Glued Together

When you glue two pieces of paper together, you cannot get them apart again without some tearing and without each one losing a part of itself – forever a part of the other.

I do not usually deal with specific issues on my blog.  I would much prefer to present the spiritual principles and truths and let you learn to apply them in your own life situations. However, this is one I want to throw out because people about whom I care have recently dealt with or are dealing with this.

I’ve been there, too.  I know the pain of marriage that just doesn’t seem to be working, of an unfaithful spouse, of facing my own failures and inadequacies in a relationship, and of going through a divorce.  When you commit to someone in marriage, you are like two pieces of paper glued together.  You cannot divorce without feeling torn, tattered, and hurt.  You feel the loss not only of the other person, but of part of yourself.

In Genesis 2:24, in the story of creation, God created woman out of man and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”  That message of Scripture is the same and it is true whether or not you believe it is historical or just part of the “creation myth.”  The principle was established in the beginning – husband and wife were made to be one.  Referring to this passage, in Matthew 19:6, Jesus says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Yes, we could argue specific cases involving adultery, abuse, crime, and so forth.  Even in those cases, my point isthere is still going to be tearing and hurting and loss caused by the divorce itself, in addition to the pain and hurt that led up to it.

I am not telling you to not divorce.  That is something beyond the purpose of this blog and I will not be baited into that discourse in this context.  That is something you need to work out between you, your spouse, and your Heavenly Father.  Just be aware that a divorce is not a quick fix to the problems of your marriage.  Divorce brings pain all its own.  You need to be very sure that your marriage cannot be fixed, that you are aware of the additional pain and problems that come from ending a marriage, and that it is really worth more to you and everyone else affected by it to end it rather than fix it.

Beyond any shadow of doubt, what I have shared throughout this blog about trusting God and giving thanks will see you through whatever crisis you face.  It isn’t a magical quick fix.  You are still going to deal with hurts and sorrows and all the other emotions of life.  By no means am I discounting the pain you feel.  Cancer, divorce, loss of job, loss of loved ones, PTSD, illness or injury, abuse, bullying, loneliness….  There’s no way I could list every possible hardship.  The ultimate answer is the same.  It comes down to learning to embrace all of life – the good and the bad, and trust God to bring you through.

The principles don’t change just because the experiences differ!  We all have a limited number of emotions with which to respond to life.  (You did see the movie “Inside Out,” right?)  And, quite frankly, all this stuff about “You don’t understand because you haven’t been through what I’m going through” is a bunch of malarkey.  If you want to define “what you’re going through” narrowly enough, then no two people have ever had exactly the same experience.  So, you can find away to isolate yourself all alone in your misery if you want to, and refuse anybody’s help.  The truth is, there are a lot of people who have been through similar things.  And there are many more who have been through things just as intense.  We all had to figure out how to respond based on the basic list of emotions available to each and every one of us.  Find people who have dealt with their crisis effectively and learned valuable spiritual truths from them.  Don’t look for people who share your despair and will encourage you to make the easy, self-centered, and self pitying choices.  It isn’t nearly as important that you become “emotionally stronger” as it is that you become spiritually stronger.  Spiritual strength will lead to emotional, and even physical renewal.  Focusing on the emotional or physical allows you to make the wrong choices, but temporarily feel good about it.  Eventually, you’ll realize your still a torn piece of paper, and you lost a few pieces of yourself along the way.

When Peter got out of the boat and walked on water, yes, he looked around and saw the storm stirring up the waves.  Yes, he got scared and sank.  Yes, Jesus reached out and pulled him up.  No, the storm did not stop immediately.  The Bible says the storm stopped “when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”  Jesus walked Peter back through the storm to the boat, asking him along the way why he doubted?  He’s asking us the same thing.  The problem is still out there.  But, He’s walking with us, asking, “Why did you doubt?”  The storm hasn’t stopped, but it will.  Walk with Him.  Know Him.  Trust Him.  Be thankful.

Why Thankfulness?

If you’re not familiar with west Louisiana, it is beautiful country of rolling hills, streams, rivers, and forests.  In earlier times it was part of the vast pine forests that covered the deep south region of North America from the Atlantic into what is now East Texas.  Much of that area still has remnants of that great forest, though much of it now has hardwood forests, and most of the pines are grown by and for the lumber industry. In early October, I attended a family gathering near Florien, LA.  There is a family “farm,” about 6 miles east of town.  No one farms the family farm any more.  It is a gathering place for the cousins from my Mom’s side of the family.  The heirs collectively own quite a bit of acreage there.  Most of it is forested, some still cleared from when some of our ancestors did farm it.  There among the trees and fields are an old house and a family cemetery.  The cemetery has graves dating back to before the Civil War.

Papa’s House

My great grandfather, John C. Sibley, Jr., lived in the old house.  My mom and her family lived there with him for several years during late 1920’s.  I mentioned him in an earlier post.  He would put my Aunt Jean on his shoulder and take her for walks.  She was blind, and he would describe to her the beauty of God’s creation.  So, when I was there in October, one of the things I really wanted to do, was go sit on the porch of that old house, get out my guitar and music, and just worship the Lord in that place that embodies a significant part of my family’s legacy.  That Saturday morning, at day break, I did just that.  It was all I hoped it would be and more.  The Father met me there on that porch with the lush green grass in the fields, the rich browns and deep greens of the surrounding woods, the peacefulness of the country road, a rich blue sky and a glorious sunrise of reds and golds streaking through the trees.  I felt His presence and His love, and I sang and loved Him back for over an hour.  And I knew this was where Papa Sibley had held his little, blind granddaughter and taught her about a loving God through the beauty of His creation.

Papa Sibley was only 5 when his dad died, and just 9 when his Mama passed away.  His Mama had kept the letters her husband wrote to her during the Civil War.  At the time, they had one daughter, Belle; John Jr was born after the war.  Here’s his advice to her on child-rearing:
“Lizzie dear, have you ever learned her yet that there is a God who rules over her destiny. I fear this is a subject that you avoid.  But dear, beware that you do so while she is yet young.  Show her the rising sun, the bright moon, the growing plant, the stately tree, the fragrant flower, the falling rain and such things, and teach her that they are made by a great and good God who loves her and who will save her in life and after death.  Teach her to love the name of God and worship him while she is young and she will not forget to do so when she is old.  Learn her to love everything that is good and beautiful.”And, Lizzie did.  And I think her mother, Matilda, carried it on after Lizzie died and she adopted Belle and John, Jr.  And Papa did, particularly for Aunt Jean, but I’m guessing for others, too.

Pretty cool, huh?  But, here’s the real deal.  In Romans 1:18-21, Paul says that none of us has an excuse for ungodly or unrighteous actions, or for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, because God has made known His “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.”  He made these attributes “clearly seen,” evident to even those who seek to suppress the truth.  Where?  How?  In His creation.  In the things He made – the rising sun, the bright moon, the growing plant, stately tree, fragrant flower, and falling rain.

The problem is, according to Romans 1:21, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks….”  It was because they refused to honor Him, and could not find it in their hearts to be thankful to Him, that their hearts became dark and hard, and they turned to sin and then tried to alleviate their guilt by suppressing the truth.  And people still do that today.

They could not find it in their hearts to be thankful, and their hearts became dark and hard. Give thanks, and let Him soften your heart Click To Tweet

Just look around you.  If you have to drive a few miles out of town to see anything besides bricks, steel and glass, then do it.  But look at the world around you – that God made.  Be awed by it.  Recognize where it came from.  It really wasn’t by chance.  Honor God as God.  And be thankful.

Legacy

In an earlier post I mentioned my great-grandfather, Papa Sibley, and the influence he had on my Aunt Jean. She wrote of him: “My grandfather, John Coleman Sibley, whom we lovingly called Papa, died when I was only 11 years of age, but he has had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known. He was a devoted Christian, and was loved and respected by all those who knew him.” What a legacy.

I don’t know a lot about Papa Sibley. He was a “junior.” His father, John Coleman senior, kept a diary during the Civil War, which I first read when I was about 11 years old. John senior was married to Lizzie. They had 2 little girls when John went off to war. Ella was about 4 or 5, and Mattie was newborn in 1861. Ella died in 1864 while John was away from home. John junior was born in 1865. Five years later, in 1870, John senior died. In, 1874, Lizzie died, leaving 13 year old Mattie and 9 year old John orphaned. I was thinking about this recently and wondered who raised them? Who had a godly influence on them that could have attributed to Papa Sibley being the godly man Aunt Jean described?

According to the 1880 census they were then living with Matilda Sibley. It took a little digging to figure out who Matilda was. My ancestry research didn’t show a Matilda Sibley. I finally found her. It was Lizzie’s mother. Lizzie’s maiden name was Stoker. Matilda Dendy’s first husband was Matthew Stoker. He died sometime prior to 1849, and in 1849, she married William Sibley, uncle to John Coleman senior. So, she and her daughter both wound up married to Sibleys and sharing the same last name. So, what about Matilda?

This was a time when it was not uncommon for someone to be widowed, to remarry, sometimes more than once. It was very common to have several children, particularly if a second, or third spouse was younger. Families of 5 to even 12 or 15 children were not altogether unusual.

Matilda and Matthew Stoker just had the one daughter, Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie), before Matthew died.  Matilda’s marriage to William was his third. He had several children from his previous marriages. William and Matilda just had one daughter, Amanda, born in 1850. I know little of the intervening years. William was a preacher and one of the founders of Toro Baptist Church outside of Florien, LA.  Their daughter Amanda died in 1860. William died in 1861, a few months after the war began. A couple of his children from his second marriage were in their mid-teens, and likely lived with Matilda until they grew up. Then when her daughter Lizzie died, she took in her grandchildren.

I know from his diary and some other preserved writings that John and Lizzie were both Christians. For me, it speaks to the legacy of Matilda, in particular, who took these youngsters, and raised them, and apparently gave them the foundation that turned 9 year old orphaned John into a devoted Christian whom Aunt Jean said “had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.”

Now for someone to say this about someone other than his or her parents is no insult to them. She also talked about how her daddy sang hymns, and about how her parents, and other grandparents, her sister (my mom), and others influenced her spiritual growth and development. There was just something special there between her and Papa, and he was there sharing the right things at the right time. He took the time to talk to this small, frail, blind and crippled child, that most adults didn’t have or take the time to spend.

And, when I was a little boy, early elementary age, Aunt Jean came to live with us after my grandmother died. Aunt Jean often took the time to talk with me, to tell me stories about her childhood, to read to me from her Braille Bible, and teach me about prayer and faith in God. And you know what, Aunt Jean had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.

So, Thank You, Lord, for Matilda (1818-1892) and the legacy she passed on to her grandson, John (1865-1936). Thank You that he grew up to love You, and passed that on to Jean Ellzey (1924-1994), and to me. You really love me, Lord. And, I love You, too. Grant that I may pass that on in the same way in just one life.

However many I may touch, God grant that I may pass on a legacy of Your love to one willing heart. Click To Tweet

 

Real Slavery – Real Freedom

Our nation is bleeding out. An old wound, which was yet in the process of healing, has been torn open over the past eight years. We need healing, and it doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. It could come sooner if we, as Christians, would focus on the Gospel and not on sociopolitical agenda.  Somehow, we have it in our heads that if we address socially relevant issues head on and try to change our culture that we are helping people.  Yet the point of Gospel is the Good News that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to make a way for men to be reconciled to God. Only then, will our hearts be changed, and only then will the way we treat and interact with one another be changed. Only then will our culture be changed.

Part of the problem is that we don’t understand history. Maybe the fault is with our schools who, 30 or 40 years ago, began trying to teach a more “honest” history – and began emphasizing the negative aspects of our nation’s past in general, and the failings of historical figures specifically. In the process, as we developed a more “real” social consciousness, the good aspects of our national history were swallowed up in the blackness of our failings. We were so busy casting stones that we didn’t realize we were pummeling our nation into oblivion. That’s the way it usually goes when we focus on someone else’s sin. We try to get the speck of sawdust out of their eye and don’t realize we’re smacking them upside the head with the 2×4 sticking out of our own eye, and everyone walks away bloody, bruised and blinded.

I’ve found several books recently that are histories of individual counties where some of my ancestors lived. The three I’ve read so far were written in the early 1900’s by Civil War veterans – one from Pennsylvania, one from Louisiana, and one from Mississippi. Their perspectives on the Civil War obviously vary. One of the confederate veterans surprised me a little by stating unequivocally that the nation went to war over the issue of slavery. From his perspective, the constitution gave the states the right to have slavery, and to secede. The north was destroying the constitution by ignoring it and forcing the south to abandon the practice. He pointed out the irony that the south had outlawed the importation of new slaves in the early 1800’s, but Northern slave traders continued to bring new slaves in from Africa and sell them in the slave markets into the 1840’s. He also pointed out the number of times northern states, especially Massachusetts, had threatened to exercise their constitutional right to secede from the Union over one issue or another, but when the south did, they went to war. He said the south fought for their constitutional rights, but that having gone through that and seen the end to slavery, they would fight again rather than go back to that institution.

One of the things that struck me the most in all three books, is the acceptance that once the war was over, it was over. The country was reunited. The men who fought on both sides went back to being committed, loyal citizens of the United States. Yes, there was still some anger, suffering, struggling (especially through the “Reconstruction Era”), but they began the process of restoring and renewing our land. Their fathers and forefathers were the founders of the nation, veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Some of them, and their sons went on to become veterans of the Spanish-American War. The government eventually recognized Confederate soldiers as being American veterans and gave them veteran pensions and authorized veteran markers for their graves.

Obviously, in terms of race relations, there is still much to be done. If anything, in recent years we’ve seen reversals and increased division. It is way past time for us to promote healing in our nation. However, social action has had limited success. I was about to suggest messages for black preachers and white preachers, but 1) I’m not going to buy into the division, and 2) though there might be subtle nuances, the message is essentially the same for all of us.

Preacher, you have an opportunity right now to truly bring healing. It isn’t by tearing down monuments and renaming parks. Nor is it by fighting against that. Change will come by prayer and by proclamation of the Gospel. Paul’s example was to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23).

What does that mean? It isn’t just “Jesus died for your sins.” The way you become a Christian is the way you live as a Christian (Gal. 2:6). It means ‘By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30). It means ‘By grace you have been saved through faith;… it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8). It means ‘you have been [made of no effect apart from] Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace‘ (Gal. 5:4).That doesn’t mean fallen from salvation. It means you stopped living by the heavenly, eternal grace that saved you and subjected yourself to worldly, temporal laws and notions of morality. As a result, you are of no effect as a Christian.

Instead of preaching social justice, ask your people, “Is slavery wrong? Is it evil? Is it an atrocity? Is it morally reprehensible that it was part of our nation’s history? Yes! But that was the past. In the present, in the here and now, if slavery is so evil, then why are you allowing yourselves to become slaves to sin? Why do you allow sin to dominate you? You want to show that you are better than someone else? Well, you’re not! We are all equal in Christ. The very fact that you think you are better than someone else proves that you are not. You want to be better than someone else? Well, quit it. Christianity isn’t about that. Die to yourself, love God, trust God! Give thanks to God. Let Jesus Christ come in and be at home in your heart. Let Him change you from within. When you honor and glorify Jesus by allowing Him to be your very life, when He is revealed to all as being your life and affects they way you live and love your fellow man in general and your Christian brothers (whatever their race) in particular, then you will be revealed with Him in glory! Not by exalting yourself, but by exalting Christ and becoming like Him will you gain the respect and esteem of all men.”

When Christ is revealed as being your life, then you will be revealed with Him in glory. Click To Tweet

And how do you do that? Romans 1 ends with a long list of sins. But that list begins with a very significant insight. It talks about men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It says that even though God made Himself known, “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” The King James says, “they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.” That is the beginning point of sin. And the reverse is also true – if you want victory over sin, the starting place is learning to give thanks – extreme thanks – not just for good things, not even just for good things in the midst of bad things. Rather, it is giving thanks always, for all things. For the Father has given all things to the Son, and He will use all things to mold us into the image of the Son. That’s what dying to self is all about. That is the “crucified life.” It is learning to totally trust our totally trustworthy God.

Giving thanks to God is the starting point for victory over bitterness and sin. Click To Tweet

If we think we are better than someone else because of our race or for any other reason, we need to realize we have no worth apart from our relationship with Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:14-16 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of [fall short of] the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Christian! Are you selling your spiritual birthright, the experience of the heavenly here on earth, the eternal in the here and now, for a morsel of temporal “meat”? Are you feeding bitterness by arguing over monuments, and parks, and the dead institution of slavery when our nation is defiled by spiritual death, enslaved by sin? The Bible does not deal directly with the issue of slavery because the real issue is the hearts of men and their eternal relationship with God. Make a real change there and it will have an impact on the “real” world.

You change the world by changing men's hearts. Click To Tweet

 

Shaken – with a Purpose

He changes:

  • RIVERS into a WILDERNESS
  • SPRINGS OF WATER into a THIRSTY GROUND
  • A FRUITFUL LAND into a SALT WASTE
    Because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.

True wickedness is settling for and embracing the temporal instead of the eternal. Let me rephrase that.
True wickedness is settling for and embracing earthy, earthly, temporary things when the God who IS, and is a Rewarder, offers us the eternal, offers us Himself.

True wickedness is not – sexual perversion, divorce, abuse, pornography, violence, war, murder, rape, drug abuse, prostitution, molestation, theft, adultery, greed, gossip, envy,….
These things are wrong. They are evil. They are immoral. Not because society or culture says so. Rather, they result from wickedness. They come from the evil, shallow hearts of men and women who do not give thanks (Romans 1:21) because they do not truly believe that He IS – that He is eternal, creator, holy, magnificent, loving, kind – and a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Those evils result from true wickedness – embracing the temporal instead of the eternal.

So, the outer man, the earthly, temporal man, decays (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). The afflictions of this life are intended to show us the vanity of life under the sun (see Ecclesiates) – the temporal – so we will embrace life in the Son – the eternal. Everything we hold on to, everything we settle for, everything we embrace that is temporal eventually will be shaken so that nothing remains except that which is truly worth holding on to the – the eternal. The goal being that we can with gratitude offer an acceptable – whole-hearted, totally yielded, totally trusting, totally resting in Him and His faithfulness – service to God (Hebrews 12:26).

So we go through life and our rivers become a wilderness. Our springs dry up and become thirsty ground. Our fruitful land becomes a waste land. The soap bubbles in which we take such great delight pop into nothingness. Life under the sun just doesn’t seem to hold any meaning, any joy, any true fulfillment.

Quit holding on to things that don’t last, and fall into the Father’s arms, and be held. He truly loves you. Seek Him, and He will be found by you – He will reward your seeking. You long for meaning, for purpose, for peace, for comfort, for joy, for wealth? Don’t settle for the emptiness of soap bubbles, for the whispiness of cotton candy, for life under the sun. Embrace life by giving thanks to the Father and focusing on the Eternal. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.

Then,
He changes:

  • WILDERNESS into a POOL OF WATER
  • DRY LAND into SPRINGS OF WATER
  • And there He makes the hungry to dwell

Is your life being shaken? Are you feeling like you’re in a wilderness? How can I pray for you today?

Oh, the bliss of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled. Click To Tweet

click to retweet, and send me a direct message on my Facebook page with your email or Kindle email address, or sign up for e-mail on my blog, and I’ll send you a digital copy of Jean Ellzey’s book – In Him There Is No Darkness. Jean was born blind and crippled. She was my aunt. Her autobiography is inspiring as she tells of the loneliness of a child who cannot see, who cannot run and play with others, and how she chose God as her best friend, for life.

 

Image from 4freephotos.com

An Invitation

How to be joyful, without faking it.

Come join me on a journey into joy. We are supposed to have joy as Christians, right? How do you find joy in a world like we have seen this month? The death of two black men at the hands of police officers and the media jumping on it without knowing whether or not the shootings were “justified.” Then the sniper attack on police in Dallas resulting in five dead officers and others wounded. Then a terrorist attack in Nice, France leaving over 80 dead. Finally, a failed attempted coup in Turkey.

And that’s the world stage! Then, there’s where we live. Friends dealing with cancer, marital problems, divorce, financial struggles, pressures at work and home.

Sounds pretty grim. And we’re supposed to be joyful?

 

Relentlessjoy

 

In my welcome to this blog, I shared an experience that set me on this journey many years ago. And it is a journey. I first wrote “Extreme Thanks” in 1991, under the title “He Is a Rewarder.” I’ve tried to come up with an elevator speech to answer the question, “What’s it about?”  I’m still working on it. I’m open to ideas.

It’s about learning to give thanks always for all things. Hmmm. What’s that tell you? Needs a little fleshing out.

Well, giving thanks is a form of praying, and it’s a part of prayer. So, the book is kind of about praying. Giving thanks is also a way of telling God that you trust Him in a given situation to work that situation for your good and His glory. So, it’s about trust and faith. Giving thanks helps us let go of our fears and learn to be joyful, to find God’s strength for our trials. It helps us be joyful even through our trials. So, it’s about finding joy. It’s all of that, and more.

It really is a journey. And the journey continues as I grow and learn.

Here’s the thing…

I’m not a “professional” Christian. I don’t get paid for it. I have pastored, been a music and youth minister, but that was a long time ago. As a lay-person, I’ve led worship, led home church and cell church groups. For my entire adult life, since college, I have worked full-time at “real world” jobs. There have been times through the years that I have been more successful at living out and applying the lessons I’ve learned and written about than others. Now I’m at a place where I really need to just live it, to the extreme, to the maximum. It is my heart’s deep desire to just walk in the joy of the Lord, and I know that is wrapped up in joyfully giving thanks always for all things to a God who is faithful to work all things for my good, and His glory.

The Invitation

I submit that God’s love is relentless. His tenderness toward us is relentless. In response, our faith and our expression of faith through thanksgiving should be relentless. The result will be a relentless joy. God's love, relentless. God's tenderness, relentless. Our response - relentless faith and thanksgiving. The result, relentless joy. Click To Tweet

So, I invite you to walk with me on this journey. Learn with me. Grow with me. And, while we’re at it, you can help me develop my blog and my book into something relevant, meaningful, and helpful – especially helpful.