Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review: Did We Meet Expectations?

Hey gang!

Today’s the last day of 2009 and it is time to take a look back at the past year. With every year, there is change. 2009 is no different.

On a personal level, I failed on two of my biggest challenges. The first was losing weight. I started out the year at 235. I had just received my first insulin pump and in the adjustment, was already gaining. Unfortunately, that trend continued for a while. By the middle of the year, I was busting out the seams at over 275.

However, by June, I was getting adjusted at least in the level of insulin I was taking daily. There were points early in the year that I was approaching taking a full vial of 300 units daily. Since June, I’ve steadily come down. I am under 200 units per day on most days, but if I have three full meals, I’m still teetering over. I have dropped off about five pounds since early November. I also saw my first pump die a beeping death at church a few weeks back. I have a new one that works though, so it’s all good. Thank the good Lord for insurance.

My other big goal of failure was reading through the Bible this year. I made it through most of the Old Testament before the world got really crazy in October. Thankfully, with just the OT, I have learned so much. God blessed me for a valid attempt beyond what I could ever hope for. For 2010, I guess reading those four minor prophets and the New Testament are on the list for things to do.

The ministry, One Man Revival, has been a major success. At least to me. I remember teaching at Bible Baptist many years back and I always commented then that when I teach that I seem to learn as much as most people. That hasn’t changed this year. Again, I thank God for allowing me understanding to learn.

I really think the ministry grew over the year. In January, I was barely getting time to write and looking back, most of the material from that time period was encouraging, but didn’t carry a lot of depth. The family vacation and spending time with Christians who love me in Florida in March helped me focus and began building great things.

With April came selected days of material. Mondays became dedicated and will be again in 2010 to marriages and parenting, called Marriage Mondays. The material on that day helped me and many others focus on their spouses and children. Wisdom Wednesdays focused mostly on the words of Solomon, with a few weeks of Mike Murdock’s 101 Wisdom Keys. Yes, we still have a few chapters of Ecclesiastes to look at in January.

In June, I tackled the first big series of the year on forgiveness. This might have been the best writing overall all year. I have personally struggled with forgiveness in the past and it ministered to me almost as much as it did to the many letters from people I received. It was true encouragement that told me that I am listening to God on some great messages.

July and August were two fantastic months of working with The Bible in 90 Days. As I said earlier, I got through most of the Old Testament. I have left the work on its own webpage and many people have been blessed by it. Even in failure, God used that work to help people grow closer to God.

By September, not only was I receiving some great books to review from Karen Power, but got asked to write about Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith and then got a new group, Kathy Carlton Willis Communications, sending me some books to review. I’d like to take this time to thank all the authors who have allowed me to read their work and share words from them and review their works. Right now, I don’t aspire to write a book, but they inspire me to keep sharing truth and have written some really cool works expressing some even more awesome ideas.

October might have been a month of challenge with worrying about my wife. She had a couple nodules that turned out to be no big deal. I’m very grateful for that, since I would like to keep her around for a little longer than the seven years we’ve celebrated so far. But during that time, I slowed down and came back in November feeling like I was dropping the ball. Since then, there has been a lot going on.

In December, I started a series on spiritual gifts and thus far, we’ve completed six parts of what will end up taking through January to finish. God has made me feel OK about this though. I am taking my time to make sure that this is a thorough look at the gifts God wants you to have.

Another concern I had in 2009 has still been a struggle at times. Even though the social website Facebook has been a great connection to bring One Man Revival to those of you that are reading it, there is still that tendency to waste time there. I find myself staring at status updates a tad too often at times. Thankfully, I have kept the promise of not getting involved in all the games that they provide.

I don’t think time wasting has been such a problem as overloading my schedule. I think by year’s end, I found myself tackling too many tasks. One of the sad things that will happen in the opening days of 2010 is scaling back on some of the work I’ve been doing outside of One Man Revival. I’ll talk more about this with some of the new goals for 2010 that I’ll cover tomorrow. With a new year comes new goals.

The one great area that I am proud of with One Man Revival is how the ministry has changed from being strictly about encouragement into a ministry of discipleship. As much as I have taught myself, it has been a true blessing to hear from you, over 375 letters worth in 2009, telling me of what you have learned in reading the OMR website. It has blessed my soul to know that this ministry is meeting that challenge that God has put before me.

Just last night, the website went over 7500 page views in 2009. While numbers aren’t always important, it tells me that on average about 20 of you are taking a look each day at the website. Now, I know that some days are better than others. This month has been the best month of the year with over 1300 views. Of course, we’ve had more writings this month to look at. I hope to keep that pace up in the new year.

Tomorrow, we will talk about 2010, the hopes and goals of One Man Revival Ministries. I will also share a few more best of 2009 writings tomorrow and this weekend. On Monday, we are getting back into the spiritual gift series. I am hopeful that the schedule will be more accurate in 2010. There are plans for certain series already in place. Again, I’ll talk about those tomorrow.

Finally, I want to take time out again to thank each and every one of you that take your time to read the words that God gives me. Without you, I’m just talking to myself. Granted, I need to learn what God has for me each day, but you give me hope that I’m not the only one hungering for God’s word and grace to be upon us. You guys are great and I love each and every one of you!

Thanks for everything in 2009 and here’s hope that 2010 is the year of revival, not just for one man, but where the lost can be found! Happy New Year’s Eve and be safe tonight!

I love you guys!

Best of 2009: Books Impact Our Lives: My Look at Cecil Murphey's When God Turned Out the Lights

Hey gang!

Many of my favorite articles came from reading books this year. I could list dozens of books that impacted my life in 2009. Thanks to two groups of individuals, Christian Speaker Services, my contact person being Karen Power, and Kathy Carlton Willis Communications, I was able to get my hands on some great books this year that didn't cost me anything. I also got Mitch Albom's book, Have a Little Faith from my friend Colby. But thanks to these great people, I was also able to let you have a look at many great books.

My impact book of the year though, had to be Cecil Murphey's When God Turned Out the Lights. God used his book to help me look at myself. This article talks about some of the beautiful things I learned and was able to share with you.

From October 17, 2009

I know it is Saturday night and I had promised Friday to share my thoughts, but things happen. They were major life-altering events, but they were events I needed. Friday morning, I shared movie time with my son as his younger sister talked to her speech therapist. Then, we picked up older sister and shared McDonald’s. We laughed and had a good time. Then I got phone calls on Friday afternoon from voices I needed to hear. They were voices of encouragement that prepared me for a hard night.

Today has been a good day. I spent the morning with the kids while my wife went to a women’s conference at our church to refresh her in the storm of life. She came home this afternoon relaxed, blessed by going. After having dinner together, she pulled the kids aside and then to bed so that I had time to read the final 20 pages and write this commentary.

I can say honestly that the last two weeks of my life were as lifted by Cecil Murphey’s book as I thought they would be. While it seemed like my power was going out, Kathy Carlton Willis sent off this book to me that I had no idea how much would touch my life. There were many lessons I learned from the book, but I’ll be pastoral and break down into just three overall themes that Cec took me through to bring a bigger smile to my face and hopefully the spark back to continue pursuing what God has given me.

First, as I told you a few weeks back, I received Cecil Murphey’s When God Turned Out the Lights and I seriously thought it was about churches that lost membership, God’s spirit, and ended up closing their doors. As I read the first chapter or two, I found out more that it was the Temple of Frank that was truly struggling.

The first point I’d like to make is that we get that wakeup call. God lets us travel for a while thinking we are still right where we need to be. We think the motions are going great and things are thriving. We’re making differences in peoples’ lives and it looks like we are growing by leaps and bounds. However, the real truth is that we often get on autopilot, miss the simple remarks God is trying to make to us and end up missing the mark.

For Cecil, it was driving home in a thunderstorm near his home. For me, it was realizing that I was so busy doing The Bible in 90 Days, daily columns, church events, men’s groups, keeping a house with three children and trying to keep my wife happy was exhausting. I found myself hitting the bed dead. Most nights I had stopped praying to God about the day and when I did pray, I was so wiped out that I fell asleep midway through. It’s awful hard to hear the thoughts of God through my snoring. If you don’t believe me, ask around.

During that same time, I began listening to people. You know, people I thought had arrived. My pastors, Christians who seem to never sin, advisory people that I have mega respect for. All of them seemed to be saying the same thing to me this summer. “Hey Frank, what’s God telling you lately?” As a minister writing columns several times a week, I can’t just say that I am winging it, going by what I feel God is sharing.

The people I considered smarter and wiser than me (surprisingly, they don’t mean the same thing), were telling me that if I’m not hearing from God, then something is wrong. I fell into a trap mentally. It was like I began to think that those who I had been working with and being close to were saying without saying that I was not as spiritual as they were. It’s not true and the theory is faulty and that was what a decent sized portion of the early parts of Cecil’s book showed me.

It was as if I wasn’t hearing that “still, small voice” God speaks in and that made me faulty. There are times in my life, and I’m sure in yours as well, that you meet people who say it like they are hanging out with JC & the 12 Disciples daily that, “God spoke to me this morning. He said…” I used to hate those people, bad. I’ll make a confession here. In the 15 plus years of me being a Christian, I have never, ever heard the “voice” of God “speak” to me. God has never spoken to me like he talked to Moses in The Ten Commandments. No Burning Bush for me. You either? Yeah. You know what I’m saying.

But Cec made many references to other people talking to him with wisdom and God’s Word jumping off the page at him. He talked about running in the early morning hours, looking at something and just knowing, a feeling in the gut, that God had spoken that day. Reading that section gave me such a peace. I’ve always listened to people when they tell me that God has a “word” for me. I realized while reading this that I’ve developed a good spirit of discernment thanks to a theory I take into account when the “word” is spoken. First, how deep of a walk does that person have with the Lord. Secondly, how much does this person care about me when he is speaking. The second one is often tougher than the first and is not as hard and fast a rule. There are people that have no love for me that can speak a word and I know, at least in respect, that they have a solid walk.

Anyhow, the other good thing was Cec showing me how much the Word of God has spoken to him. While doing The Bible in 90 Days, I have learned so much about what God’s Word says, really says. And it has grown me. Since starting, I’m almost back to being able to quote chapter and verse at times. I was getting great at that because I studied so much at Bible Baptist in 2001-02, but I got lazy and read sparingly from 2004-2007. I’ll talk about that time a little more later.

The video I chose at the top of today’s column is from KJ-52, called Dear God, and it discusses the feeling I had during the past several months. The last four lines of the first stanza and the chorus spoke to how I felt.

Do you listen when I’m calling you?
Is it really true that I can just walk with you
I know you might be really busy now with all you do
But I really need to talk to you

Dear God I was wondering if you really hear me
Dear God could you speak clearly
Dear God could you come near me
Dear God

I had felt so inadequate through the comments of people not intentionally trying to be critics, I began to doubt myself and my connection to the real One True God.

While in this doubt period, I began looking inside myself. Was there something wrong with me through this? Beginning with Chapter 11 in the book, Cec begins to talk about secret sins that cause pastors and other well-intended Christians to fall. I kept remembering those days in the beginning of being a teacher to junior high and high school students at church that I kept telling the teen pastor I was working with that I didn’t want to fall like those people.

I know all of us have our struggles, but I didn’t want to be a statistic, for two reasons. First, all my non-Christian friends and skeptics everywhere would be able to point the finger at me and go, “You fell. That Christian stuff didn’t work for you, now did it?” But the second reason was far more serious to me personally.

The book of James’ third chapter begins with this: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that you will be judged more strictly.” However, if that didn’t scare me enough, these two verses in Matthew kept me up at night and still do when I am teaching a complicated message. Matthew 18:6-7 says, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.”

That can be downright terrifying to think about. Sometimes I wish I and my classmates for the regular teaching world would have heard those verses. But as I taught Sunday school and even to these lessons today, I take those verses gravely serious. But I don’t think that great teaching ends with on-field performance. Your private life means something.

That means I have to look through my life with a microscope. I make jokes occasionally about how I wasn’t always a Christian and that I wasn’t always a good boy. However, I don’t ever want people to take for granted that things I did before or even after I became a Christian are OK. Just wash them under the blood. It’ll be OK. It’s not quite that easy. Yes, Jesus does wash the sins away, but we have to be careful how we talk about those sins. We don’t want people to look at us and go, “Hey, so and so lived through the sin and has forgiveness, so we can do the same and get forgiveness later.” Our actions need to stand with our words.

An area I talk openly about this is premarital sex. I did it and I can say that I wish I had waited. My lone regret in the large scheme of things is that waiting would have given one more great surprise to be had on the wedding night. Also, if some of my teens found out about it, I didn’t and still don’t want it to be a green light for them.

But largely, as a teacher of God after eight years, I can say that Cec’s big point in this section for me was the sins that because of my own blindness, complacency or lack of thought are the ones I commit and don’t even realize. I’ll give a couple of examples. I really try to stay cool behind the wheel and I admit, it is easier here in Effingham than it ever was in Orlando or Atlanta. But occasionally, I let a word fly or give a gesture, and let’s just say that it isn’t a blessing to people. I need to ask forgiveness for that sin. Not just for the momentary sin, but also an attitude that can set in if momentary sin is ignored. All of us have bad days, but bad days can turn into bad years if we are not careful.

I also thought about addictions in this example. There are some people who suffer from serious addictions and can’t seem to break free. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, sex, or even food, addictions can build in patterns and be in us before we even realize it. I hate to admit that I have been kind of like Oprah Winfrey for the past twenty years with my weight. There seems to be the model from 1994-1999, the 2000-2002 model and so on. I’m currently on a fat cycle.

We can be taken over by an addiction. In Chapter 20, Cec talks about how many church people tell us to give all this over to Jesus. We do need to and I never want to make light of that. However, those giving the advice need to remember that it is not always easy to do so. But if you go and reread Chapter 19, there is some great advice for prayer. He tells us to pray to “Heal the parts of me that don’t want to be healed.”

When we pray for this healing, we can’t do it lightly. In the case of the food-aholic, you don’t pray, “Lord, heal the Hostess Ho Ho on the way in so that it won’t hurt me”, but pray more of a fix to the attitude of the mind, a desire to get off the derriere to exercise and so on. God doesn’t want half-hearted Christians. Ladies, don’t pray for a Boaz, then settle for a Bozo. If you want a God-fearing man that you don’t want to bend the scripture, then don’t settle for a man that outright turns scripture into a balloon horsey.

The last four chapters of the book provide the solution to this darkness, but they aren’t easy. We have to surrender, really surrender. I knew of this lady at the church I was at after I got saved back in 1994. She went to the altar every Sunday for what seemed like forever. I remember as a baby Christian and as somewhat of a skeptic of her being legit with God that I scoffed at her. It took many years for her to go through her darkness. The concept I didn’t understand, Cec explained to me in a story from a man named Claude Puhl in Chapter 20. She was bombarding heaven with her constant prayer. I can’t say she was being phony about it, but she was constantly in prayer each Sunday for that healing. Only God truly knows the woman’s sincerity.

We have to get to a point in our surrender where one other thing happens though. We have to truly hand it over to God and even if we don’t receive the answer we are seeking, we have to become willing to do as Jesus did at Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done.” How hard is it? Tremendously. In the book, Cec shares a story of accepting the price of God’s will, when it came to writing for his own credit. I admit, I struggle almost as bad, if not worse. Sure, I’d love to be famous, but I want to be obedient first. Some days are harder than others. I still have a bad habit of looking at page reads on the website and basing my success on how many there were. In truth, I could have a 1,000 readers not be touched and what I do is for naught. But if one of you gives your life to Christ or deepens your walk, even if you were the only one reading, it would be worth it. I may struggle with that, but God and the angels are celebrating as you do. I want to be where God and the angels are with my happiness, but I’m honest and say to you that I am not always there yet.

Cec’s darkness did end, and for me, I got to see quite a bit of light by the time I came to the end of the book. I’ve told you that I have an accountability team. As I was reading through the book, God began to show me possibilities of where I can go in ministry along with One Man Revival. I shared those visions with these men and we are continuing to pray as to where I am totally supposed to be in that avenue. I do deeply desire to preach and teach. I do get to teach every time I type words on a keyboard. I desire to make a difference wherever God places me. He’s given me a few areas to look at.

If there is anything I can ask you to pray for coming out of the book is that God place me exactly where HE wants me. You can also give praise to Him for showing me that I wasn’t as far in darkness as I thought. However, I do want to thank Cec Murphey for becoming my friend on this journey and giving me a lot of perspective about my life. It’s a book I can personally recommend to you if you are in the desert or the darkness and are wanting to seek God to begin finding your way out.

I also want to thank Kathy Carlton Willis for taking a chance on a website that isn’t quite in the numbers department where a lot of publishers would like bloggers involved in blog tours to be. This book reached me where I was and was delivered at exactly the right time.

I love you guys!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009: Forgiveness Series: How Hard Is It To Forgive Ourselves

Hey gang!

This is the other part of the forgiveness series that impacted people. I received several emails between June and now about how this article helped people get past their pain. Hearing these stories was such a blessing to me, making me wonder who got blessed more. It thrills me to hear people feeling encouraged and making Godly, positive moves in their lives. I hope this one blesses again in its second printing.

From June 11, 2009

Over the past couple weeks, we have been talking about forgiveness. We’ve shared a few areas where forgiveness is necessary, that we need to forgive God so he can love and bless us, and that we’ve all been wronged at one time or another. To scope out the rest of the series for you, because some of you have asked me where this all leads, we have a few more items in forgiveness to look at. Next week, we’ll be looking at forgiving others, asking for forgiveness and what do we do when we get it, or not.

Today, we are going to look at one story in the Bible to show us that we must forgive ourselves. While it may be easy to forgive others, especially when they love us, it is not so easy to turn that blessing inward. The old saying that we tend to be our own worst critic is true. For some reason, when God made us, we were made with a brain. The mind is like a tape recorder. It records everything, without tape and usually in conditions that are better than hi-def. So when we mess up, we can replay it back in our minds over and over. That is usually what paralyzes people.

I’ve talked about today’s story before and for a clearer picture than what I write, please look at 2 Samuel chapters 11-12. King David is considered one of the legends of the Bible, so much so that he is considered a man after God’s own heart. But David wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. Lots of them. We’re just going to look at one. King David was taking some time off of the battlefield and decided to hang out in his castle and admire all that he had. He went upon his rooftop to look around and saw a woman taking a bath. Instead of turning his head, he kept looking. He thought she was beautiful. So he sent a messenger to find out about her and found out that she was the wife of one of his top generals. He sent for her anyway and slept with her. You might ask, we’ll she should’ve protested. She didn’t have to do the act. I’ll make two comments to that. The Bible never says that she didn’t protest. She probably did. However, think for a moment that this guy was the king. Ruler of all he surveys. Yes, she sinned, but she was put in that situation by her king.

She ended up pregnant and instead of telling Uriah, David cooked up another scheme. Let’s put him in the front of the battle. Then, have the rest of the men pull back and he’ll be killed. And as Pinky Dinky Doo says, “That’s exactly what happened.” He then took Bathsheba as his own wife and then they had a son. David was happy and thought he had gotten away with it, but as you know, when you sin there are two that know the sin, you and God. God knew what happened and he had to get repentance from David.

So chapter 12 of 2 Samuel begins as Nathan, David’s trusted advisor came to see him. Rather than call David straight out, Nathan uses a parable. The parable upset David and he told Nathan that the person that did such a thing deserved to die. Nathan then shares that the man was David. He tells him the sin that he has committed has displeased God. David was caught and he knew it.

How many times does it happen to us that way? We think we get away with hurting someone and that it will just go away? How many times do we get creative to think of ways to make the situation disappear? We sin first, then try to hide the sin.

The third part of sin are the consequences. We want to avoid these no matter what. Nathan told David the first set of his consequences in verses 10-12. Nathan said that the Lord will never remove the sword from David’s house, meaning that people in his family will die the same way Uriah did. Nathan then reveals that someone before David’s eyes will take his wives and lay with them in broad daylight. What David had done in secret would be done to him in public. Welcome to the National Enquirer, King David.

The fourth part of sin is the repentance. David repented immediately asking God to forgive. Once we’re nailed, we do the same. We ask God to forgive us for messing up. God, whatever I did wrong, I’m sorry.

The fifth part of sin is God’s forgiveness. God forgives David, but Nathan has more bad news. More consequences. In verses 13-14, Nathan says, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” That’s heavy consequences.

The sixth part of sin is pleading with God not to deliver on the consequences. Oh please God, don’t make me have to do this or that. In David’s case, he spent days fasting and praying that God would spare the child. In verse 18, we learn that on the seventh day, the child dies.

The seventh and should be final part of sin is that we face the consequences. The son was not spared. At the end of verse 19, David realizes that his son is dead and he asks his servants to tell him. They do. The consequences have been served.

Verse 20 begins with David immediately washing himself, changing his clothes and going to the house of the Lord to worship. He then went home and ate for the first time in seven days. This confused his servants. They even asked why he fasted and wept as the child was alive and as the child lay dead, he got up and ate. David answered that he was hoping that the Lord would be gracious to spare the child, but once he was dead that there was no changing the mind of God.

This is where we struggle. David understood that the consequences had come. He went and worshipped a God that had been true to his word. David understood that the sin and its consequences were sealed. He worshipped and moved on.

I’m not saying, say a little prayer and forget about your sin. I am saying that David saw the sin and its consequences through. He realized that it was done. We tend to play the sin in our minds and stay in it. We lay on the ground and say, “Well, that’s all I can do. There is no future after this.” That’s the lie Satan wants us to believe with all our hearts.

David continued to reign as king for God. He still did the work that God gave him to do. He ran the country as king. Today, God wants you to get back up. He wants you to say, “Yes, I messed up.” But he also wants you to say, “My God has forgiven me for my sin.” Then he wants you to go back to work. He wants you to continue to strive to be the best Christian you can be. He wants his will to still be imposed and wants you to give everything to him. Let him carry the burden of your sin. Because he already carried it; At Calvary. He died on a cross one time for all sin and it is finished. As he told the woman caught in shame, Go and sin no more. Forgive yourself today. God does not want you to live to your death feeling as though you cannot recover from sin. You can. Let it begin today.

I love you guys!

Best of 2009: Forgiveness series: Can you be mad at God?

Hey gang!

The next two best of 2009 articles are from a really good series on forgiveness. Forgiveness is important in our lives to live out a life that pleases God. This item is the part talking about being mad at God. All of us go through periods of getting upset with God over things. It's OK, but we also have to get through it and get past it. I hope this one impacts you if you are struggling with God.

From June 9, 2009

I thought about saving this part, but I got a couple emails and life takes interesting turns.

Recently, my wife lost a friend. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife works in a very difficult field. She is a radiation therapist at a cancer center. A lot of the people she sees don’t make it. However, there are some triumphs that the staff and the patients have. Some are cured and live long lives. Some go into remission only to have cancer rear its ugly head again later.

This is what happened to my wife’s friend. Even after the cancer came out of remission, the friend kept saying that she would get a miracle and be cured. My wife kept praying that she was right. The friend had hope to the very end.

I never know how each person’s passing will affect my wife. This one hurt. The friend was younger than most patients my wife takes care of. My wife had to admit something. This was unfair and it really made her mad. Mad at God.

On Sunday after service, she confessed to me that her heart wasn’t into it. She was upset that God would take a woman that had such faith and hope for a miracle at such a young age. She could grieve easier over people that had the chance to live a long productive life. But this was different. It wasn’t fair.

Mindy was right. It wasn’t fair. I think of another family I know in the community and their son had been a sinner of great magnitude. He finally straightened up, got his life right, met a nice girl, was living the good life. Then he got sick. He laid in a hospital ready to die. A friend asked me, “He got his life right and was doing what God wanted. It ain’t right. Why now?” The friend later admitted that he was also mad at God over this.

So why is God supposedly so unfair? Why would God take people that were so young? Why would God take people that are trying to live right? I could say the short answer that I hear most of the time. That God is God and God does whatever he wants. While that may or may not be true, I think there is a whole lot more to it than that.

The verse I often get quoted in times like these is Romans 8:28. Let’s look at it. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” So how is God working by taking people like this? Truthfully, I don’t know. Sometimes he works in the people around that person. This other person sees that this person really had gotten their stuff together and seeing that they’ve left early inspires them to get their lives together. Sometimes we never quite figure it out until we meet Jesus on the other side.

But I want you to keep in mind that we are not the only ones who have dealt with the unfairness and have gotten upset with God. The entire book and story of Job show this emotion throughout. If any man in the Bible had a right to gripe, it was Job. God even tells Satan that Job is a blameless man before Satan tests Job. Here’s what Satan did. He had the Sabeans attack and take all his oxen and donkeys then kill all his servants but one. That guy escaped to tell Job what had happened. Then fire fell out of the sky, killing the sheep and all the servants with them, but one. Then, the Chaldeans came in and took his camels and killed all the servants but one. Finally, a mighty wind came in and collapsed the house that his sons and daughters were celebrating in and they were all killed.

Now that was a bad day. Job kept his cool. In verse 22 of chapter one, the Bible even tells us that Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Does that allow us to blame God every time something happens. No, but in verse 21 he also praised God through the trial. Job knew that God was still with him. These verses tell us that we are allowed to wonder what happened and even ask the question if God had a hand, but remember that he is also with us and will bring us through the trial.

Satan wasn’t done with Job. In chapter two, he even gives Job painful sores all over his body. So as Job is sitting among the ashes scratching himself, his wife got involved. She tells him to let go verbally and curse God so he could die. He responded that she was talking as a foolish woman and that we must accept troubles along with the good. I think all of us know people that debate that notion, especially those in the name it and claim it congregation. Only good is supposed to happen when we are Christians. Sorry, that’s not the way it is. Jesus tells us this in Matthew 5:45 as he says, “He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

But Job does get into trouble as he debates these trials with his friends over chapters 3-37. The Lord comes and speaks to the situation in chapters 38-41. Don’t all of us wish he would do that for us sometimes? Maybe? Maybe not? Because once God speaks, Job comes to an understanding. There are angles and answers that he has figured on. God is infinitely wise and we, as humans, are not.

Job does repent for listening and contemplating “things he did not understand or too wonderful for him to know.” As people, we don’t always get it. We are left confused and wonder why. But God always, always, ALWAYS has a plan. Nothing gets by our Lord.

God had a plan that day for Job. He restored and doubled Job’s possessions including family. What plan does he have for us in suffering? I don’t know, but it begins with you sitting where you are and opening your heart to a loving God that wants to hear from you and heal that heart, so that you will be able to do all he intended.

I leave you with a verse that I got in my email this morning that was perfect in this lesson. Psalm 30:5 tells us, “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” God knows you may be hurting because of an unrighteousness that you don’t understand, but he wants to come and rescue you, restore you and love you. The explanation may not be clear now, but trust Him, all will become clear in time.

I love you guys!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of 2009: Sex Before Six, Is It All About Sex Baby?

Hey gang!

In looking at some of the fun reads of 2009, I found this gem. Sex is something all of us want. God ordained it for marriage, but my friend Jason came up with a great idea, at least in theory. I hope you enjoy this read about sex.

From May 25, 2009

It’s a Memorial Day holiday and time for another Marriage Mondays. Today, I want to share a story and see what you guys can add.

As you faithful readers know, my family and I took the weekend and went home to West Virginia for me to see friends for the first time in five years. We had a great Saturday in the park and an equally fun Saturday night with some other friends at a local hangout.

A few of my friends have been reading and realized that I have been giving practical and encouraging insight on how to build better marriages and better worlds. One of my friends was particularly happy to see me because of my ability to be able to write. He gave me a proposition. He wanted me to help him write a book for married couples that would make the world a better place.

I suppose I have to give you the name of the book before the premise because the title sets it up. The book is to be called Sex Before Six. My friend added that we’re not talking about before six years old, before six in the morning, as if I actually thought that six years old getting it on might be a good idea. The premise is this. If we could show all the good things that come out of morning sex that make the world a better place, it could be a best seller. Let me give you an example or two.

First, let’s think about all the medical improvements. Blood pressures would lower because sex has shown in other studies that it lowers blood pressure. The same for insulin levels of diabetics. Proving that morning sex is good health makes for happier couples because they’ll live longer.

Second, think of all the stress relief. No one that had morning sex would be in a bad mood afterwards. Morning sex is as good at getting people to relax as marijuana and it’s not illegal.

Finally, couples that have good morning sex never stay mad at each other. I might have to hire out the Barna Group to prove all theories.

OK, let’s get serious. How many friends have told you over the years that sex answers all the troubles of marriage, Christian and non-Christian? Our church is doing a two-part series on sex the way God intended, between married couples. However, I would find it awfully hard to hear that good morning sex makes all marriages complete.

Any of us that have been married for a length of time know that no matter how good God ordained sex is, it is not the end all. Sex is the part that brings intimacy to the next level. It is not the answer. Now, I’ll give you the verses chosen for today. I thought they related best from The Message. Let’s look at God’s Word in 1 Corinthians chapter six.

1Co 6:12 Just because something is technically legal doesn't mean that it's spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I'd be a slave to my whims.
1Co 6:13 You know the old saying, "First you eat to live, and then you live to eat"? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that's no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!
1Co 6:14 God honored the Master's body by raising it from the grave. He'll treat yours with the same resurrection power.
1Co 6:15 Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master's body. You wouldn't take the Master's body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not.
1Co 6:16 There's more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, "The two become one."
1Co 6:17 Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever--the kind of sex that can never "become one."
1Co 6:18 There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for "becoming one" with another.
1Co 6:19 Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you.
1Co 6:20 God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

I took verses 12-15 to show you that there was more to this conversation from Paul. In this chapter, Paul is talking about how the Corinthians are suing each other and how that disgraces God. I’ll start in verse 16.

Verse 16 tells us some very important things. Sex is more than the act. I could be having physical sex 24 hours a day, however sex is to be more than that. He even says that there is a spiritual bonding of the two persons involved in the act. He even drives the point home to Christians that we’re trying to become one with God and that the sex we have is to help the two become one.

Verse 18 talks about how sexual sins vary from others. Sexual sins violate us. Even though you may not think so, when you are not having that time with your marriage partner, you are not modeling God’s intimacy intended for the two of you.

Paul even talks about times to take breaks from sex in the same book of Corinthians in the next chapter in verse five. It should be agreed upon and only for prayer and fasting, then to come back together again. So God doesn’t want you to take long periods of time between having that bonding together as a married couple. I see you ladies shaking your heads at me asking, “Frank, if I asked my husband how often he wanted sex it would be more often. There’s stuff to do. How do we make time?”

I’ve asked that question myself, many, many times. When you have kids, try to make an honorable living and be pleasing to your spouse and to God, that’s a full day. I couldn’t agree more. But there is something that God understood with these verses above that tell us the spiritual bond is not being kept with a lack of sex. To say that I have more of an answer than God is showing us that we need sex for more of a bond between man and wife, I have none. The next question you have is “Well, might that lead to more kids?”

Possibly, but I always say that God has a plan of how many we can handle. God hands teachers children to teach at schools. Notice school doesn’t last more than seven or eight hours because teachers, as good as they are, probably couldn’t take them any longer. School districts even limit how many they can have in a class. Sure, most of them get a little lenient, but realize that God knows our limits much better than a school board and he will not put on us more than we can handle.

I think verse 20 explains it best. God owns the whole works. Laugh if you must, but it’s true. The last part of that verse does not imply letting people see your sex either. The only reason I mention this is because someone tried to argue with me that it does mean that. Paul is trying to tell us to let people see God in what you do and how you treat others, closing up the issue of suing people.
Finally, I’ll ask for your participation. What I’d really like to hear about is this: What are some of the things that you’ve been given advice on that might have sounded strange or just were that have actually worked for you or something totally off the wall that you know was not voiced in the way God intended.

Sonja Samuel Joins Us To Talk About "When I Accepted Me..."

Hey gang!

The week between Christmas and New Year's Day here in America and we have been doing a lot of Christmas stuff over the last week. Today though, we are joined by author Sonja Samuel to talk about her new book, When I Accepted Me: 52 Affirmations to Boost Your Self-Esteem! Enjoy the read.

1. Why self-esteem and what is it exactly?

Self esteem is the extent to which we like, respect and accept ourselves. It reflects our overall evaluation or appraisal of our self worth. It encompasses our beliefs, emotions and behavior. However, many people operate from the perspective of what others think of them and it fuels a cycle of dissatisfaction and discontentment. Instead of finding peace within themselves and being the unique and distinct person God created them to be, they live a life based on who they think others want them to be. As a result then of achieving high self esteem they find their self esteem constantly under attack.

It has been said that 2 out of 3 people at any given time suffers from low self esteem, and low self esteem can negatively affect every part of our lives. If the negativity goes unaddressed, it can completely ruin our lives. If at the core of it all is low self esteem, we must address this issue if we want to live joyous, productive, and purposeful lives as God intended. From my experience it all starts with changing the way we think. The way we think is essential to winning over negativity and boosting self esteem.

2. Why is self-esteem important to you?

Self esteem is important to me because after dealing with a difficult separation and divorce, I found myself struggling to rebuild my self esteem. That whole experience had taken me down a road of despair and depression like I had never experienced before. High self esteem had never been a problem for me so when life became difficult and it challenged me to question myself, I was completely thrown for a loop. It caused me to question my self- worth and value, and in the end I really struggled with accepting myself. I started thinking something must be wrong with me.

Now, based on the Word of God I knew this wasn’t true but I still struggled. Once I was able to regain my confidence and repair the damage to my self esteem, I begin to see that I had gotten lost in my emotions when it really was about what was going on in my head. High self esteem starts with what we think! Of course, sometimes we suffer from ‘thinking stinking’ and that can present a different set of issues; overall, I learned that to develop high self esteem we must examine what we think because that is what shapes our perspective and allows us to accept ourselves along with the challenges of life from a more positive perspective than negative one. That’s why I focused my book on positive affirmations for accepting me.

3. What can a person do to build high self-esteem?

I would recommend starting with what I call my ACCEPT Principles:

A – Learn to accept your strengths and weaknesses. As humans we are a work in progress. Everyone has an up side to who they are and a down side. It is our down side that continues to remind us of our humanity and keeps us seeking to be better and do better. Often our weaknesses are just unguarded strengths that we must continue to manage them if it is something we can’t change but our weaknesses DO NOT make us a bad person.

C – Concentrate on the positives. It is real easy to focus on the negative and our world is full of them. However, to focus on the positives it starts with making a choice to do so. From there you make a commitment to release any and all negativity; negative thoughts, negative emotions and negative relations. The Bible says ‘think on these things ...whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is of good report.’
C - Connect to your passion and you’ll connect to your purpose. Find the things in life that you are really passionate about and involve yourself in them. That will do more to help you have the confidence that you need to succeed and win over any adversity life presents. Also you will notice how much happier your life will be because of it.
P – Persevere. It has been said when the going gets tough the tough gets going. In this life we will have trouble, as the Bible tells us so we must hold fast to the faithfulness of God and His promises to never leave us alone. When tough times now come my way, I often affirm and encourage myself with the scripture that says ‘this too shall pass.’

T – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your understanding. We may not see the hand of God at work but we must trust that He is at work on our behalf. That is called the providence of God.

4. If the ACCEPT Principles helps us build high self-esteem, what helps us maintain it?

Here are seven simple steps that we all can do every day. Building or rebuilding self esteem is the most difficult. Maintaining high self esteem is a lot easier if we implement these steps.

1. Smile often to yourself and to others. Greet others when you see them and ask how they are and how their day is going. This helps build positive relationships with others.
2. Eliminate the negative. When a negative thought enters your mind, stop and immediately counter it with a positive thought about the same subject.
3. Be nice to others and be nice to yourself. Conversely, don't degrade others and don't degrade yourself.
4. Face your fears and forget your failures (after learning from them). Focus on your achievements and successes. Reward yourself when you succeed.
5. Quit thinking about trying to be perfect. No one is, so just accept that as it is. Don't be too competitive and don't compare yourself with others.
6. Don't worry about what others think of you. Just be the best you that you can be.
7. Hang out with positive and optimistic people who also have high self esteem and self confidence. But when you are around negative people, try to direct your positive and optimistic thoughts in their direction. Don't let them pull down your level of self confidence or self esteem. 

5. Can you be a good person, a successful person, and still struggle with
maintaining good self esteem?

Absolutely! Life happens to us all. Having high self esteem or good self esteem doesn’t exempt us from the trails and challenges of life. It does, however, puts us in a better situation to deal with them when they come.

Maintaining our esteem is easy but it is work. Sometimes our struggle comes because we are not putting in the work of being true to ourselves and what brings us satisfaction, joy and contentment. Remember, self esteem is not about our successes or failures but how we feel, see and accept ourselves. Living in a such a competitive and negative world that is constantly trying to get us to be something other than want we are can present be exhausting.

6. Does the focus on building and maintaining high esteem cause people to develop a
false sense of security based on feelings that may not match reality?
I don’t think so. Self-esteem is a very powerful thing to have. When you have healthy self-esteem you are a more confident person, you are better at dealing with life disappointments, you build friendship with others more easily, you perform better in school and overall experience a more fulfilling life. It is an individual’s perspective on how they see themselves. No one can take that away or define that for the individual.
I guess any one of us could have a warped sense of ourselves but that would be an indication of low self esteem.
7. Tell us about the creative process of writing this book?

Initially, I started writing a book on leadership but as I started the process, I kept coming back to this issue of self esteem. How can we lead others if we are struggling to lead ourselves? The more I reflected on that I started to reflect on my own personal experiences not only in the area of leadership but self esteem in general. That lead me to start writing down what had helped me get to the path I’m on today. What things did I have to do to overcome my fears, deal with the challenges life had presented to me and manage my emotions. These are all essential elements of being a good leader as well as having good self esteem.

In the end, I ended up writing over hundred affirmations that has been broken down into two volumes under the title of “When I Accepted Me.” We’ve just release volume 1 and volume 2 will be released in 2010. I divided them up into two volumes because I wanted to give people an opportunity to really reflect and internalize each affirmation to boost their self esteem. I’ve suggested to people to just take one a week (that’s why there are 52 of them) and internalize that one. Pray on it, see how it reflects in your life; maybe use it as a guide to write your own for that week.

I’ve encouraged some people to take on the 52 day challenge of reading one every day for 52 days straight and see if their perspective isn’t changed for the good at the end of it. Again, it is all about what is going on in our heads and when we receive positive information inwardly, we respond with positive behavior outwardly that leads to success in life …however, you may define success.
8. How can people get the book and what is some of the feedback you’ve received so

My book can be ordered from my website at It would be a great way to start the year and to recharge for the coming year. We are extending it at our special introduction offer of $14.95 because we want to get the book out into as many hands as possible. For me it is a tool for empowering others which is my personal mission in life.

It makes a great gift book for your friends, family and coworkers. I just gave them out as stocking stuffers and will be sending many out for Valentine’s Day as a way of saying I love and affirm you.

I have really enjoyed the feedback from people on how it has been such a pick me up for them when their emotions started to get the best of them and send them into a downward spiral.

One lady said she carries it around in her purse and when her day starts going south and she is ready to stick it to someone, she whips out her book, reads a few affirmation and it gets her back on track.

A lady told me about her husband that lost his mother this year and has been struggling emotionally. She said about once or twice a week she sees him reading through each page. She said she knows he’s gone through the whole book at least four or five times and she can see the difference it has made in his emotional health in dealing with the lost of his mother.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009: Hate, Hate, Hate: God Hates a Few Things Too

Hey gang!

This piece followed a week of opinions given by others on the internet of things they hated about the church today. The survey gave people an opportunity to sound off honestly and then I took a few pieces after that to explain why the church is still the vehicle of choice for God's chosen.

This probably had the most reaction of anything I wrote up until the piece on atheism that I highlighted last week. It's awesome to show God's word giving an honest view of things that God never wants to see us involved in. Enjoy!

A final note: For those of you wondering, the spiritual gifts series will restart again on January 4th. Christmas time has just been really busy, even busier than I thought I would be. Thanks for your understanding and I hope you receive something from God as we look back.

From February 17, 2009

People always like the picture of God as loving, by your side and taking care of his followers. They don’t like to reference the vengeful, angry God. Remember Moses changing God’s mind not to put a blaze in the step of the Israelites in the desert. No one likes to talk about that.

I’ve heard so many impressions of God that it almost seems funny to me. If you are close to my age, you’ll remember George Burns playing God back in the late 70’s and early 80’s in a pair of films. I’m not sure I want my God as a grumpy old man. Of course, I remember doing a standup routine of God being played by Robin Williams. God being that wacky would scare me as I get older.

But after a week of comments, I heard a lot of comments on people’s views of the church. There were close to 30 comments from different people. The only disappointment I think was that some of you were kind of leery on telling me what you really felt. That’s OK. I do appreciate the comments that I got from people and I really appreciate the push I got from High Calling Blogs and thanks to Marcus’ blog being a counter-point, I think I got even more feedback than I anticipated. So thank you, good people of the internet. I know also that a few of you have promised me some more feedback, so there is still more time. Some of the comments have made me think about how to go and expand this beyond the hate. Most of you gave me very caring thoughts that made me (and continue to do so) think about some other writing ideas to talk about.

When it comes to main thoughts on the negativity of the church, I did see a few major themes. The first was people were tired of hypocrisy. Believe me, I grow tired of it too, but I think hypocrisy is everywhere. It’s just slightly disturbing coming from the church. The second was that the church is too liturgical, meaning there are just simply too many rules for your liking. I’m going to talk about this in another edition, but I feel slightly confused on whether people meant Biblical rules or rules of the leadership of individual churches, but again, I’ll talk more on that later. The third and final theme that jumped out was that the church had become too political or superficial. I’ve been in churches that feature one or the other and I struggled staying in them long. Thankfully, not every church is like that.

I thought two statements really summed up what I like to do with these churches. One reader said that he liked to use the occasions as teaching tools for his children and learning tools for himself. I love that. Why? Because when we go through crazy stuff anywhere, we need to learn from it. But my friend Josh summed up best why people act so reluctant, “People that don’t want to go will grasp for a reason not to go.” I think that’s the truest statement in all the comments. We will talk about all of this in further editions, so I say this is part 1 of only God knows at this point.

Hate, Hate, Hate, Yes God Hates a Few Things Too

I loved how people were sending me emails trying to guess where I was going with this. I heard a lot about the seven deadly sins. I might do something on that in the future. I got asked the question of God being a loving God wouldn’t hate anything. I say, as comedian John Pinette, “Nay, Nay.”

The book of Proverbs shows us many things that King Solomon learned over his lifetime. I admire Solomon. Solomon was King and showed that he had a heart for it by asking God, not for wealth or concubines, but for wisdom. God made Solomon the smartest man of his time and one of my personal favorite stories was of two women fighting over a baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). Solomon proved whom the mother was by a test. The true mother would want no harm to the child. I always wondered if he ever had problems with ego because he was so smart. Then I read Ecclesiastes. I’ll let you read that on your own.

In Proverbs chapter six, Solomon explains that God hates some stuff. Let’s look at this. We’ll start in verse 16. “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” That’s a tough little list. Let’s break it down piece by piece.

1)Haughty eyes-When I first saw this, I thought of ladies that do that little flutter with their eyes to get what they want. My eldest daughter is three and has it down. It’s really hard to turn her down when she does that. It also makes me want to laugh. But that isn’t exactly what is being talked about here. I like the Amplified version best here, a proud look (the spirit that makes one overestimate himself and underestimate others). You see this happen in sports all the time. I had a bowling team as a teenager of five guys and we bowled for a championship against this all girl team. All I remember were two of the girls on the team, the first was Angela Caroli, whom every guy thought was the hottest girl in the center and the other was Regina Myers, who was probably the best teen female bowler at the time. After we stomped them the first game, they came back and drubbed us the other two games. We thought it would be so easy after the first game, we flamed out after that. It’s not a scripture verse, but always remember, she who laughs last laughs best. It’s dangerous to judge. Jesus gave us a warning in Matthew 7:3 about this as he said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Let’s not believe we are so good and others are not.

2)A lying tongue-This one is pretty easy. We’ve all met people who love to stretch the truth. Solomon even reaffirms this in Proverbs 12:22, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.“ Even today, the Associated Press released a story about Steelers’ quarterback Ben Rothlesberger telling the media that he had broken ribs during the Super Bowl. The Steelers report no such injury. He stated that he found out this week as he had an MRI done. Unfortunately, there is no mandatory doctor check by the team until April and the ribs should be all healed by then, so we may never know the truth here. However, former coach Bill Cowher was quoted as saying that Ben liked to overindulge in the truth when talking about his injuries while Cowher coached the team.

3)Hands that shed innocent blood-Love or hate George W. Bush, there are people that are always going to hold the Iraq war against the man. Since there has never been any proof of weapons of mass destruction, many doubt that the war was necessary other than to relieve Saddam Hussein of power. Shedding of innocent blood kept the Israelites out of the promised land during the time of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15, 59:7)

4)A heart that devises wicked schemes-My kids are huge into Disney movies and one of my all-time favorites was Aladdin. The sultan’s trusted assistant Jafar schemed and plotted to overtake and become ruler of the land with the genie and the magic lamp. Of course, in the story, our hero Aladdin saves the day to marry the sultan’s daughter, Jasmine. I often think of the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). David sees Bathsheba and wants her as his wife. One small problem. Her husband. David has his way with her, gets her pregnant then plots to kill her husband by sending him to the front of the battle lines. They pay the ultimate price by the death of the child shortly after its birth.

5)Feet that are quick to rush to evil-Unfortunately, I’ve known many people in my life that are way too much like this. I’ve known people who like to indulge in heavy drinking that love to tell me how much fun they are having while out drinking with their friends and how boring Christianity is because once you become a Christian, you can’t have fun anymore. Let me see, how much fun is puking my guts up and having a hangover the next morning. That’s fun I’ve always been able to pass on. People never understand how much fun drinking soda or coffee while talking about Jesus with your friends. I still go to sporting events and have a good time while cheering on my team. Life is still fun, it’s just different and totally sober. Proverbs 11:27 drives the point home, “He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it.”

6)A false witness that pours out lies-A false witness is a little different than a lying tongue. Again, the Amplified Bible clears this a little better, “A false witness who breathes out lies (even under oath).” At first I thought of the funny Joe Izuzu commercials from the late 80’s, but immediately my wife thought of the sad story near our former home in Florida. Last July, the story of two-year old Kaylee Anthony broke to national media after her mother, Casey, repeatedly lied to authorities about the whereabouts of her little girl. The story had a sad end in late December as the little girl’s remains were found only 15 houses from where they lived. Casey maintains her innocence, but the lies told to this point have not helped her case. It’s not looking good for Casey and she might want to keep Proverbs 19:5 in her mind, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.”

7)A man who stirs dissension among brothers-I struggled thinking up good examples of this until I thought about talk shows. People like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael and Jenny Jones came to mind. Magazines like The National Enquirer and news sources like TMZ were other examples. The scriptural examples were even harder. I thought of Judas, but other than the kiss, he wasn’t what I would call a troublemaker. So I had to think for a while and I found something Paul said near the end of Romans. Romans 16:17-18 says, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of na├»ve people.”

So, you want to hate some stuff. It’s okay. I’ll give you one more set of verses to dwell on. Romans 12:9-21 tells us to have love and respect for others, but verse 9 sums it up well, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

I love you guys!

Spotlight on Virginia "Ginny" Smith: The Book of Your Heart

Hey gang!

Hope you've had a great Christmas holiday so far. Today, we're joined by Virginia "Ginny" Smith who's guest-writing today to tell you a little about one of her Christmases. I hope you enjoy the read!

The Book of Your Heart
By Virginia Smith

Putting up the Christmas tree at my house is a very special event. I relish the ritual of hanging the ornaments I’ve collected over the years. Each one holds a memory. The shiny silver bell engraved with our wedding date. The brightly painted teddy bear with the year of my daughter’s birth painted on his hat. The skiing Santa I bought on our first ski trip. As I lift each treasure carefully out of the box where it has lain hidden from view all year, a precious memory emerges from deep within my heart and finds a place on my tree.

I imagine stories are like those ornaments, each one a treasure nestled within the heart of a writer, waiting to be brought out and displayed. Perhaps that’s how we first recognize that we are writers: fictitious people walk and talk and breathe within us, and we burn with the desire to show them to others. A story unfolds with startling clarity in our minds, and we know—just know—that we won’t have a moment’s peace until we’ve set it down on paper and shared it.

That burning desire is exactly what enables us to tell a story that stirs the imaginations of others. It is our passion for the story and the characters that causes us to spend hours striving for the precise word or the perfect phrase to relay the vivid images in our heads. For some, the stories conceived in our hearts burst from us full-grown; others hold a story inside, nurturing it in the deep places until it ripens into the thing of beauty we’ve envisioned.

Many years ago, a story bloomed in my heart. It was full of adventure and love, and infused with hope—truly, a thing of beauty. I wrote the first draft feverishly, the words pouring onto the page as the plot unfolded in my mind. The characters were so real, their struggles painful and vivid. I studied the craft, intent on telling my tale with artistry. With each new skill I learned, I revised and polished until the story sparkled. If ever a story was born from the heart, it was that one.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an editor who shared my passion. Whether due to my lack of skill or the uncertainties of the market for that genre, the story of my heart was rejected over and over. I mourned. I raged. I cried out to God, “Why did You give me this story if You don’t intend me to tell it?” After my rage died, I revised and polished the manuscript again. Finally, when there was not a single word that hadn’t been scrubbed until it shone, I gave up. After all, if there was no place for the story of my heart in the publishing world, maybe there was no place for me there either.

That’s when I heard God’s whisper: Do you think I have only one story to give?

A few days later, a character waltzed into my mind and began telling me about her life. She became real to me, as real as the characters in my first story. I discovered that there was room in my heart for her, too. In fact, this new tale took on a glimmer and shine all its own. I employed the skills I’d honed on my first, and eventually, God placed a published book in my hands.

And then He said: I have more stories to give you.

Can you imagine anything sadder than a Christmas tree with only a single ornament? Or a life with only a single precious memory? Or a heart with only a single story?

I am convinced that good stories are born in the heart of God, a heart immense and overflowing with creativity. He carefully selects an author for each one and bestows a precious gift – straight from His heart to ours. We write it and polish it and, when the story has become as beautiful as we can make it, we must hang it on the tree and reach into the box for another treasure.

Virginia Smith is the author of a dozen Christian novels including Stuck in the Middle, a finalist for the 2009 ACFW Book of the Year award, and A Taste of Murder, a finalist for the 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Her newest, Third Time’s a Charm, the third and final book in her Sister-to-Sister Series, will hit bookstore shelves in January. Learn more about Ginny and her books at

Check Out Ginny's Big Prize Bonanza Giveaway, Going On Now!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My salvation story, a long read, but so worth it!

Hey gang,

I almost died 17 years ago today after falling into a diabetic coma, but am still here so I figured I'd tell you how Christ saved me today. This is a repost from my MySpace personal blog of three years ago that is no longer in existence. I’ve updated a few dates and such to a 2009 version so that years make sense. The example I’ll give you here is that when I went to visit my dad was 1991. If I had left the years since as it read originally, 15 years might have led you to 1994, which was after I gave my life to Christ. I’ll say that this is a very long read, so be patient, the story gets better as we go.

Repost: My story, enjoy the read!

To say the least my church experiences have been weird, but for those of you that care or may want to find inspiration to talk to others, here is my story. It's the unadulterated truth. It's not always pretty, but I will keep it clean. I realize I'd like to keep at least a PG-13 audience.

My church life started out as a small boy in Anmoore, WV at a church called Mt. Zion Community Church. Why did I go? Because a cute girls took me. I was 4 and my best friend at the time was this little blonde named Sandy Fogg. Her sisters, Teresa and Darlene, took us to church on Sundays for the better part of 4 years, at least off and on. I met a few interesting kids along the way. I met a kid named Joel. He seemed to think this was the business because he kept talking to me about getting saved. When I asked him how, he told me to keep coming every week to find out. Unfortunately, he wasn't a great salesman for Jesus yet.

I also met the troublemaker kid. His name was Billy and it seemed like he always created chaos in Sunday School. He picked on everyone and had a promising career as a little A-hole. After several Sundays of his typical attitude, I decided to set him up and see if I could get him tossed out of class. All week at regular school, we had learned about money and the teachers gave us paper quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. So I took mine to Sunday school and sat next to Billy. When the offering plate came around, I threw in the paper money. The Sunday School teacher, a nice lady named Joy Adams, caught the incident as she was counting the money. She asked around as to who did it assuming what all of them did. Billy did it. I let him hang. He was tossed out of class for a month and no one knew the truth except me and God.

That summer we went to a public pool at one of our state parks and most everyone had a great time. All but me. See, I hadn't learned how to swim like all the other kids. They swam and I sat around. So I thought I would be big stuff and dive into the kiddie pool. Let's just say I didn't have Michael Jordan abilities and my head hit the concrete as I went in. I had a huge gash on the back of my head and I had to be taken home 75 miles to go to the emergency room. My mom was working at the hospital and as soon as I arrived, we found my mom and went straight to the ER. Eight stitches and a big cup of humble pie later, I was sitting at home having my mom tell me what a stupid head I'd been.

As I said, after several years of off and on attendance I stopped going. Why? It has nothing to do with the church. Seems Sandy and I were playing on picture day in the third grade and as I was chasing her around, she fell into the neighbors' car. Let's just suffice it to say he had just come home last evening from what rednecks would call mudding. Her mother had a fit, called the school, tried to get me taken care of by the Board of Education, if you know what I mean. This caused my mother to go ballistic and the families didn't speak for about five years. By that time, Sandy and I had both lost the attractiveness of our youth and neither was interested in rekindling our childish games.

So from about nine to sixteen, I had nothing to do with any church. This was not of my choice, but because again I had no one to take me. During that time, my family got closer to another family called the Weils. My mom worked with Mildred at the hospital and her husband's name was Carl. They took me in like a lost child literally. They had two daughters that lived with them, the other was married early and lived in Ohio. That daughter came home every summer and that's how I met her sons. We played wiffleball the first summer. My biggest memory was hitting home runs to Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters".

Anyhow, the local family decided that they wanted to show me a "good church". So I went with them for about six months and I had a great time. I felt like I was learning about religion, even though I hadn't made any real friends in the congregation. That's when it got weird.

About that time, I noticed that this couple that I knew through a girl I went to school with started standing up and saying that the church was going in the wrong direction and that the pastor needed to go to accomplish that direction. They continued a very ugly public feud for over a month and finally the pastor resigned and half the church left with him, unfortunately including me.

After that I began to think about the church in a very negative light. I saw that if the church fought and hosed good people over that I didn't want anything to do with it. So I quit. Quit period. I remember saying "if this is how church is, I want no part of it." That was my hard head at 16 talking and I meant it. It was almost seven more years before I had another thought about the church.

Even though I hadn't got back into church, my life changed drastically in the six years since my last church appearance. I seemed to go through one psycho after another in my dating life. There were mild exceptions, but crazy women were the rule. The crowd I hung out with at Hardee's made jokes about it and even developed a psychoanalysis test that they wanted each woman that went out with me to take. They weren't even shy about asking questions off of it.

I also met my dad for the first time at 21 when I took a two-week trip to Alaska. Yes, the cold one. Except that it wasn't that bad in the summer. While I was relaxing in 70 degree weather, West Virginia and most of the midwest were going through a major 110 degree plus heat wave. In a lot of ways, it was theraputic to meet my dad, but even now which is 18 years later, my dad and I are not anywhere near as close as I thought we would be. My life with my dad is a 5-minute call every other Sunday. It's sad, but it is something that has motivated me to be a great parent to my Megan.

I graduated Fairmont State College with a degree in Elementary Education (Multi-subject K-8) in 1991, but really didn't want to teach at the time. So I went back and took journalism for 1992-1993 year as a favor to a friend of mine. Eddie Gennoy asked me to come back and be his Sports Editor of The Columns, the FSC paper. I did go back because I have a love of writing and sports journalism. For the first semester, I had fun writing. The rest of my life, well, was not as pretty.

I was still having no luck with the ladies and I was told, indirectly of course, that it was my fault. See, I had a little weight problem. I had been picking up a little every year I was in school. I was now nearing 300 pounds. So I threw myself into my work. I was working, for free mind you, a 50 hour week for a school newspaper. At midterms, I got sick. You know, one of those nice nasty flu bugs that kicks your butt for a week. It was the first week of November and I had lost 11 pounds getting rid of the flu. That week, all I did was drink fluids to keep me going and I thought why not try to keep going on fluids and see if I could lose weight.

This became known as my ultimate crash diet. Over the next 45 days, I lost 85 pounds. I became skin and bones. At 205, I looked more like The Scarecrow out of the Batman comics than myself. It got bad. I couldn't stop the diet. I tried to eat bread and it took me four glasses of milk to get one slice of bread down. I knew I was in trouble. On Christmas Eve, my mom took me to the ER and the doctor diagnosed me with a severe sore throat and a cold. Let's just say he couldn't have been more wrong if he just opened his medical book and picked a disease.

I went home and two days after Christmas 1992, I collapsed and crushed my end table in the living room. I was rushed to the hospital. No one told me that it would have been better if I had been drinking sugar-free drinks. In about the ninth hour of what would become almost 42 hours of a comatose state, the pinch-hitting doctor replacing my own figured out the problem. She announced, "Don't you smell him, his sugar content is so high that his sweat smells sweet." I didn't ask for a definition from my mother as to what the heck that meant, but it was real bad. The next test she did discovered my glucose level at 1400. My body was shutting down. I probably had so much insulin popped into my body over the next couple days that it probably took the lives of a couple sheep that made it.

I woke up during Monday Night Football. To normal people, that would be no big deal. To me, it was huge in two ways. The first was my favorite QB Joe Montana was making his return to football after being injured for a while. The second was the fact that before I collapsed, I turned in my fantasy football lineup to my friend Rodney and he told me my opponent was starting Amp Lee. As I wake up, Amp is amping up for a TD run and as he goes into the end zone, I start screaming "No, not Amp Lee! Not Amp Lee!" My nurse came running into my room thinking I had more problems than diabetes. They probably called the MENSA hotline and they told them that I was too crazy for them.

While I was in the coma, I didn't have a It's a Wonderful Life experience either. All I saw was darkness. Charlie Murphy-Rick James darkness. I heard voices occasionally. I didn't understand them, so I couldn't tell you if they were people at my bedside or people on the other side. I'll make no guess.

Anyhow, the next morning, my doctor was back off his little vacation and told me that I would be on shots for the rest of my life. I wasn't thrilled. I hated needles. I was terrified of them. Then he told me I would have to give myself the shots. I told him to kiss my butt goodbye cause there was no way I was giving myself a shot anywhere.

So he sent in some very ugly, I know that's probably not PC, but for nurses, she was very ugly. She showed me an orange and gave it a shot. She then egged my manhood and said it didn't hurt the orange. "Was I a bigger pussy than the orange", she says. I gave myself the shot thinking I had kept my manhood and then afterwards realizing my testosterone played right into her hands. I never had another fear of a needle from my hand. I still to this day don't like anyone else shooting me with a needle. Not to draw blood, not to give me a flu shot, nothing. If you have a needle and are coming to use it on me, I still don't like you much.

After watching two days worth of diabetes education videos in one day, my doctor would let me out of the hospital only if I could get the supplies I needed at an open pharmacy. It was New Year's Eve and the clock was ticking. If my mom couldn't get my supplies by 3:00pm, I was watching Dick Clark on hospital television. She got my supplies just in time. I went home and started 1993. A new man, but an unsure man of why I was here and what I was going to do next.

By the way, I won that fantasy football title 20-16. I'd like to thank my kicker John Carney. He was a Charger then.

Anyhow, 1993 started off with a bang as several of my friends got together at my house to see that I was OK and that I had a pair of glasses. I would love to be a contacts sort of guy, but these were only going to be temporary anyway. I looked like a geek, but again after a few weeks I could throw them into the Monongahela.

I went back to school in January to a new pair of editors. My friend Eddie jumped ship and left me with Julie Love and James Lee IV. By May, I really wanted to put up a wrestling ring and take both of them to the woodshed. Even though I lost all that weight, I was still in the same weight class if both of them fought me together. I still would've taken them too.

My college newspaper life was still long, even though I backed off to 30 hours a week. I found a new job working as a sports reporter for a new version of an old paper. The Shinnston News was bought from Jim Jackson by two business guys, Mike Queen and Bernie Dearth. They were looking for a sports guy and I fit the bill. I worked part-time for them and finished my semester at FSC. They had long range plans of turning the paper into a county paper instead of a town paper which didn't thrill the reading populace.

While at school, I took two classes. The first was a writing class to a complete moron. This guy had about as much talent as a green bean. He thought he was the world savior of writing and found cronies in his class to help him follow the dream. I hated that class and I didn't like him much more than that.

The other class I ended up taking was a Bible as literature class. If you ever want to understand the Bible in its truest form, never take it as a literature class. The guy that taught was one of my favorite people, Dr. Richard Sonnenshein. He was a devout Catholic and once expressed to me that if his 72 year old mother in a wheelchair could give an hour to God, why couldn't I. At the time, I joked that he probably forced her to go which of course he didn't find funny.

But I met a gal taking the course that interested me. Her name was Kylie Churchwell and I was taken with her immediately. She and I talked about anything, except not a lot about God yet. I sent her a dozen roses for Valentine's Day because she had been sick for most of the week. She then told me that she was seeing another guy and that we were just friends. I wasn't happy about it, but I accepted it. I was having more conversations with a real girl for the first time in several years.

By the end of the semester, the story with the boyfriend had changed. She was showing interest, but because I was working so hard, I was too blind to see it. Plus, I had been told by a couple gals in the journalism department that she was really unstable and I had a thought in the back of my mind that I didn't need that. Sometimes I just wish the back of my mind had shut up. We started going to events with the town paper as a couple even though it was me putting the friends touch to it. I was featured at the paper's local high school as a contributor to a more positive atmosphere and recognized with a plaque. I had really worked well with the students there and they showed their appreciation at the dinner. I was so high from the event, that I missed that she was trying to tell me she was interested when she began serenading me later in the car. A few months later, she got bored and walked away. I let the first normal Christian girl of my life walk without so much as a whimper.

Later during the summer, the minister of the local Baptist church came by and began talking to me and my new general manager, Kim Gemondo. The pastor expressed that he was very pleased with a sportswriter with such a positive attitude about his town and that he thought that I wrote from a Christian perspective. What? I write from a Christian perspective. I thought whatever he was smoking, I wanted some of it. Looking back at my writing now, I realize he was right. I just didn't realize it. He had a daughter he wanted to introduce me to and I already knew her from the play company at college.

I went and visited his church and he formally introduced us. I just happened to be calling Canton that day to get Hall of Fame press passes, so I got bold and asked her to go with me. She agreed. That week was the Little League championships in West Virginia, so I lived at the ball field during the day and at the office cranking out info from the tournament each night, way into the night. So I asked if she could drive. She did until we got close to Canton and since I knew the area from previous bowling tournaments, she asked me to drive through town. As I drove, she decided to change clothes. I felt like I was in a Girls Gone Wild video with a preacher's daughter. I thought surely I was going to hell for this one.

We went to the event and drove home afterwards. On the four hour drive home, she begins to talk of how sick of religion she was and that she just wants to live a normal life. She then told me that she was sick of her dad fixing her up with guys that are living a good life. The only reason she went with me was the fact she knew I was doing publicity dates at local taverns and that I had to be a bad boy compared to the other guys she was hooked up with.

Oh, I was a bad boy alright, but I wasn't confessing my sins to her. I was out at the local bars on a nightly basis after work, including the new local strip clubs. My name got me a few drinks (Diet Cokes only, I have never had a passion for alcohol, stories for another time) and a few lap dances. My popularity was not only getting me into trouble, it was bankrupting me at the same time. The paper was the only job I spent more money than I made. I spent many evenings talking to a gal that went by the name Tracy and spending more money on her than any date I ever had. She would just talk to me. Oh, I was interested in her, but she would sit and listen as long as I was buying the drinks. When the money ran out, so did she.

I was going broke and I almost took my whole family down with me. I was living with my mom, grandma and great aunt at the time and was spending more money than I ever should have. Then, a real friend reached out and started pulling me back to my destiny.

During this time, around October 1993, my friend Alvin invited me to a concert. The concert included Petra and Cindy Morgan. I like soulful, brunette singers. Always have, always will. I listened to about half her show and was really enjoying it when Alvin drags me backstage to get autographs from Petra. At the time, that didn't really impress me. Looking back on it over a decade later, I was amongst musical greatness and was too dumb to know it.

After the concerts, I bought a poster of Cindy's Reason to Live tour. OK, honestly I bought it because she was hot and I would've milked cows just to meet her. I get up there and we talk for a moment about her show. She signs my poster and gives me no pressure about my Christianity. Years later, when I went to another of her shows and had the chance to talk to her at length, thanks to her sister Sam (that's another story), she was so glad that her music had an impression on me to think about Christ more from that moment.

I did think a lot about it. I was still working at the paper and even putting in more hours. In the meantime, Alvin would pass me a CD of different Christian artists every chance he got. He would come visit me when I was writing stories after midnight at the office and would just talk about life.

I spent Christmas and New Year's that year just happy to be alive. Alvin told me to take New Year's Eve off and go with him to another concert. This concert happened to be in the Southern Gospel vein. I remember the Kingsmen, Gold City and Tony Gore and Majesty (I think, they could have been there the following year, I know Alvin will correct me). For me personally, I like some Southern Gospel, but I can only take it in doses. After six hours, I was ready to go. We went to a restaurant afterwards nearby (I am wanting to say Shoney's) and threw up everything I ate there soon thereafter.

I hate bad food. I don't like food poisoning, but it seems that after suffering from it, I always have clarity. Decision making clarity. I knew my life was going nowhere. My resolution was to make 1994 better than any year I'd had in a long time. I think I can say without a doubt I did. But I was slow about it.

Twelve days into 1994, we were hit with a two-foot snowstorm that shut everything down for a week. That meant no sports. That meant no sports section locally. I finished my one page for that week and believe me, I had nothing else. Just as I dropped print to the page, I got a phone call. My great aunt that lived with us for the past eight years had a stroke and was being taken to the hospital. I told Diane, my super working layout lady to finish the ad space any way she wanted because I was on my way to the hospital.

Six hours later, I got a call at the hospital. It was one of my three bosses asking why I hadn't done a second page. No asking how my aunt was, no voice of compassion, just more of a where's my f'n second page. Remember the snowstorm I asked. He told me I was slacking. I lost it.

For the last four months, I had worked for $175 a week and usually had put in 60 or more hours per. Yes, I was cheaper labor than Mexicans and he had a problem with me slacking. The next day I went to the office and told them I was cutting my hours in half. Two of the three bosses told me they were cutting my salary in half. I told them to fly a kite and that's being really nice about it.

I went home and told my mom that I just quit my job. I didn't get yelled at. I got an encouragement speech. My mom has never been known as an encourager, so this was way, way weird. She told me not to worry about a job. Huh? She told me that my life had turned bad so she wanted me to focus on two things, my aunt that was coming out of the hospital and then to figure out what I want with my life. She reminded me that I was spared for a reason. I was stunned. Not so much that she said it (even though that was pretty shocking), but that she placed emphasis on me and my need for a life for myself.

Over the next two and a half months, two things happened. One good and one that people would say is bad, except that the bad got a point across about my personality and compassion. The first was that I began to hang out with Alvin more and go to the bookstores and other concerts with him. He took me everywhere and PAID. I will tell you that Alvin is not rolling in money, but he's probably the smartest financial person I know (yes, that does say something since I worked in financial areas for almost six years from 2000-2006) and he just doesn't blow his money. I think subconsciously, he knew what he was investing in. The funny thing was that I was realizing it too. I probably owe him more money than most of my credit cards, but he has never once even asked for a dime.

The second thing I did that I didn't share with most people was that I took up bartending and bouncing at this little redneck bar a couple nights a week just to have some money coming in. Folks, honestly, I don't drink. I kid about it all the time that I should start, to relieve stress, but I don't. So you could imagine me making drinks for people. Some people were really happy about it because they told me how to make the drinks. As far as bouncing, there was not a fight in the two months I worked there. The first reason was that the bar was owned by an old lady who would've banned them if they got into a fight. She didn't like trouble and she usually offered a free drink to avoid it. The second reason I believe was divine intervention.

It's not a problem of where I wouldn't fight, it was more of a fact that I couldn't fight. Being raised by four women led me down a road of slapping, not of kicking some butt. If there had ever been a fight with real fighting going on, I probably would have been killed or seriously hurt.

Anyhow, the real problem I had at the bar was I heard some of the saddest short stories I ever wanted to hear. Some people drank to escape their lives. Some drank to drown the pain. The saddest ones were the ones who drank because they thought that this was life. The last weekend of March, I was sitting at the door (it was a Saturday and I left the drink pouring to the pros) and this knockout of a gal sat next to me. She went on and on about how she wanted this guy sitting across the room and that he would do her and then find other gals to do and he had a couple victims sitting with him. I asked the general questions. Why put up with it? How can you say you love him? Why don't you date someone else like me? She ends with "He is so good to me." What? Did you just not hear the last half-hour of chat that we'd had. That almost got me to take a drink in the confusion. That might be one of the top WTF's of all time.

That night, I went to Hardee's after work and hung out with Alvin and shared the story of my working there and the gal's story. He then invited me to go to a concert on Tuesday. Since I was off, I said sure.

The concert was of Audio Adrenaline and DC Talk. Charleston Civic Center, Charleston, WV, April 1, 1994. Anyway, I went to the show. I listened to Audio A and they weren't bad. I would eventually love these guys as one of my favorite groups, but I just OK with them after their performance. We moved to the balcony for DC Talk because my ears were ringing. Alvin has this little knack of getting good seats, really good seats. We were originally in the fifth row to the left, right near speakers. Huge honkin' speakers.

We moved to the balcony and during the intermission, I fell asleep. DC Talk came out and did four songs before I woke up. They were doing their version of Jesus Is Still Alright (no apologies to the Doobie Brothers, this version kicked it). My brain found the song familiar and I was wide awake. I watched the rest of the concert and was pretty impressed with the music. But what came next changed my life as I knew it.

My friend Kevin has always criticized me for having to hear things from alternate sources even though my closest friends would tell me things. That night, I heard DC Talk share their testimonies and Toby Mac ended the evening with the theme. Jesus loved me and still wanted me. I know, Christians are going "no big shock", but to me, it was a foreign concept. At least somewhat. My friend Alvin and other friends (Kylie Churchwell Young, Kim Novotny Campbell, just to name a couple) had tried different approaches to tell me, but I am sometimes a little slow.

I found myself weeping now. Realizing that this is what I was allowed to live for. I had almost died 16 months earlier, from super high diabetes. I would also have died without Christ. But Toby, K Max and Mike had put the start to a final week in which I would give my life to Him.

After the emotional ride home, I continually thought about what I heard. On Friday, I was invited to a church by my friend Rob Fancher. I told him that I would if I could wake up after my job Saturday night. I left the house after that quick invite and began listening to 88.1. It was a station out of Maryland called He's Alive radio and they aired Christian talk shows during the day. James Dobson was on and he was interviewing a baseball player I liked so I listened. The player's name was Tim Burke. I don't remember anything he said that day, but it was his wife's words that shook me to the core. She talked about being raised by only her mom and how hard it was for her to come to Christ because she had a hard time seeing God as Father because the father example she had was missing. I knew that story, I lived it. She went on to talk about how God finally reached out for her. I knew the same thing was happening to me now.

I went to work that Saturday night and it was pretty uneventful, except that it ended at 4:30am instead of the normal closing time of 3:00am. I went home beat, but something odd happened. I woke up at 7:30am on my own. No alarm, no grandma reminding me to get up. I was ready. I was focused. I was shook awake by a gentle hand.

I went to church and it was fun. I met the pastor and he invited me to stay for a new members luncheon. It didn't matter if I was or not, but an opportunity to see a film on church history and a chance to meet some other people. I met a few people that day. The one that surprises most is my eighth grade home room teacher, Mr. Lanzy. People thought we didn't get along in school, but I think we both respected each other's opinions. I was outspoken and was sometimes misunderstood. Lanzy never called me on the carpet publicly, but we talked one-on-one and he always made me understand the errors in my thought patterns. He was never vicious, just to the point and that gained my respect.

That evening, I returned to the church and was in the middle of service when Mr. Lanzy came to the seat next to me and told me I needed to come to the back. What he told me was that my aunt was back in the hospital and that I should go. While I got my jacket on, he handed me a few papers to read. He just said to read them when I had a chance.

I went to the hospital and sat. My aunt was being treated and began resting comfortably around 11:30pm and I told my mom that I was going to the car to get something. I grabbed those papers. I thought I had nothing else to do and that I might as well read. The last of these papers was the story of John. At the end of the pamphlet, the author stated several times that John 3:16 was for ME. I took wholeheartedly what was being said.

I prayed. I realized that my road hadn't been perfect, way from it. I also realized that I had been left alive for a purpose. That purpose at the moment was to find Christ and admit I needed Him. I had a friend ask me if I needed Christ a few months earlier and I almost laughed. But I knew now that she was part of the plan too. There were many people praying and reaching out for me in the spirit of Christ. I remember the last line I said to God that night. "Obviously, I am living the direction that you wanted me to and that I am now willing to do this life your way. Take me where you want me."

That was over twelve and a half years ago. I haven't always been so willing, but I understand it a lot better than I did at 16. The church isn't always right. That's because it's human ran, rather than God ran at times. The same way each of us makes decisions. We don't always know. God tells us to strive to live as Christ. Why? Because if He told us to live as Christ, we'd all fail. I still do sometimes. I am appreciative that I get it right more often now than I used to.

One final note for those of you that followed this story from the beginning. I saw Joy Adams that day that I started at the church. She told me a little story. She told me that she had prayed for me since the day I left Mt. Zion. She added that she also prayed for Billy. She also prayed for a little boy that she wished had told the truth that day when Billy took the blame for some fake money in the offering. Yeah, I understood. I'm glad she loved me. Glad she loved me enough to want me to have what she had all along.

I love you guys,