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Utah Promulgation: Piquant Provisions

There is a film I have come across in my time here in West Plains that seems to fit into a theory I have regarding a connection between food and the spiritual life, and it doesn’t always fit for some but I consider it a general rule. If you are happy with your bland, tired, same old, subsistence of foodstuffs, then you’ll be happy with your bland, tired, same old, subsistence of church life. “Babette’s Feast” is the tale of two sisters whose father founded a spiritually austere church in a small town in Denmark, and allow a well-known chef (unknown to them) to cook for them for many years. When the chef, Babette, comes in to some money she wants to present the sisters a feast they have never experienced, in return for the kindness they showed her. The sisters allow the feast but promise each other that they will not enjoy it or proclaim the sumptuousness of it all. Only one person at the feast for 12 people, recognizes the beauty and luxury of what is presented in each course as it comes. Soon, all participants give in to the flavors and repast, intoxicated with joy they find the emotions they had denied themselves all their stringent lives.

I have had the ability to visit a few churches here and there in the past couple of months due to our 4:30 meeting time at TLC. One thing that surprises me about what is happening here is that people are unsatisfied with where they are and choose to go someplace of seemingly the same presentation. That is to say, there isn’t much difference from one church to the other that I can see, admittedly acknowledging that one or two visits cannot reveal the heart of a people. The last church we went to was an Assemblies of God church. I was of high expectations due to the rumors of the Spirit moving throughout these people. Sad to say though, these people were completely lifeless. I could see the leadership and worship team desperately trying to excite the church once more. I recognized that this was once a place where He moved and flowed, but the people have forgotten to taste and see how good God can be. There is a reason God uses so much of our senses in experiencing Him, and tasting Him is a provocative thought. God has given us many good things to tantalize and please the senses and food is one thing we can metaphorize to who He is. In other words, I see a strong connection of flavor and taste of food and appreciating and savoring it compared to appreciating and savoring our Lord. I don’t want to get heretical here, so we’ll just leave it there. And I just expect you’ll understand… or you won’t.

Restaurants come and go in West Plains, and most of them are just the same offering of a different locale. People get all excited and then they just go back to the same old, same old when the feeling has worn off. Much like they are with the church offerings in town. It is of an individuals expectations to flavorize their own life if they miss what they may have known; like my wife and I have done as we find ourselves among people satisfied with the plain.

As I said before, there are exceptions, and my wife and I and my family try not to be snooty when it comes to what we find at potlucks and such and we truly are grateful for just being invited, for the people are spicy enough for us.

The Pie Pizzeria

saltlakeI miss really good pizza. And there is an okay place here in West Plains, although it has changed locations three times and management more than I can count, but they keep going, which is appreciated. One place that I will insist on going to on our supposed trip to Salt Lake City is, The Pie Pizzeria. The Pie as it is affectionately called, has been a staple restaurant at the University of Utah for as long as I can remember. You access The Pie by going down a dark stairway just off of 2nd South and East of 13th East, right near to the University Pharmacy entrance. The walls are covered in graphittied up brick and the tables are big; big enough to fit one of their 23″ giant pepperonis! Covered in cheese and hidden underneath are big slices of pepperoni, that any well traveled kid such as myself could enjoy 5-6 slices. Although it was later in life when I came to enjoy the delight of the Combo. There is nothing hidden about the Combo, everything is there for you to see.

Strange Confessions: We once smuggled a back-pack full of beer into The Pie and sat at one of the back tables, hiding and consuming our seriously illegal brews for at the time we weren’t phoca_thumb_l_new-comboeven of age. But I don’t think the staff much cared about that, and it was so dim nobody could see any which way, besides we only had eyes for the pies being brought out and set on the tiny stands over the little candles every pizza place use to have.

The Pie used to be a place where you had to do some planning to get there and get yer pie. But for 10 years or so now, The Pie has sprung up in several places in the valley including Midvale and *gasp* South Jordan. Which is kind of a good thing, but also kind of a bad thing… if you know what I mean. And, in the intervening years of “fancy” pizza, The Pie has diversified even more. But the one thing you can always count on when visiting The Pie, is an exciting array of flavors, and loads of cheese.

Just you wait my friends. Just you wait.

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MEMEs That Make Me Go, “Huh?” 4

Straight from the view of my “that one site” wall, here it is, MEMEs that make me go, “Huh?”

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Let us start off with a good old-fashioned pun, eh?

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Those stupid Minion memes always make me wonder why people think it is a good idea to just post pithy sayings with those dumb yellow things, but this one takes the award for most awkward. What?! How in the… wait, what?! I mean, it just, hold on… what?! Why? I’m a… gonna… oh my goodness this thing freaks me out on so many levels. I’m just about, I don’t know what… Argh!

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“So go off by yourself in the mountains, and never see anyone, ever, again.” Is he going off to see one of these people he knows in more than one place? Thanks Spirit Science for putting a meme together that is just so unrelatable.

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And God makes sure that they all look like supermodels. Gag me with a spoon. Sorry I had to pull out that rare treat from the 80s, but it had to be done. Oh you southerners who have such a rare talent for finding this stuff.

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Sometimes I don’t get the idea that maybe people can just type out what they are thinking, but then that gets me mad that they are being so vague and weird that I don’t want to deal with them anyway. So, I suppose this is the acceptable way to be aggressively vague and still get people to like your stuff. Special thanks to KUSHANDWIZDOM.TUMBLR for this one.

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The fun thing to do with these memes is to read just the words that are different. Like so: “Don’t stopping using. New life easier create life, factors to addiction again.” See? Makes sense, yes?

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This week seemed to emphasize memes that didn’t have a lot of pics to it. This one tried a bit, but, what the heck is it supposed to mean? Maybe the surprised faces signify an alternate universe where you dismissed them and never thought about them again. Special thanks to FB/Liamdineen.

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If I came across a door like that out in the middle of the forest, I would definitely go into it. But why does it sound like a pitch to sell vacuums door-to-door?

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Wow! You don’t have any anger issues at all mister feeling down. I am glad that you didn’t put a picture to go along with this though. I can’t imagine what that one would have been like. That “Psychotic” in the stylized font is telling though, isn’t it? I worry about the “friend” who posted this…

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Ha… Good job lazy person from BuzzedVegas. We think our jokes like this are unique to the place we live, until we move. This is like, “If you don’t like the weather in [insert your State here] wait 5 minutes, and it’ll change.”

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Okay, I’m with you here, @andystanley, or is it #CatalystDallas, or maybe you’re that weird arrow, bolt thing. C’mon, just tell me who made this so I can complain that they didn’t use the picture of the lonely lady on the bench in a busy park, or the one with the guy sitting sadly against a graffiti covered wall, or the kids eating ice cream while one is apart from them all. This is just a guy doing a presentation that in slide number 3 it says, “Organize to your vision statement,” while a folding chair is forlornly in three-quarters of the frame. That makes me more sad than anything. Maybe the outsiders think it is weird that you are pretending this is some seminar about making change and not about new life. Maybe everyone taking down this note forgot that this is all about Jesus and His love for us and our love for the world. Maybe cool lighting and casual dress doesn’t in the least make outsiders feel like they are in Christ when Christ is forgotten in our churches. Maybe we’ve forgotten that Church isn’t a neat presentation and everybody being in nice orderly rows. Maybe we have misplaced the idea that Church isn’t about being inside, anywhere, but going outside, and not bringing people in, but revealing Christ out there and allowing Christ to “make changes”. Alas, we could write books about how much we’ve forgotten. Oh, wait. They have. And they are sitting on our bookshelves, unread, unwanted.

The End of Stranger in Rebellion

Strange Confessions: This opportunity in Denver and the subsequent reactions of my church family here in West Plains has affected me greater than I first thought.

I have been part of a discipleship group with three other men here for the past month, and have been discussing many things with them. The congregation that I am a part of now does not see discipleship as I always imagined it: sitting there with a book of doctrine in your lap or on the table and going over again what we have known but occasionally forget, forcefully trying to slam it into your brain for good. We take walks, and talk. We ask each other questions about what we would do in certain situations. There is discussion about how we are leading our family and ways we can do it better. We talk about long term relationships, careers, and ministries. We consider the immediate and grasp the consequences of the past. The Holy Spirit flows through our assembly as we do our best to honor Him in all our contemplations.

“Why do you call your blog ‘Stranger in Rebellion’?” I was asked the other night. I am quite proud that I came upon that name and all its connotations, stemming from the “Strange Confessions” and other strangeness that encompasses who I believe I am. Earlier that night I told them about my difficulty in writing over the past few weeks. I tried writing about the sermon regarding Friendship three different times. It seems as if I’m stuck in trying to convey the importance and value of what being a true friend in the full biblical sense really is. I get caught up in thinking about how I was so interested in getting out of West Plains, that I forgot about… relationship: family and friends that I’m not sure I’ve really had until these last couple of years. I don’t want to devalue our church family in Utah in any way, but this is so much different from what I knew back West. We also discussed the Youth Group that is starting up with me at the helm, and how I want to go beyond what is the other standard fare offered here in West Plains. I think about all the “wasted” time that has rushed by in the past and how now I see the world, God, and the gospel in such a brighter light, and I want to share that with these young adults so that they at least have the opportunity to understand all that before their life is in their sun’s declination phase. There is a passion inside me that wants to reveal the God that I now know, the gospel that is all about freedom, and glory that shines in us every day. I’ve missed the times when I taught Sunday School years ago, that is when I fully got into the Word. Yes, I struggle with giving my God the time He completely deserves, yet in teaching the desire comes fully alive.

The question posed to me lied more in the fact that I am no longer the “Stranger” I once was, and might be part of the reason I am struggling to write. They say people don’t change. We know, as Christians, that this is completely false. Others understand this in some superficial way. Sure we change our minds, our habits, our style, but fundamentally we are the same. I am new. In many ways I am the same. I stay quiet when I don’t feel what I say is important enough or smart enough or considered enough. I get very opinionated and loud when discussing our societal woes. I enjoy movies and pop-culture. I love my family and I miss the ones I am related by blood, who are far away. Yet, I am new. There has been a switch that went off inside me that I need to explore. This something is more… mature, you might say. It is more willing to Be where God has me. Resolve is changing to contentment.

I think my friend hears all this in me and, considers the Stranger to be no more. And to tell you the truth, I believe he is right. Change is inevitable. This considered move to Denver revealed how much I am attached here. Prior to these occurrences, I saw us moving and forgetting about all that we knew here, in West Plains, deleting contacts in our phone and on that one site. Now, as I ponder these possible actions, it almost brings me to tears. This place has become so much a part of what I am, who I am, that I can no longer consider forgetting it all once we are geographically gone, if that ever happens.

This change is not a new idea in my mind, for over the last few months I have thought things needed to change about the blog. Make it more about life and the gospel and our culture as it relates to us all and step a little bit away from it being about my experiences. Not stepping away entirely, because my experiences are about who I am, but in a more… generic(?) way. I don’t know, perhaps you’ll understand once I start going on the new name/site that I will develop… eventually, when I am ready. Writing is a desire in me that I can rarely contain when the spirit is upon me. So after 125 posts to this site, farewell. I will post a link here when all the newness comes about.

Thank you all for reading Stranger in Rebellion, I hope to see you all in my future endeavors.

~Friend

“Turn and Face the Strange… Ch, Ch, Changes”

In this episode of Stranger in Rebellion, congratulations and good wishes and hope for the future of our family are in order. Things sometimes move rather quickly around here, but then again, stop rather suddenly, and it can be quite the roller coaster ride if your orbit circles the center that is our mass. If you want to find out quickly what the congratulations are all about skip ahead to the bottom at, “Final Verdict,” but be warned that what happens between here and there is my true heart and reveals to you my philosophy that I have gained here in West Plains regarding truly knowing who people are…

Over the last couple of weeks I was surprised to find a company that really pushed towards gaining me as an employee, so much so that they flew me out to Denver to interview me. More surprising was many of the reactions from our friends here in West Plains. (Actually they have become more of a family than anything else.) When announcing our transition from Salt Lake City to West Plains almost 5 years ago, there was a resigned sigh from our church family. What I mean in that, is that people accepted what we told them and, perhaps regretted that it was so, but didn’t really fight the idea that we had made. Looking back now maybe they did see the Lord’s hand in it all, and didn’t feel compelled to question our motives. I know that the whole AWANA team and the kids that were a part of it, felt bad about the whole thing, but the only real question about it all was an older boy who came up to me and said with disdain in his voice, “Okay now, where are you going and why?!” That was the biggest regret in leaving Salt Lake; those kids I knew and loved… and left behind. Sure, they’re all doing fine and dandy without me, but just the fact that I’m not in their lives now just leaves me empty somehow.

When we told some friends here in West Plains, there were a lot of questions, a lot of statements about how they felt, and a lot of reminders about how much we should be praying. The last one was like, “Duh! How can we not pray?” Prayer was constantly, continuously, perpetually, uniformly, and weightily a part of the last week’s activities. To me, it was like telling me I possibly couldn’t understand what God was trying to say, so you better listen to us. I thought that if we did stay, that particular relationship would not be the same, but in talking a bit more to them I believe part of what was happening was shock at such a surprise announcement. I apologized and told them that I should have been more forthright and let them know we have been semi-seriously looking at a transition. I didn’t realize how soon such a great opportunity would come up. I should have explained more about our belief in West Plains as temporary.

One of the most compelling things I heard in this time from a friend was, “If this move is God’s will then great, but if we believe that it isn’t God’s will then we will do everything to stop you.” I mean, what? Really? You’re going to do everything you can to stop us? I was at first a little disturbed by this; how can someone hear more from God about what is best for us, than us? Then it became more and more comforting, knowing that if someone apart from the issue sees it different or hears or knows something that we can’t or won’t, that force might become necessary in the convincing of God’s will. I’m not talking him knocking me out, tying me up and putting me under bright lights until I see the truth, but I guess it would be strong, steady persuasion. I guess at this point I’m glad I am truly convinced of God’s will in all this at this point and can share it with them, and you now.

God’s will. It can be sometimes difficult to discern. This job for example: it just happened all so… perfectly. You remember me writing about how I needed to get my resume in order and getting it out there, well as soon as I did this, I applied, was contacted and she forgone the second interview so that I could fly out for a better view of it all. I was training up in St. Louis for the week she wanted me to come out and I told her I could fly out after training was over. Getting to an appropriate airport is difficult here, but being in St. Louis at the time? How… God’s Will like. I found out that my true spiritual mother and father were going to actually be in Denver when I was there. You see, we have family in Denver and my true spiritual mother and father, (Aunt and Uncle), live in Yankton, SD right now and just happened to meet back up in Denver after she spent 2 weeks in Salt Lake City watching some of her grandkids. Before the interview I found out we were flying out on the same plane! I wanted them to do the early check in, since I was going to be at the interview, and we saw the connection. My interviewer asked me when I wanted to fly back and I gave her several options, and she just happened to pick the same flight they were on!? It was a too much of a coincidence, too much of a sign.

Another friend asked me what this decision had to do with Perspectives. You may recall we had the opportunity to take this class last year. It was a wonderful time of learning and seeing God’s work and will in the world. We gained a more global perspective and the attitude to move anywhere He would have us go. I said that since Denver was so big that it would have a cultural opportunity to serve Him in many ways. I didn’t do much research on the fact, but I can figure it to be true, right? God is at work everywhere and anywhere. It seems like a great place to be, if truly God wanted us there.

The other thing I was told by the same man who said they would stop us, was that it is a good thing that you are going. Because in the going, you can hear God better. This was told him by his brother when he was told to visit colleges. Paul was stopped when he was going in a direction he desired or believe he was led to go, and turned in another direction. It was a good thing that I go. A good thing that I go. But this company spent around $700 dollars for me to go, that is quite the engagement ring, per se. Committing to a fly-out is serious business. What if I really, truly believed God was stopping us?

The other thing is my family. Being in Denver is only a slight day drive from Salt Lake. I very much so worry about something drastic occurring in SLC that needs my immediate attention or even my whole family’s. It is just a slight jaunt up and over the mountains to get there. Coordinating an immediate geographical change from West Plains to SLC would be overwhelmingly expensive. It ain’t gonna happen without some generous horizontal funding.

Final Verdict: Everything seemed to be screaming, “Move!” but in walking out of the interview and sitting in front of the shop until my ride came, God was slowly and reassuringly convincing me that this move was not His will. He wanted to show me that even in the midst of everything seemingly being a sign, that the sign in itself is not always what is revealing His will. I called my wife and told her my initial belief, but I had to see her face-to-face and talk before we could be certain. I have a long letter to write to the company regarding my decision, for in this decision I believe I have something to share with them in order for them to make a better decision in whom to hire. I haven’t even received an offer yet, but I know what my, no, our, no, God’s decision is. He showed me that what I was committing to there would not be Him, but would be a company. He showed me that what He has prepared me for all my life was not to be completely turned over and changed to suit a need and desire for myself and more so even my family in the immediate. I’ve made more of a commitment to Him over the last few years that I ever realized could be ten years ago, when I would have taken this job, no questions asked. The people in my life here have made me appreciate so much, I love them all and am more committed than ever to involve myself and my family in what God is doing here through His church and through us. That is not to say I won’t stop looking at opportunities in other geographical locations, but the examinations will now be more solid, more in line to understanding a greater need and purpose therein, and that is His ultimate will, is it not? Yes, I know we have disappointed many a family member, but it is not the end of all hope. Congratulations are in order because we heard what was to be. The future is and always will still be bright because He is there, He is here and He is.

~Stranger

Freedom vs. Condemnation

In all my constant thoughts about freedom recently, I’ve come to a great realization. In the past I have constantly dreaded what this earthly future holds for me. I can’t find a well-fitting job, be it paying enough nor enjoyable enough nor fulfilling enough. My head fills with sorrow at the failures of the past. Failing in school, in relationships, in determination, has made me look forward with dread. I consider what is going on with the world and am sure that Christ will come back in a blaze of glory and set all things right. That future is bright and has been my only hope. Yet when I don’t consider that He has me in His grip and I am His, and He has everything in the future just the way He plans it, and I only hope in His second coming, my attitude sells Him short. He is too small in my mind.

So then I see that, I mean really see, that nothing I do can gain the grace and mercy and salvation, that what I have is all because of Him, it humbles me, cheers me, gives me a sense of joy, of relief that I have never felt before. Here we are, the Church, focusing on all the wrong things. He has prepared me for this moment. It is not like I’ve never heard of these things before, for I have, but they have never truly resonated with me before. I have absorbed this teaching.

Galatians 5:1-2 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” For freedom has He set us free. As I see it as opposed to condemnation. I am constantly condemning myself; looking at my failures of the past, my sins of the present, and the weariness I’ve built for the future. It is done. As I said a couple of days ago, this is a new and special time for me, in seeing all this and knowing that there is now no condemnation for me. That is what Paul was saying. Of course we believe that God doesn’t condemn us, but do we ever consider that we no longer have need of condemning ourselves. Sure we sin, but get over it. Get the unlimited grace He gives and move my brother.

On a walk today I considered these things and saw in my mind that it is freedom that creates a sense of eagerness when considering the future, and condemnation that creates dread. I am praising Him in my freedom. Come my brothers and wash yourselves in the purity of His grace and walk away from all the self-condemnation that makes us dread the future. Be eager in seeing what He has planned for you knowing that it all has been won, because of Him, because of our freedom!

~Stranger

Sunday Scrutinization: Utah is a Far Away and Dark Land

This morning my eldest daughter and I made our way to a congregation we weren’t familiar with to listen to and hopefully meet a guy who was on his way to the deepest, darkest jungles of SouthCentralWestern United States, known as Salt Lake City. A friend from our current fellowship brought me into the know that such a one as this was speaking there, and since he knew I was intimately familiar with the locale, he correctly assumed the level of my interest.

In trying to find out more about this other church, I felt a pang of regret in not taking advantage of this summer’s foray into night services by visiting other fellowships and witnessing God’s hand in the goings and comings therein. And in that, I remembered a discussion with a couple the other night about “cherry-picking” your favorite stuff among the churches you live nearby. Our friends are ones that have come to the current fellowship we are a part of, as well as being members of the previous large group we were attending. They are still participating in ministries there as well as being a part of the new, and have even participated in other congregations activities when there was an opportunity and God was leading them there. *Gasp!* There was accusation that they are “cherry-picking” the favorite things to be a part of wherever that may be. They were told that if you have chosen your church, then you must minister within the programs offered by that church. They obviously, respectfully disagreed. We are a part of the Church of West Plains, and we want to be where God is, no matter the congregation, fellowship, or denomination. That being said, we really want to have that kind of vision, and hope that others see things in the same way. In passing out flyers this summer, inviting people as a community to the fellowship meeting we have been doing, one of these things that stuck out in my mind was people not accepting the flyer stating that they already went to church.

Ouch.

How can we envision His Church in this way? You have yours, and I have mine, and may the two never meet. So I was glad to sit in on a service that baptized a baby (*Gasp!*) and meet a man who has such a heart for the lost. People said they were glad I was there. And you know what? I was glad to be there too, even when they don’t believe everything I do. The heart of Christ was central to our gathering, to the reasons we were all there, that morning.

As you all know, I grew up Catholic in Salt Lake City and became an evangelical Christian in my early to mid-twenties. The people I knew there were all Christians. We were part of an Awana group that came from all over the valley. We had Bible studies, fellowship dinners, retreats, all with other believers. The non-believers I knew of were my family and my coworkers (about 4 guys). I grew up there, knew the town, the places and surroundings. It is a bright and beautiful place for me. So when I heard the introductions for this man and what he spoke about, they made Salt Lake City or Utah in general sound like this faraway foreign land where people have dark hearts and lead dark lives.

How could they speak of my hometown in such a way? Then he gave some statistics: only 2% of Salt Lake is Christian. Given that just a few years ago Salt Lake hit the one million population mark, that means that there are only about 20,000 people there are Christian. Hmmm… that sounds like a lot to me. So then there are at least 800,000 people who are not. Wow. Okay, I’m getting a little of the picture here. He said he was going to be in Lehi, which is just North of Provo, home of BYU, and that Provo only had about 24 churches. That sounds like a lot. I did some searching for how many churches might be in the Salt Lake Valley, but couldn’t find any exact numbers, but I would guess from around 150-200 churches, and again, that sounds like a lot to me. But then I did a search for how many churches are in the West Plains area, where I live now, and see that online I come up with about 50, some people have told me 75. If we take the entire population of Howell County, in which West Plains is the county seat, of 40,000 then number of churches in West Plains alone is 1 per 530 people, but just taking West Plains population it is 1 church for every 160 people! An incredible number. If my guess is right about Salt Lake, then they have 1 church for every 5,000 people, or about 1 church for every 100 Christians.

Looking up the estimates of Christians in China, they have about 3% of the population. It’s no wonder there is a trend to send Church planters there to my little hometown of Salt Lake. It makes me wonder why I left… oh yeah, it’s because I was so comfortable there. I needed to get out and get challenged, to grow and to trust in God way more than I ever could in Salt Lake. Those people who are being sent to Salt Lake to plant churches better be prepared to be uncomfortable. I admire them and hope that I can be a support to them, which I am trying to do now. There is an expertise I have when it comes to going to Salt Lake and I hope people might rely on me in little ways in that, and I hope those that I know there can support them as well. There is a great work of God happening there, what with Ravi Zacharias speaking for a second time in the Mormon tabernacle and the nations evangelicals turning their eyes to the lost, I pray for them and hope you will too. And if you are a friend in Utah and would like to be connected to these folks, don’t hesitate to let me know. We could all use some small bits of support.

Oh, and if I may interject the best resource here for witnessing to Mormons, it is this book. You can find it at the best resources for Christians in Utah: Utah Lighthouse Ministry. There is a right way, and a wrong way to witness to Mormons.

According to a Mormon, Contention is from the devil. Why would they listen to you with signs like this?

Don’t be these people.

Build a relationship first.

~Stranger

Transitions

I am a thoughtful guy. I have been told that once in a while. My best friend from high school told me this. One of my best friends now thinks it chuckle worthy how much I ponder motivations, reasons, transitions, life. And in the immortal words of Paul McCartney, “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know. ‘Cause here I go… again!”

I’m feeling like I’m in the middle of a transition point: It has been a little over four and a half years since we moved from Salt Lake City, and I believe those of whom I would call friend are truly beginning to forget me. No worries, I’m not bitter or anything, just pointing out the normal path of these sorts of things. I still see their stuff on that one site and I occasionally like or comment on posts and vice-versa them to me. This is not the way a hearty relationship keeps afloat, yes? Alas, things are winding down from that initial transition to a new place. I have been in West Plains long enough to finally figure out a large, parochial, baptist church is not a good fit for me and my family. We have been with another group of believers for almost a year now and I believe the mists of our comings and goings in the many buildings of our former gathering is dwindled to the point that people might not recognize the auras of our former selves lurking in the corners. We had no one come and visit us seeking the how’s and why’s of our departure, and there is fewer occasions of having to explain to people where we have been when running into them at some store or the library. The biggest shock of late is that one of my best friends, someone who was there with me from the beginning of being here in West Plains, has transitioned to Florida. He worked for the large church and because of shrinking congregational numbers, was laid-off. Thankfully he now has a job with Wycliffe, unfortunately our relationship faded the last couple of years because of hard circumstances that still remain unresolved. Praise God that all will be made right in heaven. The other jolt came from hearing that the pastor there had been voted out. I am saddened, but I understand that God is working in this whole situation to heal and grow those who need it. I pray that all involved will see His hand in all this, even when it is still sharp and stingy. Interestingly enough, it is hard to see that these sort of things happen because of what a friend calls pastoritis. It has been a couple of years since I’ve seen the construct of the modern society within the church, is doomed to a cyclical pattern of growth, loss, blame, transition, and hopefully growth again. Some never recover from the transition point here because they look for some man to have all the answers for their problem in the first place, when it should be each other we fall upon, and mostly God who bears the brunt of our sorrows. It is also interesting that I keep reading in 1 Corinthians about how the church there regarded the leaders as one of the most important things to follow, or be “of”. Put a man on a pedestal, seek the answers from him and he will always fail you. I love this man and I am sorry that he now finds himself in this situation of our making, of this Western church society we have built. Pray for that church that they would not seek the answers they need in a man, but find it already there, within themselves, that it is God who dwells in them.

We just got back from an eleven day “vacation.” I say vacation, with the quotes, because I don’t see the vacations we take as equal to what I normally see spoken of or pictured on that one site. Not that I compare. It’s just that I’ve always had in my mind the idea of a vacation as taking off in a jet plane, not seeing anyone you know, or thinking about work, and staying for several long, careless days at the beach, or camping in a National Park, or staying on a cruise ship, or visiting another country, or a high interest amusement park or site of historical significance. It seems that people posting on that one site have much more opportunity or availability or just plain cash to make those things happen. Also, I don’t want you to think I am unsatisfied with how our time off usually goes. It is visiting friends or family, hanging out or hanging in, going to places we are eager to go because of cheap clothes or good eats or cooling off, but always a place where we know someone.

Getting back to my point: our vacation consisted of visiting three kinds of family; family we chose, family of my wife’s, and family of mine; in that order. We went to Kansas City to be with some friends of almost 20 years, to eat and shop at the thrift stores and used book sellers. We then proceeded to Yankton, South Dakota, where my wife’s uncle is the interim pastor at a church that voted out their pastor, who then quickly went down the street, opened and new church and dragged a third of the congregation with them. (The pastor I refer to above has already sought to sell his home here, which I believe is a good choice, a hard choice, but the right choice.) There are a lot of broken people because of this and (for the sake of making it easier, I’ll call him “my uncle”) my uncle believes God has developed him for such a time as this; for over 45 years! I intended to rest and take it easy there but for some reason I was troubled and restless there. More of the family joined us from Denver, whom we haven’t seen for three years, and the husband is an active sort who likes to do lots of things, and I joined him in his endeavors, but that isn’t what made me troubled. I started to feel the pull of work, and the tension associated from being away, the dread of going back. This part of this last 4.5 years of transition has been the transitioniest. I can truly say that the defining aspect of this position in regards to point-of-contacts and managers, has been change, and never really for the better. The final stop of our tour was Des Moines, IA where my brother, his wife and family reside. My mom flew in from Salt Lake to see our kids in addition to his: it was a win-win for her. I really had a good time with my brother and his family and my Mom, but thoughts of transition began to invade my thoughts and made me more irritable than usual. I drank a little too much, which was probably a horrible choice on my part because of some transitions happening with my brother. I didn’t get drunk, but I had some of the hard stuff, and relaxed… perhaps, too much. I enjoy the tasty beverage when “vacationing” but this wasn’t the time or place. Some would definitely tell me otherwise, but I know, between me and God, that I was wrong.

On the way home, an 8 hour drive, I began to think and pray about my situation here in West Plains. I no longer want to be discontented with my work. I want to minister where God wants me. I have a calling to be creative and I want to get more organized when it comes to assigning myself a task to create, as well as to sell myself when the time comes. I thought of many different things I could do to fix my failures, uplift the listlessness of work, and create on the way. Many things that came to mind were practical, but impossible unless I invite Him to change me to make it a habit within me. I cannot go through this transition alone. I see my friend doing many things, but I don’t hear about God in a specific area he introduced me to (I will write about that another time). I see my uncle and diving into was God has involved him for the last 45 years. I see my brother desperately needing Christ, apart from the hour or so he may or may not encounter Him on Sundays. I see my former pastor being forced into figuring out God’s will for his life after it seemed that this town could be a place for life. I see a friend thankful to be released from a difficult position, that he was so content to be in, and hope and pray that all works well for Him, especially in the character building God may have for him now. I know I can’t do this alone, and I am so afraid, because I have jumped before in the past, in the wrong direction, but I have learned a lot. Does God have something for me 45 years in the making? Or am I to be content with the character building of the last 5? Transitions are happening all around me, all around us, every day, in every corner of the world, and He has His hand in every part of it. Am I to let go of the idea that I am His comic/cosmic relief, or see a God who truly sees me as I am and what I need? I am glad to have our Tuesday night fellowship group and look forward to sharing this time with them. I look forward to God possessing me and my life transitioning to a life of constant prayer, and hope and trust in Him. I will ever praise Him, ever praise Him.

In the course of the next few months, I will be transitioning away from that one site. I will be posting all my favorite posts and stuff from the “Stranger in Rebellion” Facebook site, then deleting my account. I have also found some old journals that I am going to transfer here. If you are a regular reader and appreciate my character on that one site, please let me know if there are some reasons I should consider not getting away from it, I would like to know and am not fully convinced, but I am transitioning in that way. This is a much better format for me in where I am going, so I hope you might follow me here if you don’t want to be forever away. Thank you, o constant reader, and fellow transitionist, hope to see you soon.

~Stranger

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Today was a completely fantastic day! God is at work in West Plains and especially through the fellowship of Township Line. I still am amazed and thrilled that He brought me into this group to see Him grow bigger and more incredible with every week. And this weekend has just begun.

Thursday we went to the West Plains Motel to hand out some flyers announcing our meeting at the park on Sunday night. The motel is almost all low-income residents and many of them need a little hope in their lives. Our family was the only ones going around and we decided that it might be prudent to ask the office if it was okay to knock on doors and hand out flyers. The lady at the desk didn’t give us approval as she wasn’t the owner, and I was able to leave some in the office. We walked around and talked to some people outside their rooms and told them about our gathering. (If you didn’t know, Township Line is gathering in several different places around the community this summer for meal and services, to get to know people and stretch out our leadership/relational skills.) Many people’s responses were positive and I hope many can come and see a people blessed and sharing the blessing of love and grace He has given us.

Today was another adventure with this group: A woman in our fellowship wanted to have block parties in differing places where some of the members live and serve and present the gospel to children. This was the first morning she had it and it was at her house. She was nervous about getting everything together and that kids would even come. There were a few kids that came and a little late at that. But she needn’t worry as God is at work in His people and what took place honored God and I believe got some of the kids thinking.

The puppet group was invited to do a song and skit that was supposed to be the majority of presentation of the gospel. The puppet group we were involved in at our former gathering, sort of dissolved after the leaders of the team started going to Township Line. (God has seasons in mind not only for His people, but also for those gathering in His name. I have no ill will towards the former fellowship we gathered with, it was just time for us to move on. I’ve never considered it a severed relationship, just a different one. I still love and see many of them and hope for growth and love to grow there.) So we have a few puppets and a new stage was built, so this was the trial run. It was a lot of fun as my wife and two youngest daughters helped out for a song. (My oldest, who started out in the puppet group with me, was taking the ACT, so she wasn’t able to make it.) My wife and I had a skit planned where she stood out front and interacted with a puppet in talking about “Whosoever” shall be saved. Well, since we had such a late start, my wife had to go pick up our oldest from The Test at the time we were going to do the skit. We had a back up plan of one of the guys replacing her. He stood in and was great. He did some ad-libbing; of which my wife was adverse too, and did a great job talking to the kids at the end.

Tonight we had a community dinner that we provide once every few months or so, that people from all over come and enjoy a free meal, and we get to meet them and find out what is going on in their lives. We got there a bit early and people were working and trying to get things prepared. Some kids were underfoot and I proposed to give them all a little walk before people started showing up. Walking down the block, we heard some loud shouting and raucous behavior down a blind alley. Three very tall, shirtless college basketball players came out and I put myself between the kids and these “boys”. As they were past us, I called to them, “Are you guys hungry?” They turned and looked at me and hesitated, then answered the obvious, “Yeah.” I told them we’re having a free meal of steak and hamburgers just down the street and they were invited to come. They said okay, but I wasn’t sure if they’d show. They did show up and brought one of their friends with them. It was great. I got all their name, although I don’t remember any of them, and found out one was from Dayton, another Pittsburgh, and another Atlanta. I wasn’t able to talk to the other one, but I find it incredible when I find out where people came from and then find themselves in little ‘ole West Plains. Some of the other guys from our group got to talk to them and it was wonderful that they came. At the time of their leaving, (with bowls of fruit cobbler and ice cream in their hands), one of them gave me a hug. It was incredible and I’m tearing up now as I type thinking about what a blessing it is to be blessed by someone you don’t even know, nay barely let them pass by as God used my voice to call out an invitation to them. What fun! I met lots of regulars who come to these community dinners and many new faces. This is such a great opportunity to meet people. There was an announcement about tomorrow’s services and some woman I was talking to asked me what denomination we were. I told her we were non-denominational and that we believe in the bible and that Jesus is our savior and died for us and we don’t have to do anything but accept His gift of mercy and forgiveness to be with Him forever, but that doesn’t mean we can do what we want, our lives should reflect the thankfulness we have and shared with those in the community and that is why we have these dinners. She was smiling and very interested, then told me she was a Catholic. I told her a little bit of my background, growing up Catholic in SLC. I told her she should come tomorrow and she said she would hope to.

God is so good. I’m reeling with joy. My cup overflows. I am so thrilled to be part of this work and I am continually praying for His Spirit to move in and through His people here in West Plains. I have shared with some of those in our former group about this summer movement and invited them. Many are enthusiastic and say they will come, some worry that it will look bad to gather with those not of their group. I praise God that one day all division will be wiped away and we can come to Him under His banner and praise His Name forever and always. Amen. And please continue to pray for this time, thank you.

Even in this dark time when there is so much uncertainty, and I watch the news and feel depressed and distressed, I know God is at work in the little things, the small bits, and it grows and grows. Thank you God.

~Stranger

(Author’s Note: I won’t be writing Sunday Scrutinizations for the summer because in addition to my flyer/dissemination leadership duties, I will also be with the kids during the actual sermon time, but I will be writing about what is going on and hopefully interview the people in leadership in this movement.)

Sunday Scrutinizations: Believing the Lie That Being Liked is More Important Than Being Loved

How are we to function as a church body?

Continuing in the series regarding the relationship of believers to each other we read the whole of chapter 4 of Ephesians. I noticed the amount of times one was referred to. It spoke of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. I also read about unity. Unity has been the subject of much what I have written about lately, although I may have not used the word. Let’s go back a bit in Ephesians and look at a couple of verses:

“in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” 2:22

“to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” 3:10

These verses tell us we are being “built together” and that we would know the manifold wisdom of God. This is all done in unity. This cannot be done in isolation. Together we walk worthy of the calling. We put God on display through our humility, our gentleness, our patience, and our love; for each other. We should see our relationship with each other in the church as a marriage. It should be the ultimate difficulty to break fellowship with other Christians.

Recently I and my family left the church we have been going to since we moved here. I never intended it as a “divorce” from the fellowship, in fact, we are still involved with a food ministry, the puppet ministry and my daughter involved with the Bible drill at the former church. I let the Senior Pastor know of our decision and many others as well. Although sometimes we run into people who haven’t seen us in awhile and demonstrate concern that we are not going to church. We assure them we have found a good home church and a great fit for us now, in this season of life, but it seems that they are overly concerned about our spiritual health, which is a good thing, but too connected with where they may be. It is a very hard decision to participate in another fellowship, we never want to hurt anyone, but we have to make the best choice for our family and most specifically the spiritual head of the house. I wanted to say all this as introduction to what is to continue in the look we had at Ephesians 4, with a few verses specified.

To each one of us grace is given (v. 4). What are some of the other gifts that God has given us? Each other. See verse 11, it talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We commonly see this as particularly personal, but I have never imagined it as the person given to us by God. They are gifts to us; the Church. I needed to be shown this as God has given this to us and to be very thankful to Him. Of course, what are they for? Verse 12, it seems again, I never saw it in the way presented. They are given to the Church for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry and edifying the body of Christ. Now we have to ask ourselves, When was the last time I built up the body? I am many times wondering where are the people who know me enough to build me up, without thinking about the gifts I have been given and how I have been using them to fulfill God’s purpose to become more and more like Him. Verse 14 shows us what it will be like when we are bound together as God intended: that we should not be children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine. There are still many children in the church today and I believe that is one aspect of where God has grown my concern. God is everything. God is Truth. God is supernatural. God is my all in all. He gives me hope. He gives me purpose and meaning. When I see someone who is a Sunday only Christian, I have my concerns for them. But it seems as though they are the hardest to reach. Something else may be filling their hope and purpose and meaning. What does God really mean to them? I should know them and love them, and hopefully, someday be able to teach and edify them, but I know that ultimately it is God who changes people. I have my love and concern and purpose though. I want to see that the deceived see truth, that the children reach maturity. I know I am not perfect and would hope that someone loves me enough to say what I need to hear, so that I don’t remain a child or deceived, however the case may be. We need to speak truth into others lives, but we need to know truth.

So, we come to it: How are we going to get there?

  1. Press into the family. We have to know them and we have to allow others to know us (ouch!). I’m so good at letting out who I am on here, but it is very difficult for me to live out what and how I write. I don’t mind if people read this and I so hope they do, but if I can’t be open and honest face-to-face what good am I at laying it all out there. I am getting better though, thank God.
  2. We need to see clearly. Someone needs to tell me the truth, and they can only do that if we are part of the family. Press in, be ready, put down your defenses. (I’m talking to me here especially.) We should no longer walk as the Gentiles, in the futility (purposelessness) of mind, no longer in darkness keeping the light to ourselves or living in isolation. Behind every sin is a lie about God. Remember, God is great, God is glorious, God is gracious, and God is good. If we look at our sins it reveals to us we have believed a lie that goes against one of these characteristics. Complaining about our boss: we forgot God is sovereign, seeing all and has all in His hands, that He has been gracious to us expecting us to give grace to others, and that all our suffering is ultimately for our good.

We have believed for too long that being liked is more important than being loved. Let us not perpetuate the lie by only consoling and empathizing with those who sin, but also calling them out, revealing the lie that we have believed, making sure you do not consider yourself more highly because we all at one time or another believe the lie. Take the log from your own eye, but definitely remove the speck from your brother’s eye, whom you love.

And finally: Why don’t we speak the truth?

First, we fear that we will have the truth shown to us that we are afraid to see. Who are we? We are children of God, holy and made righteous by His blood. Our eternity is reserved for us in heaven, which is just a dim reflection of what we see here on this earth. We are chosen for a higher purpose and if we are unwilling to hear truth spoken to us, what do we deserve of what God has reserved? Truly we deserve none of it, but this is God, the creator of the universe, who knows all and sees all deserves our attention when He speaks to us through each other. Amen?

Second, we believe we are unworthy to be bearers of the truth. We are not to gain pride in throwing the truth around, but have enough humility to give someone what they need: the truth. We need it, they need it. We have it and have a responsibility to give to those we know and love. Never throw it in ones face, truth is not to be haphazardly spat out with disdain, but lovingly cherished and transferred.

Thirdly, giving truth is abnormal. The truth makes enemies, makes people uncomfortable, it shows that you have a concern more with being liked. They may not like me, we say.

Proverbs 26:28 says, “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, And a flattering mouth works ruin.” When we lie or perpetuate the lie we hate those, the bible says. Comfort without truth works ruin. It is obvious that when we just seek to be liked we can never truly love. Like a child who needs discipline, a loved one needs truth. They may hate you for the moment, but thank you for a lifetime.

Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Friends, loved ones, will cause hurt. Enemies kisses are deceitful. The truth will almost always hurt, let’s be prepared to hear it, I am from you.

Redwood trees are the largest trees in the world, but they have some of the most shallow root systems. How do they stand up? Their root systems are intertwined, they hold each other up, they support each other. Let us be as the Redwood trees. Let truth be our root and love be our bond.

~Stranger

Sunday Scrutinization: Discipleship on My Mind

If you read my post about being a cowboy, basically I was talking about discipleship. Whether or not it was about worldly knowledge or biblical, being a cowboy, in the way I was thinking, is about being a disciple. I may have always whined about not being formerly or properly discipled in my life, but that is not entirely true, which was possible the point of today’s sermon.

We started out having to personally answer three questions about discipleship:

  1. What is discipleship?
  2. Are you involved in discipleship? Why or why not?
  3. Who were the disciples of Christ?

I always think that the giver of sermons is always trying to trick us gullible congregants, so I try and look at what they are really asking. My answer to the first had to do with encouragement and teaching; you remember my post on encouragement, and the fact that disciple basically means learner. Pretty good, huh?

The second question was, I believe,  the tricky one. I basically said that no one can handle me. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I’m not like regular folk, whether it be the fact that I don’t think like others or that I spill it all out on this keyboard; I think it’s just not normal. I’m a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, or I like to think that I am. I’m probably plain as day to some or just not worth the effort to others. Incidentally, I’m glad of the fact that my wife felt me worth the effort. The second part of my answer to the second question was, that I just don’t know what to do. And the third part of my answer was, is that I am constantly involved in discipleship. This is the answer that will give me the golden pat on the head for thinking outside the 52 ounce mug of soda. We all, in minor ways, are involved in discipleship, because people are watching us and we are watching people. We are learning constantly. We may not be going through some formal back and forth, but we see each other and how we live life. Those who believe that they know that they don’t know everything are always on the discipleship path.

The third question was in where he was being a tricksy hobbit as well, at least I thought he was. I said that all who know Him are His disciples. It wasn’t until at the end of sermon time when someone asked all the disciples names, did I realize he may not have been as tricksy as I thought he was trying to be. Perhaps that is how I would be as a sermon giver, always trying to trick you foolish congregants, ha ha ha! Wait, no. Never mind. I’d be the straight shooter. You know, the cowboy and all is an open book; straight and true.

The verses he used as a basis for his sermon was 2 Timothy 2:2 and Matthew 28:19-20:

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

His point was that we all need to be involved in discipleship. To me he spoke that I need to take a more conscious approach, rather than an unconscious approach. Which is what I normally do. We all have some pretty lame excuses when it comes to not being involved in discipleship: “I’m not spiritual enough.” “I can’t be discipled by someone less godly than me.” “I can’t do co-discipleship.” “I have to treat anyone I disciple the same.” He had more excuses, but I think time had gotten away from him. He was looking down, trying to decide what to eliminate, when the overdue pregnant woman got up to go somewhere, and someone behind me shouted out, “too long.” Sermon guy didn’t realize why “too long” was shouted, laughed and tried to wrap it all up. I’m approaching a deadline myself. I’d like to finish writing this as my wife and daughter are making jícama slaw in preparation for going to puppet practice and then hanging out with this beloved community tonight, and I’m still in give-up pants and socks. But, if you can read between the lines here and see the connection with what I believe a true cowboy is and the connection of discipleship and Frank Viola sending me a sample of his new book “Discipleship in Crisis” where you can still possibly get the free download here, that God is sending me a message: Step up to the plate bucky-boy and throw for that touchdown as you round up those I’ve prepared from the beginning. Great metaphor mixing, yes? Perhaps before I and my family can jump into the path he has set for us in proclaiming His kingdom, He wants me to get more… *cough* *cough* personal with others, or maybe this is the path. Whatever it is, He is speaking to me, leading me and I want to follow. Giddy-up and git cowboys and cowgirls! For the harvest is ripe and we all need to stand together.

~Stranger

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