Posted in Bible Studies

Mark Your Bible

How do you mark your bible? A member of a church I once attended asked the minister this very question. The minister related this story during a sermon. His answer was surprising. He said, “How do you mark your bible? You mark your bible.”

As simplistic as it sounds, he was right. Sometimes we tend to overanalyze a rudimentary task and place a process around it when, in fact, all we need to do is do what comes naturally.

I say this because I am one of those people who needs structure and cannot start a project until I have all the pieces in place of where I want to go, what I want to do, and with whom I want to do it. Some tasks are meant to be organic, in that what we are doing at the moment is what should be done.

However, that is not to say that if you have a bible-marking system that works for you that you ought to abandon it. On the contrary, keep doing what you are doing. If it helps you learn the scriptures, there is no need to change something that is working. My advice is for those Christians who are wondering what to do when they buy their first bible and want to make notes in it but have no idea how to do that.

Again, I will say it: mark your bible.

How I used to mark my bible

How I marked my bible thirty years ago

I once had an elaborate marking system that enabled me to visually look at certain passages of the bible and know instantly what it was about. My color categories where:

  1. Blue—God
  2. Red—Angels and demons
  3. Brown—Humanity
  4. Orange—Civilization
  5. Purple—Israel
  6. Yellow—Church
  7. Green—Kingdom of God

In addition to coloring the verses, I also placed red-pen boxes around words I would want to define; and if something really stood out, I would underline phrases and words with a red pen. Of course, thinking I would need to differentiate what I learned at home with what I learned at church, I would carry around a blue pen and mark my bible that way during sermons.

For a long time, this system suited me. I appreciated it, and I enjoyed reading through marked sections again, gleaning tidbits of truth as I went along. I found, though, as the years went on, my understanding had grown and what I had believed twenty-five, thirty years ago, is not what I believe today. Several fundamentals are the same, but through diligent prayer and bible study, scriptures I had once marked as one thing suddenly had taken on a different meaning.

How I mark my bible today

Nowadays, I simply mark my bible. If a thought or a verse really stands out for me, affects me in a way that it has never affected me before, I mark it with whatever pen I have in my hand. I agree, it is a simplistic approach, but ultimately God through the Holy Spirit reveals what we need to remember when we read our bibles:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25)

It is not how we mark our bibles, but what we gain from those passages we have marked.

Posted in My Journey

Answered Prayer

My family’s life is slowly getting back to a semblance of normalcy. We are learning more and more about autism, and learning more and more about our son each day. We have a predictable schedule set for him, a list of daily activities to go through with him, and lots and lots of prayer to carry us well into the week. Had it not been for all the prayer, I do not believe we could have had the miraculous turnaround that took place last month with him. Because, really, it was a miracle he woke up as he did from autistic shutdown.

This weekend was a breakthrough weekend for him. Finally, after months of growth, I was able to cut his hair and trim his beard. I say breakthrough, since after we had come back from Niagara Falls in October, he had not wanted anyone to touch him. Now, he is allowing hugs, kisses and me cutting his hair, which is a big deal for our family.

Again, much of the successes we are currently experiencing with our son are all due to prayer. I cannot see it being anything else. Naturally, patience and a lot of determination have made a difference with Luana and me. But, I would say, prayer is the key for us here.

I remember reading about Jesus and about how the night before he died on the cross he was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for his disciples while, at the same time, Judas was betraying him to the high priest. Throughout the whole thing, he knew what he had to do, he knew he had to give up his life for the sin of all, and with prayer, he confirmed his fate as the Lamb of God:

“Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done’” (Mat. 26: 42 ESV).

Sometimes there is no other solution than to rely on God, petitioning him in fervent prayer, not only us, but others on our behalf. He does listen. I can attest to that. Otherwise, we would not be seeing the progress with my son that we are seeing with him now.

My son dresses himself, washes his face, eliminates regularly again, speaks, answers questions and sits out in the backyard. He has come a long way from not speaking and only staring for the better part of the day.

All of it I attribute to prayer.

Therefore, if you feel there is nowhere to turn, turn to God in prayer. He will answer. My son is a living example of answered prayer.

Posted in My Journey

Giving Thanks Always

As I type this, it is Saturday morning, raining, and we are preparing for tonight’s Thanksgiving dinner. I am Canadian, so we have our Thanksgiving one month before.

When I think about this year, I suppose I have a lot to be thankful for. Family comes to mind. That is always on my mind. I am thankful for the closeness we have, the joy we experience together and the peace. That is important. Peace. Even with the health scare we went through with my son, I know it brought us closer, and that is all that matters to me.

My wife had an automobile accident recently, too. She walked away from it, but it could have been worse. I am thankful for the insurance company and of how quickly we were able to put in the claim. They were so readily available to help us get back on our feet. Yet, I cannot say it was entirely in their hands, as I know God was there protecting my wife and working out everything for his glory. I am so thankful for that.

Then there are all the little things that took place this year. I cannot list them all, even if I tried. I just know that I am so grateful for everything. None of it, really, is because of anything I did. It was all God and his wanting to extend his grace on me and my family.

I am thinking about the Apostle Paul right now, and what he wrote to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4 ESV).

The Corinthians were going through a lot of problems at the time (1 Cor. 5:1). Paul was even wondering if he ought to have written such a sharp letter to them to correct them of their behavior (2 Cor. 2:4). But in all things, in spite of the trials he faced with that church, regardless of the anguish he felt when writing words of reproof and correction, through the tears, and with Jesus’ spirit within him that strengthened him, he was thankful.

I am now realizing, as the years go on, my appreciation for trials has increased. As strange as that sounds, trials make me a better person. I wish it were not so, but it is true.

I guess what I am trying to say is this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for God taking the time to make me a better me.

Posted in My Journey

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.

Posted in Other Things

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?

Posted in How-To Guides

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.

Posted in How-To Guides

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.