Wednesday, April 11, 2018

TO INSPIRE FAITHFULNESS

There is nothing around us today that promotes or inspires the idea of faithfulness. On the contrary, we are bombarded with everything that feeds our egos, stirs insatiability, ignites desire and tells us enough is never enough, framing the male mind with idea that lust, promiscuity and taking what doesn't belong to him is somehow acceptable and "normal". All this propaganda drives a "ME-centric" mentality as it cunningly pours honey on the slightest bit of conviction, slowly hardening us to the point we don't feel anything at all. We just do. 
If it's not in deed it’s in thought, and one is as bad as the other. All action begins with thought, so those secrets we keep inside more often than not are a churning pool of temptation we continually go and dip our toes into. Women and men are alike in this but I am addressing the masculine for now. The Bible says that “as a man thinks, so is he” so what we are thinking in our minds will eventually finds its way out.
Whether it's commercials on television or billboards along the side of the road, or news stories that capture our attention and peak our interest to look further, we are perpetually enticed and deceived. You may call it coincidence but I call it STRATEGY. I'll go one step further; it's an all out war. 
Men around the world, but especially in America, are seduced and lured into unfaithfulness. This doesn’t take away from personal responsibility though perhaps the deeds aren't necessarily matching the thoughts all the time, the temptations are like that wound that just won't seem to heal no matter what you put on it or that small gnat you can’t get out of your car. They continually bang at the door of our heart.  Unfaithfulness is the thought infidelity is the deed. 
Faithfulness is not just a word. It's not just a definition you search for in the dictionary, faithfulness is an action based in thought. It is always preceded by an honesty-based personal accounting that examines all the ramifications possible which are then taken into consideration as you look into the eyes of those a single act of unfaithfulness will dramatically affect. 
First, I believe we are unfaithful to ourselves because if our conscience is working at all we know what we are about to do goes against an internal governor that knows the difference between right and wrong. Second and most importantly, it goes against a moral code written into the universe by God which all things are accountable to which says by doing such a thing we are committing an act of rebellion against Him for which we will reap the consequences. No matter how you slice it, a violation is a violation. Just because you don't get caught speeding doesn't mean you aren't guilty of speeding. God knows and sees all, including our thoughts. 
I am going to be bold with this question and statement: I wonder what the actual statistics are in regards to the amount of marriages and deep personal relationships that have been utterly destroyed by things like Facebook? I personally know a few. You know, those forgotten friends and acquaintances or old flames that have come out of the woodwork only to wreak havoc in people's lives and marriages? How easy it is to carry on an emotional affair with someone when things just aren't going well at home, right? And what about sites like Tinder or others whose sole intention is making unfaithfulness EASY? Again, I'm not leaving women out of this but my focus is on the man who knowing better has a responsibility to act according to what he knows.
Faithfulness is not just for the man or woman who are married but for all the single people who are enticed by someone who is either married and/or committed. There is a word I used to say to my sons when they were young, that word is NO! I heard the story not long ago of a young bride-to-be at her wedding who stood before the pastor with her fiancé by her side and all those who had come to witness her $100,000 wedding... "I want to thank everyone for coming today" she said. "I especially want to thank my fiancé for sleeping with my best friend and maid of honor last night!" Saved by the bell, right! Thank God she found out the truth before she made the horrible mistake of marrying a man who could not even make it to the alter faithful.
Taking the words of Abraham Lincoln and mixing them with my own: "You can fool some of the people [and yourself] some of the time, but you can never fool the one who has been there and done that... EVER!" So you could never tell me you go into unfaithfulness without knowing. You will never convince me unfaithfulness is some naive act. You can never make me believe that our circumstances, which have everything to do with us concerning our personal relationships being out of whack, don't open the door to feeling like we deserve something better and that we should just make that happen. Or perhaps we want to pay someone back for hurting us deeply with the old "I'll show you" trick. I'm telling you, as a formerly unfaithful man, the consequences and ramifications as well as the leftovers that come as a result of our unfaithfulness will NEVER EVER leave you. But it won't just be you they won't leave; they will become permanent reminders in the hearts and minds of those who were directly in the path of such a devastating storm. Children especially reap the fruits of unfaithfulness. And if that's not bad enough, more often than not those children go onto, as adults, doing the very same things we have done. What we model and because of the pain of their own hurts and wounds, they emulate. Foolishness and folly: the gifts that keep on giving. Unfaithfulness is a wicked seed that gets passed on generation to generation.
            Think about this for a moment. What businessman or woman wants an employee who is unable to personally control him or herself and undervalues their most precious possession, family, working for them? Not everyone cares, but principles are principles. If a person is willing to do that to the ones they supposedly love then the potential is very high that they cannot be trustworthy as an employee. Some who read may argue, but what's in a man comes out eventually. I’m just saying.
            There is a verse in Proverbs that says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but it ends in death." Listen, let's be clear... death isn't always physical, it comes in many forms, but it's always death no matter what. 
It's easy to believe when we get away with things and there is no consequence because we were not found out that we got off scott-free. It's easy when we believe the only one we're accountable to is ourselves. But if you actually imagine you are getting away with it, whether it's the physical act or the thoughts, or lets say, you are looking at things that you know inside aren't right and will only lead to more destructive things, think again. 
Let me pass on some deep words of wisdom that are as true today as they were when they were written. Not my words but those of a man who by experience had been there and done that, and as a result, fires a warning shot over the bow of every soul that will ever live... "Why, my son, be captivated by a seducing woman [or anything that takes you captive in your mind - my words]? Why embrace a foreigner’s [someone who doesn’t belong to you] bosom? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of God, He observes all his paths. The iniquities of a wicked man will ensnare him. The cords of his sin will hold him down. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly." Proverbs 5:20-23 TLV
Think of it like this… faithfulness is POWER. It takes courage and wisdom, determination and keen discernment to turn the other way… to say NO! When we sow seeds of faithfulness it will reap a harvest of life. Generation after generation will follow in the footsteps you now choose to walk in. What path will you take? Not just now, but every minute of every single day? 
Don't rob yourself or those you love or hope to love of a peaceful future. A moment now that starts in your mind out of whatever it is that is driving it is not worth the destruction it will reap as well as the undercurrent of guilt and shame it will remind you with forever. Take this as a warning from one who truly knows. 
Jesus said if you are faithful in the little things [which are actually the big things], then you will be able to be trusted to be faithful with things far beyond imagination. 
Learn faithfulness and then… be faithful.



Steven Bliss 
© 4/11/18

Monday, March 19, 2018

I LIVE: MY PSALM

For fourteen long years You have removed me, You have reproved me and taken away my strength. All I possessed, piece by piece, one by one You took it all away until there was none. Darkness covered my eyes. My soul was crushed and poured out like bitter wine.
In kindness and mercy You let me see the blackness of my soul and the stench of my unauthorized and hypocritical words. You promised me that You would and You have been faithful to Your word.
Who did I imagine myself to be? Who did I think I was? How blind was my blindness? What possessed me to believe You didn't see every deed, hear every word, and know my every thought? What made me think I was unrestrained, immune to consequence or discipline knowing what I know, having seen what I have seen?
Fourteen years I despaired. In my blight I took it upon myself to fulfill what I thought best for me. I knew what You had promised me yet I was held back by a wall of my own unbelief as I banged my head against steel doors. Afflicted and bowed down I wallowed in the muck and mire of my own undoing as I cried out, O Lord, woe is me.
But You O God are great and glorious in Your splendor. Long-suffering in Your kindness and merciful when You reprove. You never waivered though my seas raged and world collapsed, You stood patient and unchanging; Your love? Unrelenting. Your hands always open and arms outstretched.. always waiting.
How can I speak? What words could I say? I am humbled by Your faithfulness to me, the one who turned his back and defiled Your Name. I am... speechless.
Affliction was Your rod upon my back and mercy Your prodding staff guiding me ever home. What kind of love will let you go to discover a bitter, hollow end only to patiently wait for your eyes to open, your ears to hear... revealing the depth of who You are... how You care... why You died... and how much You love... how much You love me.
If ever I was sure
If ever I was confident
If ever there were a reason to believe God’s steadfast love is incomprehensible... then I am and my life and the words that flow from my soul testify to my personal encounters with Love personified.
Lord You are good! You are good! You are God…
and You are GOOD!
On this day, at this moment,
Here and now...
Never changing and ever-present...
You are as You have always been…
And because You are and You are love...
I LIVE! 



Steven Bliss
© 1/15/18

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

HONESTY

In a deceit driven world where covers and curtains are the norm, human beings grapple with the idea of honesty and transparency. We see it everywhere. It's on the news all day long and surrounds our world like a blanket covering up people's bad choices. 
Whether its political or in the entertainment world or in the highest perches of business or the most intimate world of personal relationships, people don't want other people to know either what they're doing or what they have done. Whether it's about getting ahead or hiding one's sins honesty has been sacrificed for personal gain. 
I have no fingers on my hands with which to point at anyone. As disgusting as it is to watch and as indignant and self-righteous as I can get over the level of deceit that I see and read about that possesses our political and social world, it all boils down to human beings trapped in a broken world ruled by the father of lies himself.
I'm fully aware of my own entrapment driven by guilt and shame. The earlier it begins in a child's development the more difficult it becomes in that person's potential journey to freedom. Fear and shame drive a hard road into hiding. They are evil taskmasters designed to trap the soul and incarcerate the mind. They cripple the mind with the idea that if one is found out they will be cast aside and rejected. It is a common theme that threads its way throughout humanity. And what could be worse? Who doesn't seek approval? Who doesn't want to be accepted, and most of all loved?
When I was 7 years old over the course of close to a year I was sexually violated by 16-year-old female babysitter. I was a little boy and suddenly I was exposed to things no child should know. Every time it happened she would tell me not to tell; and so the hiding, fear and shame began. To make matters worse, not long after it all had happened she moved away and left me feeling confused, empty and afraid. Love and sex were now blurred. I had no idea of the ramifications and long term effects that had been inflicted upon me. My innocence had been stolen and my 7-year-old conscience knew something was wrong but I was afraid to tell. 
I became keenly aware of guilt and shame. They became my close companions driving me deeper and deeper into a place of hiding, into a world of secrets. Everything inside me emotionally began to shut down and a different world emerged. I began to act out. Like a clogged pore, my surface began to erupt. I had no idea that I had become a slave. What it did to me by opening that door was open my eyes to things innocense should never see. That is the plan of darkness: trap the mind before it can reason right and wrong and you ensnare the adult. (Here is where the church has missed it. It doesn’t address a world it cannot see or understand. It wants to save but it doesn’t understand know how to set you free from chains that have bound so many from their youth.)
Where were my parents you ask? I didn't tell them until I was 48 years old. They sat dumbfounded in silence as I recalled the details of what had happened to me. They were shocked that I even remembered her name and the house where she lived. 
I began to live a life of wrong choices that inevitably required me to cover my guilt. I needed to lie because that's what you do, right? Without going deep into all the sordid details, I didn't just sin a little… I sinned a lot. It was all about me. Relationships became a difficult thing to maintain because love and sex were one. It took most of my life to realize they are not. Acceptance for me was based in my performance and my performance always found a way to crash and burn eventually. It sabotaged me virtually every time. My choices were all wrong. I chose the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. The very thing I wanted more than anything eluded me because I was unable to receive love, which stifled my ability to give it. I was trapped in a world of self-deceit hiding my secrets, which only made things worse.
I couldn't face the man in the mirror for very long.
Even when I became a Christian and began to learn about the love of God for me, it was cerebral but my soul couldn't fully embrace it because I was always ashamed, even though I knew God knew everything. My rescue began there. God knew it would take time. He filled my mind with Him. He came close to me and let me hear Him. I wanted Him my whole life. He talked to me when I was 5 and told me what I would do when I was older. He also knew what would happen to me. His patience was unending, His love always pursuing and His arms, no matter how far I got or how hard I fell, were always open. 
Truth sets us free. There is no such thing as my truth or your truth, this person's truth and that person's truth. There is only one truth and it comes from God. The most difficult thing about honesty is that God requires it from us. He wants us to face the truth with Him. He knows the power it has to deliver us. That can only be achieved by letting Him penetrate our darkness with the light of His truth; which can only be realized through transparency and humility and our willingness to forsake our shame and guilt, to abandon our fear for the unlimited possibilities of life, liberty and freedom!
In the Bible King David, a man well acquainted with lying and hiding his guilt and shame said it like this in Palm 51, [interpretation by me] "You (God) delight in truth (full honesty and transparency) in my soul. It's there You teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Rid me of this blight with the blood of Your sacrifice and I shall be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Let my freedom cause me to hear and know joy and gladness once again and let my bones that needed Your breaking rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and by Your love erase the imprint of all my immoral acts and deeds. Create in me a pure and honest heart, O God, and renew a spirit of right within me."
Paul said in Galatians, "…it was for FREEDOM Messiah has set us free." I've been around the world and talked to many people and I can tell you that the consensus is unanimous; America has something no other place in the whole world has. Those who come to her know it well. She gives freedom to all. But it's not until they taste freedom that they fully understand what it means to be free. Freedom for us only comes when we taste and see that what God offers us is good. It’s then we begin to understand. As long as we hide, as long as we are driven by whatever motivates us to preserve ourselves we will never understand the power of God's mercy, His acceptance and the sacrifice He made to deliver us from our chains and restore us to Himself by His never-failing always patient love. L’chaim! To LIFE!
This is nothing new, as a matter of fact it's as old as time. It's as old as the story of the Garden of Eden where God came to Adam who was hiding because of the guilt and shame of his disobedience and asks him, "Why are you hiding?" Adam told God it was because he was naked and ashamed. God's response to Adam was "Who told you were naked?"
The father of lies has never changed. The story is repeated over and over and the results are always the same. Billy Joel said “Honesty is such a lonely word” but the truth is... honesty brings the greatest Friend you could ever have who will never ever leave you alone.



© 2018 Steven Bliss

Saturday, January 6, 2018

DO RIGHT

At the end of last year I was blessed to have 40 minutes with a man named Darnell who was grateful to be 48 years young. He was a soft-spoken middle-aged man who walked with great distinction, well kept and finely dressed and very humble. 
As we drove I asked him if he was from the area. “Yes sir, born and raised in Franklin, Tennessee. When I asked what he did he told me that he was a teacher. "Of what?" I inquired. "I taught English at Centennial High School." "Taught?" I said. "Yes, until I had my strokes." I looked at him and stared... "Strokes?" He said, "Yes, I had four." "FOUR!" He said, "four in one day." I suddenly noticed a little slowness in his speech and responses. 
I didn't want to dwell so I changed directions. "So where is your family originally from Darnell?" I asked. "Six generations born and raised in Franklin." Slowly I turned and gazed upon his stoic and very compassionate profile as he stared out the windshield. "Yes sir, he said, born and raised.”
I slowed down at that point as we made our way along that tiny curvy road with no shoulders. "So Darrell, your family were slaves?" With the sound of tires on the pavement he softly replied, “Yes.” In an attempt to not be obvious, I began to study this man whose past goes back almost 200 years in the soil I now drive on.
Sophisticated and kind, his eyes were like pools of time standing still as he slowly turned his face to me and with great pride said, "My family is pretty well known here, you may have heard of us? Booker… we are the Booker family?" Oddly enough because of my love for history and living here for 25 years, I had. I knew there were several slave families that had faired well over the years after the Civil War. 
I told him how much I hate slavery and that I was sorry for what had been done to his family so long ago. I said, “To me, the enslavement of any man, woman or child goes against everything I believe in. It goes against God who created us all in His image to be free. He nodded and said, yes. And on that winding road under a full moon’s light, two total strangers from opposite worlds were in full agreement. He thanked me, though I'm not sure why? 
He told me about his older sisters and how the three of them were the first in the history of their family to go to college and get degrees. A tear ran down my cheek. I was glad it was dark. 
"Your father and mother must be so proud of you, Darnell.” He replied they were. “You are very special Darnell, I said, especially to God." He humbly smiled and said yes… that he was blessed. "My father was very strict with us. He would always say to me, "Darnell, if you do right, right will follow you." 
Suddenly for me time slowed way down as we arrived way too soon at the place he was going. 
As he slowly opened the door I told him that it was such an honor and privilege for me to have him in my car and that I will never forget him. I encouraged him to write his family's story. That is was important for us to hear. Again he thanked me and said perhaps he will.
With a look of deep gratitude he shook my hand and slowly got out of my car thanking me again as he blessed me. I sat there and watched him walk slowly up to the door where his friend greeted him with a deep and long hug as I pulled off into the night. 
For the next 30 minutes as I wove my way back to the heart of Franklin his words "If you do right, right will follow" ran like blood through my veins. I've not stopped thinking about Darnell Booker our conversation or the words he lived by from his father. I knew my Father wanted the same for me. When I got home I immediately looked it up because I knew it was there… there in the Bible. And when my eyes landed on the words of King David I knew that night was for me. "The Lord freely gives everything to those who do what is right." Psalm 84:11 Then I read the words of Paul who said, "Do what is right and you will have praise for the same." Romans 13:3
I knew that night God used Darnell Booker to speak to me. It was, shall we say, a Divine appointment. 
Tonight as I hear the faint sound of a train whistle blowing in the distance as it rolls through Franklin somewhere, I think to myself, right’s not always popular. Sometimes right seems wrong. Often times right requires great sacrifice but it always rewards the doer. This year like no other year... each day like no other day... moment by moment I want to do right so that right will follow.

Steven Bliss

© 1/5/18

Saturday, November 25, 2017

OBEY = LOVE

When it comes to God, obedience is NOT about feelings or the forcing of our will. It's not about fear and punishment or do-this-get-that. It not about a when-all-else-fails-obey mentality or an attitude of "Well, I better do this or else..."
Obeying God is about something so profound, so beyond what one perceives and how they react that once fully embraced, it changes us, our now and our future forever. It becomes the forethought that guides all action and the reactions that arise out of the deepest love one can know. To obey Yahweh is to love Him with absolute abandonment. Abandonment of self, abandonment of the me, myself and I. It is not normal to the ways of this world or human thought. On the contrary, we all relish in rebellion to varying degrees which ultimately makes life all about us, not realizing it leads us away from God, not towards Him.
Everything inside of us rebels against the simplicity of this basic truth. "Do not love or cherish the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh [craving for sensual gratification] and the lust of the eyes [greedy longings of the mind] and the pride of life [assurance in one's own resources or in the stability of earthly things]–these do not come from the Father but are from the world [itself]. And the world passes away and disappears, and with it the forbidden cravings (the passionate desires, the lust) of it; but he who does the will of God and carries out His purposes in his life abides (remains) forever." 1 John 2:15-17 
So then, love is action... it is by no means passive. "God so LOVED the world that He SENT..." Love compelled God to act. Therefore to obey God is love and to love is to obey. They are synonymous. They are inseparable. 
Obedience to God is BETTER THAN sacrifice; though sacrifice was a required response to a command; it was not definitively from the well of the heart but rather an act of the will. Religion sacrifices and says, "you see?" Love obeys out of love and says, "I know"! 
To God, obedience equals love... its just that simple. But as someone told me long ago... simple is the hardest thing to do.



© 2017 Steven Bliss

THE CONTENDING

This thought ran through my head this morning. I feel strongly that, like a baton, I'm to pass it on to you...
Every day is about contending... Whether it's over your physical body, whether it's over your mind, whether it's over your occupation or your personal needs or whether it's over just surviving this day; it is all about contending.
The faces may change, the circumstances may change but the fight is the fight. You are the boxer in the ring. It's you and whatever opponent you face. Every day is about contending. 
The war never ends. 
Therefore train. Know this, the one you face knows you, has studied you; has been in the war room strategizing and mapping out your defeat. Therefore train, learn and prepare. The best offense is a powerful defense. It is your fight, your battle to win. 
Never stop, never give up, never give in. You are greater than your opponent because God is greater in you! 
Whatever you do, no matter where you go, no matter how you feel at any given moment... YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 
Therefore, FIGHT the good fight of the faith. TAKE HOLD of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12
Everything you will ever need is there. You are the conquering warrior whose hands are trained for war! 
If you read that right everything in it is about contending. Contending means you're fighting contending means sometimes you get punched hard and you don't know if you'll recover... you go to the corner and sit down, get your wind back, patch up the wound, regroup, have those who understand and stand over you and encourage you(pray over you and with you) to get back in the ring and fight... you strategize as you learn your opponents weaknesses... and then you wait for the bell to reenter the fight. 
to CONTEND - kənˈtend
struggle to surmount (a difficulty or danger).
synonyms: cope with, face, grapple with, deal with, take on, pit oneself against
to engage in a competition or campaign in order to win or achieve (something).
synonyms: compete, vie, contest, fight, battle, tussle, go head to head; strive, struggle
It's never-ending... you are breathing… alive... you may be weak, down; overwhelmed and afraid... but one thing you are not... and that is ALONE! You may lose today, but today is not tomorrow. You may bleed now, but the wound will heal. Why? Because you are MORE THAN A CONQUEROR... not JUST a conqueror... YOU ARE BEYOND! Why?
Because HE LIVES IN YOU!



© 2017 Steven Bliss