A friend of mine gave me a very large tire so I could roll it up and down the slope in my yard. I was inspired by the show, “The Biggest Loser”. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but occasionally I’ll sit upstairs as my wife watches and I can write, or read, or do nothing. “The Biggest Loser” is a show that catches my attention more than most. It is inspiring to see people hitting a goal they set for themselves, or your heart breaks when they fall short and they have to make a choice to either give up or keep striving toward their goals. Some of the exercises they do involve a very large tire. They flip it over many times, they hit it with a sledge-hammer, they step or jump up onto it repeatedly. “I can do that,” I thought, and asked my friend if he had a tire. He wanted to know why and I told him. He laughed and said I wanted to play Sisyphus in my own backyard. Since then, my workouts with the tire have been off-and-on. There are weeks I consistently get up and work out, then months go by without the tire moving.
Today I was out in my yard striving with the thorn trees that continually spring up here and there in the places I don’t normally mow. When we bought this house four years ago, almost half of the yard was given over to the wild; our yard is 1.8 acres, so it is a significant change from the .18 acres I was use to in Salt Lake City. Over the years I have fought it back with push mowers, rakes, shovels, riding mowers, large trimmers, tractors and brush-hogs. The wild area now just takes up one small corner of the yard. This year I have gone out and hand-cut these 1-2 inch thick trees down with a pruning saw that has been in my possession since it was at my parents house over 30 years ago; I think it still has the same blade. They don’t make them like that anymore. Last time I was out there cutting trees, it was so hot and humid, I could only cut down about three sections: around 9 trees. Being a 45-year-old overweight man who can’t consistently push a tire around his yard, I quickly wearied myself. There was many more sections that I wanted to finish up before I came back in the house. After cutting about 5 trees down, I began to feel light-headed and took longer breaks in between cuttings. I prayed to God that he would give me strength to finish this job because He equips the called. I reasoned that I was called to finish this job, this goal, and He would make it so. At one point I was so weary, my vision started going grey around the edges and I didn’t want to pass out where I was, because of the poison ivy and bugs all around in this wild area. I quickly stood and half ran, half stumbled to a semi-clear area and threw myself on the ground. Finally, when lying, what I imagine to be a tick and chigger infested ground, became more terrifying than my weariness I rolled over and slowly finished the job.
Going through my mind was the frustration at how quickly I wanted to give up. I thought about the tire in my yard and how long it has stayed in one place. I thought about my job and how it is so much like being Sisyphus; I’m pushing this rock up a hill and it just goes back down, and I have to do it all over again with 8 people telling me 20 different ways to get the rock back up the hill. Well now more, sir; no more! It is done. I am done being a Sisyphus in my health and in my job. I have had some very fuzzy goals when it has come to them both. Well, that is over too. I’m done talking about how much I need to finish my resume. I’m done talking about how much I need to get consistent with my health. I need to set goals and strive for them. When I meet an obstacle, I must consider what must be done to get around it; and stop letting it let me give up quick flash in a hurry.
Take my writing for instance: This is my hobby and I let so many things get in my way to write down what I think needs to be said or shared or disseminated. I make excuses about others motivations and see no point in going on, but my point is to get better, to know myself more and to share that with you; being that I am the rebel that I am.
I’ve had a hobby of eating better and I have, except for the time that I suck down a whole bags worth of Dorito’s at a potluck, or guzzle that “last” Dr. Pepper because I desperately needed it.
Talk is cheap. Sometimes so is writing. I can write about this until I’m blue in the face. My goal this week is to finish my resume, finish a consistent beginning to a new workout, and stop drinking soda. If you are reading this, please let me know on that one site. I’m going to set a calendar date for next week, then I’ll let you know how I did, then start it all over again. Habits are built on repetition, and, most importantly for me, can not be done with out God. I have written recently about our freedom we have and that when we condemn ourselves it is of no use. This week it has been a focus for me. I have failed and almost instantly, I condemn myself, but I deny that this is not of the Lord, and it is not me sinning again but just myself displaying characteristics that goes against who I am in Christ. It is sin, but, I can’t continually condemn; that is of the devil. I need goals, encouragement, and just to stop condemning myself.
The era of Sisyphus, struggling and failing over and over again is done. Thank you God for revealing everything as a gospel story, and giving me the strength to be the man I need to be, for my wife, for my family, for my church family and co-workers. I need you every day.
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.
(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.)
It has been a while since I wrote anything on here, and today when I got on I had a notification award of one year of Stranger in Rebellion. Almost a month has it been since I wrote my last post, honoring my Mother for Mother’s Day. Usually I come back from being on hiatus for a while depressed, sorely needing something to say, and eager to get back on the bus. But not lately. Sure I’ve had a lot I’ve had wanted to write about in regards to popular culture and sermons I’ve heard and writing about all the stuff I see friends posting on that one site. It just hasn’t been pressing me as of late. Even as I sit here trying to remember all the things I’ve wanted to ponder upon through words, it just kind of fades like smoke, dissipating into a dark sky, and you’re not really sure if you really thought about it at all.
So, in the spirit of a writing anniversary, let’s do a quick Stranger in Rebellion year in review, and perhaps this little exercise will get the smoothies flowing again.
As a quick history, the “Strange Confessions” started on May 17, 2012 on my personal “that one site” page. On December 9 of the same year, I started the “Stranger in Rebellion” blog on that same, “that one site.” (Reminder: I say “that one site” because it drives me a little crazy when, in normal conversation, people give the casual aside, “I saw this (so-and-so) on Facebook.)
Then on June 2, 2013 this started. I have written 97 posts and have 79 followers. The most visits in one day was 68, which was December 1st, 2013, and that was when I wrote this article, but the previous day’s article, has the most reads, that being 24. I have an unfinished project in which I answer the 15 most ridiculous college application questions, inspired by this article, in which I am stuck on this question: “St. Mary’s College is casting for the incoming class. Send us your audition tape via the Web or DVD. Please provide us with the site for posting. Selection of this option will stand as your college essay. Consider your audience.” I’ve considered just skipping it, but that just wouldn’t be fair now, would it? Interestingly enough, this article, is one that most people come across when they do general web searches. I suppose it has something to do with the tags that include, aliens, dinosaurs and robots. That was one of my most favorite writes as well. Go ahead and read it if you haven’t. I am eager to get back to finishing this project, so I may skip the video, and then come back later.
Since I started writing I have had great spiritual growth due to a loving and open group of believers we meet with every Tuesday night, and have started going to a church that is small and challenging, which has inspired me to write summaries of what I have been learning. That is something I need to get back to again. Our Sunday group fellowship, or church as I’m uncomfortable in calling it, has taken on the challenge of going to the streets this summer. You can check it here, please do. Many of us have been called to be leaders in specific roles during this time, and I have been chosen as distribution/dissemination leader before we meet in various places in the community. We go door-to-door or where people gather and hand out flyers explaining our purpose. We hide nothing in this as it says that as followers of Christ, we have a duty to go into the community and share the love and joy that comes from knowing Him. It is a very exciting time and much prayer is needed as we will be reminded that we are at War. A war in which the outcome has already been determined, but a war nonetheless.
Writing about these things gets me going and I want to start sharing again. Thanks for you patience and remember to pray for Township Line Church. This is a watershed moment for not only the people, but also for this community. Give God the glory! Thank you Jesus!
P.S. Here is just a fun picture to gain interest as I re-post this on that one site.
Strange Confessions: I am petrified that I am being forced into a position to make another wrong choice in my life, as well as the fact that I think it might be God working in me for another major transition ahead.
Since I’ve been a Christian there have been some decisions in my life regarding a major purchase or job change or how we raise our children that I attempted to listen to what God would want me to do, but ended up feeling the pressure of a deadline or dissatisfaction or I just plain didn’t have the patience to wait for a clear picture. So I found myself in many peculiar positions of getting what I thought I wanted, yet it turned out to somehow be a cosmic joke played on me with added strain added to reveal the impertinence of my actions. I won’t go into it all now, because A: I’m not sure if I’ve already told you about some of these situations I’ve put myself in, and number 2: the stories behind these decisions is not the point.
My point is that these last two sermons I have absorbed these past two weeks have revealed in me the perilous point I now find myself in. I did not write at all week last week because of a funk I’ve been under. Let me just say it outright: I’ve been selfishly depressed.
The Perspectives course I have been taking, which started out grand, has rusted the gears in my mind because of the view I hold of myself. Who am I, that I could possibly begin a journey that would lead myself and my family to a point of excitedly getting to experience a culture that would be both a challenge and a blessing, to share our lives with people outside of the framework of our own wearisome culture? That is my thoughts my friends. Yes, don’t start convincing me of the argument that God uses the weak and the foolish and the blind, for I know all that. It is my Performance Record that gets in the way.
Work has been the other great “sign” or “challenge” or “prompt” that has given me the idea that things are pushing me to another change. Yet is it just me being more and more dissatisfied with work that I want to leave or quit or even get fired just so I have an excuse that it really was God pushing me? I really do believe that the way things are going at work, things are going to quickly come to a head and a decision is going to have to be made about what are we going to do next. Then I look at my Performance Record, and I see that maybe things aren’t as light at the end of the tunnel as they seem.
My 16-year-old daughter has been driving more and more lately, and she is very unsettled in the way it is so difficult in planning for her to work some, earning extra money for the college degree she is planning on and we have outright told her there is nothing for her from us in that regard. I failed out of the high school all my family went to, lost the grant I had in college due to selfishly staring at my navel through the drug-induced haze pouring through my mouth, couldn’t do well enough at the community college to strive and push myself into the betterment of who I always thought I could be. Then I jump from job to job, not climbing any corporate ladder I always convinced myself wasn’t for me and find myself in a managerial/design position I knew was a home run, but is drowning in the excess of poor communication and a series of managers not close enough to delve into the whys and hows of the complexities I have tried to convince them of, but find that every issue I bring up is my fault and my problem to handle, because after all, didn’t I take a class for that? I want to provide to my children the means to succeed if not the funds, but it seems that the mists of my poor Performance Record is finally catching up with me, and is convincing me that it is too late to do anything about it.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the sermon recently had something to do with a performance record of sorts. We have gotten into a series on Galatians, and last week was about the “Reversed” gospel. There were people going to the territory of Galatia convincing the new Christians that there were things they had to do to earn God’s favor. There were 4 points or acid tests that summed up the focus of the sermon, things that we had to take and see if they were true in our lives, to see if we were following a “reversed” gospel:
- Fear of man: Who am I trying to impress? Where do I gain my approval, acceptance and security from?
- Internal Power: God called you. Are you forgetting that when God speaks, action follows? Whose power are you relying on?
- Illumination: Do you truly understand what the gospel is? Where are you gaining your understanding?
- Relationship: Are you delving deeper into a relationship with the one who saved you, or abandoning it because it is a duty to serve Him, and not a delight?
When he spoke about who I am trying to impress or gain approval, acceptance, security from, I thought I don’t care about what other people think about me… but that isn’t true. I either want people to know me better from reading what I write and approving of it or, I dismiss them altogether if there is any semblance of rejection. I realize that even as people gain what they need from other men, avoiding them so that you don’t have to face rejection is another way of saying you thirst for man’s approval and not God. Sometimes it is even the case when you feel superior and reject all others as dumb or uneducated or filthy, that you might not be giving people the opportunity to reject you, and thus, you respect the opinion of man… in a roundabout subconscious sort of way.
My Performance Record is terrible in this instance.
And thus, we come to it. Yesterday’s sermon also had 4 points. We looked at the question of how do we really know if we’ve been converted. The four points in this instance were:
- Performance Record: Are you concerned more with what you are doing than who you are?
- View of God: Are we putting our idea of who God is and putting against what we see in the Bible, or are we accepting the change of view in revelation of Him. If God is a god we have created in our hearts than that god cannot change who we fundamentally are. We will always struggle with our “mistakes” rather than our sins. Paul understood that God would never become a man, that God would never cease the sacrificial system. When Jesus came to Paul, he asked the question that held it all for him, “Who are you Lord?”
- Relationship with Christ: There is no try in Christianity, there is just be one. Our failures don’t make us who we are, our relationship with the one who declared, “it is FINISHED” makes us who we are, and we should start behaving like we believe it is done instead of always trying to please Him.
- Who gets the glory? Are you taking the credit for what God has done in your life? It is the man who understands the Weight of His Glory who has been converted.
Understanding the concept of the Performance Record really resonated with me.
Our entire society is based around the concept of what we’ve done, and we believe it is the same with God. God reveals our performance record in the sermon on the mount. Have we killed anyone? No. But have you hated or gossiped about someone? Have you committed adultery? No. But those who have looked upon a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. And it is about our heart, right? Not our actions. All of us have sinned and there is that chasm that separates us from Him. I look at the performance record of my life and it is the failures that are glaringly obvious. It overshadows all. Light should light up the darkness, but the darkness of failure seeps in like an oily smoke, distorting the view of all the successes, the things that should be my focus. Oh, what a terrible, tortuous thing it is to compare ourselves with others. To see friends and family going past me, the weight of failure keeping my eyes downcast, only seeing the shadows that could have been. I need a Scrooge or a George Bailey moment to see the light… no, I need a God moment everyday. I need a wonderful wife moment, a beautiful children moment, an incredible fellowship group moment, a home with a roof moment. Woe to the weeds of life that are so tall and out-of-place that the eye is drawn there, and this change that is just over the horizon makes my sorrowful performance record give weight to all the doubt, fear, hatred, dismay, discouragement and failure that is the past.
LORD, take this weight from me. Work in my life and through your word and through your people to renew the hope I know is just under the surface, waiting to sprout again. Bring about the reminder of a life that is eternal with You right now. The weight of weariness I see in the world everyday is not reflecting your glory, it is the beauty life in your people who I need to reflect on. The thoughtfulness of my wife, the joy of my children, the concern of a friend. You are in them all, reflecting the things I need to see. I know this weight is a lie. You are the truth, You are the Way, You lead me to comfort and peace. I take over and lead to failure and sorrow and You stand apart, waiting for me to look up into Your face. I love You for showing this truth to me in the way You have given me. Thank You for Your Spirit, alive and living in me. Show me Your way, that I may walk with You, and be where You are, no matter where that is. Thank You God, Thank You!
I have not written on here for a while because of the reading demands of the Perspectives course I am taking as well as taking in some of the Olympics going on over in Sochi, Russia. I need to not be off here for so long next time, because there is so much that is happening in my life and this is my only outlet for figuring things out. I know I’m dependent on my writing because this morning was sharing time at church, and as soon as it was announced I knew I was being required by God to speak, and my communication was sadly lacking in cohesion.
These last two years have been the biggest time of growth for me and my wife. God has changed my perspective on what the Church is, on what a Christian looks like, who I am in relation to these and that I don’t have to hold those standards to others that God has called me to. The preparation for me to realize these things have been our move to West Plains, in essence our breaking away from what I held as a great source of security, some very difficult trials in relationships with other Christians, and finding some other deeply committed Christians who have such depth and diverse backgrounds, that I have really been able to trust. The love I have for my wife and realization that we are growing together in this journey has made me even more faithful and trusting in Him.
This and so much more is what I wanted to share this morning. I was so discombobulated about talking freely, and worried that I would ramble on that I don’t even remember what I said, not sure I made my point, and just cut myself short because I couldn’t focus. Enough about me though, I want to talk about what someone else said and our conversation afterwards.
A single mother got up and talked about how disconnected she feels with everyone because she feels like she has no mission God is calling her to and that her kids are important to her yet she feels like she is even failing in that. Her kids go to public school and most others are in a Christian school or are home-schooled. It seems that all the things of her life that defined her were the opposite of what was going on in any number of people within the congregation. She said that she never determined her life to be a circle of perfect Christian people but that is what is going on now and it seemed that she was very discouraged by that.
I could understand fully what she was saying. I mean, it was only the previous week that I didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone at that church. It wasn’t anything anyone did, it’s just me. I feel so disconnected sometimes, that no one knows me, that they are only talking to me because they have to, that the things they talk about are not important, too cerebral, or they don’t really care about my opinion nor do I want to anyway. If people cared they would read my blog, comment and like it; which most people don’t anyway. But again, that is just me. People are normal, I, am particularly… not. Or at least I like to think that I am. We reach an age, say about 14 or so, where things get bogged down in some sort of particular personality politics that wearies me. I have things going on in my mind that I dwell on and contemplate that others just don’t want to deal with, either because it is too immature, too weird, too depressing or just too deep. I’ve had conversations with people in the past where I’ve hit nerves. Not the kind that are like, “Hey! That hurt,” but more like, “Hmm… we’ll talk about that some other time. I’ll call you,” and they never do. It didn’t connect with them. But with kids, or some very close friends, getting together is like continuing the flow. It’s like getting into a familiar river, a bit cool to get you excited and the flow is how you remember it, and it is so nice to be in it, letting it take you away.
I went up to this woman afterward and told her I knew exactly how she felt. She has come up to me before and told me she is generally a man-disliker, but she felt different about me. I don’t know why she felt this way, but she did. I usually give off the “you don’t want to know me” vibe to people and I am not used to people saying they liked me right off. Her reaction to my empathy was one of confusion: “Why? How is it you don’t get along or connect with these people?” She figured I was married, had home-schooled children, perhaps I look like I got things together(?), why didn’t I connect? To me basically it did come down to trust, but why can’t I hold a conversation like everyone else does?
A few weeks back I wrote that I believed it was Satan or demons that told me to be wary of people trying to manipulate me. Manipulating me into doing God’s work? Really. That is what I believed. I believed that if my heart was strangely moved by a presentation, I started hardening it, because I convinced myself that I was just being manipulated. This had gone on since I became a Christian. The things we believe that make us not do His work are unlimited. We can convince ourselves of anything in order not to do His work or do something that is against His will. Wide is the gate and many are the paths we take away from the Lord.
With tears welling in her eyes she told me she was a failure as a parent. She had resigned it. Just as I had resigned that people are just manipulative. It was from Satan, and so is what this woman was telling me. But could I say that to her without sounding like I’m a recording in a box? “That is from Satan. That is from Satan.” over and over again. Maybe she has heard that before and has convinced herself that when people say that it is an excuse that you are the failure, and brings it back upon self, and continues the cycle. We just don’t know these things until we know people.
I find it hard to get to know people who just so happen to go to the same building week after week, forced into a situation of facing me yet again, until that guilt builds up to say, “Hey, next week I’ll be sitting at your table,” as they leave. You don’t really want to sit at my table so don’t feel so freaking guilty to tell me that is what you plan on doing, meet me where I am: where ever that might be (I say in a small squeaky voice because I don’t really know where that is really). In so she may find it hard to know people because everyone else has a “successful” marriage, has “Christ-filled” kids. They don’t have time for little-Miss failed marriage and now failed kids. Both our ideas are from the darkest pits of hell! I’ve heard this stupid little trite saying before about how today is a gift that is why we call it the “Present”, but it makes a whole lot of sense. I can go on thinking that you don’t know me and you sure don’t want to know me, or I can wake up and say that not all people are like they were in the past and darn it some of them might actually like you if you give them a chance, so stop being so suspicious all the time and talk to them for crying in the mud. And, my friend can say that every day is a new day to just do the best I can with what I have been given, with where circumstances have brought me, and I am going to forget what I am trying to convince myself and realize that every day is a new day, a new chance to do just a little better, to know God just a little better, to hug my kids just a little more, to be vulnerable just enough so that it will stop building up and take over when I want it to the least. Everyday is a gift to do more. We don’t have to be miracle workers, that is what God is for, we just have to follow Him where He leads. He is not leading me to be more suspicious and He is definitely not leading my friend to convince her that she is a failure. I rebuke that now! My Christian brothers and sisters are not out to betray me or hurt me or leave me or ignore me, even though it may seem like it, they are just living their lives the best they can in the circumstances God has put them in.
It all comes down to relationship. God has made us in His image and one of those aspects is relationship. With sin in the world we began blaming each other for our own faults and still do today. I pray that as Your Church grows that we can become vulnerable and encouraging as You meant us to be. I pray that Your name would be glorified in our failures and our successes. I pray that we would seek Your unity and forget about the things the make us different that would divide us.
I am overwhelmed right now. Overwhelmed by what God has done and is right now, doing in my life. Everything is connecting and meshing in a way I had not expected several years ago. This is something I feel inadequate in expressing. I can be self-deprecating. I can make excuses that it is hard for me to connect with others. I can manipulate. I can be humorous like dry white wine with a lemon infusion. I can hide. I can forget about my hope. I can do many things. But, explaining my love, my fear, my hope and my total amazement at what is going on in what I have been learning.
I recently learned that there have been several people who have been secretly reading this blog and especially this segment. I don’t know if they like the expression of what I’ve learned, or perhaps seeing a teaching from a different point of view, or they like my writings(?), or something else, so writing this jumble of thoughts might not connect with the normal reader. I’m just going to summarize some of the specific things I have learned and my thoughts on what they mean to me right now.
Funnels. Spirals. Sunday’s sermon started with funnels. One stem up, one stem down. Two church views. One view: the majority of Christians enter the large part of the funnel, the church, and make smaller, core groups that in turn minister to the needy church. The result: the church remains self-focusing, relying on the committed to keep a tenuous hold on the Christian community that could disappear like smoke. Second view: a committed, smaller core of community believers are part of the church that goes out from the church into the world to minister, to witness, to spread the gospel. Sure, it doesn’t stand up on all three legs, but you get it right? The spirals were introduced in the second lesson of Perspectives and is a very similar idea. One view: church in the middle an arrow spiraling toward it, the idea is the church is relying on its attraction so people will come and know God because of the people. Second view: church in the middle arrow spiraling outward. Obvious conclusion this is optimal because we go. We go. Which is the whole point of what I am hearing in my ear and in my heart. As John Zumwalt said last night, we are the only seed that resists being scattered. He made motions of throwing said and said, “Go!” and looked at his hand like the seed stuck. “Go!” he called and threw again looking at his unscattered seed. How long have I been resisting the command to go? He also spoke of the sower piling all his seed up for acres of field in the corner. How long have I stayed in the comfort of my own little pile of seed? We are the seed. We are meant to be scattered. My wife and I have talked about that we have possibly made the first and hardest step of being scattered. That West Plains move was being pulled from the plant in preparation for a more difficult scattering. This is our preparation. We are understanding that we need to go. I don’t know where, I don’t know when. But this is the beginning, the beginning of understanding that for too long we have been complacent and, this is hard, not obeyed the Lord.
Listening to John Zumwalt last night I realized something at one point and I wrote it down. Here it is: “My resistance to feel is because I feel I’m being manipulated. I have to understand that God will not manipulate me, but that I will move when I hear/feel You.”
How often have I felt God moving me to compassion and just understood that this person is just manipulating me!? Do you understand what I’m saying here? Someone spoke and I begin to feel compassion, mercy, understanding and shut it down because I felt I was being manipulated! That is Satan, and I rebuke this feeling and pray that the Lord would breakthrough and tell me the mercy, compassion and understanding is from Him, like He did last night. He spoke of the young girls in Mumbai, and whose feet are going to go there and save them from the sex-slave life they are doomed to live. Earlier in the night a question was posed, has God laid on your heart a country or people group to begin to pray for. He hasn’t laid any specific people on my heart, but throughout the night, young people’s situations kept coming to my mind, even before his speaking about the girls in Mumbai. During the break I was speaking with a couple of guys about this and we were talking about how the Super Bowl is a dark spot in our country right now. This weekend represents the highest sex-trafficking in our country. Where is the outrage? The news media? We ignore what is going on in our own country and once in a while talk about those distant parts of the world, that we might react to, may give money, or some care and good thoughts go out. Children are being bought and sold around the world and in this country. I have this bitterness welling up in the back of my throat right now, and I didn’t expect to dwell on this so, but perhaps this is where God is leading me, no manipulation needed. Shed a tear for all the innocence Satan has stolen, destroyed and killed. When am I going to say it is time to STAND? What is going on in my own community? Children are growing up in broken homes, not knowing a kind, loving and genuine word all around us. It may be time to get up, get off my seat, move my feet and do what He says. This can’t be tomorrow anymore. How long has God been expecting me to move? To be scattered and show His love, glorify His name, turn around, share His kingdom now!
God get rid of my excuses. Thank You for showing me that it has been You all along. Give me Your compassion. Show me where to go. I have had these works waiting for me from the beginning. You have revealed my gift of relation to younger people for a long time. It’s time to go to the darker parts of this world and reflect Your light to hearts that need Your love, that need purpose. Thank You for giving me Your heart in this. That I have this opportunity to grow with your church, thank You. That I have the opportunity to have my perspective changed, thank You. Get rid of all my excuses. We went through all the worldly difficulties of transfer in this world to train in trust, in trust more in You. You can do anything that needs to happen to this uneducated man, whose heart is growing more and more to glorify You. This family needs your guidance. Help us to know where to go, to know what to say. Guide our feet, be our tongue. In You, in you I find my peace. In You, in you I find my strength. In You, I live and move and breath. Let everything I say and do be founded by my faith in you. I lift up holy hands and sing: Let the praises ring! Oh Lord my God to you I give my hands. Oh Lord my God to you I give my feet. Oh Lord my God to you I give my everything. Take all I am.
Oh Lord my God to you I give my life.
Thank You God. Thank You.
What I have been learning lately has been very sobering to me. When the pastor said this was going to be a sobering sermon today, I was like, “I can handle this, bring it.”
The last two years have been quite the journey for my wife and I. For myself I have been learning more about what the church is, what we should be striving to, in a more general way. I wrote some stuff on that one site in the process and got some concerned citizens, who normally wouldn’t say “boo” to me if I had the hiccups, ask me if I was okay. Just the journey I’m on my brother, just the journey. Last year was all about discovering my legalistic tendencies and the blame shifting from others to myself laid slit open and bleeding on the carpet. God revealed these things to me in the way only I could see: slow process, writing, and great friends. I learned to look at other Christians and not think that they’re doing it all wrong. My wife and I together have learned about relationships. Specifically how hard it is for us to keep, repair and most importantly build them. Tonight some people from church called us and asked if we wanted to come over. My initial reaction was, “No.” I mean seriously, I was in my “give-up” pants and everything. You just don’t call a man and expect him to change pants and come over. My wife reminded me that if we are to be able to build relationships, we have to be able to change out of our “give-up” pants once in a while.
This year we’re hitting it right off the bat. We’ve started last week on the Perspectives course. How thankful we are to have this opportunity in little old West Plains, and it seems that this is going to be the year of seeing how the Church should look like within our own selves. I feel like something is starting to rise over the horizon. That there is change a-comin’. I don’t know where from and I certainly don’t know what, but I am getting quite unsettled in my own personal… person I’d guess you’d say. The difficulty here is that I am so dissatisfied at my work. I think to myself, “Why would God use me in something big, when I can’t even content myself with the job I have?” I’ve always been the type that believes you succeed where you’re put then you’re given better. At least from God’s perspective. I changed jobs on my own often enough to try and be contented that I know God is just shaking His head at my futile attempts at self satisfaction. But then I also think, “What about the house? My kids? My desire to be in Utah again?” It’s like I’m building up excuses before anything real happens. I believe that if God calls me and my family somewhere there will be this line up of excuses as to why I can’t go, just like before we moved here.
In the Perspectives course we see that there is a blessing to be shared so that the nations, every tribe, every tongue, will share in that blessing, and it didn’t start in the New Testament, but with Genesis 12:1-3. Today’s sermon was about how God is a sending God. I’m just going to throw the verses out there he used first:
So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” ~Isaiah 6:5-8
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” ~Isaiah 61:1-3
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them,“Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” ~John 20:11-23
God is a sending God. The verses in Isaiah are obvious, but it is the verses from John that were the focus. I’ll make this brief, because I know you’re growing weary of the amount of words, and I’m starting to sound like this is going to be a downer.
The first mission Jesus sent someone on after His resurrection was Mary. She was to go and tell the disciples what she had heard. Was she successful? Of course she was. We read in another account that they don’t believe her. Just because the disciples didn’t believe did not make Mary’s mission a failure. When Jesus did show up, in a locked room full of fearful men I might add, He said peace to you, or Shalom, or more specifically “God intended it”. The disciples are afraid, locked up in their room, thinking that the last 3 years were a waste, when Jesus shows up, being killed a few days ago, and tells them all is how it was intended to be. He was showing them His hands and His side and said again, peace be to you. Then tells them as it was for Him, so it will be for them. Then He breathed on them. God’s breath brings life.
What does this mean for you? For me? To work our life just so we can upkeep our possessions? To stay where we our because of our good job? Our good home? Will I think I’m too old and untrained? Will I believe the lie that I’ve never succeeded in anything in my life so why should it start now?
Should debt stop us? Should the threat of a parent or grandparent, that it won’t happen to my children? Should we not go because we feel like we’d fail? What have we done lately to truly OBEY the Lord?
What have I done? Will I be ready? If I am called and if I am ready, will I be willing to bear through the barriers that will be thrown up to block the way? Will I recognize it all as what He intends for me? Are these all just in preparation for the excuses?
Dear God, Help me to serve you. Help me to breakthrough all barriers that would come in front of me. Help me to see the Truth. To see the Truth that would shatter the lies. Give me and my family strength to trust You. To know You enough that we would recognize Your voice when we hear it. You said we would know Your voice, let us not follow the lie. Help us to see people as you see them: in deep need of a savior, in deep need of relationship with the God of the universe. Help us to keep our appointments with learning more about You. Give us strength when we don’t want to do it anymore. Give us strength when we feel all alone. You are the creator and sustainer of all things. Sustain us through these times of growth, of challenge, of change Lord. You are my God and I will ever praise You.
Strange Confessions: Problems come about at work: “Ugh! I hate that I have to deal with this all the time! Why can’t work ever be easy? Please Jesus, come back now…” Problems come about while doing ministry: “Oh this is so exciting! How are we going to figure this one out? We’re going to have so much fun *squeal*! What a great time for bonding with God’s people!”
It rained yesterday in Charleston, Missouri: a lot. Two weeks ago the forecast was calling for freezing rain, snow, and low temperatures. As the days went by, outlooks became a little brighter. It was going to be warmer and final percentage for chance of rain: 80%. Nice. I am usually the one who drives the bus for the two and a half hours it takes to get to Charleston and back on the third Saturday of the month for food distribution day at the Shining Light Mission located there. Having 15 people’s lives in your hands can sometimes make you a little tense, especially when the weather turns ugly. It rained the whole way there, but just a fine to moderately heavy drizzle. Once we got to the low-lying plains of the Southeastern corner of Missouri, water was standing high in the ditches on the sides of the road, and my eyes were pealed for chances of a hydro-planing situation. This made me grip the steering wheel tighter and my shoulders try to disappear into my ears. But, we got there safely. Praise God.
We were going to be short this month for help. The only other church with major volunteers were out and most of the experienced players on our team were going to be gone. This third Saturday of the month fell harshly: four days before Christmas. I was volunteered back in November to head up recruitment for this month of trial-like small numbers. Blessedly, I had help. It ended up we scheduled 21 people to come. Hallelujah! That should be enough. We got to the church parking lot at 6:15am to get the bus all warmed up and ready to leave. Our main connection showed up and said several people weren’t showing up, but, there was some unexpected people there ready to go. It ended up being 26 people! We took the smaller bus of 15, someone else took 7 people in their van, and another family of 4 just ended up going on their own.
Once we got there, the pantry was jam-packed with donations for distribution. I told everyone that the first half-hour there was a little slow until we all found our position and our groove. It took a while to get organized because we were so crowded with extra people and donations. What a blessing. My spirit’s were starting to soar. I was getting excited about getting the problems solved that were beginning to show their face. People were looking lost. Others wanted to look around. We needed some organization, some purpose. Moving around pallets and boxes of food with so many people standing around was fun, sort of. Once my wonderful wife got pantry goods sorted for bagging, then things really got moving. I was with a new guy I recruited from my bible study, and a young, eager, local kid who usually only benefits from the distribution. We were busting open boxes of a rice mixture getting them in bags, tying them off and handing them over to be counted. The kid was all, “Slow down!” and I was all, “No way! Keep it coming, we can take it. We got strength and skill from God.” We packed 310 bags from the pantry, 306 for the USDA, and we had boxes full of mini-sausage biscuits, bags of potatoes, containers of bleach, and assorted frozen meats (including chicken feet) to organize and give away.
We broke for lunch at about 11:45 and came back before the distribution time of 1pm-4pm. The head of Shining Light told us to close the regular door we go out of to load the groceries, for he had a new plan. The fields and playground were already flooded and the front was growing; but the rain was staying at a slow drizzle, which didn’t seem much of a threat. Generally, ministers and ministered to, go in circles and arcs to keep things moving, but this rain was causing a problem we had to figure out. The only exit was the front and we had to let people in early to stay out of the rain. We had to reroute the line through another room to clear the hall and had several checkpoints so only 5 people could come back at a time. The teens are usually the grocery herders, bringing goods out to people’s cars. I wanted to do it this time, so I could talk to people and give others breaks from getting wet. It took a while to get those teens inline so we could go past each other and not cause too much chaos; because there was going to be chaos! I would yell at them every time I saw them, “To the right! To the right!” “Hold still! Wait until this group goes through!” “Move it out! Get those loaded!” “Not here! Open up the cart at the back of the line.” All in good-natured commanding, I hope. Someone gave me a full weather rain slicker, so my top stayed dry, but my jeans and shoes? They weren’t going to be dry until next year. These kids though: they were getting soaked, but their spirits stayed high! I had to yell at a couple, including my own daughter, to make someone switch with them. There was some teen boys in the food packing area I made switch out. There was even a determined girl who was having so much fun being utterly drenched, she got mad at me for caring. Can you believe that? No good deed goes unpunished, yes?
At around 3pm, God opened up the heavens to pour the rain down in sheets. Even the raindrops were shedding rain. By this time we had finished most of the line, for our numbers were lower than usual: I wonder why… Anyway, from 3pm-4pm is my favorite time: we’re not too busy, for the line is shorter and not as urgent, I can talk with all the other workers and especially the teens, there is just more time for great fellowship and fun. I was singing carols and cracking jokes, (I am always my best audience) just enjoying myself. My wife told others I have two types of natural highs: the 2am highs and the “just served a ministry” high. It was a tough day for a lot of us, but I felt like I was on both. Santa was there giving out candy canes, and we had this little routine. “Merry Christmas Santa,” I’d yell as I went along on my errands. “Merry Christmas Mark!” he’d yell back. I would turn in shock, surprise, and utter joy in my face saying, “How do you know my name?” He’d laugh and others would giggle. It was a lot of fun. I heard someone say that a group of teenagers could really sing. I searched them out and asked them to sing some Christmas carols. Much to my disappointment, they wouldn’t agree. Hey, I was having fun. Some didn’t like my singing, but they had a smile on their face.
Getting ready to go, I had discovered that the front lot was covered with at least 8 inches of water. It was a shock: how was I to cross the street to get the bus. One of the other drivers and I were scouting out the path of least resistance, or perhaps it was most resistance we were looking for: strong, sure footing. I glanced across the lot and saw the last driver striving purposefully across, wading in water past his ankles. He was unknowingly heading directly toward the now hidden ditch carrying a large bag of clothes, when suddenly he pitched forward into the ditch throwing the bag in the road in front of a moving truck. The truck squealed to a stop and I ran across the water, soaking my shoes to get to him. He went up to his chest in water and pulled himself up, out and to his truck before I was even half-way there. I know if I was in his position, I would have wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I don’t know him that well or I would have called him today to see if he ever got dry. Hopefully he got to some store for some dry clothes before trekking the 3 hours back. I successfully got the bus across the pond and everyone piled inside when we were off. The roads in town were flooded and I was thankful to get to the freeway. Water was higher in the valley than when we came, but the road didn’t have any standing water. Thank God. With the slower speeds we got home a bit later than usual, but with our hearts filled at working together with great purpose at working for God.
I discovered that I just love serving when there is some problem that needs to be solved. We talked about it later, how there was always some obstacle we had to overcome to get the job done, and that is what makes it enjoyable to me. Yesterday was the most difficult day we’ve had there since starting there this year on a regular basis. I cherish these moments of purpose, fellowship, serving, and mission. Yet I wonder why I don’t feel that sense of good, that sense of right, when I do my daily duty of supporting my family, trying to help and guide the companies I work for, giving the employees a good sense of caring and doing a job well. Then I consider the minister in the field; every day filling such a great sense of purpose. Do they look at the problems that arise the same way? Do they groan under the same pressure, under the same issues that need to be dealt with? Our bible study met for supper and a summary of what God has/is doing in our lives this year the other night. We have a few students in our group who shared that they were frustrated that they can’t just go out and start serving God or that they don’t really know what they should be doing or that their sense of purpose is out of whack. I didn’t really want to tell them that that is the way I feel almost every day I have to go to work, because after all, shouldn’t we imagine that this sense of meaninglessness will eventually go away? I was just amazed and humbled that we had such a thoughtful group of youth, wanting to really get on with their lives. When I was their age, I would stay young and irresponsible as long as I could. It is hard to know that there is a purpose out there for you to face and having to wait and wait and wait. But God teaches us patience, yes He does. He has taught me much here in West Plains, and I’m so thankful to be able to see it all and examine it all and write about it all here. Incidentally, God has given us a great and terrible gift here with this technology. I pray that someday I would have the privilege of finding out if I could maintain my sense of joy in the regular problems that would arise in serving Him or at least see that joy in the day-to-day of the work I find such trouble enjoying one single day of the week.
(By the way, do you like my new signature? Also, see my logo and icon below. I like the picture of the single, lonely tree in the desert.)
Strange Confessions: As I mowed the lawn today I was singing a popular Christian song but I changed around the lyrics that might be considered offensive to other Christians.
As some of you know, I started my “Strange Confessions” on my personal Facebook page back in May of 2012. The entries soon became longer and more personal where as I did not want to keep it on my page but decided to make it a blog. I saw people were making blogs on Facebook, so I created the first version of Stranger in Rebellion in December of 2012. I invited a few friends who responded to my first Strange Confessions and some I thought might read and respond. As of now, I have eighteen friends who “like” the Facebook blog. Still, there isn’t the feedback I would like, and maybe I’m really not that interesting to read anyways, but I enjoy the writing, occasionally make myself laugh and discover things about my self and my relationships that I would not have discovered if I had not written about any number of certain subjects.
Well, then came this blog. I wanted to reach a broader audience and in the course of several transitions, get all my writings off Facebook and onto this blog then delete the Facebook stuff. In the course of writing on this blog I have copied and pasted the Strange Confessions as well as the main current writing project and a few other items, onto the Facebook site. But there is some stuff I keep strictly for this site. One was a couple of weeks ago, and now this one. So, faithful readers, you get the benefit of reading some items that are not on the other site. Don’t you feel privileged? There are some things I want to keep away from people who know me, because they might be shocked at some of the things I occasionally think about. Such as today…
First the song:
My mom had a euphemism she always said to me for when I didn’t fulfill all expectations of a job she had given to me. Now for the full warning:
I am going to say some words here that you might not appreciate. But, the word is in the Bible, but it is also occasionally used in improper ways. So if you have a heftier than normal sense of good morals, you might not want to read further.
My mom would say you did this or that “half-assed”. That’s it. She would say that to me a lot. “Oh now Mark this is so half-assed.” “This is a half-ass job.” “Why are you so half-assed about everything I have you do?”
Strange thoughts come into my head when I mow sometimes, as this remembrance did today. I began to think it would have been funny if, as a young man, I could have said back to her, “Oh, I’m sorry mom. Let me give you my whole ass.” “You want me to put my whole ass into this?” “From now on mom, all you are going to see from me, is my whole ass.”
This morning, before mowing, I was fiddling with one of those online computer radio things that plays songs for you when you put in stuff you like and it predicts what you would like. So, the song above came on.
As I was mowing and as happens often with me, my thoughts blended and the lyrics changed as I was praying and mowing. So I had this hybrid of thoughts: my mom and her euphemism, me talking back, the song in my head and my confession to God to give Him my everything from now on. So the lyrics became: “I give you my whole ass, whole ass, whole ass Lord. Whole ass, whole ass, whole ass Lord.” I tell you I make myself crack up, a lot. I thought this was very funny and it wouldn’t get out of my head. I began to wonder if God might be offended by my offering. My wife often says to me, “You’re singing that, to a Christian song?!” because I often do that. I say, “Sorry, you’re right.” Mostly I just change things to “Meow, meow, meow.” But sometimes, it may get a bit offensive: such as today. Now I know God has a sense of humor because he made me, and there is such joy and pleasure in laughter. It makes us healthy and happy, brings us together. Laughter/Humor is a wonderful gift of God’s creation. But does He get angry when I do something that might be so deliberate in its offensiveness? Does He look down at me sternly, arms folded, waiting for me to apologize? Or, might there be a knowing gleam in His eye, as His arms are folded, waiting for an apology? Or, does He just laugh out loud at His creation, at the humor that we can come up with, because sometimes we take ourselves too seriously? After all, it is just music and lyrics. Or does the offering that Jeremy Camp has made somehow become holy and therefore untouchable? Somehow I think not. Somehow I believe there is something in between the knowing gleam in God’s eye and Him laughing out loud. Of course I don’t see God, the Father with arms and standing, staring down at me. I add anthropomorphism to God just as the bible does, so, don’t think I am some sort of heretic. But seriously, should I be concerned with things offered to God, and see them as holy and unchangeable, especially in such a potentially offensive way? We should all be very aware of our attitude toward God in these things and change if we need to.