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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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.

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.

How Not to Settle for Second Best

This article is not about being Number One. It is not about having a winning attitude. Nor is it about succeeding at whatever we put our hand to do. Contrary to what the title implies, it has nothing to do with competing against, contending with, challenging or opposing an opponent.

The only real opponent anyone ought to face is the one that stares at us from the mirror every morning after we get up out of bed. Even then, the battle may not head anywhere because we may not feel like making an effort.

And that is not good.

Not settling for second best means trying our best, giving our best at whatever we attempt to do. If we end up a technical failure, then who is it who determines that? Well, we do, of course. But who is to say we have to accept it?

We need to rise from defeat, pat the dirt off our clothes, and move forward. Second best is a term others have coined to ease the pain of losing. Yet, how can it be a loss if the chance is always there to succeed?

So we did not make the grade this go around. It should not bother us. We have only discovered that we were not ready. With better preparation next time, we will certainly do better. We should not feel, however, that we have experienced a setback. In that respect, we have all experienced setbacks. How we deal with it determines if we have given it our best.

Trying our best and failing does not mean we are second best. It means we have tried. And really, in the context of our short life here on earth, there are many more opportunities to do better.