Having Faith

Why do bad things happen in waves? I mean, I know sometimes bad things happen for a reason, but why all bunched up, one after the other?

Just this past Saturday morning, for example, I needed to drive my son to his part-time job. We woke up early, ate, and we were out the door right on schedule. I clicked the remote several times and there was no response from the car. I even tried to use the physical key to get in, but the car would not cooperate. It was dead.

My son ended up taking the bus, while I ended up on the phone with the rental car company trying to sort out the roadside assistance call. I am thankful for the insurance company paying for all the expenses until we received our car back from the repair shop for the accident my wife had had two weeks ago. Still, I was left scratching my head trying to make sense of it all.

Sometimes God allows things to happen in order to test our faith.

I cannot help but think of Hebrews 11. This chapter of the bible is often referred to as the faith chapter, and the one scripture that pops into my mind, when I think of all that has happened these past few weeks, is the one scripture that demonstrates absolute faith in God:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:17-19 ESV).

I find it inspiring that even though my family may feel the burden of multiple trials, I have yet to hear God’s voice asking me to sacrifice my son as a means to test my faith. In other words, I would gladly suffer these minor setbacks to relieve myself of the responsibility of deciding between life and death.

I know, it sounds extreme. But God is an overwhelming God. He strengthens me when I am weak. He picks me up when I have fallen. And, most of all, he shows mercy to me when I cry out to him in repentance.

Oh, how I wish I could come into his full glory now.

What a wonderful God I serve.

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New Beginnings

I am pleased to announce my latest book When Forgiveness Is Enough: Making Sense of God’s Calling will go on sale October 24.

In some ways, this book is a representation of everything I have gone through these past two years, and the joy I have felt acknowledging Jesus as the one true savior by whom God redeems the world from sin.

Even more so, this book release comes at a time when my family and I are working through a great trial God has blessed us with, to which we are learning patience, kindness and self-control. I do not think the words in this book would have carried the weight of God’s glory had we not gone through the events of last month, and learned from those events.

As I sit writing this, I cannot help but think how different my life is from two years ago when God began working with me. I used to write about zombies, horror and all sorts of dark themes. My life revolved around the latest undead news, theories and resolutions. My books were sitting at the top of the charts alongside the likes of Stephen King. Who in their right mind would give up such a life in pursuit of God, of all things?

Yet, when I began to read the bible cover to cover in January 2015, completing the task in December that same year, I did not realize God’s word was changing me. Without prodding from anyone, I was praying more, studying more, and meditating more on the things I read.

It did not end there. The biggest change is that I was praying for my enemies. I no longer wanted bad things to happen to those who I felt had wronged me. I was asking God to bless them in every way possible. I prayed for their families. I prayed for their employment. And most of all, I prayed that one day they would also come to the knowledge of Jesus and have faith that he will save all who believe in him.

I cannot express just how thankful I am to have completed this book with forgiveness as its central theme. It is my desire that whoever reads this book will go on to forgive others also.

How Do You Enjoy Life?

Before I begin, I cannot say how thrilled I am to welcome summer. Because of this, I will be taking the next several months off and will be coming back in the fall with all-new articles. Until then, you can catch me on Twitter where I am updating my “Year of Thanks” tweets, and on Instagram where I am posting photos of life as it happens.

In the meantime, this is what is on my mind this week:

What is it that makes some people jolly and others miserable? In fact, let me turn the question on its head. Does money buy happiness? After all, is that not what everyone looks to when thinking about being satisfied?

I am sure that if you think about it for a moment, money is the furthest thought on your mind when it comes to happiness. Right? We all want love, joy, peace, comfort, none of which we can attain without first understanding what happiness is.

Ah, but I hear someone say, “Money will certainly buy me comfort—a new sofa, a new bed, a new car, house, wardrobe.”

Yes, I agree, but for how long? Once the newness fades, then what? I can see why some folks end up in a cycle of going to work, buying stuff, paying the bills for the stuff they bought, and going out to buy other stuff to protect their stuff. Meanwhile, as the home becomes fuller, life becomes emptier.

This is why I would like you to think about this next question. Take your time and really think about it. If you want, you can leave a comment—or not. It is entirely up to you. This is all about you, and you really do not have to share a thing.

So here is my question:

How do you enjoy life?

Again, take your time to think about it. It all has to do with the perception of happiness. What do you perceive happiness being?

I will start it off. For me, happiness is spending time with my family, sharing experiences with friends, and praying and listening to God. Add to that good food, travel, and fulfillment with everything else that I do, there you have a perfect composite of me enjoying life.

Now, what about you?

How to Recognize God’s Favor

Luana and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. With it being the huge milestone that it was, we wanted to do something special. We also needed to stay close to home because Luana was still finishing off her RHN designation in holistic nutrition, and with exams and assignments due, we had to get back quickly.

We decided to drive to Toronto for several days and enjoy the comfort of a five-star hotel. Since it was a special occasion, we wanted to splurge a little. I mean, we scrimp and save so much throughout the year, even using coupons when we can, that with this being an once-in-a-lifetime event, we expected a lot. So six months prior, I booked an upscale 500-square-foot room in the heart of the city with plans to have dinner at the rotating restaurant at the top of the CN Tower while the sun was setting.

When the day finally came, it was raining. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed. We would not be able to see the sunset as I had hoped. Being the optimist that she was, Luana said, “Think about it, Jack. No kids. No responsibilities. I am so looking forward to soaking in a hot bath and enjoying the silence.”

Little did I realize God was setting us up for a huge blessing.

The night before, I had received an email from the hotel confirming the reservation. But something did not look right. Instead of $476 per-night that I was quoted when I had made the booking, the notification said the room would be $299 instead. The hotel gave us a free upgrade. I could not believe it.

But it did not end there. When God blesses, he blesses big.

Arriving at check-in, the concierge welcomed us, and we proceeded to complete the details for our stay. We exchanged pleasantries and then I asked about the tub.

“Is it a Jacuzzi or a soaker?”

“Neither. A shower.” He said. “A King bed and a shower.”

“Any chance of getting a tub?”

“Let me see what is available.”

As he typed away, Luana and I chatted about the Victorian décor and the elegant look to the lobby. We could not help but appreciate the rich architecture all around us.

“I have another room that may work for you.” The concierge said. “It is in our renovated wing. It is a step up from the original room. It has a tub and two Queen beds.”

Luana is practical, so she nixed the idea with one of those what-are-we-going-to-do-with-two-queen-beds look.

“This is the reason we have been married for twenty-five years.” I said. ”The original room will be fine.”

He laughed, and then went back to typing on his terminal. And for a while, there was silence. It was a good five minutes before he said anything else. “I have one more option. The room has a King bed and a tub. It also has a sitting room adjacent the bedroom. A bit more spacious than the room with the two Queens. Is that something you might be interested in?”

Was he kidding? Of course! When the concierge gave us our pass cards to the room, he also handed us two gift certificates. One was for two sparkling wines and the other was for a dessert of our choice at the hotel’s lounge that evening. We were at a loss for words. We did thank him eventually, but it took some time to realize God’s favor was on us and the best had yet to come.

After we reached the top floor of the hotel, Luana and I made our way to our room. By this time, we had had so many surprises spring up on us that we thought there could not be any more.

We were wrong. Our pass cards had two room numbers, which I thought was odd. We could enter our room through two doors from opposite ends of the hall.

Once inside, we dropped our bags, stunned. There was a King bed, bath, TV, sitting area in one room—yes, one room—and in the adjacent room was another bath, TV and sitting area. The hotel had given us a 1,000-square-foot room, which was almost $1,000 a night for $299.

The first thing we said to each other was, “This is God’s favor.”

We recognized it. We knew it. It was an extraordinary doing in an ordinary setting. No way could we have pulled off anything like this on our own. This was meticulously planned and perfectly executed. God’s hand was all over this one.

Later that evening we did end up having dinner at the top of the CN Tower. It was rainy, but Luana and I did not mind. We were together, and that is all that mattered.

We went back to the hotel for dessert.

5 Ways to Break a Bad Habit

We all have them but are too afraid to admit it. They dominate our lives, they control our routines, and they sour our mood.

What are they? They are bad habits. And bad habits is bad news for those wanting to live happy and abundant lives.

Let us take a moment to have a look at five ways we can break bad habits, and the benefits that come from overcoming weaknesses.

1. Confess the Habit

Mildred: “Judy, you may not believe it, but I bite my nails, bad.”

Judy: “I noticed, you have yet to gnaw off your cuticle to the bone.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to beating a bad habit. What better way to admit you have a problem than to confess it to a friend or loved one.

As difficult as it sounds, it really is easy to do. The problem lies with forgetting about your ego so you can grow into a better person.

If you find you cannot tell your bad habits to someone around you, you can take to writing them down on paper. Once you read them to yourself several times, you can either burn or introduce scissors to them.

In my case, I have done both. I have written them down and destroyed them, and I have told Luana about my deepest, darkest secrets as a way to throw away the insecurities caused by my weaknesses.

Yes, you may think that is extreme, but confessing our bad habits to others liberates us from carrying the burden ourselves.

2. Recognize the Triggers

Central to every bad habit rests a trigger. That trigger could be the innocent whiff of a scrumptious cake, the sight of a beautiful woman, or simply the craving for something that will calm the nerves.

Whatever the trigger, it will lead you to where you do not want to go. Therefore, recognize it. Tame it. And move on to bigger and better things.

It is easy to say, but incredibly hard to do. How do you recognize the very thing that causes you to stumble?

Self-reflection is an awesome power that all of us bad-habit harbingers possess. By finding a quiet spot and reflecting on what causes us to fall, we can identify the trigger. It will not happen overnight, but every moment we spend on improving ourselves is a moment spent overcoming a bad habit.

Sometimes, it is a matter of working through mock scenarios in order to determine the origin of the bad habit. Again, it will take time, but do not ever think it is time spent in a useless pursuit.

You will find the trigger. You will overcome your bad habit.

3. Replace the Bad with the Good

What is your bad habit? Is it eating late-night snacks before bed? Are you saddled with debt but cannot help spending more money on that fancy new vacation? Do you drink more than you should, even though you know it will lead to long-term health problems?

The best way to throw away a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit. Positive reinforcement is better than negative execution. Find the bad and lift away its effects on your life by flooding it with good.

You would love to eat a slew of late-night snacks. I understand that. Try drinking water, it will fill you and act as a cleanser. You have so much debt that you do not know how you will handle it in several months when the creditors start knocking on your door to repossess your home. Forget about that vacation and work at cutting down your spending. After all, you would like to have a future without worrying about who you owe, right? And that cocktail you are thinking about consuming? Consider having a soda, or, better yet, a tea. Always think about the future. Learn how your actions today will shape your tomorrow.

Do you bite your nails? Snack on carrots. Do you have a problem with wandering eyes? Think of the one you love. Are you prone to laziness? Find something to do other than watching television. It may sound harsh, but we are talking about getting rid of the things that hold us back from achieving our true potential.

4. Make New Friends

Every bad habit carries with it baggage. That baggage includes friends who are enablers. And enablers only have one thing on their mind—their own self-gratification.

Surround yourself with people who genuinely love you for who you are.

When you are with enablers, they will tear your down, strip you of your character, and allow you to struggle and fall in a pool of your own misery. What you need to do is identify the enablers and cut them from your life. How far do you go?

Think of them as if they never existed.

You never knew them.

The other side of it is you now have the chance to meet new people who will build you up, carry you forward, and believe in you for the person you are and not the person they think you ought to be.

New friends mean new experiences, which translates to new opportunities for growth.

5. Bring God to the Fight

Everyone may have a concept of what or who God is. For me, God is the creator of all things, the one who sacrificed his only son, Jesus, for the salvation of the many. Without God, I do not know where I would be.

When faced with a destructive pattern, it is good to know that a higher power, such as God, is there to fight on our behalf. We do not have to fight alone. Whatever the frailty, strength is always available. We can tap into it and not worry about the cost.

When our minds focus on eternity, the awful behaviors that plague us now do not seem so unstoppable. We can continue living, knowing there is always someone there to pick us up after a fall.

The trick is to permit that strength to course through our lives. In so doing, breaking a bad habit then becomes possible.

How to Overcome Fear

Everyone is afraid of something. You can be afraid of heights (Acrophobia), afraid of open spaces (Agoraphobia), or simply afraid of spiders (Arachnophobia).

In my case, I have always been afraid of public speaking. I recently discovered my fear goes by the name Glossophobia, which is really speech anxiety. I would have thought, though, a fear such as this would have gone by a better name. Something like Heartinmythroatphobia would make more sense. I would even accept KillmenowbeforeIgoonstagephobia.

I have learned, however, that fear avoidance does nothing more than delay the inevitable. Eventually the same challenge will appear and I will have to tackle it one way or another.

Facing My Fears

To overcome my fear of public speaking I do what any normal human being would do. I immerse myself in situations where I cannot avoid public speaking.

I realize it sounds counterintuitive. After all, who does that? Who confronts the very thing that promotes that queasy feeling in the pit of the stomach that renders a person sick as a billy goat?

Well, I do.

Whenever there is an opportunity to make a speech, say a few words on behalf of an event, or have a need to make my opinion known, I am there. I do it because I know that if I choose to stay quiet, I will not grow and be a better individual. I will remain the same.

Sameness makes a person lukewarm.

And a long time ago, I promised myself I would never be lukewarm for something I care about a great deal.

God Fights on My Behalf

The other thing I have yet to mention that gives me the courage to step outside of myself and face my fears is I have God fight my battles for me:

“Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you’” (Isa. 35: 4 NLT).

Imagine your fear being a big bully waiting for you at the end of the street. In the past, you turned the corner and went the other way. But on this occasion, right ahead is God who will ensure your safety. He will fight in your stead. He will vanquish your enemies and turn them into dust.

With a thought like that is it a wonder anyone has any fear at all.

Will Fear Ever Vanish?

Yet, every so often, I still have that queasy feeling whenever all eyes are gazing at me. And I am fine with that because I know as I move forward toward overcoming my insecurity I will be a better version of myself.

In that sense, it is all a matter of facing the challenge head on, and tackling it so that I can control it as opposed to it controlling me.

Add to that God’s help, and I know I have nothing to fear.

7 Keys to Achieve Success

Why do some people succeed with their goals while others fail? Is it because those who succeed have a plan? Or is it that they have the strands of success so ingrained in their DNA that nothing will prevent them from achieving their true potential?

7 Keys to Achieve SuccessI have often wondered this myself. But then again, over the course of three years, I did write a bestselling book trilogy while publishing three articles a week in support of my effort. So, I suppose, I do have some insight in what it takes to be successful.

Below is the template I use whenever I set out to accomplish anything that is beyond what I can accomplish on my own. You can use this template for just about anything. It will encourage you to keep pressing forward, never to surrender.

If one day, because of these seven keys, you become President of the United States, remember me as the guy who put you there. I take cash, bank draft, money order and certified check. However, I think I would be more useful as your Vice President.

1. Create a Mission Statement

Every success story has a beginning, and every beginning sparks from a single thought. You cannot know where you are going if you do not have a destination.

Begin by thinking about what you want to achieve, sit down and write it down. Your goals will not become reality if you do not write them down.

7 Keys to Achieve SuccessWhen you have your goals written down in the form where you can see them, touch them, and read them back to yourself, they become real.

Think of your goals as Mission Statements. Simply writing the words, “Rock Star” on a piece of paper will not make it so. Instead, be specific: “In one year I will lead a rock band, and in five years I will put out my first single.”

The more specific you are with your Mission Statement the more it will become an accomplished goal.

You can do the same thing with life goals: “By this time next year, I will have bought a house, paid my first mortgage installment and looked after my own lawn.”

Seeing your goals detailed on paper will bring your goals to life.

Create your Mission Statement now.

2. Prepare an Action Plan

Writing down your Mission Statement is only the first step to achieve success. You will now need an Action Plan to move you along the journey.

How are you going to get to where you want to go? A good driver will have counted the cost of travel. A good driver will have also planned the route, landmarks to look for and destination. A good driver will know when the journey is complete.

Similarly, if you are thinking about completing your degree in Physics, you will need to create an Action Plan that details the courses you will need, the cost, time and effort you will need to expend to achieve this success.

An Action Plan can be as simple as this:

  • Make $5,000 in tuition working at Mom and Pop’s Grocery for four months
  • Take 2 electives
  • Write my thesis
  • Graduate top of my class within a year of registering

Notice that the Action Plan contains a detailed timeline, cost estimate of the goal and a success benchmark. In this case, the success benchmark is graduating top of the class.

3. Stay Healthy

Once you begin your journey toward success, you will need one vital component to maintain your stamina. That very important component is your health.

Without good health, no matter how strong or positive you think you are, either it will take you longer to achieve success, or you will not achieve it at all.

7 Keys to Achieve SuccessGood health, however, comes with a price tag.

It means sleeping as much as you can so that the body can repair itself. It means eating right—fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and fish. If you can afford organic, buy organic. Organic food contains all the vitamins and minerals intact. A good multi-vitamin supplement will also go a long way toward improving your health.

Get rid of the junk food. Most junk food contains vast amounts of sugar, salt and fat that cause all sorts of ugly things to happen in the body. That goes for processed foods as well. If you grow a third arm, do not say I did not say so.

Most of all, exercise. Keep your blood flowing throughout all parts of your body. The more you exercise, the more you will feel energetic to tackle bigger and better tasks.

4. Schedule Downtime

Every week I take one day to unplug from social media. That is, I take one day to avoid logging into my site, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and all other forms of online activity.

You might think that is crazy. In a sense, it is crazy.

Doing so, though, allows me to take stock of my life without the distraction of pings, whistles, bings, dings and dongs. Rather, I will sit quietly reading and meditating on my achievements from the past week.

Scheduling downtime is an art. I nearly fell off my chair recently when I had read that some European companies offer their employees unlimited vacation time. Can you imagine having two months off from work lying on a beach in Italy eating healthy meals while North Americans slave away late into the evening just to make a buck?

As humans, we need time away in order to recharge and stay sane.

7 Keys to Achieve SuccessTime away or downtime does not mean unproductive time, though.

I get my best ideas when I am waking up or doing absolutely nothing. I cannot say how many times a good idea has raced through my mind while shaving.

Downtime presents you with a great opportunity to look at your Action Plan to ensure you are meeting your milestones based on your Mission Statement.

5. Leave Room for Incidentals

Things happen in life. Sometimes life throws you circumstances that will make it seem as if there is no way you will achieve what you have set out to do.

And that is okay. That is life. You will need to leave room for incidentals.

If you have given yourself a timeline, it may be that you will need to extend the timeline as a means to accommodate surprises.

Again, life events play into this, too. The only thing you can do is ride it out and once it is all over, do your best to get back on track.

In other words, accept it and move on.

6. Never Give Up

If I could stress anything more than anything, it would be for you never to give up.

Always look to the goal. Always keep your Mission Statement at the tip of your tongue. Repeat it several times as a reminder of what you committed to when you wrote it. Review your Action Plan to see where you are. Every time you feel the urge to give up, shake it off. Go for a walk. Go for a run.

7 Keys to Achieve SuccessPush those insecurities from your mind. You have counted the cost. You knew it was not going to be easy. Yet, you went ahead with your Action Plan anyway. You did it because you knew it was what you wanted to do.

Forget about what people may think of you. Let them think what they will. Your job is to continue on that journey to success. Nothing will stop you from that.

Nothing will prevent you from achieving your dreams.

7. Keep God in the Picture

This last point may be different for everyone. For me it means all the difference between success and failure.

God is my center, as I know Jesus is his son. I involve God in everything I do. Whenever I create a Mission Statement and write an Action Plan, God is there with me to put it all together.

God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 are always on my mind, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (NIV).

7 Keys to Achieve SuccessEveryone needs someone great to believe in. For me it is God.

He has my back.

One More Thing

After achieving success several times with this plan, you will ask yourself this question: What more is there?

The best answer I have is this: Share this knowledge with everyone you know so that others may have the opportunity to make their dreams come true.

Knowledge shared is knowledge earned.