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Sunday Scrutinizations: Change For the Better?

Going off of last weeks sermon, we are now looking at how people change toward exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. One thing we really want to remember is that we are not changing to be better people, but we change because the gospel being understood fully in our lives and those changes come about from that realization. If we are truly Christians we need to be exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, and as such if we don’t see it we need to ask why. Are we truly Christian or is there some idol in our life that is preventing the fruit from growing?

We are usually warned in these types of sermons that things are going to be rough on us, and today, it really was. I am always very open in all my posts, but it seems like this one will be especially hard for me, in that it did hurt to realize what I did as well as not being sure I want to share. Either way, this blog is about me being open and honest so you can know me better, even though I may or may not know you and the feeling aren’t generally reciprocated.

Our reading is Galatians 5:16-25. After several discussions within several small groups we got to the main part of the sermon. We were handed a sheet that had “Desires” on one side and “Overdesires” on the other. “Desire” is mentioned three times in this section and we learn that it is the greek word epithumia, which basically means an over-desires for something. We usually think of desire in the King James Version of lust, which brings to mind a sexual desire, but it is best described as desiring something in an unhealthy way. We can desire something good, like providing for our family, but when it becomes on over-desire it becomes an idol in our lives. We were told to write down things that we desire, just anything, and include some things that are good. If you are following along, I’ll give you a moment to do this and then we’ll continue…

I guess several years ago that the church went through a fruit of the Spirit series and it was then that they thoroughly went through this each one and it’s opposite; it made me want to be there then, but I went through my learning on my own time. At this point we went through a quick summary:

  1. Love – Opening yourself to serve, not for yourself but in being vulnerable
  2. Joy – Supernatural delight in God
  3. Peace – Trust in God’s control
  4. Patience – Truly forgiving
  5. Kindness – Generosity-delight when others are lifted up, even those you don’t like
  6. Goodness – Sincerity/Integrity
  7. Faithfulness – Full of faith
  8. Gentleness – Humility-thing of self less/strength under control
  9. Self-Control – ability to choose the important things over the urgent

And the opposites:

  1. Fear or self-protection
  2. Vainglory/Man made glory
  3. Arrogance or anxious/crazy
  4. Unrighteous anger
  5. Envy
  6. Hypocrisy
  7. Man’s wisdom or thinking
  8. Pride
  9. Impulsive

When we show the opposite of what the specific fruit is, it is some idol in our life, that is exhibiting one of the opposites from above.

So, back to my list. Here are the things I said. “To be thought of as wise. That people would seek me out. Be less insecure. Have more time to read (which incidentally leads to me knowing more and being sought out). More healthy. To be understood. To be known.” We were told to circle those which were more important to us, possibly than even God. If we would be emotionally injured when these weren’t fulfilled we were to circle them. I circled: to be understood and known. Now, you circle yours.  Pray, take some time to reflect on what these are and how they connect with what is the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.

As I sat there praying and contemplating these things, I looked at my list and noticed something. They all had something to do with what other people may think of me. I got very emotional, because God was showing me something. I told you that last year I realized I was being legalistic and prior to this realization I took pride in the fact that I was so un-legalistic. Here I am looking in a mirror of that same type of pride again. There is a pride in me that I don’t care what others think about me, but my whole list were about how I wanted people to see me! I want people to think I am wise and come to me for advice. I want to be more secure in who I am, so I can put all that behind me and join the group and participate. I want to be more healthy so that when the time comes when I finally lose some weight somebody will say, “You are looking good!” I want people to understand my motivations so that there can be no question as to why I am doing what I am doing. Same thing with being known. I write this whole blog in an effort to be known. Sure, it is for me knowing myself better, but in so many ways I am hoping you are reading this and know me better, hopefully knowing yourself better too.

In the light of a current situation I am going through, and some unfairness I believe some people are judging me by, I have rehearsed what my motivations are. It is not really a crisis situation I am going through, but this is a very big decision, and I am in no way taking it lightly. They consider my choices to be completely self-serving and that I’ll find all I’ve ever wanted in it, but I don’t see it that way. I’m told why should I even try to make them understand… because I love and care about them. This is one of the most difficult things in my life and all of it piled up in this realization, and I broke down and wept silently. I was supposed to lead discussion in the group afterwards, but could hardly speak. I see that I was being vain in wanting people to see what I’ve done, I was full of pride and fear, and was envious of all those who apparently have what I desire… or have over-desired.

I think the thing in this is that I have had this realization. Now I can truly see where my lack of love, joy, kindness and gentleness might come from. That I have been so concerned what people think about me, and I thought the complete opposite. In talking with a couple of other men after, it seems that how we men are perceived is a big problem. I am glad I am not alone in this. Being someone so insecure makes you believe everyone else is so much more secure than you.

There were three steps given in order to change: Belong-Who do we belong to? Crucify-Know that it is finished, that the power that raised Him from the dead is the same power we have access to. Keep in step with the Spirit-It’s about worship, and it doesn’t mean we try harder, it just means we worship Him. I was shocked by my realization today, so I can’t give you more of what the conclusion is all about, but I believe you get the idea.

Tonight was a great night, I am so thankful for what we have been learning and will ever praise Him. I praise You Lord!

~Known by Him

 

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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

The Era of Sisyphus is Over

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.

~Stranger

Strange Confessions: The Performance Record of Choice

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:

  1. Fear of man: Who am I trying to impress? Where do I gain my approval, acceptance and security from?
  2. Internal Power: God called you. Are you forgetting that when God speaks, action follows? Whose power are you relying on?
  3. Illumination: Do you truly understand what the gospel is? Where are you gaining your understanding?
  4. 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:

  1. Performance Record: Are you concerned more with what you are doing than who you are?
  2. 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?”
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Sunday Scrutinizations: Continuing in the Flow

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.

Sunday Scrutinization: Sobering Sermon

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.

A Wet Day In Charleston

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.

Stranger

(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.)

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Strange Confessions: Four Years Away from “Home”

Strange Confessions: When we left Utah, we told people we’d never come back. I regret ever saying that. Totally.

Our family has had the wonderful privilege of hosting our niece over her Thanksgiving break from college. She is going back to Mississippi tomorrow. I just put my youngest daughter to bed and she started to act like she usually does when we’ve had guests and they are about to leave. She gets very emotional, tells me she is sad about them leaving, but usually doesn’t cry until just after they leave. Then the next few days I expect one or another of my daughters to just start crying and say how they miss Utah, our family there, the friends we had. It makes me sad. Makes me regret ever coming here. I don’t want to put my family through this kind of regular heart-ache.

We have some truly wonderful friends living in Kansas City. We have been friends with them for about 19 years. They moved from Salt Lake City about 13 years ago. Lived in the San Francisco area for a while, then moved to KC. Being friends with them after such a long time of geographical challenges is a real testimony of their loyalty and patience with our family. We see them at least three times a year now, and I love every minute they are here or we are up there. We are travelling to KC soon, and the one thing I don’t look forward to is leaving. Having to deal with the kids’ state of mind, and even my own is very sad. I counsel the children that this is not the end of seeing them, it’ll happen again, we had fun here now, why ruin it with sad feelings? I’m really talking to myself. This happens when anyone who stays for more than a night comes for a visit. They especially miss my mom, as I do.

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This Thanksgiving marks four years since we moved from Salt Lake City to West Plains. In a lot of ways it has gotten easier. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. We knew that God wanted us to get out of our comfort zones and look to new challenges of trust and empathy. I accept His sovereign will in my/our lives in this matter. Our cousin posted this picture you see on that one site, and it has been very helpful in the last few days. All the things on this list are true. I usually dwell on the things I don’t have, which is, I believe not the way God would want me to look at things. There is one thing I would add: “I really miss my family who is miles away, because that means that I have family who still live in this country.” I have a friend, I’ve told you about him before, who has no family. Well, that is not entirely true, but his parents and only other sibling are gone. He does have an ex-wife and stepdaughter. I don’t know him intimately, we were friends only for a summer back in high school, but when I wrote him on that one site, we talked quite a bit and still maintain some contact, at least I haven’t driven him away for good… yet. In my lame little way I contacted him over Thanksgiving to see how he was doing. I know it can’t be easy for him, but how do I know? Maybe he can take it. I know I couldn’t. Anyway, I hope he’s good. I don’t want to feel like I’m sorry for him, just let him know I’m there, if it matters…

I am thankful for what my wife and I have found here: a deeper, more intimate and trusting relationship with the Lord, my beautiful, loving and smart wife, my wonderful children, a great fellowship group that meets at our home that is fiercely diverse, a good church family where His word is brought to my ears to challenge me, and all the other things that make it possible for me to have a job, home, and means to get from here to there.

There is some things that sometimes seem to be missing. I say sometimes, because I do have occasions that I am completely fulfilled by Him in His glory. I also want to point out that I am not complaining, or at least I am trying not to. I just know that there are things, of this world, that make difficulties a bit more… easy. Again, that is not to say that I shouldn’t look beyond God to fulfill me, but, you know… that it would… help. “He never said it would be easy,” is the occasional mantra of the Christian, and I know that. I just miss my family, my wife’s family, the best Awana club with the best group of kids ever, and to a lesser extent, the mountains, the roads and valleys, the buildings, and yes, the familiarity of it all. I do want to go back to Utah, or at the least 2-3 hours away from the Salt Lake valley, or even a maximum of 5 hours.

My mom will call me and say something like, “when are you going to come over and fix my faucet?” I tell my wife, after I am done talking, about what she said. I say that of course it is all in jest, but then my wife says in many ways it isn’t and I see the truth in her words. My mom would very much like me to be home, in Utah. I would very much like to be there for her. Perhaps, someday, God will see fit that we would go back there. Perhaps not. I really pray in these times of realization, that I want to be a teacher, that I want to be a full-on missionary, that I want to be closer to my mom, that God would do a miraculous work here to get me to face those situations head-on. If God wants me to stay here, until He comes back, so be it, and praise Him for it.

When I moved here I was astounded that so many people came here, and of their own free-will! “Why?!” I would ask them. Many of the answers that came back were, “family.” Sometimes that answer rips my heart out. I want to cry out, “I know, I know! Why do we move so far from those we love.” But then, I consider the full-time missionary. They sacrifice what they know, to be with those who they… love. See that? Because I just did. We need to love the people we are with. Does that mean we forget those we left behind that we love? May it never be! You must love them all the more. Hope that they know God has laid on your heart a people who need to see clearly the love of God and His sacrifice.

Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called. ~1 Corinthians 7:24

One of the reasons I called this blog “Stranger in Rebellion” is, I like the connotation of the word “Stranger”. I am a stranger to you, but I am also a stranger here on this planet: this world is not my home. I call Salt Lake my home; I was born and I lived 40 years there, but it is not my True Home. That is heaven, where I will be with my true Father forever. The feelings I feel for the people and the place that is Salt Lake City, are just a dim shadow of what I will or should feel for my home in heaven. I long for SLC as I should long for heaven. People I’ve known and loved there for years are there, maybe they are not waiting for my return, but I am. I am also longing to be in heaven, so we shall never know the pain of ever having to say goodbye… ever… again.

~Stranger

Strange Confessions: Declarations of Hopeless Optimism In These Troubled Times

Strange Confessions: I’ve recently understood that what I always thought regarding my attitudes towards others is not as truly optimistic as I’ve always regarded them to be, but rather quite the opposite; I am a pessimist and I hope only recently so. Because if this is how I’ve always been, it kind of frightens me; to think I may have been a horrid pessimist always driving people who may care away from me, thinking that they chose it.

There, now that may have driven the truly uninterested away, for this is deep stuff for me, and I dare say seriously frightening for me to finally understand as well as reveal. Even though I’ve held the attitude that I have nothing to hide, knowing these things reveal much more to me than I think I wanted to know.

Last week I confessed that I enjoyed the company of children way more than adults. I surmised that I am emotionally open because of the fact if people don’t hang around me for long I can blame them because they couldn’t handle the truth. That was something I discovered as I wrote and have since searched my heart and found it to be true. I believe that this may be a recent change in the motivations of the way I am with other people because of some things that have happened in the past six or so years.

We had a friend over for supper, well actually they brought supper over to us, the other night, who is from the congregation we have recently been attending. Conversation turned to how we are… assimilating into the church. I allowed my wife to speak, for fear that I would go off on some strange tangent regarding what I wrote about last week. While I sat there, I really thought about it. Thought about why I was really so off-putting in terms of getting to know new people. To our guest, I kind of mentioned my behavior as of late, and they mentioned that I was really good at the community dinner we had a couple of months ago.

The church has a community dinner every couple of months, inviting those who are… perhaps a bit less fortunate than us(?) I told myself I was going to go there and make people feel as welcome as I could. I prayed to God to make me bold in my conversation, keeping things open and real. God was with me and in me that night, and I was happy to serve Him while serving others.

I and my family travel three hours East of us, to one of the poorest communities in Missouri, every month or so, to organize, pack, and distribute food to the people in the community there. I enjoy meeting the people who come around and those who come from other places to help out too.

We also spoke of living here, in small town West Plains. I told of my expectations when moving here that people would be interested in knowing someone who lived so far away, what life was like where I was from. No one ever said, “Really, Salt Lake City? What was that like? Where did you live? Who did you know?” That is what I talk to the kids about. What their life is like, where they live, who they know. And then there is the satisfaction of the status quo. They actually like living here, they come back and live here. There is nothing new, things are always (seemingly) the same. And they aren’t interested in the outside world. Now, I know that I am thinking in general terms here, and not everyone is like that, but it is a pervasive attitude that invades everything, and it makes me want to shake their world whenever I can. Which is rare for me. Because of what I am understanding.

As I spoke with our guest, thinking about these things I understood that I don’t trust people. Kids are honest and serve no agenda, there is nothing I need to hide. Strangers may have an agenda, but I don’t have to make myself fiercely available to them; I’ll be home soon anyway. Someone tells me that I did a good job, and I think they are just saying that because I’m the poor fellow who needs to be encouraged, so they have to say that sort of thing to me. Someone asks me how I’m doing and I believe they are fulfilling some sense of duty within themselves, and they feel better for talking to the weird guy. There is really no reason for anyone to want to get to know me, I believe. So why should I give them the benefit of knowing me when they have all they need already. They have the friends they have no need for more, especially one of such… emotional openness that is displayed through weakness and pretend shyness.

You must understand this is never something I consciously understood, but as I think about it, I see the truth in it, and it makes me sad for the sad little man I’ve become in this respect. But is this how I’ve always been? I hope not. Understanding this makes me know, at least these last few years, why I have become this way. Relationships broken. People who I thought could be trusted, but couldn’t. The evil of this world has done a number my thinking, yes? One of the “benefits” of one who thinks too much, perhaps?

With God’s leading, mercy and love for me, I’m certain things can change in this. For the relationships I need to bear with others of the faith should be more excellent than what I have been thinking about them. For this comes through in prayer, with every situation I am coming into I will pray that God will fix my thoughts on what I need to do. That I shouldn’t consider the worst in people, but only be aware of who I am in Christ, and that is all that matters.

“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” ~Phillipians 2:1-2

~Stranger

 

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