Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Back in April (remember April?…seems a long while ago, for some reason) I started off in a challenge to write and post, consistently, for one month; sadly, I did not succeed. I didn’t run out of ideas (indeed, my Drafts folder glares at me sullenly every time I open my dashboard); neither did sudden catastrophe strike…I just got busy and got behind, and so “failed” to live up to the expectations of the challenge. With an eerie sense of the familiar, I followed this “failure” with another, even more tragic: I continued not-writing, at least in this place, for an entire month and more…with only the pitiful excuse of guilt as a reason for this “failure echo”. This cannot be allowed to continue. I have learned to see this as a metaphor for how I always have dealt with my shortcomings: I give my yesterdays power over my tomorrows…I accept that “Past performance is the surest indicator of future behavior”, and so my choices become scripted by “what has been” instead of  “what should be”…I deem myself “unworthy”, and then earn that designation. It’s deeper than the way I write, it goes into every aspect of how I live; the writing is only one way that the life I live on the inside expresses itself on the outside. Come, I’ll show you what I mean.

I recently observed my third anniversary of employment with the company; this marks the longest time I have worked anywhere in my entire life or career. (Well, I attended the same high school for 4 years, does that count?) This has been, by every measure, the best place I have ever worked. I have survived a corporate merger and downsizing, brought on by two years of downturns in the local economy, while watching my salary increase 25%; upper management is very encouraging and supportive of me, allowing me to grow and expand my skills and my role. At the same time, they have stood beside me as I serve in ministry, scheduling my workload around the twice-annual visits to the prisons on Kairos teams; stood beside me as I cared for my wife during her year-long battle with breast cancer treatment, guaranteeing a minimum weekly paycheck (and continued insurance benefits) whether I worked or not, long after I had exhausted my personal time off allotment for the year. The level of mutual respect among my co-workers exceeds anything I ever imagined that “a job” could provide. Yet, earlier this week I came within hours of losing my job, literal hours, because I fell short of MY expectations, and nearly allowed the “failure echo” to unravel everything. I’m still too close to spell out the step by step of what happened, perhaps in a later post, perhaps not…but the details are not as important as the big picture – I allowed pride and fear to rule over me, instead of accepting that I have been set free; I looked forgiveness in the face and screamed, “I don’t deserve you!” – which is completely true…and completely the amazing message of God’s grace.

Long story short, and the reason I posted this: in my desperate hour I cried out to the Lord, and by the power of prayer, I was able to hear that message clearly despite my despair…and respond to it. I am on the way to restoring my relationship with my employer, but there are others I also need to restore…including the one with you, my readers. I bailed out on you, with no warning or explanation…left in mid-conversation, with over half yet unspoken. I am sorry, and I will make the effort to be better…or at least, more honest, OK? and I can do another thing – I can post the rest of the Challenge! I have most of them written, but a bit of polish before release is needed, so look for one or two a week. The ideas are worth their moment in the light of day, and I will enjoy the privilege of sharing them with you. See you again very soon, may you remain aware of the blessings you enjoy!


In an earlier Challenge post, I referenced the fact that at times I have been guilty of “lightly” reading the Scriptures, i.e. turning the pages but only skimming the text; not really paying attention to passages (or books, in some cases) that did not seem relevant to me. As I also said, we do ourselves a gave injustice when we undervalue the Word of God.

Another example I have recently unearthed regards the parallel books of Kings and Chronicles (and portions from several of the prophets), which detail the history of the twin nations of Israel and Judah, following the division which arises from the sins of God’s people, in general, and King Solomon in particular. Solomon prayed for and received an enormous gift of wisdom, to lead the people and prosper as their king, as well as carrying out the commission of building the Temple. Yet, he married incessantly and politically, drawing wives from all surrounding nations (in conflict with God’s commandments) and as a consequence being led to compromise his worship, going after other gods as the behest of his wives.

Once the kingdom has divided, it seems the decline into unrepentant sin becomes irreversible…so much that the northern Kingdom is carried away into captivity, and Judah is attacked and threatened repeatedly; King Ahaz goes so far as to begin worshiping the gods of his enemies, in an attempt to fend off disaster. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.) He goes so far off the plan of God that his own subjects cannot bring themselves to bury him with the kings of old when he dies; instead he rests in the tombs with the common people, and the throne passes to his son, Hezekiah.

According to the account in 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah wastes no time putting things right. He orders the Temple to be cleansed and re-consecrated; he finds priests and Levites worthy to serve before the Lord; and he restores sacrificial worship, making sin offerings and burnt offerings on behalf of the people; once again Passover is observed, which (according to the story) had not taken place since the time of Solomon, a span of twelve generations. I cannot imagine how they could let such an important practice lapse…or can I? Perhaps I have been equally negligent in some aspect of my own worship, and have suffered an equal decline? Have I fallen out of fellowship with other believers, or spent insufficient time reading and studying the Bible, or allowed my prayer life to grow stale? Perhaps you have as well?

The good news, both for us and for Hezekiah, is that we serve a God of second chances; and third chances; and thirty-third chances, if necessary. The title of this post appears 8 times in Scripture, and every time Hezekiah prays to God, he is answered with something positive: rescue from his enemies, forgiveness for his people, even a reprieve from death. Likewise, God yearns that we would pray to Him, call on His name in our distress, and trust that He will save us, bless us, preserve us. The way God treated with His people in the Old Testament is the same way He will treat with us…we know this to be true, because He is the same…yesterday, today, and forever, AMEN!

There is a great amount of pop-culture hoo-hah surrounding angels…there are movies, books, TV shows, and an infinite universe of knick-knacks, statuettes, posters, wall hangings, etc. A Google search for “angels” returns hundreds upon hundreds of images of female figures with soft faces, pale skin, flowing white or pastel gowns…and, of course, delicate white wings. I wonder sometimes where the artists received their inspiration? Because Biblical angels don’t seem to bear any resemblance to these icons.

The creatures known as angels are depicted as warriors, battling on behalf of the people of God (see Elisha’s revealed vision in 2 Kings); or lone executors of God’s will (the Angel of Death, as seen in the final plague in Egypt, and as a reprimand to David for his arrogance in ordering an unauthorized census); or as worshipers in the courts of heaven, praising God night and day. Some others serve as messengers, bringing the Word of God to Balaam, sitting on his donkey; to the shepherds outside Bethlehem one starry night; to the women at an empty tomb on Sunday morning, to name just a few.

The Christian canon of Scripture gives proper names to only two beings described as “angels” – Michael and Gabriel. Both appear in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament; Michael, (a warrior) is named in Jude and Revelation, while Gabriel (a messenger) famously delivers the news of the coming birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, and of Jesus to the virgin Mary. (I do not include the naming of “Lucifer” in Isaiah, as this word appears only that one time, and in context is as likely to refer to the king of Babylon as any other person; nor do I include “Raphael”, listed in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. There are also extra-Biblical lists of angels, but I am not qualified to discuss this material, so I won’t – I mention it only in an effort to be complete.)

I feel that sometimes modern believers allow themselves to be distracted by these vague, modern, decidedly romanticized ideas about angels – watching over us as guardians; interceding for us by carrying our prayers to heaven; intervening in the affairs of humans to prevent “bad things” from happening. While God certainly could use them for some of these purposes (and probably does at certain times), they are only another tool at His disposal. These beings, when they appear in Scripture, consistently discourage and actively prevent any adoration of themselves, redirecting it instead to the only One who is worthy. Maybe we would be better served to pay a little less attention to the messengers, and a little more to the message, and the Author?

Many of you may be wondering why, after finally finding a nice steady pace, I suddenly stopped posting…yeah, there’s been the  occasional re-blog, when I see something I find especially moving…but no writing. And isn’t that the whole reason I started this blog, to give myself a forum to practice my art? Well, that is an interesting question, so let’s examine this idea.

I must admit that I have let myself become pretty divided lately…after all, I am just a guy, and I have trouble doing more than one thing at a time very well; multi-tasking has never really been one of my spiritual gifts. Here lately, I have reached critical mass – taking care of Karen as she slogged through cancer treatment; handling an enormous level of responsibility trying to drive the design process on a complex construction project at work; helping to kick-start a prayer-and-share ministry at a halfway house; and “standing in the gap” at the church while we struggled through the transition period without a pastor, or much of a leadership team at all, for that matter. The Lord has been with me, and these things have prospered…I have been blessed to have been a part of it all. But even seasons of insanity come to an end…and strangely enough, that has been the problem!

Karen has finally reached the end of her regimen – only two more radiation treatments and one more follow-up, and she will be done, hallelujah! The project has been designed to a fare-thee-well, and actual construction begins next week. A new crop of volunteers has been trained for prayer-and-share, and a routine has been developed, duties spread around. The church has merged with another fellowship, so we have a pastor, and a staff, and budget, and a vision. Suddenly, I don’t have a gap to stand in, and it has left me off-balance and questioning  my role, and in fact my value, because that is just how I am wired.  I have a lot of trouble functioning well unless there is a crisis going on…smooth seas and clear skies leave me twitchy and anxious, and I have never really understood why; in truth I still don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I have to accept that as a healthy or right way to live, because I can recognize that it isn’t…it’s just a matter of learning a new way to behave; substituting better habits in the place of bad ones, and rediscovering passions from my past that I have allowed to wither under the weight of “busyness”.  I have been working on that very thing for a few months now, with success, and so I think I can expand this behavior into other realms of my life.

Back on New Year’s Eve, I made two  life-changing decisions: I stopped smoking cigarettes, and I started distance running…something I really enjoyed back in high school, but allowed to die out.  I also began blogging about the journey, at the suggestion of a friend, who reminded me that accountability and support from others in a similar situation are invaluable for making commitments stick. She was right, and I have so far succeeded: I have not smoked for nearly 12 weeks; I have run almost 80 miles this year; I have completed one 5k race, and and I’m signed up for a 10k in May; and my running blog is doing quite well. So, let’ s apply some of these principles to my current issue: how to spend less time in agonies of doubt, and more time pursuing my God-given art of writing (the reason I began blogging, remember?) Here’s what I came up with:

I have registered for the Blogging from A-to-Z in April Challenge, as a way to encourage myself to write something every day for a month. I will focus on themes relevant to Christianity (my own unique spin on the challenge) and in the process, try to recover some of my joy and wonder at the purpose God has placed in me – to express in writing how great He is, and yet how accessible He is to any who will seek after Him. THIS is my role, THIS is my value to the kingdom of heaven…and I am grateful that the Lord is patient, and continues to minister to me and encourage me. He has done this through many mediums – the sermon series our pastor is doing on how God’s plan for humanity has always been that we are blessed to serve Him and to serve others for His glory; the brothers at the halfway house and at the prison where I serve, who are constant examples of how God’s grace extends to “the least and the lost” of this world, and that our worth in His eyes is in no way dependent on how the world sees us; and by a book I finally picked up off the shelf and started reading: Quitter, by Jon Acuff, who tells how finding fulfillment of our dreams is more about recovering than about discovering…a message I really needed to hear! (Jon also recently reminded me that artists are specially blessed by God, and that writers are artists.)

I welcome your comments, and pray that God will lead me in finding 26 creative ways to write about Him in April. I have heard that once you do something 21 times it has become an ingrained habit…let’s put that to the test again, shall we? Stay tuned, spread the word, I believe some wonderful things are about to happen!

Jacob had it easy…

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

At least when he wrestled with God, he could use his hands, his body, his frustration…and it earned him a draw, and a blessing!

I’m reduced to my thoughts, my groaning spirit, and my knees…I don’t expect a draw – I will gladly receive my blessing in surrender (which is not a defeat, it’s a victory) – I just want to know WHO and WHAT and HOW…

You knew me before You made me. You have Your purpose for me in mind. I don’t deserve an explanation, I’m not demanding an answer…

I just want to know that I’m serving You, not me.

Our brave, beautiful friend, Danni, has gone on to her eternal reward…The Lord has healed her completely, she will never suffer again.

Please continue her family in your prayers…her husband, two daughters and their husbands, and her grandchildren…they know she is in a better place, but it is still hard, coming to terms with their loss.

We all await the day we are reunited in His presence, Danni – until then, know that we love you.

It has been a very trying and taxing week in the life of a Nicky…death and discouragement have been all around, but praises to God that He is more than all the enemy could ever send against me.

Through the course of her chemo treatments (today was the last one, btw…hurrah!) Karen has made some wonderful friends; adversity is a fantastic incubator for closeness. One particular person, Danni, has really been through it – she had already undergone surgery to remove one lung, and a lemon-sized brain tumor, and met Karen while doing a course of chemo for “insurance”. Well, the chemo caused an episode of kidney failure, and while being treated for that, she suffered a stroke – which led to the discovery of a second brain tumor. At that point, Danni called BS on treatment, and said she could just ride out the rest of her life in peace and dignity. Her family consented, and the next step was moving her into hospice about a week ago. We have been visiting every other day, for as long as she has left, she will know we are here with her. Last night was hard…she kept telling her daughters “Today is the day, they are here for me.” We don’t know who she is seeing, because communication is very difficult for her, but she is convinced “they” are there, and so we wait with her…

Last Monday a dear friend from the church called me, sounding desperate, tired, and depressed – she has been fighting asthma and COPD from years of cigarettes, drugs, and life on the streets of New Orleans; the Lord rescued her from all that, and sent her to Houston in the aftermath of Katrina. She became a member of our church, and an invigorating reminder of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power – I have never in my life met anyone who more understood what it means to be redeemed. But last week, after several rounds of in-and-out at the ER, suffering pneumonia that just wouldn’t quite go away, she called me to pray with her – she said she was so tired, and hurting, and ready for God to heal her any way He wanted to, if she could only find some rest. So Friday morning, He did just that…Patricia went home to her reward, and now she is by His side: no more pain, no more sadness, received into His rest at last…

Yesterday morning, as I was making notes for the morning announcements at the worship service, I learned that the church secretary’s brother Wayne had also passed this week; he had been in the hospital for some time, and was not really expected to get better, but the loss hurts just as deeply, no matter what…

All this just kind of piled up on me, and I went and sat at the back of the church alone, to pray and collect myself to welcome the congregation, when the Lord brought back to mind a couple of passages of Scripture; some of them I had just received the other day from another blogger friend. I threw away my notes, and read these instead, and as I prayed I sensed the Holy Spirit settling over us, bringing the comfort only He can. I would like to share those verses with you…perhaps someone reading this is also in need of His touch –

When someone close to us dies, or is near death, it often helps us to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who addresses the church at Corinth about these very concerns:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal…For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  (2 Cor 4:7-5:5, selected)

And then, while we may be comforted about our friends, we may still end up angry at God, or confused and wondering just what He is doing…if nothing happens outside of His will, what exactly is His will? These two passages explain precisely what His will is: Jesus, speaking to the crowd gathered at the seaside says,

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:38-40, emphasis added)

And then, again from Paul, this time in exhortation to the church at Thessalonica,

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:12-18, emphasis added)

God’s will is very clear – we are to serve one another, in love that is the likeness of Christ’s love for us; and to endure in that love, so we may be lifted up in the last day. Those who have gone on ahead to glory, those already lifted up, are no longer under obligation…we who remain in this world are indeed in debt to Him whose love has redeemed us…and it is that very love, which makes all the rest something we can endure.

I just made it home from my long day at work and running errands, and the first thing I heard on the TV is news of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut. (I have no access to news and such on the jobsite, and I never got around to replacing the radio in my truck when it got stolen…the hole in the dash makes a pretty good theft-deterrent system.)  My immediate reaction? Begin praying for the families, and turn off the news – because the very last thing I want is to hear any more about it. That reaction got me to thinking… why am I turning away? Am I becoming  insensitive, or inured to the pain of others? Well, no… but the truth is quite revealing in its own right.

The most basic, primal feeling in my gut was exhaustion…I am just completely worn out by this latest horrible occurrence in a series of horrible occurrences this year alone. I hope that doesn’t sound shallow or self-centered – I am quite aware that I have suffered no personal injury or loss in any of these circumstances, and real lives have been permanently changed for the worse; who am I to try to make this about me? (Some might even say, “How dare you?” , but I have never been afraid to say things that others might not understand.) But it’s not about me, so much as it’s about the world…I think I have lost my capacity to feel shock or surprise at the pervasive nature of evil. The bible tells us the world is fallen, ruined by sin and death; why do we act surprised when we see continuing evidence that this is so? On the contrary, I shake my head in disbelief when people speak of the “essential goodness of human nature”, when in truth there is no such thing. Jesus Himself said as much, speaking to the rich young man who wanted to know how to get into heaven. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not “anti-people”; that would make the calling God has placed on me to be a pastor seem kind of silly, wouldn’t it? But there is a reason that the tag line on my email for the last several years has been:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”   Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20 NKJV)

This verse has been a part of my daily prayers almost since I returned to walking with Him in 2005. My faith in God, in the perfect redemption of mankind by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, makes it possible for me to eagerly await His return. I take comfort that all the suffering, the pain, the despair…all these will come to an end. It also makes it possible for me to endure until such time as His plan and purposes are fulfilled, as I have no wish that any would perish, but that all would come to know Him and believe, despite knowing that there are those who will not. Many, many people will look at today’s events, and those of previous days, weeks, and months, and curse God for allowing this to happen, or question whether He even exists… the newsfeed from my relatively small number of Facebook friends is evidence of that. I have no answer for them which they will accept, and my heart breaks because of that. Others will take the opportunity to push their own agendas, or profit from it in some way, and that saddens me even more…and underlines my point at the same time – the world IS going to Hell, and it doesn’t need a handbasket to get there; it knows the way all on its own.

Following hard after Him, (even when some days are harder than others)


Hello, Audience. Are you still out there? It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything, and there’s a very good chance that whatever following I was beginning to build has faded away; consistency is a key to maintaining momentum in anything, but the lack of consistency seems to be one of my identifying characteristics…or at least it has been for the greater part of my life – along with the guilt and excuse-making that often go along with it. But I’m tired of that being true and I want it to change. So here I am, back where I belong, doing what I was made to do, and I have the feeling that this is an answer to some of the frustration I have been allowing to fill up my world lately.

That sentence was very hard to write; I hate admitting that I myself am the cause of most of the dissatisfaction I feel. It is much easier and safer to blame the world around me for my moods…to point fingers and sulk and whine, “It’s not my fault! Look at all that is happening to me! How am I supposed to get anything dome with all this going on?” But that reaction has never solved anything. I spend a great deal of my time counseling others against doing that very thing, telling them that the first step to moving forward in life is to get moving, to accept personal responsibility for the condition of their character instead of making it Someone Else’s job to grant them fulfillment. Maybe I need to record these conversations and play them back for myself; I need to learn to recognize hypocrisy when it’s staring back at me in the mirror, to heed the words of the philosopher, “Physician, heal thyself!” Or, better yet, the words of the Great Physician, my Lord Jesus – He has several things to say on this subject:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:3-5)

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

I could go on, but the simple truth is that quoting Scripture is not the same as living it, and I have been falling short. Life is always going to be hard, and Jesus knows this…that is why we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, perhaps the greatest gift short of salvation itself – to help us overcome this life in anticipation of the one to come. I seem to have lost sight of this truth recently, but God is faithful (even when I am not) and He will receive me back to Himself, bind up my wounds, and restore my spirits…if only I will trust in Him.

Stay tuned; I think I am well on the way to finding the true path again; at the very least, I am tired of hacking my way through the weeds and thistles off the side of that path on my own.

Following hard after Him, (in spite of my own hard head and hard heart),


Yes, it has been some time (feels like way too long) since I’ve posted anything. There’s no one singular reason, just a feeling that I needed to get some other things lined up in their proper priority, before I returned to my work here.

Last we met, I was just returning from the Kairos weekend at Eastham Prison. As always, God is glorified during these events, and hope in a life with Christ becomes something our Participants can grab onto with both hands, and make into a reality for themselves. I am honored and humbled to share in such rewarding and meaningful service to the Kingdom of God.

I am also honored and humbled to serve Him at my home church, stretching beyond what I thought I could do, and more importantly, what I thought I should do, and into the newly discovered country of continuing in faith what I was already doing, and no more than that. I have found myself flat upon my face a great many times the last couple of weeks, oscillating between thankfulness at His grace and mercy, and disgust at my own sinful heart; He is revealing things about myself I would rather not have known, but it is His infinite wisdom that prevails…thus may I be healed when I ask forgiveness for my pride, for my lack of trust, for my refusal to follow Him and only Him.

I am also honored and humbled by the level of trust displayed by my employer, who has helped me create the perfect working environment for my needs at this time, while still maintaining productivity and profitability on multiple jobs for multiple clients…I could not imagine a better training scenario, and I am getting paid for it – who writes this stuff?

Beyond all this, Karen is tolerating chemo far better than either of us ever dared to hope. It is wearing on her – the blood counts are dropping, the energy level is dropping, and we are both just a touch paranoid about cold and flu season this year – but she is still willing to make plans and do things, and we are grateful to God more than we can express in mere words.

So I am working out what my actual schedule is, and how much time it leaves me for writing. I am still trying to live my life according to this bible verse; I am learning that it often means doing less things, with more quality. This is a valuable lesson, but I must fight against the reflexive response to abandon everything in frustration, or else I have learned nothing of balance. This is the hardest part for me, but the most important.

What that means for you, O Constant Reader, is that you will have to settle for a few less posts a week. but hopefully those that do appear will be worthy of this blog’s title. The bible lessons will resume next week…I hate to leave a great story when it’s just getting started, even when I’ve seen it before! Beyond that, we will see what each day brings. I seem to be a in a transitional interval – some things have changed, more are going to change, and this is the breath in between; the trick is to remember that life does not stand still, and there is work to do while we are waiting. I will be sending out the occasional update as I navigate this strange country, and deal with the low-level anxiety of not knowing exactly where I am going. Please keep me in your prayers.

Following hard after Him,

and some days are harder than others,