Pencils, Pens & the Mishaps of My Friend Ron

All the way through elementary school, I did my writing with pencils. Each year, “#2 Pencils” were on the top of the school supply list.

But when I arrived in middle school, we were expected to use ink pens instead. The writing experience was certainly better with the pens, but there was one major problem: Ink is difficult to erase.

Eventually, some clever marketers came up with “erasable” pens. But that was false advertising, because they were still  hard to erase. More than once, I ripped a hole in the paper while trying to erase the ink from my pens.

Recently I’ve found myself lamenting the demise of pencils. The pens are now better than ever – and I absolutely love  writing with the new gel pens. But the pens still can’t be erased very well. And White Out usually isn’t a good option either for covering mistakes.

Here’s what I’m going through on this: I miss the days when every mistake seemed easily erasable. Oh for the carefree days of elementary school…

Of course, most people now use emails and social media to do their writing, not pens. But that has made the problem even worse! Have you ever tried to retract  an inappropriate email you sent (such as sending a “Reply All” when you didn’t mean to)? Or perhaps you’ve posted something stupid on social media and then tried to cover your tracks. Good luck on that.

It turns out that once things are in cyberspace, they are even more  difficult to erase than ink pens.

Let me share story about this from my good friend Ron…

A few months ago, Ron met a nice Christian woman on an online dating site. They seemed to really hit things off when they chatted on the phone one night. He could tell they both loved the Lord and had much in common.

Ready to take the next step, a few days later Ron asked her out for dinner that weekend. To his surprise, she sent a text message declining the invitation. The reason? She said he was too old for her!   

Ouch. Yes, Ron is in his 60s and this nice Christian woman was in her 50s. But should that age gap really matter?

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with pencils and pens…

Once again, Ron was greatly surprised when this same woman contacted him a few weeks later, asking if they could keep in touch as “friends.” Although he was open to the idea, there was a problem: Ron couldn’t ERASE the memory of her previous comment that he was too old. Like permanent ink, her evaluation seemed to be forever etched onto his brain.

What a reminder that words are powerful things, capable of imparting “death and life” (Proverbs 18:21). No matter how they are communicated, our words don’t erase easily. And sometimes negative words cause lifelong scarring of the psyche.

However, God can help us heal from people’s words – especially when we spend time listening to HIS words to us instead.

Nevertheless, painful words from people are likely to keep coming from time to time. Right when Ron was beginning to heal from the “You’re too old!” feedback, he met a woman who said he was too fat for her…

Fortunately, your Heavenly Father has a very BIG eraser, capable of removing countless mistakes, flaws, and emotional wounds. As the apostle Paul described, “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14 CSB). Isn’t it good to know that your debts, liabilities, and blemishes have been erased by the amazing grace of God?

So I encourage you to take time to look into the mirror of His Word today. You’ll discover that you look a lot better than what people have said about you.

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My Boundless Gratitude — in Retrospect

This Thanksgiving was a chance to reflect once again on my “Gratitude Quotient.” I concluded that I’m happier and more grateful than I’ve been in many years.

However, I uncovered a blog I wrote several years ago admitting two disturbing things: (1) I’m still not nearly as grateful as I should be for how God has blessed me; and (2) Many of the things I’m now MOST grateful for are past events I wasn’t grateful for at all  when they were taking place.

I call this second point “gratitude in retrospect,” the phenomenon of being grateful today for situations I once grumbled about.

Perhaps you can relate. Have you gone through difficult times when it was extremely difficult to give thanks? But now, as you look back, you see that God was at work through it all. Gratitude (finally!) rises in your heart as you see how the painful events have been beautifully woven into the fabric of your life.

  • Maybe you had a relationship breakup that tore your very heart…but it paved the way for the Lord to provide someone much better in your life.
  • Maybe you faced a severe trial in your health…but it caused you to make lifestyle changes in your diet and exercise – and now you’re feeling better than ever.
  • Maybe you lost a job you thought you’d have until retirement…but God opened (or will open) a new door that’s a much better fit for your gifts and passions.
  • Maybe you’ve experienced a financial meltdown, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy…but you learned vital lessons that eventually put you on the path to prosperity.
  • Maybe you went through some other difficult experience that has now given you a platform to help others.

These are just a few examples of how “gratitude in retrospect” can occur. I first noticed this in my life a few years ago, when a friend suggested that I write a book about church splits. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” was my initial thought. “Even though I’m an expert on church splits, who would ever be interested in a book about that?”

But my tech-savvy friend pointed out that 8,000 people every month do a Google search on the subject of church splits. “Wow. There must be a lot of people dealing with this,” I concluded.

As a result of that conversation, I wrote The Complete Guide to Church Splits: Prevention, Survival, and Recovery (which I can send you upon request). This event was a great example to me of Paul’s statement that we can comfort others with the same comfort we received from God during our own times of affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Working on my book about church splits sparked something much bigger in my heart than just a new book project: I discovered that God had been a lot more faithful than I had given Him credit for. And I became much more grateful for the difficult things I’ve experienced in life – even though my gratitude was too often in retrospect.

I’m still troubled by my struggle to be grateful at the same time as my trials are occurring. The Bible instructs us to give thanks “IN everything,” not just AFTER everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I’m also sad that although I’ve given lip service to Romans 8:28 for decades, God’s amazing promise there is still not rooted as deeply in my life as it should be. Paul had gone through incredible trials (2 Corinthians 11:22-28), yet he said, “We KNOW that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

As the truth of Romans 8:28 becomes more a part of my life, I hope to become more grateful all the time – not just in retrospect. I want to become increasingly aware that God is always working to “connect the dots” in my life, creating a masterpiece I could never have imagined during my times of adversity.

So I pray you will join me in being grateful TODAY – no matter what the day brings…no matter what you may be going through. You may not understand it all today, but you can be confident the Lord is working out His wonderful plan nevertheless.

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Ron’s New Appreciation for the Holidays

Ever since his divorce several years back, my friend Ron has complained to me this time of year about the upcoming holidays. He has his reasons, to be sure, but he’s begun to sound like a broken record.

“It’s just not the same,” he moans. “With my wife gone and my kids living far away, it’s always an agonizing time for me.”

Then he typically cites the gluttony, commercialization, overspending, and other holiday sins as justification for his negative attitudes. You’ve probably met people who think like that.

“Let’s face it, Ron,” I sometimes tease him. “With your ‘humbug’ attitude, your parents should have named you Ebenezer!”

A few weeks ago, he threw in a new line that really got me thinking. “I wish I could just press the fast forward button and wake up on January 2,” he told me. Although part of me sympathized with Ron on this, I spent some time praying we would gain a new perspective.

Then suddenly it hit me: Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t just ordinary holidays. They represent two of the most important attributes of a happy, successful, and impactful life.

Let me explain…

If you asked me the most important attitudes a person could ever cultivate, my answer would clearly be GRATITUDE and GENEROSITY. Yet although I’ve lived more than six decades now, somehow I overlooked the fact that these are exactly the core principles behind Thanksgiving (gratitude) and Christmas (generosity).

Notice that gratitude and generosity are both “magnetic” traits. People in the secular world or New Age Movement call this “The Law of Attraction,” but it’s a Biblical principle too. Gratitude and generosity attract blessings and favor to our lives, both from God and from people.

In contrast, blessings and favor are repulsed  by INGRATITUDE and STINGINESS. No wonder Scrooge didn’t have many friends until his epiphany came.

Through gratitude (a heart of thankfulness) we enter into the gates of the Lord’s presence (Psalm 100:4). And have you noticed how people love to give things to a person who’s truly grateful?

Likewise, generosity is one of the primary keys to a life of blessing and impact. Proverbs 11:24-25 (NLT) beautifully points this out:

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Do you want to prosper? Then set your heart on becoming more generous.

Do you want to enter into a time of refreshing in your life? Then make it your aim to refresh others.

More importantly, do you want to become more like your Heavenly Father? Then one of the very best ways is to become more generous. You see, a central character trait of your Father in Heaven is that He’s a GIVER. “God so loved the world” that He didn’t just think more positive thoughts toward us – He GAVE His Son! (John 3:16).

If you truly see how loving and generous your Father is, you’ll be that way too. But if you view Him as stingy and miserly, you’ll end up behaving like Scrooge and having a miserable life to show for it.

So, what about Ron?

Armed with this new understanding of how Thanksgiving and Christmas mirror God’s two major character traits for a happy and holy life, I’ve been endeavoring to help Ron gain a new perspective too.

“Ron, you may not like every aspect of the holidays,” I’ve told him. “But what if you used Thanksgiving as a monumental opportunity to work on your GRATITUDE? And what if Christmas became your yearly reminder to live a life of GENEROSITY?”

In all likelihood, next year at this time I’ll have to remind Ron again. But who knows? If he truly begins to practice a life of gratitude and generosity, he may even attract a new wife by then. That would be amazing, but miracles really do happen…especially when we’re consistently grateful and generous.

#PrayForRon

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A Lesson from Jesus in Handling Grief

I’m not an expert on the subject of grief by any means – far from it. Yet recently several friends have had loved ones die suddenly and unexpectedly. I’ve found myself wondering, how are they supposed to handle that?

Then today I noticed a woman at the grocery store who had some sort of Christian bracelet. When I asked about the bracelet, she told me the heart-wrenching story of how her sister had died just two weeks ago of a rare form of cancer.

Wow. How is she supposed to handle that?

As I pondered these situations, a story in the life of Jesus came to mind. John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin and the preacher who had inaugurated His ministry – was beheaded by King Herod. It was a gruesome event, with the severed head of Jesus’ forerunner put on a tray and given to his persecutors before his friends buried his body.

Knowing that He cared deeply about John, we’re told that John’s disciples “went and told Jesus what had happened” (Matthew 14:10-12 NLT).

So, how did Jesus respond to the news? He apparently didn’t spout a bunch of spiritual platitudes as we might have done. I probably would have offered some lame and inappropriate words of comfort, like “God will work it for good,” or perhaps the old standby, “He’s in a better place now.”

Jesus didn’t do that. In fact, we’re not even told what  He said. However, we can see three significant things He DID in the wake of His grief over John’s death:

  1. He withdrew and spent time by Himself  (vs. 12-13). Often after a loved one dies, we’re surrounded by well-wishing friends and family. That’s fine – up to a point. But Jesus went “to a remote area to be alone,” and usually we need to follow this example. Withdrawing shouldn’t make us feel guilty! It’s part of the grieving process, a necessary step in getting our bearings again.

How long should this “withdrawal” step last? A day? A week? A month? Longer? There’s no way to set a firm time limit, because everyone is different. In verse 23 Jesus again went to be alone, which shows that this step may need to be repeated from time to time. Yet it’s big mistake to get stuck in this phase forever, because we will eventually need to move on to step 2. 

  1. He found people needier than He was  (vs. 14-21). I’ll never forget my first Christmas after experiencing a significant loss in my life. It was going to be an incredibly lonely time for me, but God gave me a helpful strategy: I took my guitar and went to sing for people in a nearby nursing home! Although I’m not sure they particularly liked my singing, they seemed glad I was there. And my gloomy disposition certainly improved as I set out to bless people who were even lonelier than I was.

Of course, Jesus didn’t visit a nursing home after hearing of John’s death. But He reached out to heal a bunch of sick people and then took five loaves of bread and two fish to feed thousands of hungry people.

If you’re facing some kind of grief today, perhaps it’s time to reach out with the love of Jesus to someone who’s needier than you. Taking that step won’t immediately relieve the pain, but you’ll find it beneficial to put your grief in the rearview mirror instead of making it your constant focus.

  1. He (and Peter) walked on water  (vs. 22-32). I’ve probably lost you at this point. First of all, you assume it’s impossible  for you to walk on water. And even if you somehow could pull it off, how could that accomplishment have any bearing on your grief?

But you see, walking on water is a beautiful picture of going beyond yourself and doing something that once seemed impossible. In order to truly overcome grief, something supernatural must take place. Put simply: You need God’s help!

Not only did Jesus walk on water, but Peter did too. Peter did something he never could have done in his own strength – and so can you. Despite the initial devastation brought by your loss, you can make it. You really can be OK again. His grace is always sufficient if you take time to draw upon it (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This story also reminds us to keep our eyes on Jesus amid the wind and waves around us. Grief and fear are frequent allies, and our fears become overwhelming if we focus on the stormy conditions swirling in our path. Miraculously, the Bible says “perfect peace” is available when our eyes are fixed on the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 26:3, Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 4:4-9).

Perhaps, like Peter, your grief and fear have conspired to give you a “sinking feeling” down deep in your soul. But remember: Even when you feel like you’re about to drown in your sorrows, Jesus will be there to grab your hand when you call out to Him.

If you’ve suffered a major loss in your life, there’s a good chance you know a lot more about grief than I do. If so, I encourage you to take time to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As you stretch out your hand to others, your own healing process will be accelerated (Mark 3:1-5).

Even though you may feel bewildered by the loss you’ve experienced, never forget that the Lord is WITH you through it all: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18). When grief comes sweeping in like a flood, let it lift you higher and draw you closer to Him than ever before.

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