Tag Archives: spirituality

He Knows My Name

Closer to God

Have you ever watched toddlers and children at play? With all seriousness, they engage their imaginations and become anything their little minds can dream up!  Their minds are little sponges, absorbing information and experiences at an alarming rate.  In fact, by the age of five, their brains are pretty much ninety percent set!  That’s why it is so very important that we instill in these young minds, all that is vitally important; from the basics like what is hot to the touch to their spiritual foundation that God lives in Heaven and made the world and everything in it, that Jesus loves them, to instilling in them the awesome love from their parents.  And don’t underestimate the child’s capacity to understand; for even now, they are interpreting everything they see and hear; perhaps, even what is unseen.

As I look back on my own life, I definitely had a blessed childhood.  We didn’t have all the modern conveniences that most folks already took for granted by then, like running water and an indoor bathroom; if fact, the only running water was the Hocking River that meandered under the black bridge behind our house.   However, we did have clean clothes, good food on the table and there was always an overabundance of love to go around.  And what a playground!  We had the freedom to roam the hills in front of the house, explore the railroad tracks and river behind the house or walk down the dusty gravel road to pay our respects to the neighbors down the way; thus was the enchanted life, living on Robbins Road.

However, when I was around eight years old and in the second grade, my parents purchased a house on Dorr Run Road which was definitely an upgrade from our faded clapboard house, having both running water AND indoor facilities.  By then, it was only the three youngest children out of six that moved with our parents into the two bedroom house.  Dad built a partition in the largest bedroom to separate the “boys” from our sister; the only problem was that the new room was only about four foot wide and could only hold a set of bunk beds and one dresser!  Being the youngest, I had no choice but to take the lower bunk and privacy meant tucking a sheet under the top bunk mattress and draping it over the entrance to the lower bunk.  The one and a half lane road was definitely more populated than the old one with a sprinkling of houses on either side and made complete with a new cast of characters to get to know.

Once again, the area was full of exploration possibilities; from hills and creeks, to strip pits and slag piles, our local “playground” was a child’s dream and a mama’s nightmare.  This is where I learned how thick the creek ice should be to hold my body weight, discovered that baby copperheads could actually swim, that a sulfur creek can turn your underwear orange.  I learned that the much cleaner creek water was upstream from the little creek that spewed raw sewage, that if you wanted to slide down loose sandstone on your backside, you better make sure there weren’t objects sticking up out of the ground first.  This was also the place where I first sensed God’s presence…

I was about nine years old and on one of my “explorations”.  Mom didn’t really seem to care where we were or what we were doing outside as long as we came home for meals and before dark, which varied as Mother Nature changed out one season for the next.  I was climbing up a hill behind John Stufflebean’s property, walking through a stand of tall majestic old growth trees toward the top of a ridge.  It was late spring and the sun was streaming through the trees, illuminating the forest floor below.  As I stood there, absorbing the warmth that the sunrays provided on my face, I felt a presence; not the feeling you get when it seems as if someone is watching you.  No, it was an acute awareness that I was fully known and at the same time, totally loved, enveloped in a peaceful embrace.  There was no audible voice, no angel brushing up against me, no burning bush in front of me; just my soul reaffirming what it already knew.  God was in fact, the almighty Creator and I, his beloved creation.  It was virtually impossible to explain this then and even difficult now, but it happened.

It wasn’t long until the feeling passed and I went on with my life, knowing in my heart with certainty that God was real; He indeed did actually exist and loved me explicitly!  Until recently, I told no one about my experience; instead, I nestled that moment into the recesses of my mind, like a cherished treasure that needed to be protected.  Who would actually believe this tall tale from a nine year old anyway?!  So, life went on and I grew and became a young man who wasn’t necessarily bad but felt lost and knew there was something lacking in my life.  I knew from years of going to Sunday School and infrequently attending church services that I was indeed a sinner and needed to surrender my life to Jesus as my Savior in order to be made complete as God had intended.  I knew that God loved me but that just wasn’t enough; I had to be spiritually restored as his child through His gift of salvation, Jesus Christ.

So, on an evening in May, 1978, at the age of twenty, I attended a revival service with a friend of mine at my home church in Nelsonville Ohio; The First Church of the Nazarene on Adams St.  I don’t remember who spoke or much of anything else that evening except for the relentless tug by the Holy Spirit on my miserable convicted heart.  I went forward to the altar and prayed a pleading prayer of forgiveness; feeling a hand on my shoulder and uttering a supportive prayer was Max Pitts, a longtime member of the church.  I got up and went back to the pew where I had planted myself several moments before but something definitely had changed!  I felt the same but brand new; the colors seemed brighter, the sounds seemed crisper and I felt like laughing and crying at the same time.  After the service, I literally levitated to my car, the lightness of my heart carrying me up the hill.

Once I got home, I immediately told my mom what had happened; she had a pensive, if not, sad expression on her face as she tried to gently tell me that the life I had chosen was a hard one and there would be sacrifices.  I knew that mom was reflecting back on her own life and past, when she accepted Christ and subsequently faced the alienation of family and friends as a result; the constant struggles between her desire to be faithful to God and at the same time, enduring spiritual battles within her own home.  Mom eventually backed off her church responsibilities before I came into this world so I didn’t get to experience that side of mom.  I just know that peering back in hindsight, she was right; I did experience some rejection.  Some friends and family members didn’t know quite what to think of this new Steve or how to interact with me; some chose just not to interact at all anymore.  But I knew in my heart and soul that I was now what I was always meant to be; in a completely restored relationship with my Lord and my God.

Several years have passed and I’m still holding true to my faith in God and cherishing my relationship with Jesus.  It hasn’t been an easy road; there have been many temptations, bad attitudes and blatant sin that had to be dealt with all along this journey, but it has absolutely been worth the trials to experience the joy and peace that sustains me even now.  For the God that knew my name before I was a “sparkle in my father’s eye” as they say, is the same God that met me on the hilltop so many years ago and strengthens me yet today.  So my advice, as time and experience has taught me through the different seasons of my life; if your child comes to you some day with a story that seems farfetched or unbelievable, just listen intently to them, hold them close and pray for wisdom and discernment.  For you never know if/when they might encounter the Eternal in THEIR everyday; for He knows their name as well.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you. 

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24

Restoration Day–An Easter Story

Praise

It’s finally spring once again; a time of rebirth and the hope of warmer days ahead. It’s a time when new life bursts forth from the cool damp ground or from the branches of once dormant blossoming beauties. Pollen aside, I love to take in all the newness that envelops our world, transforming our once gray world into a kaleidoscope of colors. Truly, hope blooms alongside the tulips and daffodils, the azaleas and the forsythias! For it reminds us that once, we were wondering around in the icy grips of winter, where there was more darkness than light, where optimism seemed to be swept away by the frigid cold winds of despair. And then one day, the sun came out and restoration began…

I have a confession to make; I’m kind of in to restoration and the shows that are offered on cable, whether it be the popular This Old House reruns or more current shows dealing with taking something old, be it an old Victorian house or an antique gramophone, and restoring it back to its’ former glory. I must look plain silly, sitting there in my recliner, mouth partially gaping open as I’m completely transfixed by these craftsmen who take an old unwanted house and start peeling back the layers, each dusty layer representing one or more decades until they finally uncover the original foundation and floors, the beauty that once was, yearning to be rediscovered once again. Then with painstaking efforts and unique God given talents, these craftsmen begin to restore, brick by brick, wall by wall, the decrepit house into the way it was originally meant to be when it was erected by the builder so long ago.

Did you know that God is in the restoration business as well? What do you think Easter is all about? I know most of you know or even have John 3:16 memorized: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. But what about John 3:17? For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. I’ve always thought that hope was born on Christmas Day, and I still do. For Jesus entered this world, our world, at a very dark time; God knew we needed a Savior because we needed to be saved from ourselves and our sinfulness. And so Jesus began his ministry, recruiting his disciples, simple humans like you and me, ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the least of these; the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, the downtrodden. Jesus obeyed his Father’s will, up to and including death. They treated Jesus like a common criminal and hung him on a roughhewn wooden cross to die a horrific death and then, to be forgotten. Those who loved him, took his body and laid it in a borrowed tomb. The Romans sealed that tomb and placed soldiers to keep watch, lest his followers attempted to take the body and make unfounded claims. Jesus’ disciples scattered across the winds. While the Romans breathed a deep sigh of relief and the Sanhedrin was doing a happy dance, triumphantly giving each other “high fives” over Jesus’ death, for the bereaved followers of Christ, hope was also sealed in the tomb. And then Sunday came…

And the stone was rolled away, and Christ arose, and everything changed for humanity, and HOPE was restored; for it was Resurrection Day, but I would like to call it Restoration Day; let me explain.

Luke 19:9-10 reflects Jesus coming to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus was a despised man; a tax collector who, because of his diminutive size, had to shimmy up a tree to even see Jesus entering Jericho. Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus that no one else could see; a soul in need of restoration. That’s what Jesus sees in all of us; potential and a need for renewal. All we need to do is trust Him enough to let Him; to ask forgiveness for our sins, our wrong doings, and our bad attitudes, to surrender to the fact that we, indeed, are nothing more than a shabby, neglected and worn down bungalow in desperate need of restoration. And Jesus will do just that! (He IS a carpenter you know…) He’ll strip out the walls of deceit, strip the floors of shame and tear out every unnecessary piece of worn out despair until He lays you bare, to your very foundation on which He can build what you were intended to be all along; to be a child of God and obedient to do His will, not your own, to live with Him forever. 2 Corinthians 5:17   Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!

And so here we are, in the present and in the presence of a mortal enemy we call the Coronavirus or COVID19. It’s a virus that has crossed over every continent; across the borders of countries, oceans, neighborhoods, and not unlike Satan himself, is relentless and does not discriminate in its’ victims, despite their color, creed or socioeconomic status. This sinister nemesis has filled humankind with a paralyzing fear and has stripped away our false sense of security we once held on to so tightly, as if it was nothing more than vapor in the wind. Everything mankind has held in importance for so long, whether it be wealth, material possessions, entertainment, social activities or even food consumption seems to be threatened.

But there is still hope! Maybe this is just the wakeup call our world needs today; to help us strip the unnecessary and reset our priorities! Perhaps this is the largest restoration project this world has ever seen since Noah’s time! Nevertheless, it’s time we reevaluate our lives and allow our lives to be stripped of whatever is of little value, until we stand before God, our souls laid bare and ready to be fully restored! Are you prepared to have YOUR own Restoration Day?

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Entering the New Year With Hope

Someone once stated, “Men plan, God laughs” and looking back at your previous year, perhaps you can relate!  My wife and I sure have had our share of trials at times these past few years; a couple of those trials even followed us into the following New Year.  And while some folks are busily jotting down their New Year’s resolutions and planning every week for the next year, others are facing the upcoming new year AND new decade with the “same stuff, different year” philosophy.  But just for an instant, a brief moment in time, if you look at your new calendar just right, you’ll see it; a blank slate, an empty page, a blossoming hope for better days ahead.

Sure, I’ve been one of those resolution driven individuals who would charge into the New Year touting remarks like, “I will strive to eat better” or “I will endeavor to exercise more consistently and get in better shape” or even “I will attempt to be the best version of myself”…whatever that means? Without some thought, planning and preparation, many jump into these resolutions and burn themselves out after only a couple of weeks.  I’ve touted the first two “resolutions” and reflected below is a sampling of my personal experiences.

A few years (or so) ago, my wife and I joined Weight Watchers to shed some weight and generally feel better.  I was doing pretty well, getting into the groove of eating certain foods that was considered healthy and, being a creature of habit, ate these same foods on a regular basis.  On one occasion at our WW group meeting, I had a particularly good weight loss week, and so I was encouraged to share what I had been doing.  Being rather proud of myself and that week’s accomplishments, I proceeded to share with the group what I routinely ate for breakfast.  There were audible gasps throughout the group and I thought the one lady in the third row was going to pass out right there; it seems what I thought was normal and healthy for me had exceeded 98% of the group member’s point total for half the day!  “You must have great metabolism” they said…whatever…

The other activity I would dabble in at times was exercise.  As those of you who know me can attest, I’m not exactly the poster child for Mr. Olympia.  However, exercise is the catalyst that helps me lose weight and keeps my health in check.  I remember one particular early morning, dragging my carcass into the local YMCA to work out before work.  I always began my morning routine warming up, most of the time on the Elliptical machine.  As luck would have it that morning, the only machine open was beside the most perfect specimen of a human being.  I’m pretty sure that he turned his machine on the “MEGA MACHO” setting for his sixty minutes of pure bliss, complete with a dumb bell in one hand, a power drink in the other, while pouring over a book in front of him.  If he did sweat, I’m sure the one drop that dribbled down the side of his head smelled like Irish Spring.  I, on the other hand, turned my machine on the desired setting of “NINJA TURTLE”.  After five minutes on the machine, I appeared to have just completed an ice bucket challenge, for sweat was pouring from every pore.  I swear I was getting stares like, “you ARE going to clean that area up, aren’t you?”…yeah, whatever…

Many times in our lives, we are railroaded into believing a misplaced opinion or criticism and it, well, gets us off track from meeting our goals, resolutions and/or dreams until they are never realized; they never come to fruition.  We have to be determined to focus on the prize before us, to block out all outside negative influences if we want to see our hopes and dreams become a certainty.  But here’s another train of thought; what if your goal/dream/hope was only a selfish want that should never have been realized anyway?  What if that goal you’re spending so much time and energy attempting to birth is out of line with your needs or the needs of your family; more importantly, what if it’s directly out of line with God’s will for your life?

The hymnist, William Mote, penned the first few lines of his beloved hymn, The Solid Rock, which reflects how we must align our hopes, dreams and goals. “My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”  Once our hopes are based on God’s will and not our own, the future becomes so much brighter and a lot less scary.  For if we truly believe everything we see, hear and read in the media, social media and print, from impeachment proceedings to rampant crime statistics, hope would scarcely be found.  It’s only when we completely rely on God’s will for our lives, does our future shine with the brilliant hope of tomorrow and eternity; for even death itself doesn’t have the fatal sting when we are one of His own.  Romans 8:23-25 states, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  Yep, we can hold on to the hope of something greater one day; but for now, we have to be patient AND obedient to the will of our loving Heavenly Father.

Just one more thing to consider; we all go through different seasons in our lives.  Just as storms come and go, even though the storm may be severe at the time, they eventually blow over and the sun shines once more.  So it is with the situation you currently face; God may not remove the storm clouds from your life, but he’s definitely there beside you to walk with you through the storm.  What a comforting thought that reinforces our hope for tomorrow as we step into a new year AND a new decade!So, what does your new year look like?  Are you already frazzled from all the upcoming self-proclaimed goals, resolutions and deadlines you have laid out for yourself or are you going to listen and act based on God’s will for your life?  My goal for this next year is to strive to nestle closer to the One who knows me best and loves me most.  And perhaps my hope is to dismantle this annex I’ve built over time on to God’s temple; I know that is my physician’s hope as well…

Jennifer’s Ashes

Today marks the end of the Thought of the Day.  One year ago today, I started to post these on my blog post. These “Thought of the Day” statements were created for my sister, Jennifer, to attempt to temporarily get her mind off of her daily struggle with stage four melanoma; I would call and leave them on her answering machine or text them to her.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these thoughts as I have felt these were God inspired and it was my privilege to be the presenter of God’s “thought provokers”.  Reflected below is a final tribute I wrote for my sister, Jennifer…may God richly bless your lives and may you truly appreciate every heartbeat of life…

 

Jennifers headstone 2

 

Jennifer’s Ashes

Gone are the happy go lucky days

Where days went on forever and forever we played,

When I had your back and you had mine

We were just siblings, but how our lives intertwined.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Wishing I could somehow turn back time,

Back to when you were healthy and happy

Back to the days when laughter chimed.

 

You taught me to drive and I pulled you through hell

From the torture of Algebra, we worked through it well,

I must confess, I teased you too much

But you got me back with your screams and your pouts.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Wishing I could be anywhere else,

My head knows you’re gone but my heart’s in denial

Time heals all wounds but I still have an aching pulse.

 

We both grew up and became adults

We both had families and bills and the lot,

And even though we didn’t see each other very often

We made up for it, on the phone or in person.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Hating myself for the guilt I feel,

For I’m still alive being healthy and happy

And your life is over, a life gone too soon.

 

Standing here on your birthday, May 23rd

Barely listening to the Pastor, his words scarcely heard,

For my mind continues to wander and I kind of worry

That this date will be forever stamped with a bittersweet memory.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

I’d rather be celebrating with you still alive,

You often stated that your birthdate meant time for spring planting

But none of us knew just how your words would now be implied.

 

I know your soul rejoices for where you reside now

Among the angels and the Son of God,

Please be patient with me big little sister

As I try to cope with placing your remains beneath the sod.

 

And now I’m leaving behind Jennifer’s ashes

Moving ahead with the rest of my life,

Yearning for the day when I once again get to see her

Where the heavenly realms is flooded by God’s Holy light.

Jennifer 1958 2

Thought of the Day–5/20/18

Thought of the Day—    Gift of God, freely given

Receiving mercy

Accepting Christ as savior

Christ centered life

Experiencing unmerited favor

Thought of the Day–5/13/18

Thought of the Day—If you want to attempt to fathom God’s great love for us, first study the great unselfish love of a mother for her children…

Thought of the Day–5/4/18

Thought of the Day—God wants to clear away all the unnecessary clutter in our lives so we can concentrate on what is really important in life; serving Him.  Just resist the temptation to start dumpster diving after what was just slam dunked into the old dumpster…