Posted in My Journey

I Praise Him

When I worship God, I stretch my hands in the air and thank him. I thank him for my life. I thank him for my family. But most of all, I thank him for my relationship with him. That, had it not been for him believing in me, I would not be where I am today—praising him with every breath I draw into my lungs.

David did the same, except I have yet to dance as he did when he defeated the Philistines to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:14, 16, 20-23).

That day was special. That day, the Lord God fought on David’s behalf and won (2 Sam. 5:17-25).

Now, when I praise God, I praise him for fighting for me. I have the reassurance that he will not leave me or forsake me, and just as he had done with David, he will send his armies before me to make the way clear so that it seems as if I have accomplished it all on my own.

It sounds crazy. I agree. But after seven months of God’s constant intervention in my life, healing me of my neck problem, ridding my heart of bitterness, exiling those who despised me into utter darkness, he has yet to fail me:

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8).

And I will continue to praise him, lifting my arms in true thanksgiving for extending his mercy over my life and the lives of those in my family, just as it says in (Ps. 148:1-4):

“Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
Praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
Praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!”

Therefore, I pray also that he, too, may bless and fight for all of you as he has done for me because his mercy is great and his reach is infinite.

Posted in Bible Studies, My Journey

The Bible: Cover to Cover

When I set out to read the bible from cover to cover last year, I did not know I would be in for a few surprises.

For instance, I had no idea that Job lived before Abraham, in spite of the fact that the Book of Job is located several hundred pages after Genesis. In addition, it was a revelation to me that after the flood, God declared that all animals would fear humans (Gen. 9:2 ESV throughout). And the thought that an honorable man such as Jabez, whose name meant “man of sorrow” or “borne out of pain”, had two verses written about him to demonstrate God’s blessings over his life (1 Chr. 4:9-10), left me wondering what else in the bible have I yet to discover?

The reading plan I used to accomplish this feat is part of the Olive Tree Bible Study app, which resides on my phone and on my tablet. I simply chose a chronological reading plan that consisted of the English Standard Version (ESV). When I travelled, I read it on my phone, sync’d it with my Olive Tree account, then, when I returned home, I picked it up from where I left off on my tablet. Even today, it makes for a seamless experience.

Choosing to read the bible chronologically has its advantages, too. I gained an incredible amount of insight into historical events when reading about the same story through two different accounts. I did not have to understand why certain things happened the way they did because the context remained the same throughout. The chronological reading plan is especially helpful when working through the Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles, as the reign of kings can be quite confusing when studying it in a non-linear fashion.

All history aside, though, my favorite part of the bible is the gospels. In the gospels Jesus talks about how to get along with others (Mat. 5:43-48), how to have a relationship with God (Mat. 6:5-15), and what the ultimate goal for believers should be (Mat. 6:19-21).

And, of course, one of my favorite verses I cling to comes from the gospels:

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

In its basic form, it means that whatever I give is what comes back to me. I can attest that this principle works every single time I use it—and it does not apply to money only.

Anyway, I learned all these things in my first year reading the bible from cover to cover. I am hoping after having read the New International Version (NIV) this year, I will have something more to say about the experience.

In the meantime, I will quote this verse as my last thought for this post: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

Posted in My Journey

Peace

At this very moment, I feel privileged, not in the sense of what I own, but in the sense of who is now in my life. I have felt this way ever since deciding in the spring that, after a twenty-year absence, I belonged back in church.

Now, the funny part about it all is that my wife, Luana, had never stopped attending. In fact, not so long ago, she was going to a revival church one week and a fundamental church the other. Given my skeptical mindset at the time, it made for some interesting comic fodder. I could not pass up the opportunity to razz her about the obvious inconsistency with believing two sets of doctrine. After all, both churches could not be right about salvation, I thought!

However, God was performing a great work with my life. All I had to do was to be patient.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).

Through my church, I have learned to be patient and listen to what God has to say (James 5:7). I have learned what true peace means (Rom. 15:13) and I have grown to understand where I fit in the grand scheme of God’s plan (Mat. 5:9).

I have repented (Acts 3:19). I have forgiven (Mat 6:14). Above all else, I have taken into me God’s spirit to become a new man in Christ, of which would not have been possible had God not called me to be a partaker of his plan (Acts 2:38).

With that in mind, I extend blessings to all my readers so as you may also find peace.

Posted in Bible Studies, My Journey

Forgiveness

You know, I have always thought forgiveness was this feeling of reconciliation one receives when one absolves another of an offence. I also thought forgiveness was not possible without an inordinate amount of restoration, or as I would like to call it, works of restitution.

After reading my bible, however, I have found forgiveness in God’s eyes is an entirely different matter. He treats the absolution of sins as his highest form of love. I had to delve deeply into his word in order to understand that when God forgives, he does it without conditions. That unconditional love God shows is so wonderful, so great, so just, that nothing will ever compare to the feeling of knowing he has forgiven me in whole.

A Root of Bitterness

Now, if you have not read any of my previous posts about my past struggle with a root of bitterness I will make it easy by explaining it here. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (ESV throughout).

I have done some gardening in my lifetime. I cannot brag of having attained a green thumb, but I am able to get by. As any gardener knows, when planting flowers, or anything else for that matter, the one thing that keeps popping up to the surface is weeds. I do not like weeds. They are insidious. If I do not remove weeds, they will choke the good plants and cause them to stop growing. Even more so, left unchecked, weeds can kill plants leaving me with nothing to show for all my toil.

Therefore, I take desperate measures when dealing with weeds. I dig deep into the soil looking for the root. If I were to cut the weed from where it breaks ground, it would only grow back. Then I would be there every few days to remove the same weed repeatedly. No. That does not make sense to me. Either I do the job right the first time, or I do not do it at all. Simple. I look for the root, and sometimes it is not an easy thing to eradicate. I can tug at it, but it may also have thorns to prevent me from removing it with my bare hands. In such cases, I use garden gloves for protection, but even then, the gloves may not be enough. I may need the help of various tools to aid with the extraction from the ground. A small shovel works well, as does a tool specifically designed to pluck the root.

It gets better, once I remove the root I then stand in one spot staring at a hole in the ground.

Similarly, a root of bitterness, as described in the book of Hebrews, can spring up and cause all sorts of trouble. The verse describes how that root, if left to grow, will fester and spread, corrupting other people as well. All of a sudden, the original incident that gave birth to bitterness becomes secondary, and every slight becomes an issue.

In Matthew 5:23, Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Why would Jesus want me to leave my gift at the altar, find the person who has a grudge against me and reconcile with them? They are the one with the problem. Why should I be the one to lose face and try to make amends?

The Sermon on the Mount

That attitude of not wanting to help others, Jesus covers in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In his sermon, Jesus blesses the people and talks about how Christians should become examples for others to follow, likening them to light (Mat. 5:13-16). He also talks about the perils of anger, lust (v. 21-30) and retaliation (v. 38-42). He finishes the chapter admonishing his followers to love their enemies, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 43-45).

Sporting around a root of bitterness will not encourage anyone to love an enemy. Jesus goes on to describe what happens when that root of bitterness spreads, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Mat. 5:46-47). In other words, Jesus is saying I should look to do more than love my friends. I should treat my enemies as I would a brother in Christ.

Jesus ends his teaching on the subject by instilling a goal to his listeners, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

Attaining Perfection

Perfection for someone ordinary like me is impossible. I fail at things. I do the things I do not want to do (Rom. 7:15). And I am a sinner (Rom. 5:12). How can I be perfect as God is perfect? Impossible.

Yet, despite my own perceptions, it is possible. When the apostle Paul was dealing with pride, he had to overcome a messenger of Satan, whom he referred to as a thorn in the flesh. He pleaded with Jesus three times asking for relief. The story continues, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If God can make me perfect by his grace, which he gives freely regardless of my weaknesses, then I have nothing to worry about in this life or the next. Paul explains it well in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Filling the Emptiness

Remember the hole left behind after I had pulled the weed by its root in my garden? The emptiness I felt once I realized my life was not worth anything without God’s presence compelled me to kneel before him to ask for his spirit. It was the only way I could move forward from the damage the root of bitterness had caused.

Back in my garden, I filled the hole with dirt, seeded and watered it every day until new growth sprouted to the surface. Likewise, instead of the emptiness left behind, I took to God’s word and seeded the hole with the word of life. I no longer needed to gird on the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20) as my tools to remove the weeds, but this time, I watched as the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) took root in my heart and spread throughout all my relationships.

Put another way, God, the ultimate gardener (Gen. 2:8-9), replaced that root of bitterness in me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I counted it a difficult thing to overcome a grudge, however, once I realized God had given his only begotten son as a sacrifice so that he could save me from the wages of sin (John 3:16), I looked upon my enemies not as I had, but with mercy. I gained the understanding through God’s Holy Spirit, that if I wanted God to forgive me of my sins against him, I needed to forgive others their sins against me.

God’s Forgiveness

Going back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus passes along the template his followers should use when praying to God the Father. I grew up knowing it as The Lord’s Prayer. Others may know it as the Our Father (Mat. 6:9-13). When praying to God, I use it as a prompt for what I want to say. Each verse is specific in intention, as I discovered one night when verse 12 jumped out at me. In it, Jesus says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

As anyone who has ever had a debt knows, it would be sweet music should a creditor decide to cancel a debt. For one thing, it means that whatever is owing to the creditor is no longer owing. I cannot imagine what it would feel like if someone should knock on my door and say to me that my mortgage is no longer payable.

In like manner, Jesus talks about doing just that, expanding on the idea even further at the end of the prayer, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mat. 6:14-15).

Not only does Jesus make it clear that the Heavenly Father will not forgive those who do not forgive, but he also implies that full responsibility for those debts will fall on the heads of the unforgiving.

I cannot fathom the thought of dying with full knowledge that I could have released others of their debts against me. Moreover, should I have a hard heart, I will also have to worry about judgement being against me in due course, as Paul says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The Unforgiving Servant

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mat. 18:21-35), Jesus talks about forgiveness in its basic form. Peter came up to Jesus and asked him how many times should he forgive his brother—seven times? Jesus answered him saying not seven times, but seventy times seven (v. 21-22). What Jesus meant was not 490 times, but we should always forgive, having mercy for those who have wronged us. He then begins to tell Peter the story of a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents (v. 23-24).

Now, a talent in those days equaled to about 20 years wages for a single laborer. There was no way the servant could ever repay the master all that money in his lifetime. It would have taken the servant 200,000 years in all to wipe the slate clean. Stating it differently, Jesus wanted to emphasize the debt’s value as immeasurable.

Facing the fear of his master’s order to have him, his wife, his children and all that he possessed sold to repay his debt, the servant fell on his knees pleading with his master for forgiveness (v. 25-26).

What happens next astounds me, “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 27). Knowing fully well the servant owed him thousands of years of wages, immeasurable by human standards, the master forgave all of it.

When I think of all the bad I have done in my lifetime, and I think of how God sits on his mercy seat (Heb. 9:5), ready to extend his grace on to me, I humble myself in utter worship in the presence of his glory. For it says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

Being Vigilant

But the story of the servant does not end there. Instead of being thankful that his master stayed the order to sell him, his wife, his children and all that he possessed to repay the debt, and instead of waking up every morning knowing his freedom was secure, the servant did something altogether different, “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (Mat. 18:28-30).

A denarii was a day’s wage. All the servant had to do was wait 100 days and his fellow servant would have paid him back. He did not wait. He had him thrown in prison.

When God forgives, going forward he expects me to forgive others in the same way. If I do not do that, I would have to deal with his judgement. This is what the servant faced, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (v. 32-34)

Eventually, the master delivered the servant to the jailers, until he paid all of his debt (v. 34). In the New International Version, it is more specific, “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Continuing with the English Standard Version, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (v. 35).

By this time, it is apparent that forgiveness has nothing to do with the one who may have perceptually caused the offense, but works by releasing the chains of the one holding the grudge. Once those chains fall under the weight of God’s grace, they become as if they never were. Ephesians 4:31-32 describes the process in a beautiful way, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

My Forgiveness Campaign

I went on a forgiveness campaign of my own recently to reconcile with everyone in my life who I thought perceived me as an enemy. I had to grovel. I had to apologize. And in some cases, I had to open my heart completely in order to show my sincerity and seriousness with wanting to remove any occasion for the devil to lay his hooks into me again (1 Pet. 5:8). The hardest part about the whole thing, though, was the rejection. I realized that not everyone wants reconciliation. I thought it odd, at first. I mean, I did my part by leaving my gift at the altar, but the other person just did not want to hear it. They were content with the way things were.

To that, I cannot do a thing. What is important is I have done my part asking for forgiveness. And to me, that is all that matters. My comfort lies in the knowledge that Jesus also faced rejection when he was walking among us on earth (1 Peter 2:4-8). So, why should it surprise me that even I should bear the burden of rejection?

For this reason, before reaching the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it a point to emphasize a lasting lesson to his followers, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Mat. 7:1-2).

And Lastly…

When it comes down to it, forgiveness is not only about eradicating a root of bitterness and moving on. It also requires vigilance to love an enemy as oneself. I can attest it is not an easy task to do when all there remains of the relationship is sad memories. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, anything is possible. As long as I keep repenting, turning away from wrongdoing, God will blot out my sins (Acts 3:19). He will extend his grace, and Jesus’ sacrifice will not have been for naught (Rom. 6:5-8).

Posted in My Journey

The Cost of Change

I had a good week last week. When I think back at everything that has happened, I wonder how I did it. I have my neck problem that appears occasionally, but I have been able to manage it. I am meeting new people, and my family life has never been better.

As for the new church I have been attending, I can truly say I am enjoying it. The organization is not the cult group that I was a part of twenty years ago; therefore, I am thankful knowing I can be myself without worrying that I am breaking some stringent directive. Given many may describe it as an evangelical church; the messages have a general theme aimed toward changing the heart.

My writing has also gone through a change, which is really a reflection of what has been happening inside me lately. No longer do I have the root of bitterness that has held me captive for all these years, inspiring me to write horror. Now I wake up in the mornings with God on my mind and with thoughts of how I could glorify and praise him. The stories I am writing deal with people who overcome spiritual and physical challenges at the cost of moral obligation.

All these changes did come with a price.

I no longer post articles three times a week. My focus has shifted toward God first, family second, and friends third. And my book Resilience, which I had written over the winter, currently does not have a publication date.

Regardless of these things, I am happy.

For years, I suffered insomnia, averaging two hours of sleep a night. Now, not a night goes by that I do not have a solid six to seven hours. It reminds me of the other day when I was watching Saving Private Ryan. In one of the scenes, the sniper character was able to sleep through anything. He was God-fearing, and he recited scripture whenever he delivered a bullet to an enemy. One of the other soldiers wondered how he could sleep through the night, given all the bombs going off around them and the number of people he had killed. Another soldier replied that the man had a clear conscience.

When I think about it, I suppose I, too, go to bed with a clear conscience.

The other thing I have done is to reconcile with almost all those who have considered me their enemy. I found it surprising that everyone I offered my hand to in renewed friendship embraced me with open arms. Of course, I had to humble myself before them with apologies and sacrifices, but overall, almost all responded positively to me wanting to put the past behind. This experience has prompted me to write a long bible study on forgiveness, of which, one of these days, I will publish here. For the time being, however, I cannot say it is ready, as I have yet to write a conclusion.

Is there anything else I can say about the price I paid?

All things considered, the recent changes in my life have introduced me to new things that I do not think I could have experienced had I not found God again. Just knowing I am free from the burden of having done wrong has brought a new hope I will surely appreciate no matter what life throws at me in the coming months.

So, yes, with my whole heart I can say I had a good week.

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

The Love for a Child

There comes a time in people’s lives when they have to decide what they want out of life. For some, they know as soon as they’re born. For others, it takes a lifetime. That’s a lifetime of going through the motions of living, making mistakes, hurting—but learning—learning what makes them tick, what makes them feel, what makes them happy.

Boy Reading
Boy Reading

No one ever said life is easy. In some respect, it’s not. It’s a matter of perspective. The choices will either encourage change in a person or force them to resist. One thing’s for certain, change will happen, whether someone wants it or not.

When I was a young boy, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I had creativity in my blood. On my mother’s side, music dominated our genes to produce a multitude of musical geniuses including a symphony composer and conductor in South America. On my father’s side, sports lives in the Flacco blood. The Flaccos have always pushed the limits in anything they put their hand to.

Then, there’s me. My story? I drifted. After finishing high school, I went from knowing I wanted to be a writer to working in blue-collar factories for seven years. If that wasn’t enough to learn a lesson, I then went into accounting for another seven years. That’s fourteen years—gone. That’s not including the added distraction of wanting to be a rock star. I mentioned that somewhere, didn’t I? Yes, I studied musical composition in Toronto, following the lead of my mom’s gene pool. Suffice it to say things didn’t work out quite as expected.

Ages later, after many hits and misses, I’m happy to say I’m doing the very thing I should have pursued right from grade school when the inkling of being a writer sprung into my mind.

Woman reading
Woman reading

Now, I’m going to play the part of devil’s advocate here and say a few things folks may not like. Kids know what they want to be. I really believe that. I believe kids not only know what they want to do with their lives, but they express it from an early age. They’re not going to say straight out “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be an astronaut” or even say anything at all. Sometimes they’ll say it in the most beautiful and powerful language known to us—the language of doing.

A child may draw all day, may dance, sing, read, write, swim, laugh, throw, act, play, jump, crawl, watch butterflies float, dream upon the clouds, help mom bake, help dad put the car back together, mow the lawn and yes, shovel the driveway—the point is they’re telling us what they’re good at.

So my Freedom Friday question is this: Why on earth would anyone want to discourage them from being anything other than what they’re good at?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Do you have kids? Do you know what they’re good at?