Here is the next round of thank yous to my AMAZING backers from THE BOOK OF RUTH.
Thank you SO MUCH…!
Why is it that almost the second you decide to try to do better, temptation comes to show you just how weak you really are? I think that probably applies to most things that tempt us, chocolate cake when you are on a diet, a new pair of shoes when you are watching your spending. How are we supposed to win?!
Today for my bible study I was reading Ecclesiastes and James. Both chapters specifically addressed my biggest failing as a Christian…my tongue. James 3 is even appropriately titled Taming theTongue.
“…but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8.
“With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness.” James 3:9
“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” James 3:10
Guilty, guilty, guilty. I have often wondered why, when we were created by God to praise and love him, it is so darn hard to live up to his standards? I think it must be a big reason why so many people have fallen away from “religion”. Once you get past the whole feel good “Jesus comes to save the world and forgive our sins part” there’s an expectation, a call to live a better life, to set a higher standard for your behaviour. And just like you felt guilt when you did something wrong as a child, you feel badly, guilty about not living up to being the person you know God is calling you to be. It’s easier to just walk away, especially in those early days.
Last night as I was driving Isaac back from his riding lesson I heard a song on the radio (see below), and it really drove home something that I think we all need to remember. It’s good to be alive. God gave us life to enjoy it. A relationship with God is about feeling better, not worse. Feeling not good enough, living with guilt… that is a lie told by the enemy, and one I’ve fallen victim too far too often. When we feel as if we aren’t living up to God’s standards we should be turning toward him, not away.
I’ve been pretty honest here about how my own faith has ebbed and flowed over the years. It’s even possible that I might stray away again, like a lost sheep. But I feel grateful that, for right now, I am so tied to my Lord. The more I have thrown myself at him whole-heartedly, the more I have felt his presence in my life on a daily basis. And that’s why it is so darn frustrating to recognize at times that I am just as awful a sinner as I ever was, and that ole tongue is the major source of my failing. But I also take comfort from the words of Ecclesiastes 7, verse 20 that I read this morning…”There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” and verse 18 “the man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”
I am a sinner. I will always be a sinner. Just like my own children, as a child of God I will continue to make mistakes, to fall down. And just as I would pick up my own children, wipe their tears and forgive them for any of their failings or mistakes, so too does God forgive me. All I have to do is ask. And truth be told, we are probably never fair to ourselves. I believe that the Spirit lives in me, and is changing me into the person God calls me to be. Some days he just chips off smaller pieces of this piece of clay than others. God knows all things. He knows when I’m having a bad day, when I’m stressed out, when I’m feeling out of control. He also knows the days when I’ve got it all together. I think he expects more from us in those times that we are more capable (just as we would with our own children). Maybe some days, instead of chipping of pieces of this piece of clay, he just holds me in his hands and pours his love out onto me.
I pray for all those people who are struggling with their faith and with those feelings of not being good enough. God sent his only son into the world so that, while we might feel those things, we wouldn’t have to live with the burden of guilt for our failures. I pray that instead of turning away from God in those times, we instead turn ourselves more fully toward him.
The quest for the “perfect” Christmas can make this an exhausting time of year for many. I have found myself increasingly in that category as the years go by. I’ve lost the joy of buying presents, putting up the Christmas decorations, baking. Instead of looking forward to these activities they have become a chore; another box to tick. I begrudge the way they pull me out of my routine.
But even as that is happening, I can feel the call of that baby. The Incarnation. It’s not a word that I grew up with or using with any regularity, and while many of us are familiar with the miracle of the Resurrection, I sometimes feel that we are missing out on the meaning of the gift we are truly celebrating on December 25. The Incarnation – God became man. Just saying the word, dwelling on that, the “perfectness” of that gift, I find my heart filled with the joy that I thought I was missing. I find myself filled with love; love of God and mankind.
Jesus isn’t just the reason for the season; the love that fills peoples hearts at this time of year, that makes them more generous, more courteous, more kind — THAT IS JESUS. Jesus isn’t just the reason for the season, Jesus is the season. God incarnated. God made man. The miracle of that birth stretches across centuries, across generations, across racial, and cultural divides to give us a glimpse of something truly special.
When I find myself dwelling on that miracle, I realize that I need to approach each of my Christmas “tasks” as an act of thanksgiving, an act of celebration of the miracle of the virgin birth. James 2:26 says “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” If I have faith and if I believe “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11. then I need to look no further to find meaning in Christmas. I need to approach each and everything I do (my deeds), as a part of my Christmas celebrations, as an act of love; as a gift offered before that baby boy. At this time of year, it isn’t just about my faith, it’s about offering up my deeds, to let them be my offering, just as the wise men offered their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Over the next few weeks I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, I want to celebrate the magic of, the miracle of the Incarnation. God made man. Halleluiah!
And here’s the second group of “Thank yous” for my amazing backers.
THANK YOU SO MUCH…
Robert L Vaughn
S. J. Malarkey
Jeff & Erin W.
November was a month that was filled with blessings (although I admit to being a wee bit exhausted at the end of it). Thanks to the prayers and generosity of many who allowed God to work through them, my Kickstarter for THE BOOK OF RUTH was more than 100% funded when it ended. Through that entire process I could feel God’s hand, working, reaching out and putting it in front of the people who needed to see it, speaking to their hearts. And for me it was definitely an exercise in trust, and the power of faith. There were many times I just had to “step back and let God”. And there were so many people who lifted me up with words of encouragement and prayers. God is good. And I want to say thank you again, to everyone who shared and supported RUTH.
You might be asking yourself if I’m feeling so blessed, why the title of today’s blog post is about bitterness. Let me explain. As often as we revel in God’s blessings in our lives, we are just as often tempted by sin. This past week, within my community of faith, I have been wrestling with a situation. I found myself being pushed out of a role that I had taken pride in. A role that I enjoyed and looked forward to doing. And I wasn’t happy about it. In fact, I was very hurt. I don’t know if the people involved even considered my feelings, I would even say that it didn’t cross their minds that I might be upset. They just did what it was that they wanted to do.
This was a situation in which, while I didn’t feel it was necessary to take a stand and try to get my way, my first instinct was to step back. To no longer participate in that particular group. As Dave puts it “to take my ball and go home.” But I also spent time and prayed about it. I asked God for help, because I wasn’t 100% convinced that my first response was the correct one. There were other people outside of the situation that needed to be considered. Maybe stepping away was the right thing, but maybe this wasn’t the right way to do it, or the right emotional mindset to be making that decision in. And thankfully I had a week in which to make that decision.
It’s very easy to assign reasons and emotions to the actions of others, but it can be much harder to look at our own motivations. I will say, however that I instantly recognized that pride was a part of the equation from my side. I took pride in doing this particular job. But maybe someone else needed to feel that pride more than I did. I have found so many places in my life to share my faith, am I so greedy as to not be able to share the spotlight? And stepping out completely also meant stepping away from those who needed someone to advocate for them.
I have continued to bring this situation and specifically my feelings about it before God this week and today this was the passage I read.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see God. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14.
If we, as children of God, seek to live holy lives, lives that emulate the life of Christ, then I have to consider His response to every situation – to this situation. I know Christ would step aside graciously, and throw His support completely behind this peer. And I know that is what God wants for me. I can’t allow bitterness to take root in my heart and cause trouble. I think this is why pride is such a subtle and dangerous sin. But if Jesus could scorn the shame of the cross, then I can certainly give up my pride and help someone have their own chance at ministering to others and being proud.
If there is a place in your life where you have a similar situation, or are finding pride is damaging a relationship, I encourage you to bring it before God and allow his healing power to change your heart just as he changed mine.
I don’t think it would be fair to say that I have had a crisis of faith lately. I think it would be better phrased if I said that I had started questioning some of the things that I had held onto as core beliefs. “How did that happen?” you might ask. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but I have come to understand that it is much easier for your faith to be undermined from within.
A few months back I signed up to get daily emails from a Christian website. Some of the emails I really enjoyed and got something out of. Sure I still read my bible every day, but, as much as I wanted them to deepen my understanding, maybe on some level, I looked for them to be a “fast-food” means of increasing my knowledge of God. A post about Christian mystics got me really questioning the reality of the experiences I felt that I had with God. But the one that really sent me over the edge was the one that tried to explain why not all believers will be recognized by Jesus. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now I’m not saying that these posts didn’t have value. What I am saying is that they didn’t have value for me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready spiritually for their message.
But there I was, questioning God and my relationship with him, feeling uncomfortable in my heart with the things I had been reading. So I thought back to some of the books I have read that truly made me feel as if I had gained a real understanding of God; C.S. Lewis and J.I.Packer. Ultimately I ended up on Packer and and started reading his book KNOWING GOD. I wasn’t a chapter into it before I felt the rightness of the message within the book. It fed me. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I had been starving.
So what’s my point here? I am absolutely not condemning the daily devotional that I had been getting, but I had to recognize that instead of feeding ME, it was putting distance between me and God. And I am always brought back to the word Jesus uses to describe God, the word that we use to identify him withing the Trinity…God THE FATHER. I am a child of God and I think he parents us much like we parent our own children – there is a different set of rules and instructions for each of us. Ultimately it is for each of us to find our own way – and it is for no one to tell us our path is wrong if we are following it with an honest and earnest heart, bent upon knowing and loving our Lord. If God has called us to be his children, will He not also show us the way?
I know that going forward, if it isn’t bringing me to a new understanding, and is instead pushing me farther from, instead of closer to God, then that isn’t the resource for me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t for someone else, though. Perhaps Jesus tells us the the road we walk will be a difficult one because it is one that we must each forge ourselves.
It’s been a bit since I’ve blogged. Mostly this is because I have been focusing a lot of my time, and energy on promoting my newest project, THE BOOK OF RUTH, which launched on Kickstarter November 1st and wraps up November 30.
It’s definitely been an up and down month for me. It was so easy two years ago when I felt God “calling” me to do this book. I remember listening to the Matthew West song “All In”. Strange that it would be so easy to take a risk and been all in at the beginning. But then I guess at that point I haven’t really risked anything from a financial, or time point of view. Now that we are so close to the finish line. Now that I have put so much of myself into this project, I suddenly find myself doubting God’s commitment.
I’ve been reading the book of Matthew this week, specifically chapters 17 & 18. In Chapter 17: 20 Jesus heals a demon possessed boy that his disciples had failed to heal. When they ask him why they couldn’t drive out the demon he replies “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I feel as if he’s talking to me. Because there have been times over this past week specifically that I have felt as if my faith was too small. I keep asking for help and praying to God, but I don’t even know what to pray for. I’m so conflicted.
David and I have been so blessed. Maybe the point of the blessings is to pay it forward. To put out this book without counting about the cost. But I’m human, and working in comics you don’t have a pension plan. And I want this book to be successful. I want people to see it and love it and get behind it. I want that validation. (You see why I’m struggling)
And then today I read this verse in Matthew 18:19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” I was inclined to dismiss this and focus on other parts of that reading focusing on the children, but then it appeared again. Isaac and I were doing his daily devotions. We read Acts 10:44-48 and Acts 12:1-10. This is the conclusion of the story of Peter and Cornelius and the story of the angel of God freeing Peter from prison. And there is was, at the end of this devotion, the verse of the day – Matthew 18:19.
So today I’m putting it out to you. The people who read my blog. I’m not asking for you to pray for a successful Kickstarter. But I am asking that you pray for this book that God has called me to write. That he uses it for his plan (whatever that may be)and that he helps me to have faith (even if it’s as small as a mustard seed). I’m asking that you pray for me to have my “all-in” faith in God’s plan renewed.
Thank you to everyone who reads this and God bless.
Have you ever felt God put a calling in your heart? Did you follow through on it?
Sometimes it takes a long time for those callings to manifest themselves. For me, it has taken years. I have said before that, when I first started writing comics, I felt God put a calling in my heart to adapt The Book of Ruth into comic book form. It was one of those, “some day you are going to do this” type of things. I carried that calling in my heart for many years, before I really felt that the time was “now”.
It’s funny how when you starting answering a calling, you have this mind set, or at least I certainly did, that you are doing something for God. You know when Paul calls us to “resist the temptation to act as if we are righteous, especially by leaning on our good works”… yep!
It’s easy to start making plans and forget who, and what you are doing something for. But, if you can keep your focus on God, trusting in His plan for you and your calling, the strangest thing begins to happen; or at least for me. I came to the realization that this thing God had called me to do. This thing that I was “doing” for God…it was actually something God was doing for me.
Maybe to some of you this is nothing new, but for me this is news!!! The more I have worked on “The Book of Ruth”, the more I have poured myself into God’s plan; trusting Him, and turning it over to Him…the more I have found myself being blessed by the very thing I was supposed to be doing for God. We have it all wrong, or I certainly did. When God puts a calling in our hearts it’s because He has a blessing that He wants to share with us not because there’s something we can do for him. But the only way that He can do that is if, and when we listen to Him.
I feel grateful and blessed that our God is forgiving, and willing to overlook my arrogance. (What could I possibly do for the God who created the heavens and earth?) God stuck with me, He showed me the truth, and He brought me to the place where I am now; joyous gratitude. What calling has God put into your heart today? What blessing is he trying to share with you?
This song has really been my mantra since launching The Book of Ruth on Kickstarter and so I wanted to share it with you today.
“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
Several times this month I have found a passage in my readings that speaks to me and then brings me to a new understanding of some of the readings we repeat each Sunday as a part of our service and where they come from. This one today hit home particularly for me because this month I found myself lashing out at my family. Fall is always a difficult time for me as the days grow shorter. But for some reason, this year I have found myself feeling increasingly overwhelmed. Even the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning have, at times, felt like mountains to climb. And those feelings I have nurtured in my heart, feelings of anxiety, sadness, and frustration, have of course flowed out of my heart via my mouth to hurt the ones I love.
This morning as I prayed on this verse and asked for God’s help, I found myself repeating familiar words…“cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy spirit that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord”.
This verse comes from the Collect for Purity and is a part of our Anglican service every Sunday. The entire collect goes like this; “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I can only think that this collect was directly inspired by Jesus’ words in Matthew in recognition of the struggles we all face; to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, so that it is the good stored inside us that comes out of our mouths, and not the evil.
I will continue to pray that my heart be cleansed so that when I am called to give an account for the words I have spoken, the good far outweighs the evil, in Jesus’ name. Amen