You Should Be Dancing

At 6’4″ and 225 lbs. I am quite conspicuous on any dance floor, even more so back in the day when platform shoes were in-I had quite the collection!  Should I mention I’m also white?  From what I have observed on any weekend in Vegas that alone should keep me hidden in the corner while everyone else has fun.  I can recall all the way back to my grade school days at Indianapolis Public School #90 that I was popular during any dance party simply because I wasn’t afraid to get out there and dance while my soul brothers were on the sidelines because they were too cool to groove.  That changed when their girlfriends started dancing with the tall white dude.

But at some point along the way I became too concerned with what others thought of me getting jiggy with it, and stopped dancing.  After all, I was an adult now and had an image to maintain, and I couldn’t do anything that might make me look foolish.  I went from being the guy all the girls wanted to dance with to being the one everyone wondered about because I refused so many invites to dance.  I was more concerned with what others thought than what I wanted and I let my response dictate my level of involvement.  I really wanted to be out there having a blast with my friends, but I was paralyzed by intimidation that I created.

This blog isn’t really about dancing, and then again it is.  The thing about dancing is that it requires total release of all inhibitions.  You hear the beat, you respond to the music and you express unashamedly your joy in the moment.  I visit lounges on the weekends just to watch people dance, and have made a few observations.  One is that you can quickly and easily spot those who are intimidated and confined by their own fears.  They are barely moving and there is no expression on their faces.  It’s as if they are burdened with heavy chains that limit their movement and instead of freeing themselves, they merely keep their movements within the confines of their restraints.  It’s not so much that they don’t know how to dance as it is that they are walled in by their own fears.  And then there are those, usually much older, whose dancing is so liberated you can’t help but laugh at them.  I am even guilty of at times making fun of them because their actions aren’t at all rhythmic or even closely synchronized with the music, but they are having the time of their lives.  They feel no shame, no fear, no intimidation and no regrets.  AND…they will dance to anything!  It is strangely amusing to see some out-of-shape old guy busting a move and these beautiful young women compelled to join them-free dancing is contagious when enjoyed without restraints!

Life is a dance.  Sometimes it calls for precision dancing like a couple on a ballroom floor; sometimes it’s a slow romantic sentimental affair that allows for being close to your dance partner.  Sometimes it is downright funky and so compelling it takes more courage to refuse than to surrender.  Whatever the case or style of music, it demands response.  But many of us (I have been there) have become so burdened and downcast by the affairs of this life that we have lost our joy in dancing through life and find ourselves on the sidelines as lonely spectators.  The response mechanisms and receptors in our individual lives have been deadened by challenges we may have survived but challenges that robbed us of all feeling and response.  We become envious of those who we know who seem to dance through the fires with no fear while we are intimidated just by the heat of the flames.  Unemployment, unrealized dreams, broken hearts, challenging illness, lonely nights-all thieves of joy; for each bit of happiness they steal they leave behind a chain that eventually hinders us like an old Dickens novel, rendering us immobile and apathetic.

A popular worship song in churches today is called Chain Breaker.  The lyrics reflect much of what I am describing here;

“If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles, if you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies; if you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside, there’s a better life…”

Life surely rains on both the just and the unjust, the deserving and the least deserving.  One of the greatest musicals of all time is Dancing in the Rain.  The elements outside which we can’t control should not be allowed to dictate the desires inside that compel us to move freely without fear, without intimidation, with little regard to what others may think of us or our response-simply, to dance. We Should Be Dancing! We should be Getting Jiggy With it.  We should be Dancing in the Dark; we should be Staying Alive we should all Get Down On It.  And if we feel awkward, there is always the Humpty Hump, which can’t be done incorrectly.  The point is just to dance, like no one is watching, like there is no tomorrow, like you are Travolta, the master of the floor.  Again, this isn’t about dancing, or is it?

The 1 October Shooting; One Year Later

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The human mind has the uncanny, and truth be told, sometimes unwanted ability to recall the dates of tragic moments like permanent tattoos that can never be washed off.  Ask any American and depending on their age, they can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the assassinations of JFK or MLK, or the untimely deaths of Elvis, Michael, Whitney or Lady Diana, or that day in September, 9/11. Today marks the one-year anniversary of what we refer to as 1 October here in Las Vegas,  a day in which evil was unleashed on our city resulting in fifty-eight deaths, over five hundred injuries and scores of people permanently disfigured or paralyzed. It is a day when all of us can tell you where we were when we saw the first Breaking News reports.

A sea of thousands had descended on Las Vegas for the Route 91 Music Festival.  Jason Aldeen was performing on stage when the first series of “pops” were heard.  Many at first believed them to be firecrackers set off by rowdy concert-goers.  But when some noticed that their friends who were standing next to them just a second before were now laying at their feet in a pool of blood, the reality of the situation became evident as panic set in.  A sniper was unleashing a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock on them from some unknown position, and the throngs of fans had nowhere to take cover.  Ordinary people became unsuspecting heroes, giving their lives that day to protect others from the gunfire.  Some were wounded because they simply chose to stay by the sides of people they didn’t know so they wouldn’t die alone.  As a parent my first thought was dear God, where are my kids?  My youngest son was employed at the time at the same hotel property where the sniper was perched.  I could not rest easy until I had made contact with all my boys and was assured they were not in harm’s way.  Many parents could not and would not be able to make such confirmation.  Our city was forever changed on 1 October.

As the popular song lyrics remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  This tragedy affected everyone here.  It seems we all had some connection to people who were in attendance.  And those who didn’t still grieved deeply and sympathized with those who had suffered such tremendous loss.  Those who died that evening were young, in their prime, full of hopes and dreams never to be realized.  The outpouring of support, of aid, of “what can I do” attitudes was infectious and on display for the world to witness.  Local blood banks had to eventually turn people away as lines formed blocks long to donate blood for the victims.  Those not donating took time off to provide food and water for those in line as many would spend 8-10 hours to donate their blood.  Las Vegas became #vegasstrong when tragedy came calling.  For us, 1 October will be forever etched in our memories.

All of us, if we have lived at all, will have dates from our past that we pause and commemorate, the birth of a child or grandchild, the day we married our forever life partner, the year we received our diplomas or degrees-dates we celebrate fondly and with festivity.  However, we will also have those more solemn infamous dates that we may try to forget to no avail. The pain we manage to keep controlled 364 days of thee year becomes fresh wounds on that one day we can’t escape.  It might be the day when you had to say goodbye to your parent as they were laid to rest or a spouse who died before their time.  It might be the day your family became torn apart when the parents decided to go their separate ways.  It might be a day when you were a victim of some horrible crime against you or your family.  For many, it could be the day when you lost your best friend and companion through divorce.  What was once celebrated birthdays and anniversaries  are now reminders of an empty chair at the dining room table; a day filled with joy as two people come together in marriage is now a day when you hide after the relationship is over.  We all have similar stories, dates we wish would never be brought to memory that instead hunt us down like movie haunts, constantly tormenting us with no mercy. We may rid ourselves of videos, photos-anything that brings to memory events that we no longer celebrate, in some vain attempt for a sense of peace over tragedies for which there is never any real closure.

How do we cope with such tragic events as survivors of events we never wanted or saw coming? Where do we find hope to continue on a journey when every fiber of our being finds it easier to just give up and give in?  A Prophet in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, was in anguish as he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city.  His sentiments are recorded for us in the seldom read-from book of Lamentations.  He inquired of God many of the same questions we ask in the midst of trials and suffering.  And yet, his knowledge of God’s character would override his fear of his circumstances.  Listen to his words in Lamentations 3 from the Message Translation:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh how well I remember-the feeling of hitting bottom.  But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.  How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.  – I called out your name, O God, from the bottom of the pit.  You listened when I called out “don’t shut your ears, get me out of here-save me”. You came close when I called out.  You said, “Its going to be alright!”

I am no stranger to unsolicited tragedy.  I am perhaps overly transparent in my anguish over events in my personal life over the past few years.  Some have advised that I be less open and more discreet in my writings or my social media posts.  Some of my closer friends and even family have disconnected from me over my overt disclosures as I wrestle with change.  But these types of writings are not employed as sympathy-seeking compositions, but rather glimpses into struggles endured through hope like that of Jeremiah.  I write so that others may know that they are not alone in their tears and that there is light and recovery attainable through a supernatural peace given to us by God even when we can’t sense his presence or determine his twisted ways of teaching.  I’ve said many times before that I would never in a million years volunteer to be God’s toy of illustration-I’d rather have been overlooked-I would have been perfectly okay entering my reward with no more than a kindergarten education in spiritual maturity.  But that wasn’t the plan.  I am instead chosen to be a virtual learning device for others and an encouragement to anyone watching.  The lesson being taught on this 1 October anniversary is that there is hope after loss, there is life after all but physical death, there is restoration after mass destruction, and there is beauty to be formed in the ashes.

Today, how I wish I could personally hug every person who suffered such tragic losses one year ago, but it’s logistically impossible.  I would want them to know they are not alone, their losses are a part of our forever history, and our love for them and that of our heavenly Father knows no bounds.  We will all remember and cope with today in our own way, through memorial services, through watching recaps of that tragic night, through prayer for healing and comfort for all involved.  My personal prayer for my family, my kids, and all who have been touched by days they wish were not a part of their history, is that the God who preserves would keep their hearts and minds in perfect peace, a peace that can only come from a relationship with Him, and a peace that surpasses all our understanding.  I pray that the lingering fear resulting from tragic events that seek to paralyze us and hold us hostage would be overcome with love, as God’s perfect love casts down all fear.  I pray that hearts destroyed and void of hope will find a renewed sense of courage and purpose in moving forward so that all may see that there is life abundantly after passing through the valley of shadows and death.  And I pray that as I write in detail about my personal struggles with doubt, with faith, with hopelessness and hurt, that others will be encouraged to fight, to endure, to press on through the pain knowing that the story never ends as long as we have breath, and that we have the ability to dictate the words that form the chapters of our biographies.  Today we remember, and we move forward.  #vegasstrong, #vegasstronger.  God bless each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Place After Falling From the List

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A local Las Vegas magazine publishes each year The List.  The List identifies celebrities, entertainers and other influencers whose contributions to the city or to charitable works made an impact for the previous year-it is quite the honor to be selected.  In 2013, as an up and coming business owner who donated much free print to charitable causes, I was one of the year’s honorees.  As shown in the image, I was listed just above the likes of Carrie Underwood and further down on the list, Eddie Griffin.  Admittedly it was quite a shock.  And of course the cover and the list are framed and hang proudly in my office as a reminder of something and someone I used to be, past tense. Perhaps if I had been a bit less charitable, my business would still be in existence, who knows.

There is an old cliché, and hit song, “What Have You Done for me Lately”.  We tend to be defined not so much by past achievements or contribution as much as what we did last week.  While The List or any other designation recognizes deeds, it also implies status, and sadly status is relative and ever changing.  Many people who were once touted now find themselves in obscurity, having gone through challenges that most certainly knocked them off the mountain, but more importantly, left them lost and struggling to find their place when everything familiar has been removed.  It is a tough place to be.

Those of us who are a bit older will recall road trips when a paper map or Atlas was needed to navigate the course.  We didn’t have google maps or GPS, and if we didn’t know how to navigate a map, or if the map was outdated, it would be easy to get lost and end up way off course.  There is nothing more frustrating than being miles from anywhere at night, low on gas, hungry from the trip and having no idea where you are at or where you are going.  It is a lonely isolating feeling to not know your surroundings or recognize and markers. Such is life for those who fall from status through their own bad choices or as innocent bystanders who are blindsided by life.

When jobs change, relationships end, family ties are unexpectedly severed, the fall from status is hard and impactful.  Those who suffer from depression face each day trying to find their place, their role, their purpose.  The current number of suicides each year by celebrities, business moguls and even clergy illustrate this fact.  It doesn’t matter sometimes how the world sees you-if you feel you have lost your way you are in a vacuum of despair trying to fit in like a game of musical chairs in the dark.  And even we as believers can lose our way or sense of purpose or worth when faced with some of life’s toughest challenges, especially when God leaves us to our own devices as an unwelcomed test.  No one welcomes this kind of testing.

Truth be known, each of us have our own version of The List, a group of people who are held in high esteem in our lives because of their genuine love, concern and guidance.  A list of celebrities may be framed and forgotten but a list comprised in the heart is a living document that endures.  And while each of us have such a list, each of us would also be found on someone else’s list.  We all matter to someone, even on days when we don’t believe it.  Our lives are always under a microscope, especially when you profess a Christian faith.  Our sphere of influence may not be obvious to us during darker times but is exists all the same.  The approach we take to hardship, our response to loss or change, are always being reviewed, and those reviews determine whose lists we end up on, and our consistency determines if we stay on those lists or are easily blocked or removed like social media connections as in Unfriended, Unfollowed or Unlisted.  Our goal should be to constantly have positive influence on someone daily, even if it is as simple as mentioning someone in prayer. A published list distributed by the world may be a cool honor, but a heart-created list of influence by friends and family is enduring.  My prayer would be that each of us find our place, our purpose, our worth in our circle of friends and family, and our name on their list.

 

What Will Be Said About Me?

This morning I watched one of the memorial services for one of our great Patriots and Sons.  One by one dignitaries stepped up to the podium to deliver heartfelt sentiments and recollections of a man they loved and served with.  The tributes were moving to say the least.  As I often do when watching this type of service, my imagination began to spin as I contemplated my own eventual mortality.  It is a reality that no one escapes from.  Young or old, rich or poor famous or obscure, we will all face death.  And the question has once again come back to me like a distant relative, exactly what will be said over me and my life when I reach the end?

I recently attended the service of a friend and neighbor, who also happened to be a war veteran.  There was no minister to deliver a eulogy, no family cared to share any thoughts, no friends reminiscing old stories.  When asked if anyone had anything to share, not a single person stepped forward.  There was such an overwhelming sense of sadness that no one had anything to offer in celebration and remembrance of this life.  I have attended similar services where ten or twelve people bothered to show up, and mostly family, and wondered how this long life could have impacted so few.  The mere thought that it might be the same for me someday is sobering.

How did I live my life?  Did I leave any signs behind that  I was there?  How many lives did I affect or impact?  Was such impact more positive or negative?  Was I a good friend to anyone who needed one?  Was I a good neighbor?  Will I be fondly remembered and revered as a good father or could I have done more to teach and influence my children?  Did I make being a grandparent look like the joy that it is?  Do all my grandchildren realize I would without hesitation give my life to save theirs?  Will I be recalled for having a pleasant demeanor or for being a bit of a drag?  Did I do my best to have fun in life or did I let life steal from me my joy?  Will I be known for having fought courageously through every trial I faced in a way that encouraged others and gave them hope, or was my pain and resentment too obvious to ignore?  Did I truly love others as commanded or was it a façade? Did I go out of my way to touch the lives of people put in my path or did I sidestep them and leave them for someone else to minister to?  Did I give when I could? Did I leave anything behind in spoken or written words that will continue to encourage others?  Did I instill enough of my beliefs and values into my kids that they can navigate their lives with more hope and confidence or did I let them down by not walking what I was talking?  And perhaps more important than anything else, did I leave behind enough evidence of my convictions in Christ?

These are tough questions because I’m not sure I can answer them the way I want to, nor am I sure how others would answer the same on my behalf when my time comes to leave.  In a very real sense, it goes back the age old question, how would your life change if you knew you had but one week left to live.  It is so easy to get bogged down with the affairs, the circumstances, the unsolicited challenges we all face in life.  Some are capable of easily rising above anything that intrudes their comfort while others take on water and sink quickly into oblivion.  A wise man once wrote that a life is comprised of 10% of life events and 90% of how you respond to them. It should cause the most influential of men to pause and take inventory on a regular basis.  Another writer said that it isn’t the dates on a tombstone that are vital but rather it’s the dash between them; what does the dash signify?  How was the dash spent or exploited? Is the dash indicative of a life well lived or simply a flatline with no significance?

When the turbulence in the water comes to be still, the ripples it created roll on indefinitely.  God how I pray that my life creates ripples, how my words immortalize hope and love and how my eventual death inspires others to fully live. It’s been a rough few years but it’s never to late to make a ripple.  I don’t want to leave anything on the table when I go.  I want to be able to say I went all-in on every hand and that I won a few along the way.  My greatest fear is that few will step up to the podium when asked to share; My greatest desire when looking down on my own memorial is that I will be able to hear, he laughed loudly, he danced unashamedly, he loved deeply, he gave generously, he lived fully and he inspired continuously.  Guess I still have some work to do.  Peace.

Why Wasn’t the Queen of Soul Healed?

This morning the world awoke to news that Aretha Franklin, The Diva, The Queen of Soul had succumbed to her illness with her family at her side. This is in spite of the numerous prayer vigils and intercessions on her behalf for a miraculous healing by leaders many would consider righteous.  The resulting question common when a loved one dies from any illness is this-why didn’t God heal them, or more specifically, why does God heal some in ways that leave doctors scratching their heads but allows others to pass into an eternal life removed from our presence?

As I research this common question my stomach turns at the answers given by some who claim expertise in this area.  They tout numerous reasons, all having to do with the person who is sick or those praying on their behalf.  Those reasons would be a lack of faith, some unconfessed sin in their life, not getting along with their spouse and therefore unqualified, and on and on.  However, there is only one answer to this age old question, and it’s not a popular one-WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW!

It seems like a grand copout to assert this thing called Sovereignty when trying in vain to explain how or why God chooses to respond to certain prayerful petitions and not others.  It’s difficult to tell a parent that God is in control when their child is slowly fading away from cancer, or to tell a grieving widow that her husband isn’t suffering anymore because he died prematurely.  But the truth, as hard as it is to accept, is that God has a plan, a purpose and a number of days for each life, and that while he may not dictate every illness, everything is ultimately under his custody and control, and at his will.

The Apostle Paul is an often cited example of God’s sovereignty.  He was miraculously healed of a poisonous snake bite that should have claimed his life in one chapter, but denied healing from a vision condition, or a thorn in his flesh in another chapter.  God’s answer was simply that his grace was sufficient for Paul to endure without healing. In another event Paul’s closest helper Timothy was afflicted with a stomach issue.  Paul didn’t lay hands on him to heal him but instead recommended some wine to ease the symptoms.  Paul was a man of faith who didn’t always heal and wasn’t always healed!

I am inspired by two stories of uncanny faith and endurance in the midst of terminal illnesses.  The first is that of Tommy Paino III, a third generation pastor from a family in the Midwest many regard as evangelistic royalty.  Tommy was diagnosed with ALS not long into his Sr. Pastor status of a church in Indiana.  This Pentecostal-influenced family believed and practice healing and witnessed many miracles in their ministry.  But all prayers for Tommy’s healing went unanswered, as we define earthly healing.  Tommy continued to minister even after he was confined to a wheel chair.  He wanted his congregation to see that healed or not, God’s grace allowed him to function, but not before he wrestled with his own questions, anxiety, anger, fear and even faith.  When he could no longer speak his wife kept a journal on his behalf.  You can read his story in a book entitled Welcome Home Tommy by Marilyn Ryerson.  Tommy went on to be with the Lord in 1999 without receiving his earthly healing but many lives were changed as a result of them seeing what God’s grace looks like in the darkest of times.

There is another story a little closer to home.  Stephanie was the daughter and granddaughter of dear friends of mine. She had recently married, was an elementary school teacher and was excited at the prospect of her new life when the news came that no one ever wants to hear.  Cancer.  It was at first limited to her ovaries but over time it seemed elusive and would eventually ravage most of her young body, spreading to her brain and eventually her stomach .  We prayed, we fasted, we interceded on her behalf, anointed her, confessed deliverance, all the faith things we are taught to do at such a time, but those prayers went unanswered.  Like Tommy Paino, Steph kept a journal of her ordeal as well, and it was every bit as inspiring. The following is one of her last journal entries:

“Good morning! First I’d like to thank God for giving me this opportunity to share the

beautiful love story he is writing through my life. Words can not express my complete

wonder of the unconditional love he has for me.”

That doesn’t sound like someone facing the reality of her own pending mortality.  This sounds like Paul or Peter, full of boldness and grace, fighting the fight of faith against the worst of odds. But wait, there’s more.  She sent the following text to some ladies in her church, again displaying unimaginable grace considering her circumstances:

“Hi ladies! Believe it or not my life is coming to an end. Could be end of this

week, next, who knows, Ry knows more. I’m in i.c.u. and was unable to get

the tube yesterday because my abdomen is full of cancer. We are calling

home hospice in. I have a will and power of attorney. I’ve decided to not do

the Palm thing, but be cremated and do a celebration of life at Hope and

then spread my ashes near the Hotel Del in San Diego. Can only have family

at i.c.u., but will see you when I get home. God has a plan, and it’s a good

plan! I love you!”

She went on to her reward about a week later.  She never received her healing even though thousands were interceding on her behalf.  Could God have healed her-of course, with God all things are possible.  Did he? No. Why? We simply don’t know, but we do know lives were changed as they witnessed her fearless and triumphant entry into eternity.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to this challenging question is the evidence you witness personally.  We had an extended family member who was given the devastating news that she didn’t have long due to a terminal illness.  I did what we are instructed to do, that is lay hands on her and pray for her healing.  Miraculously one week later she attended my birthday party and went on to live a couple more years.  When you experience God’s healing power first-hand and then see other times when that power is withheld for reasons only known to God, it does cause you to question aspects of faith.  We can quote every healing scripture recorded and still not witness earthly miracles.  It can be crippling if you choose to engage in the mental torment for any extended period of time. But, God’s grace is truly sufficient.  Tommy and Stephanie would both say the same if they could.

One thing we do know for sure; in Heaven there will be no pain, no tears, no heartache, no sickness, no cancer no ALS, no premature death!  We will be ultimately and eternally healed from all earthly afflictions.  It is our eternal hope and the reason we press forward when nothing else makes sense.  I am facing my own physical challenge and the future for me is anything but certain. But God…  Rest in the knowledge of His unlimited grace and mercy-rejoice in the hope of eternal reunions, continue to believe in a God of miracles but don’t lose heart when those miracles aren’t clear to us in this life.

 

 

Asking God Questions Doesn’t Make You Weak

My last blog dealt with the hard truth about God’s occasional silence and apparent disengagement in some of the darkest times of life.  While many replied with their appreciation for letting them know they were not alone in their frustration in some vain attempt to discern the mysterious ways in which God operates, some voiced concerns that I had lost my religion or was turning from the faith.  This is one of the problems I have with the modern evangelical approach, the raised-brow responses because some don’t walk around humming Oceans all day long.

If you are a serious student of the Bible, digging deeper than just jotting down notes from the weekend sermon, you should be able to name a few men we consider Biblical heroes who, at some time in their journey, questioned God.  For those who get their religion from television, let me name them for you.  You will see that when I ask God questions to which I know I will not receive answers, I am in good company.

We all know about Job, described as the most holy man on earth in his time.  Job never neglected God and offered sacrifices for his family so that God would favor and forgive them.  And yet God allowed every one of his children to perish as a test of faith.  Job had questions in the midst of his trials.  His ultimate response to God, “It would have been better if I had not been born“.  I don’t hear him singing Good Good Father in that moment.

David, described as a man after God’s own heart, was forced to flee for his life and live in desert caves.  He had been told he was the anointed one to succeed Saul, but wondered if he would live long enough to see it come to pass.  His response, “Why have you abandoned me?  Why have you hidden your face from me?”  Of course God was with him, but David didn’t sense it-he could only respond to the reality of the eminent danger he was facing at the moment.  No Relentless Love playing in the background of this scene.

Jonah ran from God because he didn’t want to be the prophet to tell Nineveh they were going to die for their wicked ways.  After coming to his senses and being regurgitated onto a beach along with the entire stomach contents he had lived in for three days, he obeyed and prophesied to Nineveh, only to see God have compassion and change his mind.  Jonah felt he had been tricked and used and that his credibility as a prophet was now tarnished.  His response, “I’m so angry I wish I were dead“.

Elijah was chased into the desert by Jezebel who wanted him dead.  Elijah, who would live to see God do amazing things through him ended up in the desert under a tree, wondering why he was being so severely tested after he had been nothing but obedient.  His response, “I’ve had enough-I give up God, just take my life.”  I don’t think he was sensing the double portion in the desert.

Joseph, my namesake, was sold into slavery by his own brothers.  He ended up a servant in Potiphar’s estate.  When Potiphar’s adulterous wife threw herself at Joseph and begged him to give it to her good, Joseph literally fled the devil and ran from temptation only to be falsely accused of rape and ended up in prison.  A prisoner for 13 years when he had done nothing wrong.  I’m sure Chain Breaker was not the first song on his lips.

And then there is Jesus, God’s only Son, perfect and blameless, sent to fulfill a mission no one else would ever be qualified to fulfill.  And yet, He sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane asking God to relieve him from his duties.  His ultimate response, hanging from the cross, our Lord and Savior, our eternal hope, our namesake, asked his Father, “Where are you?  Why have you forgotten about me and left me alone?” 

Like I stated, I am in good company!

While it’s true that believers should be role models for faithful living, the life of living from mountaintop to mountaintop that is portrayed by several leaders, with anything less being a sign of something in our spiritual lives that has gone awry, is quite simply a mischaracterization and gross misinterpretation of the Christian life.  In many ways being and remaining Christian is a much tougher road than that of a nonbeliever. We are promised that if we want God’s best, we will have troubles, we will be sorely tested and challenged, we will be refined by fire itself and some will have their lives turned upside down.  Who in their sanity would ever truly welcome that kind of a life?  The beloved 23rd Psalm states that we will walk through, not over and not around, the valley of shadows and death.  It also makes no mention of how many times we will find ourselves there or how long we will be forced to journey through it each time.  If someone in their raw transparency asks the tough questions of God when they are in their own valley, they should not be looked down upon as being weak-they should not have people sending them the latest videos of salvation sermons du jour or be added to the local prayer chains over their backslidden status.

God designed us all as free moral agents so that we would choose to love and worship him.  That comes with the compulsion to ask God questions we want answered, even knowing we may never ever see the purpose or the good that results from being allowed to face difficult life-changing situations.  Sometimes when we look back we can connect the dots, sometimes their is no clear connection or pattern and we just have to carry on.  That doesn’t make us bad or weak or even ineffective-it makes us wholly real!  I have already resigned myself to the fact that I won’t know the answers to my questions until the day comes when the answers will no longer be important.  Until then, I hope to let people know it’s okay to have serious questions.  And yes, lest someone beat me to it, all the examples of men I cited above eventually came to their spiritual senses and were restored, but not before their words and doubts were recorded for us.  Now if they were all such bold men, why do you think the scribes of the Bible were inspired to include their times of questioning?  Something to ponder.

When God Simply Doesn’t Answer…

It’s 2:00 AM any day of the week.  I should be strolling the streets of Dreamsville like most normal people, but I am wide awake.  Sleep eludes me once again like the betrayal of a good friend, leaving me with nothing but night haunts-questions with no answers, situations with no solutions.  I should be accustomed to it by now-it’s been going on so long, but each night brings new frustrations of its own as the only peace to be found is within sleep that won’t come.

I have always attempted to write from a transparent perspective, the emotions and feelings still raw from the latest battle.  But with each post I strive to leave the reader with hope, with words of empowerment and encouragement so they can use my experiences as added weapons against the forces that seek to destroy or at least cripple the believer.  My writings aren’t flowery clichés suitable for inspirational greeting cards.  They are honest, because regardless of the façade we put on for the world to see, God knows the heart and sees the fears and doubt.  I want my readers to know it’s natural and okay to have questions in the midst of fierce battles.  Anyone who would question our faith when we are being sorely tested, is not being honest and true to the process and workings that are allowed for our growth.  But that said, there are those times, those long dry seasons which seem like an eternity, when our prayers go unanswered, our cries fall silent and our petitions are denied.  Every Christian has or will go through these agonizing seasons-mine is going into its fifth year.

There seems to be an unending string of Biblical promises that encourage us to boldly approach God with our needs-“ask and it shall be give, seek and you will find“, or “ask anything in my name and it will be done“, or ” seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will also be added“, or “if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can command mountains to be moved into seas“, and on and on.  As believers, we are compelled to accept God’s words as Gospel, sealed promises available to all who ask, and for the most part we do believe.  What other recourse would we have accept to believe.  And yet all too often, we seek God in desperate situations and plead for his involvement only to be met with the silence of the universe.  It’s not as if we are only petitioning God for material things like more income, bigger homes, favorable investment returns.  No, many of us seek God for much more important and often intangible answers.  We ask that he help save a failing business and the jobs of our employees but receive no response and watch the business be ripped from our grasp.  We beg God in earnest to help heal broken marriages and prevent families from being torn apart, only to end up in family court filing for a divorce we didn’t want because God seemed deaf to our cries.  We plead and fast in hopes that he will come to the rescue of seriously sick family members, knowing from stories left for us in scripture of his miraculous power to heal, only to say our earthly goodbyes to departed loved ones who left us seemingly prematurely.  We agonize over the eternal salvation of family members who never attend church services with us because they just can’t believe.  And many of us travel this life alone, scarred from the wounds of past relationships, but willing to expose ourselves to the vulnerability required to love again, but finding it to be as elusive as the sleep we chase.  Sometimes, God simply doesn’t answer us.

How I wish I could tell people how to navigate these dark roads of life in a way that gives more confidence, but I don’t have those neatly packed 3 step solutions.  Oh, many others will tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We don’t have “enough” faith.  Or we aren’t using the right combination of religious words or phrasing to get God’s attention.  Or, we must have some secret sin hidden in our life that makes our prayers ineffective-didn’t sow some financial seed offering to assure our blessings like the days of old before Martin Luther, or, we didn’t use the exact phrase “In Jesus name”.  As silly as these suggestions may appear on the surface, we can’t help but search for some validity in them as we compare our life situations to those in our circle who breeze through life on a spiritual high seemingly untouched by the challenges that are our closest friends.  Surely, we are doing something wrong, aren’t we?

The danger of human intellectual honesty is that it opens the door that leads from the room of doubt into the halls of unbelief, the opening our enemy is waiting for.  Maybe God doesn’t really love us all the same and wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine just to save the one. Maybe we don’t deserve the promises recorded in scripture because God knows all the sins of our past better than anyone.  Or worse, maybe none of it is real.  Just typing those words causes my heart to skip a beat.  God forgive me.  As difficult and trying as life’s trials and as discouraging to feel our cries fall short of his ears, the one thing worse is the thought that there is no God, no Son, no Spirit and that it’s a two-thousand year old hoax.  As Paul wrote, if there is no real eternity or hope, what a miserable existence we have.  We can’t allow the validity of the Gospel to be hijacked by the unreliability of our feelings and skewed perspectives when we are in storms that never end and which limit our spiritual vision to earthly and human limitations.  We are not the first to question God’s silence when we need him the most-David felt it-Joseph went through it, we all know Job’s story, even Jesus experienced God’s deafening silence.  It doesn’t make me feel better about these past few years-if anything, knowing and believing in God’s sovereignty only adds to the frustration during his non-responsive seasons.  But our only hope is in him and the persuasion of his spirit to prod us forward and guide us when we can’t see the road ahead.  If and when we give up that hope, we give validity to the questions and doubts, something that is simply not an option.

I hope you understand that you have much company in these seasons. This may not have been a post that leaves you feeling fuzzy and cozy, but it’s our feelings and our attention to them that gets us to these low points.  It’s our knowledge of God and his ways that will ultimately pull us through.  Let it be so, and soon.

Politics-“Be Not Entangled…”

2 Timothy 2:4; “a good soldier of Jesus Christ does not get entangled in the affairs of this life or he would fail to please his commander (Christ)”.

A good friend asked me earlier why I don’t get as worked up over politics as some of my other friends do.  I took it as outward evidence of my maturing, at least in this area.  I’ve posted about it many times before, the ugly partisan nature of the binary political war that so many are so passionate about.  The name-calling, the stone casting, the Unfriending sometimes necessary for peace-all a juvenile embarrassment when observed from the outside, and yet without it, there would be virtually no cable or internet news stations, and only about half of the daily social media posts or tweets .  And, dare I suggest it, far too many professed Christ believers have become “entangled” and ensnared in all the ugly behind the scenes drama that is American politics.

Let me clarify, lest I too be on the receiving end of a few cast stones-I am all for political activism as it pertains to our voting privileges and supporting candidates in elections who mirror your feelings on certain issues.  I am grateful to live in a country where we have the right to be ugly over politics-it could be much worse.  Many good men, women, blacks, whites, Americans and foreigners, paid a high price so that we might be a part of a representative form of government wherein we can choose who we want to represent us.  One can never be faulted for exercising their individual right to vote, and neither can, or should, anyone be faulted for abstaining from voting, regardless of the ridiculous arguments zealous activists will use to guilt you for abstaining.  But from the beginning until now, polling has been a highly personal and discreet process.  Hell, even on Survivor, the ballots are kept secret.  It is a sacred process that should be carried out according to true personal conviction and not popular social pressure.  But we have turned that process into a post-election feud worthy of Hatfield-McCoy status.  Why?

This is just one reason why I no longer get worked up over political banter.  In the past two thousand years of recorded history, has anything really changed?  Are people still murdered in the U.S.?  Have burglaries and theft been halted?  Do certain people still discriminate because of ethnical differences?  Are people still hungry and homeless? Is the quality of education the same for all or equal to income brackets?  With all the elevated blood pressures, nothing has really changed in 2000 years.  If you were obese and unhealthy under Clinton or Reagan, you are probably still the same under Obama or Trump.  If you were financially successful under Carter or Nixon, you are probably still successful under Bush or Ford.  The truth is, if we are to be honest, our individual lives are never really impacted due to who or what is in office.  If one relies on the government to be their only source and recourse for everything good in life, they will never be adequately cared for, and if one is self or God sufficient regardless of political affiliation, they will always be okay.  Does that make any sense?

“Oh, Papajoe, but Romans 13 says God ordains all government!  And moreover, God puts all people in power according to his will.”  Uh, no, that’s just bad religion.  It’s funny that so many are convinced God puts US Presidents in place, but not Hitlers or Hussains or Castros, as if America is now the chosen nation.  God, because of our lack of total trust in him, instituted a human form of oversight for civil protection.  However, God would never have endorsed all the deal-making, finger-crossing, back-stabbing  entanglements that are the very nature of the political machine we have now.  In almost every aspect, this slaps in the face of everything the Gospel is all about, as do many of the current policies.  We are to obey the laws of the land as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God.  But if you are a good political soldier, you can only love your neighbor if they are not aliens.  You can demand that the government take care of the poor and hungry so you can feel you fed them vicariously through the system of taxation and no more. We can deny basic humanitarian medical aid to someone if they can’t pay or have no state-sponsored insurance.  We can profess our faith, but not in a way that would make it in any way superior to any other religion-tolerate all views as equal.  Everyone gets a participation trophy when your time comes. What we have done to religion, we have done to politics, by touting bad religion as justification.

To be blunt, whether the person at the top is black, white or orange, the importance doesn’t resonate with someone fighting through a terminal disease.  Red or Blue means little to someone who goes through life feeling like an invisible vapor due to loneliness.  Left or right, liberal, moderate or conservative, is the last thing on the mind of someone dealing with a spouse or child with addictions or that person who just can’t find a decent job, or worse, the one who has lost all hope and is having one last drink before they down a bottle of sleeping pills to put their misery to a final rest. This, my good friend, is why I am no longer a political standard bearer who loses sleep over social policy or world affairs.  Yes, I want peace, but “in as much as it is within you, live at peace with your neighbor” is my God-standard, not world summits. Yes, I want to end hunger, but “when you give to the least of these my brothers” is my policy, not entitlements.  Yes, I want to see an eventual end to hatred and bigotry, but “love they neighbor as thyself” is a God thing, not a social media thing.  It matters not to me who is in office, my daily mandates come from a much higher commander-in-chief than one who is mistakenly elevated as the appointed one we may or may not have voted for.  But when we begin to see each other and moreover, formulate unjust opinions about their character, just because of who they support politically, we have become the blind leading the blind, discarding the truth for a bit of an increase in personal mammon. There is a reason you can’t serve both!

This cruel life has way too many existing webs to navigate without getting entangled in civilian affairs we may never change.  My political apathy is a personal choice.  Your opinion of that choice is your choice.  I don’t have nightmares over childish tweets or the latest missteps of a polarizing POTUS.  I don’t dread tomorrow because of which “side” has control of Congress.  I have many issues right now with God-he knows, but regardless of how I vote or whose in charge down here, God is my constant, my boss, my CO.  I’ll do well to continue to take my direction from him and avoid the entanglements of the political arena.  That, is why I no longer get caught up in the façade of political policy.

Why Racism Will Never Die

Two years ago I created a Facebook page that would promote racial harmony, one that encouraged open and honest dialogue between blacks and whites for the purpose of hearing each other and seeking a solution in our little circles to stop the cancer of hatred and biases due solely to skin color.  This morning I took the page down.

It seems no one was really interested in such dialogue, and the few who posted to the page used it only as a platform to justify the feelings they embraced, and not as a tool to discuss root causes, seek resolution or promote in any way anything resembling harmony, love or at the least tolerance.  It was hijacked and used to further divide. If social media has done anything over the past few years it has opened up my eyes as  to how wide-spread the epidemic of racial tensions are.  Had my page been devoted to white supremacy or black restitution, it would have reached the 5000 person limit quickly.  Everyone is quick to vent, quick to point out examples of racist attitudes, quick to post controversial comments with no intention except than to stir up the saints. Post a video of a black cop dancing with white kids on his beat and get a few thousand views; post a white cop turning a traffic stop into a take-down and it goes viral with millions of views.  We have become so overly exposed to sensationalism that we view the first scene as extraordinary and the latter scene the norm.  We have all become pawns in a black and white chess game played by much higher forces whose security and wealth depend on the continual propagation of dividing the races. And with the hope that each next generation will end the hatred, it only proves to become worse.  Yes, we’ve made strides, but even at the highest level, a black President did not use the historic accomplishment to promote healing but instead drove us farther apart, and the orange President we have now did nothing to separate himself for legions of white nationalists who endorsed him and has overseen even worsening racial division.

But I think what breaks my heart most is that even among those who publicly profess to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ and his teachings, there exists obvious biases and resentments held toward their Christian siblings of different colors.  Because of the circles I run in, the majority of my social media friends are Christian, so I get to observe these attitudes up close and personal on a daily basis.  Many Black Christians and yes, even clergy, hold a view that the white man is the source of everything evil in their world and deep down still  hold them in contempt for the sins of their great-great grandparents, refusing to acknowledge that generational hatred can be healed and eradicated through the love of God.  In a very real sense, they only believe “won’t he do it” up to the point of reconciling the races.  And in response, the backlash from Christian whites weary of having to defend themselves against those they sincerely view as brothers and sisters in the faith morphs from sadness to resentment to antagonistic as they in ignorance try to address things they know not of.  And so it plays out as an eternal feud for the world to witness, mock and mimic.  After all, if we Christians who tout love can’t even get it right, then the world should feel much more comfortable in embracing their racist views and attitudes like an old friend.  It should be wrong to harass or discriminate against a black person simply due to the color of their skin; it should be equally wrong to view a white brother as part of the problem or the eternal oppressor likewise simply because he happens to be white.  When will it ever stop?

I am convinced it won’t and this is why. We, in our steadfastness to be unmoved in our respective defense of our response to racism, have completely ignored the most demanding, absolute standard left for us, the Word of God.  There is nothing in scripture that would even slightly promote our current approach to racism in the world and the church.  How many scripture must I quote where we are commanded to love each other?

“Hate what is evil, love what is good; Be devoted to one another in love. Honor each other above yourselves”-Romans 12

“Forgive one another as you have been forgiven, and add to this Love which binds all tings together in perfect unity”-Colossians 3

“Love keeps no records of past wrongs-it delights not in evil but rejoices in truth”

-I Corinthians 13

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins”-I Peter 4

“The entire law is fulfilled in one command-Love your neighbor as yourself”-Galatians 5

Bear with one another in love-love your enemies-do good to them-pray for them-if you don’t love, you don’t know God-and on and on and on.  Love is the central theme of the entire New Testament, but this is why racism will continue to exist, and many won’t like this.  LOVE AND OBEDIENCE ARE INSEPERABLE IN SCRIPTURE AND IN CHRISTIAN LIVING!  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments“.  But if we in our hatred and biases are so strong in our convictions that even this undeniable, non-negotiable, absolute mandate for our Savior is so easily disregarded as believers, then the world has no hope of ever seeing the demise of racism. We are become as blind people leading the blind because the truth we profess is not really in us. We are no better than the Pharisees Jesus called whitewashed-having some appearance of Godliness on the outside but being full of corruption, evil and death on the inside, sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.

This is most painful to me because I have dear black friends who I feel see me as part of the problem, the privileged.  And I have close white friends whose responses to the issue are downright hateful, shameful and embarrassing. My personal page has become more of a social view into the reality of race relations between those who are supposed to have a share in the inheritance of hope, and for that I am beyond dismayed and becoming angry.  Don’t go to church on Sunday and do your thing but get on Facebook first thing Monday and shame Christ.  I’m done with it and will call you out.  If I can’t do something positive to change it, then I will go to great lengths to expose it, so be ready. Don’t put on Christ but sow discord just to get a few Likes-don’t pretend to empathize but harbor generational bigotry in your heart.  Don’t pretend to want reconciliation when the hatred and dissent is the only thing you thrive on.  Don’t Friend me just so you can observe and look for some sign that I’m just another one of “my people”.  Don’t reach out just to show you have numerous black Friends just for  chance to spew your vile on their pages.  God can’t be impressed, and I’m sure as hell not.

So does anyone out there really want to fix this or all we all just posers?

Dads Need to Feel the Love Too!

If you were to believe most Father’s Day ads, you might think that we dads are quite different than our parental counterparts. Ads for Mom’s Day imply family gatherings and surrounding mom with her favorite people, while ads for Dads suggest giving him the day off, the space he needs to go fishing or camping alone or some new toy he can play with in the garage.  Maybe I’m the odd one out, but the perfect day for me is not a motorcycle ride alone on a country road.  It’s being surrounded by children and grandchildren who make you feel wanted and loved, even if they are grown.  It’s not something we ever outgrow.

The other night I was watching one of the popular talent competitions on television.  A young thirteen-year old girl astonished the crowd with an old throwback song that she killed.  Upon the applause and accolades of the audience she broke into tears and went running into the arms of her dad like a five or six year old might do.  I broke, because I remember that feeling!  When your child wants nothing more than your love and approval, and is content to just be on your lap or close by, there is no higher achievement or sense of pride one can have than at that very moment of being Dad. Sadly, for most anyway, those moments tend to decrease with age.  It’s not that the love and appreciation isn’t still there, it’s just the misconception that we fathers no longer need or want that display of affection.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was struggling to make my business a success.  It remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.  But no matter how bad a day I might have been having, when my grandson came running into my office and jumped into my lap, followed by his older sister, everything bad in my life faded away like a puff of smoke. Their love and presence put everything back into perspective at least for a short time.  These are moments and memories that will remain precious to me.  It is then that I have some sense of what our Heavenly Father must feel when we approach him in the same way, wanting nothing more than to be in his presence, to crawl up into his lap and embrace being loved just for who we are.

My children are grown and the grandkids are getting older every year, but I will never outgrow the need to feel their love.  This is the point I hope to get across with his post.  Don’t buy into the media or marketing suggestions otherwise.  Dads need to feel they are still loved.  They need to know they are still needed, even if just for wisdom and encouragement.  We need to know we aren’t forgotten or left behind by our children who now have their own families and children.  We need to know we made some small difference or impact, either in our approach to parenthood or in the lessons we learned by our mistakes, so that we can take some small credit in the good and successes of our children.  If married, dads need to know their wives admire and love them for their roles as the father of her children.  That respect is priceless-wives will never truly know!  But above all, I think most dads just want that feeling when that young son or daughter runs and jumps into their arms, just because he’s their dad and they love him that much.  When that stops happening for whatever reason, then yes, we may as well go on that weekend fishing trip alone because nothing will ever truly fill the void of a child who no longer needs their parent.  It’s an empty that is hard to fully describe.  Divorced fathers feel the pain of this rejection even when they have done little to deserve it.  It’s a pain I’m familiar with.

I have so many friends my age who will not be able to spend Father’s Day with their dads or grandfathers because they are no longer living. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was ten years old.   There will be fathers in convalescent centers who will not be acknowledged by their families again this year.  There will be fathers who are widowed and will spend the day alone.  God Bless the moms for all they do-they deserve every accolade showered upon them for the roles they play in our lives.  But don’t be deceived into thinking we dads don’t want a little love as well. If you really want to make his day, crawl up in his lap and just squeeze him for a moment.  I guarantee that no matter how old you are or how big you may be, he will still see you as that little one from long ago and will relish the gesture for all it’s worth.  He, I, we still need to feel we are that larger-than-life hero in the eyes of our kids.  There is little more important.

Have a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day.

Fighting the Urge to Just Sink

In better (younger) days I was quite the swimmer.  It would be nothing for me to try to swim across a small pond or river.  I can remember even being in great shape, there was always the point at which your muscles started to quiver a bit and exhaustion would set in while you were in the deepest part of the water and you had to stop for a moment to catch your breath and regain your strength.  You knew what you had to do, and how to do it-you needed to put your head back in the water and start stroking again.  You had no other options except to stop swimming and drown. But your body was so tired of the challenge and its weight conspired with gravity to work against your will and stamina.

I would guess in life we have all been there at some point-faced with yet another trial or challenge, you keep doing what you know to do because there are no other options and the choice is either sink or swim.  None of us are guaranteed to breeze by without certain life-altering situations that require stamina and resolve, but some of us tend to get safely across the river only to find it opens up into another large body of water, and the swim seems daunting and endless.  I often refer to this as the Job effect.  The character from the Old Testament lost everything he had through a series of catastrophes, one after the other, although in his mind he had done nothing to “deserve” such cruel and unusual punishment.  While according to the story, he was restored to great wealth and position, it came at the price of his own children, and his life was never the same.

I’m certain that Job must have asked himself how he was chosen to be challenged to the point of death-why was he the lucky candidate. If honest, all of us who go through similar experiences will ask God why he allows such painful, and seemingly never-ending life lessons.  Have we not yet proven our mettle or faith?  Are we being punished for something, and if so, why just us and not everyone else?  Do some escape life’s trials because they are better people or more deserving servants?  Does God’s grace and mercy apply to everyone in unlimited measure—–except us? These are honest responses from those who live large portions of their life in the “valley of the shadows of death”. We are swimming to that spot of land in the distance but we never seem to get any closer to it no matter how long or hard we swim.

And if I had to be brutally honest, even Holy Scriptures sometimes feel more like clichés. And yet for a believer, they are the only reasonable facsimile to a life preserver that we can cling to while we catch our next breath. Verses that assure us that God is always with us-that he is an ever-present helper in tumultuous times, that if he sees the tiniest of sparrows, he surely is tuned into our plight and that nothing escapes his glance.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out his ways as they pertain to my life.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will simply never know!  I can’t tell you why some believers and followers have a life that goes from blessing to blessing while others like myself watch with envy while treading the next body of water.  All I know is that we have to keep swimming even when every muscle in our body is screaming obscenities at us because sinking, while easier, is no real option.

 God, who can guess your ways or challenge you methods of testing or who escapes your sovereignty.  I ask you today on behalf of all who are reading this and swimming for their lives, that you would grant mercy and strength to continue the fight in anticipation of eventually reaching dry ground, so that your Son can be glorified in our triumphs. Encourage us today by your Holy Spirit to consider all that is waiting for us when we endure and conquer these challenges so that we can rely upon a supernatural reserve of energy and resolve to keep fighting when it would be so easy to just sink.

In Search of That Fairy Tale Ending

This past weekend the world paused its activities to witness the much anticipated wedding of Lady Diana’s son, Prince Harry to Meghan Markle.  It was a wedding truly fit for royalty and worthy of all the pomp and circumstance associated with any royal wedding.  Many in the West stayed up all night to catch the early morning live broadcast while others opted for the later reruns.  I confess that I’ve now watched it twice!  It was truly the stuff that Hollywood fairy tale movies are made of.

What is our fascination with an event like this, one which brings out only the A-List celebrities, and one most of us will never experience, that keeps us glued to our monitors so we don’t miss a second of it?  Why do we become emotional when a Prince gets married?  Granted, this was no usual royal event; the groom was the son of one of the most beloved figures of all time, Lady Diana. She was there in every element.  A seat was left vacant for her; the flowers in the wedding bouquet were hand-picked from her garden, and the jewels in the bride’s wedding ring came from Diana’s rings.  Yet even putting all of that aside, there was and always is an enormous interest in royal weddings.  And this one was no exception.

I believe there exists within all of us the dream of finding that someone we never thought we might end up with, that person we feel completely unworthy of, the commoner weds the prince or princess.  This past weekend’s event was not about England-it wasn’t about royalty-it wasn’t even about the breakaway from tradition that was in full display for all to see.  It was about one thing-LOVE!  It represented all that is good about love-redemption, hope, restoration, and above all, second chances.  It was the embodiment of the Cinderella story-the girl with no royal blood line or lineage, the girl who has already been married and divorced, the single mother of the bride, a black woman, sitting directly across from the Queen herself, watching her tainted daughter become the Princess of Sussex!  All that was not supposed to happen, happened-all of the baggage that would have normally discredited her as a fit bride for a prince was disregarded and the world watched as she literally married her Prince Charming and became the daughter-in-law of the late Lady Diana!  Talk about fairy tale endings!  That’s what captivated us.

Those who have found their perfect partner and managed to successfully maintain lasting relationships are truly blessed and understand the significance of love united.  Those who have never been so fortunate continue to dream and aspire to find their own royal ending and perfect romance.   And those of us who have tasted of it and lost it, desire it even more, like chasing that euphoric high once again.  Even people who have been severely wounded by love gone bad who have scars from past failures, are willing to risk emotional pain after a broken heart and become vulnerable enough to allow love back into their lives and continue the search for their own fairy tale ending.  It is a search that never ends-the lucky and blessed are the ones who eventually find it-the most pitiful people on earth are the ones for whom love eludes them and they die alone.

We are driven by love!  The most popular movies are love stories; the greatest songs of all time are love songs.  Even the hymns of old evolve around the central theme of amazing and unexplainable love.  “Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my King, would die for me?”  The heart has an amazing capacity for love, and we all want in on it, even vicariously by witnessing a royal wedding.  It’s a story that dates back to Old Testament times to Ruth, the commoner, finding Boaz, the Prince.  There should be little surprise that the story continues to fascinate us-we in our imaginations insert ourselves into the roles of the prince and princess, longing for the time when, at some level, we too feel like unworthy and yet newly crowned royalty, just because of the restorative power of love.  We long for the day when that certain someone looks upon us, sees all of our past mistakes, our trails of destruction, our faults and failures, and yet deems us worthy of their love for a lifetime. And even when it comes for many of us, we will still be fascinated and captivated in seeing it played out in others as they too find love’s royalty.  This is the kind of love by which God accepts us!  It is a love that is unconditional-it is immeasurable-it is unlimited and it has no expiration date!

It’s real, it’s out there and we are all worthy of it!  Never discount your fascination with watching something so surreal as a royal wedding.  You may not leave the church in a horse drawn carriage with a royal escort, but your happily-ever after ending can come true.  If we all didn’t really believe that, what a miserable existence it would be!

A Mother Speaks From Heaven

My dearest child, I want to try to reach out to you from my new home, and I hope somehow you will be able to understand.  I know that this time each year on your Earthly calendar you pause to remember me and all the other motherly figures in your life.  I see how you recall fond memories of times we spent together like viewing old movies over and over again.  I too still remember all those beautiful moments.  The memories we made together are indeed eternal and still very real. You will understand this someday.  However, I also see that this day is bittersweet for you and that you have a sense of sadness that I am no longer with you to continue making memories.  I wish you could know that nothing could be farther from the truth! You may not see me, but I am still there in more ways than you could ever imagine.  You were taught from an early age that God gives his angels the charge of watching over his children.  Well my child, I was assigned to watch over you! It’s one of the percs of my new situation! I see your every move.

How I wish I could tell you that I didn’t become a mother on the day you were born; I was a mom the minute I knew I had conceived you!  I started loving you months before I ever saw your beautiful face for the first time.  I cradled you the first time I felt you moving inside me. I sang lullabies to you every night before I went to sleep.  I began to pray over your life, that God would bless you and keep you from all pain long before I ever experienced the pain of introducing you to the world and your new family. There is a bond that forms between a mother and her child that only moms fully appreciate, and I can assure you that the bond is never severed, even after death!  In fact it is only now that I truly understand the unconditional love between a parent and a child since I am with my true Father and can see things more clearly from my new vantage point. You are even now more precious to me than ever before.  I never thought that possible, but I can assure you it’s true!

You have become the embodiment of every good thing I tried to teach you all those years.  I know there are times when you wonder if I would be proud of the person you’ve become.  I wish you knew the pride I still feel as I watch over you.  I see a bit of me in you with every act of loving kindness you show others.  I observe how you courageously respond to earthly challenges; I feel the emotions you have when you worry about others.  I see the full intent of a heart much bigger than I ever imagined while on Earth, one full of goodness and love that is an uncommon virtue in your world.  And each and every time I see you doing things out of the love you learned from me, I thank my Father that he blessed me of all people with the privilege of being your mother.  Nothing I ever achieved or accomplished in my old home means more to me now than being selected to be your mom. How I wish I could accurately relay that to you now.

I know there are supposedly no egos up here, but moms still get together and share stories of their children and stake claims to bragging rights.  You child, have given me so many stories since I left that it never seems like a fair fight with the other moms!  God in his mercy has actually given us all the privilege of being the guardian angels of our earthly children. It is perhaps our greatest reward!  So while we await the appointed time when we will be reunited, I want to assure you of my presence.  There are little ways I can still interact with you-I just hope you know it’s me.  When you are walking and you feel that soft breeze on your face or see that tiny butterfly land near you and sense a calming spirit, that’s me!  When you experience the pride of watching your children grow, you got that from me! And when you face the challenges that life will throw at you but sense a peace about it, that’s God channeling through me to you! I will be in the laughter you can’t explain, the songs that bring you to tears, the worship that flows freely from you heart and even in the love you feel for that special someone God gave you.  I’m there in all of it, still loving, still caring, still so full of pride I can’t speak.  You will never be alone and you and I will never be separated by time or distance because I am no longer bound by those things!  So on this special day when you remember me, I hope you know that I am celebrating you my dear child. My greatest badge of honor was, and still is, that of being your mom!  I am still learning all the ways I can touch you, but I have plenty of time and a great teacher!  You are forever in my heart and I will forever be in yours.  I will ask God to reveal that to you every day until we are together again.

Love, Mom.

An Epidemic of Loneliness

Social Media with it’s new and ever emerging platforms has presented an opportunity for endless virtual connections.  Through Facebook and others, we can now reconnect with old school friends, people from the old neighborhood and many others that we lost contact with and may never have looked up if not given virtual technology.  While at the same time, these “friendship” connections many times are very superficial and give a façade of relationships that don’t truly exist.  It may be true and quite rare that new friendships have been made through initial social media connections, the truth is, however, that your connections know very little about you, and you about them-there is no life-sharing taking place, just an exchange of ideas, jokes, memes and an occasional Check-in.

The same platforms that allow so many of us to connect also aid in the onset of real loneliness.  We can easily get caught up in comparisons.  We see our Friends who have 3000-4000 followers and compare that number to our list of a relative few (thanks to all 350 of mine!). We wonder why we aren’t as popular as others we know.  We become envious when others find that perfect someone and post loving images of the new discovery while we are still seeking love.  We are reminded through shared photos of better times and family ties that ended when the marriage failed and the families parted to opposite sides.  We become jealous when one of our friends post something trivial and receives several hundred comments or Likes, while we pour our heart out over an issue important to us and get crickets and a few emojis.

Beyond social media, the lonely attempt to fill their days with activities and surround themselves with the few friends they do have hoping that staying busy will keep their minds from the reality of living in solitude.  But no matter how busy one stays or how many drinks they have with friends, at the end of the day, literally, they each go home to empty homes of large rooms void of life or activity.  They go to bed alone and wake up the same way.  No number of virtual friends can replace the existence of just a single mate or close human bond that so many miss and long for.  And these lonely people are everywhere-on public transit, in restaurants, in the work place, at bars and yes, even in our churches. They may never let you in on their facade, but they are all around us.

When God created the first man, He was immediately aware that it was not a good idea for man to exist alone.  He understood the need for closeness, for companionship, for relationship.  Granted, there are many who prefer a life of freedom from the responsibility and accountability required to be in a relationship.  The Apostle Paul was one who preferred the life of bachelorhood because for him, a relationship would have been too much to tend to given his vocation of ministry.  He asserts that a select few are given the “gift” of living a single life.  While I am not one to challenge sound Biblical teaching, this one is a head-scratcher for me.  I would call living life without a significant partner to share it with, anything but a gift.  Those who lose spouses to death or seperation do not feel gifted.  Children who grow up not knowing a parent that turned their back on them do not feel gifted.  Orphans or those in nursing homes waiting for visitors do not feel gifted.

So where do we turn when the feelings of emotional isolation become overwhelming?  I can only offer some things I have learned or tried to incorporate.  The most important thing to convince yourself is that your situation does not define your value!  This is of great impact for believers.  Being called children of God hardly implies worthlessness!  The fact that God has our name tattooed in his palm should give us a sense of eternal value.  Another trick I’ve employed is to find activities wherein you can give something of yourself to those who need what you have to offer, e.g. volunteering with under-privileged youth or donating time to organizations who feed the hungry or homeless-things that are vitally needed that can give you a sense or accomplishment and purpose. Making efforts to spend time with your adult children or just hanging with those with whom you share things in common serves to soften the reality of loneliness.  Another tool is to use social media to find groups who share common interests so that you virtual activity is not limited to I.Q reducing banter with no purpose or substance.  There are groups for just about any interest imagineable. And if your loneliness centers around not being in a relationship, continue to be out there, willing to be vulnerable, bold enough to risk being hurt, and by all means not judging would-be suitors based on past experiences of which they played no part.

God does not desire that any of us should feel worthless due to loneliness.  We need to look for ways to reduce the pain of isolation and increase our sense or purpose and value.  We can’t sell something we don’t buy into!  If we don’t believe it, no one else will either.  Ask God to open up your heart and mind to all opportinities and possibilities as you work your way out of the epidemic of loneliness.

Don’t Let Your Left hand Know What Your Right Hand is Doing

I have learned from experience and unwelcomed life changes recently that discouragement is a portal into a false realm of the twisted perception of self-worth and purpose, even causing one to ask the meaning of their existence.  When life as you knew it suddenly seems to have left you behind, stranded on the side of the road of life, it takes a supernatural resolve to pull yourself up and get back on the road.  Only those who have a grasp of the eternal picture can successfully resume the journey.

All of us want to feel as if our lives matter, that our existence counts for something, that our mere presence means something to someone.  But like an illusionist making a plane disappear, discouragement and depression act as a magician’s cloak rendering us invisible.  It’s a sad place to be and a horrible place to stay.  Activities you once enjoyed with others bring little joy now; people who played such big roles in your life have left you behind like an old photo of something from times past.  And your mind becomes your worst enemy as it replays over and over memories going back decades of things that will never be again, tricking you into accepting a false narrative of your significance and contribution to your realm of influence.

Some will attempt to get involved in causes, take up social activism, donate time to local nonprofit groups, all while wondering if anyone is watching, if anyone notices.  Our motivation is one less about making a difference and more about being praised so that we can reclaim some self-worth.  The irony in this is that the only one who sees all, the only one we truly need to serve, is the one who already has the highest opinion of us.  We give, we donate, we help out-all to be seen and accepted in an attempt at our own self-redemption, completely disregarding the fact that God in his love and mercy already redeemed us, already sees us, already has our names tattooed in the palm of his hand.

There is a passage in scripture where the just are receiving their reward for deeds done on earth. The master tells them to enter into their rest because they clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the sick and imprisoned, all the while unaware that these unseen things they did for the least, were done and received by a God who valued them highly even at what felt like the lowest times. Another passage in Matthew 6 says that we should not blow a horn to announce the good deeds we are doing for the praise of others, but that instead we should not allow our left hand know what our right hand is up to.  Things done seemingly in secret are never hidden from God and he will reward us in grand fashion.  Our deeds and the motives behind them, good or bad, are never hidden from an all-knowing God.

Let’s be real-sometimes life stinks. Some make mistakes but seem to get a pass while others make bad decisions or lead less than perfect lives and pay heavily for it.  There appears to be  a very inequitable sense of fairness when we compare our lives to others. We work hard but still lose our jobs; we eat right and exercise but still receive that negative medical report; we love well but end up alone.  The eternal question with no answer is why bad things happen to good people, and why bad people get all the breaks in life.  We wonder what atrocities we committed to be punished so; if this were true, if we were beat up for every mistake, who among us would survive God’s wrath. As Job discovered in the Old Testament story, some questions will never be answered on Earth.  We will never be able to get everyone’s approval and unlike the movie, we don’t have any magical remote control that allows us to go back in time and change things for better outcomes. All any of us have is today.  Today will soon be yesterday.  Will you be okay with what you did yesterday?  Can you make today better? There is a profound sense of worth in living externally, seeing others and their needs, finding purpose in being a solution, even when no one is watching.  Living everyday discouraged, pining for things to be the way they were, knowing they never will be, is a tragic existence.  The heart will forever hold precious the memories of things that were, but has an enormous and unlimited capacity to receive and store new treasures going forward. If you must, hold onto the good of the past with your left hand while reaching for new opportunities with your right.  Healing and purpose will come only when you rise up from the ashes.  Those who know you best will be witnesses to how your handle life’s critical moments.  There are always people watching!

The Death of a King, the Birth of a Dream; MLK’s Legacy Fifty Years Later

MLKDay

April 4th, 1968, approximately 6 PM, fifty years ago today; I was six years old.  On the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, just down from his room #306 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is bending over the railing discussing dinner plans with Jesse Jackson and others, unaware they would never make it. In a boarding house across from the motel a prison escapee, a man who represented everything wrong with the generation of hate, stood in a bathtub using the bathroom window ledge to rest his Remington .30-06 rifle, and took his one shot at infamy.  The round struck Dr. King in his right cheek, traveled through his vertebrae and spinal cord, severing King’s jugular and a major artery.  The man who just one night before predicted his own death, now lay motionless in a pool of his own blood in prophetic manifestation.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pronounced deceased at 7:05 PM.

James Earl Ray may be the lone man behind the trigger that ended Dr. King’s earthly life, but King’s blood was on the hands of an entire community of white bigots that led to the highest offices in the land.  Dr. King’s legacy is that of a Civil Rights leader, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize at the relative young age of just 34 years old. He was in Memphis organnizing a peaceful protest in support of fair wages for sanitation workers. Dr. King acknowledged that obtaining a seat at the lunch counter was easy compared to the guarantee of a fair annual income.  He was the voice for the common black wage earner who simply wanted an equal opportunity at the American dream of propserity that was afforded to all others.  In his “I Have a Dream” Speech Dr. King references the notion of all men being created equally with unalienable rights guaranteed by their creator.  He went on to say that Black Americans instead had received a bad check marked Insufficient Funds.  Dr. King fought for nothing more than for all Americans to receive fair and equal treatment and opportunity.  However many, including politicians, attempted to drown out his voice.  The likes of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, an outspoken KKK leader, the segregation verbiage and policies of Democratic Governor George Wallace and the hidden agenda of Lyndon Johnson all worked in unison to assure that the right white of traditional American society would continue on, keeping black Americans “in their place”.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew exactly what and who he was up against.

 However, in it’s truest form, Dr. King was an evangelist of the Gospel.  He spoke out about love, about equality as humans, a slap in the face of so-called Christians who inaccurately used God’s Word to justify an atmosphere of hatred and segregation in those times.  Jesus said, “you are the light of the world, but if you hate your brother, you walk in darkness”.  MLK said “only light can drive out darkness”.  Jesus said “whoever doesn’t love his brother or sister who he can see, can’t possibly love God, who they can’t see”. There was nothing in Dr. King’s speeches that was not rooted in the Gospel.  There was most certainly those who used the protests as an opportunity to invoke aggression, resulting in many deaths and injuries, and that troubled Dr. King as he insisted that turning the other cheek was the righteous way to demand respect and be heard.  The riots in Chicago, a seemingly Liberal Northern city, shook Dr. King and gave him pause.  He had expected as much in his marches through Alabama, but not in the Northern states.  And yet his resolve remained-his mission was at the core, noble and righteous, and he would not be stopped or allow his cause to be hijacked by those used him to incite violence.

Dr. King was fully aware that he was exposing himself to great danger and possibly death.  He had been nearly fatally stabbed before as well as hit in the head with a brick during a march. He cowered each time he heard a loud noise, expecting the worse, and yet he marched on, all the way to his premature death.  If Dr. King were still alive today, would he be pleased with the progress made as a result of his activism?  When you look around you can see the black influence and progress in every spectrum, in athletics, in entertainment, in rising wages and corporate promotion and even in politics, including the highest office of the land.  We have come a long way.  Dr. King would be pleased with progress. Would he be satisfied?  I think I can safely say no.  There are still unlevel playing fields in many sectors, including housing and education.  It is no secret that the profits of a privatized prison system come at the expense of an overcrowded penal society made up largely of black males. And no one with open eyes can deny that in many cities racial profiling still exists among rogue officers who shoot first and search for a weapon second. No man alive includig the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will ever irradicate the evil of bigotry or the cancer of hate that has existed since Cain and Abel.  As long as there remains fringes of American societies that hold to supremist ideology, people receiving different treatment and opportunity based solely on skin color, Dr. King would not be satisfied. Those who knew him best and were splattered with his blood fifty years ago today would agree-we have come a long way, but many have still not reached the Promised Land.

Today many will gather across our nation to remember the legacy and the death of Dr. King, and rightly so.  When a person is so convicted and dedicated to a just cause that he is willing to die in order to achieve its birth, that person should be honored and hailed with all due fanfare.  But to truly pay homage to his legacy, we as an American people need to dedicate ourselves only to that which Dr. King preached-to love our neighbors, to extend the right hand of fellowship to all men regardless of color or creed, and to stand up against all perceived racial injustices in a joint effort to see all men obtain the dream of freedom and equality, two ideals that go beyond legislation that can only be enforced with hearts of Christ-like love. No man is “free at last” if any one of them remains bound by the chains of hatred. No man can feel good about being “on the mountain top” if his fellow brothers are still trapped in the valleys below.  No man can bear the cross of Christ in one hand and the torch of bigotry in the other.  We can claim to walk in the spirit of light, but God sees any hidden darkness we keep secret from others.  There remains much work to be done in order to usher in the true Kingdom of Christ.  The civil equality Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for was conceived in the blood he spilled on that balcony fifty years ago today.  It is on us as Christians first and Americans second, to carry on the fight Dr. King started in our words, in our actions and in our ideals.  “In this way the world will know that you are truly my disciples, when they see the love you have for each other”. Well done Dr. King.

Easter, the Pagan Holiday-NOT!

Christian believers around the world will gather this weekend or next, depending on which calendar they use, to commemorate Easter.  The story surrounding the historic events of the unjust trial of Jesus, his crucifixion and eventual glorious resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith and the hope of our eternity.  And yet every year we are subjected to those religious zealots who come out of hiding to allege that our Easter celebration is leftover from former pagan holidays, and that “True” Christians would never take part if they only knew.  What’s more sad is that their readers blindly adopt their misinformation as the Gospel, pun intended.  So today I’d like to counter and preempt their arguments with some factual truth.

The most common allegation is that Easter is a derived name from the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar.  In the early  nineteenth century there was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland named Alexander Hilsop.  Hilsop was vehemently opposed to the Catholic Church and created and propagated a notion that the Roman Catholic Church was in fact a secret pagan society dating back to Constantine. Hilsop claims since Constantine was never really Christian, he brought pagan words into the Christian vernacular, making Ishtar in essence, Easter.  In the English language we don’t substitute two words simply because they sound similar.  His writings, specifically his book titled A Tale of Two Babylons, and teachings have been soundly rejected by scholars due to their unsubstantiated factual evidence.  You can read much more of his life and the fallacy of his teahings online.

This brings us to the second alleged notion that Easter is named after an Anglo-Saxon goddes named Eostre.  First, we now know that Anglo-Saxons did not name their months after gods or goddesses but rather after seasons of agriculture.  In addition, there is no evidence that a goddess named Eostre ever existed.  The only reference to that name in all history is found in a line of a writing by Venerable Bede, an old historian. There are simply no other listings of that name, no left behind carvings or statues, no lisitng among known gods or goddesses, NOTHING!  The existence of Eostre is simply unproven and thereefore, can not be the source of any known pagan ritual.

So then, where do we get the term Easter?  In the original Greek, the word Pascha was used for both Easter and Passover.  That carried over as well into the Latin translation. However, in the 1500s William Tyndale did not want to use the same word for both the Jewish observance and a Christian observance. He chose Pask, a dervitive of Pascha, for the Jewish holiday, leaving by default, Easter for the Christian observance.  King James followed suit in his translation as he recorded the passover in the book of Acts as Easter.  In the Orthodox tradition, the original term Pascha is still used in it’s original beauty and significance.

So why address such a misinformed allegation at all, if it has no merit?  Simply because there will be many people who believe that if something is posted on any social media platform, especially if it comes from a shared post by one of their friends, then it must be true.  We have become so virtually programmed that we absorb all we read on social media like a dry sponge dropped into a swimming pool.  There are few fact checkers that will investigate before blindly passing it along or even worse, condemn us who celebrate Easter as being brainwashed by pagan historians, when in fact quite the opposite is more true.  To discount the magnificance of Easter to a mere handed down pagan ritual by a discredited Scottish minister is to deny the events on which our entire faith is solely built, and a huge disservice to those foolish enough to believe it rather than the truth of the Gospels.

The historic recording of the Bible manuscripts still in existence, along with other notable historic non-Biblical writings such as those by Josephus, are universally accepted and measured under the criteria of historical accuracy as proof enough that Jesus existed and that the stories left for us are accurate and confirmed by other writings.  However, Jesus and his teachings will remain a mystery for those who can’t or won’t accepth him through faith alone.  It’s sad, and yet understandable.  Jesus’ own disciples, who lived with him and shared in his ministry as witnesses to his miracles and teachings, had a hard time accepting that he was who he claimed to be, even up to his death on the cross.  They scattered and hid-only John was recorded to be at the scene of the crucifixion.  And even when Jesus miraculously reappears before them, Thomas demands to see his hands as proof, so our doubts are understandable.  And yet the truth remains absolute and infallible.

I choose to believe in a God who set forth a plan of reconciliation for all mankind by becoming one of us, fully man and yet at all times retaining all power, who yielded himself and his body to the most horrific suffering imaginable to atone for all sin, was placed in a borrowed tomb and rose from the state of being dead so that we too may share in his resurrection.  Don’t be led astray by those who find folly in our faith.  Put on your Easter best-commemorate his death on good Friday, and rejoice in his victory over the grave on Easter Sunday with no shame or guilt of pagan worship, and pray for those who miss out on this blessed event because of their own inability to verify false allegations.  Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus will come again to receive all who have received him!  Happy Easter!

 

The Fallacy of a Defenseless Jesus

Each year as I prepare for Easter I seek to explore some nuance in the story that perhaps I have previously overlooked, so that both the significance and the magnificence of God’s plan remains fresh and renewed for my optimal appreciation.  I’m convinced that when you ask for enlightenment, you always find something in scriptures you glossed over before without little thought.  This week in our study on the Gospel of John, I saw it.  It was simply stated, and yet profound.  In fact the whole of the Easter Passion hinges on this often overlooked recording left for us by John.

When you study the Book of John you will see that he strives to portray the importance of the Divinity of Christ.  From the very first verse John makes clear that Jesus was in the beginning, that He is the Word, and continues to point out through Jesus’ own quotes that Jesus and God His Father are one.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, he says. Throughout his ministry he drops constant signs and hints that he is indeed sent by the Father with all power to heal, deliver, and even raise the dead to life.  Even his critics among the Pharisees could not deny his miracles.  They simply overlooked them because they valued their position as religious leaders above reverence and aknowledgment for what was going on right before their eyes.  All this leads to this profound nugget recorded in John chapter 13.  We are all aware of the story.  It happens at the Last Supper as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in an act of true exempalry servantude.  Just before this act, John records for us what Jesus was thinking, thus my previously overlooked passage too profound to ignore, in verse 3:

          “Jesus knew that the Father had put ALL Things under His Power…”

We know and are taught that Jesus was a willing servant.  Isaiah describes him as a lamb being led away for slaughter, yet without protest.  We sing songs about how he could have called down Heaven, but I for one, failed to entirely grasp the internal struggle taking place betwen God of the universe and God the flesh.  It is indeed dificult for us to reconcile that the creator of all things could be so easily taken captive for a cruel punishment and crucifixion.  But throughout the whole process, Jesus, God incarnate, retained ALL his power, and at any time could have simply stopped the process, the abuse, the humiliation, with a single word or thought. In his sovereignty Jesus knew the planned hour had come.  Jesus knew Judas was about to betray him.  Jesus knew the disciples would scatter in fear.  Jesus knew Peter would deny him on three occasions.  Jesus never stopped being all-knowing, all-powerful God.

Would you like further proof?  Back in Exodus when Moses appears before God to learn that he has been chosen to rescue the children of Israel from the hands of Pharoh, Moses asks God, “Whom shall I say has sent me (that they will believe me)?”.  God responds, “tell them I Am sends you”, the I Am of the burning bush, the I Am off the Red Sea, the I Am of the Ten Commandments.  Observe what happens when the temple guard comes to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemanie-John, in attempting to point our the divinity of Christ, is the only Gospel writer who records this event, found in chapter 18.  When the arresting officers ask if he is the Jesus of Nazareth they are seeking, Jesus replies, “I Am“. At those two uttered words, I Am, the Old Testament name of the most high God, all who were present fell to the ground! In that moment, it is God reminding us that He is in complete control of everything going on, that he is not defensseless, that at any time he could have slain them all.  We know this in part because they ask him again, once they regain their senses, if he is Jesus, and Jesus replies again, I Am, but as Jesus the Lamb, and no one is knocked off their feet after the second revelation.

Earlier in John 10, Jesus, referring to his life and sacrifice, says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have the authority (all power) to lay it down and take it back up again”.  Again, in his sovereignty, in his knowledge of human anatomy which he designed along with all pain and neurological receptors, he knew what he was about to endure on our behalf, and still he willingly went to the cross, not as a defenseless servant with no recourse, but as the omnipotent God of the Universe, with all power and authority.  That, for me, is the Easter story in a nutshell.

 

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“The Storms Beat Against the House But it Did Not Fall…”

I reside in North Las Vegas, a region not foreign to crime.  In fact the Insurance rates for my zip code are among the highest in the Nation due to theft and burglary. We purchased this house in 1999 as I began to receive custody of my boys and our growing blended family required more space.  The house had already been vandalized before we moved in, so I had my brother, an ordained Greek Orthodox Priest, drive up to do a traditional House Blessing of Protection on the structure and it’s occupants.

This house is located on a cul-de-sac along with ten other homes.  In speaking with neighbors over the years I can safely state that every home in our cul-de-sac has been burglarized at least once since we moved in, and most of them, twice!  The house directly across from me was hit in broad daylight even though the owner kept two large and loud Rottweilers in his yard.  Every home has been breached…that is, every home except mine!  No, I didn’t install the latest home security system or upgrade my doors and windows.  Oh, but they have tried!  I can walk around my home and point out where they tried to jimmy the lock on the front door, where they attempted to pry open the garage door, where they damaged the back sliding door-all in failed attempts to enter this house.  Amateurs? I doubt it.  So what?  I’m convinced it’s because a hedge of unseen protection remains on this dwelling because before we set up residence we dedicated it to God and covered it with His hand of security so that nothing could come against it as long as we remained in it.

Those who know me and know a little about my story over the past two years will tell you that I have suffered my share of storms and would-be intruders.  The enemy who would come to invade and steal has come at me from every angle, and every point of access.  I have been hit with storms against relationships, against my finances, against my health and against my very soul.  I am no saint.  When the winds blew I wanted to give in.  I had little energy or will to fight back, and like my house, I have scars and evidence of the attempted intrusions that I will carry forever. But, also like my house, I was dedicated to God when I entered into this life, and those two Godly parents who dedicated me continued to pray as I weathered the storms of these past few years and as a result, I did not come crashing down in total calamity.

In Matthew 7 Jesus makes a comprison between those who hear his teachings and put them into life practice and those who hear but ignore the lessons;

Therefore anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rains came, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against the house , and yet it did not fall because it’s foundation was rock solid. But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house over sand.  The rains came, the steams rose and the winds blew against that house and it fell in a total collapse”.

None of us can skate through this life untouched by storms of change, of trials, of severe testing.  And if you profess Christ, you are guaranteed times of suffering.  I know, it’s not popular and doesn’t preach well on Sunday mornings, but it is scriptural.  “In this life you will have trials”, Jesus warned us.  Not if, but when. It is in these trials that the mettle of your foundation, your faith, your genuine status of Christ follower, will be exposed for all to see.  Will you be left standing after the enemy comes against you with high winds and driving rain, or will you crash into rubble and be swept away with the flood? There is no sin or shame in suffering.  There is glory in surviving it! The witness is in the mercy and grace of God when we need it most.

How is it with you?  Rock or sand?

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Has the Salt of the Earth Lost its Taste?

Today marks one week from the tragic shooting in Parkland, FL that claimed another seventeen lives as the country’s latest mass murder.  While my heart aches for all those involved as I mourn with those who mourn, my spirit is heavy as I read the predictable responses of insensitivity to the blood soaked bodies of young, innocent martyrs who will never get their opportunity at Life, Liberty or the Pursuit of Happiness because they were quite literally caught in the crossfire of binary opposition and bipartisan loyalty valued more precious than their lives. My God, what have we as a free nation become?

I am quite certain that there will be those who read my blog today who will attempt to paint me as a “leftard” or “libtard” or any one of other convenient labels used to defuse any rational dialogue; while I am not a leftist, I’m also not concerned with the labels applied to this or to me.  I am deeply troubled that the lives of these children who are precious in the eyes of God, will be swept under the rug of personal liberties by the broom of Second Amendment demagoguery in the hands of wealthy profiteers whose collective voices and financial influence speak volumes over the cries of those not even old enough to cast a vote yet or otherwise defend themselves. More disgusting to me is that many of these will be my Christian siblings in the faith, touting self-defense against a non-existent tyrannical government, citing Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union as reason enough to possess weapons that to date have only been effectively used in perpetrating heinous evil against children we have failed to adequately protect.  Things ought not to be this way in America!

So I am forced to look inward as I struggle for answers.  Have I aided in these tragedies by my silence or inactivity?  Am I fulfilling the laws of scripture in loving my neighbors as much as or more than I love myself?  In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth; if we lose our saltiness, we become worthless and are good for nothing but ground cover.  How do we maintain our taste? In the same manner we are called light, but we shed no light if we keep our light dimmed or hidden under a lamp shade.  The answer to this is found in another passage that reads that the world will know we are believers and followers of Christ and his teaching when they witness how we love and support each other.  This is not a love that is exclusive to believers; in fact Christ said to love our enemies and any who pose a threat to us.  He said how easy it is to love someone who loves you in return, but true religion is loving on the unlovable.  But when these arguments arise over the social ills of humanity and how to Biblically address them, we can’t even adequately love or respect each other-we in essence lose our saltiness and worse we shed what little light we have left poorly on authentic Christianity.  I fear if things don’t change we are going to have so much to answer for some day and will have nothing of merit to offer as a defense except an amendment to a Bill of Rights for a bordered plot of land that no longer exists.  Have we become that earthly minded that we have completely disregarded Kingdom obedience?

An influential young leader once asked Jesus how he might obtain Heaven, and Jesus responded with the parable we have all heard about the Good Samaritan.  It is so widely adopted that the term “good Samaritan” is almost a generic term now.  At the heart of the parable was the question, just who exactly, is my neighbor.  I can’t begin to address the disdain Jews held against those of Samaria.  But the lesson for us is that in his time of great need and distress, it wasn’t the church who came to his aid, nor the local government, but it was he who was viewed as an enemy who took up the cause of attending to the man’s wounds and paying for his care.  The neighbor was the person who showed kindness, compassion and mercy to the victim of the crime.  He paid from his own pockets for the care needed and held back no expense in restoring the victim in a show of true faith and Godly love.  That should be the response of all believers when faced with defending the defenseless; our personal rights and welfare, if we bear the title of Christian, must become secondary to meeting the needs of those who befall tragedy.  I realize how unpopular a statement this is and that it will not be well received because, after all, we are Americans and we have rights.  To that I must reply, at what age do those rights become applicable?  Do we have rights upon birth?  Do we have rights only if we vote in elections?  Do we have rights only after we reach the legal age to purchase a weapon?  And if so, then upon whom does the care and custody of those with no rights befall? What reasonable explanation can be offered to the parents of a child who did not come home from school as to why there were no controls in place to secure the safety of their children?  Why has the love of Christ and its manifestation been stifled by the “me first” self-preservationist attitudes of those more fearful of intrusion than reliant on God’s sovereign hand of protection?

The whole of the gospel is love, pure, untainted, unsoiled, non-partisan, unselfish Christ-like love. The old song says “What the world needs now is love, sweet love-it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of”.  Those lyrics are just as true today as they were back when.  But that love can’t be regulated or legislated.  And it can’t be manufactured as Biblically mandated except through the supernatural transformation of a relationship with Jesus, the Christ.  But if we who have access to this supernatural gift are too fearful to express it when needed the most because of divisive labels and hateful rhetoric within our own family ranks, then God have mercy on a society that will never get better, and forgive us for looking the other way when our children pay the ultimate price as we cling to our automatic weapons, just in case. In that instance, the salt of the earth has lost all of its flavor worthy of nothing more than being discarded and trampled.

“He Will Wipe Every Tear From Their Eyes”

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It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon.  It’s Valentine’s Day and your shift is just about over.  Your thoughts are on sharing some simple tokens commemorating the day with your family and reading the hand-made cards your kids always make for you each year. It’s one of those simple traditions that you embrace and hold dear. But then, the unthinkable-that phone call you always heard about but hoped to never receive.  There has been a shooting at your child’s school and you need to pick them up at a designated safe place as soon as possible.  You leave without even clocking out and rush to the scene while battling the invasion of images from similar events that have played out before, and praying with all your might that your child is safe and waiting for your arrival.

The first bus of students arrives at the designated rendezvous sight and you anxiously wait for your child to exit.  They aren’t on this bus but that’s ok-it’s a large school and it may take several busses to vacate them all from campus.  The second bus arrives but they aren’t on that one either.  Then the third, the fourth, and so on until all the students have been located and reunited with their families…except your child.  There must be another explanation, you tell yourself-maybe they escaped into a local neighborhood or retail store and are on their way home.  But, there is no response to your calls or texts.  Perhaps in a panic they dropped their phone-it’s ok-surely they are safe someplace and just need to be picked up.  You wait-you pace-you talk to your child’s classmates to see if they know anything.  One of them breaks into uncontrolled sobbing as they try to utter the words, “they are still in there”! Your day, your life, your entire universe just changed forever. Your child isn’t coming home today.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of a parent living out this nightmare as yet another tragic school shooting unfolds.  I can’t comprehend the emotional trauma of losing a child to such a senseless act of cowardice and evil at the hands of a person who is less than human and has no business carrying a weapon onto a school campus.  Whenever possible I strive to use my blog to encourage others with positive words of hope as we all deal with real-life challenges and tragedies we can’t adequately explain.  But on days like today, even a writer and artist of written expression has no words that will make any sense or remove any of the thousands of tears that will be shed over the coming days.  As a resident of Las Vegas and witness to our own similar mass shooting just last October, my heart goes out to the families, the friends, the first responders and all who are and will be forever changed by yesterday’s malicious and hateful act of evil.

I’m haunted and troubled by the early reports that the unnamed gunman had been reported to authorities on more than one occasion prior to yesterday’s attack.  I’m haunted and troubled that social media posts from this person showing guns, hate symbols and red-flag signals were ignored or unreported by the usually vigilant social media police.  I’m haunted and troubled that in an age where we have already seen 18 school shootings since the beginning of 2018, not even two months, that anyone could have walked onto a school campus in any city America with an AR-15 Assault rifle, entirely unnoticed and unchallenged.  And I’m haunted and troubled by a society whose cries for tolerance and rights and political correctness are given more consideration than the cries of grieving parents or their lost children, who although born with the same rights, will never appreciate or experience their individual liberties because we adults did a poor job of protecting the defenseless.

I don’t want to use my blog for this purpose-there is enough sadness and grief in our world to have to stop and address this, but today I am compelled to lend my small voice to advocate for my grandchildren, your children and grandchildren-our kids.  We will have our moments of silence for the departed, we will offer our “thoughts and prayers” like a “God bless you” after a sneeze-we will pretend to hold special meetings behind closed doors in an appearance of real concern or policy change, but nothing – absolutely nothing will be done to protect our children.  Profit trumps controls; rights trump accountability; civil liberties trump common-sense safety measures; lobbyists trump grieving family members; fear of being labeled as a hater trumps fear of loss of life due to inaction or alerts, and the beat goes on.  If the blood-bathed bodies of dead first-graders resulted in non-action, we have become no better than the worst third-world terrorist country.  God helps us.

And yet there must be some words we can cling to in these times of senseless tragedy.  In the Biblical book of John, Jesus is called to the tomb of his departed friend Lazarus.  Jesus knows that he held the power of life and death in his divine hands and that his friend was going to miraculously live again.  And yet we are told in the passage that when Jesus saw the sorrow and the tears of friends and loved ones mourning over the death of Lazarus, he too wept with them.  Jesus was deeply moved at the brokenhearted cries of mourning that resulted from earthly death.  I am convinced that he still mourns with us and indeed is shedding tears even now as he welcomes many of these victims into paradise but sees and hears the tears of those they left behind.  There is little else we can hold onto in times like these when words and expressions are woefully inadequate and ineffective.  We are to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those with the same comfort we have received, and we are to fervently pray for all who are affected by this, another unexplainable tragedy.  The peace and solace that these grieving families need today and over the next few difficult weeks can only come from God, who sees our tears and mends broken hearts.  But, it’s time we force our leaders to hear our cries for radical change.  If I have to go through a metal detector to go to a club, a government building, an airport or even a local high school football game, our school campuses where our children attend each day should be no less safe and monitored.  We need to scream over the voices that would silence us so that we can look forward to and expect the safe return of our kids at the end of any school day in America.  We need to put names and faces with the victims so that they are more than just a meaningless statistic.  We need to view these victim lists as if the name of our own children are among them and act and respond accordingly.  It’s not someone else’s problem-it doesn’t happen just in Detroit or Chicago or Vegas or LA.  Please, please, stand up for our children-the lives we save may be those who share our own last names!

Father, we humbly and sorrowfully implore you today to comfort the grieving families and friends of all affected by yesterday’s events, and to compel us to take action in protecting your children.

 

The Attempted Robbery of Your Esteem

One of the cruelest tricks opposing forces uses against us when we are facing some of life’s toughest battles is to try to steal our self-worth or esteem.  You went out on a limb and started that business you just knew would change your future, only to be left in ruins after its demise.  Or maybe you decided to give it one more try and risk being vulnerable enough to start a new relationship, knowing the risk, and eventually feeling yet again the sting when the relationship fails.

If you are alive, you have failed at something in your life.  Some failures are more devastating than others, and the responses may vary depending on the mental toughness of the victim, but no one can walk through life unscathed by some sort of failure or set-back that left you with doubts and questions.  We all face opposing forces that are keenly tuned into our thoughts, looking for any signs of weakness or openings suitable for an attack on what’s left of our esteem.  And sadly, too often we become willing parties unaware of the schemes and pitfalls laid before us.

Most of us bear more than one title during our existence.  I can hold the titles of father, husband, employee, student, Christian, son, etc., and so can most of you.  These titles should be viewed as separate descriptions of the numerous levels and roles we play.  In a perfect world, when one of those titles changes or is taken from us, the other titles remain effective and unaltered.  If fired from a job, I’m still a father; if a dropout of college, still a son, and so on and so forth. But for some, and admittedly at times for me, when we suffer failures that shake our core in one are of our life, we start to question our worth over our entire universe.  If I failed as a husband, I must not be a very good father either; if I can’t run a successful business, I’m surely a poor employee for anyone else.  If I’m not the best parent, I’m probably not a very good friend.  The cycle is vicious and spins out of control until such a time that we lose our complete identity because of a single collapse in just one area of our universe.  The enemy seizes onto this like a drowning person to a life preserver.

It is in times like these that a handful of strong friends can be vital, if we are transparent enough to communicate our issues with them.  Men are not good at this, even when they have friends like brothers.  We view it as a sign of weakness to admit our fears with each other.  The war on our esteem begins in our mind.  There is a scripture that compels is to hold each thought captive.  Too many times our feelings overide our intellect-we easily disregard what we know to be true in our minds because we allow the heart to dictate the filtering process of our knowledge.  Feelings are often a poor indicator of reality!

Prayer and times of quiet reflection can be great remedies and defenses against attacks on our mind, but there are also other tools available to us.  A hobby or special interest can be a welcomed distraction; volunteering for a local charity will give you back a sense of worth and purpose.  I’ve been blessed somewhat with an ability to write.  In tough times writing has been my therapy.  And the transparency in real time of my challenges has been an encouragement to those who have opted to follow this blog.  The point to be made is that in your weakest moments, your times of fear and doubt, you still have much to contribute!  And dare I suggest that for the believer, the trials are meant as a vehicle for you to use to make an impact on others, much like an AA sponsor does with womeone seeking sobriety.  You are never as worthless as you allow youself to believe; the stripping of one title doees not eliminate or alter all the others.

In exercise, strength and muscle gain are only achieved when those muscles are tessted beyond their strength.  Life for most is just one long exercise with our weaknesses being strained for new growth.  Don’t become your own worst enemy in the growth process.  Hold fat to what is true and use it to propel yourself to new titles, bringing a few who need your encouragement allong for the ride!  Blessings on your journey.

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And Just Like That-My 2017 Story

Our beautiful Beagle boy finally laid calm in my arms after a 30-minute full Grand Mal seizure. He had been in our family since his birth nine years earlier. An injection of valium calmed him down long enough for what was about to come. The cancer had spread to his brain and the seizures he was having daily were unbearable to witness-it had to end today.  I cradled him like a baby one last time.  The vet asked us if we were ready.  Of course not!  But out of love and mercy I nodded to proceed.  The injection worked quickly, and just like that, this once full of life furry friend lay motionless in my arms as his life came to a merciful end.  I sobbed like  little boy and continued to hold him until the vet finally took him from me and carried him out of the room.  Thus 2017 was ushered in.

In January and then again in February I was served with two different lawsuits stemming from a business I was forced to close through foreclosure in 2014.  I thought that chapter had been closed but aggressive attorneys thought otherwise. The amounts of the lawsuits coupled with the legal fee estimates to defend them were staggering.  I had received nothing from the business when it closed and had lost my entire savings that I had invested when it closed down.  These unexpected court actions left me with little recourse.  My finances and credit were now in shambles.  And just like that a lifetime of perfect credit history was now, well, history.

The following March, thinking things could get no worse, things got much worse. The love of my life asked for a divorce after a twenty year relationship.  What began as a Hallmark fairytale romance that others envied had now been reduced to a signature on a legal document.  To save money, with vision blurred by tears, I drafted the legal documents that would terminate my own marriage.  Upon their completion and our signatures, I proceeded to the courthouse and waited in line for what seemed like an eternity waiting to file them.  Upon the clerk’s stamp, I took them up to the Judge’s inbox and deposited them for final signature, which took just one day.  And just like that the air I breathed for twenty years was taken from me. I felt abandoned, unloved and alone.

The following May I was scheduled for my quarterly check-up with my nephrologist.  I suffer from Polycystic kidney disease for which there is no cure.  I was advised by someone close that with the year I had experience thus far perhaps I should cancel-I should have listened.  I was informed the disease had now progressed to stage Four and I was nearing the need for dialysis.  And just like that an otherwise health-minded man was forced to consider life-altering choices and my own mortality.

In a mere span of just five months every aspect of my entire being had come under severe attack.  I had lost a dear friend, I lost my financial security, I  lost my health and most tragic, I lost the love of my life and best friend.  I was, and in many ways, still am quite the mess.  Any one of these life-changing events would be enough to take down the strongest of men.  But seriously , all in one year?  I was left alone in a 2000 square foot house with empty rooms having nothing but the haunts of the past as a companion.  Funny thing-I never realized that quietness could echo!  Few knew of the numerous challenges I faced this year.  More than one person, perhaps not fully disclosed, reprimanded me for wallowing in self-pity.  My closer friends shared concerns over what I might do.  After all, many have pulled the trigger for much less.

It would be at this point in the story that some, just like friends of Job, would ask how I could still trust in a God who had allowed such destruction to overcome me.  I will confess that God and I had some serious “come to Jesus” conversations as I wrestled for answers or purpose.  If this is what perseverance looks like, I wanted no part of it. But as a long-time believer I knew that faith was not based on feelings or emotions but on knowledge and trust.  My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to find words of hope within the Psalms.  David and I became close friends. He could cry out and lament to God over his turmoil in one breath and confess his hope and faith in the very next breath.  David always went back to what he KNEW to be true even when he was hiding for his life. In a twisted irony He who allowed these things to invade my 2017 was the One who I had to turn to and lean on in order to survive them.  I have surely walked this year through the valley of shadows but Christ has been my comfort and His spirit has been my  lifeline when I had little sense or worth, purpose or direction.

I can now see some light as I enter 2018.  The demise of my marriage prompted me to write a book that has already made an impact in other couples’ marriages.  Claiming a promise of healing, my last check-up on my kidneys revealed the progression of the disease had halted for now-I am claiming a miracle.  The Christmas and holiday season which had left me with old familiar and painful memories of years past was spent with my children, all alive, healthy and well.  And my first gift, the announcement of a new grandchild’s arrival this coming Summer, brought tears of joy, the first in a long while.  My faith sustained me through an impossible year and I now see some sense of purpose and a restored reason to continue the race the Apostle Paul describes. I know I am not alone.  Many this year suffered tragic and heart-wrenching losses-death of spouses or loved ones, serious illnesses, broken relationships, unemployment and the list is long.  When you are shut in by the surrounding thickness of storm clouds it is challenging to see the sun or feel its warmth, but yet it remains.  I want to encourage-no, implore you to seek shelter in the hope and promises of God’s Word and the comfort of His Son, Jesus.  David understood it while hiding in caves-the Apostle Paul got it while singing songs in prison chains.  I’m no David or Paul, but I get it too.

May the hope, the comfort and the love of our Father bring you into a glorious, prosperous and healthy new 2018.  May His will and purpose be revealed in your spirit and inspire you to do great things this year!  May you find in Him the strength and courage to boldly face and navigate the storms that may pop up out of nowhere with full knowledge that the Son is always there!  Happy New Year!

There’s a Little Mary in All Of Us

Each Christmas I attempt to find something in Luke’s Christmas story that is meaningful and sometimes glossed over.  This year I am drawn to the verse in Luke 2:19 that reads “…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart“. I would guess that many who read this simply believe that Mary was content and peaceful with all that has happened, having reconciled it all and found it to be good.  I might suggest that is not at all what this passage means.

Ponder, from the Greek word ponderare means to weigh.  Defined it means to carefully consider, to examine, specifically, something that is not completely understood or determined.  Remember, the passage records that everyone around her was rejoicing over the good news, but Mary was pondering, contemplating, perhaps partly in personal reverence but also partially in great confusion.  Her first words upon hearing from the angel gives us a clue, when she replied, “why me?”  We refer to her as bless nd she is depicted as this Holy, saintly mother of God, when in fact she was a teenager at best, never married, never sexually active, and now the mother of someone being hailed as the Messiah.  I personally feel she pondered because she was perplexed and a bit less than confident.

How many of us actively seek God’s will or purpose in our lives but become confused at the events He causes or allows to invade our world?  Even for the rare few who can say they heard God’s voice, there is still trepidation when it comes to being obedient to something when we don’t fully understand the purpose or know where it will lead us.  When Mary was told by the angel that she would soon be pregnant, she must have pondered how Joseph and her family would receive her. When she and Joseph hear the words from Simeon that “a sword will pierce your soul too“, she must have pondered those words as well.  When she and Joseph had to flee to Egypt with full knowledge that all infants under the age of two years  were about to be slaughtered because of her son, she must have pondered these things.  When Mary witnessed the brutal beatings and stripes her son bore she must have been pondering.  When she wept at the foot of the cross she surly pondered all these things.  In fact she may have spent thirty-three years “pondering these things in her heart” until the time her son was resurrected from the grave and she finally understood!

I’m fifty-six year old and I ponder things and events all the time.  Why would God allow this event to shatter my world?  What purpose is there in going through this particular situation?  What can possibly be worked out for my good from this impossible situation? If we are to be honest, we all have seasons where just like Mary, we ponder these things.  And guess what?  It doesn’t upset or Father in the slightest that we have honest questions, so long as at the end of the day, like Mary, we have a servant’s heart and can honestly say, just as she did, “very well, let it be unto me just as you have spoken“.

This Christmas many are in an unfamiliar situation, missing loved ones, suffering diseases, enduring trials unknown to others, and may be pondering, weighing, contemplating things for which there are no apparent answers.  My prayer is that you find peace, hope, joy and love in the Christ Child we celebrate with full knowledge that His purpose in our lives is clear and perfect, even when we are left pondering.

To all my followers, let me say again how humbled I am that you read and subscribe to papaswords.com. I wish all of you, from the bottom of my heart, a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

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Twas the night…

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through my pad

There was not much remaining of the life I once had

No stockings were hanging where they did once before

No holiday trimmings or wreath on the door

The only reminder that Christmas was soon

Were the tv commercials and some Christmas cartoons

The holiday tree, once my annual display

Was still packed in boxes tucked safely away

A candle or two with some holiday scent

A familiar aroma of what Christmas once meant

For most it’s a day filled with high expectation

Shared with family and friends in great celebration

While for others a haunting of those who are missing

It’s a day much like others, alone and just wishing

In moments of silence and thoughtful reflection

We relive Christmas Past from now faint recollection

A tragic mass shooting, diseases like cancer

We approach Christmas morning with more questions than answers

Where is the fairness in being left all alone

Could I have done something different if only I’d known

The heat and the passion I once felt from love’s fire

Now replaced by the chill of extinguished desire

But then a still voice softly whispers the reason

The purpose and meaning of each Christmas season

In the midst of the trials and the turmoil on earth

We pause to reflect on the night of Christ’s birth

He came for the lonely, the forgotten, the least

The God of creation now the Prince of our Peace

To comfort those mourning and to dry up their tears

With a promise of hope that removes all our fears

It’s but one special moment we pause to remember

But it goes far beyond just one night in December

He came as Messiah, the one perfect light

To chase away shadows on those dark lonely nights

To offer redemption to those who believe

Like he did for the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve

It’s a gift for regifting you won’t find at the mall

No need for a sale, offered freely to all

So for us left alone, the ones brokenhearted

Due to severed relations or the recent departed

Don’t be chained to the sorrows of Christmases Past

But find hope for the future and a peace that will last

In the birth of a child and a King’s coronation

Come and let us adore him, the God of creation

So the day that once seemed much too painful for some

Yields to child-like excitement when Christmas Day comes.

 

Merry Christmas from Papajoe, 2017

 

Finding Peace During a Stressful Christmas

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Christmas-it can be a most magical and reverent time of year, especially for believers who find the significance in the celebration. However, it can also be an overwhelming and depressing time of the year for many who feel alone maybe for the first time or are missing a special someone present just a few months earlier.

We are bombarded with all manner of media stimulus that implies the beauty of sharing the holidays with someone else, from commercials about giving them that special gift, to Hallmark holiday movies that always end with someone finding an unexpected love at Christmas, to even many of the modern songs we hear about love during the holidays.  We can’t escape the message that Christmas is for couples as well as for children.  It is easy to feel left out during the holidays if you are single or worse, recently widowed. You shun dinners or parties comprised mostly of couples and you tend to stay to yourself wandering through the weeks preceding alone with your thoughts, memories or in some cases, haunts of Christmases that now seem a long time ago.

These feelings are genuine and can not be easily discounted by those who do not understand, and yet they are a result of a false perspective or narrative on the true meaning of Christmas.  Santa, jewelry sales and romance movies aside, Christmas is about a commemoration of an event that changed forever the world, the incarnation, or the God becoming his own creation, the arrival of the Christ child.  Among other titles, he was heralded as the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile and restore us, to heal broken hearts, to give us worth and value and a full and fulfilling life.  In the midst of stress, chaos, depression, loneliness and feelings of worthlessness, He says “I give you my peace”. Peace is hard to accept often times because it is first, an intangible, and second, a deliberate decision.  It is difficult to choose peace when everything in your life feels wrong or off.  Feelings, though real are often false indicators of reality.  Feelings are real but thought processes and focus are often skewed.

2017 has been a tragic year that has left many families facing the holidays missing special people in their lives.  From the numerous mass shootings like the one here in Las Vegas on 1 October, to the unusually devastating hurricane and fire casualties, to the constant mortality of loved ones due to incurable diseases, to the trauma and aftermath of failed relationships, there will be many empty chairs around family tables this holiday season. It may sound ironic or contradictory to suggest that the season that seems to steal our peace is the same season in which we can best find our peace.  Trust me when I say I am struggling with that this year along with many of you.  For the first time in forty years I am going into Christmas without that special someone to share the season with-I know-me too!  But it is at this most Holy occasion that I am compelled to allow my intellect, that is my knowledge of the Christmas significance, to override my feelings of loneliness and to remind me why we celebrate and remember.  There would be no Easter, no sacrifice, no triumph over death and the grave, no forgiveness of sins if not for the Virgin birth that put into motion the divine plan that is our salvation.  When viewed and considered in those terms, there is nothing more meaningful or worthy of our focus than that Bethlehem birth and our reconciliation.

Yes, this will be a difficult if not different celebration for many this year missing those special people in their lives due to one event or another, but a reverent acknowledgment of the reason for the season is still possible if through your feelings of despair, you can see the star and follow your heart back to the holy nativity to be reminded that Christ came for you, for me and for all the broken people so that through the Prince of Peace we may be healed of all hurt, sorrow and discouragement.  It is a gift available to all.

Please remember that my new book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen is available through Kindle as an eBook or paperback and may make a great gift for someone in your family struggling with relationship issues.  I hope you will check it out.  Blessings as always!

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Sex Begins in the Kitchen, new book

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I apologize to my followers for not posting for a while but I have been in the finishing stages of my new book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, A Marriage Manual for Men, available on Amazon Kindle as an eBook or paperback. I began writing it about 8 months ago after a painful failure.  My approach and objective in writing it was to help men recognize and avoid many common mistakes that can have negative or terminal consequences in their marriages before it’s too late.

The book is not all about sex, per se, but it is about intimacy and how everyday acts lend themselves to an intimate attitude that women need and expect from men. Men and women approach intimacy from very different perspectives.  Men tend to view it as an event.  Women however, see it as an attitude, a lifestyle.  For example, there is intimacy in compliments, manners, helping out, encouragement, listening, etc.  All these things and more are intimate ways of letting wives know they are always on our minds and in our hearts.  But sometimes men get complacent, especially after wedding vows are recited.  Some take the attitude that they rang the bell or knocked over the milk bottles at the carnival and won the big prize, so now they can take it home and put it on a shelf as a reminder of their achievement. Instead, we need to be winning that big prize every day.

This book covers many topics, such as continued dating, making the domestic life anything but boring, proper communication, effective fighting, those just-because tokens, overlooking the little things, allowing her to chase dreams, and several others.  In a nutshell, everything a man feels he needs in a relationship, women need as well.  I contend men and women aren’t from different planets, as some suggest, but maybe just different areas of the same planet. We are much more alike than different.  We most certainly both feel the pain of loss and failure when a relationship comes to an abrupt end, which was my motivation for writing Sex Begins in the Kitchen. I wanted to help men avoid the pain, the separation of families, the loneliness of non-involvement after a breakup and the helplessness and hauntings of constant regret.

While I may not have learned or perhaps applied what I already knew until it was too late, I wanted to help other men recognize the signs of trouble so they can be proactive in finding resolutions before they find themselves on the outside looking in.  They say hindsight is 20/20, and it’s true, but this book will help men see things as they occur so they can make provisions and correct things that are of concern to their wives.  It certainly takes two to make a marriage strong, but this book addresses the role of men and how they need to become vulnerable and humble in learning ways to keep their marriages in more of a honeymoon state than a boring, predictable, overly comfortable state that has dire consequences for both men and women.  There is a line in the book that says one shouldn’t be able to guess how long a couple has been married by their countenance or if they can’t keep their hands off each other, and I believe that can be true, but it is largely up to the men in the relationship to create the atmosphere and attitude of constant intimacy.

I truly hope you will read and recommend this book to others as the credible marriage repair tool it’s intended to be. For those who wish, there is also a Facebook page by the same name, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, for reviews and open discussion so we can work together to strengthen marriages and keep families together.  I would be humbled and honored to hear your reviews if you purchase this book.  Please know also that this is my second book. the first, My Soul Cries Out, is also available on Amazon Kindle.  Love and blessings!

The Eternal Consequences of Denial

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Fifty-eight young, healthy people planned on a fun-filled night of music and hanging with friends and family.  Just a few hours later fifty-eight people stepped unexpectedly into eternity. A man in his thirties sits down for a meal and chokes on some food with no one around and discovers his own eternity.  Just this morning five workers entered their workplace in Maryland as they always do.  A disgruntled former employee sent three of them into their eternity, leaving two closely behind.

We see and hear the stories so often it seldom warrants a second thought.  Another weekend in Chicago leaves ten people dead.  With the exception of mass tragedies like that here recently in Las Vegas, these sudden and premature deaths are back-page stories or a simple line item entry in the city stats notices.  And yet families are faced with each unexpected passing with the grim reality of eternity.  And many questions arise.

What lies beyond death has been the subject of scholars and philosophers for centuries as we wrestle with the unknown. Humanists will tell you that life is the here and now-you only live once, and when you die, you are merely an entry on a family tree.  Others profess a belief in a reincarnation, that all living organisms return to life after death in some alternative form to go through the whole process once more. Believers and followers of Christ have their hopes pinned to the holy scriptures and the promises of eternal fellowship with each other and in the pesence of Christ.  Who’s rght?  What proof has been or could ever be presented of what really lies beyond this earthly existence?

I could not imagine the hopelessness of living a life, knowing that however good or bad it is, it is in fact all there is and that death is it’s own finality. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letters to the church in Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

The one thing we know with certainty if we are but paying attention, is that none of us are guaranteed of tomorrow.  The probabilities of a young health person waking up tomorrow are high, but checck your local news outlets and witness how many people who were alive and vital yesterday are now in an eternal dimension through an unexpected passing. No one is protected from an act of evil, the path of another vehicle, an undetected medical episode or even a piece of food having deadly consequences.  This is in no way to be insensitive but rather to acknowledge the obvious-death is not just for the aged!

As it relates to our approach to living our lives, we really have but two aternatives.  Alternative #1 believes that this life is all there is and that there is no higher power or deity wating for us upon our last breath-live your best life, go for the gusto and deny yourself nothing.  Aternative #2 says that this life should belived to the fullest in full ackowledgment that we are to, in the process, love our neighbors and love our God and live in such a way that we are insuring our eternal destiny with the hope we live and believe.  So what consequence is there if #1 is correct and #2 is wrong?  Person #2 will have lived a life mindful of others and and will simply sleep to rise no more. But, what if person #1 is wrong? That person will have lived a life in denial of the very being he now stands before with no recourse and no “do-over”. In which scenario would you prefer to be wrong about eternity?

I am persuaded that life is more than what we experience on earth, and that time is only measured in the earthly realm and ceases to exist in eternity.  I believe St. Augustine said that eternity is the absence of time, and that nothing exists but a never-ending now. I have made so many wrong choices in my life that I would never dare to leave eternity up to my flawed thought processes.  I choose to believe in an eternal God and His written Word so that should the time come unexpectedly for me as it has for so many just this year, I am not caught in remorse over choosing the wrong alternative after life. And so should it be with you.

 

 

I Pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag…

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It’s a pledge many Christians have never cited or memorized:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to its Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands; One brotherhood, uniting all true Christians in service and in love.”

It’s a flag that represents not an earthly country with manmade borders but an eternal kingdom that will exist long after the earth and its kingdoms are destroyed.  It’s a flag that recognizes a people bound by a heavenly citizenship that isn’t subject to limitations, temporary visas or naturalization. It’s an emblem that is common to Americans, as well as Asians, Hispanics, Africans, blacks, whites, young and old with belief in Jesus Christ and brotherly love as its only criteria.  It is my flag and I love all it represents.

Yesterday was a shamefully divisive day among Christians and non-Christians alike as we witnessed a sport we all love and anticipate in the Fall of each year become a necessary platform as players and owners alike showed solidarity on some form of protest against not a country they hate, as some believe and wrongly accuse, but a country they love who in many documented cases, has not been fair in it’s distribution of equality and justice for all.  How I wish that any other platform had been chosen but football, but alas, here we are, millions of people being made aware of continued and systematic pockets of racial prejudice, yes even in 2017, and forced to acknowledge its evil exisstence. It is not something that all whites are guilty of, nor is it something all blacks are victims of, but if few are affected, all are. The chosen protest is a perceived lack of respect for a country and it’s flag, as well as all who fought for its freedoms.  To say it’s a touchy subject is a severe under-exaggeration. My opinion is not popular among many people.

The argument as to whether players are on company time as salaried employees will be left up to others to debate.  My concern is not over rights, but over where our true allegiance should lie as Christians.  I thank God daily that I was born into a country of rights and freedoms and I’m genuinely grateful to be born American.  But my birth was not by my choosing but only by God’s providence.  I could have just as easily been born in Nigeria or Afghanistan or Myanmar, point being I had nothing to do with my birth origin. I honor our flag and all those who fought so bravely to assure my freedom, many paying the highest cost of their lives-I aknowledge that. I participate whole-heartedly in July 4th activities and festivals celebrating our freedom and uniqueness and yes, greatness as a country.  But at the end of the day, or quite literally, at the end of days, I will exist as a Believer and one of the elect, not as an American or any other nationality.

God caused the seas to divide the land, according the the creation story in Genesis.  It is man, however, who divided, conquered, plundered in some cases, and ultimately created the borders used to define countries as we know them today, creating laws and limits as to who can cross, who can benefit, who can be referred to as its citizens and share in its freedoms. When God refers to nations it is usually a reference to a people of common origin, not a people defined by borders.  Jesus clearly pointed this out when he was asked about paying taxes in  a scheme to trick Him.  His answer, give to God what is God’s and to a government what is the government’s, is self-explanatory-one does not necessarily belong to the other. What and who belongs to God is not determined by borders or restrictions established by man.

So what is my response as a follower of Christ?  Holy scripture assures me I will be judged on how I loved and treated my fellow brother, ala sheep and goats. I will not be judged on how patriotic I was to a country that on Judgment day will not be in existence. I will be judged on whether I practiced true religion as defined in the New testament, not whether I stood or kneeled during a song about a country.  Did I speak out against injustices when I witnessed or was made aware of them? Did I treat my brothers according to the Golden Rule? Did I classify men by their skin color or Nationality?  Did I pray for my enemies and all those out of my reach who are daily persecuted for their faith, not their allegiance to a country?  Will I receive a robe of red, white and blue on that glorious day or a robe of pure white with neither spots or wrinkles?

There is nothing wrong with showing love and patriotism for the country you were destined to be born into.  But when patriotism becomes instead nationalism, an idol has been erected and a very defined scriptural line has been crossed. Philipians is clear that Christian brothers and sisters are aliens to this world and no longer its citizens, but citizens of a heavenly kingdom anticipating the return of our supreme commander-in-chief, Christ. With that in mind, as much as one may love their country, the kingdom of God and it’s mandated treatment of its people, along with awareness and assistance for all those who are hungry, hurting, homeless, orphaned and widowed, i.e. true religion, “Trump’s” all other allegiances.  While it is possible to be both patriotic and Christian, as soon as one contradicts the other, Christianity must rule as absolute law.  We who are treated unjustly or are made aware of and stand, or kneel with others of our brothers who are, are not “sons of bitches”, but sons of God. We need to be sure the flag of Christ flies above the flag of country in our hearts and in our actions. Beleivers truly have no alternative response but that of Christ’s own words, love God and love others over yourselves.

I’m proud to be American, but I’m humbled, grateful and blessed to be Christian.  I will honor our national anthem, but I will shed tears of privilege with my fce to the ground over Amazing Grace, my eternal anthem.  Love and peace to my readers.

Storm Surge-the Lingering Aftermath

Today many residents in the state of Florida will begin to make their way back to homes they evacuated due to Hurricane Irma to assess the damages while many others are still dealing with the destruction left behind by Hurricane Harvey.  These were both described as historic storms of epic proportion and as a result many lives will be forever impacted.  In words of advice, newscasters, government officials and emergency responders all echoed similar warnings that went something like this-don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the winds have calmed and the torrential rains have ceased, that the storm is over or that it is safe to come out, because the worst may be yet to come in the way of flooding and storm surge. Although delivered as a message pertaining to a weather event, the profound warning is a life lesson that for many, hits close to home.

Many who survive these storms return to what they knew as their life only to find that everything they know has been lost.  Some homes were washed away and others, though still standing, left inhabitable due to the effects of the wind, the rains and the storm surge that washed away what little the storms had left behind. Tough choices have to be made-do we try to rebuild where are former home once stood-do we move on to a different location we aren’t familiar with-do we just sit in the water and lament the tragic losses with little motivation to move on?  The parrallels to life are too great to ignore.

In this world we will all face life-changing storms of epic proportions. We may be allowed to suffer the unexpected loss of loved ones or children, we may be facing life-altering diseases, we may be reeling from divorce, we may have lost much of our mobility through injuries resulting in paralysis or strokes that left part of our body unresponsive.  Whatever storms we face there is almost certainly a storm surge that follows that is just as damaging or more so than the storm itself.  A breast cancer survivor may be forced to deal with the scars of a life-saving mastectomy.  Graduations and weddings are parrticularly painful for parents who lost children before they ever reached the age when they could experience these things. Divorcees are left wondering what went wrong when faced with  the realization that their former lives and family structure are forever changed and they are left on the outside looking in.

It may be one of the hardest lessons to learn, but somehow, God speaks to us through the storm, if we are desperate enough to listen.  In Job 38, after Job had lost everything, scripture says “…and God spoke to Job from the storm”. There may be little solace in knowing this, but sometimes it is all we have to hold on to when life as we know it changes drastically and permanently. Those who have survived Harvey and Irma never asked for their resolve to be tested by hurricanes-I’m quite certain that if you were to poll them they would say their lives were pretty good and these storms were unsolicited. We don’t get to pick and choose our battles.  No one welcomes death-no one wants to face cancer or other crippling diseases-no one wants a failed relationship, but like the hurricane survivors, we must realistically weigh our options and determine the best path forward as opposed to sitting in the rubble of shattered lives and broken dreams.

It is only by the unlimited grace of God that we are compelled to move forward, one day at a time, mindful of the evidence of the storm’s aftermath but with a resolve to rise from the rubble strong, proven and better built for future climatic events.  Storm victims will have many resource available to them from charities, goverment agencies, insurance policies and the likes.  We may not have similar infrastructures available for our recovery, but having God, even at times when He can’ be seen or heard through the wind and the rain, is all the aid we could ever need and a source that is never depleted due to previous tolls and storms. It is a lesson that, after all these years, I still need to be remonded of daily in my own rebuilding process.

Our most sincere prayers will be with the victims of all the natural disasters of recent weeks, the hurricanes, the fires and the eathquakes.  And we also pray for comfort and peace for those dealing with their own personal storms.  May the God of the wind and rain who walks upon the storm surge hold you in His powerful and unshakable hands and bring you peace.

“…In Good Times and in Bad”

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Today’s blog is lovingly dedicated to a special couple as they enter into a life of matrimony in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The intended couple may never read these words, but this would be my sentiment and advice if they did.

As we enter the Fall wedding season many couples will choose to marry their partners or soul mates in ceremonies as simple as a backyard wedding or as grand as a private island with all the trimmings money can buy. Regardless of the size of the party attending or the price shelled out for the event, it is likely some sort of vows will be exchanged during the ceremony, especially if the marriage is religious in nature and performed by clergy.  A vow is a solemn oath or promise made declaring your commitment to remain faithful and at all times to be “all in” the relationship.  Some couples will choose to write their own vows while others will exchange the more common traditional vows.  But as people evolve during the course of their life, and all of us do to some extent,  those vows often become difficult to honor, especially in a world where lifelong commitment common to our parents generation have become somewhat relevant to more progressive ways of thinking.  So here is my humble advice to safeguard your marriage against the forces that would fight to it’s demise.

First, a wise Proverb cites that we should love the wife of our youth.  The gem of advise is priceless as it encourages us to at all times, and in all situations, good and bad,  remember the qualities that compelled us to enter into this marital commitment to begin with.  Our bodies age and we quickly lose our youthful attitude and appearace, but the mind is sharp and fully capable of recalling things like the first kiss, the first dance, that first flirting glance and the first “I love you”.  Like photos in an album, these mental images and recollections will serve as a constant reminder of the reasons you fell for, became engaged to and eventually married this special person.  Use these images at all times to strengthen your relationship when times and waters become troubled.

Second, always see you mate with a wide-angled lens.  If I were sitting on the beach of Oahu but had a telescope focused on a dead palm tree at the base of Mt. Mauna Kea or a dead fish floating on the surface of Hamana Bay, I might ask myself what why all the fuss over such a dead island.  But yet sometimes in a long relationship that same wide-angled lens is often exchanged for a 10 power telescope and instead of seeing a person for all they are and including all their traits as a whole, one simply focuses in on the dead wood, the floating fish, losing sight of all else so that their mate is suddenly defined by the limited view within their magnified sights.  When this happens and is not quickly caught, a terminal cancer takes hold and the usual result is not good.  Never lose sight of your mate as the whole and beautiful person you first fell for and be quick to overlook faults when the tendency is to magnify them.

The third piece of advice would be to make every ocassion a memory.  Life can’t always be comprised of festive parties or grand vacations.  A marriage is made of days with a cold, nights too tired to venture out and sometime limited options due to limited funds.  The magic happens when a night on the sofa watching a favorite movie brings as much contentment as an all-night club-hopping adventure, or times when a walk in a nearby park can do when a walk on the beach is not possible.  These little moments are the first things that a person recalls when life suddenly and cruely takes one of them-the simple dinners at home, the family events for no real reason, the cuddling at the end of a long day with agenda thn just to be present.  These “little” things are the big things that make a marriage and fill in all the gaps of a fulfilled life together.  Take none of them for granted because once gone, they can not be recaptured.

And lastly, throw away the old marital playbook that suggests that marriage is a 50/50 proposition.  What foolishness!  If you want a succesful and long-lasting marriage, be 100% All In.  If truly in love, deeds and sentiments won’t be exchanged expecting something in return.  Love is expressed just because!  You are compelled to show your affections because it is now instinctive to everything in your nature to do so because of this special person in your life. Give them your all.  From the Message translation of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter;

Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than self. Love doesn’t demand what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut orhave a big head. Love isn’t “me first”. Love doesn’t keep track of wrong doings. Love puts up with anything.

At all times continually ask God to show you how to love your spouse.  Do everything within yyour power and capbility to water, to fertilize and to protect your marriage from any and all forces that would oppose it. Don’t wait for symptoms before considering treatment options when the relationship shows sign of illness but be proactive in diagnosing and administering the proper remedy to assure complete restoration and health.  The alternative is not pretty.  God bless all couples embarking on what is still a grand institution.

 

Navigating Life’s Devastating Losses

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The date was April 14, 1994.  I had only been at the office for about an hour when I received a call from a neighbor.  “You need to come home quickly. Your residence is on fire!”  We jumped in the car and sped home to asses the situation.  We couldn’t get close because of the number of fire engines on the scene.  We got out of the car and ran toward what was once our home.  I was devastated to see that there was nothing left but smoldering timbers and a burnt out shell.  We were left with nothing except the clothes we were wearing.

I’ll never forget the feeling of loss when the fire crews escorted us back to the scene to see if there was anything we could salvage under their close supervision for our safety. “Things”, as people suggest, can be replaced. But photos of the kids in various stages of their lives, parties, family heirlooms passed down, one-of-a-kind keepsakes-all gone in an instant. Thirty five years of history and collections reduced to ashes.  Grateful to be alive, of course, but the loss was real and the mourning genuine.

This week as we witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that is still wreaking havoc, my heart goes out to the victims because I know exactly how they feel and the challenges they face financially and emotionally as they begin the slow process of rebuilding. Some of these victims were already displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  It does my heart good to see how the Texas community has already come together to offer shelter, aide and whatever assistance is necessary to assure the best possible outcome to the neighbors they have never before met.  In a world of social media wars and disingenuous outrage over issues of little significance in comparison, the things that matter most quickly rise to the surface when such tragedies occur. Our thoughts and prayers will be for the people of South Texas as they begin the rebuilding process.

However, burnt timbers and flooded homes are not the only signs of a devastating loss.  For some, life may have seemed to be going fairly smooth when suddenly everything they held dear was stripped away and they are left sitting in a pile of rubble no less devastating as the aftermath of a powerful natural disaster. Through the death of loved ones, broken relationships, divorce and other emotional tragedies, one can find themselves sifting through the rubble trying to find anything they can salvage from life as they knew it.  The stress and psychological effect can be paralyzing, the will to move on temporarily nonexistent and the realization of the losses traumatic.

I would offer up that it may in fact be easier to replace shelter and bedding and clothing than it is to replace the overwhelming loss of the infrastructure that makes up one’s life and the broken hearts that are left with no real consolation. Time may heal all wounds, but how much time is always the question, as is the real level of recovery expected. It is in these times of loss that God’s grace is the only remedy and hope one can cling to without being disappointed or let down. God is close to the brokenhearted and collects our tears as His gems.  Only those who have suffered the loss of everything they own can fully relate to the sense of loss others in similar situations experience.  And only those who have lost all they hold precious and dear can fully appreciate the feeling of hopelessness as they somehow try to muster the strength and courage to regroup, rebuild and recover.

The best source of hope we all have in dire circumstances can be found in scripture.  They may for some ring a bit hollow at first, but through repetition and eventual adaptation, they become our strength:

From Job 5, “He sets on high all who are lowly and lifts those who mourn to safety”

From Isaiah 41, “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed for I am still your God. I will strengthen and help you and hold you in the palm of my mighty right hand”

From Matthew 11, “Come to me, all of you who are weary with heavy burdens (and broken hearts), and I will give you relief.”

However devastating our losses may be, whether material or emotional, our Father is not oblivious.  There is noting hidden from His view, nothing that catches Him off guard and nothing too big for Him to resolve.  I tell myself this everyday-I have to.  May it be so for you as well.

 

“Finally, All of You, Live in Harmony…”

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When you combine three or more specific but unique root notes on the musical scale they create a very pleasant sounding single harmonic chord. These chords are then arranged or scored and the result is a beautiful piece of music-Harmony.  Some of the greatest bands of all time are known for their incomparable harmonies-The Bee Gees, Boys to Men, The Eagles, The Stylistics, Acapella and yes, even Abba! Harmony is a beautiful thing when aspired to and achieved.  It can also be extremely painful even to the untrained ear when one of the notes is not in tune with the others!

As followers of Christ we are exhorted through scripture to live at peace with each other, in harmony with our Christian siblings and with the world at large so that nothing evil can be said of us and so that the name of Christ is not tarnished. Sadly, this is not always the case.  As I observe the recent riots centered around hate groups and the resulting violent counter protests in Charlottesville, the controversy over the NFL, the extreme left and right rallies wherever the POTUS is appearing, the obvious agenda of media coverage to create false barriers and all the consequential replies and posts on social media, which has made experts of us all in each and every subject, I am left wondering why we have allowed our Christian mandates to be hijacked by emotional responses that cause betrayal and division. When differences of opinion, strategy or approach result in labeling, bashing or overly heated exchanges aired on social media like yesterday’s dirty laundry, we are not only betraying each other but our Lord whose name we sometimes falsely bear.

The title above is taken from 1 Peter 3. This is what it says in full context:

 “Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing”.

The circumstances of this particular letter is extremely relevant to what is going on in our world today.  The author of the letter is the Apostle Peter, believed to have been written while he was Bishop of Antioch.  It was addressed to various churches, Christ-followers in Asia Minor who were enduring religious persecution for their faith by those opposed to the church and its teachings, much like what we are seeing today.  The difference, however, and it’s a biggie, is that the church was not at odds against itself but wholly united for the cause of Christ.  But many in the church today are being wounded by friendly fire from within the brotherhood. Those wounds are profoundly deep and take much longer to heal and recover from.

In an effort to avoid any contribution on my part to the divisions seen in the Body, I decided to refrain from politically partisan posts or comments.  And yet, try as I might, I am sometimes compelled to add my two cents worth of wisdom since I too have become a social media expert, only to be quickly reminded why I swore off such participation.  Wee can’t all be alike, thank God, and we will each have different perspectives on certain issues based on our upbringing, our environment and our own personal experiences and history.  But the vigor with which we sometimes respond and the emotional hijacking of our character whenever those differences are made known, offers little resemblance to the passage above from 1 Peter. The words harmony, sympathetic, compassionate and humble, should be our guiding compass if we are compelled to jump into the fray of a particular cause or injustice.  But we can’t be harmonious if we are all off key, we can’t be sympathetic if we refuse to consider opposing views, we can’t show compassion if we’ve left grace and mercy behind, and we most certainly cannot be humble if we are hell bent on winning an argument and being seen as “right”.

The ideal of a perpetual state of peace may only exist in old Beatles songs, but the daily commands left for us in scripture can not and should not be so easily tossed to the side jut because we feel compelled to take up the banner for some issue that hits close to home. Yes, scriptures also tell us to combat injustice whenever we see it, bit is also tells us how that should be accomplished and seen. However when we crank up our volume to match the intensity of the worldly volume, we lose all credibility and can do more harm than good.  There will be a day for all Christian believers when the differences we so vigorously exaggerated just for the sake of a Hatfield-McCoy like feud will be of no consequence or recollection as finally we achieve harmony and one accord around the Great Throne and the mandates of Holy scripture are finally fulfilled in a peaceful eternal Kingdom.  Would that it would begin here with the time we have left on Earth.

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

Saturation-The Myth of Chasing God

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Lately I’ve been on somewhat of a campaign against some questionable teaching and doctrine.  There are catch phrases and clichés we use in the religious vernacular without giving it much thought-I’m guilty too.  One of those is the concept of the believer chasing after God, as if they have somehow drifted away.  Is it really possible for an engaged believer to move away from God?

It doesn’t matter how long you have walked in the faith-there will be times when you doubt God’s presence, when you sense abandonment and are tricked into believing God has left you on your own.  Trust me when I say I know how easy it is to feel this way when everything you thought was solid suddenly crumbles under your feet and you are left wondering what the hell just happened.  Many are the times that God’s silence in the middle of severe testing is misinterpreted as God’s departure, and that is not sound Biblical teaching.  We are compelled to accept our feelings and emotions as reality and the only departure is that of our way of thinking in light of God’s Word.

First, believer and follower or not, God is omnipresent.  He is everywhere, all the time and at the same time, like the oxygen in our atmosphere.  He saturates everything.  This implies that He is also in us, through us and around us always.  I used in my title the word saturation. It is the perfect term relative to God’s existence in and around His children.  Saturation literally means to be in a state or process when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with or in any other way added to!  What a great concept of God! If I were to use the sponge as an illustration, it would go like this.  I can take a dry sponge and drop it into a sea of water.  It will float on the surface for a time until it slowly begins to absorb water.  The dry sponge would be the one seeking God but not yet committed.  As the seeker begins to accept His grace and reality he slowly absorbs the truth and the saturating essence of God until at the point of total acceptance, he is fully saturated and sinks to the depths of God’s goodness.  He is full of water.  He can come under attack by any one of the sea’s natural predators and believe he is no longer wet or that God has left him but his perception doesn’t change the reality-he is saturated by a God who doesn’t leave or separate from us when we are feeling otherwise.

Consider these irrevocable promises recorded for our encouragement for those times when we question God’s presence;

Psalm 139:7-12 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea…

Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Matthew 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Popular recording artists The Newsboys recorded a song entitled Wherever We Go, and talks about God always going with them.  I like the line, “Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at”.  When it comes to our way of thinking about the impossibility of escaping or running out of God’s presence, it is much more sound doctrine than you could ever imagine!

 

 

 

Our Amazing Race

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There is a popular reality show on television called The Amazing Race.  The objective is easy enough, be the first team to reach the destination and win the prize.  The race is broken down into segments or legs.  Upon completion of a leg the team is presented with a clue as to the next pit stop destination.  The teams are given credit cards to use to purchase travel, and a stipend for food and other necessities along the way.  So ultimately, each participant knows where the next stop is and is given everything necessary to reach their destination.

But…what if the rules were different?  What if the teams were asked to travel a road but they didn’t know where it was leading?  And what if they determined they must be at a pit stop but there were no clues given as to the next destination?  How would the game change if they knew they were in a race but had no idea where the finish line was let alone how to get there?  It wouldn’t make for good TV, that much is certain.  And yet many times as believers in Christ, we are called into similar situations, finding ourselves on a road we aren’t familiar with, one that leads to a place unknown.

Our amazing race is often times more of an obstacle course full of hazards and pitfalls we don’t see coming.  We are put on a path we didn’t choose and have no other option but to stay on the path even in the midst of falling trees, sinkholes, quick sand and venomous creatures.  We may believe we have sure footing and are running at an even pace when suddenly a gust of wind knocks us off our feet and we end up on our backs looking up and wondering what just hit us.  Illness, unemployment, divorce, crime, accidents…our hazards.  They can cause even the most devout Christian to ask why.  David asked God why many times in the Psalms.  “If you appointed me king why am I hiding in a cave?” If I am chosen why am I running for my life?”  “Why have you abandoned me? When will you come to my rescue?”  A man after God’s own heart, asked Him “why” many times.

If you’ve ever been in a nasty storm or blizzard where visibility was zero and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, you will be able to relate to being in the midst of trials so severe you can’t see God in it.  And yet we are compelled to rely on our belief that He is ever-present even when we can’t find Him, even when we can’t determine purpose or direction, even when He leaves us no clues as to the intended outcome. Sometimes we can’t see the path that lies before us-we can only see the next step.  We are told in Psalm 119 that the Word of God is a “Lamp for our feet, a light for our path“, even if only the next few steps are illuminated. We are also given this bit of hope, a rock solid promise and clue, if you will, from Proverbs 3, my translation:

Trust in the Lord with all you have left and don’t try to figure out His purpose with your human mind.  In everything you say and do continue to confess Him as Sovereign Lord and He will give you a path you can navigate.”

Grace for the race, enough light for the next step-sometimes that’s all we’re given.  All we can know for sure is that someone has already run this race for us, long before we came along, and we know it can be navigated and it has an eventual destination.  Peace and blessings.

 

 

 

Cup Runneth Over or Leaking Out the Bottom?

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Can we put aside the Christian facades and be real for a minute?  Believers are expected to live out their lives with a smile pasted on their face as if oblivious to all that’s happening around them, “counting it all joy when facing trials of every nature” as if numb to pain like mindless zombies on Quaalude. But for every believer who truly lives like this, with a cup that runneth over, there’s a believer whose glass is always half empty because of the leaks in it, some due to bad choices but often times due to no real fault of their own.  And try as they might to fix the leaks and minimize the loss, they only encounter additional leaks, like a bad cartoon character using gum to stop a leak in a dam but running out of gum before running out of leaks.

It is hard to not be distracted by the reality of our circumstances. Even the Apostle Peter, whose faith was such that he was the only person to ever walk on water besides Jesus, could not help but notice the waves licking at his feet and the darkness of the watery depth that endangered him to the point of temporarily losing his religion.  This same Peter, the Rock, crumbled in fear when asked if he was one of the disciples of Jesus, to the point of denying all knowledge of Him to save his own skin. Thomas, referred to by some as the doubting Saint, was a man like Peter who lived life for three years in the footsteps of Jesus, heard His messages first hand, witnessed His miracles and sat in on the intimate lessons Jesus taught His disciples.  But when faced with the physical evidence of torture and death that his eyes could not deny, Thomas doubted that Jesus could really do what He claimed He would, and had to be shown physical evidence that in fact Jesus did exactly what He said.  I don’t know about you but I can freely admit I am no Peter or Thomas.  And so the cup leaks.

I am not convinced that God is impressed with our brave fronts or the smiley masks we hide behind when faced with unwanted changes or calamity. In fact it reads in Psalm 34 that “God is close to the broken hearted”. We can sing and proclaim all we want “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering..” on the outside but there are those times when our spirit fails us, when our drive and passion wane, and just uttering the name “Jesus” is a challenge.

Leaks come in many manifestations-physical illness, unemployment, failed businesses, unwanted divorce, criminal victimization, and those unmentioned “testing of our faith” that all of us need but none of us want. The outward evidence of the Apostle Paul’s faith is recorded-he healed the sick and raised the dead just as Jesus did!  But the inward evidence of his faith told another story.  He had physical ailments that he was never healed of and endured them until his death only by God’s grace.  Ah, and in my Shakespearean voice, there’s the rub.

Those things that God allows into our lives to test us can only be endured by a measure of grace that He gives at the same time.  In a very twisted sense, it’s tantamount to saying I’m going to cut up your arm but I’m leaving you with a year’s supply of bandages and Neosporin so you can treat the wound until it heals. In that light it sounds a bit cruel and not very God-like.  But these lessons have a purpose in bringing out a level of maturity and stability that can only come from a continual determination to keep getting up when you keep getting knocked down. That said, if I were to be completely honest, I sometimes wish God would just grant me a passing grade instead of driving me to acing the test. But that’s not my call.  Apparently He sees things in each of us that when refined, can be useful for His purpose, one we may or may not ever fully know.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a single sincere prayer could stop a leak like flex-tape, that whatever comes our way we could just say the magic prayer, quote the scripture du jour of the day and sprinkle a little faith so we could have fuller cups?  But and alas, God doesn’t work like that.  He sent His own Son into the desert for 40 days for a 3 year ministry.  Do the math-we will have trials of every kind!  But as Paul learned, God’s grace is truly sufficient.  It is the only leak stopper at our disposal and has been proven effective in studies for over two thousand years now. So if your cup truly runneth over, please say a prayer for us who have sprung leaks until such time as we can all be sopping wet and giddy from all the over-flowing spills from our respective cups of blessing.  Peace.

my soul cries out

 

Making Your Way Through a Blackout

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Today I ventured out to a popular mall on the Las Vegas Strip.  Upon my ascent up the escalator to the main entry hall I was met by a lady who seemed frantic as she explained to me that there was no power anywhere in the mall.  I tried to assure her that these sometime occur here and not to worry as I maneuvered into the main corridor.  Well, she was right.  There were no lights, the restaurants stopped all service, the stores had the roll cages pulled down for security and you would think we were there after hours by mistake.

I couldn’t help but notice the people seemingly lost.  Some paced back and forth nervously, others just sat quietly in the darkness and still others had their noses pressed against the store front windows as if they might see something if they looked intently enough. For a bunch of tourists on vacation, it was a very somber mood, almost like a zombie apocalypse movie.

Rather than sit with them I decided to walk the halls just to keep moving.  There was a heavy security presence at every turn guarding stores and merchandise. The fountains were silent as I rounded another corner but still I walked.  And then, a store with power, and another followed by others.  Turning another corner it was clear that this part of the mall had power and was fully functioning with food being served and cashiers ringing up sales.  Only half of the mall was without power but I would have never discovered that had I simply sat in the darkness with the others.  And all those who sat there this afternoon may be under the impression that the whole mall was dark because they never ventured out to discover otherwise.

That’s a bit the story of my life this past year.  Many of the things that brought light into my world have been removed leaving the feeling of navigating through darkness.  Perhaps you are reading this and can relate.  And like those people in the mall the tendency is to just sit and wait out the darkness or to feel helpless that there are no source of light anywhere within your immediate view. I can freely admit that at times I stopped moving and just stood there wondering what’s next, do I keep moving or just fade into the background.  When you are exposed to prolonged darkness it becomes a familiar place if not a familiar friend, almost comforting if that makes any sense.

But with time you learn that your surroundings or circumstances may never change, and your only recourse is to change your location, that is keep moving.  A popular Psalm says “even when I walk through the valley of shadows…”.  Its a journey that compels us forward even when we sense little direction, motivation or benefit for doing so.  And it’s a path that we truly never travel alone even though the isolation is at times overwhelming.

I’m so glad I kept walking through the dark halls of that mall today to the well-lit portion full of lively people enjoying their day.  It was one of those “a-ha” moments, a real life lesson.

A Tribute to All Mothers

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Try if you will to list all the positive virtues of the human experience and you might come up with things like love, compassion, gentleness, grace, support, protection, encouragement, guidance, et al. Or, you could simply sum up these virtues in one single word and title, Mother!

Each year about this time we are given an opportunity to shower our moms with love and praise for all they mean to us on a daily basis. For some it’s a time to remember those special ladies who are no longer in our presence but forever in our hearts. There is no task or duty so noble or revered as being a mother.  It is only fitting that they receive a day designated just for them.

Some still believe Hallmark created the modern Mother’s Day for commercial purposes, but in fact the practice goes back a bit further than Hallmark.  You can actually trace days honoring mothers all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome  who held festivals dedicated to the goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but more contemporary celebrations go back to Mothering Sunday, a European tradition when it was common to return to your mother church for a special service.  In 1914 the holiday made its way to the American soil and became an officially recognized holiday for all mothers.

Truth be told, whether a day, a year or a lifetime, there is no real way or designated period of time sufficient to adequately thank our mothers for all they do, all they are and the important role they play in our lives. From the very first time our newborn eyes are able to focus the first face we see, the first love we feel, the first life-giving nourishment we receive, is that of our mother, and that bond that was formed long before birth remains for most until it is severed by death, only to be rekindled as we share it and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

The role of stay-at-home mothers has taken a beating in contemporary times.  Feminism ushered in an age where motherhood and being a housewife was viewed as an inferior position compared to having a career and competing with men in the workplace. Moms were made to feel lowly or like under achievers because they didn’t take the lead from their modern counterparts to climb the ladder of success.  In some ways that stigma still exists today.  It’s not uncommon to hear a mom say “oh, I’m just a stay-at-home mom”, almost apologetically as if it were anything less than noble. I feel bad for every mother who is made to feel like she’s wasting her time raising kids and not adding to the family income.  How dare anyone speak down to a full-time mother in any way that belittles her noble vocation or disregards the contributions to our lives that only she can make! Some have attempted to put a price on the domestic services she provides if hired out to professionals, but there is no known way to calculate the value of the lifetime love and care we receive from our mothers or the investment she makes in the success of her children.  It goes far beyond a paycheck!

I am here because of a stay-at-home mom. All of us are beneficiaries of motherly investments of time, love and a ton of energy.  The blessed among us can boast of more than one mother figure in our lives, whether mothers-in-law, church or spiritual moms or the moms of our best friends who adopted us whenever we were around.  Proverbs 31 says that a mother’s children rise up and call her blessed and for good reason, but in fact it’s the mother’s children who are truly blessed!

As a man who still has a loving earthly mother but who lost his last grandparent, my grandmother over twenty two years ago, I implore you to take full advantage of any opportunity to let your special moms know how much they mean to you.  Don’t send her a text-send them a card flowers or pick up the phone.  And if you are in close proximity, make every effort to visit with them while those moments still exist.

To mothers everywhere, Thank you-you are loved and cherished, not only on a day in May but for a lifetime!  God Bless you all for that which we can never repay!

 

my soul cries out

One is the Loneliest Number…

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When God created Adam and placed him in paradise, He is recorded as saying that it was not a good thing for man to be alone.  Up until that 6th day everything He had created, He called Good. Loneliness was the very first thing God labeled as Not so good.  This was not an oversight on God’s part, or heaven forbid a divine epiphany-we’re talking about God here.  It was always the plant to create a mate for Adam to share life with, and for the most part it has remained thus through the ages. Maybe God knew that Adam needed someone to press his fig leaves or dress the wild catch of the day for dinner.  Or perhaps, He simply knew that human connection was an integral part of the grand design.

We live in a society of lonely people.  They are all around us in plain sight yet hidden from us.  They may hide behind smiles and activity, bar-hopping, social media and yes, even church involvement.  But truth be known at the end of the day these go home to a cold and lonely dwelling where the only voices are heard over their airwaves of the television.  Because of the stigma of admitting loneliness, especially among men, they choose to remain silent and battle solitude while those closest to them are completely unaware.  Loneliness is a major factor in depression.  Feelings of irrelevance, isolation, despair, worthlessness-all symptoms and results of one who suddenly finds themselves alone.

Many in bad relationships long for the day they could have total freedom without answering to anyone-the ultimate bachelor.  But even those who relish the thought and through unexpected circumstances get their wish, find that the novelty wears off when they go to bed night after night by themselves and wake to mornings the same way.  It can be a vicious cycle and get old very quickly.

I find it ironic that in an age of social media where people are connecting with friends they haven’t seen in years, social media plays such a large role in loneliness.  Even with FaceTime and Skype, personal interaction is becoming a lost art.  Business calls are replaced with emails.  Sales meetings have been replaced with much cheaper video conferences.  Even dating clubs for singles have fallen to sites like Match, Christian Mingle or OurTime.  Land lines are now obsolete-greeting cards requiring thought and postage are slowly being phased out by e-cards. I even have to check  my own groceries at most stores where clerks are now computer kiosks. And dare I even suggest that church attendance is now a choice of getting up and going to a gathering place or watching a live stream from the convenience of your own living room. We are being systematically screwed by a technical age that is turning us all into mindless loners with no social skills or personal interaction.  I may have introverted tendencies but being alone is not my preferred way to live life.

Right about here is where I would normally list scriptures that give us hope and encouragement for the topic of the post, and with this topic there is certainly much the Bible has to offer. But sometimes a Bible verse is not the best remedy.  Yes, I know, Amy Grant caught hell for saying that back in the day, but she was right.  Even the Word asks us what good it does to tell a person to be well without meeting their need.  I must have ten different versions of Bibles at my disposal but the human element is not present.

When I was younger the news of a house fire had little impact on me.  However in 1994 I learned first hand the meaning of empathy when I lost everything in a fire.  Now when I see news of a fire my heart goes out because I’ve been there.  If you’ve ever been alone you know how others feel, the despondency and everything associated with isolation. It is through empathy that we connect and offer healing to those who travel where our feet have been previously.  You don’t have to look far to find lonely people-bars, nursing homes, orphanages, even Facebook. A visit, a beer, a baseball game, a phone call goes a long way in helping others who would otherwise have little or no connection to a real person.  Yes, in Christ we have “a friend who sticks closer to us than a brother“, but flesh and bones are preferred. Ask God to allow you to see others as He does so that you can be aware of those you can help.

my soul cries out

The High Price Paid for our Worthlessness

We have entered Holy Week, those days approaching our Easter or Pascha remembrance and celebration of the events that have become the foundation of our faith and belief in Christ.  It is a somber time of reflection as we recall the written words depicting as best as mere words can the horror and excruciating pain suffered by our Lord on our behalf for the remediation of a sinful world. Even Hollywood with its special effects could never accurately capture in film the physical brutality of a suffering Christ.

It is so easy in this life with its trials and disappointments to lose sight of not only the heavy price paid, but the reason Christ endured our just punishment. Life sometimes is simply not fair, at least as we view fairness.  We work hard but are still laid off or our position eliminated, we take care of our bodies but still receive the negative medical report, we give it our best but our relationships still end.  The normal human response is to measure the obvious against the given standards of success and feel a sense of worthlessness as we recall a trail of failures. I know because I do this constantly.  Do I measure up?  Am I leaving anything of worth behind in my wake? Are people who come in contact with me left better or worse for the encounter?  While self-examination can be a motivating tool, it can also cause great harm if our measurements aren’t true because of corrupt criteria.  And to continue in our false sense of worthlessness is to completely diminish the work done by Christ on the cross on our behalf.  And therein lies the error of this line of thought process.

It is in these times that we are compelled to recall those verses we have all heard and grown up with but failed to apply on personal levels. This is what Holy Scripture has to say about our worth and value in God’s eyes:

Matthew 10:29; Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them fall to the ground without the Father seeing it? But even the hairs of your head are numbered! You are of more value than many sparrows.

Isaiah 49:15; Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she would have no compassion for him? Yet these may forget but I will not forget you. See, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands-you are continually on my mind.

We are a people of emotional responses and triggers; we love passionately; we grieve over painful losses; we fear uncertain situations. But the journey of faith can be easily hijacked by our emotions.  In times of despair when all seems hopeless we have to hold fast to our knowledge of the written Word as our plumb line and not the false indicators of human response. We may or may not be moved by the verses above and others like them when we are at our lowest, but we have to hold them to be irrevocable truths that emotions can’t alter.

Our Lord would not have endured the cross for losers, failures, those deemed worthless.  In fact the opposite is true.  It was us who need hope, who need forgiveness and restoration that He is most compassionate toward and He proved it on that Good Friday as the world and all creation went dark while He took His last breath and temporarily surrendered to death. And it was all for love, a love we could never comprehend, and certainly never merit. Again, reflect of these undeniable truths:

Romans 8:35; Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 4:9; In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Ephesians 2:44; But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ.

The death of Christ once and forever tore and removed the veil that separated sinful man from a Holy perfect God in that we are now made perfect having our sin removed from us as far as the East is from the West, and we are encouraged to boldly approach a God as His children and siblings of his Holy Son.  There is nothing we could ever achieve on earth, no title given, no award of prestige we could ever claim that has more value than being referred to as Children of God. While this designation should be grasped with humility and reverence, it should never be tarnished by the deceit of human feelings during trying times. He Who knew us before we were born died a horrible death so that we could be forever united with Him in a kingdom yet to come. He would not have done so had he shared the same appraisal of us that we accept as true.

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my soul cries out

Job’s Story: Restored But Scarred

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I am convinced that the unknown author of the Biblical book of Job simply got the name wrong; surely it’s the Book of Joe. The similarities are to striking to be coincidental, the lessons taught touching nerves that cause us to wince.  Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe it should be the Book of Steve or the Book of Cathy because you know too well the pain of living from one calamity to another, waiting on answers that never come, believing for miracles that never come to fruition.

The recording of Job is one of the great mysteries of the faith and one that most of us if honest really struggle with.  It’s tantamount to asking your dad “why” only to hear him respond, “because I said so”.  We in our selfish nature want to attach to this story our understanding of justice and fairness.  Our finite comprehension of God wants to ask the same questions Job’s friends did.  We who read carefully want to inquire of God why it is the He pointed out Job to satan and why He removed His hand of protection from a man that the Bible describes as the most righteous man in all the earth at the time. Surely if Job was not spared what chance do we stand who would hardly be labeled as righteous?  Why must rain fall on both the just and the unjust? Aren’t we supposed to be blessed as believers-to be highly favored and to prosper in all we do?  Isn’t the Word of God unchanging and His promises unbreakable? Or is the hedge of protection around us only so high?  Why must believers suffer great losses here on earth if we are attempting to walk upright before God?  Age-old and still unanswered questions that have always been and will always be.

The story of Job is one that most of us have heard or read so many times that we feel we could tell it ourselves.  It is always preached the same as if the sermon is simply a boilerplate template from Sermons Du Jour that any seminary grad student has access to. But there are aspects to this story when digging deeper that you never hear taught from the pulpit.  One is simply an oversight, that of Job’s wife.  Those who mention her do so with contempt as the devil’s advocate without considering her plight.  For instance, the ten children Job lost, she bore, and a mother’s grief is unbearable. She shared in Job’s wealth so she too suffered in his losses. And when she had lost all her children and her financial stability she alone was left to take care of a husband who was sick and helpless.  Yes she spoke out in anger at a low point in her life, and so have I-many times.  But she remained and endured and is seldom credited for her faithfulness to her husband “in sickness and health, good times and bad”. Much more could be written in her defense.

But while reading the story again, as I often find myself doing during those times when I can relate, I saw something I missed the first hundred times I read the story, something obvious but not noticed before. When Job’s life is preached we usually hear the same outline, Job good, satan bad, Job loses everything, Job repents, God restores Job double for his losses.  The implication is that faithfulness in God always pays off in the end and that everything lost will be restored many times over.  It makes for a feel good Osteen-esque sermon, even though we still can’t get past the human response to question God’s purpose in picking on such a godly man. But this is what I missed and what I want to share in case you missed it as well. Job did not emerge from this fierce Heavenly tug of war without serious permanent scars and painful reminders of his season of loss and torment. First there is the consideration of his physical affliction.  Scripture says that upon satan’s appeal God allowed him to attack Job’s body.  It is recorded that Job was suffering from painful boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.  It also says that Job tried to escape the agony by scraping these boils.  I would never interject what the Bible leaves out, but we do have knowledge of boils through modern medicine and from this we can deduce that these boils, just as they do now, left permanent scars, especially given the fact that Job scraped these, a definite no-no in any modern medical journal because doing so increases scarring. In reading of God’s restoration of Job in chapter 42, no mention is made of Job’s physical healing.  We can assume in time his health was restored but the Bible is silent so we can only apply what we know of these boils now-painful with permanent scarring.  If so, every time Job looked in a mirror he would have been reminded of his epic battle with satan. And if like me many of the same feelings and questions would have surfaced and Job would have to remind himself each and every time of God’s faithfulness.

While Job’s physical state is left somewhat to speculation, there is something else I noticed that is right there as plain as day-something else that would have served as a painful memorial to Job’s battle.  Scripture records that everything Job lost was restored two fold, and that he was even blessed with ten more children, the daughters being described as beautiful beyond belief. But Job is recorded as living another one hundred and forty years after his season of testing.  Here is what I missed.

Everyday for one hundred and forty years Job had to walk past the graves of his first ten children.

We are given a glimpse as to how dearly Job loved his kids.  We know they were adults so Job was a part of their lives for many years and they were a big part of his. We know Job considered their welfare so much that he offered up sacrifices for their sins so God would have mercy upon them in case they stepped out of line with Him. As we read how the story unfolds each messenger comes and relays to Job how his oxen and donkeys were stolen and his servants killed, how his sheep were wiped out by a fire from heaven, how his camels were stolen and those servants also killed, all with  no response from Job. It is only after the last messenger tells Job that his children all perished when their house caved in on them that we read Job became distraught, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in grief. It is apparent that Job’s greatest and most unbearable loss was the death of his sons and daughters.

Decorating the graves of our loved ones is a tradition.  Even knowing our loved one is with the Lord we are compelled to visit the place where we laid the shell to rest and to remember the life and reflect on the earthly absence in somber remembrance. Most likely Job’s children were all buried on his property with stone markers that would be evident from a long distance and I would imagine Job would have been compelled to visit, decorate and remember, just as we do today.  Yes Job was restored and his faithful wife was blessed to give birth to ten more children (blessed? that would make 20 natural births). But those who have lost children or spouses are painfully aware that no number of children or any blessing of a new mate will ever erase the memory of those you loved and lost. Through photos, memories and grave stones they exist forever.

Job’s earthly restoration was miraculous and generous, but not complete. He was left with scars, battle wounds and constant reminders of his testing and lived with them for another one hundred and forty years. To be honest I have never liked the story of Job, primarily because I have a hard time getting past my selfish arrogance in questioning God’s fairness and purpose with my finite comprehension. I don’t like or relish the thought of being the battleground God uses to prove a point to satan.  I want to grow in the knowledge of Christ but without the pain that accompanies the testing and refining process. I don’t want my friends looking upon me with pity.  I want to be the one who raises other’s spirits, the life of the party, the happy-go-lucky person with the Teflon persona that nothing sticks to. My desire is to be that person who is blessed on earth by a wealthy God who spoils me with goodness that the preacher describes in his false teaching of prosperity by works. But that is not my life and it’s probably not yours either.

Scripture is clear that we will each be rewarded in a heavenly kingdom.  We are told to lay up for ourselves treasure in Heaven.  We are told that our good deeds are credited to a heavenly account. All indications are that we must live life and endure trials, hardships and losses here on earth without any guarantee of a Job like restoration. We will go through periods, seasons and for some lifetimes of silence from a God we have to trust in the darkest of times and the fiercest of storms. We sometimes have to navigate life when we can’t see our hand in front of our face and can only take one step forward at a time when the winds are blowing directly against us. We have to pray when there are no words, study when there is little desire and believe when all indicators suggest not to. If there was a magic potion or spell to make this process we all face easier, I’d own the world. God knows our doubts, sees our struggles with faith, hears our non-verbal prayers and feels our distress. I wish I couldn’t write these words from personal trials and seasons of my own doubt, but I can and I do. When tears no longer come, when the pain is so intense it causes numbness, when all hope and light seems to have vanquished from your world, God remains.

Just one more observation from this story, one which supports the notion of a heavenly reward and eternal afterlife. Job received back double for all his losses, except his children.  He lost ten but was only blessed with ten, not twenty.  Did God oops?  No. Job realized that portion of his restoration when he was reunited with them in paradise.  God didn’t forget or short change Job, and He won’t forget us even when we are tempted to give in to our own disbelief. We have no other recourse. It has to be so.

 

 

 

 

My Fig Leaves

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Now that I have your attention…in publishing my blog my objective has always been to be transparent in confessing personal faults, failures, challenges, etc. so that maybe one or two readers might be spared the pain of learning lessons others have already benefited from. Some weeks are more difficult to post than others depending on the subject matter or the freshness of the wounds or hurt.  This may be one of those weeks.

We all have heard the story countless times.  God tells Adam to stay away from just one tree but instead he yields to a tempting Eve and disobeys a directive meant for his benefit.  Genesis 3 reads that Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and sewed together fig leaves to cover their exposure.  But then something deeper happens that we often overlook.  When God is calling Adam out of the garden Adam’s reply is that they were afraid and hid so that God would not see that they were naked.  However, Adam and Eve had already created and were in fact wearing their fig garments when they heard God’s voice.  So we must ask if Adam was afraid of exposing his genitalia or was he hiding something much deeper?

The fig leaf has always been used figuratively as symbolic of covering something up that may be distasteful or embarrassing. In more recent times the fig leaf is used metaphorically as an attempt to cover up something that is only a token gesture as the object being covered is still obvious and for the most part exposed. Fig leaves can be as long as ten inches and as wide as six inches.  However when they are cut from the tree they exude a sticky gel like substance that can be quite uncomfortable when coming in direct contact with skin.  To go to the lengths of covering up one’s “nakedness” with something so uncomfortable must somehow relay the desperation of attempting to hide something really ugly or shameful.

I am a shirt guy.  I buy shirts like women buy shoes. I have easily 200 shirts in various closets.  I’m a shirt whore. But I also have some fig leaves that I wear in certain situations so that my faults and failures are not overly exposed.  Allow me to explain. The mother of my sons and I divorced in 1996.  Say what you may about the reasons that led up to that painful decision, the divorce for me represented a failure-something I lost control of and did not cultivate enough to save.  It was perhaps my first fig leaf.

I have been blessed with three young men as sons who are unique and individual whom I love dearly.  But I was not a great father. I worked too much, I was absent for certain events, I didn’t spend nearly enough quality time with them, and I could go on.

Three fig leaves.

I was blessed with an opportunity to own my own business but in less than two years was forced to give it back to the creditors because of fierce industry competition and mismanagement on my part.  I am still paying the price for that failure and increasing my fig leaf wardrobe. Through obstacles and life challenges I have not handled well I have developed or rather allowed to surface a deep resentment, a sometimes bitter attitude, an unexplainable anger and deep feelings of frustration and doubt even when trying to rely on my faith in God’s grace and strength as my only recourse. Yet another fig leaf.  I could relay many similar stories of past mistakes, miscues and missteps that have added to my hidden fig leaf closet. I have much to hide, much that I fear admitting to the world and much I am ashamed of for fear of being exposed. My loins, my legs and most of my torso are covered in unseen fig leaves.

When God called out to Adam He knew exactly where he was hiding and why.  And as Adam had tasted of the tree of he Knowledge of Good and Evil, he most likely knew God was on to him.  Any attempt to cover his nakedness before God was futile.  It was just a token gesture of modesty before a God who sees everything beneath.

Jeremiah 23:24; “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I don’t see him?  Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”

Hebrews 4:13: “There is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

God knows us inside and out, our fears, our lusts, our hurts, our doubts-nothing remains hidden from Him.  Any attempt to cover ourselves is futile.  But perhaps what is more significant is the thought process or reasoning behind our fear of being exposed to Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son and the dispensation of unending grace through our belief in the same we are set free from the chains of guilt and shame of our shortcomings.  While our approach should be one of humble reverence and confession, our lifestyle should not resemble sackcloth and ashes, or sticky fig leaves.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”…Romans 5:1

“My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly (and not hide behind fig leaves) about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Some of us may be in a season where we are not only covered in fig leaves but are hiding in the belly of a dark cave.  We may be facing questions with no answers, situations with no solutions and a future where we can’t see any ray of light because of present darkness. The tears may be uncontrollable, or you may have few left. The intangible faith in an unseen God may be a real struggle for some, but the hope and the promises of a loving and merciful God can not be withheld from us even when we hide.  Clothing  trends may come and go but fig leaves have never been fashionable.  Be clothed instead in grace and mercy, an ensemble that all believers share and is never out of style.

 

 

 

The Common Threads That Connect Us

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Over the past several months I have become increasingly downhearted in observing the numerous attempts to divide people according to applied false labels, and our willingness to play into these social attacks and methods.  It is even more discouraging to witness this among believers in Christ, who have redirected passions and responded like a bad Pavlov experiment.  The world would have us separated by skin color, political ideology, religion, sexual preference, income level, education level and so on.  Yet even the faithful have shown a tendency to view each other based on denomination, who they voted for and which sin they adopt as their personal cause.  Why do we of all people play into this devilish scheme designed for our own demise?

Many have asserted that regardless of our state we all bleed red, but the common threads among us are much more than physiological. In fact if you would just take a minute to consider the human experience you should see quite clearly that there are relative few things that we don’t share in common.  I am so weary of the way that social media has been used to build walls instead of bridges that I wanted to take this post and share a different perspective that some may be completely disregarding when they consider others.  These are just a few things we all desire, cherish or fear.

I vividly remember the first time I fell in love.  Don’t you? It was daisies in Spring, butterflies in the stomach and a rush whenever that special person came around.  Is that feeling different if a person is black or white? Christian or atheist? Conservative or liberal? I doubt it.  We all long to be loved and in love! There resides within most of us the need for companionship that transcends labels or diversity.  Love is universal.

Just as fresh in my memory, the first time my heart was broken.  The pain was real, the disappointment devastating. I was sure no one in the world had ever felt hurt the way I was feeling it.  And you? Have you ever lost weight because you couldn’t eat due to a broken heart?  Ever felt your world as you knew it had ended? Just wanted to hide? Yep, me too.  We are much the same when it comes to healthy or broken relationships.

I have three natural children, three step-children and six grandchildren.  They are my pride and joy.  I admittedly was not the best father but I always wanted what was best for them and did everything I could to protect them.  I show off pictures of my grandchildren to anyone who will look just because I am so proud to be their lucky papa.  How about you?  Do you have a collection of framed pictures in your house of your kids?  Any albums on your cell phone for quick reference?  Do you worry about them, make every attempt to be at their school events, spoil them to the displeasure of their parents? Yep, a common thread.

Do you have dreams few know of?  I always wanted to play in the NBA but wasn’t even good enough for a college scholarship. Later I wanted to write at least one book and be a noted author.  That dream may still happen some day. I have written numerous songs in hopes of just one of them becoming a hit.  Have you any dreams?  Have you reached for something and fell short?  Do you still possess certain aspirations, a bucket list if you will of things you want to accomplish while you still can? Do you ever wonder if you will really amount to anything worthy of recognition?  Same here!  It’s a big boat we share.

What are your biggest fears? one of mine is that of wasted opportunities.  What am I doing with my life?  What am I leaving behind of value for my kids, what trail markers, directional signs, danger warnings? Will my boys want to emulate my life or steer clear of any resemblance of it?  And what of my friends? Am I the one they enjoy hanging around or do they avoid me because my countenance is deflating and a killjoy? Am I making a difference to anyone?  I have to imagine that if we are all honest we all share a similar sentiment-we want to be welcomed and liked as a positive influence and we want to be respected for living according to our core beliefs in a way that is contagious. Another common thread.

Have you ever lost a loved one to death, a parent, grandparent, spouse? Have you cried until there are no more tears to cry at the thought of never seeing them again in this life? Do you think mourning is shared between us?  Can you sympathize with someone else who has experienced such a devastating loss?  Does anyone think it hurts less for a Democrat or Republican or independent?  Catholic or Jew?  Do Americans mourn differently than say Asians or Hindus or native tribes people?

And how about this one-as believers in Christ who look forward to gathering with others who share our faith we experience those times when we need it most the presence of the spirit of God that moves us to tears in acknowledgment of who we are to Him.  None of us, whether you have a seminary degree or are just a layperson can fully comprehend the magnitude of love our Father shows each of us in a unique yet common fashion, simply because we have confessed Christ as our Lord.  Our outward expression may certainly differ-oh how it differs!  You may kneel and weep, you may stand with lifted hands-maybe you shout and dance a little like David, but the differing responses are due to a common thread, the presence of God’s spirit that runs through each of us and ties us all together in an eternal bond as brothers and sisters of the same hope and same kingdom.

We have all heard or even quoted this famous passage from Galatians 3, yet I have to wonder if we all view it the same way when I observe the divisions among us:

“…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. So now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, nor is there male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If we belong to Christ we are all Adam’s seed and joint heirs according to the promise”.

Common threads!  Eternal threads! All woven together into one glorious loom, Christ. I love old hymns, and there is one in particular that is seldom heard these days but the message of which is entirely appropriate.  The lyrics of Blest be the Tie That Binds are as follows:

Blest be the tie that binds-Our hearts in Christian Love

The fellowship of kindred minds-Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne-We pour our ardent prayers

Our fears, our hopes our aims are one-Our comforts and our cares

We share our mutual woes,-our mutual burdens bear

And often for each other flows-the sympathizing tear

When we asunder part-It give us inward pain

But we shall still be joined in heart

And hope to meet again.

Common threads, ties that bind, eternal kinship, may parts of one body-these are the things that should pull us together in a holy bond of love, recognizing uniqueness of tastes, talents and purpose but wholly integrated into one woven masterpiece that should be the envy of others who “want in”. I don’t know if our product is one the world desires in it’s present state.  I think we can do better-I think I can do better. I want to be the purple thread that is easily seen because of the brilliant orange and bright green threads next to me that highlight different shades by pulling them all tightly together into a colorless work of art.

I want to make it my personal aim to not be party to any attempt to label, degrade or divide us against each other.  If you feel the same, there is but another common thread we share.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

If God, Why Evil and Suffering?

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A young officer just recently promoted to detective is hit head on while leaving the courthouse, leaving behind a wife and four-year old daughter. A newlywed couple are tragically killed in a collision on their way to their honeymoon. A young bride full of faith dies a slow chronicled death to a cancer that gripped her body and wouldn’t let go in spite of thousands of prayers on her behalf. A nameless lady across the globe is violently and publically raped and beheaded because she would not deny her faith in Christ. Children with cancer, people dying of starvation, innocent victims of horrible crimes, the deaths of saints-the question that agnostics have posed for centuries and the question believers today fear most. If God is one of love and justice, why do seemingly innocent people suffer?

If you are reading this hoping I have the answer, you may as well stop reading now. I have studied, heard sermons, read articles and even searched scripture in my own quest to find my answer to this age old question but to date no one has adequately been able to answer the question as to the dichotomy of suffering and evil under the sovereignty of a loving God.  Even Christ would not directly answer this when He was questioned about it in Luke 13. A tower in Siloam collapsed killing eighteen people who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus did not reply with why innocent blood was shed but rather impressed upon those who questioned Him the importance of living a life of repentance and preparation.  There are those today who when asked about evil and suffering offer up the same handed down answers the church has always put forth-God’s ways are higher than ours, or it’s a sin issue, or God is sovereign and we just have to accept it.  Perhaps these are the only real responses to the ultimate question, but it remains a weak apologetic argument when posed by those agnostic to the faith who would accuse us of a blind allegiance to a deity we can’t fully grasp or explain. Are they right?

I’ve wrestled with this in my own spiritual experience. Why me? What next? What have I done? Where is God or what purpose is served in this situation?  Why teach me these lessons and not the next guy?  In my Jim Carey voice, Aren’t I the Lucky One! Within the confines of a limited view I have tried to find an answer. This is the best I can come up with.

Why would God create a world where evil was existent? That answer is easy-He didn’t! God’s world was perfect, innocent, harmless, sufficient. Food was provided for man and animals alike from the vegetables and herbs.  All creation lived in peace and harmony. But God wanted his creation, man, to love Him, not from default programming but from choice, a conscious decision to do so. For that to happen God had to allow man the option to choose-free moral agency.  Consequently as with any choice the potential to choose wrongly exists. A serpent agnostic to God, the embodiment of evil, presented Eve with a choice. Eve chose of her own volition to go against the commands of God, took the forbidden fruit, persuaded Adam to do likewise and ushered in the element of disobedience and separation from God. It is this separation, the void, wherein evil resides. At that point pain entered into the world as Eve would bear children in great discomfort. Death entered as God said to dust they would return. Animals began to prey on each other. The knowledge of good created the possibility of evil just as the existence of light created the possibility of darkness.

To fully understand this concept one must understand and define evil. In the simplest of terms, evil is not a thing but a void. Cold is not a definable existence but rather a lack of heat. As above, darkness is not a natural thing but a lack of light. You don’t really make a room dark, you simply make it less lit which leaves the natural state of darkness. Likewise evil is presented even by the earliest attempts of definition as a void of goodness, thus the natural state when all else is removed. In searching for writings that support this I ran across perhaps the best I’ve seen, written by St. Maximus the Confessor, c 73;

“Evil never was and never will be on its own, for it has exactly neither substance nor nature nor hypostasis nor power nor energy in beings; it is neither quality nor quantity; neither relation nor replace; neither time nor position; neither creation nor movement nor habit nor passion, so that it contemplated anything existent…it is neither the beginning, the middle nor the end. Evil is the absence of energy inherent in all natural power toward the end and nothing else…”.

In other words, evil is absolute nothingness, void of all natural good, empty of all moral judgment, fully and completely lacking God.  Another way of saying this is that Evil is what’s left when God is removed, the natural unconfessed state of godlessness. So, where does this leave us and how does it apply to the question at hand? At the very least it takes away our reasoning to blame God for evil. It gives us much more insight into the passage recorded in James 1:13 that says “no one should say “God is tempting me” for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone”. God and evil can not coexist any more than light can exist simultaneously with darkness or cold with heat. This then takes us to part two of the question; if then God is still sovereign, why does he allow suffering?

It is perhaps only at this point that any attempt to answer this adequately becomes simply conjecture. There is really no response satisfactory to human logic one can offer to which one would reply, “Oh, okay, now I get it”.  The only real approach I can come up with is to take a look at history and patterns in comparison to our limited definition of fairness and justice.  We are programmed in great error by authors of  “Blessed and Highly Favored” type books, Claim your Reward sermons and Prosperity doctrines that are in opposition to the recorded Word. While the natural, less Godly nature wants to question suffering as unfair, we really need to take a closer look at history, going back to the beginning. Abel offered up to God a pleasing sacrifice and from all accounts was a friend of God. However that did not stop Cain from taking his life, an act that we would surely deem unjust by our definition. Fast forward to Job. Scripture says there was not a man in all the world as righteous and right standing before God, yet we are fully aware of the calamity that God allowed him. Job’s questions were much like ours-why me, what did I do wrong, how is this fair? God’s famous non-answer is on record.  When we can dictate weather patterns, explain birth and create our own species, we can expect an answer.

But it doesn’t stop with Job. The perfect sinless man, the sacrificial Lamb of God, Christ bore suffering through crucifixion so severe we derive the word “excruciating” from it. No one in history was less deserving of suffering than our Lord.  More evidence, consider the Apostles who lived life with Jesus, shared stories, sat under His teaching, witnessed His miracles, His death and victorious resurrection. Defenders of the faith, seed planters of the early church, miracle workers in their own right; and all but John martyred brutally for their belief and testimony in spreading the Gospel.  Just? Fair? If our concept of blessing and favor was withheld from the saints, are we somehow more deserving of a life without pain, one affected and infected by evil? It should be just as logical to deduce that if they were not spared, why should we be?  Jesus was very clear-did not mix words when he said during the beatitudes message that those who were persecuted would be blessed, inferring persecution and suffering was eminent. He later said in John 16 that in this world we would have troubles! Yet He went on to say to “take heart because He had overcome the world”.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says ” now we see through a glass darkly; (or as a reflection in a mirror); but then we will see everything clearly”.  Matthew Henry says that it is only the light of Heaven that will remove all clouds and darkness that hide the face of God from us. Only then will we have answers to questions that at that point will be irrelevant and non-consequential. For now we must suffer those things that will be used to bring us into a closer relationship with God. For now we must receive comfort during trials that we can in turn use to comfort others who encounter the same testing. For now we must know that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. For now we must praise him in chains, worship Him in storms, hold fast to Him in emergencies and crisis and try with all our energy and strength to maintain the attitude of Habakkuk of old when he said in chapter 3;

“Though the fig tree doesn’t bud, there are no grapes on the vine, the olive crops fail, the fields produce no crops, though there are no sheep in the pens or cattle in the stalls, yet will I be joyful in God my Savior”.

This is as close as I can come to answering an unanswerable question.  It will have to do until I can see through the glass clearly. God bless you and grant you peace in your walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings from Old Endings

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It’s one week into the New Year and I’m guessing many of us have already broken at least one of our resolutions. Typically the new year signals the start of new beginnings, change of habits, a renewed focus on things we prioritize as important in self-improvement.  New Years and birthdays are good opportunities to reflect on the past, take inventory of our lives and make adjustments as we move into the future. For many these are exciting times, but for others, they are unwelcomed detours.

A wise philosopher is quoted as saying that new beginnings often come disguised as troubled endings.  You may be embarking on a new job but only because you were unceremoniously dismissed or laid off from the one you loved. Perhaps you are starting the year off debt free but only because your prior financial situation resulted in bankruptcy. Maybe you are in a new relationship but only because of a recent heart wrenching separation or divorce. Indeed some new beginnings are only a result of painful endings.

New is described as recently originated or produced, not seen before.  We love the idea of driving a new car or moving into a new model home.  But new is also defined as unaccustomed or unfamiliar.  New can be intimidating or scary. New can be unwelcomed and dreaded requiring changes which were not of our choosing. The world turns, our environment and circumstances shift, we adapt and prepare to move forward but it is not without trepidation. Fear of the unknown and not being able to see the path before you is only welcomed for haunted house adventurers, not everyday people.

In the original new beginning God made everything new and perfect-man was a new creature, the earth he inhabited was new, the sun, moon and stars all new and good.  Then man did what he does best, he inserted his own will into the equation and messed everything up and became separated from God. So God came up with a New Covenant through His son Jesus, the best New we could possibly welcome.  The Word as always has much to say about newness and starting over from the past and should serve as words of hope and encouragement when read.

Jeremiah 29:11; I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and a future and a hope.

2 Corinthians 5:17; Anyone in Christ is a new creation. Old things are no more and the new things have come.

Isaiah 43:19; Look, I am doing something new and it springing forth even now, do you not see it?

Lamentations 4:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ends! His mercies are new every morning.

Ephesians 4:22; Put away your old self, your old former self with its corruption and evil desires, and be renewed and put on the new self created in the likeness of God.

Job 8:7; Your beginning my have been small but your new latter days will be great.

Isaiah 40:331; Those who wait for the Lord will be given new strength.

Ezekiel 36:26; I will give you a new heart and I’ll put a new spirit within you.

Revelation 21:5; He who was seated on the throne said “Look, I am making all things new”.

I like many of you know the joy of being given a new opportunity because of something I worked hard to achieve. And I also know the pain of a new beginning due to a less than perfect ending. I write from a first person point of view because in most cases I am the first person, reporting from inside the storm.  Some of the most encouraging words we have to live by today were written by an Apostle while he was in chains and sharing his sleeping quarters with rats. It is only through the Word that we can embrace new beginnings with a renewed sense of hope that a sovereign God will see us through our new surroundings as we eagerly await the ending of this life on earth in exchange for a new home in a new kingdom where everyday is a new and refreshing beginning that will never have a painful ending.  Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Great at Being Not-So-Great

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It seems I’ve spent much of my life striving to be great at one thing or another. As a young boy I was awkward and lanky so I practiced various sports and ended up on several teams, but I have no MVP or other trophies to show for it. As a newly married young adult I strived to be a good husband but the marriage failed and ended up in a divorce. I was blessed with three sons and I really wanted to be a great dad but it took me over twenty years just to learn how to be an adequate one.  I tried hard to be a great model employee throughout various careers but am familiar with the words “sorry but we have to let you go”. So I thought perhaps I’d make a better employer than employee and bought a business but that business failed and left me starting over. I have always wanted to be a great musician but I only sound okay when surrounded by truly great musicians.  I’d like to think I’m a much better grandpa than I was a dad, but if so, I am far from great.  I love writing and want to be a great blogger but you won’t find In My Own Words in the top 500 of any category. I think most of us want to believe we are great Christians but I am fully aware of my failures and shortcomings in that area of my life as well.  In summary my road to greatness is littered instead with mediocrity and failure, being efficient at many things but truly great at nothing.

As we end the old year and usher in the new many of us take this time to reflect on those things we have accomplished and those that remain in need of improvment. For some it is a welcome inventory as they have the personality to be highly motivated by goals set for self-improvement. Yet for others it is just another smack in the face reminder of just how non-great they and their lives remain as from year to year nothing appears to be any better-same income, same struggles, same habits, same mediocrity, just  new year. You wanted to lose twenty pounds but gained ten.  You wanted a raise but was instead laid off. You wanted to strengthen a relationship but see it slipping away. It is not very surprising that the beginning of the New year is ushered in with so much alcohol and partying-it deadens reality for those fearfully dreading yet another average year.

So how would one describe greatness? Would it be being the very best at something? Being highly achieved or esteemed?  Highly educated or degreed? Ranking at the top of any given corporate ladder? Having the most accolades or awards?  Although greatness is something most of us want to aspire to, our definition of greatness is a bit different than what the scriptures tell us.  In fact the greatest man to ever walk our planet showed us what His words on the subject looked like in action.  In the book of Matthew, chapter 20, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a bold request that her two sons be awarded seats at the left and right of Jesus in his kingdom, places of the greatest honor. Of course when the other ten disciples heard of the request they became infuriated and lost their tempers, something I can relate to. So, Jesus gathered them and settled them down and taught them a hard lesson, described in the Message Bible like this: “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to become great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not be served-to give His life…”.  Earlier in chapter 18 Jesus held a child on His lap and told them that whoever would  humble themselves like the child would be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Humility, meekness, servant, slave-not words we would find in any dictionary associated with greatness but that is the way it is with the Christian faith. The things we would achieve often require the exact opposite actions our world would dictate. Want to be first? Go to the end of the line.  Want to get great service?  Pick up a pitcher and fill the glasses of others. Want to be publicly acknowledged? Take a seat behind the curtains. These are lessons I am still learning on my journey to greatness.  I may never achieve that greatness here on earth in spite of my best efforts. I may never have the life or success that others would want to emulate or pattern. Few ever find the brass ring of being a pro athlete, a Grammy winning artist, a Pulitzer author or Parent of the year. I just have to believe that if we run and finish the race we are in, if we get back up when we stumble, if we help others up along the way, we will have a great reward handed to us by the greatest of all time, Christ, our example. Let it be so as we enter and embrace the challenges of a New Year.

As a caveat, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have opted to receive this weekly blog.  My hope and prayer each week is that God gives me words through my own experiences that even one person is needing to read to help them in their situations.  It is humbling to know the expanse of readership In My Own Words receives globally. I wish you the very best God has to offer you in 2017.

Much love and prayer, Joe Hill

 

 

The Simplicity of the First Christmas

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It has become part of the holiday tradition, finding the perfect gift and then the perfect wrapping paper.  Gift wrapping is an art to some, a science to others.  Some spend as much time looking for just the right paper as they do the gift.  Of course with paper comes the right coordinated ribbon, bows and for the really serious wrapper, silk flowers or other accessories.  And when we present that gift with all it’s adornment we expect to hear how lovely the wrapping job is, almost as much as we want to receive appreciation for what’s inside.

I recall when the boys were much younger and even now with grandkids how the fun of watching them open our presents was temporarily sidetracked as they tore off the paper and played with it as if it were the present.  Even our pets got a bigger thrill out of the paper than what the paper covered.  In many ways this is us at Christmas time. We become so engaged in the “wrappings” of Christmas, the parties, the shopping, the decorating, the shows and concerts-all the traditions that surround the actual gift, the reason we stop and commemorate, that many of us discard the gift with the paper and completely miss out on the intended present, the Child born unto us.

When we read the accounts of the first Christmas in the books of Matthew and Luke many details are left out of the story.  For instance, we don’t know for sure if Christ was born in a stable or a cave dwelling or a lower level of a home.  We don’t know much about the shepherds.  We aren’t exact on the date of His birth.  We aren’t really told how many magi traveled to see Jesus or when they actually showed up. Hollywood producers have used artistic license to fill in the blanks for us to make movies more marketable and all of us have a sense of what the real scene may have been like, but the truth is these details were kept from us.  Why? Because we get too caught up in the wrapping!  We want to know things that have little significance in light of the real event and its purpose. Even within our worship we tend to seek approval for our church production or our operatic performance of Oh Holy Night when all the glory and attention is to be focused on the gift.

The first Christmas was incomprehensibly simple. In the beginning, Christ was.  He created all that is created.  We messed it up as we always do.  We needed a perfect sacrifice in order to be reconciled to God the Father.  Christ put off his glory, His Kingship and became flesh, His creation so that as a man he could die as a man once and for all.  His coming was proclaimed as great tidings for ALL people. In one selfless act He became our King, our redeemer, our eternal bridegroom. God loved the world so much He gave us the perfect gift sans the trappings and distractions that would make us glory in the surroundings but lose sight of the gift. One Holy Night, one perfect sinless child, one act of unmatched love, one eternal hope.  That is as simple as it can be if we would but accept it as it was intended.

In a world of hate and bigotry and finger pointing it would serve us all well to revisit Bethlehem and insert ourselves into the story as humble observers of a blessed event that would change mankind forever; to feel and see the love, to hear Heaven sing and to experience the forever healing and completion of our souls. Peace on earth, good will to all men, all ethnicities, all countries, all religions.  I wish you the very best this Christmas season with a prayer that you will not miss the gift because of the wrappings, and that you will find it in your heart to carry this good will to all those you encounter in the coming year.

 

 

Grandma’s Shiny Christmas Pin

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When I was but a boy I delivered flyers for a local grocery store in Indianapolis-I was paid a penny per flyer.  I made about $3.00 per week and loved doing it. On most weeks I would take some of my money to Long’s Bakery where I could buy second day donuts for half price as my reward.  The grocer is long gone but the bakery remains. However, whenever Christmas rolled around I looked forward to taking my two or three dollars to the local G. C. Murphy or Kresge store to buy my grandmother a shiny colored pin for Christmas.  She loved her collection of costume pins and wore them to church each Sunday. These stores would have tables of little white boxes each containing a different pin they brought in just for Christmas.  I would be in there for hours picking out just the right pin for her.  The funny thing, it didn’t really matter which one I selected-she would love it just the same.

At age fifty-five this remains one of my favorite Christmas memories.  It was a simplistic time, the pride of buying a gift for my grandma with money I earned, the thrill of the search for the perfect pin, the joy of giving it to her on Christmas Eve and the love she showed when opening it.  I could have given her a purple hippo pin with orange ears-she would have never said a word but would have loved it and worn it proudly.  In my grandmother’s eyes, I could do no wrong.  Simple, loving, cherished, pure!  How times have changed.

I’m all grown up now.  I live in a world where acceptance and approval is sometime difficult to acquire. It’s almost as if our lives are lived as an obstacle course full of hazards and opportunities for failure, lined along the way with our share of naysayers telling us we didn’t study hard enough, we didn’t work hard enough, we haven’t earned enough, we haven’t given enough, we haven’t loved enough. And all along the course we are looking for grandma in the crowd to give her unconditional approval but she’s long since gone to her reward and no one really cares for our shiny pins anymore.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at Christmas time.  The intensity of the season serves as a natural amplifier for all emotions and feelings, good or bad.  For the lucky ones whose lives are balanced and in order Christmas is a magical time where love and hope abounds in volume. But for those who have been beaten down by failure, by rejection, by battles unknown to others, Christmas can be a lonely, dark and empty time that only reveals to us the desperation of our current state.

It is during this season that we are compelled to look beyond what Christmas may have become and instead consider the divine purpose of the Holy Incarnation of that special night when God became flesh to show us an unconditional Grandma type love that would lead to us being called children of God. The arrival of that baby Christ-child was not trumpeted in the courts of kings or revealed to the religious leaders and holy men.  It was instead heralded to the lowliest of the low, the shepherds, society’s outcast, those whose lives were expendable, unwanted, invisible. Christ came to give all men equal status and acceptance into a new kingdom where worth and value are not placed on income levels, educational degrees or corporate titles, but rather on who you know, specifically, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. When we come before Christ and lay down our lives in surrender and sacrifice with all our sins, our failures, our bad decisions, our regrets He doesn’t look upon the darkness of our status or see the obvious soil on our robes.  He sees shiny Christmas pins, full of color, sparkling in the light as if they were Lennox or Swarovski crystal. We are received and set at the same table next to kings and royalty as VIP guests of the highest honor with full access and privilege to the King of all kings, the Christ, now wearing our shiny pins as His badges of honor.

My grandmother has been gone almost twenty years now and I still miss her at Christmas.