Friday, January 30, 2009

Jesus is a Rock Star

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’m so glad my Daily Devotional gives me a little dose of the New Testament right alongside the Old each day. I’m in Judges in the Old but still in Matthew in the New and believe me, I need the balance.

I love Chapter 9 of Matthew and the story of Jesus having dinner with the tax collectors and sinners. When the Pharisees, shocked and indignant as they were, asked why Jesus dined with such poor company, he answered (Verse 12-13) “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Yep, that is why Jesus is a rock star – he respected and honored women, opposed the tyranny of self-righteous and evil church leaders, and honored those in low social circumstances such as tax collectors, prostitutes and other wretches like me. He knew he could not inspire hope in all if he mingled only with the best and most respected in society.

He also knew his Father’s message of love, grace and mercy had become lost on those who believed salvation could only be earned as a reward for strict adherence to the Biblical laws of the Old Testament. And he knew that he was sent to make it known to the world that obeying the laws served no purpose if doing so did little or nothing to bring lost men into the flock.

So to boil it down, Jesus was the ultimate mover and shaker, a real rebel working on our behalf long before we were born. Knowing that, how can anyone not love the guy?

It is true; some people get preoccupied with certain biblical truths and laws and focus only on them while excluding other important passages in the Bible. As I’ve heard it said, to truly understand Christianity is to first understand that in God mercy prevails over justice. In my distant past I let self-righteous people sour my taste for church, and later, I used their presence as an excuse to explain why I no longer wanted to attend church. It is only now in my reflection on my old ways that I see that I too was practicing a form of self-righteousness during those years. I was too good to go to church with people who thought they were too good to sit alongside me. I showed no mercy either.

Thank goodness I’ve learned though my reading and in church that if I try each day to make God-pleasing decisions, he will move me in a life-giving direction. God’s love and his salvation are generous gifts; no act I can perform nor change I could make in myself will earn me His love and my place with Him in Heaven. But he will show me mercy and love me without limitation now that I’ve finally chosen to love Him in return.

These are my thoughts and putting them on paper helps me to clarify them for myself, and guides me in my quest to live the Word. I only hope I’m not frustrating you along the way.

OK, now to pay the bills – I have five complimentary copies of my new book, “Mom’s Little Angel: Stories of the Special Bond Between Mothers and Daughters” to give away. I’ll send one signed copy to each of the first five women to email me with a promise to read it soon and post a review on Amazon.com. My email address is gregoryelang@gmail.com. Don’t forget to include your mailing address!

I will also send one signed copy of my Valentine’s Day book, “Why I Love You: 100 Reasons,” to each of the first three women to email me with a promise to read it soon and post a review on Amazon.com.

One book per request, please.

Also, please visit my HarperCollins webpage and watch the video of me discussing the book. Here’s the link:
http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/33303/Gregory_E_Lang/index.aspx

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Yoke and Unconditional Love

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

All went well in Chicago (although it was covered in snow and ice) during my meeting with Sourcebooks, the publisher who now has the license to my Cumberland House books. Great people with great ideas; I’m very excited to see how far they can take the message of my writing given their motto, “A book in every hand.”

If you visited this blog before you may know I have been struggling with witnessing not to strangers and the unchurched but to my own extended family who are not Believers. I’ve received many words of support from you reassuring me God will give me many opportunities to do his work and that my one failure does not doom me to fail all of the time. Indeed, that is good news and it helped to lift the heavy yoke I thought bore down on my shoulders.

Furthermore, during the membership seminar Jill and I attended at church last weekend, our Leader told us of his ease in talking about God with non-believers. To evangelize is his favorite thing to do, he said. However, he also confessed to his own discomfort dealing with others’ grief, weeping and emotional pain, and he is grateful God gives all his people different strengths so that they may minister to those in need according to their unique gifts for ministry.

This too, lightened the burden of my yoke; I am eager and well equipped to minister to the sad, the grieving, the tearful and the depressed. That is my gift. That is how I do God’s work. That is why I’ve been called to the Stephen Ministry, I realize now. While I also know that to spread the Gospel is my duty, it is not my only or most important calling. Today I understand that within my brotherhood of Christians I am blessed with people who have strength where I am weak, and working together we can take care of many according to their needs and our strengths.

Just putting that into words has lifted my yoke altogether. I feel better this morning than I have in nearly a week.

The other day I read Matthew 20:1-28 which recalls the wonderful story Jesus told of the landowner who hired men to work in his vineyard, paying each the same wage no matter how long or short a time he may have worked. Jesus ended the story with (verse 16) “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

What this tells me is that salvation is the same for all of us who work for God; none are more saved or less saved than others because of how much or how little work they do in God’s name, as long as each worked with a pure heart and according to the best of his ability. There is no ranking of men in Heaven; each is loved as much as the other in reward for having answered the call of the Lord.

That is unconditional love. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Signs

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I believe that Ginny in NY is an angel helping me to find my way. She often sends me encouraging notes in response to my remarks on this blog, and I welcome all of them. Just the other day she said this in response to my post about being fearful of praying out loud before others: “We need to remind ourselves that when we pray, whether in silence or out loud, we are speaking to someone who loves us immensely. Simple words of adoration, thanks, and petition are all that God asks of us.”

That drives it home clear as crystal, I think. Now if I’m called to pray at one of the meetings I attend, I believe I will be ready.

My post on Friday has haunted me since I wrote it; it seems everywhere I turn my recent shortcoming as a witness is pointed out to me. Not in a punitive way, thank the Lord, but in an instructional way. At the same time I’m reminded of my error, I’m also reminded of the opportunity before me. It’s as if I’m now being encouraged daily to confront my fear of speaking about God to those who are dear to me but who I know do not have God in their lives.

For example, on Saturday I drove past a church and on its marquee was the simple question, “Have you worked for God today?” I was glad I could answer Yes, but I also took that literal sign to be a figurative sign from God reminding me of what else he would have me do – invite the unchurched into church. Along with my ministry work, my acts of mercy and service to needy strangers, and my prayers, I am also to evangelize if I truly want to do God’s work, for Jesus said, “I have come to call the sinners.”

Furthermore, I’m reading, along with the Bible, “Speaking the Truth in Love: How to be an Assertive Christian.” It is a great book about putting faith into practice, especially among people who don’t yet know Jesus as Savior and Lord. It tells me that to fully live the Christian life I must be proactive and lovingly assertive with those who don’t yet believe. Not to be proactive and lovingly assertive, it says, is to decide to ignore another’s spiritual danger.

If I wouldn’t ignore my brother’s, cousins’, or father’s physical danger, why would I ignore their spiritual danger? The simple answer is, I cannot.

I have to stop here as it is nearly 10PM Sunday night and I still have much to do. Jill and I spent 9 hours in church this weekend and I’m eager to write about what we did and learned, but I am also flying to Chicago for a few days and have not yet done a thing to prepare. I’m supposed to give an inspirational talk and all my thoughts are still floating around in my head in a very disorganized fashion.

Tune in on Thursday for more news about Living the Word.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Failure

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I am very disappointed in myself. I recently spent time with someone I am very close with, someone who I know to be an ardent non-believer, and I kept my mouth shut about my reinvigorated faith and my journey this year to become closer to God.

I must now confess that I find it easy to talk about God and the blessings he has showered on my life when I’m talking with a likeminded audience, and find it difficult when I fear I will be waved off or outright rejected by someone I count among my friends. It is a fear I know I must overcome for what good am I accomplishing trying earnestly to live the Word if the only people I share my faith with are also faithful?

I’m reminded now of the story of the shephard leaving his flock to go find the one lost sheep. I’m ashamed; I turned a blind eye to a lost one and left him in the wilderness.

And as I sat down with the Daily Devotional Bible to write today’s post two passages in Psalms greeted me: “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth” (26:2-3), and “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (27:10).

These passages told me three very important things: It only took me 22 days to have my first failure at what was really a very simple test, there will indeed be more tests, and in order to walk continually in the truth I must be prepared and willing to lose so much more than the company of an old friend.

But also as I sit here writing this I realize I can overcome my failure by refusing the next time to shy aware from sharing my faith with non-believers (including this particular friend), and, I further realize, perhaps loosing a friend because of my beliefs will not be the result after all. Why would I think that, me of little faith? I’ve been praying to God to use me, to let me be a tool in His work. Why did I doubt his power? Would he not use me to help find lost sheep? Isn’t that what I’ve invited Him into my life to do? Do I not trust Him?

Of course I trust Him, and of course I believe in His power. Yet I chose to dishonor Him by remaining silent about Him.

I could use a swift kick in the butt.

I also read this in the introduction to Judges in my Bible for Blockheads: “Our success or failure depends on our willingness to faithfully follow the Lord (pg. 84).” I notice it doesn’t say to follow the Lord when it is easy to do so – it says we must follow faithfully to succeed. That can only mean to follow Him all of the time, in easy times as well as in difficult times.

I fear God may not use me if I continue to fail at the very task I asked Him to place before me; therefore, I resolve, I won’t fail at it again. I will not turn away from living in a God pleasing way; I will not pass up the next opportunity to talk with someone, anyone, about God, His love, His mercy, His grace, and His wonderful blessings.

My friends, even though I have already asked you many times to pray for me, I am now asking you yet again. Please pray that I might gain strength and confidence and overcome my fear of talking to someone who doesn’t already know God. Please pray that I pass my next test.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for my family, too. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mom

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I am a slow reader; it takes me twice as long to read as it does Jill. If we happen to be reading the same page in a book, restaurant menu or event program, she has time to do her hair and nails while waiting for me to catch up with her faster eyes. I’ve always been a slow reader and one of the things I dreaded most in life was to be asked to read out loud before my classmates.

Now, as an adult who is more involved in church than he has ever been, I’ve remembered that what I fear more than being asked to read out loud is to be asked to lead a group in pray. Many years ago when I was attending my girlfriend’s church the minister asked me if I prayed out loud. I thought it was a strange question because I always said my prayers to myself in my head, but I told him sure, I pray out loud. When my girlfriend explained to me later that he meant would I pray out loud before the congregation I nearly wet my pants.

She and I broke up shortly after that. I can’t say that my reluctance to go back to church with her had nothing to do with it.

Anyway, as I attend more and more activities at our church I’m realizing different people are being called on to pray before and after each event. As I meet more and more people in the church I’m sure I’m only increasing the odds that I’ll be called on one day to pray. It’s as if there is a countdown clock ticking away and my fear index is skyrocketing. Just the other day I realized I exhaled a noticeable sigh of relief when I was able to get through another meeting without being called on to pray.

So guess what I’m doing now. I’m praying for the bravery to overcome my anxiety. I’m praying for words to come to me and that assuredness be in my voice when someone asks me, “Greg, will you lead us in prayer.”

Silly, I know, but true. I am taking baby steps though. I now have, for the first time, a prayer partner. Once a week we tell each other what our burdens are and then agree to pray for each other. It feels good. This week my prayer partner Carla is wrestling with a major decision and she has asked me to pray for God to guide her decision. And now I’ll ask you to add Carla to your prayers in the next few days. Her need is far more important than mine right now. And besides, I should put my boots on, overcome my anxiety and pray out loud when I’m asked.

BTW, today is my dear Mother’s birthday and in her honor I want to post an excerpt from one of the books I wrote for her, “Thank You, Mom”:

“Even though I now say the things my mother has done for me are countless and I attempt with this book to express my gratitude for them all and give her this praise, the truth is I rarely showed appreciation for what she did for me when I was young. I simply did not say “thank you” when I should have. Maybe I was na├»ve, oblivious to the tasks and challenges of parenting, or just thought I was entitled to good treatment, but no matter what the excuse or belated confession, the fact remains my mother did what she did with little reward at the time. Albeit late and thankfully before I have regrets I never told her, the time for her reward has come.

So here I am, all these years later, writing this book to say “Thank you, Mom.” With it I recognize and acknowledge the many sacrifices she made on my behalf and the caring gestures she has extended to me for over forty-six years. I am using these pages to tell her, “I can’t possibly thank you enough for everything you did, but I’m going to try.” Even then, the expressions of gratitude that follow, whether simple, silly or profound, are only the beginning of what I want to say to my mom.

I believe that a child cannot express enough gratitude for what a mother has done. I know that I cannot, but I also know my mother will be delighted I gave it a try. I love you, Mom, and thank you so very much for everything.”

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Calling

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Our lesson Sunday morning was about being called by God to obey his laws and fulfill our potential under the vast possibilities of his promises to his faithful followers. I am considering this lesson very personally. I, after taking four years off to focus on writing, am seeing the need to return to work during these unsure times. It is clear to me that I do not want to return to my former life as a corporate sales guy – traveling extensively about the country in pursuit of an elusive quota.

I admit it, I’ve gotten spoiled being at home, making breakfast for my family, taking care of our business during the week so that weekends are reserved for pleasure rather than tasks, and being at home each afternoon when my wife returns from her day spent teaching middle-schoolers.

Thus I’m considering new career opportunities and my heart is drawn to the non-profit world and academics. I’m not sure yet if I want to teach and if I do would that be high school or college, or become a fundraiser or program manager for a charitable organization.

And the deeper I get into my training with the Stephen Ministry the more I consider returning to a counseling role, but this time, if I do it, specifically as a Christian counselor. My writing and the relationships I’ve formed with those who have reached out to me after reading one of my books, and the joys I’ve felt when working with the ministries these last few months, have reminded me of my original goal in life when I emerged from my undergraduate program: I wanted to help people.

So I hear a voice calling me to do something different from the way I spent the first 22 years of my career, but I can’t yet quite hear what it is that I’m being called to do. Please pray for me so that my new calling becomes clearer to me, so I will choose the career path God has in mind for me.

Wow, I once prided myself believing I had all the answers. What foolishness. I no longer believe I have all the answers; in fact I accept the possibility that I may have none of the answers. But where once that possibility would have frightened me, I am now comfortable with the mysteries that in the past I, leaning on my own understanding, tried to explain to myself. I don’t care now if I don’t have all the answers for I know that God does. I am confident in his presence and his ability and desire to take care of the things that are beyond my comprehension. He, in his own time, will tell me of my calling if I continue to look to Him for answers.

Wow again. I’ve thought this way for years, albeit not consistently and always too quietly, but now there is excitement in my heart and I can’t stop myself from revealing my true thoughts about God. Openly merging my faith, thinking, and conduct is leading me toward a wholeness that I’ve never known, a wholeness I hope is pleasing to God. It sure tickles the heck out of me.

A side note: Ginny made me smile (again) when I saw her note: “I’m praying for you and your family … and I’ve already hugged someone this morning!!”

And that’s what it is all about – connecting with each other through the power and grace of God. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now YOU go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Twenty Days

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Today’s post really will be brief as yesterday was Baby Girl’s 15th birthday and I spent much of the day shuttling her and a carload of girlfriends all over the place, leaving little time for writing.

I also had my class last night and needed time to prepare. When reading my Stephen Ministry workbook I came upon the following passage (paraphrased): “Those who faithfully practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and study find that God uses those practices to keep them attentive and attached to Jesus.”

I have found this to be so true in recent months and even more so in the last 20 days since embarking on this Faith Journey. Where I once sought out God only while attending Christmas Eve and Easter services, receiving Communion and attending Baptisms (I still find witnessing someone being immersed and then pulled from the water an incredibly emotional experience; I cry each time), I did little else in between those occasions to connect with God. The profound, heartfelt emotions I walked away from those services with, the emotions that I let myself believe meant I was spiritual, eventually faded as I busied myself doing all the things that pleased me. Consequently, so too faded my desire to live a life that honored God, at least until the next important seasonal church service came around.

The last 20 days, however, have been very different for me. Praying earnestly each night, thinking about my life and how I want to interact with others as a representative of God in every day, and reading the Bible each day (I just finished Deuteronomy) has touched me; I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I already thought I was happier than I’d ever been.

What a difference it makes to put God first.

Finally, you'll notice the cover image of my new book, Mom's Little Angel, to the right. It will be available in a little less than three weeks.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, January 19, 2009

100 Percent

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’ve read through Numbers and am now a few pages into Deuteronomy. I have to say I’m glad to be beyond Leviticus and Numbers; they were laborious reads and filled with laws, death and destruction, yet both books are quite essential to the overall message.

What is the message? Let’s see – the Israelites were promised a land of their own overflowing with milk and honey. They were set free from Egyptian oppression, provided for during their excursion through the desert toward Canaan, forgiveness was extended to them a number of times, and then when they were on the brink of entering their land, they balked! Their faith was weak and they turned away from God’s plan.

In my view at least, Leviticus and Numbers serve to tell us that you must have strong, steadfast faith in God in order to realize his blessings and rewards. You cannot be lukewarm about God or on the fence (as I’ve been for years) in your commitment to Him and yet expect that you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (I think Canaan represents Heaven; those of little faith and who didn’t believe died in the desert without ever setting foot in the Promised Land).

Let me make it simple: God wants your 100% commitment, not your 99% commitment. Yes, He is gracious and merciful, but you must give all of yourself to him in order to be with Him. Anything less than 100% fidelity is unfaithful, isn’t it? In other words, simpler still, you can’t be married to God and cheat with the Devil at the same.

This has been a painful reckoning for me because I have played that game with myself where I separated my mind from my conduct. I told myself if I believed I was covered no matter what acts I committed, be it cursing, indulgence, lust and most other forms of debauchery. I didn’t understand until I began this Faith Journey how insulting to God my old delusion really might have been. How can I, anyone, be a believer and not be motivated to live according to God’s desires? To not be motivated is to not believe with your whole heart, I now think.

Yes, we all fail to live up to God’s expectations but that is not the same as turning away from Him. The former we will always do because we have fallen from perfection since our expulsion from The Garden of Eden, but the latter is a willful act to separate ourselves from Him. The former can be forgiven; the latter cannot.

If you could see me now you would be watching me shake my head in disbelief. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m writing this stuff! If any of my old acquaintances and even some of my family are reading this they are probably, with abundant sarcasm, saying “Preach to me Brother!” That would be the very reason I would have kept my faith a secret in the past and instead acted like a pagan along with them. I was willing to trade my life for a little fun.

I understand now I am called to be different from the people around me who do not have a relationship with God; how could I otherwise be a faithful representative of God? I also believe I cannot be different by moving away from them. If I did, how could I inspire them to find what I have found?

In Matthew 7:8 we read: “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I’m so glad I finally knocked. I hope my new joy will stir the curiosity in others around me so that I might tell them of the rewards of Living the Word.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Never Too Late

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is about my journey to become closer to God.

On Wednesday my friend and neighbor Keith invited me to have lunch with our Pastor, Randy. I’ve been eager to meet him as he is usually buried under a crowd after the Sunday service and I’ve never been able to get near enough to say more than Hello. So I accepted the invitation but not without a little fear in my heart. To date the only time I’ve spent in meaningful dialogue with a Pastor was to get baptized or married.

We met for a burger and talked for an hour-plus; it was a good time. As I expected him to, Randy eventually asked me about my relationship with God. I’m going to tell you some of what I told Randy because when I answered him, and he did not frown, I was uplifted.

The first thing I admitted was that I’ve been baptized twice. The first time, around the age of 13, was more directed toward impressing a girl at church than saving my soul. I did it, went through the church-goer motions for a while afterward, Robin Wall wasn’t impressed, and I, disenchanted, eventually stopped going to church.

That is the first thing I admitted to, not the first wrongheaded thing I’d done in my relationship with God. The first misstep I made was when I was a Boy Scout on a mission to earn as many merit badges as I could. I’m not even sure it is still offered but back in the day, which means at least 38 years ago, you could earn a merit badge for Christian Studies. I thought it would be an easy one so I went for it. I didn’t admit this to Randy because I also didn’t want to admit that I didn’t earn the merit badge. How pitiful is that?

A few years after overcoming my young love heartbreak I realized the folly of my motive for my first baptism and saw no hope for redemption other than to do it again. I was baptized a second time at the age of 16. Shortly after that, I found some other reason to hold myself to a low standard and began attending church in my head rather than taking a place on a pew.

What that means is I discovered a lot of sinful people went to church, including the Pastor, and I let it discourage me (today I’d ask myself back then “Where else would you rather them go?”). I convinced myself I could be as close to God through my own intellect as I could sitting in church among people who were as sinful as I was. This worked for me for years, including the second thing I admitted to Randy and that was that I also convinced myself that making the sacrifices necessary to be able to send my daughter to a Christian school was in itself a form of worship. I believed in God enough to make sure my daughter got a healthy dose of Him every day for thirteen years, and thought I would receive some Grace for making that happen.

The mind can play some mean tricks, can’t it?

Today I realize I cannot ask to be given credit or consideration just because I wrote a lot of checks to a Christian school. It was a great thing to do for Meagan but I didn’t accomplish a thing for myself. Except, perhaps, that by having her there I introduced awareness of the fact she and I didn’t attend church; it was for and with Meagan that I returned to the church six years ago.

When I finished my story Randy smiled and said he was glad to have me in the church and encouraged me to get even more deeply involved with the ministries. He said that to Me! How sweet it was to not be made to feel as if I were not Christian enough.

After lunch I sat down at my desk to decide what to right for today, and when I opened a draft post I found this passage I had written down and saved for later use (Matthew 7:1), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

It was, as they say, a prophetic moment. How dare I turn away from church because I thought it was filled with sinners? Me, a wretched sinner scorning other sinners, the gall! I’ve wasted so many years. I know now, and it is why, as I explained to Randy, I’ve joined four ministries and am thinking about still others – I’ve got a lot of sin to cover.

The sweet thing is it’s never too late to get started.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bountiful

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is about my journey to become closer to God.

Just to add a little color, I wanted to share a photo I took last weekend while at a baby shower. This is of my friend Mary Helen who is holding her first grandchild; she is four days old. Beautiful.

My friend Ginny offered this point of view in response to my post about bad things happening in people’s lives, titled “I’m a Beggar”:

“This question has been asked by Godly people in the midst of profound suffering, and it has been asked by those challenging the very existence of God. Many valid explanations are offered. For me, I rest knowing that an infinite and omniscient God works in ways that are far beyond my finite capabilities to understand. If I could fully explain all things pertaining to God, then it would diminish Him. That being said, I take comfort knowing that His eternal plan is always being worked out, and I trust His best for me, even when opposing circumstances present. Suffering teaches me to trust in Him. It exposes my need for Him. And that is ‘for good, according to His purpose’.”

Thank you Ginny, for your thoughts and for walking with me.

In my reading yesterday I found Matthew 6:27 and 34 to be rather weighty verses; I’m doing my best to understand them: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” and “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I think this encourages us to get right with God today, do not be distracted from God’s calling by the demands of day to day life. Do not think there is a guarantee of tomorrow or next week for you to find time to talk with God; no earthly concern is so great that it should weigh more heavily on your mind than your relationship with God.

Also, maybe, these verses are to remind us that if we are strong in our faith, God will provide for us; we need not worry about tomorrow if we walk with God. I can’t remember which verses but somewhere in Genesis through Leviticus I read of promises to the people that those who loved the Lord and had faith in him would have fields that produced more than could be eaten. It is a parable of course, but it tells us our rewards for having faith are bountiful, thus the faithful should not worry for God will take care of everything.

Honestly, I do feel the weight of my worries lifting from my shoulders. I haven’t been irritable in weeks! Yes, things are bad on so many levels right now for so many of us, but each night after my prayers I smile, I sleep well, and I wake up grateful for what the new day holds. It’s wonderful, and I believe it is the result of Living the Word.

I know this all might sound over simplified and naively optimistic to a non-believer or even a believer clouded in doubt at the moment, and in all fairness it seems true a poor man of great faith is not likely to wake up in a castle in the morning. But therein lies the mistake we fallible mortals always make – we presume to know what the reward for faith should be and when it should be delivered. How could our small and imperfect minds possibly know the will and plan of God? Let me just ask you to listen to the words of a great country song by Garth Brooks, “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers.” Think about it; the answer will come to you.

I hope every tomorrow for Mary Helen's grandchild is indeed bountiful.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Falling Into Place

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is about my journey to become closer to God.

Six years ago I was traveling with my good friend Alistair Deakin who had suggested I read the book “The Jesus I Never Knew” by Philip Yancey (I loved the book and consider it among my favorites). Alistair is a man of deep and open faith and I admire him; he perhaps was the one who planted the seed that has since grown into my curiosity today about God.

I, a southern gentleman, helped a number of people load their bags into the overhead compartments of the plane we were on. It happened that a church group of elderly black women were also on the plane and I lifted bags for many of them who sat near me, and later when we landed I retrieved them and gave them to their respective owners. As the church ladies were exiting, one touched my hand and asked if I was a minister. I smiled and said “No,” but she smiled and told me that I should become one.

Alistair overhead the comment, jokingly rolled his eyes and in his best British humor whispered to me that he didn’t have the heart to tell the woman what a real pagan I was. I forgot all about this event until Monday night.

Monday night was the first night of training for the new ministry I’ve joined, the Stephen Ministry, named for Stephen the Minister in the book of Acts. It is a ministry that serves as listeners and advisors to anyone in need of a shoulder to cry on or a confidant to spend time with during troubled times. With my background in counseling, I felt led to become a respondent to this calling.

During the meeting the trainer said that after we finished our training we would become commissioned, we would become Stephen Ministers, and once a Stephen minister, always a Stephen minister.

Suddenly that day on the plane and the feel of that woman’s touch on my hand came to mind. I remembered I was embarrassed for a moment by her question. How I wish now that I could look at her proudly and say that I took her advice – I’m becoming a minister.

Later in the training I noticed a banner on the back wall behind our trainer. It was 1 John 2:6 : “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” It was the only thing I wrote down in my notebook all evening.

The last thing we did Monday night was to take a self-assessment of our readiness to become a Stephen Minister. It was only a few questions you answered on a 1 to 10 scale; 1 describing having or being the least of that particular attribute, 10 describing having or being the most of that particular attribute. Two questions jumped out at me: the first was “Are you full of faith?” I gave myself an 8 (as I’ve admitted, I have much improving to do). The second was, “Are you Christ-centered (do I keep Christ at the center of all I do)?” On this I sadly gave myself a 5.

It was then that I knew the banner quoting 1 John was there for me to see, to remind me of my mission to align my actions with my thoughts, to Live the Word. And maybe even the woman on the plane, I thought, was one of the other many little events that have fallen into place and led me to this point in my life.

As I write this I abandon my old thoughts that things happen by random chance and man is left to decide by his free will what to do. Rather, now I believe things occur as part of a larger plan and man is left to decide by his free will whether he will acknowledge and accept that which is put before him by God.

I choose to acknowledge and accept what I can now so plainly see.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm a Beggar

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I notice I haven’t said much about what I’ve read so far in the first books of the Old Testament. I’m sure I will eventually but at the moment Genesis and Exodus, and now Leviticus, seem more like a valuable history lesson rather than a guiding life lesson to me. As I understand it, the Old Testament foreshadows what was to come with the New Covenant. This may be oversimplifying the case and I certainly don’t mean to minimize the first five books of the Old Testament, the Foundations as I’ve heard them called, but man, it can be labored reading. I’m glad the daily devotional Bible gives me glimpses into what’s to come – the poetics of Psalms and the wisdom of Proverbs (I used many verses from Proverbs to shape my thinking when writing my first book).

Speaking of Proverbs, today I’m thinking about a passage I read last night (2:1-5) : “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commandments within, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

They say New Years Resolutions tend to be broken within a few days of making them. Today is the 13th day since my resolution to read the Bible every day and capture my thoughts on what I read this blog. I’m not even tempted to turn away from this resolution, the only one I made this year, and nearly every day I read something like this passage in Proverbs that keeps me motivated to stay faithful to my resolution. If only dieting was so easy!

And while I’m working to understand and then live the word of God, I’m also thinking about the passage on which our lesson last Sunday was based, Romans 8:23 : “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

How many times have we heard the question “Why does God let bad things happen?” I’m nowhere near prepared to answer that question with authority, but I confess to having asked it at different points in time in my life. I’m inclined to think (because I can never walk away from a question) the answer is bad things happen so that good things may then come. I admit that is a tough answer to comprehend, especially if you have just had a bad experience, but think about it. If life were perfect all the time, what would give us reason to be grateful? And, finally, we must look at the important phrase in that passage “to those who love him.” Maybe the point really is good things happen to those who love Him. All the more reason to love Him even more, yes?

In closing for today, I’ve also noticed that the more I read the more I include in my prayers – I ask repeatedly for strength of heart and character, lasting health for me and my family, wisdom and guidance in all my dealings, good relationships with those I meet, and forgiveness. Just as the preacher said, I’m a humble and unworthy beggar, but with good motives and intent.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, January 12, 2009

No Stupid Questions

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Now I’ve finished reading Exodus and I must say it was fun to recall all the tales I had heard in Vacation Bible School so many years ago about Adam & Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, the burning bush, the plagues, and more. I’ve always thought I didn’t know much about the Bible, and the truth is I probably don’t, but it was reassuring to find that so much of the first two books were familiar to me. I can recall thinking to myself a few times, “I know what’s coming,” with the same excitement as if I were reading a novel again that had been required reading back in high school.

Let me say again how delighted I am that a few cyber friends are reading this blog every day and taking the time to comment on my thoughts. It is reassuring to read kind words of encouragement from people who I’ve never met yet with whom I feel a connection. I guess that’s the power of the community of Christ. I invite the dialogue: please post comments, questions or your answers to my questions. Who knows, we may start a little Bible study community right here. If you prefer a more private form of correspondence, my email address is gregoryelang@gmail.com.

At this point in my readings I have to admit I’m somewhat perplexed by the passage in Matthew (6:1) that I underlined in my daily devotional Bible : “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.”

On first glance it seems to me to be a contradiction with John 3:21 : “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God," the very passage that inspired me in the first place to write my blog in this manner this year (if you’ve been reading me for a while you know it is a real departure). In my effort to understand this, I’m choosing to focus on the phrase in Matthew “to be seen by them”. I think it means do not do righteous things for the sake of applause and admiration of men, but instead do righteous things only by the motivation to honor and bring glory to God. If that is the case then there is no contradiction. If it is not the case, then, yes, I’m stumped. Anyone have insight to share?

As I admitted early on, I’m no Biblical scholar, but I am eager to be a devoted and hungry student of the Bible. Until I sort this question out, at least I’m comforted remembering something we’ve all heard before from a teacher we once admired: “There are no stupid questions.”

A follow-up note on “Worth Doing,” my thoughts posted on Friday. So far I’ve reached out to reconcile with two whom I’ve offended in the past (oh, there are others). One has graciously accepted my apology and request for forgiveness, and the second did as well, although with a dose of caution. I understand where it comes from and I can only hope that as time passes my conduct going forward from here will prove that caution will not be necessary. I think the burden is mine, though, and I will continue to do the work until reconciliation with this person can be had without his reservation.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Worth Doing

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I have been a faithful donor to a number of non-profit organizations over the years, but seldom gave much to a church. I can’t really offer an explanation other than it was yet another of my failures. What excuses I could muster for you now would be flimsy at best.

However, my heart became less hardened against giving money to the church a few years ago, but even then I gave less than I should have, and never first fruits. Slowly, though, my heart became even less hardened and soon Jill and I were giving first fruits and eventually we neared the tenth we were meant to give.

About eight months ago I woke up and felt a pressing need to give a tenth and then some. We reviewed our budget, reduced what we allocated to lifestyle expenses, and began giving as much as we were called to do in the first place. In addition, feeling the guilt of having not given as we should have in the past, I began to do volunteer work. Today I participate in three ministries through our church, and next week I begin a 12 week training course to prepare for the fourth ministry I’ll devote myself to.

Yet, as happy as I was about the high priority we had finally given to making our offerings, and especially pleased with the joy I’ve found in the volunteer work, I still felt as though something was not quite right.

And then a few days ago I read Matthew 5:23 : “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the alter. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

It was then when I realized that even though I have forgiven my former adversaries, I have done so silently or confessing it only to Jill. I have not sought to create reconciliation face to face with my offenders or those whom I have offended.

Once again, I realized I have been standing in the darkness, at least with one foot in the shadows while the other was in the light. It can only mean that the good work I’ve been doing in the light is dimmed by that part of me that remains in the shadows.

Writing of my faith journey on this blog is very public, yet it is very safe. It is easy as I sit here alone at my desk with time to think about the words I choose to express how I feel and what I’m thinking. It is also somewhat private, even secretive, unless those with whom I need to be reconciled are reading what I’m writing. I’m sure most, if not all, are not.

So you see, I have more work to do (I’m not surprised, to be candid). It seems each day after I’ve competed my Bible reading I realize just how much more work I have to do to truly live the Word. But it is work worth doing, isn’t it? Of course it is.

May my gifts become more pleasing to God as I go out to do what he has asked of me.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blessings

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible. This is an account of my journey to become closer to God.

So after I finished reading Genesis I called Meagan to ask why Jacob, who was so deceitful in his youth, was chosen to be so blessed. Her answer was swift and sure: “He was made an example to show that you don’t have to be perfect to receive God’s blessings; all sinners can receive his blessing.”

A darn good answer, I think. It also best explains the purpose of hope, for if we imperfect beings, and we will all always be imperfect, cannot have hope for salvation in spite of our mortal failures, what do we have other than temporary pleasures and lasting despair? That is what faith (the hope of a Believer) does for you, I’ve come to believe, and that belief becomes more reinforced after each of my daily readings. Faith frees you from despair and avails you to blessings far beyond your worthiness. Simply put, as Jacob illustrated, you can’t get there (Heaven) from here except by the hand of God.

Sometimes I can’t believe what I’m writing; I’ve never talked like this before. But I’m going to keep doing it.

I love it when people leave comments on my postings, it lets me know that not only do my friends and neighbors accompany me on this journey, but others do as well. I’m in good company. These kind words were sent to me recently (after my post about falling asleep while praying):

“I don't see it so much as an unfinished prayer as a continuing prayer. He hears the yearnings and thanksgiving of your heart whenever they're uttered and however they're said.”

“I too often fall asleep before finishing my prayers and have wondered the same thing. As I have drawn closer to God I know in my heart that he hears all prayers finished or unfinished of the doers of his word.”

Additionally, a friend who corresponds with me now and then had this to say:

“My dad ties in very closely to my faith, because when I was a child, he made it easy for me to grasp the concept of a loving, forgiving, honored Heavenly Father. I don’t need to tell you how many children grow up fearing their fathers or being neglected by their fathers or questioning their fathers’ love. Those experiences inevitably impact their concept of a Heavenly Father. My dad made it easy to grasp the Father’s love. I have been truly blessed and for that I’m so very thankful.”

She is blessed indeed. My childhood home, on the other hand, was conflicted about the church – sometimes we went, sometimes we didn’t. Usually just my mother attended with the children, and then again sometimes I went alone. I regret it because I think we missed an opportunity that is now lost as we’ve spread far and wide pursuing our own lives. Yet, in my home we go to church as a family (although recently without Meagan who is away at college). Sunday mornings are some of the best times we’ve spent together. I hope the girls will one day look back at our home and say that God lived there with us too.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Immersed

I’ve committed myself to an in-depth study of the Bible in 2009. These are my thoughts about what I read, as well as candid observations about myself and those who are traveling with me on this journey to become closer to God.

Today’s note will be short: I made three trips to the orthodontist with Linley (she looks so beautiful without braces!) and one to the groomer with the mutt (although as one of God’s creatures I think I’m supposed to love her; I said this journey was going to be a challenge) yesterday so had limited time to write, although I did get a lot of reading done in the waiting room.

BTW, I’m reading from front to back a NIV Study Bible which Meagan gave me for Christmas; I’ve just finished Genesis. At the same time I’m reading a NIV One Year Bible, which is really a daily devotional; I get a dose of the Old and New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs each day. Finally, I’m also reading the Bible for Blockheads, a brief and contemporary explanation of each book in the Bible and how they relate to each other. I’m immersed in it, I think.

As I read, I’m discussing issues with both Meagan and Linley, who, through their enrollment in Christian schools, have been students of the Bible since Kindergarten. They are quick to answer my questions and seem to enjoy being able to teach me something more important than how to use iTunes or Facebook. I believe we are going to be drawn even closer together as a result of my journey (one of God’s promises, is it not?).

A passage I underlined yesterday was Matthew 5:16 : “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” It reminded me of a request I have included in my prayer during the last few months, a request our Pastor (he prefers to be called a Teacher) encouraged us to make. It is to invite God to do something so significant through my life that it be doomed to failure unless he be in it.

Where I’m going is here – I had written 15 books over a period of only five years before I thought to give praise and thanks to God in my Acknowledgement section. I thanked everybody else in writing, but not God. Although I included faith messages in all my books until then, I never explicitly pointed out that I was a believer and had God to thank for my accomplishments. The sad truth is that I was not seeking to claim the credit as my own, but rather I was embarrassed to make a frank and open profession of faith. How embarrassing, I now think, that I would have been embarrassed by such a thing.

I did finally offer praise to God in books 16 & 17, and in those that followed I included more obvious references to Christian beliefs. But I also still sat on the fence, wanting to be regarded as a believer, but at the same time not wanting to declare myself too loudly as one. You see, I knew that once I did, more would be expected of me, and I didn’t want to live up to those expectations.

The funny thing is, though, that now that I’m on this journey, I won’t consider publishing another book that doesn’t first and foremost give credit to God, for it truly is HIS book!

And even more funny, now that I’ve opened my mouth, is that I am holding myself to a standard higher that anyone else I know; I want to exceed my brothers’ and neighbors’ expectations. I want to be pleasing God.

Yes, I want to do something so significant with my life that it be doomed to failure unless HE be in it.

Not so short a post today after all, I see. But you weren’t in a hurry either, were you.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Twice Better

I’ve committed myself to an in-depth study of the Bible in 2009. These are my thoughts about what I read, as well as candid observations about myself and those who are traveling with me on this journey to become closer to God.

I am nearly 50 years old and nowhere near a Biblical scholar; my time in the church has been erratic until recently. My study of the Bible has been even more erratic; I preferred to intellectualize my beliefs and rationalize my departures from what I was told was Christian living. In doing so, I’ve had a lot of fun, yet I’ve experienced a lot of pain. I’ve also given a lot of fun to other people, and I’ve also caused pain to many people, including those I love. One day I thought my good deeds may not outweigh my bad deeds (as if that is a measure of anything).

Clearly, I finally came to see, my way wasn’t working.

The passage I read yesterday was Psalm 1:1-6 (paraphrased): Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked … but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Perhaps better than anything else I’ve read since making time each day to read through the Bible, this verse explains to me what it is I’m doing. I’m trying to turn away from my old, unfulfilling ways to set out on a new path, one on which I cannot be my own leader. God is my leader, and my wife and the friends in our church we’ve begun to surround ourselves with are my keepers.

I have much turning away to do, and I fear it will not be easy, but I believe I will be much happier on the new path I’ve chosen. Yet I remain fearful and many questions press on my mind. For instance, I say my prayers after going to bed and sometimes I fall asleep before I finish them (I pray all the time and have for years, but I was foolish enough once to think that alone was enough). So now I wonder, does God hear my unfinished prayers?

I don’t know yet if he does, so when I awaken and then can’t remember if I said “Amen” the night before, I just start over. Better twice than not at all, I think.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Into the Light

Welcome to my blog. I write inspirational stories about relationships that share wisdom and teach important moral and life lessons, stories in which the reader might find hope, guidance, rekindled affection and a reason to smile.

Please visit www.gregoryelang.com and click the red corner on the home page just beneath the “Projects” tab to learn more about what projects I may be working on.

Now on to today’s post~

I’ve committed myself to an in-depth study of the Bible in 2009. These are my thoughts about what I read, as well as candid observations about myself and those who are traveling with me on this journey to become closer to God.

I was raised attending both Baptist and Methodist churches but I didn’t sincerely come into my faith until I was an adult, owing largely to my daughter and the need to help her with her Bible homework; she attended a Christian school from Kindergarten through the 12th grade. She and I began attending church together regularly about eight years ago and faith has since become a major subject in our day to day discussions. With the perspective of age and influence of our church, I have come to see many things in life differently, particularly in terms of our mortal fallibility and the redeeming power of grace and forgiveness.

Today I publically profess my faith when and where I can, certainly more so than I ever have before, but also, I must confess, certainly not nearly as often as I should.

I have lived most of my life as a Christian believing faith was a private matter, something I kept to myself or spoke of only when in the comfortable company of like thinkers. I failed to recognize then that one of my principle responsibilities as a Christian is to live and act as a representative of God. I came to this understanding after attending a lesson about the passage John 3:21 : “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

Since that day I’ve held the new belief that while my faith is indeed a personal matter, it can in no manner of speaking remain a private matter. With this post, I am moving into the light.

As often as I can during 2009, and I hope that will be every day, I am going to write about my pursuit of understanding the Bible. My goal is to put into action what I learn it means to live a Christian life, hence the new title of the blog, “Living the Word.”

I hope that you will visit this blog from time to time to read of my journey, and that my story of a terribly flawed, wretched individual like me who has been saved and lifted up by a Love greater that I can possibly understand, might help you in your own faith journey.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Now go out and hug somebody!