Snorkels or Submarines?

I have always been fascinated with water. I would make sure to watch Jacques Cousteau every Sunday to see what exciting underwater adventure he was on. I even wanted to be a Oceanographer when I grew up. Unfortunately, I learned how much they made and decided I really didn’t want to live underwater as badly as I had thought. So I didn’t pursue my scuba license and settled for merely snorkeling. It was fine, I could still see the fish from the surface and I could always hold my breadth and dive down to see a fish or grab a shell. I had settled for the safe zone. A place I could easily catch my breadth and take my mask off, if I wanted to.

When I was 15, I decided to get my scuba license. I wanted to go deeper in the water and experience more of what the ocean had to offer. I was amazed at the world under the water and was able to experience it up close and personal. The fish were different, the colors were different and the sounds were different than up on the surface. I could not believe I had waited so long to go deeper into the water. Since I was a beginner, I was limited to 30 meters or about 90 feet in depth. It was enough to see reefs, shipwrecks, caverns and so many other wonders. The sunlight still penetrated at this depth, so on clear days it was spectacular.

After years of diving, I decided to do a deep water dive. This meant, I could go deeper than the 30 meter depth. The opportunity was to get to 50 meters or 150 feet. Just 60 feet different took me into another world all together. The fish were different, the coral was different, the colors were different. The light struggled to penetrate so far down. What was amazing was the chemical reaction in my brain with the nitrogen starting to build up. My reaction go slower, my senses became impaired. We didn’t stay at this depth very long, only long enough to experience a world deeper. To sustain a dive at that level, one needs a special mixture of oxygen and you have to have a special certification. It is much less safe than staying at 90 feet. To go deeper, you need something special. You need special air tanks or you need a submarine.

I found my walk with Jesus similar to my journey to deeper depth in the ocean. When I was younger, I was happy to pray for a pony and for great Christmas presents. Of course, I didn’t really know Jesus, but I knew He existed. When I was 14, I decided to take the plunge into deeper waters and gave my life over to Jesus. I acknowledged Him as my personal Lord and Savior. It was amazing and exciting. I even went to the limits of my 90 foot depth from time to time. Though mostly, I was content to stay at the 30-50 foot range as there was enough to learn and see. I could read my bible and gain knowledge of Jesus. I didn’t realize there was so much more to a relationship with Jesus than prayer, bible reading and going to church. That is all I was taught. But there is so much more. There is a depth of relationship which continues to open up. I have seen glimpse at the 150 foot depth. However, that is still scratching the surface in the grand scheme of the ocean. I need a submarine to get to the 2, 3, 4, mile mark. The only way to experience that level of depth is through Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit knows the deep mysteries of the Father and can reveal them to us. In 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 (MSG) it says,

“We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so. God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is. If they had, they wouldn’t have killed the Master of the God-designed life on a cross. That’s why we have this Scripture text:

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,

Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—

What God has arranged for those who love him.

But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.

The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.”

In the physical world, I think it would be fun to go to the depths of the ocean in a submarine, though I am content to stick with scuba diving. However, in the Heavenly realms, I do want to connect with Holy Spirit at a much deeper level of relationship so I can explore the fathoms of God’s love and His mysteries. I long to understand how deep His love is for us. I long to see humanity through His eyes. I long to understand His purposes and plans. When we go deeper with God, He brings us along on His journey. We can explore the unknown depths and experience life in a whole new way.

 

**Picture taken in the Similan Islands, off the west coast of Thailand at a 60 foot depth**

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Slow Down and See

I was driving down a highway in the middle of the day. The sky was clear and it was a beautiful day. Traffic was minimal, with only a few cars out on the road. It was a great day for driving. I had just passed a car from the left lane of a eight lane highway (was was in the far left lane of my four lanes). Otherwise, there were no other cars around. When I looked in my rear view mirror, I saw a police car approaching with their lights on. The police car was still a ways off, so I kept my eye on him, quickly checked my speed and knew they were not coming after me. Breathing a sigh of relief, I looked in my right side mirror to move over so the police car could pass. There were no cars in front of or besides beside, so I put on my blinker and proceeded to move over. Out of no-where I saw a bright yellow wheelbarrow sitting in the middle of my lane. I had not seen it. The wheelbarrow was stationary and sitting upside down. Clearly it had been there awhile since it had already settled from wherever it fell.

I only had a split second to make a decision, but there really was not a decision to make. The police car was on the left side and there was no time to veer to the right lane. So I did what I would have done in any good X-box car chase game and hit the wheelbarrow head on at seventy miles an hour. The plastic tub shattered, the wheels flew off and the metal frame got stuck in the car’s grill as it was pushed down the highway. Sparks were flying as the metal scraped along the asphalt road. After thanking God for still being able to drive, I knew I needed to pull over to survey the damage. Making sure to carefully stop on the side of the road, I got out and walked to the front of car. The metal frame had lodged itself into my grill, so I had to pull the frame out. Fortunately, I was in a Ford SUV, so the damage to the outside of the car was not visibly significant. The real damage was internal. Even now, I can still not believe that I had not seen the large yellow object sitting in the middle of the road. It is only by the grace of God that I was not hurt, the car was still drivable and no-one else was hurt either.

How often do we travel down the roads of life and miss others who are clearly in our path? Because we are not physically moving at 70 mph, we can pass right by, not seeing them, not seeing their hurts or pain. Maybe they are in a job that is invisible to many? Maybe they look fine on the outside, like my car, however the real issues are internal and in their heart? Whatever the reason, we miss people every day. People who need the love of Christ, need our love, compassion and our hope. People who just need a hug or a kind word or to just be acknowledged they exist. Too often we look right past the janitor or maid at the office. We look right past the garbage collector or the postman. Sometimes our daily struggles distract our minds from seeing those who really could use our help. The good news is Jesus see’s everyone. He saw the sick, the poor in spirit, the hurting, the outcast and the sinner. When we put on the mind of Christ and ask Him to give us His eyes and heart, we will begin to see those standing right in front of us.

Today, I encourage each of us to ask Jesus who He put in our path to share His love with. If you work in an office, look for the maintenance person, the janitor or maid. If you are in your neighborhood, look for the gardener, postman, garbage collector. Acknowledge them. Ask them “how are you?” Start a conversation and start to get to know them. Repeat your engagement every time you see that person. Let them know they are seen and important. Encourage them and show them the love of Christ. We can bring hope to a hopeless generation. We can bring light to a dark world. What a great opportunity to show Jesus to another person.

Layers of a Matryoshka doll

When I first arrived in Moscow to start my new job, I realized something immediately. I was not in Kansas anymore. Not that I have ever lived in Kansas, but I did arrive in the middle of winter. It was cold, especially coming from Atlanta. Upon arriving at the office on my first day, I was greeted warmly and ushered to my new office. Sitting on the desk was a matryoshka doll. We call them nesting dolls because there are many dolls nested inside each other. I have seen some that have 15 or 20 dolls inside each other. Though the standard doll will have 5 to 6 layers.

The matryoshka doll is decidedly Russian and is a favorite souvenir of tourists. So it was a delight to receive one on my first day. I found it fun to open the lid and find the next doll inside. I was intrigued by layer upon layer of doll. Some were the same design, just a bit smaller to fit inside of each other. While others had different designs, so you really did not know what you would get. Finally you get to the heart of the Matryoshka doll and it is always different than the top layer doll. Even if all of the other layers are the same, the smallest doll, the heart of the matryoshka will be different.

I find the matryoshka doll a great metaphor for any Christian who is actively seeking a relationship with Jesus. As we go deeper with Jesus, as we seek direction from Holy Spirit, we are changed. We are transformed into the image of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NLT) we are told, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

I get giddy when I think about my spirit connecting with the Spirit of the Lord and He reveals mysteries to me. He shows me what weighs me down and keeps me in chains. He provides insights on ways I can be more like Him. In fact, Paul tells us as we begin living as Jesus lived, we get our minds transformed (Romans 12:1-2). As we seek His presence and interact with Him on a routine basis, we become something new. Of course, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become new creations (2 For 5:17). So that takes the first layer of doll off. Overtime, as we renew our minds, as we draw closer to Jesus, as we seek to be like Christ, we take more and more layers off. Until finally we are changed into His image. At the heart of each of us is the image of Christ. We will each look different when we allow Jesus to completely transform us. We will no longer look like the first outer doll of the matryoshka.

This transformation is available to everyone! Now that is good news. The process may not be nearly as fun as opening the matryoshka dolls. However, the end result is worth it. Today, press into God and ask Holy Spirit to help you take off the layers so the world can see Jesus in you.

 

Healing the Division

Valentines is a day dedicated to show and share love. Unfortunately, we are all too eger to share our thoughts and show our contempt for those who think, act or behave differently than ourselves. It has caused a large division within our society. There has always been division in humanity. Ever since Cain and Abel we have seen jealousy, fear, envy, distrust and misunderstanding. People have always had prejudices, which means pre-judge or to form an opinion that is not based on fact. Sometimes it is an unconscious bias against a person, race, or gender. It does not help that the media loves to stereotype people and people groups. None of this is new. In Galatians 3:28 Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Even two thousand years ago people were labeled by race, gender and class.

When I was ten, my family moved from Mexico to New Jersey. As a third culture kid and new to a small community, I stood out like a sore thumb. I tried my best to fit in, but the US culture was foreign to him. I had a number of misunderstandings with other kids, mostly because I really didn’t know any better. Somehow, I got on the wrong side of  the playground bully. The bully, Nelson, was also a third culture kid as he was originally from Puerto Rico. Nelson called me out to a fight one day after class. I had no interest in fighting him and had no idea why Nelson wanted to beat me up.

As I walked home that day, a group of kids had gathered to watch the beat down. I had made up my mind to talk some sense into Nelson. When I approached him, I asked Nelson why he was mad. Nelson said I had called his mother a name. Besides not knowing what the name was, I denied ever saying anything about him or his mother. Apparently someone just wanted me to get beat up. Unfortunately, since a crowd had gathered, Nelson needed to do something to keep his reputation intact, even though he believed me. Choosing not to get a black eye, I decided to duck and run. Nelson landed a blow on my back as the crowd cheered and heckled me as I ran away.

The next day I approached Nelson to let him know that I had not made any derogatory remarks against his mother. It was not who I was. We talked for a bit and eventually reconciled our differences. We became really good friends for the next few of years while I lived in the community. If I had not sought to reconcile with Nelson, I would have missed out on this friendship. While God call us to reconcile with each other (Matthew 5:23-24), His ultimate desire is for us to be reconciled with Himself. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation, where we are helping others be reconciled with Jesus. We are to help others know Jesus as their Lord and Savior so they can also be sons and daughters of God.

Unfortunately, our society is all about division. It might be politics, religion, race, gender, sexual preference. Everyone feels it is better to condemn and ridicule versus loving and accepting. We don’t all have to agree with each other. In fact, that is not a good thing. We need to bring our differences, our experiences, our skills, our background to make things better. We were made unique and different. It is time we celebrate our differences and simply love one another. I encourage everyone to try blessing others. Celebrate the differences through the love of Jesus. “For God so loved the world He sent His only Son to die for us.” This way we can be reconciled with God, just as we reconcile with each other!

Give someone a Valentines present!

Is there anyone you have an issue with? Anyone who has wronged your or you have wronged? Today, make the decision to reconcile with them. Raise the white flag of peace and go make it right with the other person. Maybe it is a family member or old friend. Maybe it is a co-worker or a child. Whoever it is, put on the mind of Christ, set aside any pride and make amends.

A Night in Singapore

Joan placed her hand over her eyes as if she were trying to shade the sun.  I looked at her and asked if everything was all right.  She responded by telling us there was a ghost on the roof trying to get her attention and it was distracting her from our conversation.  She looked at me with the expectation that I would tell her that she was crazy.  Having lived in Southeast Asia, I had many strange encounters.  Though this was my first time to encounter this particular situation.  My response surprised my colleagues almost as much as the initial matter-of-fact announcement that there was a ghost on the roof.  I knew Joan well enough to know at she would not make something like this up.  As a Christian, I had been taught there were angels and demons, which is exactly what I shared with them.

The four of us sat at an outdoor cafe in Singapore.  I was there for business and asked my colleagues if they wanted to go out after work.  Joining me was Manish, Sam and Joan.  I had known all of them for a number of years and had built a strong friendship with them.  They knew I was a Christian, as I was not shy about my faith.  I came to understand that Joan was cursed with the ability to see into the spirit realm.  Every firstborn female in her family for multiple generations has this gift or curse, depending on how you looked at it.  She had enthralling, entertaining and sometimes scary stories about how the ghosts would talk with her in hotel rooms, restaurants and on the street.  Joan looked at this ability as a curse but had not idea of how to get rid of it. She believed there was a God, however had not accepted Jesus as her Savior.

As I shared what I knew about angels and demons, I could tell that Joan was just not able to concentrate.  With a little prompting from the Holy Spirit, I did something I had never done before.  I gathered up all the courage I could and asked if the group minded if I prayed to tell the demon to leave Joan alone.  Positive they were just humoring me, my friends agreed and I invited the Holy Spirit to join us.  Before I knew what I was doing, I started commanding the demon to leave.  I spoke out with complete faith that something would happen, though I had no idea what.  I had heard stories of missionaries delivering people from demons, but wondered if Christians had any authority to tell a demon to leave an area.

When I finished praying, Joan had a look of surprise and delight on her face.  She exclaimed that the ghost was gone.  Manish and Sam were amazed and terrified, being very superstitious.  They began asking all kinds of questions.  Before I could answer, Joan said there was one more demon across the ally and asked could I get rid of it as well.  Feeling good that God had just shown up and done a miracle, I gladly obliged.  I commanded the demon across the ally to leave, which it did.

This was the first time in my life that I had a tangible experience of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.  The conversation turned to God and I spent the next three hours sharing about my faith, my God and about His immense love for them.   I don’t even remember what all I said, but I know the Holy Spirit was speaking through me.

This night was the start of a three-year conversation with Joan where she eventually accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  God knew what would happen that night and I got to be part of His bigger plan.  Before we left, Joan went to the restroom where another demon appeared to her.  It told her not to listen to anything I had to say.  When Joan told us what happened in the bathroom, I praised God with excitement.  I had strapped on my shield of faith and went to battle with Jesus.  It was a resounding victory and had the demons running scared.

That night in Singapore is one I will always remember and cherish.  Winning a spiritual battle was memorable.  However, more importantly, it was the night that started Joan on her journey to become a sister in Christ.

5 Reasons to Plug into God

Most of us don’t think about electricity until it is not there. For most of us, we enjoy the convenience of 110v powering our house or apartment. We plug our computer, smart phone, coffee maker or X-Box into the wall and they turn on. It is an amazing idea. Electricity is coursing through our house, we just can’t see it. We know it is present when we flip the light switch on and the room illuminates.

When I lived overseas, I had to think about the power that was running through the house. Most other countries use 240v as the standard voltage for the house. To give a perspective, I knew a full grown man who made a mistake fixing a 240v outlet. The shock went through his body and flung him across the room. With 110v, you would feel it, however, it would be an unpleasant tingle. It would not fling a body across the room.

Living in Malaysia meant we needed to have converters. A converter powers down the voltage so it does not fry the electrical equipment which is not built for 240v. I fried my Wii and a number of other electrical items during the first year. I would forget to plug it into the right outlet. Poof and a burning smell would immediately appear. Electricity and its power is incredibly important.

Moving back to the US, I learned that all US houses actually have 240v electricity coming into the home. There is a converter built into the house that powers the current down to 110v. It is intentional because it is much safer and most electrical items really don’t need the higher voltage. Of course, there are large parts of the world who have no electricity or have to rely on a generator to get any power at all. They accept the living conditions and learn to adapt. I believe many Christians live in the same way when it comes to plugging into God.

I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at 14. While I was on fire to share Jesus with others, I lived like the person in the hut in the middle of nowhere. No electricity. I didn’t know God had power that He wanted us to plug into. I lived in ignorance that something better was out there.

I clearly remember reading Matthew 10:8. Jesus commands to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons and cleanse the lepers. It got better from there. In John 14:12, Jesus tells us we will do what He had been doing, and even greater things than He did. He was healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, walking on water and more. So I wanted to learn what this meant. It meant we need to plug into His power He freely gives us. Not really understanding, I felt like I had gone out and bought a generator and for the first time could have access to the power of God. As I learned to plug into the generator,  I would have to start the generator and hope to get enough power from God to do what He had called us to do. Generators only go as long as you give it gas or keep it turned on. They eventually stop. The Power of God had to be more.

I believe the power of God is more like 240v that is a non-stop current. How many of us, however, power down that current to fit into our 110v lives? We want the power of God, but not all of it. Some of it is scary or weird. We certainly don’t want to look foolish, do we? What would happen if we walked in the fullness of God’s power? What would our lives look like if we plugged into the full 240v current of God? While there are many reasons to plug in, I am going to highlight 5 to think about.

1. Salvation – Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Through Jesus dying on the cross, we have access for His atoning love. That power can bring for our salvation, forgiveness of sin and a immortal life. The moment we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we cease to be a mortal person. We become a new creation and step into immortality. While our body may die, our soul will live forever with Jesus. His power brings us salvation and life everlasting.

2. Hope – Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the greatest gifts we are given is the Holy Spirit. When life gets tough and seems like nothing is going our way, the power of the Holy Spirit gives us hope. Having faced unemployment for ten months, the power of hope is incalculable. I can get every morning believing this may be the day I get a job offer. Without the power of God and the hope that flows through that current, I can see why people can descend into depression.

3. Signs and wonders – Acts 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.

One of the key reasons to tap into the power of God is to help others. There are gifts that all believers can access. If we believe, we can heal, cast out demons, give words of knowledge, give prophecies and more. Our minds try to keep us in a realm we can see and understand. There are too many things that have happened in my life I can not explain. The only answer is “But God.” I have had the honor of healing others, casting out a demon and giving prophecy. So I can personally testify what happens when we allow all 240v flow unrestricted in our lives.

4. Shielding – 1 Peter 1:5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

We know the enemy wants to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). When we allow the power of God to course through us, we get a natural barrier to the schemes of the enemy. I like to think about it like a force field around the millennium falcon that protects us from the blaster fire of the enemy.

5. Everything we need 2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Finally, the power of God gives us everything we need to live a full life. We just need to ask. I know it seems like a catch-all, however, it is so much more. Through His power, we can have a relationship with Him. We can learn our calling. We can get the help we need to make wise decisions. We can learn how to live the best life possible. The life He wants us to live.

I encourage everyone to decide to plug into the full power of God. Don’t live a powerless life. Don’t live on a generator or a turned down power level. Live in the full power God has offered us.

Loss of a Friend

Scooby was almost a year old when we got him from the pound in Malaysia. He was an adorable, fluffy puppy that just loved being with us. He was so social, he even went around the neighborhood and made friends with the other dogs. He would bring them back to our house for play dates. While is behavior was not always the best, he was always loving. He travelled with us to Japan and was never quite the same after the earthquake.

While Scooby’s personality changed a little, mostly towards other people and dogs, he still just wanted to be with us. He moved to Oregon, then to Atlanta where he loved talking to the opossum and deer that lived on the other side of the fence. He moved with us to Moscow, Russia. He loved the snow. He loved going on walks, especially when the snow was up to his neck. You just knew he loved the cold. He moved back to Atlanta and then Dallas. The last two years saw him slow down.

Over the last ten months, while I have been out of work, Scooby would be my constant companion as I looked for a job and wrote. He was there when I lost my job. He was there when my son went off the college and left a hole in the house. He was there when my publisher went out of business. He was there to wag his tail when I walked in a room. He was willing to just sit there and be a comfort. He was there to bring a smile to my face.

This last year has been a tough one. I always knew when I went to my office to work, he would follow and lay at my feet. Just wanting to be with me. I am so thankful that I have a personal relationship with Jesus. He just wants to be with us. Through the tough times. He wants to sit with us and comfort us. Jesus wants to bring a smile to our face. He wants to satisfy our souls. He wants to heal us from our wounds. I take comfort in knowing my Savior is sitting right here with me. Jesus tells us He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He already died for our sins and will be there to comfort us when we grieve.

I am going to miss Scooby. I know it was his time to rest. Thank you for twelve years of friendship and companionship.

Journey of Unemployment – Choose Hope

January has seemed to be a microcosm of life in general. It has been an interesting month. As in life there have been some highs and some lows. The good news is the job market seems to be picking up. I now have 5-6 opportunities I’m chasing, which is   certainly a positive sign. The publisher closing their door was clearly the valley of the month. This is certainly the challenge of being unemployed. Your day, week, month can hinge on how many interviews you have. If you are advancing in the interview process, you can feel the excitement the job is around the corner. Things outside of the job hunt can have magnified impacts. Some things that would not normally bother you can seem huge. Things that use to seem huge look insignificant. It is a unique state of mind.

Though the highs and low, I have learned to focus on hope. It is the thing that helps me get up each day. Thinking that today will be the day. Believing something good is going to happen today really helps me to keep moving. Not in some self help, power of positive thinking way. Rather in a sound Biblical way. The way Jesus would have encouraged us. The verses I have relied on to keep me hoping are:

Romans 5:1-5: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Proverbs 16:3: Stay committed to me my child. I will establish your plans and bless you. There is not anything you will need to do, but trust in my power and sit at my feet.

James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Isaiah 51:11: Those the Lord has rescued will return.

    They will enter Zion with singing;

    everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,

    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

By continuing to seek God and His love for me, I can have hope for today and for tomorrow. I know He has something wonderful for me. I only want His best and do not want to settle for something less. So I choose to rejoice and hope, even through the low points. Because in the end, it is all about Jesus and the love He poured out to us, so we can live a full life.