Dirty Magazine

 I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

I heard a story in a sermon a couple of years ago that had an eerie parallel to my own past.

The sermon story: Success
My own story: Failure (but not permanent!)

(Do note: the following incidents happened before the days of all this stuff being readily available on the internet!)

Our pastor told a dirty magazine story.

At the end of the semester, cleaning up in the dorm, he found a dirty magazine under a mattress and threw it away. He had a conviction against keeping the mag, even if no one would see or know that he took it. He threw it away, thinking how it would be a wrong against his fiancée and God.

At first, I felt discouraged after hearing our pastor’s dirty magazine story, remembering I had done the exact opposite back then! At the end of a semester, as the dorms were emptying, I found dirty magazines in the trash bin for the building, and I kept them.

Without making an excuse for what I did back then, I do see how my weak understanding of how Jesus works let me do it so casually. Back then, I viewed it as OK to take the magazines. It’s only a magazine, I thought. I’m not actually doing any of the stuff that is shown there. If someone from church had seen me taking the magazines, I would have felt embarrassed that I was caught, but my discomfort would be from being caught and exposed, and not because I viewed taking the magazines as wrong.

What kept me from remaining discouraged for being so far below the level of maturity and obedience during college that my pastor described, was to admit that I was wrong back then, and to be thankful that I am forgiven for it.

So, the big question is how am I handling it now? Jesus has been after my heart. It’s taken a long, long time to shift to a deeper level of obedience where my most private actions and thoughts are brought more into conformity with what Jesus wants. And I am driven not by fear of punishment as much as seeking something better in life.

I am glad when I do pass a similar test today…. yet I am warned to not get overconfident. I cannot blithely guarantee that I will pass every test for the rest of my life. But I do know that I really am quicker to turn from crummy thoughts and attitudes than I used to be, because Jesus really does provide forgiveness and abundant life.

My Spiritual Birthday

November 30 is my spiritual birthday. That’s when I was first touched by amazing grace! Back then, I experienced a day and night difference. My world was turned upside down with feelings of happiness. I was a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As John Newton said, “How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed”

This meant (I thought at the time) that I would enjoy my best life now with no major obstacles. I’d complete my doctoral dissertation with no sweat, and I’d quickly be married to an excellent Christian wife.

Wasn’t that what it meant to be a child of God? Nope, it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

Why?

Because without realizing it, I was focused more on what I could get from God than on who he was. Indeed, what my attitude really amounted to was “Lord, if you won’t quickly meet my needs, don’t expect me to go out of my way to change my way of doing things or bother too much with learning what it means to please you.” 

With that attitude, God allowed me to enter a very dry time. (While at the same time continually protecting and preserving me much more than I realized!)  

God used many ways to change my attitude, but today I want to focus on just one. He brought me into fellowship with some strong Christian helpers. Amazingly, I first met them on April Fool’s Day! (I love how it says in 1 Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ) 


Even with a renewed attitude, it still is taking much time for God’s beautiful truths to better percolate through more of my life. I knew the Bible was doctrinally true but was pretty poor at connecting it to the life changes God was calling for in a stubborn, independent man. 

So, it’s been helpful to have Christian friends who connect the truths of God and scripture to daily real life and who lovingly let me know when I am full of baloney. 

I never did complete my doctoral dissertation. And it took nine years until I married the love of my life. And another 10 years after that before I finally found my true vocational calling from God (Not a professor but a computer geek!)  

My story shows how we have a patient and longsuffering God who cares enough to spend decades molding and shaping us to be more like what he wants. And the more I grow, the more I see I still need to grow. Wherever you are on your journey, be encouraged that God ain’t done with you yet!

Horsefeathers

I was running on the path that’s near the Seaton Hackney Stables recently and there was a huge pile of horsefeathers ahead of me. A man hiking with his family said: “You’re going to have to jump over that!” I was tempted for a second, but I replied, “Nope, I am running around it.”

Had I jumped and missed I would have had my shoes and shins splattered with horsefeathers.

Had I successfully hurdled it I would have been quite a star in front of this family.

I like to express my Christian convictions in my blog. I don’t want to wimp out. But in the world of blogging and in the Twittersphere, there are many arguments where each side says to the other, “Your opinion is horsefeathers.” Indeed, that attitude often gets a lot more re-tweets!

But my goal is to keep the spotlight on Jesus. So, if I disagree with you, I’ll try to do it respectfully. I don’t want us splattering each other with horsefeathers.

Ezra’s Temporary Winning Streak

Ezra was one of the Jews who was deported from Israel and dragged into exile in Babylon. Later, in an amazing turnaround, the Babylonian king gave Ezra and his fellow exiled Jews permission to return to Israel.

Led by Ezra, the returnees looked forward to erecting a new temple on the site in Jerusalem where their old one had been destroyed. Stunningly, the king even gave construction supplies to the Jews: The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. (Ezra7:6b)

Even though the king may have had his own political motives for giving aid, it was nevertheless an amazing blessing from God. (God sometimes does use unbelieving politicians to achieve his purposes!)

Ezra’s winning streak continued:

 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:8-10)

During this time, God’s hand continually rested on Ezra and his endeavors. Yet even such a wonderful blessing as Ezra got is only temporary. There came a time when all his work for God was completed. Even the best of God’s workers eventually dies.

 Indeed, I thought of two men I knew who died in 2021.

 First, Alex. He was a good teacher of the Bible and was a man who lived out what he taught. And you could say “the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” Yet his body was being ravaged. He was taken by cancer around the age of seventy.

Second, Sal. Sal was a strong Christian man, a husband, father, and elder. He too knew that “the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” Yet, at the age of forty-four he died suddenly from a coronary.

We all have an expiration date! The book of Ecclesiastes has a timeless truth:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die, (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)

I am sad for Sal and Alex and their families, while yet being glad that the two men have joined Christ in eternity. They inspire me to reflect on which things are worthwhile to give my own time and energy to while I am still alive and well on this earth.