Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Working for welfare in the Bible

  I did a blog post titled "The Problem With Food Stamps" this past week, and don't want to repeat what I said, but my Sunday School teacher said something interesting today in class, and I have been thinking about it all day off and on.

  Again, I want to emphasize that there are people who get food stamps and other forms of assistance who honestly need them, but for every one family who does, I believe there are countless people who don't, and have no intention or desire of ever getting off what is supposed to be a temporary thing, not a way of life to pass on to future generations.

  One thing I mentioned in my blog post, is people should have to do some kind of work, if they are able of course, to get and stay on food stamps. There are too many people just living off the system who are able to do something, but don't want to.

  Which brings me to my point: welfare in the Bible. Back in Bible times, there were laws in place to help the poor. When harvesting time came and people were harvesting their fields, they had no modern ways of harvesting that we do, and they missed a lot on their first round through the field. By law, they were not allowed to go back over the field a second time, but had to leave what was left. And that is where Bible times welfare came into play. The poor could then come in and glean what was left. But they had to glean/harvest it themselves. There was no one picking it for them and putting it into their outstretched hands. They had to get away from their big screen TVs, park their nice vehicles, and go into the fields and pick it by hand.

  If you read the book of Ruth, that is exactly what happened in that story. Ruth went to pick the leftovers of the harvest in Boaz's fields, and caught his eye. In fact,  you could say by putting forth the effort to get food for her and her mother-in-law, she caught herself a husband in the process.

  Politicians try to make a case that Jesus would want us to give handouts. We are to help those in need, but the very Bible they quote to get their agenda across, gives the idea that those who are able, should do some work for what they get. And if people had to do that today, maybe they would try to wean themselves off of the assistance. Maybe.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mile marker 45

It seems like just yesterday that I was depressed and crying as my 40th birthday approached. It seemed like the end of the world to me, and I was sure life was over at 40. And yes, I did cry. Who says women have the corner on such things anyway? If they can wear our pants and do our jobs, then we can cry their tears. So there.

  Now it is 5 years later, and I am approaching 45. That number is a bit depressing also, though not quite as bad as 40 was. I am getting used to the 40's, sad but true.

  Turning a year older is a natural time to be introspective, and I have been indulging in some introspection over the last few weeks as May 26 looms closer.

   I used to hear people say that time goes faster the older you get, and silently scoff at the idea, but I am there. I am way past  there. It seems like just yesterday that I was graduating from high school, and this month marks the 27th year since that happened.

   When I am on a trip, I can't wait to get there. As I travel interstate highways and turnpikes, I like to watch the mile markers as they get higher. The mile marker may read in the 30's when I get on, and I know that mile marker 388 is where I'll exit and be close to my destination, so the higher the mile markers go, the happier I am to be approaching my destination.

  Not so with life. I find myself wishing I could back up several miles/years, like one could back up a car on an interstate to a much lower number. But that is impossible to do in life. One can try to look younger, act younger, but the age number will continue to climb until we breathe our last, no matter what we do.

  I have no idea how many more mile markers I will see on this journey of life. It could be another 45, 25 more, 10 more, or maybe I'll never see 46. Only God knows. I do hope I spend how many ever there are wisely.

  As I look back at the last 45 years, I have many regrets.

I regret it took me 45 years to believe God loves me, and comprehend grace. Well, as much as we can comprehend it here on earth

I regret I didn't love more and judge less

I regret I have been held captive by fears that stopped me from living better and more free, from having better jobs, of making more friends

I regret complaining so much and not being more thankful

I regret never being able to marry and have kids of my own 

I regret I hid my struggles for so many years, fearing the reactions of friends and family

I regret not giving God all at a younger age instead of fighting Him and going my own way so much

   The regrets file is a pretty thick file, and has a lot that is sealed from public eye.

   But as many regrets as I have, there are things I don't regret, and are thankful for.

I don't regret hours and money spent on my nieces and nephews

I don't regret times spent with family on vacations, holidays, and just normal every day activities

I don't regret hours spent in church

I don't regret my love of reading and the countless books I have read

I don't regret voting conservative all of my voting years

I don't regret being raised in a Christian home and Christian school

I don't regret the hours spent walking in nature listening to good Christian music

I don't regret making friends

  Life has not gone the way I wanted it to. I don't have as good of a job as I would like, as nice of a car as I'd like to have. I feel I have wasted too much of my life and not given God enough of it. I am still too bound to worry and fear, and not given enough to faith and hope.

 The last 5 mile markers stand to attest a rough 5 years. Depression, joblessness, hopelessness, shame, fear, worry..... the list seems endless.

 Mile markers are pretty common on interstate highways and turnpikes, but half mile markers aren't so common, yet they can be as important. At least in life. Midway between mile marker 44 and 45 on this highway of life, I finally got to a point I didn't think I'd ever get to: I realized and believed God loved me. Insignificant, unskilled, poor self esteem me. And not because of anything I had ever done or could ever do. He loves me. Period. And nothing I could ever do could change that.

  And that changes everything. Life hasn't suddenly become everything I want and hope it to be. But is is much easier to serve a God I believe loves me than to serve one I didn't believe loved me..... and I tried. Oh did I try.

  I'm still living in my parent's basement, saving money, hoping to somehow afford my own place at some point and get my "stuff" out of storage. I still have a 2001 car that is getting rusted and has way too many miles on it. I still can't grow hair on my head or get my weight to where I want it to be. I still feel lonely a lot, still worry and fear, and struggle with feelings of failure.

  But God loves me, and His grace covers everything I have ever done. I don't have to earn His love, or do something extra to be totally forgiven. And that alone will make the other mile markers in life easier to get past. If I can just slow the car down.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I will be praying

I Will Be Praying

Verse 1
Hello my friend, is it alright
I just dropped in to talk awhile
Lately you’ve been heavy on my heart
I know that life has been unkind
And you can’t count the times you’ve cried
I just want you to know, you are not alone

I will be praying on my knees
I will be praying God will give you strength
These temporary trials won’t last for long
So I will be praying with you until they’re gone

Verse 2
If a single fervent prayer tonight
Puts a thousand angels into flight
Really that’s a miracle for sure
But when I add my prayers to yours
Ten thousand angels start to soar
They race to where you are
And so with all my heart

I will be praying on my knees
I will be praying God will give you strength
These temporary trials won’t last for long
So I will be praying with you until they’re gone

I will ask that your answer be given
I will seek that you will find
I will knock so the door will be opened
And until that time

I will be praying on my knees
I will be praying God will give you strength
These temporary trials won’t last for long
So I will be praying with you until they’re gone

   I am becoming more and more convinced of the power of prayer. Not just in my own life, but in others for me. And I am becoming more sure that one of the best things you can do for some is pray for them. That doesn't mean you should use prayer as a way to get out of doing other things for people, but it is something that I believe only eternity will show what our prayers did. And I don't mean to give man the credit, but God is moved by prayer and told us to pray.

  For years, I couldn't bring myself to ask for prayer for my struggles. Oh, I'd once in a while ask very generally, but I could never say it. I am still not at a point where I can announce in church that I need prayer for it by name, and maybe I will never be, but God has sent people into my life who I can ask for prayer and say what the issue or issues are.

  One place I can be 100% open and honest is a Facebook group for a ministry that is for guys like me. And girls too. It is an amazing group. I have asked for prayer and gotten it, and made friends through the group. And I don't forget the times I have asked for prayer and received it and encouragement. When others ask for prayer, I do my best to specifically pray for them each night when I pray.

 The Bible says to pray always without ceasing. I don't think it means constantly, as we would never get anything else done, but I do believe we can pray throughout the day, short prayers that are shot heavenward about anything and everything. Someone comes to your mind, pray for them. If you work with the public, pray for those you meet. I don't do it as often as I should, but I often say a prayer for someone waiting in the emergency room waiting room, especially if they seem really distressed about themselves or a relative they are waiting to see.

  We often have no idea what people are going through. It can be people sitting in the pew across from us at church, or our own family members. Some struggles are too private to share, often people are afraid to share their battles and risk judgment or being ostracized and shunned. If they ask for prayer, it is general, and often and "unspoken prayer request." Those should never be taken lightly. If someone has an unspoken prayer request, there is a really good chance it isn't a sore toe or a favorite shirt they can't find.

  My pastor occasionally has an urgent unspoken prayer request he asks the church to pray for. I never know what it is, but sometimes later something happens. A couple divorces that no one had a clue was having problems. A family crisis is revealed in another family. I told a friend of mine from church a while back that when our pastor has an urgent unspoken prayer request, we'd better pray about it, for he isn't kidding.

  I'll be honest: life has been far tougher for me than most people know. I am not going to make this post a "tell all" post, but believe me...... there have been times I desperately needed prayer, and most people I rubbed shoulders with had absolutely no clue. There have been times in my life that I felt like chucking it out all the window: church, God, Christianity. And no one knew. I was tired of dealing with, pardon the word, the crap I had to deal with, and it seemed no end was in sight, but it was either sink or swim.

  I don't say that to garner sympathy, but to point out that we never truly know what someone may be dealing with. To protect the innocent, I won't say where I saw a prayer request, but will say there's not a chance in a million you are reading this blog post and know the people involved: a young woman asked for prayer for herself and her husband. They haven't been married long, and he confessed he is attracted to other guys. There were some other details that make it sound like a hopeless and desperate situation, but God is able to work even in that situation. I doubt anyone who knows them has a clue what is going on. I don't know them, and will most likely never meet them, but I have been praying for them this week. What a sad situation.

  If someone asks for prayer, it should be taken seriously. It doesn't matter if the person tells you what the need is or not, they would not have asked you if it were not important, and if they didn't have confidence in you.

  I used the comic above before. It is funny, but it has a lot of truth to it. How often do people ask us for prayer and we promise to pray, only to forget until we see them again. We all have done it, but we need to be faithful to do it, for other than loving people, it is one of the greatest things we can do for someone.

  I love the song I put the words to at the beginning of this post. I want to do that for those who ask for prayer, whether it be ones who has the same struggles as I do, or some other need or struggle:

I will be praying on my knees
I will be praying God will give you strength
These temporary trials won’t last for long
So I will be praying with you until they’re gone

  My trials don't seem that temporary. They have been lifelong so far, at least the one "biggie", but as I was listening to this song this morning and that thought crossed my mind, it was followed by another thought: even if trials and struggles last all of our lives, in light of eternity, they are very temporary. When we stand before God, and He says "well done, though good and faithful servant", this whole life with all of its hard times, temptations, trials, and struggles will seem very temporary.

  And on that day, just maybe God will open our eyes and let us see who we have helped make it through with our prayers, and see who has helped us make it through with their prayers.

  We need to pray for ourselves and our own battles and struggles, but while doing so, let us not forget to pray for others. Only Heaven may reveal the results of those prayers.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The problem with food stamps

  I was participating on a discussion about food stamps tonight, and decided to blog about it. First off, I want to make it clear I firmly believe 100% there are people who get food stamps and other forms of assistance who truly and honestly need them. However, there is a lot of abuse and people using them who don't need them.

   I worked in a grocery store for a couple of years, and became very well acquainted with food stamps, or the more politically correct term here in Ohio, the "direction card." Not sure why its called that, as it goes in one direction: more dependence on the government. Not in any particular order, here are the problems I have with food stamps:

1) It breeds entitlement. People get used to it, and feel they are owed.

2) It was intended to be a temporary thing to help people in tough times, but it becomes a way of life. People stay on them all their lives, and pass it on to their kids who stay on them all of their lives.

3) No id is required to use them, which makes it easy for people to sell them so they can buy beer, cigarettes, and drugs. And it happens. Just in my county alone, they have caught people doing that, and there are news stories about it happening across the country.

4) There is no regulation on what kind of food they buy. The WICK program has strict guidelines, but not food stamps. They can buy all of  the chips, candy, and pop they want - and they do.

5) People have them who don't need them. I saw people covered with tattoos - which cost a lot of money, expensive manicures, expensive phones for them and their kids, expensive cars.......if people need food stamps, they don't need expensive cell phones, cable, and other non-necessities, but no one wants to cut back and go without anything, so they go on food stamps so they can keep up with the Jones and still have food for their table.

6) There are able-bodied people on them who can work, and will not.

  I actually had a guy use his card once and apologized. He felt bad that he had to use one.... how refreshing. Most people that shopped where I worked, acted like they were owed and we were their humble servants.

  A young girl came in one day with 3 boys, and as she grabbed a pop out of the cooler, she asked them if they wanted one, and they said no. She then told them she had her mom's food stamp card, so the pop would be free........ so they all had a pop on the taxpayers.

 Another day, a woman came in with a voucher from the Catholic Charities in town to get free food. She left, then returned with a $100 bill, which she broke to buy a 16 pack of beer.

  I am not against people getting help who truly need it, but I believe they need to work on the program. My ideas:

1) Require an id to be shown to prevent fraud such as people selling the cards

2) Don't allow pop, candy, chips, etc to be bought, but only healthier foods..... hey, if Michelle Obama wants to tell us how to eat, she can start there.

3) If people are jobless and able to work, require them to apply for so many jobs a month, and prove it. And while unemployed, do community service to earn their food stamps.

4) Make it a little harder to get food stamps. From what I see, you can make a lot of money and get them. People should truly need them to have them.

and one more I was reminded of after I submitted this post:

5) Drug tests. As someone said, if we taxpayers have to be drug tested to work at jobs that help provide food stamps, people who use them should have to be drug tested. Makes sense to me.

  Anyone who dares criticize issues like this, are made to look bad and uncaring. Obama himself claimed that Jesus would want us to grant amnesty and give handouts....... the same Bible Obama uses to his advantage also says "he who does not work, should not eat". And again, that is people who are able to work, and won't, because they can get a handout from the government.

  There are people who need assistance, like food stamps, but from my personal experience, and from stories I have read on news sites, there are a whole lot more people getting them who do not need them, and should not get them, but our government seems to not care.

Before the after

There are still times I look at my life and think I must be one of the most screwed up people around, but I know it could be much worse. It just seems there are so many things Satan uses to fight me, and so many areas that I am vulnerable in.

    One of those areas has always been in the area of forgiveness. I don't know if it is because my sins haven't been the "nice sins" the average Christian deals with, or if I would have been an easy target in that area regardless, but it has been a major struggle for me.

    It may seem really bad of me to blame preachers, but I do feel part of the blame lies with some of the preachers I heard over the years. They gave the idea that God was mad at me, and that becoming a Christian was a long, drawn out process, and God had to be begged and convinced to grant forgiveness. And that same God was so fickle, He'd hold that my sins against me until I deserved His forgiveness.

  Now I will admit I don't remember any preacher saying any of that in so many words, but one does not have to say something to give that idea to their listeners. Especially listeners that are battling insecurity and are vulnerable.

  Other things most likely factor in, and at this point it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I move on and stop letting the devil get me to carry guilt around for what God has forgiven.

  And I have come to believe and realize that becoming a Christian isn't difficult nor a long drawn out process. If the person isn't willing to say yes and surrender, it can be, but it doesn't have to be. That is one reason I am against long altar calls. If a person steps out on their own without prodding or 25 verses of Just As I Am, they are already on their way to surrender and salvation. But the ones who have to be prodded and scared into the altar, and stand through umpteen verses of a guilt and fear stirring invitational hymn...... well they don't want to go anyway, and if  they get through, it is going to take some work.

  Brian Free and Assurance are not a group I usually listen to, but I have bought their last few CDs as I do like their current style and sound. Their newest CD has got to be the best one they have ever done. The last song on the CD has some unusual wording that I had to listen to a couple of times before I got the idea of the song, but once I did... wow. It is one of those songs that seems like it was written for me. Before the After:

Verse 1
I know that you relive the moments
Like seeing pictures in a book
All those mistakes that you once made
And the wrong roads that you took
I know you’re hearing the accuser
He’s saying “you ain’t changed that much”
Your guilt is right here waiting, but don’t you pick it up
Because everything he’s saying about you was

Before the after, before the grace came in
Forgiven has been written over all you’ve done and who you’ve been
Mercy says the past is past, and it doesn’t matter
‘Cause this is here and  now and that was you, before the after

Verse 2:
Sometimes its just one little failure
Sends you back down that broken road
I can identify with that
‘Cause I’ve been there, so I know
The only reason to remember
Is so that you can testify
You talk about the darkness
And how you found the light
For someone else who is struggling
In that old life

Before the after, before the grace came in
Forgiven has been written over all you’ve done and who you’ve been
Mercy says the past is past, and it doesn’t matter
‘Cause this is here and  now and that was you, before the after

It has no power, you’ve closed that door
You tell your story, but you don’t live there anymore

Before the after, before the grace came in
Forgiven has been written over all you’ve done and who you’ve been
Mercy says the past is past, and it doesn’t matter
‘Cause this is here and  now and that was you, before the after

    Sometimes it seems too easy. No matter what I have ever done, God has forgiven it and doesn't remember it against me anymore. The devil remembers and tries to make me feel guilty, and he has succeeded in the past, but hopefully those days are over. And to think that if I do mess up - and I do - all it takes is a prayer of forgiveness for that sin, and all is forgiven and forgotten again. It does seem too easy.

  Of course some sins may leave scars, and there may be consequences that forgiveness doesn't take care of, but that isn't what I am talking about. I am talking about there needing to be no guilt. As the song says, the guilt is lying there, but that doesn't mean I need to pick it up. In fact, I need to ignore it and not pick it up.

  Christianity isn't about guilt and being forced to do stuff.... it is a relationship. It is easy to get into, but needs maintained, and is guilt free. That is how God intended it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

My name is Mark, and I am a.........

  The older I get, the more convinced I am that identity is extremely important. What we identify with can define us. It can help us in life, or hinder us in life. It can help us grow as a Christian, or pull us further away from God.

  I read and shared an interesting blog post earlier this evening titled "Should Christians Use the Term 'Gay Christian'?" The blog post addresses more than one aspect of that term, but the one I found of interest was when he talked about people who struggle with same-sex attractions and had either stopped their sexual activities, or had never indulged, and was serving God and with His help, not giving into their desires. He made the point they should not refer to themselves as gay, as that is an identity, and their identity should be in Christ, not in their sexual desires.

   As for relating to that subject, I have been increasingly sure that someone who does deal with those attractions and is living for God and not giving in, should NOT identify himself or herself by the term "gay." Because gay is an identity. It is most often used to refer to someone who is giving in and going against the what the Bible says, so if you are refraining from the sin, why identify with it?

  We don't hear Christians say "I'm a liar" - well, I hope not. If you are, you need another trip to the altar..... or "I am a porn addict", "I am a gossip", "I am a thief." No - once saved from those sins, you don't identify yourself with them anymore, so why say "I'm gay", if God has saved you from the sin of homosexuality? Makes no sense.

  Yet some argue it doesn't matter.

  One of the most interesting arguments I have heard about this, and I can't remember who brought it up to me, though I think it may have been a certain best friend of mine.... whoever it was pointed out how successful Alcoholics Anonymous is, and anyone who goes to those meetings introduces themselves by saying "Hi. I am Mark, and I am an alcoholic." It is hard to argue with their success, but I still have to wonder.... is that healthy? To go through life calling yourself what you are trying not to be?

  As I have been thinking about identity, I have been thinking about that. And I wonder if the success of AA has nothing to do with saying "I am an alcoholic", but is in spite of saying that. Maybe their success comes from the people meeting with others who are where they are, who are battling the same demon - alcoholism. Maybe it comes from having a sponsor who they can call when they are at their lowest, when they are about to give into that craving for a drink.

  Maybe one reason AA is successful, is alcoholics get a similar crowd like they are used to hanging out with at the bar, and without the group, it would be easier to go back to the bars.

    Quite a few years ago, I read the book "The Blessing" by John Trent and Gary Smalley. That is a great book, and everyone should read it, especially parents. Anyway, they related a story that has stuck with me. There was a Christian woman who had a husband who was not a Christian. I don't know that he was an alcoholic, but he spent a lot of time at the bar.

   She got him coming to church, and he became a Christian, only to stop going to church after a while, and went back to the bars. His reason? He missed the companionship and fellowship that he got at the bar. That is a sad and pathetic church that has a man seek out the bar because he wasn't getting fellowship and companionship at the church.

  Could it be that if the church stepped up to the plate, that people wouldn't have to go to AA for help for alcoholism? That people who have addictions and struggles could get help from the church? Or is the church full of people who don't have time, or don't want to commit?

  If alcoholics, gay people, drug addicts, and anyone else who has an addiction or major struggle, could get help at church, could leave their identity at the door and be known as a child of God, as a Christian, and could get support there..... would they have to go to a meeting and identify themselves with the thing they are trying to get away from? Maybe that is why it becomes a lifelong thing, going to AA, because they can never get away from the identity of being an alcoholic.

  And if that is true, is AA truly successful? Is success defined by just keeping someone away from becoming a drunk again? Or should success be defined by more than that? Should it be defined by giving them a new identity?

  I know AA refers to a "higher power", but do they advise total surrender to God? Do they tell their members the only way they can truly find deliverance is to ask God to forgive them and serve Him? I  could be wrong, but I don't think they go that far with it.

  And in case anyone be offended, I am not attacking AA. I am just questioning the idea of having their members constantly identify themselves as alcoholics. It seems like it would hinder progress.

  The devil is sly, and is a master at what he does. He doesn't care how he holds us back, how he discourages us. If he can get us to be anything but what God wants, he has achieved his goals. And for years, he did that with me. On more than one front, but identity was one, and it has taken me almost 45 years to realize that.

  The list of things he got me to believe about myself is long, and I believed it all. Things like:


A mistake

And more.

   People who don't know me well, and maybe even people who do, may be surprised to know that about me, but it is true. Due to more than one thing in my life, I became a great target for Satan to shoot those things at me, and they stuck.

  It may sound like a weird way to put it, but Satan is the first to come up with identity theft. God intends our identity to be in Him, and to reflect that, but Satan steals the identity from us and replaces it with things like I listed, and more: Murderer, thief, adulterer, addict, gay, dishonorable, dishonest, hateful..... and the list goes on. And soon our identity is in those, and not in God and what He intended.

  As I have tried to combat depression, and worked on battling my unbelief in God's love, I have had to confront these lies I have believed. I have had to deny these identities I have held to and believed were me for so many years.

  It isn't easy. When you throw poor self esteem into the mix, it is even harder, but I am getting there. It does mean I have to find my identity only in God, and use other terms for my identity, such as:

Child of God
Man of God

  It is a long journey out of depression, towards believing God loves me after not believing that for years, towards a new identity that is good and brings hope instead of despair. I haven't totally arrived, and still have some work to do on severing ties with all of the wrong identities, but God is helping me. Chane doesn't happen overnight, but He is getting me there.

  I never want to identify myself as anything that puts me down, that identifies me with any sin or any negative thing the devil wants me to think. I want to identify myself as God's child, and all that comes with that.

  No matter what our sin or struggle, our intro should be "Hi. My name is Mark, and I am redeemed, a Child of God, loved enough to die for." That is the best identity we can ever have.