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.

How to Stay Focused

We have developed the attention span of a hamster. It should not surprise anyone. After all, a typical movie at the theater cuts to a new angle or scene in roughly 0.5 seconds. Is it a wonder not all of us suffer from ADHD.

Yet, our short attention span does affect us, such that it prevents us from concentrating effectively.

How can we remain focused without sacrificing our time while doing it? How can we not feel threatened by the passing of time and accomplish our goals?

Put blinders on.

Ignore everything that goes on around us. We may be on a train or a bus reading our favorite novel, when someone sits next to us who is blaring music from his or her headset. As hard as it seems, we can either move to another seat or simply ignore the interference.

It does take some practice, but it is possible to sit next to someone who is incredibly disruptive while working through a goal.

Is there a secret?

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Col. 3:12-14 NLT throughout).

Follow the plan.

Obstacles have a way of showing up at the most inopportune time. Our main concern, though, should be about how we respond to the challenge. Do we complain to those around us? Or do we pick up from where we fell and move on?

Once a plan is in place that points to a specific goal, we ought to forget everything else in order to achieve that goal. Of course, in some cases, this is not possible. Circumstances beyond our control will cause delays. That is life. And that is okay. However, as long as we keep to the plan, we will achieve whatever we set out to do:

“Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise” (Prov. 6:6).

Despite its enemies, an ant will continue to accumulate food during the summer and autumn months as a means to survive during the winter.

That is what an ant does. Consider the ant.

Imagine the reward.

When all else fails, an image of receiving the reward, after we have achieved what we set out to do, is a great incentive to remain focused.

We can think of the journey being over. We can think of the relief, that after all the hard work, all the diligent study, all the trials we had to endure, all the sarcastic remarks from others, if any, all the late nights, all the early mornings, all the long treks, we can finally say we have successfully completed the work. Imagine what it would feel like if it took place tomorrow or the next day. Would that not be the most incredible feeling ever?

Hold on to that feeling. Keep it close to the heart.

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win” (1 Cor. 9:24).

There is one more thing.

With God on our side who can be against us? Every hero has an enemy. Moses had Pharaoh. Samson had the Philistines. David had Goliath. In every case, though, God was there making the way clear, fulfilling his promises and showing his love for those who followed his lead.

As long as we remain focused on the reward, we can achieve anything.

And with God on our side, the fight will be forever in our favor.

3 Techniques to Avoid Envy

It never fails. You buy a brand new car, house, boat, phone, coat, and then you notice the neighbor next door has a better version of it than you have. That wonderful feeling of pride you experienced owning that new item suddenly plummets to anger.

There is a way, though, to avoid these feelings of despair.

1. Never compare ourselves with others.

Comparing ourselves with others is a losing game. Everyone is different. We all have different tastes, different styles and different goals in life. When we look to others, and compare what we have, let alone, what we do not have, and wish our lives were different, we set ourselves up for failure.

We need to appreciate our own circumstances in order to appreciate our own value.

That is hard to do when society does nothing more than compare people with people all the time. Disengaging is not an option either. We cannot go a day without having contact with another person.

Yet, when we look into the mirror, we ought to see how wonderful a creation we truly are, and that there is no one else like us in this entire world.

2. Forget about coveting what others have.

The bible is quite clear when it talks about coveting:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17 ESV).

The idea that God knew what we would be like before issuing the tenth commandment should inspire a pause. Envy has a way of eating at our hearts, promoting fear, and lingering long after we come to the realization of its futility.

Coveting does one thing well. It convinces us we are inferior to those of whom we covet. We ought to know better. We ought to toss covetousness aside. God believes we are better than the things we desire that are not ours.

God wants us to be strong in spirit and strong in character.

Envy cannot grow in a person who avoids comparing oneself with others.

3. Engage in activities that will build self-esteem.

Ultimately, the cause of envy is low self-esteem. Being secure with who we are and what we do raises our satisfaction with ourselves and with what we have. If we do not like who we are, then logically, we would want to be someone else. What better way to be someone else than to want what others have.

Purging the need for validation is the first step to building self-esteem. Finding activities that will allow us to grow in that direction is the second step.

As someone who aids others with the direction of their lives, I tend to ask questions that promote discussion. One of the questions I ask is this: what makes you happy? Many of the people of whom I speak with do not know what makes them happy. Some cite money. Some say a beautiful house and car. But no one really talks about satisfaction with their lives. There is always something missing, which they believe is something material in nature they need to possess.

Possessions do not make people happy.

Money makes life easier, but it does not make people happy.

However, the simple activity of flying a kite, or walking a dog, or stomping our feet in the rain may bring incredible joy that cannot be compared with anything else.

Simple activities such as these are what define happiness for us, and we would not need to succumb to envy to build our self-esteem.

What more is there?

Perhaps it is time to see things from a different perspective. Perhaps it is time to love others rather than want to become them. Only then would we feel compelled not to envy them.

Only then would we become whole.

How to Simplify Our Lives

Have you ever seen a baby drive a car? Of course, not. Do you know why you have never seen a baby drive a car? It is because driving a car is not what a baby does. A baby eats, sleeps, and coos. It lives a simple existence. It is only when a baby develops an intimate sense of self does its life become more complicated. Before then, life is good.

Be as children.

Going back to the simplicity of when we were born may be difficult, but we can certainly aspire to live our lives as if it were so.

Jesus explains it this way, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV throughout).

Children’s lives are lives filled with hope, joy and playfulness. From one moment to the next, children may not know what lies ahead, but regardless of what anyone may think, they will allow their imagination to lead the way.

If we can recapture the humility of a child and remember what it was like to be a child, the simplicity of life would return.

Get rid of the clutter.

Let us admit one thing: depending on the family, a child’s room is a disaster. Toys lie strewn on the floor. Books hang from the shelf. The area next to the hamper is a mess. Nothing comes close to what a child’s room looks like during those endearing preschool years.

Yet, beyond the clutter lies creativity and song. When children have a vision of what they want to do, there is no stopping them. They have a knack to ignore distractions.

The apostle Paul says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).

Imagine how simple life would be if we did not have to stare at stacks of bills, dirty dishes and laundry.

Whatever clutter might exist in our lives, as children of God it is up to us to move past the ordinary in order to make progress in the extraordinary.

Focus on one thing at a time.

As mentioned, children have an incredible ability to tune things out when it is in their best interest.

Noticing a child with a coloring book is one of those precious moments for a parent, or another observer. There is nothing more important to a child than to pick the right color for a drawing and watching it fill the page.

Likewise, when we have too many things on our to-do list, we ought to focus on one thing and do it well.

Many times, what we think is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.

How simple is it?

Once we look at things from a child’s perspective, everything else will fall into place. Simplicity will return, and that playful attitude we had growing up will reappear.

So have fun with life. Enjoy the moment. And give God the glory for all his marvelous works (Ps. 96:3-4)!