Everything Changed With A Sneeze!

In a world where change is a constant, there remains a God that ceases to change.

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You would think change is something humanity has learned to accept, especially considering everything changes, from our health to our jobs and from relationships to our neighborhoods. Yet amid the Coronavirus pandemic, we are all struggling; coupled with another election that will cause a drastic shift in policy and an administration marked with a leadership style diametrically opposed to what we experienced the past four years.  We watched from our den of excess; the world around us changed with but a sneeze. As my wife and I drove through a small town a few weeks ago, we grieved for every business that was boarded up or for sale. We talked about jobs once thought to be secure, health enjoyed, luxuries taken for granted, and retirement plans counted on, but everything changed with a sneeze. Everything but God.

Policies are amended, legislation introduced, laws created, and even our constitution is reinterpreted and reexamined, but the Word of God never changes. Political winds introduce change every election, but God remains on His throne. Culture may fund the millions of lives being ripped from the safety of the womb, but God still judges our spiritually bankrupt state. Laws may protect our bodies fulfilling the most perverse concoctions of our minds, yet God still demands holiness. Over a million people have died as a result of the COVID-19 virus, yet God’s door of death still ushers His children into His presence. Over 60 million are struggling to overcome a COVID-19 diagnosis, yet God continues to touch and heal as He has for thousands of years. Fear of the unknown continues to weigh on the hearts of many, causing more restless nights and doctor visits than ever, but God still speaks to those who listen, mends hearts that cry to Him, and offers peace that can’t be explained. Everything changes but God.

It is very easy to become discouraged with all of the changes occurring in your life and culture. Johnson Oatman Jr was such a man with such a story. Johnson’s father was a talented singer, and he wanted nothing more than to fill dad’s shoes by serving God through music. Yet, he was never able to rise to the same talent level; thus, he resigned to work in the family business. Johnson never gave up on his musical dream though, and tried his hand at writing songs for others to sing, and very soon, his career took off. With a past littered of stories lamenting what he didn’t have, Johnson decided to focus on his blessings. One of his most famous songs revealed a heart of gratitude; Count Your Blessings, the chorus tells it all:

Count your many blessings; name them one by one. 
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

In this dark, sinful, and everchanging world in which we live, perhaps we should focus more on the Father of Lights; who never sins or changes. Tomorrow as you rise from the bed, many changes that flip your world upside down may greet you; however, God will still be with you. Your job may be in jeopardy, yet His provisions will continue to flow. The COVID virus might take your health or even your life, yet God still has the power over death and will send His Son to greet you at the Gates of Glory. Amid your struggle, grab a pen and paper and write down all of your blessings, with a focus on what will never change. Then, take time to thank God for His everchanging presence in your life; I am confident it will make a difference.

Scripture: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”-James 1:17, ESV

Question: Would you be willing to make a list today that contains all of the never-changing blessings in your life and spend time in prayer thanking God for each item?

Prayer: Father, please have patience with me; I am so weak. With all that is going on in this world, I seem to focus on what is changing instead of that which never does. May I be purposeful in recognizing the benefits of being a Child of God. Thank you that you never change and that I can count on you no matter what. May those around me see a hope within me that leads them to you. Father, please reveal those in my life that are discouraged with all of the changes in our world that I may have the courage to share your never changing love. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

The Difference Between Doing Good and Being Good

You can never be good enough, but you can be enough

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Like many people, I grew up in an environment of works-based relationships, which led to years of being disillusioned, dissatisfied, and dysfunctional. I was frustrated and hopeless. When I was four years old, my dad had an affair that ultimately led to my parents getting divorced. Although I did not have the maturity to articulate my feelings, I can tell you that I believed I was at fault. I thought that perhaps if I were a better kid, my dad would not have walked out of my life to start another family.

A few years later, my mom started dating a new man. The first time her boyfriend came over to meet me, I rushed to the door, hugged his legs, and asked, “Are you going to be my new daddy?” From that point on, I was determined to do everything in my power to please him, to work so hard that he would never have a reason to leave me as my biological dad did.

Eventually, my mom married this man, and I quickly discovered that he was the smartest, strongest, and most talented man in my world. The bar was set high in this works-based relationship! My new dad was a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, so I decided to earn his love by taking karate lessons. Unfortunately, I was the clumsiest kid in the world—the one who often fell putting on his pants and occasionally fell going up the stairs! During one karate lesson, I attempted to do a roundhouse kick that I had seen in a movie, only to face-plant on the mat in front of all my classmates. I was so embarrassed that I quit studying karate.

My stepdad was also an Eagle Scout, so I joined the Cub Scouts and decided to work my way through to achieve the same rank. After a few months, our Cubmaster called my parents for a meeting to discuss my poor behavior. That put an end to my Scouting career.

My stepdad was also a bicycle racer—at one point, he was sponsored by 7-Eleven. One day, I visited his bike workshop and asked if he would train me. At my first race, as I waited with the group for the horn to blow, I proudly looked to the sidelines to see my mom and stepdad cheering me on. I think I made it one mile into the five-mile race before I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned my bike against a tree, struggling to catch my breath. I will never forget that old Chevrolet Chevet pulling over, my stepdad loading my bike on the rack, and the three of us driving home in complete silence as I sat in the back seat, defeated once again.

Since my stepdad held a master’s degree from Penn State University in acoustical consulting, my last effort was to excel academically. No matter how hard I tried, report card after report card came home with consistent D’s and the occasional C; always met with groundings and reprimands. After a fifth-grade parent-teacher conference confirmed to me that I was worthless, I gave up on that path as well. I realized I could never work hard enough to win my stepdad’s approval, acceptance, or applause.

Things didn’t get any better. Over the years, counselors lamented that I would never amount to anything. Teachers reviewed my work and declared that I was no good. Adults discounted me as worthless, and other children shunned me as damaged goods. In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.

I wasted many years of my life trying to do good to please those around me: my parents, family, counselors, teachers, bosses, and friends. All of these folks came at me from different directions and perspectives, their well-intentioned voices echoing the same sentiment: “Tom, do good!” And for many years, I felt like a failure for not living up to that expectation. I never dreamed that one day I could be good.

That day came when I was 21 years old in the back of the church in Massachusetts. I don’t remember anything about the pastor’s sermon that day, but I do remember, almost audibly, God saying, “Come as you are. I love you right now. I will never walk out of your life. Surrender to my love, and you will find that acceptance, approval, and applause you have been searching for all your life.” Nothing could have kept me from being the first to the altar that day, where I repented of my sins and finally found out what true love was. It was that day that I discovered that our relationship with God is also works-based; the only difference is that Jesus has done all of the works for us. And, now with God in us, it’s not so much about doing good because we are empowered to be good. That is the power of love!

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Scripture: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17 ESV

Prayer: Father, there are times that I still struggle to simply embrace your love and tines when I feel like I need to prove my love to you through my works. Please help me see that there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me any less, and there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me anymore. Father, today I just want to relax, let go, bask in your love, and breath.

The Tear Collector

What if your tears were that important they were sought out and collected?

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Collecting “things” has always excited me. While my collections’ objects have changed through the years, from baseball cards and coins to Beanie Babies and pens, my desire to amass things that I hold of value has not changed. I remember in my younger days, during my baseball card phase, seeking out that allusive rookie card, finding the perfect plastic holder, and displaying it proudly on a shelf. Once in a while, I would take it down, admire it, look up its current value, show it off, and put it back in its protected spot. What we collect reveals a piece of our heart; what we care about, what we love, who we are.

Did you know that God is a collector? And, what He collects will surprise you! I know what you’re thinking, God owns everything, why does He need to compile anything? If I am right, that what we collect reveals what we care about, what we love, who we are, then being exposed to God’s collection has a designed purpose. God wants us to see His collection. God wants to show off what He cares about. God wants to reveal a piece of His heart. So, what does God collect? Our tears. In Psalms 56:8, David proclaims, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.” How amazing and life-changing this truth can be if we but meditate on it for a bit. Our tears in God’s bottle? God is collecting our tears. All of those restless nights, tossing and turning, crying out in desperation, agony, pain, anguish, and sorrow from a hurt heart and troubled mind. Every one of those tears, God picks up as treasures to add to His collection. Each tear is that important to our Father. Every single tear you shed has a purpose and a place in the heart of God. I wonder how often He takes down that jar and admires it and protects it, as I did with my Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card back in the day?

God collecting our tears is yet another confirmation that Christianity offers something that no other religion in the world provides, an answer to suffering. Yes, every other religion has attempted to deal with the problem of suffering by telling us to avoid it, pray it away, grin and bear it, accept it as karma for your past life, etc.. Yet, Christianity tells us to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when trials come. How can we rejoice and consider it joy when we feel like the rug of our lives has been ripped out from beneath us? Because we know that our Father is a genius at working all things out for us and that He has a plan and purpose for every trial that comes to us. When you feel like your world is falling apart all around you and the tears start to flow, remember who is collecting them and remember that for God to collect them must mean that God is right there as each tear falls. Those falling tears are so important to God that He is willing to be present when they fall to make sure they are collected in His jar.

So, the next time you cry out in pain and desperation, take note of that tear about to fall and remember how important it is to God that He is collecting it. Perhaps, since you know God has His jar out, about to add your tear to His collection, you might want to strike up a conversation with Him; it may help.

Scripture: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle” -Psalm 56:8 ESV

Prayer: Father, usually when my tears fall, I feel alone, like no one understands or cares. Thank you for letting me know that you are right there and do care, that putting my tears in your jar means that you have not forgotten about me but care deeply for me. I look forward to seeing your collection of my tears one day and hearing each story that goes with them. Until then, please give me the strength and faith to trust that you know what’s best for my life and to always be grateful to The Tear Collector. In the name of Jesus, I pray, amen.