I think to the best of my ability. Oh sure, I have my moments, but generally I am hanging on to His every word (although, like I said above, I think I need a decoder).

In my current midnight hour (and I ask, when will the dawn ever come?) I don’t have much choice. Yet, I am hoping I end up like Howard Schulz, who was given this quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe when he began to turn Starbucks around after the recession a few years ago:

“When you get in a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”  

Nice words”, the skeptic in me saysBut there is no need for cynicism if the same communication is penned by God.  

Even if I don’t decode the message right and the tide sweeps me away(again, there are no guarantees), God is still trustworthy, hey. I am made in His image.

I am His son. He has delegated a whole heckuva lot to me. My word to myself is, “Run with it.”

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“My child, don’t lose sight of good planning and insight. Hang on to them, for they fill you with life and bring you honor and respect.  They keep you safe on your way and keep your feet from stumbling (Proverbs 3:21-23).” (New Living Translation)

My nature is to shoot from the hip. In the past decade I have lived up to that aspect of my personality to the hilt.

I have moved myself and/or my family to about 11 different domiciles and back and forth to three different countries. I suppose my career as a teacher of English to speakers of foreign languages can be blamed.

However, there is more to it than that. Lot’s more. Probably more than I can go into here without getting off the point in this post.

Over 10 years ago I quit my job in the States and took one in Finland. Three years later I moved back to the States.

After one year, watching my income dwindle to nothing in super rich California, I moved to the oil laden Middle East, where I was paid handsomely and my bank account stabilized — for a time.  But again, after one year, having endured enough of an unsuitable situation, my family and I moved back to Finland.

Three years later it was back to the States. This time I was hopeful that this would be it. I intended to spend the rest of my life in the hills of southwest Virginia, the land of my childhood.

It was not to be. My job status went sour and it was back to Finland after about 20 months, this time sans fam.

The common thread in all this job switching is the  “last minute” nature of it all. In some cases,  I felt like a man on a rocket ship barely escaping Planet Earth as it explodes.

I already alluded to my poverty in one of those circumstances which led me to desperate action. In another, I decided to stay in Finland and not return to the Middle East the night before my plane was to leave. The stress release after that decision was palpable.

In all of this hopping around I have had the viewpoint that God rescued me “just in time”, a term used by Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book “God Can Make a Way”. Perhaps, but now I am not so sure that  my “rescue” was what the Lord was up to.

How much of the pond jumping was due to my flighty persona and how much was due to God’s intervention I may never know. However, another potential spontaneous job switch which popped up last month has made me reconsider God’s role in such maneuvers.

Not particularly caring for my seperation from my wife and kids at holiday time recently, I went to be with them. While there I truly prayed my guts out that I could stay home for good. (In fact, this prayer had been sent up regularly BEFORE  I arrived back in the States at Christmas.)

Because of the nature of my work, which is not tenured, I tell people that my “second job” is looking for employment. While home I spotted a job in my field within 45 minutes of my home and jumped at it.

I got a message back right away. The interview, held the week before my scheduled return to Finland, went well. It appeared I had a job offer and could return home.

I was excited when a colleague in Finland who knew about my possible departure sent me a message via social media and told me not to worry. There was a ready replacement for me, I was assured, so I was advised that I shouldn’t feel as if I was leaving my employer in the lurch.

Right after I read my coworker’s note, I checked my Email. Sitting in the the inbox was a message from my interviewer.

*Wow! Here we go again,” I thought.  Nope.

It was a “Dear John” letter. Something went awry in the 48 hours between the interview and message from the person I thought could be my future boss.

I can’t say I was devastated, as accepting the job had its obstacles. However, I was definitely disappointed. My normal modus operandi of last minute salvation went belly up this time and the opportunity of remaining with my family with it.

I have been reflecting back on a whisper I believed God put in my ear before going home for the holidays. I had read a commentary in the Life Recovery Bible which had described the weaknesses of Abraham and Sarah as twofold.

One flaw in the lives of these patriarchs was there tendency to take action before God had revealed Himself on a matter. Another mistake they seemed to make was to not plan. God spoke to me that these were failures I myself needed to avoid. 

I believe He told me that any move back to the States on my part needed to be well thought out. While reflecting on these matters pre-Christmas, I also had no specific direction from the Lord that I was to up and go home.

Indeed, even if the job had been offered I would have had great pause. I had legal, contractual and ethical commitments to consider which would have been difficult to extricate myself from.

One night in the midst of pondering all these grey areas, my wife read the Bible to me out loud. One of the verses she read was this one:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him (I John 4:16).”

I determined as I heard this that I could rely on God’s love. Again, Abraham came to mind.

He had been told by God to take his son of promise Isaac up to a mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham trusted God so much that he did it, believing that even if Isaac died God would raise him up again (Hebrews 11:17-19).

I figured that even if I had to get back on that plane and come to Finland and resume my life without my family, God could fix matters so I could turn back around. As I sit here a few days later, that hasn’t happened.

However, it is clear to me that being away from my wife and kids is less than optimum. I still believe God can make a way.

It just may involve a little more detailed and orderly program of action than what I am used to. In fact, I am coming to believe God intends to rescue me through this kind of planning, and not via a rocket ship this time around.

Jet lagged and sleepless last night, I lay awake at 3 am worrying. Then I got up and read my Bible.

Knowing God wants and has a plan and wants me  involved in the details actually comforted me. While I might have preferred a last minute phone call or cash infusion to make things right, I think in the long run this way is better.

Seeking God and planning for a while  offers possibilities for stability. It also has potential for producing a much more rewarding future in a lot of areas.

Drawing up a game plan for action may not be as thrilling as my previous impulsive decisionaking, but it seems to be more in line with the Master’s plan. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t do things “just in time”.

Indeed, I saw this during the Psalm that was my main source throughout the holidays. The Psalmist writes:

 I waited patiently for the LORD;
   he turned to me and heard my cry. 

 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
   out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
   and gave me a firm place to stand (Psalm 40:1-2).

However, in the same song he cries,

 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
   may your love and faithfulness always protect me. 
For troubles without number surround me;
   my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
   and my heart fails within me. 
Be pleased to save me, LORD;
   come quickly, LORD, to help me (Psalm 40:11-13).

AND

 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
   may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
   you are my God, do not delay (Psalm 40:17).

The man is desperate and believes he needs quick relief. However, he is willing to wait for God’s “just in time” moment within his desperation.

That’s not a contradiction. That’s a message that God works through, outside and (just) in time. In my case, He has decided to involve me and my participation a little more than usual.

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I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (Luke 10:19).”

This morning as I left my lodgings for a brisk walk to work, I stepped out into a wet day. In such conditions, I was not surpised to see worms on the sidewalk.

Worms are pitiable creatures. They just lie there.

If I wanted to, I could have just stepped on the worms I encountered. They wouldn’t have known the difference.

Apparently, worms have no brains. They are a long tube of nerve endings.

Worms get no respect. Despite doing positive things like enriching our soil, we throw them in cans and use them for bait when we go fishing.

They are easy pickings for birds. We all know the proverb “the early bird catches the worm”.

Speaking of proverbs, another one that is popular is “the worm has turned”. It commonly means that a person has a reversal of fortunes.

The phrase has been around since the 16th century. Shakespeare made it popular in Henry VI, when Lord Clifford tells the king:

“To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?
Not to the beast that would usurp their den.
The smallest worm will turn being trodden on,
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.'”

Even worms sometimes have had enough. Exactly what these normally passive creatures will do when they make their move is not clear, but whatever it is, they will do it with all their might.

In one respect, the idiom can be interpreted as what happens when revenge is sought by a harmed party. When those who have done the damage  are themselves put in a bad way, the worm has turned.

On the other hand, the term “worm” has a long history as being used synonymously with the word “dragon”.  Nancy Sherer notes that it is a relief when the dragon turns away from its fiery destruction.

Of course, Satan has been called a “dragon” in the Scriptures (Revelation 12:9). It is definitely freeing when his oppression has been removed from us.

What is very curious is that the Psalmist quotes the Messiah as saying of himself “…I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people (Psalm 22:6).”  For crying out loud, who ever thinks of Jesus as a worm.

Yet, at one time during his anguishing period of the Cross, he had the same status of a snitch in the ‘hood. Jesus was harassed, threatened, and ultimately murdered.  

However, as we all know, Jesus did not maintain his “worm” status. Through His death and resurrection He went from being mashed into the dirt of the earth to ruling from the skies. He had become the bird instead of the worm.

As one who has put his faith in the work of Jesus Christ for his salvation, I regularly wonder how long I have to suffer like a grub. I am a man, yet like the apostle Paul I constantly exclaim,”What a wretched man I am (Romans 7:24a)!”

If my body, which troubled the apostle, doesn’t get me, then other forces do. The Dragon frequently flames in my direction, and the world steps on me.

After a while, though, even a worm such as myself gets sick of the abuse of evil. This worm turns and tries to fight back.

I have been told since I was young a bunch of different ways to live the Christian life:

“Trust and obey”.

“Walk in the Spirit.”

“Stay in the Word”.

Yet, after all this advice, that I am sure is well intentioned and works for some, I still feel like this worm, who sang:

When I was just a little worm My mommy said to me-

“When you grow up to be a big worm

A big worm you will be.”

And Wilby was my name

And Wilby was my game

And Wilby will be my name

’til I die (Source: American Pirates, You Tube)

Researchers have noted an interesting fact about worm behavior. Although they are brainless per se, they react to light. Scientists have been able to control them with tightly focused beams.

The advice I have gotten from my fellows in the faith is fine, but what I really need is light from above. If there is anyone who knows what it’s like to be a worm, it is Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew word for “worm” in Psalm 22 refers to a type of worm that clings to wood until it has offspring. When it does, it dies and emits a scarlet like substance that covers its babies. (Jerry Ogles, Anglican Orthodox Church).

Get the picture.  Jesus was a worm with a purpose.

Somehow my wormhood has meaning. It may not seem clear now, but in the long run it will be.

While I am still inching along, I want to be involved in the transformation Jesus has for me. He intends to change me into another kind of worm: a glow worm.

Actually an insect, the glow worm produces and emits light from its body. This characteristic is technically called Bioluminescence, which from the Greek and Latin means ‘living light’.

I’ve had it up to here with Satan’s abuse, also. It’s time this worm turned and socked him in the nose, or whatever worms do when they are fed up being a worm. 

Up until now, I don’t really know how to do this effectively. However, I believe Jesus will show me like He did the apostle Paul when they encountered each other on the road to Damascus. Here is Paul’s account of that meeting, when He saw who Jesus really was for the first time:

 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’  ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:14a-18).

At least I know from this passage what a Christian worm is supposed to do when they are at the end of their tether. First, I have to quit fighting Jesus.

My methodology for living the Christian life certainly hasn’t worked up until now in terms of making me a better person. Why not do it His way?

Then, I gotta get off my belly, glow like a glow worm with Jesus’s light and engage His power to smack the Evil One.  So that’s what happens when the worm has turned!

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“Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water (Psalm 114:7,8).”

“My head is stuck in the clouds
She begs me to come down
Says “Boy quit foolin’ around”
I told her “I love the view from up here
Warm sun and wind in my ear
We’ll watch the world from above
As it turns to the rhythm of love” (Plain White T)

I’ve been told I live between my ears. On the negative side, one could accuse me of being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. I hope I am not worthy of the criticism.

It just seems sometimes that all I have are my wits and my brain. Is that so wrong?

Since I was a young man I have been told I could write. I am now not too far from old age, and I have never used that gift to its fullest.

My mind just seems to be able to connect the dots on some things. Then I can produce them on paper.

Not always, though. I can write as much junk as anyone else.

“A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin.” (Kimberly Perry)

The song these lyrics come from concerns the tragedy of dying young. In my case, the tragedy in dying would be to leave nothing behind.

When you get to be my age, you begin thinking about your legacy. I know.  I know. The real legacy for a husband and father like me should be what I leave to my family. In that regard, I know I have a long way to go.

For the sake of this piece, let’s just stick to the outside world. Although I think I can think and I have written that I can write, I have very little in print at the moment to leave to anybody.

I think I might be a little what Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, portrayed his character Frank Bascombe to be: dreamy. Dreamy is when you go into a trance and forget the real world.

But is that so bad? Maybe being dreamy is what makes someone like me happy.

One of my friends just posted an article on Facebook which discusses the “10 happiest jobs”. The happiest people tend to be like me.

(Why are we Americans so into lists of 10? Is it David Letterman’s fault?)

The number one job on the list is clergy. The author of the piece, Steve Denning, says of them: “the least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all”. I am not a preacher, but I have studied a lot of theology, have been writing this devotional for two years and over the years have spent a lot of time with God. fellow Christians and in the ministry.

Also on Denning’s list is  author, which is my dream job.  “For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness”, Denning writes.

Finally, number six is my current job: teacher. Denning notes:

” Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions. The profession continues to attract young idealists, although 50 per cent of new teachers are gone within five years.”

Count me as an old idealist. I guess I may have burned out on teaching 10 years ago, but at my age it is the only thing I can do to make a regular living.

I still enjoy it somewhat, too. Some of the same skills I would use as a full-time writer are employed in the position.

I read one article in one of those magazines for writers in which the author wrote that he preferred working other types of jobs. He was a paralegal at the time of publication and writing on the side. I kind of agree with him, although I am still drawn to sitting and pondering in a home office all day with a great cup of coffee on my desk.

Denning speaks of how our jobs provide meaning:

Why were these jobs with better pay and higher social status less likely to produce happiness? Todd May writing in the New York Times argues, “A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile. The person living the life must be engaged by it. A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game.”

This is what underlies the difference between the happiest jobs and the most hated jobs. One set of jobs feels worthwhile, while in the other jobs, people can’t see the point.

When I do other things besides having my head in the stratosphere and writing what I think, I just don’t see the point. I am not happy and I make others miserable in my unhappiness.

I wonder if that’s what was troubling Fool. That is the translation of the name Nabal, who had to be one of the unhappiest creatures portrayed in the Bible.

The Scriptures describe Nabal as a curmudgeon of the first order. They say he was surly and mean (I Samuel 25:3).

Ole Nabal was described by his own wife as wicked and a person who was living up to his name. She gave that description to David after Nabal refused to help out the future king’s entourage with provisions, although even Nabal’s own workers lauded them for them.

It took Abigail his wife to calm David down and provide for his men.  The Scriptures say that when  Nabal learned of the plans David had for him,  “his heart failed him and he became like a stone (I Samuel 25:37).”

While it is clear that Nabal’s trauma was mainly mental and emotional, it seems that perhaps he also suffered some kind of stroke. He died 10 days after his wife told him of her meeting with David over their morning tea.

Ole Nabal was really not a happy man. He had no real purpose in life except to make money and get drunk.

Connecting the dots about my own purpose is what brought me to the Lord when I was 17 years old. I figured I was soon going off to school, which would only lead to a meaningless cyclical cause and effect.

“Why go to school?” I asked. Answer: to get a job.

“Why get a job”? I thought. Answer: to make money.

“Why make money?” I queried. Answer: so I can get married, have kids, who will grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids.

It all seemed so empty.

I came to Christ looking for a purpose to life. It is the fool who says there is no God (Psalm 141), and I knew there was one. If there was a purpose to life, I determined in high school that He had it.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire”, missionary Eric Liddel is late for a meeting related to ministry because he has been training. His sister is quite unhappy, thinking his  attempt to be an Olympic champion is without meanng:

Liddel tells his sister, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure”. Lest the pragmatist think he was too dreamy, Eric went on to China to do missions and died in the midst of World War II.

When I think and write, I feel God’s pleasure.  Writing these devotionals is one way I connect to God.

The trick for someone like me is to not to be overly dreamy.  Brett McKay of the website Art of Manliness writes of the dreamer:

“He spends too much time dreaming, and not enough time learning how to have relationships with other people, and thus developing the social skills needed to make his dreams comes true. He is stunted and unconnected.”

McKay says the “uber dreamer” (my term, not his) is like an immature boy. To move into manhood, the boy has to learn to be a gentleman. Says McKay of the gentleman:

“He can be warm, even “sweet” with others, and he can be introspective and spiritual while still keeping his feet on the ground”.

One minister told me he thought writing a blog was self centered. Given what was going on in my life at the time, he may have been correct and I at least understand his perspective.

In any case, in my heart of hearts I believe I think and write hoping that one day I will leave a legacy to others. My problem is that in my personal relationships I have a bit of the Nabal in me.

I believe God is with me when I think and express my thoughts online. It believe it’s a good thing for me and others, even if some critics don’t.

Writing engages me. Yet, I have a suspicion that the down-to earthers are correct in respect to being engaged by more than your own head.

Perhaps I can depend on God  to get through my thick, boulder-like skull that meaningful personal relationships with flesh and blood people are both meaningful and worthwhile.

In addition to the Facebook and blog posts, I can ask Him to, on a moment-by-moment basis, help me express love practically to other people when I am dealing with them in person also.

My mama didn’t raise no fools. There’s a balance here somewhere.

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