Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Step into the Garden

May those who love you rejoice when they see me.

One day I stepped through the doors of my counseling offices in Fairfax, Virginia, my mind busy with thoughts long forgotten. But what I will never forget was the following scene:

I was met by one of our therapists, coming down the hall. On seeing me, her hand went to her mouth, her eyes widened and the notepad she was carrying dropped to the floor. She exclaimed “Oh!” as if she had seen a ghost, and stepped back as if she had been slapped; wobbling slightly, as if she might faint.

“Sue!” I cried. “Are you ok?” I was very concerned.

Her hand still at her mouth in shock, she said, “Can you see yourself?” She must have seen the total puzzlement on my face; “Paul, you are clothed with an aura!” My wife, Bonnie, stepped from the administrative office and took Sue’s arm. She looked at me, equally puzzled. This had to be a joke. Sue had to be playing a joke. I smiled. Bonnie laughed her usual delightful laugh – a little nervously, perhaps.

I walked quickly down the hall, out the office complex doors to the restroom across the hallway. I looked in the mirror. No “aura.”

Sue could never explain what she saw, but she was emphatic and determined. “I’m not crazy!” said she. “I know what I saw. It was an aura, a beautiful multi-colored aura.”

As for me? Well, I have never seen such an aura. I have never felt aura-rized. As long as I have lived, no one else has ever said anything about it. Some of my male professional friends kidded me for weeks afterward. I don’t know what my esteemed colleague saw, except what she said she saw, but I have opinions.

* * *

Such an experience might provoke one to ask, “How might others truly feel when they see me, or hear from me?”

The reason this is a good question is that its answer probably reflects the impact we have on others. It may well reflect how another sees the Lord Jesus in our lives; indeed, in our very presence.

It is also a good thing to dip the stick of our effectiveness for Christ into the oil of our spirituality and ask ourselves plainly, “Do people see Jesus in me? Or do they see . . . something else?”

Never mind the aura.

Let me suggest how others most certainly will see Jesus in you. Let me suggest how, when others see you, they will rejoice as the scrap of Scripture above implies.

If when they see you, or me, they say to themselves, “This person loves me. This person makes me feel loved, accepted and affirmed.” Because that is exactly how Jesus makes them feel.

That is what I want others to feel when they see me. I want them to feel loved. But you know something? -- They will never see God’s love for them where I am concerned, unless they first see -- that I love them.

Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. -- Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Step into the Garden

Turn my eyes away from worthless things

I once heard a man say, “For the Christian, all ground is holy ground; every bush a burning bush.”

The apostle Paul told his young disciple, Timothy, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.”

How then, can anything be construed as worthless?

Here is the key: Indeed all things may be received with thanksgiving, except – that which turns my heart away from God. No matter how benign something may be intrinsically, if it interferes in my relationship with Jesus, it is worthless. It is worse than worthless.

Or, if it interferes in the relationships others have with Jesus. This is a little trickier. I speak not here of offending another’s weird hang-ups. There are anomalies in everyone’s life. I do not speak of issues for which others may have abundant and virulent criticisms. I speak here of things we say and do which impact the lives of others and cause them to turn away from intimacy with the Savior. Things which interrupt and diminish that relationship. In order to accomplish this, one must have some level of influence with the other person -- enough to make one’s adverse impact coercive.

Worthless things can be anything. They can be everything. The issue is how they are approached by the heart, not the things in themselves.

Now, let us get real. There are things specifically designed by the Enemy, or by evil people, or even by ourselves, uniquely intended to turn our hearts away from God. It is impossible to receive such things with thanksgiving from the hand of God, because God himself rejects them as destructive.

You would never find them in his hand in the first place.

It is wise for us to see such things for what they are, and not delude ourselves into thinking that because “we are grateful to God for them,” they are acceptable.

For David, whom we credit for the 119th Psalm, that would have been his lust for Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband -- as well as for several other less dramatic indiscretions. For you and me, it may not be murder and lust, but if it succeeds in supplanting God in our hearts, it is beyond worthless.

I know a man who offends just about everyone he knows. Interestingly enough, he feels “called of God” to do so. He has grown a beard that falls to his chest, along with a bushy mustache, and long, unkempt hair. He lives in the corner of a warehouse along with his dog, who is about the only one who admires him. His wife and his children have abandoned him to his misguided enormities.

His behavior is bizarre in the extreme and his statements are abrasive, insulting and inflammatory. No doubt, he sees himself as a modern-day Elijah or Elisha. In order to speak to the contemporary mind one must accommodate that level, as the prophets did to theirs and as Jesus did to the world. In order to speak for God, one must speak with God’s credibility. This man’s eccentricities destroy any and all credibility he has. They obfuscate the credibility of the message he preaches, and in so doing, diminish it.

He demonstrates no credibility from God or otherwise. As a result, his message is worthless to those who would hear him.

All of that said, we must give this man his due. He professes Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. We must accept that and look upon him as a brother. All believers are imperfect, and from the perspective of God who loves us all, how are we much different than he? God can turn his deprecatory methods into effectiveness and good; as he did with David, the adulterer, fornicator and murderer -- and, who also was called the “friend of God.” It is of interest to note that Bathsheba ended up being named in the ancestral lineage of Jesus, and became the mother of Solomon. Not too shabby. God often has a way of turning our worthless things into good.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Step into the Garden

I am a stranger on earth; I belong in your house.

I was 10 months old, when my father, preaching from the pulpit of Journeycake Memorial Church in Ponca City, Oklahoma, collapsed, and a few days later, died of pancreatic cancer.

He left behind five children and his wife, our mother. The eldest child was my sister at eighteen, and I, the youngest, a babe in arms.

According to my brother, our dad was delivering his sermon as he had done a thousand times before, when he clutched his side, crumbled in a heap on the dais, and was gone.

My sister recounts the train ride from Oklahoma to Atlanta, where my mother’s family awaited our arrival. Several trains actually. From Ponca City to Kansas City; from Kansas City to Birmingham, and from Birmingham to Atlanta. It was 1937, and August hot, she said; and with no air-conditioning, the train windows were down. Cinders from the smoke, burned her eyes. She remembers the cinders.

Can you count the times when you have felt like an alien on earth? Times when you seem disconnected to the human experience? Times when you so long to be in heaven where you belong instead of where you are now? You remember that you are a citizen of eternity, and a “foreigner” to planet earth, to the society in which you live.

It would not be a stretch to say that all who take their Christian faith seriously, those who desire intimacy with God, would, at times, acknowledge such feelings. It is sometimes surprising to find yourself thinking like this – earnestly looking forward, anticipating the denouement of your redemption.

But, when you think about it, it is as natural as the nose on your face. It is as natural as childbirth; as natural as a waterfall. It is deliciously concomitant to the person in whose body, soul and spirit, resides the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This beautiful, sweet Spirit, you see, is not encased in a casket in the baggage car of the train. It is as if he were sitting next to you, looking up from his newspaper, and peering over his spectacles, he says to you, “We’ll be there soon.”

It is a happy thought. A wondrous, happy thought. Especially as we continue to brush the cinders from our eyes.

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