As Close as I’ve Ever Come

As Close as I’ve Ever Come


Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


Every year for the past several years I have read a little book called “Practicing His Presence.” It is a really short book written in two parts. The first part chronicles the Christian walk of a man named Frank Laubach. At 45 years old, he endeavored to walk continuously in the presence of God, keeping Him in the forefront of his mind all day long. Frank died in 1970, but left behind some seriously practical advice on how we can do what he did.


The next story is a guy from the 1600’s called Brother Lawrence. He basically went into a monastery in an attempt to completely reject this world. He found that with practice, over time, he could keep a constant sense of God’s Presence. Every time I read this book, I am so highly motivated to do the same. I’m not quite finished with the book this time around because I’ve resolved to read one section a day, and then apply what I’ve read to that day. Here is what I read today (It was a letter written to a lady inquiring how she could keep God’s Presence):


Dear sister, this very instant, make a resolution, a firm and holy resolution to never again willfully stray from Him. Stop now and agree with the Lord to live the rest of your days in His sacred presence. Then, out of love for Him, surrender all other pleasures.

Is this possible? Of course, if you believe it is. Set yourself to this heartily. If you perform this adventure as you should, you will soon see the effects. (Practicing His Presence: pg. 67)


Keep in mind here: I had about as easy a day at work as I could possibly have. This was kind of like playing a video game on “easy” mode. I drove a field trip for us to see the movie “Wonder,” so I didn’t actually have to teach my regular classes. Here is my adventure written in the style of Practicing His Presence:


November 27, 2017


I woke up at 5 am and resolved to focus my mind on Him alone. When I felt like I could focus on Him, and not all that I had to do that day, I got up. I have been reading one story each day out of a book called “I Am N.” It tells stories of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. It always reminds me that if they can do what they do, living where they live, and being treated the way they are being treated, then surely I can live out Christianity here. However, this day, with God right there with me, I felt like He asked me to go straight to Practicing His Presence. So, I did. I read until I got to the paragraph above.


After that, I read John 18. Peter denies Jesus three times. I can so seriously relate to Him. I’ve denied God more times than I can count. I doubted for a moment that I could “practice His presence.” Then, I thought of how Peter eventually figured it out. He got to a place of walking in the continuous presence of God. I prayed, resolved that I would do my best.


On the drive to work, I worshipped. It was wonderful.


On the walk out to my school bus, the air was so cold, but I enjoyed it. He was right there with me . . . I wondered if we would even feel cold in Heaven.


As I drove to my first stop, I prayed for the kids I would pick up. I was seriously fighting back tears. I thanked Him for really staying with me this long. I picked everyone up, and headed back to school. I loved it all, especially the walk from the bus to the school. It was just the two of us.


I did our normal check-in procedures with students. I have to admit; here is where I lost Him a bit. I talked football and other generalities. But, right after that, as we were walking to “morning meeting,” I just got zapped with His Presence again. Then, the weirdest thing happened, we were given this imaginary scenario about walking in the woods. The first question was, “Who are you walking with?” Of course I was walking with God. It turns out that whomever you were walking with is the most important person in your life. On one hand, that made me feel really good. On the other hand, I was conversing with Him and wondering why if He was so important to me, why it was so easy to let Him slip from my mind.


I walked to get the bus. I noticed that the air was a little warmer . . . He was right there.


As I drove the bus, I was able to pray. I prayed for everything I could possibly remember as well as everyone on that bus. It was kind of glorious.


In the movie theater, I asked God, “Will you watch this movie with me?” I pictured Him in the seat next to me. It was crazy. I was an emotional wreck during that movie fighting back tears because there were glimpses of God all in that thing.


I walked out with Him. I honestly couldn’t believe I had held on to Him as long as I had. Driving back to the school, He was right there. I don’t think I even said anything to Him. It was like riding with Tonya right next to me on one of those stretches of road where you don’t really have to say anything. You just enjoy being with each other.


I let the kids off, parked the bus, and walked back. The air was even warmer. I wondered if I ever in my life had noticed something like subtle changes in air temperature before. I asked Him to stay with me as I finished the rest of the day at school. He more than answered my request. We had a great Q&A afterwards about the movie. I took some kids to the gym and got to do some coaching to help a student shoot correctly. I had a very real sense that because Jesus was right there with me, He was calming these kids and keeping them very subdued.


As I walked to the bus, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t lost Him all day. I thanked Him. I had a great talk with the last kid I took home about doing right and getting his life on track. On the drive back to the school . . . just Him and me.


I joined a meeting as soon as I returned. I certainly didn’t mind. I prayed for the students we were meeting about. I don’t know if I actually prayed, or if because God was right there on me, I was simply aware that He was taking this information in as well.


I came home to a wonderful meal and time with my family. I thanked Him for our time together. My little chick had volleyball practice, so I drove her to that and had a great conversation about God. After that, I got to go to the hospital and meet up with one of my members. We talked. We prayed. I left. I wasn’t aware of the temperature, but I was aware that it was dark. I drove back to the gym amazed that I had almost gone the whole day and His presence still remained so real. Is this what Frank Laubach experienced for 41 years? Was he really able to keep it to the degree that I had just done? Or, was I just scratching the surface of how it could be?


I don’t know.


But, I sure want to find out.


I’m sure I will find it much more difficult tomorrow. But, if I can just take everything I have to do one chunk at a time, remembering Him, bringing Him to mind . . .


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is possible.





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Falling in Love

Do you love me?” – John 21:17


Love is a strange thing. Especially what I thought was love growing up. Sometimes I see old flames out and about and memories just flood me. There were some girls that really liked me that I just didn’t like back. I might see them now and even feel sorry for them for a bit, not that they want or need my pity. It always makes me think of that George Straight song, “You can’t make a heart love somebody.” Other girls completely flipped that around and absolutely crushed me. I recall actually praying for God to change their minds. Then, of course, I think of the Garth Brooks song, “Unanswered Prayers.” Whatever emotion you’ve had in a relationship, some country song has covered it.


It is amazing to me that God has always had feelings of pure and absolute love towards me. The Bible says that even before I was knit in the womb, He knew me (Jeremiah 1:5). I love Him back now, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, I have treated Him just like those girls I really liked, but didn’t like me back. As soon as I found something better, I would turn from Him and forget about Him so easily. As much as this hurts to think about right now, it really does emphasize what I believe is the greatest miracle that God still performs today: He takes a God hating, Bible hating, could not care less about Him heart and changes it into a heart that loves Him and desires Him and His will above all other things. This is absolutely astounding! He does it all. He will change your heart and make it whole if you will give it all to Him. All you have to do is start the process. So, what is the process?


I believe in Him.


Some people actually think that because they believe God exists that they are going to Heaven. Unfortunately, for so many people, James 2:19 says that demons also believe and it obviously isn’t doing them any eternal good. But, believing He exists is a good starting point. In the same way some believe that the right person is “out there” for them, many believe God is “out there” somewhere. I can’t remember a time where I did not at least believe that God exists.


I am acquainted with Him.


I remember actually starting to pay attention in church. Ronnie Hodge at Calvary Baptist in Salem, SC told the best Bible stories. I loved listening to him. I began to learn what God had done for other people. It just so happened that every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night I would “bump into” God. I didn’t know Him personally, but I sure did like hearing about Him and what He had done for others. It never really crossed my mind that knowing Him personally was possible.


I do life with Him.


Here is where life transformation happens. How do you fall in love? Well, you do things together. You do life together. My first taste of God was so sweet. I took Him to work with me for the first time ever. I did something wrong and wanted to lie about it. Because I had Him with me, I couldn’t. I told the truth and He worked it all out for me. I liked having Him with me.


I learned that He likes to take walks. Taking walks wasn’t really my thing. Because He liked them, I started walking anyway. It just so turns out, walking with Him is one of the sweetest pleasures that life offers.


I learned that He likes praise and worship music. I wanted Him to ride along beside me, so I’ll never forget the day I took out my Metallica “And Justice for All” cassette and turned on 89.3 His Radio. I heard a band called “The Big Tent Revival” sing a song called “The Best Thing in Life” and cried for the first time because of the Presence of God. It wasn’t too hard to switch genres after that.


I learned that He likes it when I preach His Word. He knew I was absolutely terrified to even entertain this thought. He said seven simple words that at least got me to try, “I will be right there with you.” He likes feeding my mind ideas as I read His Word. He likes just hanging out with me in these morning hours. On my own, I would have never gotten up super early to do anything. But, with God here, I love it.


I love Him.


This Thanksgiving, if you believe in God and at least bump into Him every now and again, think about what it would look like to start doing life with Him. The best way to fall in love is just start doing things together. Find out what He likes and do those things with Him. Ask Him to ride with you and play music He likes. Ask Him to sit with you and read something He likes. Go to the movies and watch something He likes. Eventually, you will do what millions have done . . .


Fall in love.


Happy Thanksgiving.



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Christ Died for Me

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8


Christ died for me. Say it to yourself slowly. Isn’t it crazy how you and I who have been Christians for so long can say it just like we are saying something trivial, like “McDonalds served me fries”?


I heard a preacher challenge me one time to say it until I broke. He said that done properly I would eventually weep as His Presence engulfed me. So, I took a walk. At first it was mundane. I just said it a few times quickly. Then, I realized the walk was going to be at least a mile, so I slowed down . . . Christ . . . died . . . for . . . me.


Eventually, I just stopped at Christ for a while. I thought of all that I knew about Him from listening to preachers over the years, and reading the gospels for myself. I thought of all the miracles: opening blind eyes, making the lame walk, healing lepers, and raising people from the dead. He was amazing. Then, I thought of the day I first prayed to Him as a 16-year old kid. He touched my heart that day. Even after all these centuries have passed, He still touches hearts and lives. He is amazing!


Died. I thought of Peter and how he chopped off a soldier’s ear when they came to take Jesus away. Peter was trying to protect His Lord and keep Him alive. Jesus basically told him, “If I wanted to, I could call on my Father who would destroy them all, but I’m not here to do that, I’m here to fulfill Scriptures.” In other words, “I’m here to die for sinners.” He would quickly be sentenced to death based on lies and accusations. Hours later he would be scourged. To this day, the most powerful scene in any movie is in the Passion of the Christ when Jesus looks up to heaven and says, “Father, my heart is ready.” Our Lord and Savior did not beg to be spared, but took a Roman scourging with only you and me in mind. They would nail him to a cross and with absolutely no bitterness in His heart would say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Six hours later, He died.


Christ died.


For me. If I had been the only one two thousand years later that would have received Him with joy, He would have given just me eternal life. As much as I have disobeyed Him, had wrong attitudes, misrepresented Him, and blamed stuff on Him, His love for me has never failed. He continues to show me goodness, mercy, and grace that have followed me all the days of my life.


Oh what a Savior!


I love You, Lord!


Christ died for you, too.


Say it until it means something to you.



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A Cheerful Giver

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7


Giving with a right heart was really difficult when I first decided to be a giver. Verses like this seemed so not attainable. Almost every time I gave, I could not help but think about what else I wanted to do with that money. Sometimes I would be more “spiritual” and think of things I “needed” to do with it. At any rate, I was really far away from being a cheerful giver like the one described in this verse.


It was probably 15 or so years ago that I decided in my heart to be a tither. I was going to give regularly to my church. The amount was $200 because I netted about $2,000 a month (those people who tithed on gross were really hardcore!) Anyway, I think January and February were no problem, but as the months went on, I just seemed to clench my fist around the money more and more. By the end of the year, I had only tithed 10 out of the 12 months. I got my first little tithe slip from the church showing I had given $2,000 so I could use it for tax purposes.


I actually felt like I did something special. I’m pretty sure at times I thought about how much better I was than other people who probably didn’t even consider tithing at my age. Since I was so far from having the correct heart, God intervened to teach me a lesson.


Towards the end of the same year that I decided to give, I was put on a committee at work that had to meet every two weeks after school. None of us on the committee thought we were going to be compensated. It really didn’t even matter because it wasn’t like it was all that difficult.


Anyway, it just so happened that around the time I got my $2000 tithe slip, I also got paid an extra $2000 from work for attending these meetings. At first, I thought God was rewarding me. I thought giving to God was the greatest thing ever invented because He turns around and finds a way to give it all back.


Then, I stumbled across 2 Corinthians 9. I got convicted because I didn’t give very cheerfully. It hadn’t been a joy to give to the God I was claiming to serve and love. The more I thought about it, I felt like God was telling me He didn’t want my money if I couldn’t give it with the right heart. He gave it all back to me and basically said, “Either do it right or don’t do it at all.”


I repented and tried again with much better results. I remember just being blessed with a sense of His presence. I remember actually beginning to get my finances in order and thinking how amazing it was that God made the 90% of my money go so much further than when I held on to all of it. God did for me what God has done to countless who have gone on before me . . . pour out His blessings on people who love Him and are obedient to His Word.


How about you? Are you a giver?


If so, is your heart right? If it isn’t, then ask God to change it. You can’t just decide to have a right heart . . . it must flow from being directly connected to His.


When I really think about how good He has been to me, even when I haven’t been so good in return, it isn’t that hard to give back to Him. In fact, it is an honor.


Lord, help me be a cheerful giver . . . just like you.





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The Real Reward for Obedience

“Put out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” – Luke 5:4


Where I work, we are big on choices. If we as teachers are doing our jobs correctly, anger, along with any sense of “forcing” a student to do anything is non-existent. You comply with what we ask you to do, or you don’t.


In a similar way, Jesus has laid out the path of life and death. In Luke 5, Jesus gives Peter a choice. “Cast your nets into the deep water.” Here’s the thing: Peter didn’t want to. In fact, they had already had their nets cast and caught nothing. They had their nets all dried, packed up, and were ready to call it a day.


“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” – Luke 5:5


What do you do when asked to do something you don’t want to do? If you are like me, it depends on who is asking. If I, like Peter, believe Jesus is the Master, I’ll comply. If I don’t believe He is my master, then I won’t. The choice that is laid out is clear: either comply or don’t. Follow Jesus and His ways, or don’t. But, as we are about to learn, it just isn’t worth it to refuse Him.


When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. – Luke 5:6


What a reward! This was probably the catch of Peter’s life. It meant a wonderful payday. It meant food on the table. It meant another story of “Let me tell you how good God is and how He blessed me.”


If the story stopped there, it would be perfect for American Christians. The majority of American Christians think that because we complied with Romans 10:9 that we are going to heaven when we die. The problem is that most people, instead of confessing Him as “Lord” confessed Him as “Savior.” There is a big difference. If He is Lord, then He calls the shots, you either comply or you don’t.


Peter chose Jesus as Lord of His life. He complied, and he got blessed tremendously. The boatload of fish was only a small part of the reward. Here was the real reward:


When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” – Luke 5:8


Who told Peter he was sinful? Nobody. What is this all about? Peter received the greatest reward that this life offers: a real revelation of who Jesus is and just how holy God is. He got to tap into the Glory of God just for a moment.


Five years after becoming a Christian, Jesus asked me to do something I absolutely did not want to do. Only because I believed He wanted me to, and the fact that I believed He could be trusted, I did it. He rescued me out of trouble. Later that week, I pondered just what He did for me. His presence engulfed me for the first time and all I could do was tell Him “I am so sorry” over and over. After just a few seconds of what I know now as either the glory of God or the presence of God, I asked Him to cut it off . . . I just couldn’t take it. “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”


Many would think that because I got out of trouble, that this was the reward for my obedience. Thank God it didn’t stop there. The real reward was a real and powerful sense of His Presence. Since that moment, I have spent the rest of my life chasing after God as hard as I possibly can. I have fallen in love with the King of kings and Lord of lords.


Just like Peter did.


That’s the real reward.





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Everlasting Mercy

 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. – Psalm 136:1


I get asked a lot, “How can God be merciful if He sends people to a place called hell?” It is harsh to the hundredth power, I mean, everyone who refuses His forgiveness and rejects the offer of a relationship with Him goes there . . . forever. Only people who really know Him as “Lord of my life” will receive this mercy that endures forever. I believe most people who have no belief in Him whatsoever hate Christianity for this reason. It is so not inclusive in a world where moral relativism abounds.


So, let’s take a look at just how God could possibly be merciful by eternally eliminating a person who chooses a life of sin over Him. The answer has three parts: A God part, a sinner part, and a saint part.


The God Part


God chose for some reason not to make us mere robots that constantly repeat some lifeless, mundane, worshipful phrase to Him. He chose to make people with absolute free will. He allowed humans to reject Him. Then, out of His great love, He made a way to redeem them. Many have chosen this redemption. Many have rejected it.   From His perspective, at the end of each person’s life, He declares him or her either fit for His eternal kingdom or not. This fitness test is really simple: You either grabbed a hold of the life vest He threw to you and held on for dear life, or you rejected it and drowned. The cross is the life vest. He shows a consistent mercy to all in the fact that He gives each of us our entire lifetime to either grab a hold of it, or reject it. This offered mercy does not endure forever. On the day you and I stand before Him, you will know exactly which one you did, and believe it or not, you will be in perfect agreement with His decision either way. How can I say that? Because of the other two parts.


The Sinner Part


The Bible says that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord of all (Romans 14:11). Everyone! Some choose to do it during this life, but others choose not to. People choose not to because they love their sin. Before I came to know Him, I loved the darkness. I loved my sexual immorality. I loved my foul language. I loved music that did the exact opposite of honor God. I loved living for me, myself, and I. Now, I despise it and am beyond embarrassed about my past. I hate it because of all the hurt my sin has inflicted on so many that I claimed to love. Yet, so many people stay in love with their sin, regardless of whom it hurts. If God is merciful, does He have to let unrepentant, unregenerate people into Heaven despite their refusal of His offering of forgiveness?


Absolutely not! In fact, He would cease to be merciful if He did. Why? If He let even one unredeemed sinner into Heaven, that person’s sin would quickly make that perfect place just as corrupt as Earth is now. After all, it only took one simple act of disobedience.   Which brings us to the last part.


The Saint Part


It is really not fair that Christians (and by saying that, I mean real ones) have to live in this fallen world. I mean, because Adam and Eve sinned, we live in absolute corruption today. If you don’t believe me, just read the news headlines at pretty much any point today. Sin absolutely abounds.


Followers of Jesus take heart in the fact that there is coming a glorious day . . . a day where sin shall be no more. There will be a day when not one more child will ever be sexually molested, a day where no person is born into a world where absolutely nobody cares for them, a day where drugs will no longer slowly cause people to deteriorate and behave horribly, a day where there will not be even a single murder. There will be no more violence, no more stealing, no more being offended, and no more using the name of Jesus Christ, whose middle name is not the f-bomb, in vain. All sin, along with everything and everyone it is attached to, will be thrown into the lake of fire.


This day is coming, and the saints of God will eternally speak of His enduring mercy.


His mercy really does endure forever and ever.





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Golf and God

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm to the end. – Hebrews 3:14


I write some really weird stuff when I’m under a spiritual attack. Do please pray for me as I am learning how to pass through these things as quickly as possible. But, it’s like every other sickness; you just have to soak in the medicine of the Word of God and rest in Him until restoration comes.


Anyway, years ago golf was my god. I would have told you I was a Christian, but what I really loved was playing golf. I live on a golf course right now because of that love. I forsook traveling with my wife in the early years of our marriage because of that love. I pretty much missed the first few years of my daughter’s life and the first year of my son because of that love. I would go to church every Sunday . . . unless there was a big golf event, and then I’m sure you can guess what I chose.


God and my wife confronted me about this . . . mostly my wife. I got mad. I pouted, but ultimately I realized she was right. So, I prayed. I asked God to help me dethrone golf in my life. Do you know what He did? He answered by making me absolutely stink at playing. Whereas I could absolutely stripe it at one time, I could barely make contact with the ball. I was frustrated and I tried to hold onto it for a bit longer, but ultimately, it wasn’t that hard to let go.


Here in these last few years, I’ve been playing a bit. I’m still not very good, but at least I can get around the course. I actually just enjoy being with my dad more than anything (except for the fact that I can’t beat him). I asked the Lord if it is ok to play. I felt He was saying, “Yes, because you will now keep golf in its rightful place in your heart. You will play now for reasons other than exalting yourself.” Ouch . . . but I got it.


So, if He is allowing me to play again, I want to get back to where I can really stripe it. I’m setting up a little practice facility in my yard so I can just go out there and work on it a few minutes every day. I started yesterday. I used the camera on my phone to examine my setup. I made a major discovery; I wasn’t holding the club properly. I wonder if all God did to destroy my swing back in the day was just have me hold the club a little differently.


How crazy is that? Years ago, I properly held a golf club, but improperly held the Word of God. He switched that around on me after I prayed. Now, here I am for the first time holding them both at the same time properly, physically and spiritually.


This realization is both really cool and really scary to me. All a person has to do to lose it spiritually is just hold the Word of God carelessly. Just believe you are going to be fine and never consider your grip. I remember seeing an older church member drop his Bible one time. He picked it up, paused, and kissed it. I knew it would be a long time before that man dropped it again.


We should all examine our hearts and think about how we are holding on to Him.


I know I sure am.





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