CQ…Clark Here

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Archive for the tag “God”

So Here I Am

I’ve been really weary for a while. I’ve not strayed from devotional times in the Bible, but I have had little energy to step beyond the basics of getting through each day.

But my devotional time this morning was particularly fulfilling, and I want to share that with you.

I first read in Isaiah, chapters 34-36, and was reminded that God is in control, of the just and the unjust.

I next read Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening for this morning, and I share that here:

Morning

The king also himself passed over the brook Kidron.2 Samuel 15:23

David passed that gloomy brook when flying with his mourning company from his traitor son. The man after God’s own heart was not exempt from trouble, nay, his life was full of it. He was both the Lord’s Anointed, and the Lord’s Afflicted. Why then should we expect to escape? At sorrow’s gates the noblest of our race have waited with ashes on their heads, wherefore then should we complain as though some strange thing had happened unto us?

The KING of kings himself was not favoured with a more cheerful or royal road. He passed over the filthy ditch of Kidron, through which the filth of Jerusalem flowed. God had one Son without sin, but not a single child without the rod. It is a great joy to believe that Jesus has been tempted in all points like as we are. What is our Kidron this morning? Is it a faithless friend, a sad bereavement, a slanderous reproach, a dark foreboding? The King has passed over all these. Is it bodily pain, poverty, persecution, or contempt? Over each of these Kidrons the King has gone before us. In all our afflictions he was afflicted. The idea of strangeness in our trials must be banished at once and for ever, for he who is the Head of all saints, knows by experience the grief which we think so peculiar. All the citizens of Zion must be free of the Honourable Company of Mourners, of which the Prince Immanuel is Head and Captain.

Notwithstanding the abasement of David, he yet returned in triumph to his city, and David’s Lord arose victorious from the grave; let us then be of good courage, for we also shall win the day. We shall yet with joy draw water out of the wells of salvation, though now for a season we have to pass by the noxious streams of sin and sorrow. Courage, soldiers of the Cross, the King himself triumphed after going over Kidron, and so shall you.

 

I next read Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost His Highest:

 

May 31

Put God First

By Oswald Chambers

Jesus did not commit Himself to them…for He knew what was in man. —John 2:24-25

Put Trust in God First. Our Lord never put His trust in any person. Yet He was never suspicious, never bitter, and never lost hope for anyone, because He put His trust in God first. He trusted absolutely in what God’s grace could do for others. If I put my trust in human beings first, the end result will be my despair and hopelessness toward everyone. I will become bitter because I have insisted that people be what no person can ever be— absolutely perfect and right. Never trust anything in yourself or in anyone else, except the grace of God.

Put God’s Will First. “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:9).

A person’s obedience is to what he sees to be a need— our Lord’s obedience was to the will of His Father. The rallying cry today is, “We must get to work! The heathen are dying without God. We must go and tell them about Him.” But we must first make sure that God’s “needs” and His will in us personally are being met. Jesus said, “…tarry…until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The purpose of our Christian training is to get us into the right relationship to the “needs” of God and His will. Once God’s “needs” in us have been met, He will open the way for us to accomplish His will, meeting His “needs” elsewhere.

Put God’s Son First. “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me” (Matthew 18:5).

God came as a baby, giving and entrusting Himself to me. He expects my personal life to be a “Bethlehem.” Am I allowing my natural life to be slowly transformed by the indwelling life of the Son of God? God’s ultimate purpose is that His Son might be exhibited in me.

 

I also subscribe to a couple “Verse of the Day” apps, and here are those two verses:

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians, 15:57

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

 

Beth also shared with me the devotional Jesus Calling for May 31:

Joy Each Day

May 31 – “Jesus Calling”, by Sarah Young

The Peace that I give you transcends your intellect. When most of your mental energy goes into efforts to figure things out, you are unable to receive this glorious gift. I look into your mind and see thoughts spinning round and round: going nowhere, accomplishing nothing. All the while, My Peace hovers over you, searching for a place to land.

Be still in My Presence, inviting Me to control your thoughts. Let My Light soak into your mind and heart, until you are aglow with My very Being. This is the most effective way to receive My Peace.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
—2 Thessalonians 3:16

“Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.”
—Job 22:21

 

It was kind of cool how everything this morning seemed to flow from one aspect of my devotional time to the next, but I was particularly struck by Spurgeon’s words, and here’s what I wrote in response to “Morning and Evening.”

I needed this today! Life has objectively been difficult since around the year 2000 (Yeah, I know, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”  But still…). My parents are both gone, my bio mom died, my only sister growing up is gone as well. I am the first “orphan” I know. Both of our beautiful daughters have turned from God. We love them with all of our being, but it is wrenching to see them in this place. I found my dream job after twenty years as a city cop, but within five years I was forced into a position of having to choose between my integrity and doing a boss’s will. I chose integrity and was fired for it. I’m currently working at a job that is less than optimal, finding no fulfillment in it, little satisfaction, and no “significance,” I find each day a trial. My boss is great, and my “big” boss is awesome, especially with this past year.  I have really come to love and appreciate her, but the everyday aspects of my job are difficult. My relationship with my wife is, and has been great, and I discovered that our marriage was the only thing in life with which I was content.  But Beth was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer last year, and we spent the entire year of 2017 fighting that horrid and unexpected disease.  Much of the time I thought I was going to lose her; this whole “C-word adventure” has proven to be extremely difficult for a number of reasons. For one thing, being a cop for nearly four decades, I pretty much got accustomed early in my career to the idea that “today may be my last shift. Today I may not come home.” But it was never even on my radar that I might lose Beth. I understood that accidents can happen, we all die, but I never had to face Beth’s “imminent departure.”  God was gracious, Beth is in remission and currently in a clinical trial to push back any re-occurrence, but I have been shaken to my core. Our younger daughter has been terrific, but our elder daughter has broken all contact with us, even in the midst of this.

I am pretty much an introvert, and I find I just want to hole up in my home and have no contact with people at all.

Finally, I have recently started my journey with Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program with emphasis on Jesus. I have thrown away an addictive behavior that has plagued me for some time, so I don’t even have the sinful, guilt-ridden “pleasure” of turning to that. It takes time to re-wire one’s brain. It can be done, it is being done in me, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

So I have nothing; I AM nothing. Except for two words: “But God…”

My heroes of the Bible have, for some time, been Moses, Abraham, Joseph. All of them spent years, decades, in difficult circumstances before God used them, before it became apparent to them what God had in mind. How often, I wonder, did they cry out to God in their pain and humiliation.

Thinking about this once, I thought, “but I’m not Abraham! I’m not Joseph.” And I felt/heard/understood that God answered me and said, “No, you’re not. And yes you are.” They, too, had no clue as to God’s purpose when going through their trials, but “wholly leaned on (the promised Messiah’s) name.” And that’s my job right now.  I want to understand.  I want to be in a “good” place.  But God is directing me otherwise.  “But God…”

One time, long ago, I sincerely prayed, “God, make me like Jesus.” Looking back, I can almost hear God chuckling, and saying to me, “Ok, buckle up, son, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” I have said (mostly) in jest that I should have prayed, “Leave me the frick alone!”

But here we are.

I’m tired, I’m weary. I don’t understand, I am impatient, I am spent.

And all I have is, “But God…”

This is the Serenity Prayer in its entirety as written by Reinhold Niebuhr.  Good prayer!

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is;

not as I would have it;

trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to your will;

so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with You forever in the next.”

Amen.

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Caught in the corner.

Hang on, dig in, strap down, get set.  I am going to state a truism that may just rock your world.  Ready?  Here it is:  Life is hard.  Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.  Life is hard and there is nothing to be done about it.  “Life is pain Highness.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

When I was young (Wait.  I meant younger) I thought I was ready for anything that life had to throw at me.  I thought I would chew it up and spit it out.  Little did I know just how painful life can be.  Let me describe what I mean.

I met Beth at Behrend College of Penn State in 1975.  Through her feminine wiles, we soon fell in love and planned our life together.  Long walks, long talks, gazing into each others’ eyes, we did all those dewy, romantic and saccharine things that young couples often do when they fall in love.  Objectively speaking, our romance was (and remains) the best and finest romance in the history of the world.  And I wouldn’t trade one single minute for anything.

We married in 1978 (see, Beth?  I do too remember) and started with nothing more than an old Chevy Impala given to us by my folks, a cat, and love.  What a grand start to a marriage!  We moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and I found a job in, of all places, a donut factory on my way to my life-long dream job of being a policeman.  I got into police work over thirty years ago, and the trials and travails Beth and I experienced could have wrecked us multiple times.  But from the beginning, we both loved God more than anything, and have worked to make Him, and Him alone, the focus and center of our marriage.

Children came along, planned and anticipated.  Loved, adored, and our pride and joy.  We raised them “purposely and intentionally,” a catch phrase with a set of our closest friends; a catch phrase, but describes our parenting very nicely.  Everything we did with them was intended to be a life’s lesson, to instruct them and to train and prepare them for everything that life was going to throw at them.  Clearly we were not perfect, and there are innumerable moments I wish I could take back, change, re-do.  But we’re not given that option, are we?  Even so, no one has ever loved their children more, or worked harder to raise their children to be the best they could be.  I went back to school part-time, and worked toward my Master’s Degree from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.  I found that I enjoyed my class work (as opposed to my undergrad experience) and excelled.  Of course, I devoted a ton of time to my school work to do so, but enjoyed it none the less.

In the mid-1980’s, I joined the Erie Police Department in Erie, PA.  Having come from a small police department where every sneeze and belch was noted and scrutinized, when I moved to a larger department I was like a kid in a candy store.  I had more fun than anyone had a right to.  But all things change, and even good things have a habit of diminishing.  I finished my Master’s degree program and eventually left the street to become a detective, then a Detective Sergeant working Homicides, bank robberies with FBI agents, Presidential protection details with the Secret Service, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT),  just about any cool thing that one could desire.  I had a “patron” that was guiding me in the ways of politics within the city, and I was moving toward higher ranks; meeting people, shaking hands, joining clubs and organizations.

During this time I also worked in our church.  I found myself elected to the Deacon board, which at the time was kind of a combined Elder/Deacon position.  We made policy for the church, as well as watching for the immediate spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in the congregation.  As was typical, I threw myself into it, and spent a lot of time working for the church.

As are many men, I am driven to excel at whatever task I take on.  And for most of the things I try, I push myself until I’m pretty good at whatever it is I am doing.  However, as I pushed and struggled to advance, I noticed something.  My daughters were in High School, perhaps only a few years from graduating and moving on.  And I hardly knew them.

I remembered some of the ideals that Beth and I had as young marrieds and as young parents, and I did not want to look back and regret the time that I devoted to my job; I did not want to regret the time that I should have given to my children.  So I did something that was very difficult for me.  I took myself off the fast track at work.  Man was I disappointed.  But, I thought, at least I had my church and my family.  Family, church, and work.  I measured myself as a successful man by these three things.

Oops, one down.  I intentionally gave work away, but that’s ok.  I still had the other two.  I convinced myself that as long as I “succeeded” at church and family, I was ok.  Work was actually the third on the list anyway, so I could be less than at the pinnacle there and still be a success at the other two.  However, church is a funny thing; it’s filled with people.  And people are the same no matter where they happen to be located.  I dealt with good folks and mean folks all across the spectrum.  I dealt with issues that I wish I had never known about.  Ultimately I kind of flamed out with leadership in church, too.  When my term as Deacon expired, I did not seek re-election, and I am not sure how eager I am even now, twenty-something years later, to repeat that experience.

Two down.  But I still have my family.  And this is the most important of the three.  As long as I “succeed” at family, I still have worth in my eyes.  I am still a “successful” man.

You kind of see what’s coming, right?

I had read a book once that described a father’s raising his family, and essentially his thoughts were that no matter what success he had elsewhere, if he didn’t raise his children well, what good is he?  I agreed with that, and worked accordingly.

Now before I continue, I want to make clear that I love my children.  With my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Nothing has ever changed that, and nothing ever will.  Further, I need not detail more than this.  They are good people, working to be the best that they can envision themselves to be.  I am proud of them and their accomplishments.  Suffice it to say here that they have chosen to walk a couple of paths that I would not have chosen for them.  Their lives, their decisions.  I respect that and will support them, love them, help them to the best that I am able.

I think that at least in part, I took their “contrary” decisions personally, that it was my responsibility for where they have chosen to be.  Of course, each of us will ultimately take ownership of our choices and decisions, but at the time, I keenly felt that I was an abject failure as a father.  And for me that was strike three.  I was a failure as a man.

Some people turn to drink, some people may become even more spiritual, some turn to other outlets to ease the pain.  I have had several.

For years I have struggled with, shall we say, less wholesome outlets.  I honestly don’t know how teens can cope with the internet.  One can instantly find just about anything one would care to find.  With all that one can access today via the internet, I wouldn’t have survived as a teen.  Anyhow, through a lot of prayer, working with several dedicated and spiritual men, this particular area is much less difficult for me than it once was.

But there were other ways that one can feel momentarily better.  Food is one of my biggest struggles.  I love food.  I love the smell of good food, I love the taste of food and its texture as I roll it through my mouth, I love the satisfying feel of a full stomach.  And Beth is honestly the best cook I have ever known.

For a while this wasn’t as big a problem as it could be.  Although my metabolism had been slowing down, I was pretty active.  Being on the SWAT team was pretty demanding, and I had to stay in some semblance of shape, so even though I ate big, I burned a lot of it at the same time.  Also, at 6’3″, I can hide it pretty well.  This changed a bit when I retired from the team.  I ballooned to an all-time high of 260 pounds of unadulterated cellulose, and looked every bit like the chubby hubby that I was.

I had other outlets as well.  I am a very sensual guy.  I love taste, texture, beauty, scents.  I love trying new things.  I love learning.  So when I find something new that tastes great, smells great, and has nuance, I dive in.  Especially if it’s not something that a ton of people do.  I discovered craft beer and I discovered cigars.  Both are topics of endless discussion for me, I can talk for hours about either.  For the record, my buddy Matt makes the best beer I have tried; second is Founder’s Breakfast Stout or perhaps Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stouts.  Oh, man!  For cigars, my go to is always an Ashton, and specifically an Ashton Double Magnum, although I love all kinds of cigars at different times.  If you’re interested, go see Chris at Leaf Lover’s Tobbaconist in North East, PA for a great cigar.  And remember my advice.  If you can buy cigars and gasoline at the same location, don’t buy the cigars!!

Anyhow, along with Scuba diving, these were the outlets I used to “cope” with life’s little surprises.  I was a far cry from that twenty-one year old that thought he could handle everything.  Essentially, it looks like I can’t handle much of anything.  Or maybe life just kept throwing its little surprises until I was broken down.  Whatever, I was at a point that I needed help with coping.  But I didn’t like where I was.  That having been said, I think I need to clarify here.  As long as this post turns out to be, it is still a very abbreviated version of all this.  This entire process kind of evolved over the past twenty years or so, and I am condensing it here to a couple of thousand-ish words.  Also, it may look like I was just a total wreck.  Not so, but I had come to lean on tangibles, not on inner strength and God’s power.

So, here I was.  A failure at work, a failure at church, a failure with my family.  “Needing” food, scuba, beer, and cigars.  So what happened next?  Earlier this year I looked at a couple of photos taken of me, and man, I did not like what I saw.  This guy’s a fatty!  Beth and I both decided it was time, so we embarked on a weight loss and life style change.  Although I started at a lower weight than my all time high, since May, I have lost about thirty pounds with ten to go to my goal.  Beth has done even better.  I think we both look great, and the next step is to get back to the gym and get in shape.

Food’s gone as a crutch.

Beer has been assuming an increasingly anticipated portion of my life.  And I don’t mean nasty or cheap beer.  You folks that drink Bud lite or Coors, well, you have my pity.  Micros are the bomb!  So many different breweries, so many different styles, combinations of hops and malts, I could easily live in a Brewpub.  Wait.  Clark, what did you just say?  Did you hear yourself?

Beth pointed out to me a bit ago that I was consuming more beer than I had before.  She wasn’t yet alarmed exactly, but she was kind of concerned.  Her concern was justified.  Although in comparison to many I didn’t drink much at all, and although in comparison to Europeans I hardly drink anything, I was still using the beer as a crutch.  Clark, what are you doing?  Yep, I need to cut back.  And although I have no intention to cease, my beer consumption has hugely diminished.

Beer’s gone.  But I still have my last stronghold, I still have my cigars.

You can see what’s coming, right?  Hey, didn’t I already say that?

Many people would say this explains a great deal, but as a teen, I fell on my head a couple of times.  Looking back, I probably fractured my spine, but as I could get up and move, I never went to the hospital or even saw a doctor.  Fast forward four decades or so, and I now have two degenerative discs.  After several years of chiropractic therapy and numerous pain shots, I had my neck fused four months ago on two levels; C-5 to C-6, and C-6 to C-7.  The surgery went great, the chronic pain is gone, and the healing has been fine.  But.  My scuba season ended on the date of my surgery, and I probably won’t get back under water (except for assisting classes of new divers in the pool) until spring.

We went back to my surgeon last Monday.  After x-rays, he showed me that the higher level is about 99% healed; essentially completely healed.  The lower level, not as much.  He gave me a few restrictions, and said that he wasn’t concerned at all, and that the only way he would be concerned at all is if I was a smoker, which I am not.  I told him that I haven’t touched a cigarette in my life, but that I do have an occasional cigar.  At that point he kind of stared at me, hesitated a second, and said, “You need to stay away from those.”

Ok, I get it.  Nicotine restricts blood vessels and inhibits the uptake of oxygen, both needed for healing.  I won’t smoke a cigar for months.  But that was my last tangible support.  I am now officially left with nothing to fall back on, nothing to look forward to (And let’s be totally clear.  When I say that, I mean outside my marriage.  Our marriage is still great, and getting better every day!).  When he said that, I felt like my last pillar was knocked down, my bridge was collapsing.  I was bereft.  Even Beth felt bad for me, and she is not, shall we say, the biggest fan of my cigars.

So what do I do?  As I see it, I don’t have a lot of choices here.  My only choice is the one I should have made long ago.  My only choice is to depend on God’s grace; first, last, everywhere.  A few years ago I coined a phrase that I have tried to utilize.  I kind of forgot it, but I’m gonna pick it back up.  That phrase is this.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  So this is what I am left with, this is what I want to do, what I want to continually tell myself.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  I need to give it to God, let it go, live in Him.  Fill me Father.  Fill me with You.  You God.  All You.  Nothing but You.

I don’t know why it is necessary to be painted into a corner to see that one cannot “do this” on one’s own, but I would not be surprised to find that this is rather common.  Even if not, I often find that it is the case for me.  I’ve been cornered, and I have nothing that I can use to defend myself.  I figure I can go in one of three directions.  I can collapse into a puddle of emotional plasma, I can fall back on one of the less healthy things that I used to fall back on, or I can let go and look to the Author and Protector.  I think I’ll look to Jesus.

But boy do I want a cigar.  Let it go, Clark.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Yeah, I know…

Exclusive? Definitely. Inclusive? Even more so.

I first feel the necessity to generally highlight my views of the Bible.  I believe the Bible is logos; the Word of God made available to us through the written word.  I recognize the difficulties in logic, timeline, and seeming “contradictions,” but I believe that the Bible is a unified whole, from Genesis to Revelation.  Although no philosopher, the teachings I tend to admire are from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few.  I style myself as evangelical and fundamental, utilizing the “classical” definition of both.  That is:

Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement. It began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia.  It continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world.

It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the piety of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:

  • The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
  • A high regard for biblical authority;
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.

And;

The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief.   The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:

  • The inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this.
  • The virgin birth of Christ.
  • The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles,

both from Wikipedia.  Obviously there is a ton more information regarding both on Wiki and elsewhere, but for my purposes, this will suffice, as definition and identification.

What this does not mean is that I am a rabid, shove it down someone’s throat kind of guy.  I do not believe it to be in the image of God to do so, and at best, I believe that approach counter-productive.  I believe that God loves me enough to be always present, an example, a guiding light, a beacon to find my way home when I have wandered.  I do not believe my God is interested in holding me at arm’s length until I get it right.  And since He is this for me, I should seek to be no less for those that do not believe as I do.  God is patient and kind, and I try to emulate Him with my friends who believe as I do, and those who may think I’m a bit of a nutter for believing this way.  I have friends all across the spectrum, and I like that.  My friends are precious to me, and for me to hit them over the head with my Bible every time we talk, well, we wouldn’t be friends for long, and I could hardly blame them.

This is background for a messaged presented by our pastor, Bob Klecan, last Sunday, August 12, 2012.  Another sidetrack: I have talked about Pastor Klecan before, and continue to have nothing but praise for him.  One of the smartest guys I know, he refuses to show off about it.  Humble and kind, Bob’s the real deal.  He’s a joy to talk to, and can converse on just about any topic one could wish.  And his approach to the Word of God is equally interesting.  He comes from blue-collar roots, and tailors his messages toward a blue-collar, get in the trenches and do this mentality.  Very refreshing.

Ok, back to his message.  It was entitled, “Contending for the Faith: Arrogant and Hateful?”  Although I am going to comment on that sermon, I need to add a disclaimer:  the original is much better than this paraphrase.  Anything that is good is clearly from Bob Klecan, and anything that doesn’t make much sense is clearly from me.  Also, I am still on oxycodone from my recent surgery, and therefore not firing on all cylinders (the number of which varies according to whom one is talking.  I, as an example, would think of my mind as an eight-cylinder muscle car, perhaps a Ford Mustang Boss 302.  Others would perhaps think that granting me a four-cylinder sub-compact would be generous).

Pastor Bob based his message on the Book of Jude, and although it may sound a bit frightening to think of going through an entire book of the Bible in church, it’s not so bad when one realizes that: A) Bob focuses on just a few verses at a time: and B) that the entire book of Jude is only twenty-five verses long.

He is actually doing a series on the Book of Jude, and it has been interesting, to say the least.  For me, Jude has always been kind of a throw-away, something to read quickly and move on.   It just never seemed like there was enough substance there to gain any traction.  But Pastor Bob has really added muscle to the book, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

This past week Pastor Bob started out with an observation from Jude that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures, the grace that was gifted to the human race by God was being distorted; that grace was being used as an excuse for license.  True, we are forgiven.  But that does not give us permission to do what we want, when we want.  Although God allows us to do so, this does not help us to grow in our faith, but takes us further from the ideal.  We are called, sanctified, and preserved (v. 2).  How then do we contend for the faith, as we are exhorted to do (v. 3)?  How do we contend for the faith “in a society that believes it is arrogant, hateful, and even dangerous to insist that your faith is the ‘right one,’ and to not only refuse to accept the validity of other faiths, but to also to attempt to convert others to your faith?”

The answer is two-fold.  First the explanation as to why we/I believe as we do.

The explanation is that the Good News as proclaimed by the Bible is uniquely exclusive.  Christianity (as represented by the Bible) makes unique claims, as compared to the world’s other major religions.  Christianity claims that God came to earth and lived among men, at the same time completely retaining His “God-ness” and yet at the same time He was completely man.  Christianity claims that Christ, the God-man lived a real life: that he suffered a real death while accepting every wrong thing that keeps us from a perfect God, and that after dying, he re-claimed His life, thereby defeating death.  Further, that since this is true, Christianity claims that accepting and giving oneself to Christ is the only means by which one can come into the presence of a Holy God (heaven).  Only through the acceptance of, and reliance on the gift of grace offered by God through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ may one obtain eternal life.  There are multiple verses in support of this exclusivity, suffice it to say that if Christianity is not the exclusive way to eternal life, then Christianity is useless.  It is not a good philosophy, it is not a good set of principles by which to live.  If Christianity is not true, it is worse than a waste of time, it is actually a terrible evil, pulling us away from any correct way to God, and dooming those that have chosen to follow.  But I believe it is true.  Can I prove that by formulae or direct observation?  Not really.  I can offer evidence of miracles that I have personally witnessed.  I can offer the Scriptures themselves as a unified whole.  And I rely on my faith.

The problem with the explanation is that many people stop right there, and basically live their lives as a bumper sticker.  “The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”  That’s ok to live by, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much to speak to those with real questions.

Pastor Klecan stated that the best (and often only) answer to the question, “How do we then contend for the faith?”  is not in the explanation, but in the application.  And the application is that this faith is uniquely inclusive.  With the Bible, there is no Jew, no greek, no male or female, no racial divide, no favoritism.  All are equally needy before a righteous God, and all are equally accepted with reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice.  And for those of us who do rely on God’s grace, it is incumbent to present ourselves in a light that is worthy.  In our speech, in our actions, in what we post on Facebook, and in what we write.  This is not to say that we compromise on those areas of exclusivity, but that we reach out in love, always looking to the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ.  Bob said something along the lines of, “Do we want to make a point, or do we want to point toward eternity?”  This is where I often personally stumble.  I have very definite ideas about nearly everything, and don’t often hesitate to share my thoughts, regardless of how harsh or pointed they may be.  I need (no, I must) change that attitude.  And that is a work in progress.  In fact, just this past week, a friend on Facebook kind of lit me up about a post I had passed on.  The accompanying photo was unflattering to the subject involved, and in retrospect, not necessary for the point to be made.  I hadn’t even noticed the photo, I liked the major point, so I passed it along.  My friend was rather relentless, and  when I understood how the poster came across, remembering Pastor Bob’s message, I saw I was wrong and apologized.  I told my friend that I should have seen the inherent nastiness in the photo.  She didn’t let me off the hook, she told me that I should have seen it prior to posting.  And you know what?  She was right.  I am trying to look at my posts ahead of time now.  The presentation is as important as is the message.  Like I said, “a work in progress.”

As Pastor Bob said, exclusivity and inclusivity is not, in the end, a “balancing act,” but a commitment to passionately embrace both the exclusive and the inclusive.  That we keep one foot firmly planted in each area.  That we embrace both with equal certainty.  And that we live both with equal passion.

May God grant me the ability to be His representative in love, and in peace.

Useless.

That’s me.  Useless.  Worthless.  Incapable of measuring up, of succeeding at…anything.

These are the thoughts and attitudes I have had nagging at me for pretty much my entire life.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a few ideas about that.

I am adopted.  My bio Mom approached my folks when she was pregnant to ask if they would consider the adoption.  So, not only was I “chosen” by my parents, my parents were “chosen” by my birth mother.  I grew up knowing of the adoption, and my parents always made sure I honored my mother, even if at the time I did not know who she was; that she had made some very difficult choices under very difficult circumstances in order to see me thrive in a home that I couldn’t have had otherwise.  I looked up my biological family a few years ago, and it has proven to be wonderful.  My adoption and bio family will, in all likelihood be topics of future blogs, but for now I offer it as background.

I cannot speak for all adoptees, but in my case it was difficult on only a couple of fronts.  My parents were fantastic, and I am so grateful to have been their son.  I did, however, sometimes wonder why my mother had given me up.  I knew from my folks that it was for good reasons, but still I wondered.  And part of that, I think, lead me to wonder if I somehow didn’t measure up.  If somehow, it was my fault that I wasn’t found “worthy.”

Growing up it was generally unspoken, but I knew much was expected of me.  I rather coasted through school, with mostly B’s on my report cards, with a couple C’s and A’s thrown in.  It was sufficient, if not outstanding.  My behavior was good, no real delinquency apparent, and I was kind of a “church kid.”  But for some reason I was always striving for more, better, faster, funnier (not attained by studying, are you serious?  Get real!).  I just knew that I kind of disappointed, that I didn’t quite bring home what was expected.

I remember one time, my Grandmother was visiting, and she was standing by the upstairs stairway talking to my Dad.  She turned to me, and looking at me said, “If you ever go to jail, it would kill your parents.”  I laughed at the time, and made light of it, but that has stuck with me for over forty years.

I have worked hard to be approved of by authority figures as long as I can remember.  Not to suck up in an Eddie Haskell kind of way (for you children under thirty, that would be a Leave it to Beaver reference, Eddie being an insincere flatterer), but to perform so that I would be found acceptable.  And that is hard work.  In my case, I could never do well enough at any given task to satisfy my thirst for excellence.  No, that isn’t quite correct.  In truth, I could never do well enough to satisfy my need for perfection.  And therein lies the rub.

Any time that I failed at a task (and in my personal lexicon, the word fail means that I didn’t do it perfectly; I didn’t do it “right.”) the words “idiot!” and “moron!” would ring through my head like the words of a relentless, cold judge pronouncing sentence on a convicted felon.  Over and over, time after time, year after year.

And if this sounds like I’m whining, I do not intend it as such.  I am merely relating how I have lived for most of my life, and actually for as long as I can remember.

I serve a loving God, one who has sent his Son to save me from myself.  And through Christ’s sacrifice, I am whole, unspoiled, in a love relationship with my God and my King.  I think of Jesus as Boromir thought of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings.  I look at Jesus and see “my brother, my Captain, my King.”  And intellectually I know that all is forgiven, all is forgotten.  I know that God has chosen to forget my failures, my imperfections.  But I seldom feel it.  Idiot!  Moron!!  FAILURE!!

Beth and I are currently on Grand Cayman for a long anticipated vacation, with some of our favorite people in the entire world.  And this is paradise.  We have relaxed (I read a book!  Due to responsibilities, I cannot tell you the last time I had a chance to read), gotten in some amazing scuba dives, and spent some fantastic time together.  But even here I have had some roadblocks.  We got a flat tire.  Idiot!  I have lost my cool a couple times.  Moron!!  I have been short with Beth once or twice.  FAILURE!! 

I love the ocean.  When we are at the shore, I customarily park myself near the shore and just experience that point where wind, water and land meet.  I feel small, and yet comforted at the same time.  It is one of the few times I feel content.

One of my favorite things to do when vacationing at the ocean shore is to have my devotional time on the sand or on a balcony where I can see the ocean, hear it, smell it.  Where I can feel the breeze and see the waves, the colors, the horizon.  I have done so this week, and devotions have been good.  However, I have felt a nagging “something” that I could not pinpoint.  I have been looking to God to help me let go of…whatever this is.  And I think today I have a clue.

I decided to not open my Bible to a particular passage to read this morning.  Instead, I really felt led to focus on a bookmark entitled “My Identity/Who I am in Christ” which contains a number of key passages under various headings.  (The bookmark is published by Freedom in Christ Ministries, and as far as I know can be obtained at www.freedominchrist.com.)

Under the first heading, “I am Accepted,” it starts out with John 1:12; I am God’s child.  Comforting, but not awe-inspiring.  Ok, next, John 15:15: I am Christ’s friend.  Huh.  That’s right, I had forgotten that.  Christ looks at me as His friend.  Friends with the creator of the universe?  Nice.  And so on for several more verses.

The next heading, “I am Secure,” was the crux of the time I spent this morning.  And it only took the first verse to shock my system like a glass of ice-cold water after mowing the lawn on a hot August day.  It came from Romans 8:1-2, and it told me that “I am forever free from condemnation.”  And I stopped dead in my tracks.  I looked at the water and the waves, the perfect blue skies with perfect white clouds, and whispered, “How can you not condemn me, Lord?  I condemn myself!”  And as I pondered that, I felt the merest touch of God’s finger deep inside me, and He answered me and He said to me, “How can you condemn yourself when I do not?”  Loved!  Cleansed!!   ACCEPTED!!  NOT condemned.  NOT  a failure.  But a child of the Master.

Useless?  Yeah, probably.  Left to oneself, one can live four score years, and by strength of will maybe a bit more.  For what?  To accomplish a bit, die, and after a time, be forgotten.  But not so in Christ.  I am not condemned.  I am loved, I am accepted, and I am paid for, purchased with the most precious commodity in the world: the priceless blood of Christ, shed for any of us who recognize our hopelessness, and who long for something more.  Christ’s blood shed for me.

I expect I will still struggle with the relentless judge, pronouncing sentence upon me, with the words “Idiot, moron, failure. Useless!!”  But I don’t have to listen to the accuser.  I can rest in the promise, and wrap myself in the truth.  I am not condemned!

What a great vacation.

Cross Reflections

The last couple of weeks have been such that, pretty much every day, I wanted to pull the covers over my head and hope the world just goes away.  I figuratively just curled up in a corner and waited for life to stop kicking me.  *Sigh*  The old saying goes, “Momma told me there’d be days like this, she just didn’t tell me there’d be this many in a row…”  I didn’t even really check in on the blog for a while. Woof, what a couple of weeks!

Bad couple of weeks not withstanding, Easter presents a good time of year for reflection.  And this is what I have done for about the past week.

It started with me reading Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest” April 6th entry.  I quote it here:

Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree. — 1 Peter 2:24

The Cross of Jesus is the revelation of God’s judgment on sin. Never tolerate the idea of martyrdom about the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Cross was a superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken. There is nothing more certain in Time or Eternity than what Jesus Christ did on the Cross: He switched the whole of the human race back into a right relationship with God. He made Redemption the basis of human life, that is, He made a way for every son of man to get into communion with God.

The Cross did not happen to Jesus: He came on purpose for it. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The whole meaning of the Incarnation is the Cross. Beware of separating God manifest in the flesh from the Son becoming sin. The Incarnation was for the purpose of Redemption. God became incarnate for the purpose of putting away sin; not for the purpose of Self-realization. The Cross is the centre of Time and of Eternity, the answer to the enigmas of both.

The Cross is not the cross of a man but the Cross of God, and the Cross of God can never be realized in human experience. The Cross is the exhibition of the nature of God, the gateway whereby any individual of the human race can enter into union with God. When we get to the Cross, we do not go through it; we abide in the life to which the Cross is the gateway.

The centre of salvation is the Cross of Jesus, and the reason it is so easy to obtain salvation is because it cost God so much. The Cross is the point where God and sinful man merge with a crash and the way to life is opened – but the crash is on the heart of God.

I had never before entertained the notion that Christ on the Cross was not just a dreadful experience that should horrify.  It is God’s “superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken.”  I have always looked at the cross in sorrow, which I think is appropriate, since I understand that it is my sin which necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice.  However, I never viewed it as the triumph that it is.  Sin and death crushed forever in one action!  I have for a long while prayed from time to time something like, “Father, I am so sorry that Jesus had to suffer for my actions, my sins, but thank you so much that He did.”  And again, I think that appropriate.  But I never before considered what a thunderous victory this was!  This was the cosmic equivalent of the climactic moments of the biggest event one can think of: one that I should be jumping in the air with my fists pumping screaming, “YEAH!!!!!” at the top of my lungs.  My team wins the Super Bowl (or the Steelers lose)?  That’s nothing.  You should see me hopping around the room, screaming with pure, unadulterated joy, whooping and dancing around with a savage ecstasy.  A Super Bowl?  That’s nothing compared to what Christ accomplished in one day on Calvary.  I should forever be celebrating at the top of my lungs at the victory accomplished by Jesus.  And that is an unbelievably cool thought to me.

At our church’s Good Friday service, our pastor, Bob Klecan, quoted Dwight L. Moody as saying, “Someday you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now…”  Now that’s a very cool thought!  Again, I have for years believed in the afterlife, but I’m not sure I thought of it as it actually is.  At that final heartbeat when I leave this existence, at the split second that I “die,” at that exact moment I will be who I was meant to be from the beginning of time.  My entire life thus far has been in the shadow world.  It is only as I step into eternity that I will, for the first time, see reality.

We also at the same service reflected on the Cross of Christ, and what it meant to each of us; what did it mean to me on a  personal level, what did I see as the most significant gift that I received from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (at least that is my interpretation of Pastor Bob’s challenge).  We then had the opportunity to write down out thoughts and leave them at the foot of the cross.  I, however, wrote down my thoughts but did not leave them there.  I thought they would fit well into this post and brought them home.  Addressing my thoughts to God I wrote: “Thank you for giving me the ability, the possibility of living above my human-ness.  I can live outside of myself, through the grace of God.  I can be more than I could otherwise be.  I don’t have to live focused on my needs, but can live focused on God.”  And it is only through my dependence on God and his work in my life that I have any hope at all of living a life that is different from hedonism.  Apart from God’s love, I doubt that one person in a million (I’m being generous here)  can truly change their life to be a life that is sacrificial, others oriented, “good.”  I know that I have not come close to arriving at my goal, but I am so far from where I was.  My goal is to be like Christ.  And boy, does God have a lot of work to do…

I know that many would say to me that it’s good that I have this belief in God, since I need it.  However, they would likely say that they have no such need and/or doubt that God exists.  I would answer that by saying that this is not driven by a need of mine.  I could honestly live a self-focused life quite nicely, thank you very much.  I could live for pleasure now, and expect the oblivion of death when that time comes.  But I choose to not live that life.  I choose to believe the promises of God as presented in the Bible, giving myself freely to Him, and to seek to live a life based solely on the completed work of Jesus.  I live in gratitude to Him for accomplishing what I could not: my reconciliation to God, and a life that can change.  What a Gift!  What potential for my life here and now, and not just a potential for gain at the end of this life!  With all of this that God has done, how can I not be grateful?

So these have been the things upon which I have reflected the past week or so.  Huh!  I guess it wasn’t such a bad week after all…

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

I am just not used to this (part one).

When we returned from our short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic, we talked about sharing our experiences at church, First Baptist Church in North East, PA.  I know this is pretty standard fare for people serving in this capacity.  One goes on a mission trip, comes back, and talks about the trip at church.  What isn’t standard is that I was “volunteered” to speak.  I kind of thought we would all speak for a couple of minutes, but was unanimously (minus one) voted down.  It was decided that I would speak for the group.  Lovely.

Our pastor, Bob Klecan, agreed that a presentation would be appropriate, and he figured ten minutes would be a good time for the report.  He scheduled me to speak yesterday, February 19.  I wasn’t too worried about it, I write fairly well, and I belong to Noon-Time Toastmasters in Erie, PA.  So I was comfortably confident I could turn out something coherent and present it in an acceptable fashion.  This isn’t to brag, I’m just saying that the basic skills required were not a huge concern.  I just wanted to honor God with what I did.

Through the week I worked on it, and as of Saturday I had about four minutes, thirty-eight seconds.  Wow!  Expanding this would not be difficult, I was happy to add stuff that I had been afraid would not fit.  Beth made a couple of suggestions which I incorporated, and I got the talk ready to go.  I made a few fine-tuning changes later on Saturday, and even Sunday morning until just before service started.  I prayed about it, Beth prayed about it, and we prayed about it together.  I was confident that I would at least present it ok, and not embarrass myself.  Good enough for me.

I have been fighting a cold for a week or so, but getting better.  I did not think that would be a factor.  However, on Saturday I sneezed for about five minutes straight.  When I was done sneezing, my nose became a faucet and my sinuses were completely clogged.  Beth and I serve on the worship team at church, with Beth being one of the guitarists, and I am one of the singers.  With the unbelievably nasty cold hitting like a blizzard (uh, flood?), I was doubtful I could sing, and was concerned about my ability to talk on Sunday

The cold hit me mid-morning Saturday, just before I started working on the talk.  So, I did what I would expect anyone in that position to do.  I took my laptop, got a cup of coffee, and headed out to our unattached, unheated garage to work on the missions report.  One might ask why in the world I would do that?  Well, the answer is that I had determined to smoke one of the Dominican cigars I brought back while working on the report.  And I’m not permitted to smoke my cigars in the house.  So, I was left with no choice but to work in the cold, cruel wastes of northwestern Pennsylvania, sheltered only by an unheated garage, and with a nasty cold no less!  See how cruel my wife can be?  (Kidding, honey!!)

In any event, I was fairly calm about the whole thing, cold and all.  We went to bed Saturday night, and I prayed (and we prayed) that God would take away the cold for Sunday morning.  Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea tea, NyQuil, and lights out.  Interestingly, Saturday night I wound up doing an all-nighter; I’m at the age where that means I don’t have to get up even once to use the bathroom.

Not just solemn lessons learned.

This has been a very interesting journey.  On this blog  site, I have chronicled my frustrations, my reservations, my anger at going on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  And I have posted that much to my surprise and gratitude, it was a fantastic trip.

But in reading my posts about the trip, it might seem like this was just a solemn, pious, boring trip.  And it was anything but that.  I haven’t laughed that hard or that often in a great while, and my wife Beth said the same thing.  Of course, some of the stuff wasn’t funny to me except in retrospect, and I was so cranky about the whole thing that the laughter didn’t start until at least Tuesday or Wednesday, but that’s ok, I’m a bit slow sometimes.

It started on Sunday.  Saturday night when we arrived, we were told some of the rules, with a full orientation to be given on Saturday at 3:00 PM.  One of the things we were told right up front is that the septic systems in the D.R. cannot handle toilet paper, and they have a strict rule about not putting used toilet tissue in the toilet and flushing it.  We had to put it in waste containers beside the toilet.  In fact, our friend Jen told the entire group that if you forget and put the tissue in the toilet, “Don’t flush.  Go fishing.”  Hardy-har.  Real funny.  Especially since I forgot (just once).  Any idea how gross it is to have to retrieve such an item and put it in the waste container?  *Sigh*

At the Sunday meeting, we were introduced to the various areas available for us to volunteer our time during the week.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but at least I would be with one of my teammates from our church.  I was not real comfortable being in that place with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and took comfort in knowing I would be around at least one of the other four from home.

I am not a handyman.  I’m not too bad at home projects big or small, but I don’t enjoy them.  And (speaking in my attitude at the beginning of the week) if I had to go on this stupid trip I’ll be hanged if I do anything that smacks of handy work.  So when they said they had light construction and painting, I was able to rule them out in about a nano second.  Beth, my lovely, supportive, wonderful wife, who I held tighter on that trip than Linus held his security blanket, pipes up in a chirpy, cheerful voice, “I’m gonna paint!”  Say what?  Great, just great.  One down, but I have three to go.  Out of the remaining three, I’m fairly sure I’ll be with someone from home on one of the groups.  Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the kids in the village?  Not likely, before the end of the week, I’ll likely wind up in a Dominican jail, and wouldn’t that be just lovely?  Steph decided that was for her.  Two down, two to go.

Then there’s the prayer team, which went into the villages with the medical, dental, and optical teams (and VBS).  Ok, I pray frequently, but walking around asking strangers to pray wouldn’t likely happen at home, let alone in a place that, as we all know, I was not real thrilled to be at in the first place.  Debbie, John’s wife, decided to go with the prayer team.  Three down.  Now I’m getting nervous.

I asked John what he thought he might do, and he said he was thinking about going with the medical team.  Whew!  That’s what I was thinking, so now I’m a bit relieved.  Wow, I was worried a bit there, God, thanks that John’s going medical with me.  John and I went and sat down, and listened to the presentation by the medical team leader.  After, oh, maybe five minutes, John leans over and says, “I’m gonna go see what the prayer team’s gonna do.”  Are you kidding me??!!?  Real good, God, way to maneuver me into a position of maximum discomfort.  Was that really necessary?  Well, yeah, I guess in retrospect it kind of was.  And I have posted on what God did with it.  I can kind of giggle about it now that I’m on this side of the situation, but I gotta tell you, I was less than happy at the time.

John often wound up riding on the same cattle truck that I did, since the prayer team travelled with the medical team.  So I did have the comfort of a friend nearby, at least for the ride out and back.  But after he left me sitting on the bench, I shoulda heaved him over the side.

…more to come…

Is honor a bad thing?

John, a friend of mine, texts me Bible verses fairly frequently, and occasionally a quote or thought.  He sent me a quote a couple of days ago.  Here it is.

The Decline of the Secular University, C. John Sommerville writes, “An ethical system based on honor is a self-regarding ethic, while one based in charity is an other-regarding ethic… With honor goes a concentration on pride rather than humility, dominance rather than service, courage rather than peaceableness, glory rather than modesty, loyalty rather than respect for all, generosity to one’s friends rather than equality.”  John then asked if I agree or disagree.  Here are my thoughts.

In the above quote, clearly Sommerville is not talking about honor, as it is defined.  Honor defined is usually something similar to, “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor,” (Dictionary.com).  What Sommerville is referring to is a life based on honor.  That is, I think, a life in which honor is the central tenet of one’s existence.  Kind of, to borrow a Star Trek reference, a Klingon approach to life.

My first thought about the quote is that I see what Sommerville is driving at.  But I don’t entirely agree with him.  The opposite of honor is dishonor, and no one would prefer a life that is based on that.  So, right away we can disregard honor’s opposite as an appropriate lifestyle.  However, Sommerville is not advocating a life based on the opposite of honor.

Broken down, Sommerville seems to be defining honor as “Concentration on pride, dominance, courage, glory, loyalty, and generosity to one’s friends.”  I think Sommerville’s point is that he is advocating a life that is based on something superior to honor, a life based on “humility, service, peaceableness, modesty, respect for all, and equality.”

Ok, now look at each word individually.  Pride.  Dominance.  Courage.  Glory.  Loyalty.  Generosity to friends.  Humility.  Service.  Peaceableness.  Modesty.  Respect for all.  Equality.  I realize that a couple of those words or concepts have negative connotations, such as pride and dominance.  But in a proper context, each word or concept is a positive, and I think, a Godly concept.  I know I’m going to catch some flak for that, especially for pride and dominance.  However, on these two words, let’s look at a couple of thoughts.

If I am an architect and I design a truly beautiful building, is it a “Godly” thing to denigrate it, to say it is nothing?  That is what many Christian sources would espouse.  Of course we should give God the glory, but is it “ungodly” or “un-Christian” to be pleased with a work well done?  Think of a Christian singing artist.  Should they not be pleased with the beautiful songs they write, produce, sing?

And dominance.  How many times did God command the Israelites to completely dominate their enemies?  Think of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.  Clearly he was asserting his dominance over the false teachers that had crept in.  So, in certain circumstances, dominance is a good thing.

Conversely, under the proper circumstance, each and every one of the words Sommerville used can be a negative.  I will show what I mean with just a couple of the words above.

Peaceableness is a good thing, right?  But what happens when a madman breaks into your home at 3:00 in the morning and charges you with a butcher knife held high.  Is it a morally superior, or a more Christian position to be at that moment and whatever the cost, peaceable?  I think that argument silly, at best.  Further, look at the New Testament.  There are several instances of soldiers being saved, or Christians, or whatever.  How sensible is it to expect a soldier to be peaceable, no matter the situation?  Or a policeman.  Perhaps someone would argue that yes, no matter what, the soldier or policeman would be taking a morally superior, or more Christian, approach to shun violence no matter what the situation may be.  Until it is someone dear to that person that a terrorist is about to behead.  Or their loved one that a maniac is about to mutilate.  I think that any sane person would want a soldier or policeman, even if a Christian, to use whatever force necessary to save their loved one.

What about service, that’s a good thing, right?  Sure is, but should we always be in attitude of service, no matter what?  We provide service to our children when they are born.  They are helpless and cannot survive without a caregiver providing for all intents and purposes, unlimited service.  We do this because it is what they need, and because we love them.  But at some point it becomes our task to train them as well as care for them.  And as time goes on, if we have done our jobs as parents, we serve them less and train them more, until the day that they “leave the nest” and strike out on their own.  But what if we “served” them their entire lives?  What if we never told them “no,” but provided them their every whim, their every desire?  Service would cease to be a good thing, and at some point, a bad thing.

Finally, go to any Bible concordance and look at “honor.”  There are probably dozens of references using that word.

My point here has been that each thing is neither always good nor always bad.  What is important, I think, is the attitude of our hearts.  Do I have a heart centered on Christ?  Or do I have a heart that is centered on (fill in the blank, using any of the words in the Sommerville quote).  I think that anytime my heart is not focused on Christ, I have missed the mark.  I cannot focus on pride or humility.  I cannot focus on dominance or service.  I must focus on Christ, and Christ alone.  I do not think that the Christian life and a life of honor are mutually exclusive.  But anything that takes our focus off Christ has become an idol, and therefore, evil.

I’m going to go out on a limb, here.  I am asking for comment on this.  My arguments make sense to me, but that isn’t the end of the matter.  I am asking for you to comment on this and give arguments, with or against me.  I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Friends (part two).

When we got to the Dominican Republic on Saturday, January 28, we got our bags and went to the parking lot where they had a cattle truck waiting for our bags, and a school bus for us to ride to the Meeting God in Missions facilities.  I think Beth told me that the truck was one that we would likely be riding on that week.   Remember, at this point I was still very much unhappy with this whole concept.  So here I am in a country I don’t want to be in, waiting in a parking lot and loading my luggage in a truck that really don’t want to be riding in for an entire week, getting on a school bus that I don’t want to ride in to go to a place that I don’t want to have anything to do with.

The driver was a rather big guy that didn’t smile at all.  We sat in about the second or third seat, and I had a real good view of him in the mirror above his head.  It seemed like his eyes were at half-mast for most of the trip.  At this point in our adventure, I am not impressed.

Later on, I learned his name is Victor, and he drove for us quite a bit through the week.  He didn’t seem overly friendly, and as I loosened up, I just kind of figured he simply wasn’t real outgoing, and let it go at that.  Maybe around Wednesday, I saw him smiling and laughing at something, and remember being a bit surprised.

While travelling, I made a couple of jokes with him as he was driving, usually on a difficult stretch of road.  I asked Beth how to say “go faster” in Spanish, and would holler it out to him.  He looked back in the mirror kind of surprised, I guess, that someone would be talking to him, and when I told him to “go faster,” his eyes got real wide, and he kind of smiled and shook his head.  Well, well.  I got to where I liked Victor quite a bit.

At the end of the week, Beth and I sorted our clothes, which to take home, and which to leave (we had decided before leaving home to donate what we could before we left).  I’m a fairly big guy, and in talking with Brian, I realized that there aren’t very many Dominicans or Haitians that could possibly wear my clothes.  It’d be more likely that a family could get a couple of my shirts and make a tent.

In any event, one of the guys I thought of was Victor.  He’s a big guy, too.  I had an Edinboro t-shirt, so I gave it to him at the end of the week.  Makes a great photo.

Braulio was one of the drivers, and it seemed like he was one of the senior drivers there.  He drove when Beth was in the D.R. a couple of years ago, and she really enjoyed riding the trucks with him at the wheel.  He also is a big guy, easy-going, and has a good time with the people at MGM.  Just a lot of fun.

Tito is the brother of Meirka, a Dominican woman who Beth connected with last time.  Tito is really athletic and muscular; you should see him swing a ball bat.  He was kind of the door guard, making sure that unauthorized people didn’t get in, and that the gates were locked/unlocked at the appropriate times.  I had a chance to sit and talk (kind of) with him a couple of times, and really, really got to enjoy being around him.

I was honored to give a couple of shirts to Braulio.  Tito got my suitcase.

I know that it could look like the “rich” American giving cast-offs to the “little people.”  Yep, I am an American.  Yep, by D.R. standards I’m probably wealthy.  Yep, I gave from my surplus.  But in my case, I was honored to give good stuff to people who I considered to be my friends before I decided to give them anything.  I refuse to apologize for where I happened to be born, and I like to help my friends wherever I can.  And thanks to God’s mercy and grace, I was able to serve for a short time in the Dominican Republic.  I was surprised to become friends with a few of the Dominicans with which I came into contact, and I was pleased to give them items that they could find useful.  And I am the richer for all that.

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