The Universal God

Friday night we went to a local observatory with hopes of looking at the stars through the giant telescope.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy night and we were unable to do so. We were able to look at some amazing photos that had been taken by the Hubble telescope.  It totally blew my mind at the number of galaxies it had captured.  The astronomer said that scientists are STILL counting them because there are so many.  

That led me to two thoughts.  There has GOT to be a God (not that I doubted but it reinforced it) and that there has to be life on other planets.  

Unless the universe is some kind of cosmic screensaver, isn’t it entirely possible that God has created other planets and other life forms?   Perhaps He created them with no intention of having our worlds meet.  It is beyond what our minds could understand.  I know people will think that God only made this Earth and us alone but I have to think it is possible.  

Hebrews 11:3 says something strange in that “through faith we understand that the WORLDS were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which of things which do appear.”

Some would debate that the word “worlds” is a translation thing and doesn’t mean what it implies but maybe folks should stop trying to find reasons against things outside of their comfort zones.  

Since God is the one who made the universe, it can scarcely be big to Him. We struggle with this because our knowledge is limited to the created time/space dimensions within which we exist.

The vastness of the universe is a tremendous expression of God’s might and power. God is greater than we could ever imagine, even greater that His spectacular creation, the universe.  

Yes, it can make your head hurt to think about this possiblility of other worlds and beings God could have created.  We simply don’t know.  The only thing we do know is that God is amazing.  

One day I hope to actually look into a giant telescope for the first time.  I know that it will only amplify to me how amazing God is.

First Sunday In August

I have some memories about the first Sunday in August.   

Growing up as a preachers kid in Georgia, this particular Sunday signaled the beginning of a new church year in our church organization.   Six times while I was living at home, this was our first Sunday at a new church.  Meeting people I had never met before and being guarded about what I did and what I said.  It was a fish bowl existence for me and probably the main reason I have an introverted personality today.  Even now, it takes me a while to warm up to new people or a new place.  I am also careful to not open up too much too soon. 

There are some things we learned about these experiences.  

  • The first person to tell you all the problems of a church was always the one that was the troublemaker.  I remember at one church we had barely got moved into the parsonage before someone came and told us about the problems of the church.  That was the person who turned out to be the problem.  
  • You learn to be very observant and know the motives of people.  Just watch and it doesn’t take long until their true colors come out.  You would assume that you shouldn’t have to think about these things with church people but the reality can be very sobering.  
  • People who bragged on themselves and what they did in the church were usually the ones that you couldn’t get to do anything after the “honeymoon period” was over.   Some people just simply resist submitting to authority.  They don’t want a pastor to lead them.

I know it sounds negative but I’m just telling you the experience I had with this.  Opinions will vary depending on who you ask but I know other preacher’s kids who had very similar experiences.  It just always amazed me how things developed from that first Sunday.   God – and people – work in mysterious ways.

If I can be totally transparent with you, I would have to admit the worst first Sunday experience was in a tiny community church in Axson, Georgia.  Man, those folks were tough and the kids my age didn’t cut me any slack at all.  They made fun of me and keep me as the outsider.  On the other end of the first Sunday in August was the first Sunday in Villa Rica.  The kids there accepted me from the first time we met.  Both of those experiences have stayed with me even today.  I look at some fondly and others not so much.  

Thankfully I don’t have to deal with the first Sunday of August the same anymore.  

“That’s Between You And The Lord”

I’ve heard this statement and even said it to others before.  What does it mean?

Most of the time it means that either we don’t agree or we don’t know all the facts about why someone has done something but we choose not to pass judgment.  

There is a lot of truth in this statement because someone else’s relationship with God isn’t something we can truly judge if we don’t know all the facts.   Too many times we are quick to judge and condemn others.  We will judge on outward appearances or assumptions but we don’t see what’s inside the person or the hurts they have endured.  

The Bible says to work out your own Salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  This means we all should take our relationship with God seriously. We all have our own battles and weaknesses to contend with.  We all make our own choices and decisions in life.  There are twists and turns that are different for everyone.  Obviously none of us are perfect and we do make mistakes but we serve a God that isn’t waiting for us to do something wrong so he can hit us on the head.  He will guide us with His wisdom if we let Him.  

Yes, I have been guilty of judging people without knowing all of the details and have been totally wrong.  I think we have all made this mistake.  

There are things that only God knows about us.  He’s very good at keeping our secrets and dealing with us in the ways that work best.  I’m not saying God makes allowances for sin but He is a God that knows us better than anyone else.  

People are quick to make assumptions of others until the same situation hits them.  Funny isn’t it?   I have know some Christians who were strictly against divorce until it happened to their son.  Oops.  He made a mistake or error in judgment then it’s swept under the rug.  Well, I’m sorry to break this news to you but we are all human.  We make decisions.  We make right and wrong decisions.  Life happens to use all.  

God knows us.  If we have a relationship with Him we have the best relationship we could have with anyone.  So, yes, whoever we are is definitely between us and God.  Not everyone will understand your journey.     There is a quote that says “Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on.”

Sometimes we find ourselves living frustrated lives and we aren’t living the life God had intended us to live.  The courage to make some difficult changes won’t be understood by others.  People who have the courage to change are people who can trust an unknown path to an all-knowing God.  

Proverbs 3:6 urges us to acknowledge God in all our ways and He will direct our paths.     To acknowledge God is to spend time with him.  Sitting on a pew at church is not acknowledging God.  You have to be a little more engaged than that.  It is a daily experience that involves you and God.   Yes, it is between you and God but there has to be a relationship between you and God. 

It’s not up to us to judge people.  We are supposed to love people even if we don’t understand or agree with what we see.  

Do You Have A “Wait” Problem?

waitIn this instant credit, microwave age that we live in, it is difficult for us to wait. If we see it, we want it. If there’s a problem, we want a solution immediately. We get spoiled with any expectation where we have to wait on the things we want. Unlike the world, God  doesn’t work in the same way. Everything is on His timetable, not ours. As shocking as it might seem, the world doesn’t revolve around us, it revolves around Him and His purposes.

The ability to wait and maintain patience is so vital in our lives. We are told that the trying of our faith exercises our patience (James 1:3). Much like our muscles. You can’t build your muscles unless you exercise them. If you resort to being a couch potato, your muscles will never develop to their full potential. The same is true for our individual lives. Without the trials of life, we can never fully develop our faith in God. If God gave us everything we asked for immediately upon our requests, He wouldn’t be much of a God. We wouldn’t see Him as our eternal father but like a genie in a bottle who we bring out whenever we need to ask for something. The sad thing is that many times we don’t have a relationship with God until we are in need and have nowhere else to turn.

James 1:4 tells us to “let patience have her perfect work”. The word “her” injected into this verse could relate to a woman who is carrying a child. Although she may want to give birth after six months, in order for the baby to fully mature, she must wait expectantly until the full term. This tells us that waiting well is good for us. Patience will have a place in our experience to mature us and increase our wisdom in life. If you want to find consistency in your life, you have to be good at waiting. It will never be easy but you can recognize that waiting is something that is good for you and not something that you should look upon with dread.

I’m sure you have realized by now that you can’t force God to answer your prayers. Nothing you can say or bargain will forcibly move God on your behalf.  He’s not looking to make any deals with you.  When He moves and answers, He does it out of His love for you. Nothing else.  You don’t have a monopoly on God. This also means that we can’t make God move any faster in answering us than He is willing. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that He sees the future and He knows the whole picture. We only have a portion of the big picture. We are not able to understand how the portion we have will fit into His plan. We aren’t given that information. He will only give us that knowledge on a need to know basis. He’s the one that determines that, not us. We deceive ourselves if we think we are so smart and have God figured out. Sometimes waiting is a part of that plan.

Does God make us wait just to mess with us?  It would seem that way but – no – He isn’t trying to punk us. If anything He does, He has our best interest in His heart. There are some who will rationalize that if God loved you that He wouldn’t leave you at your minimum wage job or driving a junker around town. Surely, if you are a Christian, He would bless you and you should have a big job with a fancy title and two of the latest model cars in your garage. Don’t fall into that thinking. The name-it-and-claim-it plan is not what God is all about. He is about developing you as a total person in His plan. Just because He doesn’t open up an opportunity for a better job doesn’t mean He isn’t using you where you are at. You can’t be promoted to something big until God can trust you with what you have now. (Luke 19:17). If you can’t be thankful in your minimum wage job, why would God promote you to making $50,000 a year? Would a quick promotion keep you in a relationship with God or would you be tempted to believe in your own abilities rather than God? God’s blessings on His children are not dependent upon our material possessions. Yes, God will favor you and bless you but you must prove trustworthy to Him and recognize the opportunities you have to serve Him were you are.

In 2014, my wife and I moved to Tampa, Florida because we thought that was going to be our place.  Shortly after our first month there, we knew that it wasn’t the right fit for us and we were looking to relocate.  It took two years to move from there and that time of waiting seemed like a decade.  I rode the bus to and from work everyday.  That ride was depressing but I held onto my faith that God would open a door for us to leave.  Some days it was difficult waiting especially those days when I saw nothing  happening.  One day that door opened and we were able to relocate to where we are now.  Although I may have been puzzled about God’s plans, He saw what was ahead and I was forced to wait. Was the waiting a waste? No, I can look back and see what His purpose was for me during that time.  Yes, it would have been nice to know it but it was a process I had to go through.  Today in my prayers I can point to that time in waiting as evidence that God can do anything at anytime He wants to do it.

Waiting requires that we stick with it and don’t give up.   The Bible urges us not to grow weary. Remember to “always pray and not faint” (Luke 18:1) and “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)  If we want to reap then we can’t let ourselves get weary.

Maybe today you are wondering why your life is in a holding pattern? Surely God could open a few doors for you. What is taking so long? When is it going to happen for you? Don’t be frustrated in the waiting. God is moving people and circumstances on your behalf. Trust in His timing. Don’t move until He has made the move. He is your tour guide for life. Don’t stray away from Him and do your own thing. Develop your ability to wait. Be good at waiting. God will reward you and your faith will be strengthened by it.

 

Do You Know Church Or Do You Know God?

I heard a preacher make this statement on a podcast this week:  “Some people know church but they don’t know God.”
You would think there isn’t a difference or that this is interchangeable.  It is not.

There are many people who are more comfortable doing church and all the ministries or activities that go along with it than their own relationship with God.  

I can tell you that I have done the church thing.  Most of the time I did it pretty well.  I have held several ministry positions in the church.  I would often think that doing the job of the church was the same as doing it for God.  Sometimes it is but there are times when I got so busy FOR God that I slacked on my relationship WITH God.  

It wasn’t anything  intentional but it was something that was definitely defective in my life at the time.  Some people treat church like a business where they assume they will climb the career ladder in ministry.  God doesn’t operate that way.   Of course, I have known people that have climbed the ministry ladder by “drinking the Koolaid” and achieving man’s approval.  

People would always assume that I was going to be a preacher because my father and my grandfather were preachers before me.  I never assumed that and I never desired it.  Being a preacher involves more than preaching a sermon.  I knew that by seeing what my father went through.   I’m just not the kind of person to play the  politics.  It’s not a good career move when you question things or call people out.  Yes, there was never a future for me as a preacher.  

I tried to “drink the Koolaid” by doing what people expected me to do.  I held ministry positions but it just never felt like the right fit for me.  I was miserable trying to meet people’s expectations.  You fall into the false sense of security that works was scoring points in God’s permanent record. 

I learned that you can DO all the things and look like you have it all together on the outside yet have nothing on the inside.  People say that church isn’t a building but they sure put a lot of emphasis on what they do in that building.  

I was once good at playing church.  I would dare say I could have won an academy award for that role.  Too many years I spent working to please others yet only feeling miserable when I pulled out of the parking lot.  In fact, I felt worse when I left church than when I arrived.  No one knew.  All that people cared about if you were there at church doing your job.  

There is more to God than that.  

It wasn’t until I spent a week at a Cistercian monastery that I really found myself with God.  There was no preaching, yelling or ministry to do.  There was silence and times of reverence to God during the scheduled times at the monastery.  I didn’t know a lot that was going on as far as the Catholic rituals but I did appreciate the strict reverence to God and the importance of silent prayer.  

We don’t like silence.  Silence scares us.  When we are silent before God we have to face the truth about ourselves.  That’s when God can truly speak to us and deal with the deep things within us.  It’s not some wonky meditation thing.  It’s a time when we totally unplug from the world and truly spend time with God.  

I found that in my time at the monastery.  While I don’t think I could ever be a monk, I understand a whole lot more about my relationship with God than all the church I had ever attended before that week.  It was definitely a huge spiritual change in my life.  

Am I saying that church is not important?   Absolutely not.  The point I am making here is that God is more than church.  I just have seen how easy it is to fall into the church work trap.  Being busy for God but not spending time with God.  

The one thing that helps in breaking out of that church work mentality is when you serve others instead of staying within the church.  When you help others you are truly serving God.  I have known of churches that don’t even meet in a building but they go into the community doing what is needed to serve others, not just preaching to people but meeting their needs.   That is church and when you help others you are representing God to others.  You are also helping yourself.  

Ministry titles and years in the church are never more important than our relationship with God.  

Happy (and Holy) Campers

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Rare photo of me at church camp (1990s)

It’s summer time.  When this time of year rolls around I think back to the summers when I attended week-long church summer camps in Georgia.  We called it Youth Camp.  I have a lot of memories and formed a lot of friendships from those years.  It wasn’t your normal summer camp.

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I am just right of the kid holding the sign (1975)

My first year to attend was in the summer of 1975.  My Dad was working in the camp as a counselor for one of the cabins and he was also teaching a class.  The first camp I attended was in Pine Mountain just outside of Columbus.  It was quite a new experience for me as the only church I knew was our local congregation.  There weren’t many people my age in our local church and then I attend a camp where it is an overload of kids my age.  I didn’t my first church camp experience and didn’t return the next summer.

In the summer of 1977 our state headquarters started having camps at our own campground in a place called Camp Echeconnee located west of Macon.   Due to a fire in the kitchen, the first week of camp was postponed and my camp ended up being the first camp held there.  It wasn’t anything like it is today.  In camp standards – we roughed it.  ?During that week, someone thought it would be a good idea for us to go on a hike and when we returned several campers had chiggers.  I’m itching again just thinking about that.

I continued attending camp until I left for the United States Air Force in 1982.  When I returned to Georgia in 1985, I tried my effort at being a cabin counselor.  I can tell you that was a whole different experience.  It was a lot of work but it was also very rewarding too.

If you look back through photos or old camp annuals you probably will find little evidence prove that I attended since I wasn’t one of the popular ones at camp.  The popular ones got the most of the attention of the photographers.   I was always an introvert so it really didn’t matter to me.  I just wanted to keep from looking stupid most of the time.

camp2As you would think with a church camp, it was about church obviously.  We had church services every night.  During my days, we knew a lot about revivals and having church every night.  That was nothing new.  We were also a Pentecostal group so you know we had some wild times and there are some stories I could tell you.  One thing I look back and laugh about was during that first camp, we had our church service under a picnic pavilion.  A group of guys were “in the spirit” and running around the outside of the pavilion.  When me and another kid decided to join them the guy in front stopped and looked at us and said, “You guys are only running around because we are.”   He seemed to be put off that we were joining them.  I laugh about that now.

Some other unique things about youth camp in those days were that they would not allow us to wear shorts or anything “worldly”.  Girls were allowed to wear pants but encouraged to wear dresses to church services every night.   We also had separate times for swimming at the camp swimming pool.  Boys and Girls could not swim together.  It was considered “mixed bathing” and a no-no in our church rules.

Yes, there was a lot of church but we had fun too.  Aside from the chigger incident, we got to have lots of recreation time.  Honestly, that was probably my favorite time.  I loved playing basketball although I wasn’t any good at it.  Another favorite was what they called “Killer Ball” (Yes, at a church camp no less) but it was just a variation of Dodgeball.

We had a schedule that included devotions, singing, Bible classes and other classes like learning how to do CPR.  Church camp was the first place I learned how to do CPR.  We also had fun time which would be anything fun for the campers like water gun fights, group games, field day type activities.

On the Friday night of camp it was a tradition to have a camp banquet where it was a non-spoken thing that guys would ask a girl to the banquet and sit together although any signs of affection were totally prohibited.   I attended many, many camps where guys were just thinking they were all that and, of course, had their pick of who to ask.  Me?  Yeah, right.  Mr. Introverted, All-Dressed-Up-And-No-Place-To-Go guy?  Oh I tried but I crashed and burned in my attempts to secure a “date” to the banquet during the entirety of my camp career.  Now I look back and see how overrated all that was.  We were just going to the same cafeteria to sit together and eat a fancied up meal and see who were going to get various awards that the camp gave out.

Speaking of the meals…..let me tell you the meals were always good.  I can’t remember ever complaining about the meals at camp.  The cooks there were awesome.

Camp was probably one of the first places I learned about how to budget.  In those days we bought a “snack shack” card which we used throughout the week for sodas, candy and other snacks.  Workers would punch the card for what you would purchase.  I had to manage my card so that I wouldn’t run out before the end of the week.  Somehow I seemed to manage okay in those ancient days before debit/credit cards.

Let me say that most of the time, kids were WILD.  I guess from all the Pentecostalism at home in their local churches they cut loose at camp.  Forget about getting much sleep because there were all kinds of activities after lights out.  You learned to sleep with one eye open.  If not,  your bunk would end up in the shower or shaving cream would mysteriously appear on your face.

A successful camp for camp directors would be how many kids got saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.   It was a good camp if everyone got some or all of those check marks.  Counselors in the early days would brag about how many kids in their cabin were saved.

I have to say that I will never forget some of the amazing people that I got to know at church camp.  Yes we had some of that strange Pentecostal thing going but aside from that craziness, there were some good people and experiences mixed in the madness.  No, I never attempted to run about the building again and I never got the hang of speaking in tongues but I did get some good foundation in spite of those things.   When you get older you just sort through all of that and find the good from it.

Camp is a lot different now.  There are no rules against wearing shorts.  There is air conditioning.  The chapel has carpet and padded seats.   The gym doesn’t double as the chapel now with metal chairs.   I wonder how they handle the whole issue of social media and kids having their smart phones now.  I am sure it is a challenge for workers now.  It was always a unique experience to disconnect from the real world for a week.

Several of my camp friends have become pastors, teachers and careers in the church.  I keep in touch with many of them through social media.  We always think back to those days when the summer arrives each year.

Yes, we got a lot of God during that week but there is nothing wrong with that.

Working As To The Lord When Your Boss Is Dung

Most of us have to work to pay the bills.  In doing so, we often have to work for bosses who are either difficult or haven’t a clue on how to be a boss.

When I read what the Bible says about working in Colossians 3:23 I can’t help but to laugh.  Here’s what it says:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”

So this basically says we are supposed to work our jobs as if we are working for the Lord.

Ummm…dear God…have you met my boss?

Throughout my long career I have worked for many bosses.  Some good and some bad.  The worst was one that was in a different mood every day.  You never knew what mood she would be in.  She would tell you one thing then fuss you out later for doing the thing that she told you to do.  That kind of boss really stresses you out more than the job itself.
So how can you “work unto the Lord” when your boss is a pile of dung?

Let me start by stating the obvious – it isn’t easy.  First and foremost, you have to control you.  Be consistent regardless of how you are being treated.  Do your job and be good at it.

Have someone you can vent to.  You will need someone to talk to about it.  Preferably not someone you work with because you don’t want to be tempted to gossip or stir up dissension where you work.  Talk to your spouse or best friend.  You need to talk about it if you are going to get through it.

Pray about the situation.  God can change things.  I am a believer in this because it happened with the supervisor I mentioned above.  I prayed that God would either move me or move her.  He moved her.  Just remember if you pray for change that you know what you are praying and that you are willing to accept the change.

It isn’t easy to work for a jerk as a boss.  I know how it is to pray for change and not see it happen right away.  It takes some incredible patience to continue to work for somehow who makes life miserable.  Some people aren’t meant to be a boss over anyone.  The challenge is to keep them from stealing your peace.  The only way you can maintain that peace is to keep your mind and heart in line with God.  If you can’t find a quiet place to pray, take a walk and talk to God about it.  He can calm your frustration over the situation until He makes the change.

I don’t understand why people can’t act right and be decent.  It is in every workplace but it is important to continue to do good even when you are not being treated good.

And if you are the boss, think about how you are treating people who work for you.  Are you treating them as you would like to be treated?  If you were your boss would you like you?  If not, make the changes to do it right and treat people with respect.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine your flesh and blood boss to be the same as the Lord but make the effort and practice patience.  Keep your integrity even if you boss isn’t the example of that.