March 12 2012

Yesterday I reached into my bookshelves and located a great little book called “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Baillie. Six years ago I started reading through the book and writing my responses and my own prayers for each morning and evening devotion. But as I looked at my written notes, the striking thing was that the same struggles that were evident in my prayers then are still my struggles now. I have not improved that much. I am still the same weak and fallen man.
But am I in despair over this? More importantly, is God in despair over this? Is He who controls the universe royally upset about it? I am persuaded that the answer is “no!”
I believe (and have written in a chapter in my next book) that if I am to be happy, I must be brutally honest with myself about myself. I must be willing to see the truth that I am NOT a “good person.” I am still to this date a wretch of a sinner with nothing good to offer that could change who or what I am. This is not “self-loathing” or beating myself up. It is just being honest.
Now please get this: if you miss this, you will spend your life in a failing effort of self-improvement. We are like Humpty-Dumpty, who has had a great fall, and NOBODY is able to put it back together perfectly. You might say, “Yes, but GOD can put our lives and ourselves back together!” My answer is, “Yes, but He doesn’t choose to. At least not yet.” The struggle remains. Life is not about re-assembling the broken pieces. It is about learning to live with the broken pieces, and enjoying the process until we are sovereignly made whole.

Feb 22 2012 (Ash Wednesday)

Beginning the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, I was thinking about trying to write something for it. Then I got this in an email from Rev. Mark DiCristina, and it is so much better than anything I could have written on the subject, since I am new to the Lenten calendar, whereas he has done it and studied it for years. Yet his article is uncomplicated and easy to understand. For those who want to participate in Lent, even if you have never done it before, here (and now) is a good place to start.
I am aware that none of us does this perfectly or consistently, which is in itself another opportunity to lean on the grace of our Lord. But, for your edification, here is Mark’s great article:

———–

There are two Fast days in our liturgical calendar – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Fasting? really? are you kidding? yuk! Seriously, fasting is one of the signs and actions of penitence and humility that help us humans, who need to eat and like to eat, express and grow in our dependence on God alone. As Jesus reiterated in his Temptation, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The sin of our first parents had to do with food, and Jesus’ first Temptation did as well. Food is so central to who we are as humans; we are dependent on God’s gifts for the sustaining and flourishing of our lives. But we so often wrongly relate to God’s gifts, and have disordered loves. We often make good things ultimate things…

Fasting is not supposed to be something we grind out to gain merit or favor, but rather an emptying of oneself, humbling oneself before the Lord. It is good to take the time saved from eating to pray and read the Word, and to offer brief prayers to God when we’re struggling with wanting to eat. There is the “absolute fast” and the “partial fast,” which is also called abstaining. Technically, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of the absolute fast, that is, not eating or drinking anything but water. Which fast you engage in, and for how long, is ultimately up to the individual, and between each one and God. I would encourage some form of absolute fast, whether one or two meals, for the daylight hours, for twenty-four hours, or until you break the fast with Holy Communion. During the fast it may be good to have a “breath prayer” to offer repeatedly to help your attention and attitude remain on the Lord: such as, “You are my daily bread;” or “I depend on you, Lord;” or “I live by your every word;” or “Fill me Holy Spirit;” or “Good shepherd, feed me…”

The remaining days of Lent are directed as days of “Special Devotion” observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial, from which the idea of giving up something for Lent comes. The forty days of Lent can be a form of partial fast or abstaining from some foods, traditionally the rich or luxury kind (you know what I mean…). These days of penitence are days of drawing near to Jesus, identifying with him in his humility and suffering, and being radically honest with God about our sin as we approach again the remembrance and celebration of his death, burial and victory. Along with getting free from some of the crutches we lean on instead of God, this discipline also makes way to the discipline of feasting and celebration, which is to characterize the Easter season!

I may post a few fasting reflections over Lent on my dicristina blog if you want check that out sometime over the next 40 days.

Mark DiCristina +

Feb 21 2112 (Mardi Gras)

I am really enjoying having the opportunity to go to different meetings and to tell some of the stories that are included in “Broken roads to Grace.” Last Sunday I shared the story of the 1948 Plymouth to a church group of “snowbirds” that meets every Sunday to worship at a beach condo complex in Fort Morgan. Today I shared three stories for the “Golden Agers” at Southside Baptist Church in Bay Minette, AL. In both places the people were most gracious and enthusiastic, and many of them wanted to get a book for themselves and/or for their friends. I really do enjoy doing this wherever I can. I will be doing the same thing this coming Sunday morning at Daphne Baptist Church.

Today is “Mardi Gras” day, which is really big down here where we live. The mail doesn’t run, the schools let out, and there are parties and parades everywhere. I know that New Orleans seems to be the city most known for Mardi Gras, but it is huge in Mobile and all the surrounding area including where we live in Fairhope. I have never been involved in it myself, except for one time when I was running a radio station in Mobile and happened to walk where there was a parade going on, and somebody on one of the floats tossed me an entire box of twelve moon pies.

Most of the people who get involved in it are decent law-abiding citizens who don’t mean any harm at all; they are just getting together with the crowds to have a good time. I don’t think they are wrong to do so. i don’t think they are “worshiping the devil” or anything like that. Some Christians might do better to lighten up about it just a little. That’s just my opinion and it is possible that I might should change my mind. I just think that we need to pick our battles. There are plenty of other more harmful things. One of those “more harmful things” is to develop a critical disposition. I prefer to just keep my distance from folks who seem to be against any and all fun. You want to have a Santa Claus on Christmas? You want to go “trick-or-treating” on Halloween? You want to wear beads and throw moon pies on Mardi Gras? Have fun! God is bigger than all of these things, and is not threatened by them at all. That’s what I think.

I am aware that Halloween means “all hallows eve” which is the evening before All Saints Day. The idea came out of a superstition that all the evil spirits came forth to harass people just before the Saints bestowed their blessing upon the people.

Mardi Gras is a similar thing. It means “fat Tuesday”, which precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. The idea is that “this is our last chance for us to live it up and have a party” before we start denying ourselves at the beginning of Lent. The word “carnival” is the same idea. It comes from “carne” which means flesh, and “vale” which means to go or to travel. So carnival means “farewell to the flesh” saying we have this opportunity for one big farewell party before we start “denying the flesh.” Of course, it IS wrong to get drunk and destructive and lose all control, and if you use Mardi Gras as an excuse to do that, perhaps you should repent before you start. But I am just saying that most people who attend the parades don’t mean it that way. In spite of my strict upbringing (which, regrettably, I passed along to my own kids in spades) I have come to see that neither God nor Jesus are against fun, celebrations and parties. I know that this might horrify some people, but Jesus attended a week-long wedding celebration and when they ran out of wine He made them some more. And YES it was real wine!

Personally, I am not a “party animal.” I find it uncomfortable, and I never drank enough in my whole life to ever learn how to handle it. But people who do a moderate amount of drinking and dancing and celebrating are not going to be criticized or condemned by me. I truly believe He still could or would (and does) attend these events today, and He enjoys it when people choose to have fun and be happy!

Tomorrow I will go to the Ash Wednesday services, though. I think it is a wonderful thing. And even though I am having a quiet and peaceful and sober Mardi Gras, I’m sure that I still have plenty to repent of.

More on the Lenten season next week.

Feb 8 2012

I am happy to report that Steve Brown and his wonderful ministry at Key Life Network is going to offer  “Broken Roads to Grace” in its promotions and sales this summer! I just shipped them the books today and am so grateful for their ministry. In chapter 23 of my book I tell of how his radical message of grace changed my life.

Steve also has a brand new book just out, called “Three Free Sins.” I am ordering one for myself. I wrote and asked him if I got three free sins for each copy I bought and he said that yes I could have thirty free sins if I bought ten books, but that was the limit. [Just in case you didn’t know… this is some kind of joke that Steve has carried on for years. His way of getting people who balk at the message of grace to “lighten up.”]

I was so blessed by the genuineness of his latest “Steve’s letter” that I sent a copy of it to my minister, and I think that I will try to copy it and paste it here to share with you. For all of us who have felt inadequate, for all of us who have been intimidated or even discouraged by “motivational speakers” and great “success stories” I now bring you the latest edition of Steve Brown’s letter. (For more on his ministry please go to www.keylife.org. )

Until next time, thanks for tuning in!  //  Jim

 Steve’s Letter: February 2012

ImageThere’s an old story about some kids who, as a practical joke, slipped into a department store and changed all the price tags. The next day, some of the customers were overjoyed with the bargains while others were shocked by the grossly overpriced items.

Oscar Wilde once suggested that people know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

They do.

Me too.

Do you know why? Because everybody tells us the price and, in doing so, thinks they’ve defined value. The voices are everywhere and those voices are passionate. They come from the politicians, the preachers, the authors, the con artists and the “sellers of the trinkets,” and they seem so sure. Then they remind us that we “only go around once,” so we have to get it right the first time.

I’m old—as old as dirt—and over the years, I’ve listened to so many of those voices. It took me a long time to have an “attack of sanity” and to realize that those voices didn’t know anymore than I knew. And I found out that most of them were wrong. Late at night, an old man knows that sometimes he, as Mark Twain put it, “paid too much for his whistle.”

I’m not depressed about the voices I listened to though. In fact, just the opposite.

I started thinking about this because a friend of a friend asked me to write the foreword to a book by Kyle Drake, Unsucceeding. I liked it. It’s about a man who had everything and decided he was listening to the wrong voices. So, he decided to only listen to the voice of Jesus, to trust him, and to see what happened. The man resigned from his job, and then allowed Jesus to deal the cards and determine the rules of the game. His story wasn’t manipulative, self-righteous or guilt-producing. In fact, he was quite honest in both the successful and less than successful places.

At any rate, as I read the book, I thought about the roads I had walked just because everybody told me that if I wanted to be successful, those were the roads I should walk. How could so many people be that wrong?

Are you shocked? You didn’t think preachers were concerned with things like career, fame and fortune? Let me disabuse you of your naiveté. There aren’t, after all, separate airport bathrooms for men, women and preachers. The difference between our sin and your (the un-ordained) sin is that we attach Jesus’ name to our sins in order to make them sound religious.

I have a preacher friend who resigned from his church after serving there for only two years. He had been offered a very large church and more money…to say nothing of the prestige. Most preachers would have said something about how they had agonized over the decision and God had made it clear; so, as painful as it was to leave, they must “follow Jesus.”

Not my friend. He said to the congregation, “I love you guys but I’ve been offered        Church. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and all my life I’ve wanted to be the pastor of        Church. I’m not going to get another chance so I’m out of here. Do pray for me and I’ll pray for you.”

I loved what he said and so did Jesus. Not only that, Diogenes—the cynical Greek philosopher who, in the fourth century, strolled around with a lamp in his hand looking for an honest man-blew out his lamp and went home.

The question isn’t the authenticity of what my friend said to his congregation, but whether or not he made a wise decision. At the time, I thought he was both authentic and wise. Now that I think back on it, I still think he was authentic but he may not have been very wise. He served that big church for a lot of years and, I suppose, enjoyed some of it. I suspect, though, he sometimes thought about the church he left and wondered if maybe his decision had been wrong.

Jesus talked once about how we worry about the wrong things, e.g. how long we’ll live or how we’ll be fed and clothed, and then he said something astonishing: “For the Gentiles (read “unbelievers”) seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:32-33). On another occasion, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

I’ve listened to a thousand motivational speakers all telling me how to be successful. I’ve listened to some of those voices and tried to walk down those roads. We preachers and religious leaders do the same thing as you do but we put God into the mix. Do you grow tired of being challenged to “make your life count”? Do you grow tired of those who admonish you to “change the world” or “make an impact for God”? Do you wince at the calls for excellence? Do you feel guilty after some very godly people say they want to “burn out”—not “rust out”—for God? I do. In fact, it drives me nuts!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for excellence, success, and making an impact for God (not to mention motherhood, apple pie and the flag). The problem isn’t that those things are bad. The problem is that they aren’t necessarily the places where God is calling us.

I would like to preach a sermon one day and call it, “The Challenge to be Mediocre for Jesus.” I would talk about serving Christ by being a good dad or mom, giving one’s job an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and trusting God with one’s family, job and church. I would talk about being available to God even if what he wants isn’t a big deal.

What if seeking the kingdom God is about spending time with friends and family—those who will cry at your funeral out of grief and loss, not because you are so important? What if seeking the kingdom of God is about taking your wife to dinner or telling your pastor that the sermon made a difference in your life? What if seeking the kingdom of God is about playing ball with your son or dancing with your daughter instead of going on the mission field? What if God doesn’t require greatness of you…but just faithfulness in the “normal” of life?

One time my late friend, Rusty Anderson (I still miss him), told me he had talked to God that morning.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, really,” Rusty said. “I told him that I was available for whatever he wanted me to do and there weren’t any exceptions or reservations.”

“What did he say?”

“He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him that wasn’t the issue. I wanted to do whatever he wanted. But he persisted in asking me what I wanted to do, so I finally told him, ‘Alright, already! I would like to build a barn out in the back part of my property.'”

“Well, what did he say?” I asked.

“He said,” Rusty said, laughing, “that I should do it with joy!”

As I read Kyle’s book, I thought about the times, by God’s grace, I did what everybody told me I shouldn’t do. I remembered the times I was called a fool for walking the road Jesus told me to walk. It made me feel kind of good about myself. But then, as I read the book, I winced when I thought about the mistaken voices I listened to, the wrong roads I walked and the many times I played poker with confederate money…even when Jesus told me that the currency was worthless.

But as I wrote above, it’s okay. Jesus likes me. In the first instance, I thanked him. In the second, I ran to him and he loved me anyway.

In his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri Nouwen wrote: “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self…The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation.”

The “irrelevant” part is hard, but it is also the path toward incredible freedom and joy. It is about Jesus and once we see that, we discover it’s about us too. It’s about a love so pervasive that everything else pales in its light.

He told me to remind you!

Bless,
Steve

 

 

Jan 26 2012

For this week I want to just let you see an interview from www.cotavision.com .  Hope you enjoy it /  Blessings ,  Jim

What is your favorite place to create?

I like to think about stuff while driving in my car, and also at my desk at home. I know that is boring, but it is also convenient. When I’m in a nice place such as in the woods or at a beach, it doesn’t help.

What is your favorite snack to eat while creating?
Sardines, fried chicken and yogurt. Preferably not on the same plate.

How do you handle artist’s block (times when it is hard to create)?
I have to just wait it out, no matter how long it takes. If I try to force it when it’s not there, it turns out sounding like I tried to force it when it wasn’t there.

How do you stay motivated and disciplined as an artist in our distracting society?

I really am not disciplined, and the motivation stays at zero and then suddenly jumps to 100 when I least expect it. I depend on inspiration more than discipline. 

What is the best advice someone has given you?
“Resign as Master of the Universe. It’s not your talent or your calling, and nobody will pay you for it.”

What is your theme song?
It’s a toss-up between “Cattle Call” by Eddie Arnold and the hamster dance and “He Stopped Loving  Her Today.”

If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
What do you mean “IF?”  I AM an animal!

Who/what has inspired you lately and/or locally (i.e. other artists, exhibits, shows, designers, etc.)?
I really wish that my answer was not my answer, because it’s not a good answer. But the truth is that I don’t feel comfortable or confident around other authors, especially if they are successful. This is my first and only book so far, and I don’t even know the lingo that successful artists use. I don’t know the people they know. And I think my book is different – not necessarily better, just different, and I don’t want to get shot down. My fantasy/dream is that the book will catch on anyhow, and then some of them will come to me and ask how I did it, and I will tell them that honestly I don’t have a clue.

What is one book/song/painting/piece/ etc. that has been enriching to your faith?
The book that turned my whole life around and changed my ministry and my entire concept of God and of people is unquestionably “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. I followed that up with three more books by Brennan  (‘The Signature of Jesus,’  ’ Abba’s Child’, and ‘Lion and Lamb’ ) and by then there was no similarity between who I had been and the person I had become. If you have a choice between buying my book or “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” skip dinner and buy both! But if you don’t have the money to buy “The Ragamuffin Gospel”… steal the money and get that book, and you can read it while you’re in jail. Better a jail bird who gets the message of the ragamuffin than a successful person who keeps the law and doesn’t know grace!

What is your connection to the Divine when you create? Does it resonate with you spiritually when you come up with new work?
Yes, I really do feel that connection. There are many times when I feel that God is keeping his distance and has decided not to speak to me about anything. But there are times when I sense that I hear Him loud and unmistakably clear. But usually I don’t write about it. My prayer is that God will make me spiritually deep and wise like the great saints of old, but don’t make me go through all the crap that they went through. He thinks that is hilarious.

Describe your process behind the featured piece (your book).
I was asked to write a monthly article for a magazine, and then some other publications contacted me and printed some of my articles, and the response was encouraging and sometimes even enthusiastic. So I did more and then embellished them and edited them and put them into a book. What do I do now? Help!

Jan 19 2012

I think that it’s probably time for this to turn more into a blog instead of the personal report that it has been, so here are my thoughts in case anybody wants to know what I’m thinking about.

Its time we begin to re-think our small religion and get us a bigger one! Our world view, and our concept of God and what is important truth will border on insanity if we don’t! I am in good company on this, namely GK Chesterton in his delightful book “Orthodoxy.” We MUST begin to see the Kingdom as a big expansive thing, beyond our ability to control or to become an authority on it. Do you  really think that God is so picky about the details of our doctrine, our orthodoxy, that He is accepting people or rejecting people on the basis of whether they are sprinkled or immersed or both or neither, or that we say the precise theological words in our prayers to him, or whether our minister uses the correct verbal formula? Do you really think that God is so uptight about whether we cut our hair, or use grape juice or wine, or speak with tongues or not, or get all of our details about the last days, or a thousand other things that people divide over? Yes He said that “strait” is the gate (not straight) and narrow is the way– but that doesn’t mean that we should be narrow. I repeat: To have a small view of God and the Kingdom is insanity. Please start to see yourself as a small part of something big, not a big part of something small. Embrace mystery! Stop trying to get it all under your control. Stop even trying to define or understand it all. It is something sane that we all must do.

Until next time //  Jim-

Jan 12 2012

Greetings! What a beautiful day here in Fairhope  AL, but “they” say it will be turning cold tonight. Took my wife to the airport yesterday so she could spend the next two weeks with her mom in Michigan.  She says it’s snowing heavily up there now.

I think that snow is God’s way of telling people to move farther South, but some people just won’t listen, so God gives them the curse of a Northern accent in their speech. The only cure is to name your first child “Bubba”, fill up on turnip greens and grits and okra, and take the next bus south. Even then it takes a while to recover.

Tonight our church will be having the monthly “barn ministry” meeting, and they want me to share a couple of chapters from BRTG. The church is purchasing enough copies for us to give one to each of our guests from the waterfront mission. The rest of the guys will have opportunity to purchase copies if they want to.  I sure hope that they do.

As I’ve said before, I have about 4,000 copies of the book and they are going well even though the only place you can get them is from my website or the trunk of my car. Eventually I am going to try to get them in some book stores, although many of the Christian book stores will not like Chapter 5.  But really, the best way to get these books out is for me to work on getting myself before people in whatever venue may be available. I will go to a church, a community club, a coffee house type meeting, or even a long line at Walmart to share a couple of stories from the book, because when that happens everybody wants to buy one!

We have finally completed our move and were enjoying the new house for one day when I had to go out of town, and then we enjoyed it for three days before my wife Linda had to go out of town! But the other good news is that our sweet old black Lab likes the place and doesn’t stray onto other properties and won’t go near the street at all… so we don’t need to get a fence.

Pray for us and email me any time you want to. I would always be glad to hear from you. I have not ever done “facebook” but I do emails and phone calls and personal visits. I know that’s weird, but up until now it’s true.

See you next time //  Jim

 

Jan 4 2012

Maybe I can get the hang of this more as I go along! Well, it is Wednesday and I am typing this on a table which is my temporary desk until the move is complete. We have been packing all the small stuff for a week, and tomorrow is the day we actually relocate to our new house just a half-mile away.

I have been very encouraged with how the new book is going so far. Looking forward to a trip up to Birmingham Saturday to reunite with my elementary school classmates. Hope that they will all want to read it (since we all first learned to read together.)

For the first time in many years we are worried a little about money. Things should ease up some if the book sales go well, and if I sell or rent my house that I am moving out of. But at least temporarily it is a little scary financially. Makes me pray a little more than usual, which is good.

Speaking of prayer, I know that reading a book on prayer is not the same as praying. I agree with the words that somebody said, “we learn to pray by praying.” But if you want to read a good book on prayer I recommend three, all of which are fairly recent publications.  They are the books by Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, and Steve Brown. Especially the one by Richard Foster. I think I need to dig it out of the book boxes and read it myself.

I want to say a special thank you to Stephen Akinduro of Columbus, Georgia for so profusely endorsing Broken Roads to Grace on his blog. He was exuberant, as well as gracious and kind.

All the new stuff in my life has me a little bit un-relaxed at the moment. New year, new book, new website, new house, and new pressures. If you whisper a prayer for me, I will be grateful to you.

May you be blessed and wonderfully fulfilled in the coming year, and maybe some of us can meet personally along the way.

 

The Blog

Welcome to the first “blog” on brokenroadstograce.com. The books finally were printed and arrived just a week ago, and my son Casey Lee, who does web development and is the founder of www.simplethemes.com, has worked hard to create this website and get it up and running! He is a  creative genius at this, as well as a really great guy, and I highly recommend that you use him when you have need of templates or web design. In his case, the apple fell far from the tree, because I do not know anything about that stuff. He has tried to be patient with me, and at least so far he has not said, “I can’t believe how dumb you are about computers!” He is too nice to say that, but he is probably thinking it to himself.

I promised myself that I would try to do a blog just once a week. The plan will be to share some thoughts about God and about life from time to time, but right now I don’t have much to say, and I have learned to never force it when it is not there. I have a pretty good excuse, though. Not only have the books just come out, and the website has just been up two days, but we are also in the process of moving! We are only moving a half mile from where we have been for the past six years, but it is a project. Just got the utilities turned on today, and opened the water spigots throughout the house and watched them spit and sputter for a half hour until all the air finally came through the pipes.

This book is already selling well, being that the brand-new website and the trunk of my car are the only place you can get them so far. Still I have moved nearly 300 of them in the past week. No, I take that back! I have moved over 4,000 of them! I moved them to a storage building! I have sold nearly 300! Still, it sounded good to say I had moved 4,000 copies!

Speaking of which, I am reminded of  a little place in Birmingham called “Gus’ Hot Dogs.” He had a sign that said “Under five million sold!” I’m thinking about advertising “Broken Roads to Grace” and saying something like “Under 350,000 copies sold!”

Seriously, though, I have already seen it really touch several lives (more about that later) and it serves to remind me that it’s not about Jim Lee having a book out. It’s really about the ministry of grace that these stories can have to those who read them. That’s what is important. May Christ be glorified in it all. He doesn’t have to use this book, but I will be grateful whenever and however He does use it.

See you next time //  Jim