Strength in My Weakness – Numbers

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2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – New International Version (NIV)

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.

I own a thorn. For years, it’s been my secret shame. Honestly, until very recently, its official name was unknown to me. I only thought of it as a small issue unique to me, and pridefully decided to overcome it alone. I didn’t tell my wife or my closest friends. Never even considered addressing the deeper levels of the issue with God. And yet, no matter how hard I try, I can never climb over it. It’s beyond my ability to handle alone.

The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about relying on the Lord for strength, in times of weakness. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he told the brethren how he continued to face suffering. But God—refusing to remove the source of that suffering from Paul—instead reminded him that His grace was enough to not only sustain Paul, but to give him strength through the suffering. Paul eventually grew to understand and even embrace his human weaknesses, recognizing God’s supernatural strength working through his own human weaknesses. God’s grace was strong enough to carry Paul through his personal obstacles; obstacles he could not conquer on his own.

Christians want to hope God removes every obstacle blocking our paths. But sometimes, God leaves that thing right where it is, giving us no other alternative but to lean on Him for strength in dealing with that thing. It is by His grace that we are able to keep moving forward through some of our most troubling trials. And though He may not remove all sufferings—remember, Jesus promised us we would face trials and sufferings—God walks through those times, carrying us when we cannot walk on our own.

Last week, I took a particular type of test and scored low on the scale. I’m kind of an over-achiever so, under any other circumstances, this would have been a real problem for me. But there was actual comfort in now knowing. In fact, I had peace in discovering it’s an actual thing—my own thorn—and I’ve secretly struggled with it my entire life.

Dyscalculia is akin to dyslexia and I’m pretty sure it’s with me. I have a hard time dealing with and processing numbers. In particular, 6s and 9s tend to flip on me pretty easily. Digits in large numbers sometimes switch places entirely, causing me to constantly double back to make sure they’re correct. Sometimes, I come up with different answers to the same problem, when using a calculator, because I’ve flipped a digit or two someplace, so I constantly have to recheck my math for even the smallest calculations. I can’t remember a time when I scored a perfect 100% on any math test…ever. I took collegiate pre-calculus three times while at Western Michigan University and finally passed with a low grade. Budgets terrify me. Numerical graphs are a nightmare. Number-only charts mock me, because I have a hard time visualizing what they mean. For a really-long time, I simply thought of myself as being numbers-dumb. With that type of shame, I hid my problem from those closest to me…including God, as if He didn’t already know.

But recently, my wife has been by my side to help me out, whether she knows it or not. See, she’s discovering its depths just like I am. And she’s been supportive and patient. For years, I let the enemy convince me that she would look at me differently, if she knew my struggle. But God’s grace is sufficient. And, I understand now that she’s going to be right by my side whenever I need help.

God may not remove this thing from me. Or, maybe He will if I ask him to specifically take it away, by name; now that I know what it is. Either way, I understand where Paul was coming from when he wrote those words in 2 Corinthians. I have comfort knowing my wife supports and believes in me. I have courage knowing that God will be with me when numbers challenge me. His grace is sufficient.

Friends, I’m 46 years old and finally coming to terms with an issue I’ve harbored my entire life. God, in His loving kindness, brought understanding and peace into my situation. Just as important, He made it okay for me to share with others. He turned my weakness into a source of His strength and I have a confidence like never before, because I know those who are most important to me are by my side. I don’t have to be ashamed of my personal struggle anymore. So, be encouraged if you’re facing something monumental. God is greater than anything you may face. You may not ever be able to fully defeat all of your struggles, but God’s grace will supply the strength to push through, when you do not have it on your own.

Walking Through the Open Door

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1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we are exempt from trials and suffering. Peter knew this more than most, because he had endured countless attacks due to his belief in Jesus Christ. But he always kept the faith that God was at work within his life, despite his many encounters with opposition. Peter knew that he would be restored someday, even if that “someday” was the day of the Lord’s return. I want to share a true story, that brought this Scripture verse home for me.

For quite awhile, I was unhappy on my job. The original company I’d worked for had recently been acquired through merger with a larger firm. Dynamics were changed, new policies were enacted and generally speaking there were some challenges. All in all, it ceased to be a good fit for me. I prayed diligently on the matter, and before too long, I was presented with several prospective opportunities. While the first two just didn’t seem right for me, the third choice lined up as if God had specifically spoken into my life. It lined up so well, that I doubted it. So, before lunging head first at the opportunity, I took time to pray even more. I believe God confirmed that third choice through several ways: speaking with my pastor; bible scriptures pointing toward following the Lord’s direction; and there was a peace I felt over the whole decision. The time came when I signed the necessary documents and set a date for starting my new career. At the same time, I drafted a profession letter of resignation from my existing firm, and offered a timeframe of 3 weeks notice.

The day after I submitted my letter of resignation, I contracted viral pinkeye, and had to take days off from work. Four days after the submission–and incidentally four days into my sick leave–I received a call from the Vice President of my division. He wanted me to reconsider my decision to leave the company because it “looked bad” for me to leave after the company had invested so much into my developement. I respectfully declined, and thanked him for the time spent working together. The VP suggested that I take the weekend to reconsider the resignation. Here, I’ll divert.

Faith requires us to believe even when we cannot see the outcome. Oh, sure we read about it all the time in bible stories and listen to testimonies and T.V. shows with happy endings, so we know faith is real. But, it isn’t until you’re truly faced with tough decisions that you find out just how strong your faith really is. That weekend, I struggled terribly with the 11th hour decision. Do I stay put, and retain the company car and all of my health benefits, especially at a time when I’m dealing with a progressive health issue? There is safety in the known. Or, do I follow what I believe to be the Lord’s direction, honor the signed documentation of a new company and start a new career at 43 years old: no health benefits; no company car; no seniority. For a brief moment friends, I chose to stay right where I was, because logic dictated that to be the smart move. But, once again, God confirmed. My wife reminded me that we had prayed for months for God to open new doors of opportunity for me, professionally. And I was reminded that once he opens one door, he shuts another. How can I claim to love the Lord if I do not follow his direction, even in the tough times?

The follow Monday, I gave the VP my final answer, and was immediately terminated from my job. The day was May 2, 2016. Because my last day of physical work on the job had been Tuesday, April 26, 2016, I would received no sick leave time from that point (I had apparently run out), and my health insurance benefits had effectively expired on the last day of April. No benefits, no company car, no income for at least four whole weeks. When God opens one door, he shuts another for good. We have to decide whether or not we are willing to walk through the new door.

Today, my pinkeye has me irritated and I have to beat my flesh into submission because it constantly wants to run contingency plans for the tough times ahead. But, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe I made the best decision for my family. I believe that what Peter said in the Scripture above is truth, and God will restore, support, strengthen and set my feet on a solid foundation. The physical and spiritual struggles I’m enduring right now are only temporary. I look at it as the enemy attempting to get me to doubt God’s deity. But, we have to always remember who we truly serve, and he’s not a failure.

I didn’t want to write this story to put my business out into the wind for attention. I actually didn’t want to share this at first, because part of my battle with my flesh is dealing with the reality of being fired from a job. The circumstances surrounding the shut door don’t even matter. My ego was bruised. But…if sharing this story encourages one person out there to look to and lean on God’s word during sufferings, sharing this story was worth it. Since this was such a long post, let me share that verse with you once again. And, be encouraged friend. When you’re going through the struggles, recognize that you must be on the side of God, because Satan is persecuting you so heavily. My vision is blurry, and I struggled throughout this entire writing.  But I finished it, for someone out there beyond my keyboard. Be encouraged because God is still with you.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

 

*Always*

Thankful In All Things

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) – “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Verse 16 tells us to “be joyful always”: not easy to do, but the joy of the Lord conquers the toughest of trials, if we allow ourselves to trust in him.

Verse 17 tells us to “pray continually”: we’re not talking about constant, deep, time consuming prayers that would eventually impede on your daily life tasks. I think what Paul is talking about is developing a heart and attitude of prayer, where you constantly speak with the Lord throughout the day. Anything from small desires to dire needs can be addressed when we have an attitude of prayer throughout the day. There doesn’t need to be a specified time.

Verse 18 says give thanks in all circumstances. My bible notes make it clear that evil does not come from God. As I said last night, we live in an imperfect world. Evil is everywhere. But, I believe we need to thank God even while we are in the midst of the storm; we should thank him for walking us through the trials. It’s hard to see God when we’re in the middle of a struggle, but know that he is there beside us; guiding our steps and helping us to persevere.

The content of these three verses doesn’t come naturally to us. In fact, we have to diligently practice them. Learning to be thankful in all things teaches us to love and respect the God who created everything.

I’m Doin’ Just Fine

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“When you feel down and out, sing a song
It’ll make your day, yeah, yeah
You will come to shout, sing a song
It’ll make a way

  Sometimes it’s hard to care, sing a song
It’ll make your day
A smile so hard to bear, sing a song
It’ll make a way” – Earth, Wind & Fire: Sing A Song

Hey friends! It’s been a little while since I shared anything new and inspiring. Well…this ain’t that message. Truth is I’m human, breathe air, bleed and shop at Walmart and Kroger just like the rest of you. As such, I’ve had to fight through some trials lately that simply left me feeling “blahh”; the kind of “meh” that keeps a writer away from the keyboard. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Life is an ever revolving door of seasons. There are times when you feel on top of the world. And then, there are those times when the weight of the world seems to be firmly seated on your chest.

I heard a radio preacher expand on the notion of, “God wants me to be happy.” He said something that caught my attention and gave me pause to think about what I’m doing in life. Said preachers dropped this point:

“Happiness is an emotional state, and we have to remember we can’t always trust our emotions. Emotions very often have little to do with obedience.”

Adultery feels great to the adulterer, until he’s facing the barrel of a gun. So why would anyone choose to put themselves within a five minute window of physical pleasure for a lifetime of repercussions? (SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m not the adulterer in that last example.)

I think what the preacher was saying is that we–as believers–should remember that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Life’s circumstances have a way of diverting our eyes away from the presence of the Lord, and on the “stuff” we don’t have. We tend to think the “stuff” will bring us happiness. But, when we have joy in our lives, the love of the Lord sustains us through the trials of life.

That’s where I’ve been lately. Between the changes with my job, my computer exploding (no seriously), the need for a new car and the uncertainty of my family’s address, I tell you friends…the book of Job was real in my life for a minute. Talk about goin’ through it! But, we serve a mighty God and I am constantly reminded that despite the circumstances surrounding me, he is always in complete control.

This past weekend, money came unexpectedly without expectation, borrowing or gifting. Oh, it was a gift alright; just enough to replace my deceased Windows Vista machine with a brand new Windows 10 desktop for the family. God obviously gets all the praise for that one. And just as he’s known to do, it came right on time. So I find that tonight, I have a song in my heart. I love Earth, Wind & Fire.

Maybe this was an inspirational message for some of you who might be going through the struggle yourselves. To you, I say this: STOP WHINING AND START PRAYING.

~Just kidding. Sorry about that~

Hold on brother and sister. God knows exactly where you are, and what you’re facing. Don’t you give up on him because he certainly won’t give up on you. He’s got your best interest at heart and his plan for your life involves your obedience. After all, your obedience leads to joy and happiness.

For those who care: yes…I’m doin’ just fine.

*always*

The Blessed Victory Into The New Year

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In January of 2014, I said a prayer. Unfortunately I don’t remember the words verbatim, but the gist of it was something like this:

“Lord, let this be the year of ‘The Blessed Victory‘ for my life. May this be the year of breakthrough, prosperity, easy living, and happiness for my family and I.”

After I made that prayer, I got the sense of God answering me. “Okay,” He said. “‘The Year of Blessed Victory’ it is; trust me.”

I once heard someone say, if you really wanna hear God laugh, just tell him what your plans are. I tell you that, just in case you don’t know who God is. He’s all powerful, omnipotent (look it up in the dictionary, kids), kind yet jealous, gentle yet firm, fiercely loving and he’s got a sense of humor.

When I made my plans through that New Year prayer, I had a different perspective on what I actually wanted the year to look like, than the way it actually progressed. In short, 2014 turned out to be the toughest year for my family and I to endure. In fact, I believe it’s been the end of a stretch that began seven years ago, after my Mom passed away from Cancer. I was so mad at the Lord for taking her away. Despite my anger, he called me to him anyway.

Coming to the Lord wasn’t easy because of the lifestyle I wasn’t exactly ready to give up, but he was patient with me. In time, I began to follow him, but I had a lifetime of baggage to unload through the process. In the Christian community, we believe life progresses in seasons. There are seasons of prosperity, season of peace, even seasons of sorrow, loss and sadness. Sometimes those seasons might last a few months, or they can stretch out for a few years. That’s just life: one gigantic roller coaster. My season just so happen to last seven years, during which time, God allowed all sorts of trials to test my faith in him and my resolve in allowing my life to be changed by the truth of his word. The first six years were a culmination of painful lessons and miraculous blessings. God, knowing that I was still a baby Christian, walked me through, holding my hand. But, there comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to find out what he’s truly made of and what he really believes in.

2014 put my faith to the test in ways, I might not have been able to handle in previous years. God will never give you any more than you can handle, but he’ll allow it get awfully uncomfortable, to build and sharpen your faith. I learned true humility. I’ve learned that it is not a sign of weakness to cry out to the Lord in front of your kids. I’ve learned how to pray the God for the miraculous and the mundane. I’ve learned that…there really is a difference between the world of the faithful believer and the world of the non-believer.

I want to spend just a moment on that point, if I may. This is so very important. There was a time when I thought being Christian meant you simply added the words of the bible to the life you already have; that every once in a while, you needed to throw in a “praise Jesus” after a couple of words, just to let people know where you stood regarding religion; that every once in awhile, you needed to go to church, just to get that emotional pick-me-up, from an entertaining pastor. But overall, you really didn’t have to change who you already were. You simply needed to add to it, like learning a new craft. Afterall, we all live in the same world, right?

I could not have been any more wrong. Contrary to popular secular belief, Christianity is not brainwashing. The Lord Jesus knew exactly what he was telling his disciples when he charged them to take up their cross daily, and follow him. Parents, the culture of today is in direct conflict with the teachings of God’s Holy word. Everything about our culture is in direct defiance to what the Lord had intended life to be like.

How many times have you seen a homeless person, and immediately felt the urge to be someplace else? How many times have you seen a wicked celebrity fall from the grace of Hollywood, and thought, “Well, they had it coming anyway.” That’s the world we live in. It’s different than the world God wanted us to be in. The two simply can’t coexist because a house divided cannot stand. A person who is both compassionate and cold at the same time, will always have to deal with some form of torment. You have to be one or the other.

There really are worlds within the world. If you’re not careful about what you’re following, you may find yourself walking through a season of sorrow longer than you’d like. And so it was for me, and my family. On the surface, we may have all looked like we had everything together. But we struggled this past year in ways that would amaze some of our friends and family. There were days, we prayed for the gas tank to make it another few days. There were days of choosing to pay a bill to keep the electricity on for another 10 days, or eating. There were times when fasting wasn’t really on purpose. Your kids eat before you do.

I doubted my writing ability. When you need to make a living, you turn to what you know how to do first. When that doesn’t offer enough, you start to dream. When you dream, you learn to start praying. But, when your prayers go unanswered, you find yourself tested. I was tested a lot this year. In the passed, there were people I could call on for physical help, or secret stashes I could dip into. Not this time. This was the season to believe or not believe.

Somewhere I heard, “To get what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done.” Now, that saying could go in many different routes. Sure you could brandish a piece and go out and rob someone. No thanks. In my case, I did something I never saw myself as capable of doing on a somewhat long-term basis. I fasted for 21 days. I won’t go into detail with that, because the honor and glory is not mine to be had. All praise is given to the Lord for walking me through that very difficult time, because in the midst of it, I found out what true joy in the Lord looks like. At the end of that period, nothing happened.

Or did it?

In the late November, I got a word from the Lord while I slept.

“Your season is over, son.”

That’s it. I really didn’t think much about it, until I recalled my daughter giving her heart to God in September. That was a huge deal, and though she fights her own personal struggle against the influences of the world, I know who’s walking beside her. There were a few other miraculous occurrences; things that might be explained logically to anyone else. But to my wife and I, we recognized God’s hand working in our lives. And then, on the 19th of this month, God showed up and reminded me of the promise he made back in January.

Despite my doubts on the effectiveness of my writing, I continue to write. I don’t know how to shut it off, so failure is never an option where my writing is concerned. Faithwriters and Xulon Press must be in agreeance because they sent an email to me, announcing that I had just won a publishing package for a book I’ve only written one chapter for! That, my friends, is the blessed victory. It could mean absolutely nothing to anyone who just happened to click on this story, purely for entertainment. But, to me and my wife, it is the beginning of something new and great; something that was promised by the Lord himself.

When I look back on the trials and challenges of not only 2014, but the last seven years, I understand that God needed to take me through some things in order to get me to a place where I would willingly lean on him alone. That’s a good thing, you see. I’m selfish, self-centered, judgmental and sometimes cruel without him in my life. I had to get to a place where I could honestly admit those traits exist within me. But, with him leading me, I am the opposite of them all.

You see that gauge I picked up? It topped out at just over 120. Let’s say the 200 mark is the tipping point between my faith in the Lord and going back to a life without him. It’s a pressure gauge, you see. It tells you just how much you can take before you quit and go back to a life devoid of God’s presence. Now, look at that needle again. Over seven years, that’s how close I came to giving up. I was more than half way there. But God knew me better than I did. He always cheered me on, while I struggled to believe in him through the hard times.

“C’mon son, just a little more. You’ve got this, and I’m still here with you.”

I wouldn’t change a thing. The road ahead is still littered with trash I have to walk through, but I know God is with me. I know he’ll make a way. I know his promises are faithful and true. I know that when times get tough, he will never leave me as long as I believe in him.

The promise of the blessed victory happened, and I didn’t see it coming. 2015 is going to be an exciting year for my family and I. So let me ask you, friend. What are you believing in these days, and what are your expectations for the New Year?

While She Sleeps

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As I diligently tap away at the keyboard, my wife undresses, lays her head against the pillow, and begins snoring not four minutes later. These days, she’s tired; more so than usual. She’s drained physically, and spiritually.

My laptop is propped up on an empty 3-inch binder laying on the mattress, giving me the perfect typing angle. I’m on my knees. Actually, my knees are resting inside my comfy Jordan flip flops at my bedside. I’d been kneeling and typing away in this position for almost two hours, when she came up to bed. Now, I’m watching her sleep…and praying for her.

Lately, she’s been a stressful mess. Bills are overdue. Her job doesn’t fulfill her the way it used to. We’ve never been able to afford a real family vacation. And all the while, she walks through life, day to day, just being Mom and wife in addition to cook, maid, laundry captain, chauffeur, field trip coordinator, softball fan no. 1, and occasional love bunny. Recently, she told me she just doesn’t have time to get into her bible the way she wants to. Sometimes, I think, “Yeah, okay. Make time.” But then, I have to remember that I don’t walk in her shoes. My role as Dad and husband is so less complicated because the fact is, I’m a selfish butthead half the time.

“Daddy, I have a knot in my shoe.”

“Then get it out.”

“Daddy, can I-”

“No.”

“But, you didn’t even-”

“Yeah, its still gonna be a ‘No.'”

“Daddy, I didn’t want a chocolate peanut butter sandwich for lunch.”

“Sorry. You took your time getting up. Eat what I made you.”

But not Mom. She takes care of everyone’s needs, whether she’s in the mood to or not. That’s just how she is; a real superhero. She’s always considering everyone else in the house before herself. I’ll walk away from a task or a person, when its time for me to get my read on. But not her. She caters to everyone but herself. I think I envy her for that sometimes. I wish I could be that compassionate. After all, the bible does teach us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

So here I am; watching her sleep. For a few hours, she’s free and peaceful. No deadlines to fill; no boo boos to fix; no bills to worry about; no need to ask God where He is; no husband to care for. And while she sleeps, she doesn’t notice me slip a hand on her shoulder. She doesn’t notice me thanking God for bringing her into my life; the mother of our five children.

She doesn’t know I pray for her every night. I pray for her to hold on just one more day. Our breakthrough is coming. One day, we’ll be able to afford the vacations. One day, we won’t have to choose between paying bills or buying groceries for two weeks. One day, we won’t have to worry about paycheck to paycheck living. One day, she’ll be able to spend as much time as she wants in the presence of the Lord, without having to worry about who needs attention next in line.

She’s peaceful while she sleeps. And I’m grateful for that.