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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.”

Oil On Jesus’ Feet (Sort-of-Humor) December 9, 2015

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From Wikipedia:
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Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The oil has, since ancient times, been used as a perfume, as a medicine and in religious contexts, across a wide territory from India to Europe.

The Bible contains several references to the spikenard, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
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In John 12, we have a beautiful picture of the sacrifice made by a woman who loved Jesus.  The custom of the day was to wash and oil one’s feet, as the environment could be dusty and dry.

In this instance, the scented oil was very expensive, but there were more common oils available in the day, especially olive oil.

When you drop any oil onto water, it floats.

This could explain how Jesus performed the miracle recorded in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6.  We’re not told if Jesus was wearing sandals.  If you were going into the water, most of you wouldn’t wear foot gear.  But He would have to have perfect balance to not break the surface tension of the water.  And he would have had to know Peter oiled up his feet too.  With Jesus as the focal point of Peter’s experience while walking out there, Peter had the necessary concentration and balance, but when he took his eyes off of Jesus, he immediately sank and Jesus had to rescue him.

I’m joking but there’s a practical application.  I’m not going to try that in any literal way any time soon.  I’m not well able to balance on flat earth, much less on the water.  And my eyes aren’t well enough focused on Jesus for me to match Peter’s experience.  But I am going to try to be better focused and more spiritually balanced in the new year.  It’s coming quick.

How well balanced are you?  How well focused is your spirit?

My Mite, His Might May 14, 2014

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On Saturday I witnessed the first communion of my niece and nephew.  As a Protestant I was surprised to feel so very welcomed and included.  And I was pleased with the encouragements being offered to parents and young, new communicants.  The clothes were elegant.  The language in the pew before and behind our family was unmistakeably Polish.  The grandparents and parents beamed with pride, and hope, and love.  The singing was scattered, but led well and played and sung loudly enough one didn’t have to notice if their neighbor didn’t sing.

My Mother-In-Law declined to partake in communion, saying her knees were unfaithful and she was afraid of the trip from pew to altar.  I stayed by her, mercifully pardoned the lonely embarassment of being Protestant in a crowd of Catholics.  Their worship books in the pew have provisions for non-Catholic participation in communion.  It’s done by special written permissions from the higher church authorities.  Or, it’s done by presumptuous people who don’t know you’re supposed to get permission if you haven’t been through their instruction programs.  I know too much to participate with a clear conscience.  But they were so welcoming!  From what the priest said, all were to be included in the special occasion.  I felt that I could have gone right up and received the elements.  It would have been very awkward for me though.

After the celebratory parade of new communicants and the faithful participated in the communion rite, what the priest had to say reduced me to tears.  Not because of what he said.  But because of what it meant to me.  I kind of simultaneously love and hate when God says stuff and seems to aim it directly at my hard, faithless, doubting heart. 

The text was John 6.  When Jesus tried to get away with his disciples just for a chance to break away from healings and other ministries, a crowd followed them and just when they sat down, the crowds were coming in a swarm, almost upon them.  Jesus knew they were coming and knew what he wanted to do all along.  He asked the disciples to figure out how to feed everyone.  They counted the cost, about a half a year’s wages or more, and knew they didn’t have that kind of cash. 

A little boy offered them his lunch.  5 small barley bread loaves and two fish.  The priest asked what the kids thought the disciples were thinking.  They gave various responses.  “It’s not enough.”  “What will the boy eat?”  And the priest only told about the disciple’s response of how much it would cost to feed the crowd. 

I read the text and they joked, I think with not a little sarcasm, amongst themselves, “oh, great.  That’ll go really far!”  But the kid offered it.  It was an offering far too small to meet the need, and it was offered because the innocent boy had faith.

Ever read the story of “the widow’s mite?”  See Mark 12, Luke 21.  That lady gave, down to her last lepton.  I don’t spend a lot of money.  What I earn mostly goes into the checking and out to bills.  But if I ever get any extra, and it isn’t spent on my wife or kids, I think it’s hilarious to empty my wallet (usually a buck or five is all I have) into the offering box.  My son saw me do that once and he was worried.  “DON’T!!  What if you need that?!”  I said “God and I have an arrangement.  I won’t need that.”  And since I don’t go out to eat normally, and rarely need anything for myself, if it makes it into my wallet, chances are, I won’t. Besides, it’s only a tiny mite, and I don’t want anyone to make a big deal about it, because it’s no big deal. No one is blowing trumpets to announce my giving (please).  I once went the whole week with a $20 in my wallet while my wife and kids were away from home.  My gas tank was filled before they left, I cooked my own meals and brought them with me to work and cooked at home, and when they came back I still had the $20.  So I have times when I live like a miser.  But there are other times when money goes like water and I can liquidate a hundred or two.

Like at the gas station, for instance.

The priest never specifically mentioned the faith of the little boy. He never mentioned the sarcasm of the faithless adult disciples, who obviously didn’t know Who they were hanging around with. But to silence their faithless sarcasm, not only did Jesus feed the crowd of 5000 men, not including women and children, he had the disciples go around and collect the leftovers. Not just one basket, but twelve. Not 13, He’s not wasteful. So that meant there was enough for one more meal of fish and bread for the disciples to enjoy.

About eating your words? In your face, faithless sarcasm. God can do anything He wants, even if the offering is far too small. I thought through this. And at that point in my thought process, I wept, right in the middle of my in-law’s first communion, in the Catholic church. My heart is broken, my wallet and my checkbook always only has an offering far too small. Lately, it’s been a harsh, brutal, difficult journey of getting into debt, with creditors now calling several times a day. Where do they get the money to keep up the attacks? We got call tracing on our phone and we don’t answer any more. The debts started accruing when I got a job that doesn’t pay enough and we tried to preserve the value of one of our cars and it ended up needing to be replaced in spite of our repair efforts and our investments toward it. It’s only gotten deeper from there. The interest rate is too high and we’re hardly able to make that, not to mention the principle we borrowed to start with.

So, Jesus, I have what I have, and I earn what I earn, and think in my sarcastic, bitter heart, “Oh great. That’ll cover a lot of the debt. Good luck with that, vultures. I mean bankers.” I don’t have enough. But like the widow and the boy with the single lunch, I need You to feed these vultures at my door and on my phone, and could You leave a few baskets behind for me and the family? I’ll cheerfully eat my sarcasm and bitter faithlessness if You’ll multiply the tiny offerings I have. From my perspective, there are too many details for which money is the answer, and not enough to cover the costs. But from God’s perspective and plan, perhaps the proverbial “lunch” I have to offer can be blessed and multiplied somehow.

Readers, I’ll let you know when He answers. And I’ll let you know what He says, too. Right now He’s pretty quiet. Maybe He’s waiting for them to sit down. Maybe there’s still something I’m supposed to learn. But He can do anything. This I know. My mite is still going to go into the offering, because it’s still ridiculously hilarious. I just pray He covers me, and multiplies my mite with His Might.

Human Strength and Frailty April 17, 2014

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We are so strong. We can endure some amazing things. Listen to older people tell stories of endurance, and I don’t mean the ones where they say they walked uphill 26 miles to school and uphill 26 miles back again. I mean the ones about the heroes who lived through wars and tortures and starvation and poverty and mans inhumanity to his fellow man. I mean the ones where the person worked from sun-up to sun-down and then came home and took care of family and home because no one else cared. There are stories about people saving others from fire, from water, from war, surviving icy exposure, desert heat, bullet holes and concentration camps.

And we are so frail. A little tiny bacteria or virus can kill you, without the correct antibodies or antibiotics or antivirals. A little tiny appendix can kill you without the correct surgery. Your heart may just up and quit one day, or even explode under the pressure of life. Your teeth. A little food particle gets caught in there too long, and you’ve got decay. Your lungs. A little cancer cell starts to multiply in the fertile, smoky environment, and you’re dead. Your liver. A little alcohol, and a little more, and pretty soon that thing is riddled with holes and all you want is a little more and a little more. A little ulcer on the stomach, a little tiny kidney stone, a little corn or heel spur or cold sore or… You get the picture. We’re good, but tiny tiny things will mess us up.

Steel shows similar traits. It’s strong, and if it’s made correctly, can cut through anything. Ginsu, or Sheffield Steel, or Chicago Cutlery, anyone? But let a little water sit on that long enough and it’ll rust. From water. Something as soft and gentle and necessary as water can destroy something so strong and dull something so sharp. Something so small, causes such great destruction.

One of my friends is a preacher, and he’s a dynamo. He’s just good. He can share a message from the Lord, and deliver the fire until your hat’s on fire with blessings, or your tails on fire from knowing what you did. We have the same kind of heart, in fact we’ve talked on several occasions and seen, that although we don’t spend time together, the same spiritual thread is weaving through both of our spirits. We may see one another once a week or two at work in our secular jobs. But something is wrong. Doctors are working on him, trying to figure out how to control epilepsy.

In the New Testament, if it were written in the modern era, they would have called certain demonic fits “epilepsy.” And they would call certain skin and nerve diseases “leprosy,” and others by their medical names In the Old Testament you can read about stuff like this and how the root cause was probably not so much an outer manifestation of the body or the skin, but an outer manifestation of some hidden sin.

I don’t think there’s sin in that man’s life. And yet I know there is because all have sinned. Still, we have medicine, a gift from God, with modern technology, another gift from God, to help us understand where these medical conditions come from and how to treat them. We’ve come leaps and bounds in treating things like AIDS and Parkinson’s and Epilepsy and Influenza and tooth decay. If there’s a bigger sinner, it’s me. All I can do though is pray for him, so the doctors figure out the small thing that’s causing the bigger symptoms to happen, and a way to control that. I love that guy like he was my own brother, and I don’t have any brothers in real life. I think he’s awesome as a husband and father, and as a friend and preacher too. And I think, that like the man who was born blind, the weakness is in him to show off how strong God is.

We are so strong, we have these endurances, and yet, we are so weak. Jesus had the cures back in the day, and he also knew the hearts. I wish we knew what He did, and how He did it. But sadly, most faith healers are either fakers, or flashes in the pan. All we can do is pray for each other. When my friend had a seizure at work, it was pretty scary. He was standing, reeling, lurching, trying to walk around but his body and his mind were failing to work right. All I could do was pray for him to be set free.

And then the most awesome thing happened. Before the seizure released him, his team all stood around him, closely, surrounding him, preventing him from falling and injuring himself. They put themselves at risk because he could have lashed out and hurt one of them. But they protected him from himself until the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital. And then their gentle, human shield of protective restraint was replaced by straps and a gurney and medical professionals. That is probably the most beautiful and profound demonstration of “community” I have ever seen.

I need friends to surround me, to help me, and to protect me from the little things I can’t see, and can’t fix myself, that are making life spin so out-of-control. And so do we all. I hope we all have a group of that kind of friends, and also friends who will pray for the little things to let go so we can fix whatever’s broken and move on.