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Tears I Can’t Cry September 27, 2017

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Michael N. Johns, 09/26/2017

My daughter is crying the tears I can’t cry,
I’m too full of anger, wondering, did God lie?
When His Son said we’d do the same things He had done:
Our prayers would be answered, our victories won
But my mother-in-law is still not doing well
I prayed, and still hope of miracles to tell,
But she’s dying. Did my prayers all stop right at my lips?
Why bother praying? My doubt fairly drips
Falling like my wife’s tears and I still just can’t cry
I want God to say yes, and the doctors to try
Something that will heal her; they’re just watching her die!
Praying, You healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  Now heal mine!
I’m shattered, and there are no answers for why,
While my family cries the tears I cannot cry.

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10 Things I Learned from Mr Rogers November 23, 2016

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I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Which means I was at least 3 or so in 1968, when it first came on the air.  Or, um, I was three or so when I was able to watch, whenever I started, sometime between 1968 and 2001, when Mr. Rogers went off the air.  At that young an age, I could at least listen and comprehend, in my 3 or so years old way, that something interesting was on the television.  I laughed when Mr. Robinson (Eddie Murphy) came on and kind of mocked the show with a take of his own, envisioned somehow through his own neighborhood’s eyes.  But looking back now, that was kind of a sad social commentary.

Today I was reminded of the life-lessons I took from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, when a facebook friend said, in a sad political and social commentary, that “Mr. Rogers didn’t adequately prepare me for the people in my neighborhood.”

The sad side of this is the true side.

The true side of this coin she tossed is that Mr Rogers met neighbors who were neighborly and friendly and rational.  His neighborhood had nice people:  the mailman, the delivery man, the repairman, the policeman, the chef, the neighbor.  And many other regular neighbors and guests  He didn’t meet the selfish, the judgmental, the hateful, the angry, the bitter, the unpatriotic, the terrorist.  Well, not always.  Whenever he did meet someone who wasn’t on their best behavior (I might have seen one or two puppet characters behaving badly, or he might have read a letter about how to handle someone like that), there were gentle, loving life lessons to correct the behavior, like one might have seen in Mayberry:

I think sidewalk bike riders and other law-breakers are all  the same.  It’s just the degree of offense.  When caught early, and corrected, anti-social behavior grows up to become law-abiding, society contributing, helpful behavior.  When allowed to continue, anti-social behaviors grow up to be bigger anti-social behaviors.  Sometimes it’s not a parent’s fault.  Sometimes the kid is just that sneaky, they get away with it once and then do it again, the second time, bigger.  Sometimes it is a parent’s fault.  Sometimes the parent doesn’t offer any corrective words when appropriate, or other measures, when they may be appropriate.  A kid sometimes picks the wrong people to be friends with.  And sometimes, it’s just the kid growing up to be a worse version of their parent(s).

This is about to be a gentle, political, rant.  There’s a little x on the top left of your screen, you can click it now if you don’t want to hear it.  If you didn’t like my comment about parenting, or about your innocent, sweet little hoodlum, you probably won’t like the next sections, fair as they may be.  [x].  Before I upset you.  I’ve thought this out and so any responses will be appreciated, but not necessary.  If you like it, fine, if you don’t, also fine, but critical remarks will not be acknowledged.

Clinton said a lot of good things about her plans for America.  She has experience in the political arena and is used to brokering deals with foreign authorities.  The deals haven’t always been great for America, but she did what she did in the service of her country, and even Trump acknowledged her contributions and labors for America.  She also has a history of involvement in several scandals, from Watergate to Benghazi-gate to email-gate to the illegal trade of $400M for four out of 8 hostages being held by Iran.  The trade, though illegal wasn’t as bad as the trade of 5 Afghani Taliban terrorist prisoners for one deserter who shall be nameless because his name isn’t worth mentioning.  All these scandals were known to Democrats and they still couldn’t offer us a candidate  worth voting for.   Those who voted for her felt the scandals could be overlooked in the interest of promoting a candidate who had experience and could continue the mode and policies of the present President.  Like the bike riding kid, she got away with a lot of things, from way back in the 70s, and possibly earlier, through to recent history, earning reputation, power, and fame, and it only grew until she was the Democrats’ pick for President.

Trump said a lot of good things about his plans for America.  While not particularly politically savvy, he has experience in the business arena and is apparently a good deal broker.  The deals haven’t always been great for the other side, but Trump seemed to come out all right, so if he’s dealing for America, for all of America, maybe he’ll make us come out on top.  He also has a history of difficulty controlling his mouth.  He’s brutally honest, he talks $#!+, he thinks he’s THE $#!+, as the saying goes.  If he doesn’t like you, you know it.  If he likes you, either you’ll know it right away, or the tape will be released after it’s too late to choose a better Republican candidate.  He’s a little bit of a primate.  If he thinks you’re hot, he’ll let you know.  And apparently, some well hidden women, at least hidden or kept quiet until it was too late to choose a better Republican candidate, finally told America that Trump liked them a LOT more than they liked him, and took it upon himself to demonstrate those feelings physically.  We hope they were just a political ploy to divert votes to Clinton.  It would be disappointing, but not surprising.  Those who voted for him felt the stupidity could be overlooked in the interest of promoting a candidate who promised to NOT continue the mode and policies of the present President.  Like the bike-riding kid, he talked a lot of sass and got away with it from real estate to Miss America to Trump University, earning reputation, wealth, power and fame until he became the Republican President Elect.

You may have guessed, rightly, that neither one of these two were, in my opinion, the best candidate for President.  But the Electoral College has spoken, presumably, and Donald is headed for the White House.  Neither of these two candidates would have fared well if people had paid attention to some lessons I learned from Mr Rogers.

10)  There’s a yellow flashing light right at the beginning.  If you paid attention, when you grew up you might remember it.  And flashing yellow lights mean to be cautious, and pay attention.  In my opinion, voters threw caution to the wind when voting for either of these two.  We Americans should have exercised more wisdom, greater caution, in selecting our candidates from both parties.
9) The next thing you see is a sign that says “Hi.”  Even though you’re cautious, be friendly.  In the theme song at the very beginning, Mr Rogers reaches out in an offer of friendship.  Even though he’s asking if the listener will be his neighbor, the song conveys an unspoken offer, that the singer will be a neighbor, if the invitation is accepted.  Our candidates traded volleys of insults, verbal jabs, rude interruptions, and if we were looking for a person offering friendship, these two don’t measure up.
8) “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  It doesn’t matter if it’s clear and bright or rainy and cloudy or grey and snowy.  The rain provides drinking water, never a bad thing.  The rain also helps plants grow, to provide food.  The snow also provides water for the earth, and the cold makes the best bread flour, and otherwise gives the earth a season of rest.  The clouds protect us from solar radiation.  And bright sunny days help our emotions, and provide vitamins, and are catalytic for plant growth during warm seasons. And we’re alive, and if we’re neighbors, we have each other for support and encouragement.  That’s how it’s supposed to be, anyway.  Our candidates and our media were all overly critical of what was bad about the candidates, instead of talking about whatever good things there were to say about them.  Even at the local level, the campaigns were so negative it was difficult to choose because every ad for every candidate I watched only talked about how bad the other guy was, and not about the good things they stood for.  I strongly disliked the negative campaigns.  I want to hear what you stand for, not what you stand against, and I want to hear what makes you a good candidate, not what makes the other person bad.
7) Mr. Rogers puts away his jacket in the closet.  We’d all do well to put away our things when not in use.  I lose things all the time, when I don’t put them where they belong.  He also takes off his shoes, or his rain boots, and puts on house shoes, to avoid tracking in mud or dirt from outside.  These habits minimize cleanup.  Not putting away now, when it takes a second, leads to a mountain of cleanup that takes a long time to process later.  Same with correcting behavior- earlier is much easier than later.  We voters need to see the dirt early and choose clean candidates, like clean shoes, and discourage the muckraking that always seems to shade the last stage of the campaigns.  Disclosure and not coverup would give us the cleanest possible candidates.  If you did something bad, unless it’s habitual and you have no intention of changing course, you should confess it, change course, and then do your best.
6) After hanging up his clothes in the closet, he gently closes the door.  He doesn’t leave it open, to be in the way, or slam it in anger.  There was so much anger from both sides of this campaign, if those two lived in the same house there would be nothing but doors slamming.  Hillary wanted to slam the door on anyone who wanted to know what she had really done, which was all of us, and Donald wanted to slam the door on anyone who didn’t believe his campaign promises were realistically possible, which was all of us.
5) While changing shoes, one shoe is playfully tossed into the air from one hand, and then caught in the other hand, with a slight smile near the end of the song.  Ordinary things are what we have, and there’s no reason not to enjoy the ordinary things in life.  If you don’t enjoy your ordinary things, and you don’t enjoy your ordinary life, and do the best you can with the ordinary, you’ll never experience happiness, the surprise of success with simplicity, of honor with humility, even if life gives you more.  I struggle with this lesson.  But I see people who don’t get what they want and they throw a fit in protest, like the kid who lost his bike.  Sometimes in life we hope for better, we hope for more, and life gives us the ordinary to see if we’ll still celebrate.  Trump said he expected to win, and wouldn’t say how he would react if he lost the election.  Clinton was far more gracious in loss than I expected Trump to be. But I hear Clinton supporters being far less gracious than their leader. I also hear about Trump supporters being less interested in building a team, and more interested in gloating. If we’d paid closer attention to the way the candidates spoke, about themselves and about their opponents, we might have done things differently. We voters should look and listen, carefully.

4) When Mr Rogers had a guest, his guest was special.  Did you see what happened, starting at 12:27, and up to 12:33?  Even the fish were special.  “And very beautiful.”  Not just the fish, but the people too.  Mr. Rogers loved the arts, and music of all kinds, and wanted us to know that behind the beauty of the music, were beautiful musicians.  Starting at 14:25, he met the quartet of talented musicians, lovely ladies.  He spoke to them respectfully, and treated them honorably.  This, Donald Trump, is how you speak to, and about, ladies, whether you’re on the record or not.  This, Hillary Clinton, is how to win elections, and how to broker better deals.  No scandal is necessary from a political official.  Only gentleness.  Occasionally firm gentleness when it’s called for, but gentleness.  This, fair candidates, is how you act, and react, when in a position of power.  Did you see Mike Pence’s reaction to being called out for standing for what he believes in?  He was gentle. He took no offense.  Mr. Trump:  do it like that.  Did you even hear one word from Clinton’s running mate during the campaign?

3) Mr. Rogers taught love for everyone.  It was love infused with truth though.  When someone acted improperly, the puppets, usually, Mr. Rogers let them know how what they were doing affected other people’s feelings, and asked them to think about how that would look and feel if it were someone affecting them.    I wish politicians did that.  I wish military leaders, and other people in power, would do that.  I wish criminals would do that.  I wish vandals would do that.  People hurt other people because they are selfish and they don’t care about anyone but themselves.  They want what they want and aren’t thinking about anyone except themselves.  We all need to think about how what we do will affect someone else.  But more than think about it, we need to let those thoughts shape what we say, and what we do.  We have a responsibility to do what we can with what we have to make the world a better place, not just for us, but for everyone.  That is the very essence of truth and love together.

2) Your feelings are OK.  As I said before, people who voted for Trump were worried about Clinton.  People who voted for Clinton were worried about Trump.  It’s OK to feel your feelings, but it’s not OK to let your feelings  motivate reprehensible actions.  It’s OK to voice your concerns calmly and rationally.  Maybe someone else hasn’t thought things through well enough to realize how something might hurt another person.  If we understand other people’s feelings, and we care about other people, we will try to act in such a way as to not deliberately hurt others.

1)  We shouldn’t live for the big moments in life, because they might never come.  Clinton, devastated by losing, is now regrouping and demanding a recount of the votes to make sure she’s fairly treated by the electoral college.  She’s living to be the President, still.  But look at her running mate.  He’s gone back to work.  He’s doing it right.  It’s the little things that add up to the big things.  If you wait until something big happens, you will not be in the right place because you didn’t work at the little things and get yourself moving in the stream toward the big things.  You’ll be left on the riverbank, because you waited and didn’t get in the stream and start swimming.

0) People sometimes make mistakes.  Well, I sometimes make mistakes.  Like ending up with 11 items on a top 10 list.  When people make one mistake, after making it right, at least after apologizing and making it clear the mistake won’t be repeated, maybe the person who was wronged can forgive.  And when I make a mistake, I want to be allowed to learn from it and continue, after making course corrections.  But anyone who doesn’t learn from their mistakes needs natural consequences and friends who will tell them they’re on a bad path.  And needs to be restricted until they learn from their mistakes.  Like the boy in Mayberry whose smart dad sold his bike.  Otherwise he’d have sold out his own father, so who else wouldn’t he hurt as collateral damage in his quest for chaos and power?  Clinton has one scandal after another.  Trump has scandals too.  Those patterns of behavior make neither one my choice.  But in the spirit of the other lessons, and this one,  I’ll do what I’ve done for each president since I learned to do it:  Pray.  I will pray, because our elected leaders need protection, wisdom, and servant hearts, to do their jobs well for all Americans.

Pride and Predjudice and Christ-Followers April 4, 2016

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I attended an adult Bible study today, and I really enjoy how thought provoking it is.  Today the discussion surrounded the historic Jezebel, with our starting point at Revelation chapter 2,

18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds,your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

We chatted a little bit about the way the world seemed to be headed, and what an appropriate voice might sound like for the church.  One of our classmates was asked by her child, “What’s porn?” so she fielded the question as best she felt it should be handled, with an age-appropriate answer.  The child had been watching a television show that made a joke about a guy watching porn.  So the class discussed this in the context of Jezebel’s sexual immorality and the warning to the church at Thyatira.

We live in a time when Christians are supposed to be tolerant of everyone else and nobody seems to have to be tolerant of Christians.  What are we supposed to do?  Well, let people do whatever they want and shut up, seems like the world’s answer.  And, “deeds, love and service” sound like great and commendable works for any church, don’t they?  Except, what kind of deeds?  Love for whom?  Service to whom and for whom?

James taught about a “religion that God accepts:”  James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Our class had a discussion weeks ago in which I noticed Ephesians 4:15, where Christ-followers are instructed to “[speak] the truth in love” in order to grow.  If truth and love are in balance we’ll be balanced in our approach to the world.  Ignore love and we’re hammering people over the head with our truth: you’re a sinner on your way to hell.  Instant turnoff by the non-believer. Ignore truth and we’re not doing it right either, and people will flock to hear you tolerate, accept, even embrace, their sinful choices.  And without repentant hearts, people will end up in hell because we didn’t teach the truth, that there is such a thing as sin, but God loves us and wants us to repent (turn away) from our sin and toward Him.

It’s commendable to seek not to be polluted by the world.  This was the sin of Thyatira. They tolerated, embraced, and adopted the behavior choices of the surrounding community that were contrary to God’s intent for us.  What’s a Christ-follower to do?

Sinners are going to sin.  And sinners don’t like it when their sin is pointed up to them, and called “sin.”  In the modern era, sinners want their sin to be tolerated, accepted, embraced, even celebrated.  Sinners want to be proud of their sin, not be told it’s sin.  So we have parades and television celebrating and proudly proclaiming sinful lifestyles.  If a Christ-follower says anything they  are “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “hateful,” “judgemental,” etc. We’re told from our own Bibles, “judge not lest ye be judged.”  Essentially, the answer a sinful world has for a Christ-follower who points to sin and calls it sin or calls it evil, is to shut up.  And the world doesn’t say it that nicely.

I’m afraid they’ve got a good point though.

The world wants to be proud of their sins and they want Christians to stop teaching the Bible and sharing our beliefs about what sin looks like.  The world doesn’t want us to believe  the Bible, and if they want to shut us up they use our own Bible, selected passages, to shut us up about the passages that make them uncomfortable.

Are Christians really any better?  Sure our eternity is secure.  But are we teaching only the truth and committing the sin of a certain modern church that likes to bash certain people and tell them God hates them?  Are we teaching only love and tolerance and committing the sin of Thyatira?

I’m afraid Christians have given in to the sin of pride, on both errors.  Some Christians are proud of their knowledge.  These Christians are proud of their piety.  These Christians are proud that they have found the way to eternal life.  Some are proud of their love and tolerance.  I think both are wrong.

Christians need to lead the way with a new humility.  Because, are we so far removed from the sin we used to live in that we can’t understand its’ appeal any more?  And, are we blind to the sin we currently harbor?

The antidote to pride is humility.  If we confess our sins, not only is God “faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness,” but I think it’ll cause a revolution in the world.  They see us as “holier than thou,” intolerant hateful people because we think we’re better than they are.  We’re not, Christians.  We’re just as human.  We are holding onto our pride like a security blanket, and we need to shed that.  Nobody is going to listen to anything we have to say until we confess our sins to each other and admit to the world that we’re not that different from them, we just know where we’re headed when eternity calls our names.  When we admit that, I think they’ll be more likely to see our examples and be more apt to listen to the rest of what we have to say.

If we’re proud of ourselves, the world has no reason to pay any attention If we’re just saying “God loves me,” and “God loves you,” without any other instruction, like why Jesus was killed as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, ourselves included, there’s no reason for anyone to turn from whatever is their favorite flavor of sin.  And if Jesus is still in the tomb (He’s not) then no one has any hope at all.  But since He’s not, we’ve got His message, His truth AND His love to share. If we’re not saying there’s a better way and it’s God’s design, while admitting we’ve failed ourselves, we’re not that different than Thyatira.  If we’re saying God hates one sin any more than another, then we’re blind to our own pride.  I used to be so proud of myself.  Smug idiot.  I’ve got nothing but my  hope in Jesus, and my realization that He paid the debt for my sin.  A life of imperfection, thinking I had it right, blind to my evil character that I thought was good.  I’m not different than any other sinner in the world. God hates my sin just as much as he hates anyone elses’ sin.  I’m nothing to be proud of myself.

So that’s my humble confession.  I was smug and proud and judgemental.  But I know I have nothing to be those ways about, I’m no different, not really any better than anyone else.  God hates my sin just as much as anyone else’s sin, but He loves me in spite of myself.  And He loves you too and wants you to realize what your sin is, whatever it is, and then turn away from it and ask Him to forgive you.  And in spite of myself, I believe Romans 5:8 is written about me and the world:

 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I’m a sinner, but I’m not proud of it.  Just saved by the grace and love of God.  I’ve asked for forgiveness and I realize I’m still not perfect, in spite of the teaching of certain denominations.  If I call myself perfect, I’m lying to everyone.

I’m sorry, to the people of the world, I can’t keep it inside.  I have to speak it:  Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I John 1:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I bet in your heart, if you’re honest, you know the difference between right and wrong and know your life isn’t perfect enough, holy enough, or pure enough to get into a perfect, holy and pure heaven.  At the expense of my pride, I confess that I’ve failed to be good enough to earn a place in heaven.   There are people who think higher of me than that, but it’s just not honest.  I’ve got my eternal ticket, but it’s only because I admitted my failures and because God is rich in mercy and grace, and He extends it to the humble.  If we’re proud of ourselves, or proud of our sin, or blind to it, He won’t show us favor:

I Peter 5:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith…

 

I think if we clothe ourselves in humility, not just to the “one another” of fellow Christ-followers, but to everyone, people in the world might look a little differently at us, instead of just telling us to shut up.

“Prophesy! Who Hit You?” March 17, 2016

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Luke 22 is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, and also revealed the disciples’ spiritual blindness.  While they argued over who was the greatest disciple, Jesus was being set up. Jesus knew.  But the disciples never saw it coming.

My spiritual blindness has never been questioned: Exactly like the song goes, “I am blind, and I don’t like what I think I see.”

My career path evinces my blindness.  I can’t get on a career path because I don’t know the direction to go to get somewhere productively happy.  Which also means, the people around me are blind too.  They don’t know how to help me.  And I don’t know what to ask for.  I have a job, and I don’t know what direction to go.  People tell me to “just” get another job, which sounds so easy, and makes me depressed because for me it’s not.  I’ve tried to find a job while I have a job, but the people I’ve talked to and interviewed viewed me as at best, second best for their opportunities.  At the same time as I really need “a job,” I really want a job I like.  What I want to do is write.  And use my spiritual gifts, and my education and training.  And be used by God to do good things.  And bear fruit for eternity.  And, like everyone else stuck in this present reality, take care of myself and my family.  And I’m a dismal failure at getting on that path.

Yesterday two things happened.  First, something happened to me maybe a year and a half ago, and it required money I didn’t have to fix.  I don’t want to get into the graphic and gory details, so I won’t describe the event.  At the time, it was something that could be fixed, I was told, pretty easily, but it would require an expensive process and I couldn’t afford it.  But I prayed, I trusted, and I waited in hope.  At the risk of exposing a root of bitterness, this has become, over time, a real sticking point with me spiritually, because I trusted in God, and waited for the money.    And I prayed.  I’m still waiting.  I was still praying.  Yesterday that situation, which I have been waiting in hope that God would provide what I needed to resolve, just got worse.

From the prophet:
Psalm 22: 8 “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

And from the crucifixion story:
Matthew 27: 43 “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

Why would I expect God to help me if He didn’t even help Jesus? Well, because in the plan of things I think Jesus could have had the help if He had asked for it and could have backed out of the divine transaction, but he submitted because of the huge implications for eternity.  But for me, it’s just something I need.  It’s not a life saving miracle, it’s just a process I need to be done that now requires even more money to be done right.  I’ve already burdened my church and they’ve helped with other things.  I wanted God to answer in a more sustaining way than I’ve seen in the last few years, and there’s the sticking point.  That was what “I wanted.” In the grand scheme of things, it’s not about what I want.  But I also read that God hears and answers prayers, so I was just hoping.

Also, yesterday, adding to my already depressed state, it appears I was passed over again for something else I was hoping might happen that could possibly help me, in a life and spirit sustaining kind of way.

I’ve researched and found a poem/song I wrote for Easter back in 2013.  I wrote it trying to be hopeful, in a season when hope is hard to believe, much less find.  But it came to mind yesterday while I was processing my perceived emotional slap in the face.  It expressed my heart then and now, so I’m re-posting it here:


Maranatha, 10/27/2013, Michael N. Johns

It’s been one day that He’s been dead.
I saw Him on the cross.
The spear went in, His heart then bled,
And all my hope was lost.

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,
But He’s gone.

It’s been two days that He’s been dead.
We laid him in the grave.
We wrapped His body, and His head.
Who can a dead man save?

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,
But He’s gone.

It’s been three days that He’s been dead.
It’s almost like a dream.
What were the words that Jesus said?
I’ll be back soon; you’ll see.

We went to say our last goodbyes,
With perfume for the body,
I almost could not believe my eyes,
As angels greeted me

We thought we’d see his body
A cold, dead sadness,
Instead they said, Go in and see,
Fill up your hearts with gladness,
And find hope.

Two thousand years since He’s been gone,
It’s almost like a dream.
What did He say as He went on?
I’ll be back soon; you’ll see.

He sent us out to teach the world
His love, His hope, His story
I believe He will return
He’ll be back soon; you’ll see

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,

He promised me.
I will see.
I believe.


 

So that’s it.  I won’t get into the details of me being passed over again, but it happened yesterday adding fuel to my raging emotional fires.  I partially processed the events last night.

In my spiritual blindness, not that I’m worthy to be compared to the central character of Luke 22, I felt that I was being slapped.  Except, unlike Jesus, I can’t answer the question of Luke 22:

63 And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and hit him.64 And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy!  Who hit you?

I used to have a much sharper spiritual view.  I knew.  But when you pray, and you pray, and you pray some more, and the only answers are further breakage of things that could have been repaired, that now just need to be discarded and I can’t afford replacement, and being ignored and passed over, again and again, by people I trusted and thought had my best interests at heart, the view becomes much more clouded.  In the past, I’ve been pretty naive.  I really try to be trusting and think people will do what they say they will.  I’ve learned, over time, to get certain things in writing.  But I’m not in a current situation where that makes any difference.  I’m currently where I am, looking for the exit ramp that leads somewhere better.

It’s not that my situation hasn’t improved.  It has.  I’m better off than I was a year ago.  It’s just been very slow.  I still can’t fix what’s broken, I still haven’t stumbled across the answer God surely must have already arranged and provided, and I still can’t take care of my situation for now, so it has to get worse before it’ll get better.  I thought I needed an answer, but I’ve heard a deafening silence, or worse, spiritual platitudes about whatever overly simplistic “just do this” answer, or “encouraging” Bible verses my would-be encouragers have discouraged me by providing.  Or worse, the circumstance has gotten worse because I couldn’t fix it sooner, and I still can’t fix it.  Like yesterday.

So just ignore me, you should have stopped reading already. Maybe it’s temporary.  Maybe it’ll be fixed tomorrow.  But honestly, right now, I feel as ignored by God as this guy is by the girl he loves:

I’m just in a spiritual and emotional dark place.  Again.  I feel very irrelevant.  I feel like nothing I do really matters. I feel that what I do could be replaced and done by someone else, or maybe if it wasn’t done, it wouldn’t make any difference. I feel irrelevant to God, and everyone will want to tell me I matter to God, or to fix it for myself as if I had the wherewithal or the stamina.  (I’m sure I do matter to God, only just not enough to answer my prayers yet, and not the way I thought I needed them to be answered.)  Irrelevance is dark.  I’m spiritually blindfolded.

Who hit me?  Prophesy!  Because my spiritual eyes are darkness, and my smoldering wick feels very much like it’s being snuffed out.

I wrote this not anticipating any answers, because although I wrote it about me, it’s not about me.  It’s about God’s answer to my faith.  It’s just another dark season after another dark season.  Will He answer in some miraculous way, or will He answer with more waiting, more silence, more unanswered crisis points because He knows I should be able to handle whatever evil the day has in store for me?  He’s not obligated, and neither is anyone else.  It’s nothing any different or more special than any other thing anyone else would pray about.  Life struggles are common to everyone, and we just have to endure and walk through I suppose.  But it is growing very dark for me again this year and yesterday’s events just added insults to injuries.

Will He answer in some sustaining, fulfilling way, or will it be the same minimalist response like my ongoing doldrums?  I don’t know.  I know that the minimalist responses are probably, minimally, enough.  I was just hoping for abundance, but I can’t even fix or replace what’s broken because I still can’t afford it.  Something else, that seems about 2 or 3 months ahead of a sustainable schedule, breaks and spends the reserves before they’re built up enough to take care of what I need.  Last thing was the cars.  I don’t want a next thing.

Say it:  I’m naive.  I still believe.  I still hope.  And I’m still waiting and praying.  Don’t you dare write a check. I’m not asking you.  I’m asking God.  And the answer I need is something sustaining, not a one-time thing from some poor charitable schmuck who’s a sucker for a sob story.  I need the thing, the Divine answer, that sustains and provides to fix or replace needed things, for the normal wearing out life does on everything and everybody.  And leaves behind enough for me to help the next person looking for a charitable schmuck.  And I also need the fulfilling thing to do to keep that sustenance going, that goes along with my talents, education, training, and experience.  I just haven’t found it.  “I wish I was special,” but I’m not.  If I wanted a one-time answer, I’d set up on gofundme.  And FYI: “God helps those who help themselves” isn’t in the Bible.  Unless you’re a politician.  I think at least one of the candidates probably believes that.

Keeping Up With the Jones’ January 8, 2016

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Keeping up with the Jones’

The Daily Post prompt for today inspired me to think about the one luxury thing I would love to have but can’t afford.  I’d like a full-ride college scholarship for my kids, including tuition, books, housing and meals, at the college of their choice.

There are a lot of other very practical things I’d like, but if I had to pick just one that would be it.  If I didn’t have to pick one, I have a whole list: First, I need some dental work.  The new dentist gave me an outrageous price tag to fix my teeth after disparaging my former dentist for their outrageous price tags.  And that was before the teeth cracked after the 40 year-old crappy fillings fell out.  Best practice would be implants, but that’s a lot of cash.  Maybe I’ll just have them extracted.

I could afford to help a lot of people struggling more than me if I won the lottery.  I’m not extravagant, and I can’t picture that really changing.  I find the whole famous spending money because one can far too incredibly boring.  I’d just help out at the local food pantry and homeless shelters I think.  My friend Deon wrote about his wish list here, and frankly, if I don’t win, I hope he does.  I think he’d probably foot the bill for my teeth, it’s part of why we’ve hit it off, aside from being ideologically very close. Almost like we’re brothers, although I only have brothers-in-law.  He contrasted practical spending and investing vs. having stupid money and being stupid with it.

The PowerBall Lottery is currently sitting at $700 Million, which is a lot more than the meager $42 Million I frequently daydream about.  I’ve read about people who won fabulous jackpots and were stupid with what they won.  On the news today I was not really paying attention because I had to get out the door and get to work, but I thought they said some guy won a big prize and then got arrested for dealing drugs.  I hope I heard that wrong, but there are a lot of idiots in the world.  Sadly, I’m afraid I heard it right.

It’s been suggested that a lot of money and liberty only increases how bad a person is, and if the drug dealer and that Gentleman’s Club Church Guy are case in point it may be true.  But maybe it could increase how good a person is, by increasing their sphere of influence.   Maybe there’s one noble person out there who can win, instead of another Jack Whittaker of West Virginia.  I for one would love to see that.

Or even better, be that.  That is, if I were more noble.

I have no concept, not to mention any plan for how to spend $700M.  I only figured out the first $42M.  But I’d love to dream, from the warmth and nitrous oxide filled micro-atmosphere of the implant surgeon’s chair, and start to figure it out. Here’s my favorite song full of daydreams about the lottery, by the awesome Lin Manuel Miranda from his brilliant musical, “In the Heights.”

January 4, 2016

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I sat in church for the first Sunday of the year, yesterday, and feel this so bad it hurts.

THIS!  This is what I want for the new year.  Dear God, please,
“Wake me up inside.”

“…Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I’ve become

Bring me to life

Frozen inside without Your touch
Without Your love, Darling
Only You are the Life among the dead.”

One of our pastors spoke in his own simple eloquence, about us determining whatever it is God wants us to do and who He wants us to be.  I know the answers to those questions, what I lack is the inner life to do it, to be it, to live it.

I feel dead inside.

I feel frozen inside (no Disney jokes, or songs, PLEASE).  I’ve become less than worthless, I am nothing, I am negative.  I look backward and see chaos, madness, sadness, destruction, sin, loss, debt.  I look forward and see the labor required to dig out, and it’s hopeless.

I admit it.  I did it to myself.  Partly.  I starved myself spiritually, only having the meagerest of snacks maybe every other day, but I knew I was missing out on the banquet.  I did it to myself because I feel kind of abandoned by God.

Say it all you want, if you’re one of those conservatives you’ll believe that if I feel the abandonment, it’s because I abandoned Him.  That may be true.  That the spiritual “snack” was there at all says maybe God was there sustaining me through the spiritual “drought.”  Or maybe like Cain from Genesis, I offered what I thought was the best I had to give, from a heart that was as good as mine could be, and still felt rejected.

I’m going to try something different today.  And maybe, this year will be different.  I’ll let you know, if I live to tell about it.  If He is “the Life,” maybe He’ll share.

On the positive side, I feel “only mostly dead,” which, if you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, means there’s hope, but “it’ll take a miracle.”

The Truth in Love: A Dangerous Thing March 10, 2015

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I wouldn’t have thought this was a really drastic change of position if I hadn’t lived through it.  Swept along by a wave of peers, I missed something.  In large part I agreed with them.  And in part, I was dead wrong for it.  These peers? Well meaning Christ-Followers.  I’ve been processing this still, so if I’m repeating myself, just move along to the next blog you like.  My feelings won’t be hurt, I promise.

I’ve been accused of thinking dangerously, or maybe that my thinking is dangerous, or maybe they weren’t thinking and they thought the fact that I was, was dangerous.  My fellow seminarians joked good-naturedly that they would pray for me even back before I got here.  Some of them would be spinning in their pulpits if they knew what I think now.  Farbeit from me to think I’m special, revolutionary, radical.  I’m no trail-blazer, like a Martin Luther.  I don’t think I could even come up with 95 theses, but I have one:  “the truth in love.”  I’m captivated by the power of the phrase, from Ephesians 4:  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

What if God’s love is more radical than even Christ-followers give it credit for being?  If we really understood it better, and embraced it more fully, I’ll bet we would reap a few benefits.  I’m only going to share two I believe are available.

Benefit # 1:  We grow and become like Jesus.  This makes us different from a lot of people in the world, and that might just make us dangerous.

I Corinthians 13 extols the virtues of love, and proclaims, “…if I don’t have love, I have nothing.”  “I am a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.”  (I used the loudest-sounding translation)  For years I thought nothing of my fellow Christ-followers proclaiming the evil of sin, the final destination of unrepentant sinners.  I saw nothing wrong.  But their focus seemed to change.  I think it became too narrow.  I think it became unloving.  We went back to Jewish legalism, for people who aren’t Jewish, for people who don’t even follow Christ yet, expecting them to live by some hand-picked set of standards out of that Old Testament law code.  Sinners who are well-aware that they are sinners are rightly calling us onto the carpet for it.  It’s not loving.  It’s not gracious.  It’s not Jesus’ method.  And we don’t even live by the letter of the law we’re offering the world.  Well-meaning Christ-followers are blindly falling into it.  It’s wrong.  It’s sin, and some are still ignorant of it, or worse, in denial about it.

I hope you can stay with me, this is going somewhere dramatic.  Trust me.  This is what I’ve been meditating on:

Some Christ-followers are operating under the misconception that sin is a choice.  This has never been true.  The question that came to my mind was, “What is a sinner going to do?”  And obviously, the answer is, “we’re going to sin.” I said “we.”  It’s a radical challenge to what I have heard a lot of well-meaning people trying to teach recently, as if it were the truth. And it’s a drastic change to my prior thought process as well.

Here’s the revelation, if I dare call it that:

Hatred quenches the Spirit of God.  Hatred stops any good from coming out of your part of a situation, no matter how well-intentioned you are.  Your hatred isn’t going to change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  You can tell the truth, without love, and your true words won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes the truth alone can quench the Spirit too.  You can love, tolerating and embracing and accepting, and your love won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes just expressing love quenches the Spirit as well.  A balance of both is required.  Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” but he was also very loving, which is why the people flocked to him.  Nobody but the mob is flocking to certain churches, because they don’t really “love.” They just “truth.”  And sinners who feel affirmed are flocking to churches that embrace the sin as well as the sinner –  flocking to a place where they can hear what they want to hear, nothing uncomfortable, nothing that demands “Go and sin no more,” but that’s equally wrong.  They just “love,” they don’t really “truth.”  As a Christ follower, my message is empty if I deny the sin, just as empty if I embrace and accept the sin along with the sinner.  As much as I want to teach about your sin, or their sin, I feel compelled to confess first, I’ve got a plank in my eye too.  Christ commands anyone who would follow to first repent, or turn away, from sin, and then take up their own cross and follow Him.  I have a hard time with both of these commands.

In Psalm 51:5, the writer says he was conceived in sin, and born into sin.  In Ecclesiastes 7:20 the writer proclaims “there is not a righteous man on earth, who does what is right and never sins.”  Isaiah 53:6 the writer says we’re “like sheep” and we all want to go our own way, but we’re being led the wrong direction by our selfish motives.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10 the writer says we are all crooked, “desperately wicked,” and ultimately God “rewards” us for what we do.  The story doesn’t change from Old to New Testaments.  Romans 3:23 says we’ve all sinned and none of us can even dream of reaching God’s perfect standard, His “glory.”  So we’re all sinners.  From the first time when you’re a baby and mom says “no,” and you do it anyway, or try to do it anyway, it’s sin.  But if we’re going to live by the letter of the law we should be aware of II Corinthians 3:6- the letter of the law brings death, but the spirit (intention) of the law brings life.  The letter of the law, a slavish obedience to an impossible law code, or disobeying the perfect standards of God, only bring us to eternal death.  The spirit of the law, as distilled by Jesus into just two neat commandments, gives life like in John 10:10 and John 14:6.

Guess what?  Nothing can change a sinner into a not-sinner.  We can only resist, with the power that we have inside ourselves, and that’s only if we know something is a sin and we decide we don’t want to do it any more.  It’s more blinding, more powerful, more seductive than alcohol or tobacco or any other drug.  In the flesh, we are all going to fail, and stumble into sin, even the best Christ-followers.  It’s true that we have a choice, but the choice isn’t whether we’re going to sin.  It’s what kind of sin are we going to choose?   Some well-meaning Christ-followers think sin is a choice, but it’s not.  If you believe the Bible, you should believe that we are all born into sin and we have no power to escape without the grace of God.  And some well-meaning Christ followers preach judgement and condemnation and hellfire and brimstone on certain people’s sins, while ignoring others.  Especially their own.  The only way to escape is through the truth in love, which allows the Holy Spirit of God to work on our hearts.

The pharisees used to do that back in Jesus day.  They held people to that impossible standard of behavior, “the truth,” while at the same time treating others without any regard to mercy, or “love,” which was why Jesus was so upset.  He quoted the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  And he specifically told the pharisees, I paraphrase: “On the outside you look great, all freshly whitewashed, just like a tomb.  But on the inside you’re ugly, full of evil things, corruption and rot.”  (Matthew 23:27)  Those pharisees were ignoring their own sins of hatred and pride, while pointing out other people’s specific sins with all kinds of judgement and condemnation.  Sound familiar?

The more I consider it, the less I think of myself, because personally, I am good at the above, because I suck at love, but I know all about truth.  I can hate all day long, and I can use the truth to defend my stronghold and crush the opposition with words, thrown like stones.  I can judge and condemn, just like everyone else.  It’s easy.  I can get all caught up in my fancy proofs of whatever the thing is that I don’t like, either because it’s not my choice of sin, or because no one knows I’m another definition of “sinner.”  There are plenty of sins to habituate.  I’ve picked mine, you’ve picked yours, they’ve picked theirs and we all point fingers at each other.  I have an audience.  They think I’m so good because of the whitewashed outside.  And from there, the mob mentality is too easy to just join in, grab the big rocks along with everyone else, and start flinging.  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you should follow me.  I do it wrong, in my own way, all the time.

That woman “caught in the very act of adultery” was a test case for Jesus.  He let the accusers think on their own hearts and decide if they were sinners themselves.  And he said, after they all left, “where are your accusers?  I don’t condemn you either, but go and sin no more.”  She was about to be stoned to death for her “sin.”  Jesus dismissed the mob though, and then quietly talked with her about her choices.  And Jesus said it was “sin.”  It was the sin of adultery, big enough it made God’s top ten list back in Exodus.  What’s “adultery?”  Any kind of sexual relations outside of “marriage.” And what did Jesus say was “marriage?”  Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 have Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24, validating the text like it’s his own personal stamp of approval. “Marriage,” sorry to say, as defined by God and verified by Jesus, consists of a man and his wife, nothing else.  Anything else is “adultery.”  So I’m not discounting what she did, or what anyone else, including me, does, that God says is wrong, as if that wasn’t sin.  I’m saying we should teach things differently.  We have to dismiss ourselves from the mob mentality, drop our rocks, consider our own thing that we do that’s wrong, and turn away.  I think we lead by example, and who wants to follow a rabid mob that operates based on its’ own standards, judging harshly and without any mercy?

Jesus’ first message to everyone was that we needed to “repent,” which meant to turn away from sin, and go toward God.

I’ll still agree with the mob that sin is evil.  I still agree with the mob that unrepentant sinners go to eternal torment and hopeless separation from God.  But I think we need to shift our message to something different.  Let’s understand, before we preach against one form of sin or another, that we all sin.  That’s the truth, and it makes us more gracious.  It puts the speaker on the same level as the audience.  No denial here:  there is such a thing as “sin.”  Anyone who reads Romans 3:23 will tell you that, and it hasn’t changed from Old Testament Jeremiah 17:9 to Romans 3:23.  The heart is crooked, no one can fix it for themselves.  Only when we get to Romans 6:23 do we realize there’s any hope.  It’s the gift of God, further clarified in Ephesians 2.  We should be teaching that, instead of just the condemnation, the straining of gnats of other people’s small misdeeds, while we pass the camel of our huge self-righteous judgmental hatred.

Romans 9 is quite clear:  Israel’s standards are out of date after Jesus’ sacrifice.  The law isn’t going to save anyone, it’s only going to convict us.  Once we decide to follow Jesus, we can look into what’s important.  I for one don’t want to go back to Israel’s standards.  They had over 600 rules to obey, from clothes to food to how and when to party.  Do I really want to invest the time to figure out how to do, or not do, all of that?  Might be fun to figure out the party schedule.  But I don’t relish the idea of trying to do all the rest.  But until we decide to follow Jesus, there’s no point.  There’s good news from Romans 10:4-13.  Once and for all Jesus paid the price for my past, present, and future sin.  And if I want to follow the teaching of Romans 10:14-15, I should be an ambassador teaching that forgiveness is available through Jesus’ sacrifice.  Not only forgiveness for yesterday, but also the strength to repent, and choose not to sin, for today.  I’m so happy that forgiveness is available, even for a failure like me.  I mess it up every day.  That whitewash I show on the outside is a whitewash.  Ignore it.  It’s nothing.

All you church people, let me challenge you first, like I did myself:  Love first.  Then speak the truth in love.  Don’t leave out either part.  If you do, the audience will miss out.

If I’m nothing without love, I’m nothing without the truth as well.  But with the truth in love, expressed with grace, I bet I’ll see Benefit # 2:  “The power of God  that leads to Salvation” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:16.  Even he put the love first, before he started talking about what was sin and what to do about it.  And after I decide to follow Jesus, Jesus boils it down to a really simple standard without all the nit-picky laws:  Love God wholeheartedly, and love others as I love myself.  I don’t think you can go wrong with those two rules.  I think if we really followed them, we might see other people deciding to follow Jesus, too.  And we all have to figure out how to love God on our own, although we can encourage each other.  That’s why there’s a church and you should go.  Yes, it’s full of us hypocrites- we’ve all stumbled at some point, on the journey of life, while attempting to follow Jesus.  Me included.  But if you come and encourage us, we all might become better Christ-followers.  A good church is welcoming (love) and challenging (truth).  Maybe you think the church isn’t welcoming.  Maybe your church isn’t challenging.  Maybe you aren’t going to a church at all.  I invite you: come and see.  If the first one isn’t welcoming and challenging, maybe the next one will be.  I hope you find a good one.

II Corinthians 5:

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin (Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Missing: One Left Sock January 26, 2015

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It’s just possible that somewhere, hidden, are all the things I have lost in my life.  I have lost socks, mittens, gloves, collectibles, toys, books, coats, that important piece of whatever it was so I couldn’t reassemble whatever it was I had taken apart, etc.  Fishing poles.  Knives.  Spoons.  Keys.  My favorite sweater.  My favorite T Shirt and pair of blue jeans.  I guess that means I’m not so different from anyone else.  Who hasn’t lost anything, ever?     If I had stalkers and fans I would blame them, and ask for some of it to be returned.  Keep the stuff I don’t use, stuff that’s worn out or too small for me, or the stuff I’ve already replaced.

I suspect my mom may have quietly burned the holey jeans and tshirt I revered beyond the “e,” and perhaps the sweater or pants on the mending table ended up in the trash as well, after the third or fourth repair.

I’ve lost significant things.  Money.  Education opportunities.  Job opportunities.  Connections with people I care about.  These weren’t entirely my fault, although to a degree I guess I was responsible.

Today I confess, I like having neat fingernails.  I used to bite them, and leave them with the dirt until whenever they came clean.  At least I used to like washing dishes, which by happy coincidence, usually left them pretty clean.  I still like to wash the dishes.  I’ve come a long way.  If you weren’t already going to revoke my man-card because I like a clean kitchen, you might when you read this:

I like to cut my nails.  I like to shape and file them, and to smooth them with an emery board.  And I know what a cuticle cutter and spoon are.  It’s her fault.  I don’t really obsess over shaving, or clothes, or anything.  But my nails bug me when they’re not properly taken care of.  My wife started me on the road to that specific grooming habit, and here I am.  When I was in High School, I needed short nails to play my viola, so when they got clicky, I’d bite them short.  I quit doing that, somewhere between college and marriage.  And sometime between engagement and marriage, I got in the habits of filing and smoothing my fingernails, and then, trimming the rough edges of my cuticles. The problem is, I buy a cuticle tool and it disappears within a week.  Somewhere in the dark regions of the bathroom closet, somewhere buried under the carpet of the house, somewhere tucked irresponsibly in a junk drawer or a pen jar, somewhere in the black hole beside the one that holds the missing left socks, are all my cuticle tools.  I just want one.  I’ve bought whole sets of nail care tools and danged if the cuticle tool disappears from the closet where I hid the whole zipper pouch.  No one claims to have removed it, or moved it.  But it’s gone.

If you’ve never seen a cuticle trimming tool, it’s a kind of heart-shaped tool on a stick, where the top part of the heart, toward the center, is sharpened.  It’s specially designed to smoothly capture the cuticle and neatly cut it, like scissors cut wrapping paper if you get it started and hold and move them right.

I envy people with those neat pegboards with tools hanging.  Some even have the outline of their tools so they know which one goes where.  But if my cuticle trimmer goes missing, what prayer do I have of maintaining such a system?  I’m lucky to find the drill and drill bits (and that thingy you use to tighten the drill bit- I think it’s called a “chuck tightener.”- I’m not even sure what a “chuck” is.) when some next-to-impossible household maintenance project comes along.  If my cuticle cutter is representative of the rest of life, I’d end up with the neat pegboard and the outlines of my missing tools.  And a few missing pegs while we’re at it.

I wish I could just hire “the guy,” for all of that.  Especially plumbing.  But I have learned, because we didn’t hire “the guy,” how to do lots of things.  But without the tool, I can’t do much.  And without the tool I can’t cut  my cuticles.  I don’t even know if, in the modern era of blood-borne pathogen awareness, manicurists are allowed to cut people’s cuticles.  I don’t think I want them to do that for me.  But that means I need it, more often than I need a drill.

I can understand, throw it away if it’s no longer sharp.  Fine.  But put it away, or back where I left it, if it’s still useful.  This weekend I realized that yet another has slipped away into the nail-tool black hole where all of my previous fingernail clippers and cuticle tools have fallen and disappeared forever.

These missing socks and gloves and tools and cuticle trimmers are like bits of my life that I have lost along the way.  Jesus said that he was like a vine-dresser.  If I’m the vine, He said He’d come along and cut away the stuff that was interfering with my spiritual growth, so I could bear fruit in my life.  I’ve lost touch with people.  Old friends don’t call.  Not that I miss some people, but sometimes I wonder what some of them are up to.  High School and college buddies.  Most of them I really liked.  Were they a negative influence on me?  Would I have been a negative influence on them and therefore was I the one who was pruned away?  Are these as replaceable as hat and mitten and socks?  They’re lost, and I feel a bit lost without my old connections.

When I win the lottery, they’ll be coming out of obscurity, I suppose.  But until then I was just a memory for them.  Was it a good memory?  Chess club after school.  Orchestra, and being in the pit for musicals.  I’m married, now, but then, some of those actresses…  Maybe we’d have been a negative influence on each other.  (Don’t kid yourself, MJ, you were a geeky loser, and you still bear most of those traits, says the accuser in my head.  Striking, how much that voice sounds like my sister sometimes.)  Friends in college that I absolutely adored.  They made me laugh, helped me to think, carried me through the doldrum days, helped me to forget the downward cycle that I regularly find myself trapped in.  And while I miss them, I don’t have a big vacuum in my life.  Other people have come along, like replacement gloves, and I’ve cared for them until they moved along and didn’t need me any more.  Or until I didn’t need them any more.  Or they moved a little farther away.  Or I moved.

For those of you (and you know who you are) who were supportive and caring friends in my past, know that I remember and still think fondly of you.  For those of you who gave selflessly to make sure my needs were met, motivated out of Christ’s love, I want you to know that you were God’s very hands to take care of me, and I appreciate you and your effort and sacrifice.  For those of you who turned my head (whether you know it or not), know that I’m glad neither of us gave in to temptation.  It wouldn’t have gone well.  If I turned anyone’s head, I wasn’t aware of it and I’m sorry if I disappointed you or made you sad.  For all of you, I hope God’s best for you, as I believe I have found God’s best for me.  Like the old song says, “somewhere on the other side, there will be an answer.”

I wish I knew how it all fit together, so I would be able to celebrate more how God is providing for me and protecting me.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well-protected.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well provided for either.  But I know in my heart that He does.  I have to trust in His character.

Just as I would celebrate if I ever locate the missing whatever-it-is, I know that God has a special place in His heart for lost people.  When they turn up He celebrates.  I’ve read, you may have read, the kingdom of Heaven is like that.  Celebrating finding that which was lost.  If you are lost, it’s not because God wants you pruned off the Kingdom of Heaven vine.  God wants you to seek Him, and when you do, I believe He’ll find you because He’s a good shepherd.  Once we’re in the right place, having sought out the Kingdom of Heaven, what He does with us is up to Him.  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  We are his poeima, his artwork, his craftsmanship.  And we are also promised that if He starts something with us, He’ll complete it.

I belong to God.  I believe it with all my heart.  But to be honest, I frequently feel like a tool.  If I’m in God’s tool-shed, I’ve fallen off the pegboard, back into the dust and wood chips behind the workbench, and I don’t know if He’s just found a replacement tool, or if eventually I’ll be put to any good work.  What’s my purpose?  When will I figure it out?  When will God finish the work He’s started in me?  Anyone else feel like a misplaced tool, gathering dust behind the workbench because you’re not where the Craftsman thinks you should be?  I know how the lost get found.  What I haven’t figured out is how the found get found.  I’m better off because I once was lost lost, and now I’m found.  And I’m waiting for those instructions from God, so I can feel like I’ve been found found.

I recall from the Old Testament, two people.  First, Moses.  He spent 40 years, his youth, misplaced in Egypt watching people being mistreated.  He spent 40 more years in Midian, watching sheep.  And then he spent 40 years doing what God had purposed for him, which was to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery.  Joshua, before him, spent years as a boy and a young man, dreaming the dream that he would be important.  Then he spent years after his brothers sold him into slavery, and the time he was in jail because Mrs. Hottie Potiphar didn’t get what she wanted from him, before finally helping a lot of people survive a famine.  How many years before I can work on whatever it is that God has for me?

I have had dreams, big dreams for my life, and they haven’t come true yet.  Anyone else have that dream?  You know, but you’re not sure where or how to start walking toward it, working for it?  Anyone else feel like the substance of things you’ve hoped for is broken, and with it, your faith?  Anyone else feel lost and waiting?

And while you’re looking around, has anyone seen my cuticle trimmer?

Ambitions, Goals, Expectations, Discipline December 24, 2014

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I set out this year to finish writing a novel or two if I could squeeze them in.  I had plenty of time, I guess.  But I don’t have time now, and I’m not going to make it in 2014.  I’ll be closer than I was last year.  I was more than halfway finished with both in the middle of the year.  Time and inspiration both failed me.  So this year, while I did write, and I’m into some interesting spots in both novels, neither one is all that close to being done.  I know what to say, and I know how to say it.  I just have to sit and write.  Sure, I have to research to update just in case the legal codes in one of the stories has updated this year.  And after I finish I’m hoping my lawyer friend will look over the one book just to make sure those parts are at least plausible.  If a lawyer “in whom is no guile” buys it, it’s golden.  If he doesn’t, rewrite.  I’m fortunate that I know one of those.  So what happened this year?

I know some people that build models.  Model cars, model trains, model planes.  They spend hours at it and when they are done they have something that is beautiful, fun, and a colossal waste of time.  Or not.  I know people who play a musical instrument.  They spend hours at it if they are serious, and when all is said and done, they have something that is beautiful, fun, might earn some brief applause, and will certainly waste a colossal amount of their time.  Or not.  I can say “or not” about these hobbyists, because I am one of them.  I do play a musical instrument.  I’m not a virtuoso, but I do all right.  I would like to learn other musical instruments, at or better than my current proficiency level.  Maybe I’d even like to learn a foreign language.

I work full time, and not at being a writer.  If I did work full time at it, I’d need to finish stuff on time.  I’d want to write for all of my blogs every day.  And that would be fun.  Oh, and then I’d need an audience that buys it.  Because, there are bills to pay, and I don’t know how to make money at it at a level that sets me free to do more.  Given a little margin of success, and a wide margin of time and freedom, I might explore that.  So for now I have to readjust and deal with realizing this is a hobby and not a career.  My wife would applaud, and I would make evil faces at the noise and the sentiment.  For all my Ambitions, Goals, Expectations and Discipline, all I’ve done this year is A-G-E-D.  Not that I’ve completely given up on my dream of finishing off these monsters, but that my time is limited between what must be done and what I want to do.  The one squeezes out the other a lot.  And then, there’s inspiration, another animal I wish I could at least cage, and let out on my leash when I’m ready to take it for a walk.  Alas, that animal is wild, not in my cage, and very adept at hiding.

What I think I have is a heart problem.  My heart isn’t in it for the reasons that professional people do it.  I play my viola for the joy of it.  I write for the pleasure of the craft.  I want to have fun and not worry about the bills.  Can they just pay themselves and let me play at writing and at my viola (and other instruments) for the fun of it?  I don’t like to write, or do anything else, under any externally imposed stress.  It’s good to push myself, but I feel the creativity of it being squeezed out, and I dry up inside, slow down, and eventually stop until I feel like I can pick it up again.

I used to read a lot.  I love books.  But there was a cycle that I became aware of, during my school years.  I read what was required during the year, I studied hard, and read very little for pleasure.  Summer would come, and I would have free time.  But it took me until the first several weeks of summer vacation before I felt like reading anything, even though it was for fun.  School was so stressful, so pushy, I dried up and lost the urge to read anything at all, because I was being forced to do it.  I would read for fun, the last part of June, through August, and then the cycle would start again.  Stress, squeeze, dry, rest, recreate.  It was almost like the books I read for fun were water to my dry sponge of life, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to the library because I was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from being forced to read and do other things.  The cycle hurt my soul, and it takes me some time to get back to where I feel like I can read anything.  And pushing myself to do anything else at an unnatural or forced pace or compulsory direction seems to make that cycle start happening all over again.

In one week, there will be a brand new year.  When I sat and wrote in 2014, it was 500 or a thousand words at a seating.  If I keep doing that, eventually my hobby will bear fruit.  I see the buds blossoming on my hobby tree, and I’m waiting for those beautiful, fat, juicy apples to form.  And after those, I have ideas for more.  So that’s my goal for 2015, same as it was for 2014, but AGED with wisdom.  It’s just a hobby, not something to feel pressure or disappointment about, but something to take when it comes, and have fun.  Who knows?  Maybe I can finish the novels, improve on my viola, learn guitar, win the lottery and be free.  We’ve even got a symphony orchestra nearby that I’d love to play with.  But if not, I hope to take the freedom and margin I do have, and run with that.  Until I get that big payoff that sets me free to do what I really want, there’s more urgent things that I need to do, and they’re going to distract me from what I really want to do.  Here’s hoping, though.

There was a time when I sat down at the computer and researched how long the average novel was, and I had zero words on the page.  Now I have lots of words on the pages, but haven’t reached my finish lines.  I just have to realize, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  It’s not an hors d’oeuvre, it’s a 21 course meal.  I can do it.  It can be fun.  There can be second winds, runners highs, endorphins from the wonderful, different, complementary flavors, complex harmonies.  And there will be trips, falls, skinned knees and bruises, feelings of impossibility, car repairs and other disasters along the way.  I hope you can find time, or build time, in your busy schedule, to incorporate some relaxation, fun, recuperation, when you’re feeling the stress of life squeezing the freedom out of your dreams, and then get back to pursuing them.

And I hope you have set goals and you are reaching for them, and making progress, even if it’s little-by-little.  We may not have the encouragement from the people we wish would be encouraging.  It may not be as quick as we want, or as profitable as we want. If you love doing it I pray you’ll be able to keep on pressing on toward your goals and that you’ll get there.  The journey takes longer than I ever dreamed it would, and on my journey there have been metaphoric (and literal) car problems and flat tires and family squabbles all along the way.  Keep pressing forward.  Hold tightly to your Ambitions, Goals, Expectations, and Discipline, and keep writing!  Or model-building.  Or learning.  Or practicing.  Or whatever that good thing is that you do in your spare time.  Keep on going.  Sure, we’ll end up AGED.  But that pursuit is worthwhile.  And you can do it.

Telephone Tag December 15, 2014

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It’s Christmas.  I’m enjoying everyone else’s excitement and fun.  But I’m a bit lost in it all.  Sure, we’re setting up our kids, and I hope to write a Christmas poem/song and a nice note for my wife.  We quit doing the stupid Christmas letter years ago.  Those letters we receive, and those letters we’ve sent in the past, were all about feeling positive about the present and the future.  Why bother?  So I quit doing it.  And my wife, not being the writer, didn’t take it up.  If you’re fond of writing, or reading, the Christmas letter, and getting the photo of the family, I love to read yours and see your pictures, and I’m not as critical of your writing as I am when I write my own.  We didn’t take one of those happy smiling photos either, so I’m sorry.  My wife and kids are more beautiful/handsome than ever, thank you for asking.

My wife tries to encourage me.  “We’ll be ok.  Smile.” Or something like that.

“OK” (Faking smile for 3 seconds)  “I’m ‘depressed-happy.'”

My pastor keeps hitting me with these “Messages from God,” and it’s only his second or third Sunday as Senior Pastor.  Last week he asked what we’d answer if God asked us to do something.  I’d assert that my answer is yes.  His example was Zechariah, who was asked to name his kid John and raise him to a high standard of behavior, and Elizabeth, who was asked to have a kid when she was kind of elderly for child-bearing.  This week he asked if we were available.  Yes again.  His example was Mary, who had done the right things in her youth, and was available to God for His purposes.  Well, who in the modern era has done the right things?  Not I.  But available?  Sure.  Let me know what you want me to do, and then give me the energy, inspiration and time to get it done.  I’ve got a little time if I sneak it in, or delay some pressing project that’s less than urgent.

Why am I “depressed-happy?”  Well, I like that people are gearing up for Christmas.  It’s cool.  The God I want to serve gets to be a focal point for people.  I’m getting ready for the Christmas Eve presentation at Church, and in the Sunday School class I teach, good kids every one, we talked about the Christmas story, Christmas carols, and poetry.  I encouraged them to read through what we know about Christmas from the source Texts, (Matthew, Mark, Luke) so they can separate fact from myth or poetic license.  That’s a good thing.  And we’re not in dire dire straits.  And my wife and kids are beautiful and relatively happy.  And my wife is very good, like fantastic, about wanting to take care of me and the kids.  So that’s the happy part.

What’s the “depressed” part?  The message I strongly feel is being directed to me is only getting halfway across.  I mean, Mary and Joseph and Zecharias got angels, for heaven’s sake.  Color me jealous.  They delivered a complete message of instruction.  Where’s mine?  Sure, it’d scare the crap out of me.  But at the same time, it’d be clear.  It’s like that telephone game you played as a kid.  Someone would whisper a message to their neighbor.  They’d whisper to their neighbor, and so on until the message got to you, and it was distorted, garbled, or mischievously changed.  I get the first half.  Be available.  Fine, sign me up.

I’m signed up because I still believe God is the only God there is, because God is the only One Who can adequately step in here, and because in my past… well, there’s a novel or two for you. One is a story of survival, the other is a love story, miracles and all, that I still treasure and cling to, although, the only angel in that story is my wife.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had a really good, hopeful chapter.

So I’m signed up.  Now I just need the means, energy, inspiration and time.  I don’t feel that i have any of that.  And for what?  For what I’m already going through?  Where do I sign up to escape from the stupidity of it?  Stuff falls apart, and this trend is not met with the resources to fix things I feel need to be  fixed.  So it waits on the repair pile until it becomes a crisis and then it gets a patch.  And whenever I start to see what might be a flicker at the end of the tunnel, something comes along and snatches that away just as fast as I thought I saw it.  Or maybe I didn’t really see it.

The Sunday school kids and I focused on the shepherds this week.  Color me more jealous.  The shepherds got a whole anthem of angels.  OK I made that plural designation up, they’re sometimes called a “flight” or a “host” of angels.  But being as they busted out singing, an anthem seems fitting.  I just want one.  Not a misfit “Clarence,” like in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  But if Clarence appeared in the room, I’d even listen to him.

I watched a movie the other day, I won’t tell the title because I don’t think anyone else should endure it on purpose.  It was a typical starter story line for a movie, mystery builds, bad stuff happens, and you wait for the ending to be happy:  The victims are rescued, the bad guys are exterminated or arrested and carried off to justice, the hero says something witty and smiles and everything is ok.   Not this movie.  The victims are all just killed, including the lady you think will live, and the credits roll.  Real life, I guess.  But I thought it sucked!  I brought it up because I don’t want my real life to be like that.  It sucks, and you die.  The end.  Roll credits.  Please.  No.

If God/Jesus is the hero of the Bible (and He is), then I want Him to be my hero too.  And I can identify with the shepherds before the angelic chorus broke out.

Dear God,

It’s me.  I’m still here.  I feel like a shepherd, watching my sheep.  I’m getting old here on this cold hill.  My bones ache, my muscles are tired, my skin itches, my eyes are out of focus (old glasses), my teeth are failing, and the sheep are boring, doing what sheep do.  They’re born, we shear them, we feed and care for them, they live, they die.  Not exciting.  And I want to sleep, but if I slow down things will fall apart even faster, and they’re already faster than I can handle.  The sole came off of the heel of my shoe the other day, and I think there are holes in my covering.  (At least some of these are metaphors.) I feel breezy and cold, and my foot is damp.

I’m trying to do the right thing, but then my humanity creeps in and sometimes I do what humans do, which is to screw up.  Sorry for not being pure and blameless all the time.  Not sure how Zecharias and Mary managed that.  I’m trying to help out, but I really don’t feel empowered to do more or give more.  I’ve got a dream, but, the pay is crap and I’m stuck here on this hill without the means or time or energy or inspiration to pursue it.  And I’m trying to pursue the dream without the means, in whatever spare time I might have, and I progress little by little, but most days I’m not feeling like I’m making any progress at all.

I don’t even have the right that Mary or Zecharias and Elizabeth might have claimed, to be chosen.  I’m not pure and blameless.  I’ve got age spots on my sins.  But I still want Jesus to be my Hero.  If He’s not coming in person, I still want Him to send help.  The shepherds had a cool story to tell, after that night.  Mary, and Zecharias, and Elizabeth, and the rest, lived out a pretty cool story too.  I understand the stigma Mary had to endure.  But her kid was Jesus, for heaven’s sake.  How comforting would it be to be “overshadowed by the power of God” (v35) Himself?

Right now the villain has me in his evil clutches.  I don’t want it to end like that movie.  Can my story have a happy ending, please?  And can You intervene for those out there that I know have it even worse than me, first?

Signed,
Me

I’m ready for Christmas.  I hope there’s a present under the tree for me.  I hope there’s at least one for you too.  And for everyone else who is crying out, I hope you’ll find hope in this season, too.  Give a listen to the song below.  It’s one of my very favorite bands, with a song that is close to my heart, although maybe right now we’re on the wrong side of it.  And may “God bless us, every one!”