The Power of RE

This morning I found myself pondering some words which were flowing through my mind. I noticed one distinctive commonality in them. They all started with the letters R-E. In some cases, the RE takes a nice word, like union, and makes it sweeter, re-union. But in other cases, the word simply isn’t a word without the RE. I’d like to focus on the latter.

Romans 3:23 reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. There is no escaping that fact. Sometimes the sin in our lives is a recurring sin. When we have developed a habit of a particular sin, we must turn away from it. This process is called repentance. The only way we can achieve victory over sin is to admit we are powerless over it, and we must then rely on Christ for the power we need to overcome it. When we come to this place, we experience the cleansing power of redemption. There is no way to circumvent the act of repentance, so don’t even try. If you do, you’ll just end up right back where you were, only the consequences will likely be more complicated. There is a tragic philosophy out there that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. God is not to be mocked. This is why the onus is upon us to take responsibility for our actions and turn from them.

When we determine in our hearts and minds to turn away from the things which separate us from God, when we are honest with Him and ourselves in admitting our sin, He is faithful and just to not only forgive our sin, but also to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).

When we get to this place, we are renewed. He begins to build in us a new reputation. When I was 18 and literally only weeks into my new life in Christ, I was going through an interesting, and subtle change. Well, subtle to me anyway. I wasn’t going around in t-shirts with bible verses on them or anything. There was nothing I considered obvious about the life change I had made. But a friend of mine approached me in a class we shared and asked me if something had happened in my life because I was different. The work had already begun, and I had no idea! Without even trying, God was giving me a new and better reputation.  

I had been redeemed. Everyone loves a great story of someone who was so mean and evil who, for one reason or another, turns their life around and becomes friendly. Charles Dickens’ timeless story of Scrooge comes to mind, among countless others. Redemption can only occur when we recognize that we are weak and not the best we can be. Redemption can only come when we commit to making changes in our lives.

When our sin has hurt others, part of this process may include restitution.Through this, relationships are restored. 

When we go through these processes, we will end up better than we were before. There is something about experiencing God’s grace that compels us to maintain a relationship in which we don’t want to hurt or disappoint the object of our affection. Forgiveness breeds loyalty. 

When we enter in to such intimacy with the Lord that we turn from the things in our lives which grieve Him and create a gap between us, when we walk in true relationship, He has great gifts for us. Eternal fellowship with Him is chief among them. You might even say it’s our reward.

Happy Birthday, Mom

This Sunday, October 25, marks the 74th anniversary of my mom’s birth. This will be the first such date for me without her.

It has now been seven months since she passed away. The tears are fewer and farther between, but they still come at random, and sometimes inopportune moments. One day I was standing on a street corner waiting for the pedestrian light to change so I could cross. As I stood there, I saw a mother primping her little prince, doing that thing only moms do. She licked her fingers and swiped them through his hair as the world’s least expensive, but most wonderful hair product ever created. She then used this same miracle elixir to clean off what was probably dried mustard from his face. 

It was as if I was Ebeneezer Scrooge being led down a path where I could see my own memories being acted out in front of me. I knew exactly how that boy felt. 

Oh mom, c’mon. I’m fine. I don’t like my hair like that. Oh, and by the way, the sandwich you made for me today was really good! Especially the mustard!

Sometimes it takes us many years to learn to appreciate what we had as kids. I know many people who had very difficult lives growing up. My heart aches for them. I had an embarrassment of riches when it came to the love I had from my mom. She drove me everywhere. All my practices, all my games. She was always my biggest fan. 

One summer during my vacation from elementary school, she bumped into a friend at the grocery store who was a staff member at the Boys Club in Petaluma, where I spent a lot of my boyhood time. He was taking a group of kids from the Boys Club out to Bodega Bay for an overnight camp out, and picking up a few last minute items before they headed west for the beach. For some reason, we were unaware of the trip, but he welcomed me to join them. Unfortunately, they were already on their way, and I was still at home. Mom came home, told me about the trip, helped me pack a bag, and just like that, she’s driving me out the winding roads toward the beach.  For the one and only time in my life, I got car sick that day. My mom is driving like a mad woman along the coastal roads, and I’m hanging out of the car window sprinkling the roadside with my breakfast.

My mom was so passionate about my having the best experiences, the best childhood possible, there literally was nothing she would keep from me. That’s not to say I was spoiled materially. True, I knew how to turn on the Mother Manipulation Mechanism to get that toy that was strategically placed by the checkout stand at the store. I could usually push the right buttons to score whatever bounty was to there to be had, despite her initial refusals. But her heart was no match for her little man who convinced her he would surely die if he didn’t have that item.
As a grown man, I know I broke my mom’s heart more times than I can stomach imagining. I’m sure she knew many of the secrets I thought I was able to sneak by her. But my mom showed me the heart of God, even before either of us had become intimately acquainted with Him. God knows every single detail of my life. How humiliating is that thought? But he withholds no good things from me. Like my mom would do, I get the occasional swat on my backside when I disobey. But it’s done with such love that the pain of disappointing her was greater than the sting of the spanking. How many times I have let God down. But still, nothing can separate me from His love.
God blessed me with an amazing mother. Even now, seven months since she left us, I hear her voice. I sense her heart of love and compassion. I pray that my life is a reflection of the quality of woman she was, and that I honor her many sacrifices to give me a good life and a good home.
So I lead the rest of my life with this charge. As I honor God, I honor my mom. And as I honor my mom, I honor God.
Mom, I miss you. But you are, and will always be part of me.

A Reunion I Long For

I’m going to tell you a true story of a strange, but unforgettable night back in 1983. I was a senior in high school, and I still had that new Christian smell that we have right out of the factory. I had scored a couple tickets to a weeknight baseball game, so I took my girlfriend at the time to a San Francisco Giants game at what was then their home, Candlestick Park.

As was common for those days, the stadium which seated over 62,000 people, only had about 10,000 on this night. It was almost as if everyone had their own row, and some, their own sections. My girlfriend and I took our seats in the upper deck, down the 3rd base line. Two rows in front of us sat a man who was a rather unpleasant distraction from the game. In those days, it was permissible to smoke in the stadium, so the fact that he lit a new cigarette with the one he was finishing was absolutely fine. Add to that the number of beers he was consuming and his colorful language, I had an unholy trinity of behavioral issues sitting just feet from us.
About 4 innings into the game, the man turned to me and asked if I could give him a ride home in downtown San Francisco. Of course I had absolutely no intention or desire to pile this foul man into my car, particularly with my girlfriend sharing the ride. But rather than simply saying no, I set for him what I figured was an impossible challenge. I told him I’d give him a ride if he quit smoking, quit drinking, and ended the foul mouthed tirades. I figured he would answer me with one such tirade, but he agreed to my terms.
I had no expectations that he would honor the terms, but sure enough, he was doing so with each inning that had passed. The game continued for nearly two more hours, and he was behaving like a gentleman. At one point, he did slip up and use a four letter word, but he caught himself and sheepishly apologized as if he were a child caught by his mom with his hand in the cookie jar.
Finally, the game ended. He had honored his word, so I had no choice but to do the same. My girlfriend gave me the thumbs up, so I at least had her consent to add to our car pool.
We left the stadium and made our way to my car. The only item the man carried was a cardboard tray one would use to carry their stadium food from the concession stand to their seat. In the tray was a carton of cigarettes. Not a pack. A carton.
He gave me directions to his neighborhood, which was a pretty scary place to be at any time of day, much less after 10 PM. He directed me to pull in a parking spot behind a pickup truck. I did as he instructed. He sat in the back seat of my two door sedan, so I got out of my seat, pulled it forward, and helped him out. He thanked me for the ride, and I wished him luck. He was actually quite pleasant by this point. I think I even found myself a little emotionally attached. As he made his way down the sidewalk, he reached the back of the pickup which was in front of us. He stopped for a moment, looked at his tray of cigarettes, then tossed them in the back of the pickup and continued on down the street.
By this point, I was weeping openly.
I circled the block, returning to the place where I had dropped him off. He was gone. Nowhere to be seen. It took me a few minutes to absorb all that had happened. I wasn’t sure why his walking away from the cigarettes had such a profound impact on me.
I think of how powerful it is when we walk away from things which are not good for us. Things which shackle us and keep us from being who God intended us to be.

“let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”
~Hebrews 12:1b

I was a brand new Christian, so it was years before I was able to piece together the meaning of this experience. I have thought of it many, many times in the ensuing 26 years. Each time I have thought of this man, I have ushered a little prayer for that man that somehow God would reveal Himself to this man, and that he would walk away from his sin, and run the race God marked out for him.
I doubt he is still alive to this day. He very well may be. Maybe he has told his side to this very same story about how some teenager challenged him to refrain from his nasty habits, if only for a couple hours. Maybe those couple hours led to a lifetime, even an eternal commitment. I have no idea. I didn’t say a single word about God that night, but I have prayed that God would use the events of that night to show this man that God had His hand on him. God preserved him. And God was speaking to him.
Right behind the reward of entering into my own rest at the feet of Jesus in Heaven, being reunited with my mom and other loved ones who have, or will have gone before me, the next face I would want to see is this man’s. I’ve been thinking of him and praying for him for 26 years, not knowing his name or if he’s even still alive.

When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus, and sing and shout the victory!

The "Little" Things

I was speaking with a friend recently, and she was sharing a story about her senior year in high school when she had to purchase her senior portraits. As you know, these things are not cheap. Due to family hardships, she was forced to have to pay for her portraits on her own. She worked, she saved, and did all she could to raise the money, but when the day arrived that she would have to shell out the several hundred dollars for even the least expensive package, she was significantly short.

Through a series of miraculous events, and even someone who took advantage of one of them for their own financial gain, God provided the funds for my friend to pay for the exact photo package she wanted.

During the conversation, we both marveled in how God really cares about the “little” things in our lives. We often think that God is only interested in hearing from us when we’re facing some life and death circumstance. I remember teaching a Sunday School class when I was in college. The class was made up of 1st and 2nd graders. During each class, we would take prayer requests. The kids would sometimes want to pray for their grandparent who was sick. Other times, one of the kids would want to pray for their sick kitty. You know what? We prayed for the kitty, too. Sure, it felt a little weird as a sophisticated adult to pray for Fluffy, but God cared because it mattered to that child, and they had the the simple faith to go to God with whatever they needed from Him. 

How I need to have the faith of a child.

Could my friend have survived without her senior portraits? Of course. But they were important to her, and the story of how God provided for her is something she shares all these years later, as she continues to give Him glory. There is no such thing as a minor miracle. 

Let’s not be too “sophisticated” to think that something is too small for God that He wouldn’t want to be bothered. If something is important to you, even if your life isn’t teetering on the edge, it’s important to Him. I don’t know about you, but I am utterly and completely dependent upon Him. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). 

I don’t ever want to be guilty of trivializing God’s interest in me. He cares about the things I care about. He even goes out of His way at times to give me love letters. I don’t need a beautiful sunset to survive, but God paints a breathtaking tapestry on the canvas of the sky every single evening. Do I take it for granted? Sometimes, yes. But there are times when it doesn’t matter where I am, He captures my attention with His handiwork. I close this with a couple photos I took recently of one of His masterpieces I just couldn’t ignore, despite where I was at the time.

An "Atta Boy" From God

This post will serve as something of a sequel to yesterday’s post about the lesson of faith using a twist from a famous quote in the movie Top Gun. If you haven’t read that one yet, let me give you a brief recap so today’s post will have its full impact.

Last week I was faced with a financial challenge which required of me a very uncomfortable step of faith. While it was uncomfortable in one sense, I was comforted in the unwavering faith that somehow, some way, God would come through. 

He did.

If you’d like all of the details, they’re all in yesterday’s post for you at your convenience.

Today, I want to share an exciting follow up on what transpired since that post went up Monday morning. In fact, the excitement happened less than 12 hours before this post went live online.

Late in the evening, well, by “Dad Standard Time” (meaning after 9 PM), my dad called me to see how things had worked out last week. The last we had talked, he knew only of the challenges I faced and that I had no promises that I would receive the money that was owed to me in time to cover the check I had to write on Monday. My dad doesn’t have a computer, so he couldn’t read yesterday’s post. Shame on me for not calling him to share with him my wonderful experience. 

Anyway, I told him everything about how it worked out. I shared with him one of the scriptures which served as my rock during the week, Psalm 50:15, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. I told my dad that this was exactly what I was doing. In every way I could imagine, I’ve been sharing my story of rescue and giving God all the honor and glory. 

Within 2 minutes of the conversation ending with my dad, I arrived back at home after being away since about 10:30 AM. My first stop upon my arrival was my mailbox. The contents of which included a significant check which was due nearly a month ago. I was led to believe it still could be another 7-10 days away from arriving. As opposed to last week where my answer didn’t come until Friday afternoon, five full days after I wrote the check I had to write, this week’s rescue came right away. I immediately rejoiced and felt an affirmation in my heart that God was pleased with my step of faith and attitude of praise during the entire situation. I really felt that the Lord gave me an “atta boy” by providing me with a blessing right at the front of my week. 

It is not my nature to sit back and pat myself on the back for anything. This is why I know with great certainty that the sense I had in those moments immediately after checking my mail was not my own ego, but a warm embrace from God for a job well done. In other words, it was a reward not so much for doing what I should have been doing all along, but for defeating a relentless and virtually undefeated life opponent of mine that has tormented me my entire adult life.

As a male, there are no words which can compare with “I’m proud of you, son” coming from our earthly father. 

I was overwhelmed last night when my heart heard those very words from my Heavenly Father. 

A Lesson From Top Gun

For those of you who have seen the 1986 movie hit Top Gun, you may remember this famous scene…(Facebookers, you know the drill:


Last week, I was facing a financial deadline which was proving to be a real challenge. I had money owed to me which would have made the situation an utter cakewalk, but due to unforeseen circumstances way beyond my control, the money hadn’t come in. The deadline was reaching the point of no return. Last Monday, I was faced with two options. Don’t write the check, and reap the consequences of not owning up to my obligations, or I had to write a check that at the time was no good. Sure, money was out there with my name on it, but I had no assurances, or even hints that it would be in my possession in time to cover this situation.

I wrote the check anyway, knowing that I had to take this bold, and rather frightening step of faith. But in doing so, I knew deep in my soul that I had done all I could. I had done the work for which I was owed money, and I had written the check I was obligated to write. I put it in the envelope, put a stamp on it and stuck that bad boy in the mail. That’s all I could do to that point. My next task: trust.

On Thursday, one of my clients contacted me saying that due to the size of the invoice and her financial limitations, she could only afford to pay me half. This was not going to be enough to cover the looming check.

On Friday, I got a promising phone call from another source who owed me, but I wouldn’t see that money for at least another week. Even though the amount would be more than sufficient, it wasn’t going to be here in time to cover the check which, in my mind, was beginning to take on the same physical properties and purpose of a dodge ball.

Then came Friday afternoon. One client paid me for work I had performed in the previous week and a half, which by itself was enough to cover about a third of the dodge ball’s…errr, check’s value. Then I went to the office of the client who said she would have to pay me in installments. I had to go there for something unrelated, but she surprised me by saying that she underestimated her position, and she was able to pay me in full on the spot. Her check, combined with the check I received earlier, exceeded the amount of the check I wrote by $4.

God is never late, and He’s good at math.

As I considered this wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision, I remembered this quote from the movie. Only, in my mind, God put a little spin on it. Why this phrase isn’t in the bible, I’ll never know.

My faith can write checks my God will cover.

My responsibility is to do my part. I had to perform the work for which I was due income. Even though the money wasn’t in yet, I had to take care of those to whom I am obligated. Then, I have to trust that God will spring into action as I put my faith squarely in Him. I had to move, which then compelled the Lord to move on my behalf. It would require no faith on my part if I waited to write that check until after the money came. In fact, it would have created stress and harmed my reputation.

Even as the week progressed, and all the signs pointed to things not working out, I sat on the edge of my seat, as if sitting in a thriller mystery movie, anxious to see how the plot would be resolved. As in the movies, the resolution didn’t come until the clock had ticked down toward 0:00. God came to my rescue (listen to the song on my playlist in the right margin).

When my client told me she could pay in full, I was surprised, but then again…not. My God proved Himself faithful when I had put it all on the line in obedience and faith.

What are you facing this week which feels like the clock is ticking down? God will make a way where there seems to be no way. But He needs you to trust Him. He will move on your behalf, but if you truly trust Him and believe Him, you’ll do your part even when you don’t have the means to meet the demand on your own.The human and the Divine working together in supernatural harmony.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
~Hebrews 11:1

and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.
~Psalm 50:15

My Hairy Experience In Hong Kong

In the spirit of Friday, I decided to kind of lighten things up today. I thought I’d share a story about a really funny thing that happened to me when I was in Hong Kong back in 1996. By the way, did I mention that I haven’t been to Disneyland since 1996?

I digress.

Back in August of 1996, I was part of a leadership team that took a group of teenagers on a missions trip to Hong Kong and China. This was exactly one year before Hong Kong was turned back over to China after more than 150 years as a colony of the United Kingdom. It was an exciting trip in so many ways. But let me get to the point of this particular post. 

Here, you’ll see a picture of me and part of our band in Hong Kong as we performed outside. Like the hat and the Garth Brooks headset microphone? Like the pony tail? Yeah, I had long hair back in those days. It was so stinkin’ hot and humid, I did something I really hated…the pony tail. I felt dorky, but I was several thousand miles from home, so the decision to go for comfort over style was an easy one.

Anyway, back to our story. At the performance where this picture was taken, we did music, drama and some preaching. We opened up with music, then moved on to the drama. On this particular day, I was not part of the drama portion, so I spent that time walking around the crowd, which was pretty significant at this point. While roaming the crowd, a Chinese gentleman approached me and handed me a folded piece of paper which had clearly been torn from a larger sheet. I glanced at it and noticed there was a scripture reference on it. It wasn’t a quote, just the book, chapter and verse. I didn’t immediately recognize the address, so I simply thanked the man by bowing my head in appreciation. I was touched because we were aware of the fear and nervousness of the people living in a land where Christianity is not exactly commonplace, and in fact, where people have been martyred for their Christian faith. These folks were not prone to publicly displaying their allegiance to Christ in a land in which they don’t enjoy the freedom of religion that we take for granted
enjoy here in the United States. (Facebookers, if that sentence didn’t make sense, it’s because FB doesn’t show the cool HTML effects that I utilized in it. You’ll have to look at the original post for the full benefit.)

So I took the piece of paper with the reference to God’s holy word, and put it in my pocket so I could look it up later.

After we finished with our presentation, we spent the rest of the day sightseeing, eating and shopping. It was a full and fun day. It wasn’t until several hours later that we finally returned to where we were staying. By this time, I had completely forgotten about the slip of paper the man had given me until I was emptying the contents of my pockets to pack away in my suitcase. In the bunk next to me was my good friend, Steve Edwards. I quickly told Steve the story of the man at the outreach who gave me the scripture and wanted to bless me and the team. 

Or so I thought. 

As I recounted the story, I was reaching for my bible and flipping through the pages for the verse. At this point, I have my back to Steve. All he can see at this point is my bouncing shoulders as I was in hysterics over the verse to which this man pointed me. Steve knew I was reading the bible, and he was struggling to think of what I could have been reading there that was so comedic. So I shared with him the verse, 1 Corinthians 11:14. 

Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him

Are you kidding me??? I’m half way around the world, and this man, who doesn’t even speak my language, has THIS verse committed to memory for just such an occasion? 

If this man could see me now, he’d be very pleased with himself and rejoicing before God because my hair now is more comparable to glorified peach fuzz than the flowing mane I had in 1996. 

I knew I shouldn’t have gone with the pony tail.