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Transitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Stranger

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Seeing Specks Through the Log

Strange Confessions: I grow weary of what others are critical of others for and thus grow weary of myself…

I know, I know. Sounds confusing, but I realize that I’m in a circular mess in which the thing that I’ve been bothered by lately is in turn something I should examine within myself. First, as always, a little bit of background and reasons why I come to where I am now.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, which as most of you know is a bastion of Mormonism. I, however, was a Catholic. Many of the things I saw my Catholic friends and family doing was done in direct opposition to what might be expected of a Mormon. For example, coffee, to a Mormon, is regularly regarded as a forbidden drink, so, perhaps, a Catholic, being a religious type person, and not wanting to be associated, thought of, or regarded as a Mormon, will regularly and in public consume mass quantities of the stuff just to show the world how un-Mormon they really are. (Wow that sentence has a lot of commas in it. I wonder if my English major friend will judge my work harshly by the mass quantities of commas used in that last sentence.) I assume that many a religion has an averse relationship to itself because of the culture that surrounds it, as it was in many ways that I witnessed in SLC.

When I became a Christian, I found out more about how Mormonism came about and their beliefs. As I talked more to Mormons I realized that many of them did not know what they really believed. A common remark that Mormons would utter when faced with a question they could not answer was, “You should talk to one of our elders.” Many Mormons understood life as presenting to the world a facade of goodness, pleasantness, rightness and a surety in all the those behaviors. Yet they couldn’t say why they did certain things, where those ideas came from, or whether or not those things were actually laws in their code or just things to try to do. They were in fact what I would call, a Cultural Mormon. I felt sad for them because they were as Reb Tevye, strolling down the ways, singing praises to Tradition, yet not nearly as flexible in their thinking as our sad hero of “Fiddler on the Roof”. They would not be moved. Which in some ways is a good thing, but when it comes to reasonable dialogue, there is a wall that is very difficult to breach.

As I moved to the “Bible Belt” I saw the same thing, yet from the Christian standpoint. We all hear about those who understand our faith to just be a Sunday-only, self-righteous and condemning belief system, but I saw a little more of it here than out in Mormon country. Mormons tended to judge each other by how much less their “brother” was doing the “right” thing. When you get into a culture that emphasizes a right way to live within yourself, you tend to get people who look at all others behaviors in minute detail. We as Christians should live in such a way that we know the right thing to do and understand the fact that we really can’t do any good in our own strength and so better the relationship with Him who works through us so that the natural behavior that comes out is improving every day because of how much we know our God and how thankful we are to Him. Many times though, unconsciously, we fail and fail, again and again in the same area that we forget our God and the power we can draw from Him. We begin judging ourselves against what others are doing or not doing, much as the Mormon is bound to do. They have a hopeless religion where more and more they have to compare and contrast themselves to others. We have a faith that says He is able to complete in us what He began; and that is our sanctification: the way we display the fruits of the spirit more and more the closer we get to Him.

And so comes to my point: One of the first examples, of what can come about in this culture, I witnessed, was a woman who left a church angry because someone wouldn’t give her the money she believed the person should have given her, because after all: he was a Christian. I see that a lot. People who are frustrated with another believer because they believe that those others are not fulfilling their Christian responsibility. “How should we deal with those who aren’t behaving like Christians?” I hear. Now, it is one thing to call someone out for committing adultery, it is quite another to call out someone for not giving money when they were called to. We do not know what other people are called to or not. It is not their story we are living out, but ours. We should look at our motivations, our attitudes. I see it on Facebook; how someone generally calls out people because they suck, or are evil, or are mean. Like we should be surprised. Posting a general statement about how evil people are does not help any situation, nor does it display any type of love, compassion or understanding that we should display as Christians. I say this not to hurt but just to remind you who you are, and that the world is watching.

There is one place in the Bible that it tells us about dealing with someone who may not see as clearly. It is when Jesus told us that before we deal with the speck in someone else’s eye, we should take care of the log in our own. It hit me today that it is not described as a log because our problems are bigger than others, but because dealing with our own issues if INFINITELY more important than dealing with others.

I see that I may be trying to deal with someone’s speck in their eye and not looking at my own log, but perhaps I need look at the situation in the same way I see my driving. I have come to view other drivers as an individual that is going through something I may not understand. Maybe they are slow because of a death in the family. Maybe they are rushing because this is the last opportunity to proclaim their love to someone before they fly off to Japan. I don’t know what is going on in people’s lives, and maybe they shouldn’t post generic angry stuff on that one site, but that doesn’t mean I should get upset with them. God deals with us all in a variety of ways. May I always be reminded to examine myself when I see the specks in others eyes.

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

How are we to function as a church body?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Stranger

Sunday Scrutinization: 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.

Sunday Scrutinization: Reclaiming the Painting

“When was the last time you were encouraged?” today’s sermon began. I had to think about it. What does that even mean?  That I would have been challenged to pursue what I should or need to do? Or is it that someone gave me a compliment for a job well done? I mean, I was encouraged a couple of weeks ago when my best friend told me my writing was getting better. That felt good, but was this in the context the question was asked? No, I didn’t think so. It was very hard to think of a situation where I was truly encouraged to go beyond what I thought I could do. This should be something that happens regularly. I thought of the men in my life, and thought of one or two that can encourage me in the way I believe it was meant to be, but couldn’t think of specific instances right away. But then I thought of my wife. She is my great encourager. Many instances where she keeps me going, and one where she encouraged me/us to move here to West Plains; something I needed to do, something I know I needed and was afraid to do. She knew it was right and encouraged me to it.

He went on to tell us that God painted the Church to be a wonderful piece of art and that we have copied it, covered it with inferior colors and strokes, made it into something He never intended it to be. He says the goal for the church is to get it back to the original way God made it, and part of that is to get back to doing what Barnabas did; encourage others.

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. ~Acts 11:22-26

The word “encouraged” is the Greek compound word, “parakaleō”. Para, meaning, to come alongside in an intimate way. Kaleō, meaning, to call out or bring people to a goal or truth. So Barnabas came alongside and called them to do the things they needed to do, spoke truth into their life.

Many of us in the Church have come to doing good on one side or the other: coming alongside each other or speaking truth. But, as he said, love without truth is not love, and truth without love is not truth. I have generally fallen on the side of just speaking truth without coming alongside… without love.

This ministry of encouragement is very important for the Church. Why? It matures us, by moving us out of denial. Look at Hebrews 3:13, “but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” We’re told if we exhort, or encourage each other we will not be hardened by sin.

Encouragement also helps us to grow. Ephesians 4:14-15 says, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—”. If we are speaking the truth in love or being spoken to, then that helps us to not be tossed about and helps us grow.

Also, from the Acts reading, it helps spread the gospel. I read a book a month or so ago called Parisectomy, and the thing I remember most of all from this book was regarding this subject. If we wish to speak truth in people’s lives, we must have tried to establish a relationship with them first. The author likens it to a bank. We need to make deposits into other people before we make withdrawals. We need to have a relationship, a relationship of love and care and time with other people before we have any sort of right to speak truth. We, as Christians, forget this. We try to make withdrawals all the time without having made any deposits. That truth is clear when you see on that one sight someone saying, “the nicest people I’ve met were covered in tattoos and piercings, the most judgemental are those who go to church every Sunday.” The world of course, equates being nice with not being judgemental, which is a wrong way of looking at it, but they have every right to see it this way, us Christians trying to tell people the truth without having any relationships with them. This isn’t truth, because it is not spoken in love, it is spoken in judgement.

I have made these mistakes as well. I have thought I was being loving when I told people how wrong they were, and I’ve hurt many people. I have since become very careful about how I speak to people to the point where I don’t anymore. I’ve told you a while back that I have recently realized that I find it hard to trust people and I am trying to get past that, and this sermon today is quite a challenge. I also have revealed that some people have found me unapproachable. Lord, how can I change these things within me? Of course, I can’t change these things, only the Lord can through His work in me and my relationship with Him growing. A challenge to encourage two people this week has been made… is it possible for me? I must throw out my pride that I know truth more than others. I must throw away my pride that I am in control of how people may react to the truth. Most of all, do I know someone well enough to speak and especially know them well enough that I can see they need that truth in their life?

Lord, look down on me and help me to trust people again. Help me to see them as vulnerable as I am. That I can be open enough to be spoken to and to share my life with them. I look forward to an opportunity this week, but that I can see it and take action, for I miss so much being involved in myself.  Boy, I sure said “I”, “my” and “self” a lot in these sentences, but God can grow me more… for I praise Him, ever praise Him. That You may reclaim your painting as You intended it to be.

~Stranger

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

 

Strange Confessions: My Current Spiritual Relationship Situation

Strange Confessions: I would much rather have a conversation, or hang out with those of the 6-18 year-old set. Adults make me very uncomfortable, and I seriously don’t make it easy for them to talk to me.

Since I became a Christian, I have always known that I have been blessed with the ability to relate with those of the younger type. Back in Utah I would try to recruit people to become an AWANA leader. One of the answers that really surprised me was, “Kids really intimidate me.” I’d stand there, shocked and amused, wondering how in the world kids could expose these people’s insecurities in such a way. Kids are the most honest people on the planet: they have nothing to hide, and they say what is on their mind. It has always been so refreshing to me, to not have to interpret what they are saying, whether or not they have some agenda, or are just trying to make me feel better. I have even had kids tell me that I am fat. It was annoying, but they told me the truth, as they saw it. I enjoy any time I can hang out with kids, finding out about them, playing with them, teaching them, learning from them. It has been a little different here in West Plains, but, you get right down to it, and kids are the same everywhere. I’ve held some pride in this gift and have given God the glory for it. I’ve always believed it was a blessing. Until last week… when I started to question my motivations for avoiding adults.

I’ve talked about in previous posts about another church family joining with the one we have recently become a part of, and  now there are lots of kids in our congregation. Lots of new names to learn. Lots of new friends to find out about. Another commitment I’ve made, when we have joined here, is for me to be more involved in people’s lives. You know, the iron sharpening iron deal, the relationship with peers, the making myself available for discipleship, the being an integral part of our congregation. Essentially, being the hands and feet of our Lord here on earth. I know, I know… perhaps part of that is having a great relationship with the children in the church. But, last week, I annoyed myself.

Before I explain about the crazy thoughts that went on in my head last week, I want to explain again, one of the many purposes of this blog: I write, to find out about myself. I get the idea in my head that I want to tell you something, something short and sweet. But, my brain works out things as I type, and I need to discover something that my subconscious keeps tap-tap-tapping away at my conscious part of the brain about. I need to understand this thing, and I need you to understand this thing too. I started this blog knowing that not many people would actually read this, and that is fine, so when I say “reader” or refer to “you” it just may be me that I am talking about. Well, whatever. I am a strange one, and I’ve never attempted to hide it. So, onward…

We have been having meals after services every week. It has been a chance to share a meal with those who have heard the same sermon we all just listened to, and to discuss our thoughts on it, sharing our lives, concerns and praises. I get my plate, look around the room and pick a spot that looks the most comfortable. The most comfortable is usually a table not full yet, but has people at it who can talk well and are already involved in conversation. I can sit, maybe answer a, “How are you doing?” question or two, but then I just blend in. I’m like camouflage: hidden among my surroundings, keeping the attention away from me. I am a professional conversation divertée: ask me a question, I’ll answer mildly, then ask the person next to me something a bit deeper, transferring attention with ease. I’ve been doing it for years. It’s not that I don’t want to really know people, or let them know me, it’s just that the standard situations we make to figure these things out are incompatible to my personality. Give me a pool table and a pitcher of beer and I’m a go! Set-up a game night where it goes deep into the night, to reveal Mr. Goofy-pants, and we’ve bonded. Take a hike on a strenuous trail together, friends for life… well, for a time: a good time I promise, maybe.

I suppose I had some more to say before I got to what happened last week. Remember? It’s about writing, about finding out more about me… Hmmm… sounds a bit narcissistic, no? Oh well, that was addressed in the last post. Whatever.

There is a lot more kids at church now than there was a few weeks ago, and they go out to play when they quickly eat up their meal. Since there are so many now, some might get in a bit of “trouble” out there. I’ve decided to make myself an adult chaperone. I go out and watch them, organize plays, have a bit of fun myself, talk to them, know them. It felt a bit like an excuse. It is a bit of an excuse. It is so much easier, so much more comfortable, so much more fun; to be with the youngins. My wife even asked me, “Are you ever going to be in with the adults?”

One of the reasons we came to West Plains, is because our life was “easier”, more comfortable in Salt Lake City. We only really knew, I mean, really knew that, was a few years of living here. Now, here I am choosing the easier, comfortable, fun way. Instead of the hard, uncomfortable, work that I need to do, to be the Christian God is calling me to be now; I’m taking the easy, wide road.

And I did it again this week. In fact, a couple of guys came out today to talk to me. They asked me how I was doing, what is going on… I gave the easy answers. I’m feeling a bit ashamed. One of them was the pastor, or head elder, (I still don’t know what to call him), I was about to tell him my thoughts, then my wife came out… probably to save me from some embarrassing statements on my part. I have to get out of this position. But, I have to admit that I don’t really know how to do it. Do I tell them this whole bit? Well, not the “whole” bit, but just my difficulty. I’m feeling like… no, I shouldn’t. I’m not like normal men. So I shouldn’t think that something that separates me from the others would be the thing that binds us. I appreciate where we are now, I just don’t know how to move on.

I have a very fulfilling relationship with the small group I have been a part of for the last couple of years. It has been only the last few months where I have truly been able to open up. Sometimes I believe I’m sharing myself deeply, but for myself, it might have been what I believe they may have wanted to hear. Which may account for some of the depression and lack of desire to attend for the first year or so. I protect myself by being open to the point of driving people away. I see that now… as I write. I do not want to be this way anymore. It is too fake for me. No, nevermind… I am moving beyond this, slowly.

One thing I do know, is that God knows what I need to do. He will lead me and guide me. I thank God that He is on my side, He is even on their side. I know there is no superficiality in their dealings with each other, I want it to be that way for me. Perhaps I do need to be a bit open about what I think, just limit it until things get… easier.

But not too easy.

~Stranger

God Understands Me

If you have really read any of the things I have written, and done so for a while, you may know that I am more analytic in dealing with the culture from a Christian standpoint then others; that is, I am more immersed in things of this world than what your typical Christian may look like. I don’t talk about it a lot for fear that I may weaken a brother’s view of myself or in God’s dealings with me. But, I am who I am, and by the grace of God I am saved, and I have the freedom to choose what I involve myself in. If God wants me to put something or other away from myself, it would be sinful of me to ignore Him. If it was that God called me to delete the Infected Mushroom songs off my ipod, I would. There are many things in my life that I have had a lifetime habit of, and God has called me away from that, yet I still struggle within me to free myself from such burdens.

It is a conscious choice I have to make every day.

That all being said, I wanted to talk about a book I have recently finished and the connections I see with our self-absorbed culture of today. Which is what I enjoy doing on this site anyway: view my life and/or the culture surrounding it, and it’s impact on who I am now, and it’s possible relationship to Christianity. The book is one typically not read on a regular basis by most Christians. I have a pile of books on my nightstand I intend to get around to, have half-finished, or stays there for reference. These are mostly of the Christian variety. Growing up I read a lot of horror. Generally in the vein of Stephen King and such. I still pick up an occasional King and I am eagerly awaiting the local library to hold my copy of “Doctor Sleep”, the continuation of his thirty-three year old book “The Shining”. I have picked up some of King’s books or many others, only to reject them because I am judging where content or theme is going, and it is not to a place I would rather go.

The seasons of this world affect my preferences of what I read. Autumn is the time when I like to read something a bit more dark. I came across several lists of the “most” scary books, and one came up on several. Being that I never actually read it, I decided to pick it up. The book is, “The Haunting of Hill House”. You may know the story: four people gather at a supposedly haunted house, get frightened by several strange goings-on, culminating in the death of one of them. The focus on the book is a woman named Eleanor. She seems to be a shy, unassertive person who creates a fantasy world in her own mind. My daughter just asked me if I liked it, (she is wondering what I’m doing), and I said, “Mmm… yeah.” The book had its frightening moments, I like a little horror now and then. But, it was the end that shocked me a bit and drew all your attention away from the accounts of the horror the characters experienced. It tells me something about our culture now, the one we built with the advent of the internet, facebook, twitter and the like. In fact, I may be perpetuating this culture in what I am doing now. Back when I had my operation, I wondered about how narcissistic I am in writing so many things about myself. How self-absorbed do you have to be to write all about yourself, and how the world relates to you, and your thoughts, and your feelings, and all this stuff about you, you, you? It is why I haven’t been writing as much lately as I use to. I have to sort it all out in my mind. I am a very introspective guy, you see, much like Eleanor is in this book.

Eleanor’s path of self-absorption, led to her destruction. “Is that where I am headed to?” I ask myself.

There is a scene in the book, the beginning of chapter 6, where Eleanor and Luke are talking outside. All Eleanor can think about is whatever Luke answers to her, is that he is trying to impress her and how he answers reveals his real understanding of who he thinks she is. Whether she is simple and easily impressed, or looking for someone gallant ready to sweep her off her feet, or that she is complex and mystical. With each answer she predicts he will say, she is disgusted and looks down on him for his trite ways he is looking to impress her. It is revealed later that Luke is in with Theodora, perhaps. The book is vague on some points. But, the fact is she is so self-absorbed, she thinks all Luke wants is her, and she is unwilling to concede that he may be worthy. Now, in previous chapters, her flights of fantasy in her head are truly a bit more simple: where she would live, what her house would look like, that sort of thing. Now that she is in situation where she thinks she may be wanted, or needed, a perception I believe she is doing herself, she is making herself more complex, more difficult to be swayed.

Later on in the book, Eleanor is wandering around, listening to three different conversations. With the first conversation overheard, she wants to hear her name be spoken. “Say my name!” she implores in her mind. The people talking say everyone else’s name in the house except hers. She goes on to the next. Again, all other names are said but hers. And again, the same thing. I started to imagine that Eleanor was really a part of the house the whole time. That she put herself in these previous situations, where they responded to her, only in her own mind. When she first got there, she was witty, playful and involved in the group. They all seemed silly. Then Eleanor went off on strange rants about her name and how important it was that they knew her name. The silliness of the group began to dwindle, and Eleanor began to have more inner thoughts as at the beginning.

Names are important. I just got through reading in the Bible the section in Genesis where God asks Jacob, “What is your name?” The last time someone asked him this, he lied, said it was Esau. God knows names are important, valuable even. When He renames people, it takes on a deeper meaning. Their previous name was just a reflection of how God saw them.

When I was younger I had built many fantastical ideas around who I was, where I was, how I affected the world, and who I would become. I had created alter egos to deal with situations I knew I could never deal with. But, God called my name. Yet I still deal with the residual ideas I created in my own head; as you can see in the long introduction trying to convince you that I am not who you may consider me to be. But God knows me. He understands me. I may not fully understand what that means, as I’ve told people the reason I blog is to discover more about what I understand who I am. Isn’t it enough that God understands me? I am reminded of a song we sang in church when I was younger that stuck with me: “To be understood as to understand”. That is a big part of me: understanding who I am.

Eleanor wanted to be known; to be understood. Whether she was a personification of what the house stood for, or if she was a real person and the manifestations of the house were completely her responsibility, she had a desire to be needed; to be understood.

I asked someone today, who asked me to be friends on that one site, why he is on there. He didn’t really have a good answer. He doesn’t do much on the site, but I suppose he feels it mandatory to be on there. There are many different types of facebook users as there are people, but I can group them in three categories: The person who contributes everything, the person who contributes some things, and the person who contributes nothing.

Why are we on there? To be understood? If that is the case, is it the right medium? I’ve written about this all before, and there is nothing new under the sun. What I write has probably been hashed out to death. But, it is something I need to hash out for myself. To understand. I have come to the point on that one site, that I know who I am on there now. It took a lot of soul-searching and struggle, but I finally know. Have for some months now. “What?” you say. “A lot of soul-searching?” you say. Yes. As I’ve said, I am quite introspective, almost to the point of self-destruction. I admire those who never delve too deeply within themselves and can smile confidently meeting someone new, casually carrying on easy conversations of not too important subjects. But I can’t do that. I push myself hard to meet new people. To talk. Maybe, lately it has been a bit easier, because I do understand that I don’t have to understand myself fully, but God does completely. And that is enough… (yes I am working on this too).

I know who I am in Christ. I am His son. Thank God that all who I understand needs to understand me is Him, and I will strive to serve Him all my days.

“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Galatians 4:6-7

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

~Stranger

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