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

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Shack: Making God in our own image

   Nine years ago, a very controversial book came out titled The Shack. It got rave reviews from people like Gloria Gaither and Michael W Smith, and a lot of bad reviews from others. It was THE book to read in the year 2007. I heard a lot about the book, and read the reviews of it on Amazon and Christianbook.com. People either loved it or hated it, there were not in between opinions. I seriously don't think there is another book labeled Christian that has as many consumer reviews as it has.

  I finally decided to read the book for myself and see what all the fuss was about..... and I hated it. The premise was cool..... a man meeting God at the place where his little girl was killed........but that was all that was good.

 (My reviews are here: The Shack: My review, Revisiting The Shack, and a review of it that was also on Chuck Swindoll's page.)

   First there were the curse words. I am one of those extreme Christians who believe no Christian should ever use curse words, and that no author who is writing a Christian book should include curse words... and this book had quite a few.

   Then there was the author's portrayal of God: All through the Bible, God is portrayed as masculine: He, His, Father..... There are those who argue that God has no gender, which I am not sure there is any proof of that, but regardless, God always refers to Himself in the masculine........ but William P Young does not.

  In The Shack, God is a black woman who speaks like an uneducated black woman........and man, did that rub me wrong. (and no, it wasn't the black part.... it was the woman and uneducated part).

   And then there is Jesus: Young does portray Jesus as a man, but as a blundering one who makes mistakes and has no clue about some things (and who is oddly white, and not black like His Father......mother?)

  The Holy Spirit is portrayed as a woman, which if God is three in one and uses the masculine pronouns for Himself, it would only make sense that the Holy Spirit would have a masculine pronoun.

 I have been amazed at the many Christians who love this book, have no issues with it, and will in fact defend what I and many others view as heresy. (In fact, there will be those who are offended by this blog post because they like the book so much).

   With the making of the book into a movie, The Shack has been getting a lot of attention again. As I was thinking about the book and movie, a thought hit me that didn't before: by Young's portrayal of the Trinity, and more specifically God the Father,  Young is making God in his own image, or an image he seemed to prefer for his book.

 If you study the names of God/Jesus, they cover a lot, and each name shows a different characteristic of Him: Rock, Shepherd, Father, Prince of Peace, Jehovah Jireh, and many more. The Bible is full of different names and characteristics of God. Nowhere is God portrayed as an uneducated black woman with poor speech.

   Why couldn't Young have written this book and stayed Biblical? Why couldn't he have portrayed God as the loving Father of the Bible, instead of as an uneducated black woman who can't even talk right? Why did Young feel the need to make God in his own way instead of what God is really like?

 This statement is not original with me, but I believe it with all my heart: There is a danger of bringing God down too low and making Him too common. Yes, God became a man, but not a bumbling idiot like Young portrays in his book, but God is not common........ and Young brought God down way too low in his novel.

   It isn't popular to speak up about this book and movie, but I firmly believe it is heresy, it is bringing God down too low, making Him into our own image, and should not be labeled Christian, but heresy.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

We have it better than the shepherds and wise men

  Have you ever read the Christmas story and wished you had been there? Have you ever gazed at your Nativity scene and envied the shepherds and wise men of long ago who got to gaze on the baby Jesus? I have many times. Imagine how awesome it was to be among the first to see the Savior of mankind lying there in a manger of hay. And as I mentioned in my blog post The unrealistic Nativity scene, it is likely that the visitors held the baby Jesus... wouldn't you have wanted to if you had been standing or kneeling there?

  Thoughts of the Christmas story have naturally been going through my mind a lot this week, and something author and pastor Kyle Idleman said came to my mind:

“Sometimes, I hear people talk about the different men and women of the Old Testament, and there is a hint of jealousy. They may say it, or just insinuate it, but here's what they communicate...'What would it have been like to hear God's voice and see him move in such powerful ways? I wish it was the same for us as it was for those whose stories we read about in scripture. When I get to heaven I can't wait to ask David, Elijah, or Moses what it was like.' But I think it will be just the opposite in heaven. Before we can ask David what it was like to slay a giant, to win the battles, he'll say, Tell me what it was like on earth to have the Holy Spirit inside of you, giving you strength when you are weak. We might say to Elijah, What was it like to call down fire from heaven before the prophets of Baal and to raise that boy from the dead? And I think Elijah might say, yeah, he actually ended up dying again. You tell me what it's like to have God living inside of you. What was it like to live life on earth with the Holy Spirit giving you joy when you're depressed or giving you the power to overcome that sin in your life? We might say to Moses, What was it like to follow the cloud by day and the fire by night? What was it like to meet with God on that Mountain? And Moses might say, I had to climb that mountain to meet with God. You tell me what it was like to have him dwell in you everyday. What was it like to have the Holy Spirit giving you directions when you didn't know what to do or where to go?” 

  What if that is true of the shepherds and wise men? They had no clue when they gazed at Jesus as a baby of what he would do. The shepherds most likely saw Him as One who would free them from Rome and set everything right. The wise men probably thought He would be a great earthly king. None of them knew what we know, that the baby lying there would die on a cross and rise again to save us from our sins. They had no clue that this baby would some day live inside of people and you wouldn't need to go to a certain place to find Him.... that He would be everywhere. They had no clue that "Immanuel, God with us" meant more than seeing Him there in the flesh......it meant we can have Him with us in a way they couldn't imagine. What if when we get to Heaven, they ask us what it was like living our lives this side of the manger and cross? What if they envy us for knowing all of our lives about the cross, Jesus' sacrifice, the resurrection?

  Even if we could step back through time and stand or kneel with the shepherds and wise men, what good would that do us if we aren't doing all we can do here today to know that same Jesus and follow Him with all we have? Sure, how awesome that would be to be there on that night that changed the world, but we have something so much better: we can have Him in our hearts and lives in a way that they had no clue of that night.

 Are we following Jesus the way we can, the way we should......or is He just another of the many facets and areas of our lives? Is He our everything, or does He come in second place to everything else?

 Maybe I am wrong....... but if the shepherds and wise men could see and know what we know and can have, they would switch places with us in a heartbeat..... and they would give their all, not just part of themselves to follow Jesus.

  We truly have it better than those visitors of 2000 years ago. Are we doing as we should with what we know and can have with that same Jesus today?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The future of my blog

   I haven't posted  on here for a while, as I have had a lot on my mind and have been frustrated about some things. I have become increasingly frustrated by people wanting me to keep quiet with my criticisms of Donald Trump. I have posted some really harsh stuff about Obama and his wife over the last 8 years, and no one gave me a hard time. No one told me I should give him a chance. No one went running to my sister and brother-in-law who aren't on Facebook to complain about what I was saying about Obama - yeah, that has happened with my Trump comments.

   Facebook has a neat feature that shows you memories every day of what you posted a year ago today, 2 years ago today, etc, , and I have been seeing a lot of things I posted about Obama and his wife over the last few years...... and I posted some very harsh stuff.... as harsh, if not harsher than what I have posted about DT, and again no one said a word.

  Obama was actually easier to deal with in some ways than Donald Trump. I am still 100% against Donald Trump and believe he was a disaster of a choice.....but I didn't have to see people post nauseating stuff about Obama, whereas I see a lot about Trump. And I got no push-back or criticism for being critical of Obama.

  When I look at Trump, I see an enormous double standard and the hypocrisy of the Republican Party in general. No, I am not saying the people who reluctantly voted for him out of fear of a Hillary Clinton presidency are hypocrites.....that is the Republican Party in general. Many of the same Christians and conservatives who have stood against certain things and for certain things for years, suddenly didn't seem to care about those things when it came to Donald Trump,  and took a harsh stand against anyone who dared oppose him. Christian leaders who should have been running from supporting a man like Trump did their best to shame, guilt, and scare Christians into supporting and voting for Donald Trump. To be blunt, anyone who voted for Trump in the primaries needs to repent. And anyone who has defended his vulgarity, immorality, and bullying needs to repent and apologize to the Democrats they have fought for years.

   I think anyone who trusts Donald Trump and puts any hope in him is nuts. I watched him during the primaries. I have seen his past, and I believe 100% he will be a terrible president who will take this country further away from God. The Republicans didn't want a pastor, and they got far from that. His liberal past and dealings should have made any conservative refuse to vote for him in the primaries, and his morals - or lack of morals- his bullying, and his vulgarity should have made any Christian refuse to vote for him in the primaries.

   There are Christians dying and being tortured for their faith in other countries, and taking a lot from non-Christians..... yet American Christians can't seem to handle the harsh and blunt truth about their president elect. Have I gone too far with my Trump comments? Most likely..... but they are very much tamed down from the disgust I feel about him being nominated, defended, and excused by so many Christians. It is tamed down from the disgust and anger I feel from Christians trying to get me to vote for him and accuse me of being for Hillary because I wouldn't.  It would seem Christians who voted for him have less problem with his immorality, his vulgarity, his liberal track record, his strip clubs, his lying, and his bullying than they do with someone criticizing him. How on earth will Republican Christians handle true persecution if they take offense so easily with criticisms of Donald Trump? I believe that is a very legitimate question, though his supporters would deny that. And how would they handle personal attacks against them, if they can't handle them against the man they voted for?

    Some years ago, I started an anonymous blog where I could openly talk about my same-sex attractions and all that goes with it. I wanted a place where I could talk about it without being judged or ostracized by those who know me. Since I "came out of the closet" on this blog and have gotten more open about talking about it on here, that blog has become rather inactive....... but I have started a new anonymous blog. This blog will not be primarily to post about Trump - I will blog about other things, especially things I usually keep quiet about (yes, there are some things in that category!) -  but it is the reason I am starting it. Consider the irony: I used an anonymous blog for several years so I could hide my struggles with SSA from those who know me,  and yet blog about it. Now I feel free to do that in open, but am going to have a blog where I can anonymously blog about Donald Trump.  Go figure.

   I distrust Donald Trump as much as I do Obama, Hillary, or any other liberal. I am still angry with those who nominated him in the primaries and with those who tried to guilt, scare, or shame me into voting for a candidate I despised everything about, and who reminds me of every bully I have ever come across, and who reminds me of Obama with his arrogance, narcissism, bullying, and personal attacks on anyone who opposes him.

   For years, I was withdrawn, shy, insecure, and no one knew what I was thinking or up to. I spent many quiet and lonely times at home, and was almost locked up inside myself, but not to the extent some are. Then I came out of my shell, became outspoken, a bit blunt (OK, maybe a lot blunt), and everything else that has become my personality.

   I have been trying to decide what to do with social media. Part of me feels if I have to bow to the wishes of others about what I post on Facebook and blogger, then I won't post at all..... hence the anonymous blog. Maybe I need to get the people who think I should shut up about Trump give me reasons why it was OK for me to criticize Obama and not Trump.... is it the "R" by his name?

 Going forward, I am not sure what I am doing. I know, the people who voted for Trump think I should just not post anything against him.... but that is not American, and it really isn't Christian to be OK with criticisms of a Democrat president, but not a Democrat that ran as a Republican. I am a lot of things, and anti-Trump is one part of me that I feel I shouldn't have to silence. It is a package deal.

   I created a Facebook page recently to post my blog post links and book reviews, along with encouraging memes. I may mainly stick to it, blog about Trump on my secret blog and on Twitter. We shall see. I don't feel I should have to keep silent about this man, but to make people happy, and stop the pressure I get to conform and be silent,  I guess I will have to go in the closet with my anti-Trump feelings.

  I have thought about not blogging at all, but I know there are a few people who are encouraged by my blog posts. Go ahead and look shocked, it is shocking to me also. So is it the right thing to do to go completely silent because a bunch of Christians can't handle my comments about Donald Trump?

 So I will continue to blog on here and avoid politics, especially Donald Trump. When I feel the need to blog about him, I'll do it on my secret blog.......which has a really cool name, if I must say so. And no, you can't know what it is, because it is secret and anonymous. I will also continue to post on Facebook, possibly mostly on my page I made and not my regular profile page. I won't post anything about Mr Trump on there, but will in the groups I am in that consist of we conservatives who do not want a liberal godless bully for our president.

   And if you truly can't get the feelings of a #nevertrump person such as I, try this experiment: Imagine that Barack Obama was running for president on the Republican ticket with all that you know of him after seeing him in action during the last 8 years. Imagine your party picks him above some very decent and Christian candidates. Imagine you are constantly pressured to vote for him because so many people consider him to be better than the person running on the Democratic ticket. Imagine as you warn people about him and point out his faults you are mocked and told to shut up, told that all have sinned, and you shouldn't judge. Imagine that you get a lot of negative feedback for speaking up about him before and after he wins the election. That is how a #nevertrump person feels. We feel like a foreigner in our own party, and sadly in our own religion.

  And yeah, I know I need to work through my anger and disgust at some point and adjust to the idea that I am going to have another at least 4 years of a man I cannot respect and do not want for my president, and who I fear will further destroy this country I call home.

Leave my Christmas alone

  There has been an even bigger rash of posts this year by people pointing out things in the Christmas story that we supposedly get wrong. Maybe it is because a lot of them have been posted in a blogger group I help moderate that I have seen so many, but there are a lot.

 There were most likely more than three wise men.

The Bible doesn't say the angels sang

Jesus wasn't really born in a stable

The wise men don't belong at the Nativity

Jesus wasn't really born in a stable.

And more.

  I don't get why people want to make such a big deal over some of these things. I can't imagine when I get to Heaven that God is going to condemn me to an eternity in hell because I sang "We Three Kings" and had wise men in my Nativity scene.

 Were there three wise men? We have no idea. There may have been, so why waste time trying to make a case for there being more?

 Were they present when Jesus was in the manger? We have no idea. The Bible says they came into the house, but it could still be where Jesus was born.

 Was Jesus born in a stable? Bible experts, my Sunday School teacher among them, make a good case for a courtyard type of place inside a building where animals were kept for being where Jesus was born. Again, does it matter? He was definitely laid in a manger so it was pretty much a stable anyway......

 Did the angels sing? Well, the Bible doesn't say they didn't..... and I figure if we ever heard a group of angels chanting a message, it would sound more like singing than our actual singing we do here on earth.

  So refrain from singing We Three Kings, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Angels We Have Heard on High and any other song that doesn't fit into your Christmas narrative. Throw your wise men away that came from your Nativity scene.....or set them way across the room so it looks like they are journeying towards the baby Jesus.

 As for me, I am not going to sweat the small stuff. I'll keep singing those songs, figure there may have been 3 wise men, keep my Nativity figures in a stable - that is better than the box they reside in during the rest of the year - and I will put my wise men in my stable surrounding the baby Jesus. And while I am at it, I'll keep Santa completely out of the house :)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sitting at the table

  My young friend Anthony,  who shared his testimony in a recent blog post, posted this on Facebook two days ago: "The best moments of life happen when you are sitting across from someone at a coffee shop talking about life."

   I have 397 Facebook friends. I had more than that before I became vocal about Donald Trump.....guess they weren't that good of friends..... :) Seriously though, of those 397 people who haven't deleted me yet, how many of them are true friends that really know me? How many of them have I sat with, shared with, and let them see into my heart?

  In June of 2014 and 2015, I was privileged to be able to go to the Hope for Wholeness Conference in North Carolina. The conference is for those dealing with unwanted same-sex attractions. I found it very helpful and encouraging for many reasons, but Anthony's post brought to mind one specific thing that meant a lot to me.

   Too many Christians will never experience sitting across from someone at a table and sharing their innermost thoughts and struggles without fear of judgment or being ostracized. Many times during those two conferences, I sat with other men experiencing the same thing I deal with - unwanted attractions to the same sex. There were no barriers, no need to hide, and the conversations were free and unguarded. There is a depth of fellowship that is only reached and attained when Christian brothers and sisters can share without fear.

   I miss that. No, not necessarily the sharing of a mutual struggle - though I do miss that - but I miss that open and unguarded sharing and fellowship with other Christians. I have never experienced it on that level before, and have not experienced anything close to it since then.

 How often do we Christians sit with others of like-minded faith and "talk about life"? How often do we skip past the shallow surface chatter and get to the heart?'

   I like to joke and laugh. I like to make outrageous political statements. I am not sure what all people see when they look at me, but not many people see the real me. I do have a depth to me that isn't always visible, and a vulnerability that may or may not be a "perk" of the same-sex attractions I deal with.

   And maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe "normal" guys are afraid to be vulnerable, to share from the heart, and let people see them for what they are. The times we sit with other Christians and have that kind of fellowship and sharing should not be rare, but sadly it is.

  Maybe I am not the average Christian guy, but I long to sit at a table with other Christian guys and experience that kind of fellowship more often.

 The good news is we can have that with God any time.

 "The best moments of life happen when you are sitting across from someone at a coffee shop talking about life."


Mug of hope

     I recently bought a mug that many Christians wouldn't buy. I was browsing on Christianbook.com looking at the sales, and there it was for $3.99. A mug with THAT verse on, the verse so many people like to say doesn't apply to us, that we are using it wrong, etc. And it even came in a nice little box with the same verse on it.... I had to buy it.

    I have blogged about this verse before, but people from the opposing viewpoint keep bringing it up, so why can't I?

   The verse in question? Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."

  I need hope. I need assurance that God is on my side and has my back..... and this verse is a reassurance of that.....so how can any Christian have an issue with that?

 Look at the verse:

"For I know the plans I have for you".....does God know the plans He has for me, or was that only  the Israelites who He knew the plans He had for? Of course He knows the plans He has for me.

"They are plans for good and not for disaster". Serving God doesn't mean we will never have problems, but I do believe God works good out of whatever comes my way.

"To give you a future and a hope". I believe God wants Christians to have hope, and that He has a future for me, whatever it holds.

 And the couple of following verses have also been a source of hope and encouragement to me:

12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

   I take serious issue with these naysayers who are constantly bringing up this verse and saying it doesn't apply to we modern day Christians. The older I get, and the further I go on this road I am traveling, the more convinced I am that we can find hope and encouragement all through the Bible. I am more convinced than ever that we need hope and encouragement. If I and many others find hope and encouragement in this verse, what right does anyone have to tell us the verse doesn't apply to us?

  I, Mark Buzard, was a captive.... not in some foreign land, but still a captive. God listened when I prayed and ended my captivity. I do have a future and a hope, and God is prospering me in the ways and areas that matter..... not financially, but spiritually and emotionally.

 So ignore that verse, skip over it, even cut it out of your Bible if you so desire..... but don't try to take away the hope and encouragement it gives me and many others.

 Now excuse me as I go drink some tea out of my mug of hope.......

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A new job, self confidence, and the boy no one liked

   My current job has been very good for my self confidence, something I have been lacking for most of my life. If we truly understood what bullying does to people, maybe....just maybe parents would do a better job of making sure they don't raise bullies. But then, millions of Christians just helped elect a huuuge bully for president, so maybe there is no hope of that.

    It is very hard to get away from, the effects of bullying. I grew up seriously believing no one liked or loved me, even God Himself. As I look back over my life, it brings me a lot of sadness and heartache as I see how much bullying has affected me. It hindered me from getting decent jobs, and even from applying for many I wanted. It hindered me from making friends, and to this day I have a difficult time making true friends and believing people actually like me.

  It has even most likely played a big part in my having same-sex attractions, or at least triggering them.

  The ways my childhood bullying have hurt and affected my life are possibly endless and too in depth and numerous to go into here. And there are ways it affected me that I may never share with anyone other than God.

 There may be books written on the subject how to get over and past the effects of bullying, as there are books written on everything. I have yet to see one that deals with it in such a way to effectively help one conquer all of it, and I definitely don't have all of the answers.

   I have worked for some difficult people in my life, and those individuals have left their mark. But this current job position I have has done wonders for me in this area of self confidence and self image, possibly more than I may ever realize. I can't count the times I have been complimented on my job performance, nor can I count the people who have complimented me: co-workers, my supervisors, nurses, nursing supervisors, visitors, patients, and more. My boss gave me a $50 gift card for doing such a good job, and more recently nominated me for employee of the month, which I got. The hospital gave me a special recognition for doing a good job last year. As I have done this job for the last 2 years and 9 months of Emergency Department Greeter, my self confidence has slowly grown and I hardly realized it.

  The hospital is starting a new position they are calling concierge. It is going to be a very visible position in the main entrance/lobby of the hospital. Duties will be greeting people, making sure they know where they are going, and offering assistance where needed. I applied for it, and wasn't sure of my chances. I am an outsourced employee, and not an actual hospital employee, but this position offers more money and I have wanted to work for the hospital. My boss said I'd be a shoe-in, and not to expect any recommendations from him because he doesn't want to lose me.

   First was the phone interview. It went well, and the lady doing the hiring said she liked my answers. Then the face to face interview with three ladies. I imagine the fact that I knew all 3 of them on some level helped, but I was the most relaxed I have ever been for an interview.

   And then the human resources interview. This one was different because the lady interviewing me was deaf and read lips. Again, it went very well and I was relaxed.

 Then I got the call with the job offer. I, Mark Buzard.... the kid nobody liked, was offered this very prestigious position with the hospital.

 There are pros and cons.
The cons:
 I have to work every other Sunday..... and I don't like to work Sundays.
I will also bounce between two hospitals, and the other one is further away.

The pros:
I will be working for the hospital, and can bid on other jobs later if I want.
I will be making more money...... at least $2 more an hour, but it will be more than that when my experience is added in....... so I am guessing it will be $3 or $4 more than what I am making.
I will work 4 days a week instead of 5 days, 2 12's and 2 8's.

  The news got around fast that I had been offered this position. I have lost track of how many people have congratulated me, told me they were happy for me, that I am perfect for this position,  and that I deserve it. And no, it has not given me a big head. It has, however boosted my self confidence even more and caused me to look back on my life and realize just how far I have come.

 There is such a thing as sinful pride and thinking too highly of oneself. God condemns that. However, the opposite is not good either. Hating ourselves, having no self esteem or self confidence does not make us a better Christian. In fact, I can see where it has hindered me from being the Christian I should be, and from being used of God in the ways I could have been used.

   I have likely lived over half of my life already, a very sobering thought. I have many regrets as I look back over my 47 years, and this is one of those regrets: that I let the actions and opinions of some bullies so long ago - and also more recently -  influence how I saw myself and how I felt God and others saw me for all of these years.

 However, I am thankful that God has used this current job and those I work with and around to finally help me in this area. My best days may be ahead of me.

In the mood for Christmas

 I have heard people say before that they just couldn't get in the Christmas spirit, that they weren't in the mood for Christmas, that Christmas wouldn't be the same this year, and other similar statements.

 This year, I can relate. I think it is a combination of things, but I just have had a hard time getting in the mood for Christmas. I still have a lot of disappointment with this election. My views on Donald Trump have not changed, and I have a lot of disgust and disappointment in that area. I feel we will trade one narcissistic, arrogant, unqualified, and horrible president for another........and I have yet to see anything to change that feeling.

 Also, I thought for sure I'd be in my own house for Christmas, and now there is no house to move into since that fell through.

 There may be a few other contributing factors, but the end result has been a very unenthusiastic feeling about Christmas. I wasn't even going to put my Nativity scene up or get our my Christmas movies.

  In the midst of my doom and gloom, a thought hit me, and it has left me feeling rather convicted.  If circumstances can so easily knock the Christmas spirit out of us and cause us to lose the anticipation and joy of the season, then we are celebrating it the wrong way and celebrating it for  the wrong reasons.

  There is so much about Christmas that I enjoy.....family, giving (and getting!) gifts, the music, the decorations, the cookies, candy, and other things that are part of this season. I get that not everyone has a nice Christmas and are experiencing loss and troubles at this time of year.

 However, if this season is truly about the birth of our Savior, we shouldn't have to be in the mood to celebrate. All of  the other things are just extra, and really don't have much to do with the real reason for the celebrating. No matter what is going on in our lives this month, no matter how we celebrate, we who follow Jesus have reason to celebrate. We who serve Him should have a sense of thanksgiving, praise, and worship that transcends everything else.

 The world sees a baby in a manger, but anyone who is a true follower of Jesus sees a Savior who died for our sins. We shouldn't have to get in the mood or the spirit of the season. No matter what is going on in our lives, we should focus on what we are celebrating.

 Now that I have my nativity scene set up and have gotten caught up on my shopping, I have finally got caught up in the spirit of the season........no, not the decorations and the commercialization of it all, but in the quiet assurance that this Jesus came for me and I know Him personally as my Lord and Savior. Everything may not be right in the world or in my world, but I can still focus on the Savior lying in the manger with the shadow of a cross falling across His face. I can praise and worship Him and be thankful even more at this time of year that not only was He born as a baby, but that He was born to die for me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Keeping Christmas, 2016 edition

  In a Facebook post a couple of weeks ago, I said that I was listening to Christmas music. A Facebook friend I don't know well, commented and said the Bible says nothing about observing Christmas. I replied and said it doesn't say not to observe it either.

  The last visit we had from Jehovah Witnesses at our place, the conversation went a bit like this:
Me: Hi, you're Jehovah Witnesses, aren't you?"
The two ladies: "yes we are"
Me: "Well, there is no sense in going into your talk. I have my own church and you're not going to change my mind, and I am not going to change yours. Besides,  you lost me completely with that no celebrating holidays and birthdays. I love giving and getting gifts. It must really suck to be a Jehovah Witness." (Yes, I said suck)

 After they got the deer in the headlights look off their faces, one of them said they believe in giving gifts every day of the year. Giving me up for a lost cause, they went their way.

  I have always loved Christmas. Even before I came to know the Savior of Christmas  the way I know Him today, I still loved it. It wasn't the gifts - sure I like to give and receive gifts - it is just everything about the season. There is a feeling of goodwill, peace, and love. People's thoughts turn more to things of God, and even those who don't acknowledge Jesus are still celebrating His birth.

 If you look through the Bible, the Jews were big on feasts and holidays. They spent days feasting and celebrating all sorts of things. The idea that this suddenly became wrong after the New Testament ends is wrong and not Biblical at all.

 And who should better celebrate Jesus' birth than we who serve Him?

 Much is said about the commercialization of Christmas, and a lot of it goes on. But we should never let that stop us from celebrating this season better and differently than the world. They should have nothing on a Christian when it comes to celebrating Christmas.

 This is the time of year set aside to observe and celebrate that night long ago when God became a baby, the most vulnerable and helpless of humans. He was born to be like us, and to die for us. Our methods and ways of observing and celebrating that wonderful Holy night may differ, but observe and celebrate it we should.

 Yes, Jesus can get lost under all of the shopping, the gifts, the Christmas tree, Santa, the Christmas cookies and music and everything else that makes up this season.......but it can also help remind us of what - or Who - it is all about, and help us to celebrate His birth with excitement, reverence, and thankfulness.

 At the end of the much-loved Christmas Carol, comes these words: "And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” 

  Oh that the same could be said of all we who profess to follow this Savior....... that we keep Christmas like no other. We should...... we who serve and follow Him know what it is all about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

5:00 am

   It's 5 am here as I sit in front of my computer. I called off work a little more than an hour ago, and here I sit unable to sleep, and with time on my hands. I haven't felt this sick since my hospital stay back in March, though thankfully it isn't THAT bad. I am convinced that if you peered into my mouth during one of my coughing fits, you would see one of my lungs looking back at you as I seemingly try to cough one up.

  It was a rough night. I felt so weak, worn out, and sore all over that I went to bed a little after 8, only to wake up at 11:30 coughing so hard I was surprised a lung wasn't lying beside me. I got up and drank some hot tea, browsed Facebook, tried to go back to sleep......gave up, watched a movie for a while, tried to go to sleep again, gave up, drank more hot tea..... it has been a lovely night. I truly hated to call off, but sometimes it needs to be done.

   I feel like blogging, and I guess I am technically doing so, but I'm not sure what to write about. I have a post about singles floating around in my head, one about true Christianity, thoughts about Thanksgiving and Christmas.....but I am not sure what to write about any of those, so I'll "jot" down a couple of things that have been on my mind lately as I listen to Christmas music.

Conversation with "Jane"

 With HIPPA laws, I have to be careful, so I am using an alias for the lady. A few weeks ago, a woman in her 70's started coming in and she'd need wheel chair assistance. She'd be dropped off at the door, and I'd help her in a wheel chair. Occasionally, she'd need me to push her if her ride left. She had a loved one way down in Critical Care, which is a far distance from the main lobby.

 This one day, she and her sister-in-law both needed pushed, but had another relative along that pushed the other lady. CCU has limited visiting hours, and they were going for the 2:00, and Jane asked if I could come down for her at 2:30. I got there a few minutes early, and they weren't ready..... the doctor was coming to talk to them. I hung out a bit impatiently for a few minutes, then headed back to the front of the hospital, hoping they wouldn't call me back right before I clocked out for the day.... but they didn't.

  The next day, I was walking past the coffee/snack shop in the main lobby and saw Jane and some of her family eating. Part of the eating area is just separated by a low railing from the main walk way of the hospital. Jane called my name and said hi, so I leaned on the railing and asked how her loved one was. She started crying, and told me. The loved one was her husband of 46 years, and they had just found out at the end of October that he had cancer........ bad. It didn't look like he would make it. I listened, told her I was sorry to hear that, and told her I'd be praying for her. That was the last time I talked to her. Her husband died the next day.

 I remembered my impatience, and felt badly. Whether you work in a hospital or not, we never know what people are going through who cross out path, and we should always show the love of Jesus......no matter what.

Taylor, another hospital story: 

  There is another lady who had been coming in daily to see her boyfriend/fiancee'. She was in her 70's and volunteers with the ladies' auxiliary in the hospital gift shop. I got the job of pushing her to his room day after day, and she was very appreciative. Then one day she came in acting rushed, and said they had moved him to Hospice, and asked if I'd take her up. As I pushed her in a wheel chair up to Hospice, she wept as she tried to tell me how he was doing.

 A few days later, she came in and walked up to the desk to say hi to me and Thelma, the lady at the front desk. I asked how her guy was doing, and she said they had just buried him the day before. I gave her a hug and told her I'd be praying for her. She then headed over to the coffee shop/snack shop to get something to eat. I watched her go, and said to Thelma, "After she orders, I am going to find out what she is having, and pay for it." Thelma said she'd help pay - she is good like that. I wandered in and saw Taylor, a young girl who works in there, walking away from the lady's table and heading for the fountain drinks. I approached Taylor and asked her what the lady had ordered. She replied "I am going to pay for it. She has gone through so much that I wanted to do something nice for her." I told her Thelma and I were going to pay for it, but I'd let her.

 I walked away thinking more highly of this very young girl. There aren't many kids her age who would do something like that.

Bible journaling

 For some time, I have been wanting to try Bible journaling. I even bought a Bible specifically made for that, got it home, and decided I couldn't bring myself to do it, and took it back.

 I'm weird. I find the idea of writing in any book abhorrent. I know a lot of people who write in their Bibles, but I never have. Writing in any book just seems wrong. I'll run across some good things in books I read and own, and never, ever write in them.

 But the time has come when I am going to have to overcome this phobia or whatever you'd call it. I requested a journaling Bible to review....... and I also requested a Bible journaling kit to review. Yeah, I didn't know they made such a thing either. It contains colored pencils, stickers, and some kind of ruler. I have no excuses now. But how exactly does one journal in a Bible? Is there an app for that?


 I am ashamed to admit it, but I haven't been feeling very thankful lately. Having my house deal fall through has hit me hard, but I have to wonder if it isn't my own fault. The day I made the offer for the house of the asking price, I knew there was another interested party. I prayed that if it was God's will, my offer would be accepted. My realtor called me back and said I'd been outbid. Without even thinking much about it, I bid $3,000 more and got it. Ever since the deal fell through, that has been on my mind.......maybe it wasn't God's will and I tried to buy it anyway.

 The election stuff is still getting to me. I had high hopes that we'd get rid of a horrible president and replace him with a true conservative. I still feel disbelief and disgust that so many Christians and conservatives picked Donald Trump.....and I am still convinced he will be another terrible president.

 As I have had these thoughts of not having much to be thankful for, I felt checked and reminded of all that I do have to be thankful for. There are so many people worse off than me. There are people who have no loving family, no home, no food..... I am more blessed than I realize or verbalize.

Job interview

 Yesterday I had both a phone and sit down interview for a new position at the hospital I work at.

It is very similar to what I already do
It pays better
I'd actually be working for the hospital, instead of an outsourced company.
I'd work 2 12's and 2 8's, which means 3 days off instead of 2.

I'd have to work every other weekend, and I currently have Sundays off.
Right now, I have a set schedule and days off. With this, I'd not have a set schedule.

  And I may not get it. I am praying God's will about it. So we will see.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Favorite Christmas songs

  I love Christmas music, and have a lot of it.... and I do mean a lot. There are songs I like to hear more than others, and they are usually among the first I listen to every year. Here are my top 10, in no particular order, that do not fall into the traditional Christmas carol category:

1) It's Christmas by Ronnie Milsap. I don't know if anyone else has recorded this song, but I can't imagine anyone doing it better. He recorded it in 1986 on his Christmas CD "Christmas With Ronnie Milsap" and I have been enjoying it ever since. It is one of many Christmas CDs I own.

2) We Are the Reason by Avalon. I didn't care much for this 2000 Christmas release, other than this song and one other one on the CD. This song has been done by others, but this is my favorite recording of it, and one I listen to over and over.

3) Christmas Wishes by Anne Murray. This song has been around since 1981, and is my favorite of all the Christmas songs she has recorded over the years. It does end on a romantic note, but I still love to hear it.

4) It's Still the Greatest Story Ever Told by the Gaither Vocal Band. In my estimation, this is one of the greatest modern Christmas Songs from a Christian perspective. The Gaithers wrote it in 1979, but as far as I know it was not recorded until the Gaither Vocal Band did it on their Christmas CD of the same name in 1998. If I was putting these favorites in order, this would likely be at the top.

5) Sweet Baby Jesus by The Kingsmen. Released in 1995, this was the only Christmas CD this well known and long-running group ever did, and they knocked it out of the park with this one..... at least to me. I have been listening to it over and over since 1995.

6) Christmas In Dixie by Kenny Chesney, In 1985, Alabama released their first Christmas CD and this song became a classic from that album. Then 18 years later in 2003, Kenny Chesney recorded it on his Christmas CD with some help from one of the guys from Alabama. As good as Alabama did, I like Chesney's version better.

7) Unto You This Night by Garth Brooks. This song became an instant favorite of mine in 1992 when Garth Brooks released his first Christmas CD. Backed up by a choir on part of the song, Brooks does an awesome job on this favorite of mine.

8) I'll Be Home With Bells On by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. This duo did a Christmas CD in 1984 that includes this song that Dolly wrote. I have loved it for years, and it definitely makes my list.... and is currently my ringtone on my cell.

9) I Have Seen the Light by Integrity/Triumphant Quartet. This song came out on Triumphant Quartet's first Christmas CD when they were going by the group name Integrity Quartet. I think it is an awesome song. I can't find the year it was released, but it isn't that old of a song. It has been done by others, but no one else comes close to this version.

10) Come On, Ring Those Bells by Evie. I remember listening to this as a kid. Evie Tornquist - later Karlson after she married - recorded a Christmas album in 1978 when she was 16 (I think). It has been recorded several times over the years, perhaps more than any other modern Christian Christmas song, but I have yet to hear anyone do it as well.

  There are many others that could be on this list, or a longer list..... but I decided to keep it to 10 songs, and try to put my favorite 10 on it. I may look at this list later and think of a few different ones that should make the list, but these are 10 that are definitely way up on my list.

Anthony's testimony

 I recently did a 5-part blog series on what it is like to deal with same-sex attractions, and want to get some others to write about it. I hit up my young friend, Anthony Martin to do it first, and he agreed to do so, though it came out shorter than he intended. He said he can talk better than writing, and I would say that is true after the 20 minute phone call we had the other day........ just kidding. :)

  I met Anthony two years ago at the Hope For Wholeness Conference. He has doven head first into serving Jesus, and has a depth of Christian maturity and a desire to serve God that many of we adults don't have. Though he is only 19 years old, he is a great encouragment and inspiration to me.

 The world, and sadly too many Christians and churches, say to embrace your same-sex attractions and you can still be a Christian. Anthony is one of many who has walked away from his desires and attractions to live for God, not his attractions.

 Since he was so short, I also included something he previously wrote for me about unanswered prayers. Thanks, Anthony.

Beautiful Surrender

    For most of my life I've personally dealt with same-sex attraction. As early as 5 years old I remember experiencing same-sex attraction. I was raised by Christian parents so I knew that homosexuality was a sin. However I didn't know why I was struggling with homosexuality.

    At the age of 15 I gave my life to Christ, and I knew I had to surrender my sexuality to God. And this where it gets messy! Even though I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality it was still very difficult for me to surrender a part of me that felt so normal. I felt like I was giving up the very essence of who I was. I wanted to follow God, but I also wanted a loving relationship with a man. I didn't want to grow old alone. These are the struggles that gay Christians face daily. The torn desire of following God faithfully and wanting to be in a relationship with the same sex. I was not "magically" cured of homosexual desires when I became a Christian. In fact 4 years later I'm still very much same-sex attracted.

    So you might ask me why I continue to follow Jesus even though I still have these desires? It's because I believe that NO human relationship can ever replace a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. When you have tasted the supernatural love of Jesus, you are never the same person. You begin to realize that you are more than your sexuality. You realize that there is more to life than marriage and sex. Nothing can replace knowing that you are loved fully by the Creator of the universe. I realized that it wasn't worth giving up a relationship with God, only for a human relationship that wouldn't last forever. Jesus said if we want to follow Him we need to die to ourselves daily. This applies to ALL Christians, not just those who are same-sex attracted. So I have come to the conclusion that surrender to Jesus is freeing and beautiful. Because when you surrender your life to Him, you become who you were truly meant to be all along

 I had originally asked for volunteers to blog about what the church needs. My friend Anthony volunteered, then asked if he could blog about unanswered prayers instead. Since prayer has been on my heart and mind a lot lately, I was more than OK with it. Thanks Antony for helping me out, Mark

From Anthony:

For a while I've felt the Holy Spirit asking me to share on how to continue trusting the Father when our prayers are unanswered. Recently my friend Mark asked if someone would be willing to contribute by writing an article for his blog. I saw this as a great opportunity to share what the Holy Spirit has been laying on my heart! Thank you Mark for allowing me to share my thoughts on your blog!

     We all have unanswered prayers. Many people have been praying for weeks, months, and even years on certain things that have not been answered in the way they desire. For me it's been same-sex attraction. I am a born again believer who loves Christ, but I'm still tempted to lust after the same gender. I became a born again believer when I was 15 and I am now almost 19. I have prayed more times than I can count that God would deliver me completely from homosexual temptations. To this very day I've not seen this prayer answered. Many other believers can relate to this dilemma of having unanswered prayers. It can frustrate and discourage a follower of Christ. So how can we continue to trust God when we are confronted with the reality that we have unanswered prayers?

   The answer is embracing the truth of God's Word and His Promises rather than depending on our feelings and emotions. Feelings and emotions change, but God's Promises are eternal! Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God's plan for us is to prosper and to have a future and hope! Even when our prayers are going unanswered and it seems God isn't there, we can embrace this verse and realize His plan for us is a future and hope, not disaster! Another truth of Scripture is Romans 8:28 which states, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." I find this so encouraging that even though I have prayers that are not getting answered, I can trust that He is working everything together for my good because I am His child and He loves me! Romans 8:37 states that overwhelming victory is ours through Christ because He loves us! We need to latch onto this promise when we are discouraged and frustrated that our prayers are not getting answered. His Truth has the power to break into any hopeless situation! Ephesians 3:20 says that God in His power can accomplish infinitely more than we can ask or think! So we need to continue trusting Him and believing in faith that He will answer our prayers that are according to His plan! And even if we never see certain prayers answered, we need not lose hope and be discouraged! If He gave up His own Son for us, how much more is He willing to give us as His children!

   My prayer is that no matter how many unanswered prayers you have, you would not give up on the One who loves you so much! He has the power to change anyone and anything for His Glory! And I am confident that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it!

For His Glory,
Anthony Martin

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The red letters

  I used to think red-letter editions of the Bible were awesome and the kind every Christian should have and read. Bibles without the red letters indicating where Jesus is talking, were inferior.

 Things change. At this point in my life, I am starting to favor Bibles that do not have the words of Jesus in red letters. I just got a new Bible this week in my new favorite translation that is unique in two ways: It is a single column Bible, which makes reading it different. The other way it is unique is that it is not a red letter edition.

  I probably shouldn't admit this on such a public place as my blog, but one reason I favor Bibles without red letters is because I find them more difficult to read. Whether I have my glasses on or not, the red words are more difficult to read. I am finding it much easier to read the Bibles that have all black lettering. I guess this is what it feels like to get old.

 That aside, I have been wondering for a while if red letter edition Bibles are even a good idea. I know, to some people I am now guilty of heresy. Not only do I rarely use the KJV, but now I am saying maybe red letter Bibles aren't such a good idea.

   It is becoming very common with one sin in particular, but also with some others, to point out that since Jesus didn't mention it, that He is OK with it. This is wrong on so many levels, and makes the very erroneous assumption that what Jesus said in the Gospels is the only part of the Bible that matters. We don't have to observe or obey anything else in the Bible except for what Jesus said in the Gospels.

  Now anyone with common sense and who is not trying to excuse sin knows this: the whole Bible is the Word of God.... not just what is in red letters. Should what is in red letters be any more important than the rest of the Bible? If we truly believe the Bible was divinely inspired by God, then the red letters are not any more important or worthy of being singled out than the rest of the Bible.

 So could this idea of putting Jesus' spoken words in red be giving people the wrong idea? Could it be encouraging the ideas that they are more important, and that it is the only parts of the Bible that we need to observe and obey? Possibly. And if you disagree with that reasoning, wait til you pick up a red letter edition of the Bible some day and find it difficult to read the words in red.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Immigration..... are Christians getting it right?

  This blog post is to ask questions and explore what the Christian response should be to immigration, legal and illegal. I have found myself wondering lately if we Christians are getting it right.

  We conservative/Republican Christians like to think that liberals have it all wrong. I may have a cynical view of all politicians, but I do believe that Democrats view immigrants as prospective voters and if they weren't so determined to convert them all to their party, they would not be such big defenders of illegal immigrants. Cynical, I know.... but I do believe that.

 Obama and other liberals love to toss Scripture at anyone who isn't for granting amnesty, and it can be downright nauseating.... especially when they ignore passages that would condemn their other pet sins and policies. One such liberal wrote an article titled "Who would Jesus Deport" that was posted yesterday in a group I help moderate. The writer used Scripture to try to make the case that Christians should welcome all immigrants with open arms, legal and illegal, and it is what Jesus would do. I disagreed with him, but it only added questions and concerns to my growing list of both.

  I am not naive or stupid. I know we need borders. I know there are too many people in our country that are barely making it. We have too many homeless people, too many vets who have fought for our country and are homeless and/or barely surviving...... so of course it goes against everything I believe right that we'd give illegal immigrants free food, housing, healthcare, and whatever else they need. I know the risks of letting so many into our country unchecked and un-investigated. The risk of terrorists coming in with these people are great, and is not an imagined threat as Obama and his minions would try to convince us.

 It is easy to take the opposite stance. I have. I even have thought before that we'd be better of to export all Muslims back to where they came from, and not allow them into our country since every terrorist since 911 have been Muslim.

 But is that the correct Christian attitude and response? Is it how Jesus would be?

  Donald Trump got his following by promising to build a wall and sending Muslims back where they came from. The more he talked about it, the more people supported him. Building a wall became the battle cry of the Republican Party, led by a loud mouth who had held liberal views on everything for years.

 A young preacher's kid who was old enough to vote in this election, commented on a post I did one day and said "you need to pray, pray pray! that Trump wins, or your nieces and nephews will be in danger from illegal immigrants". Yeah, he used pray 3 times.

  Now toss aside your Republican beliefs, and even your conservative beliefs for a moment, and try your best to think about this from a Christian/Biblical standpoint. And I am not saying this PK is a sinner, but he makes a good example: Should any true Christian that is serving Jesus with their all surrendered and trusting in God, make a statement like that? Should we be so fearful of our lives that we toss Biblical principles and common sense to the wind, and decide our only hope from being raped, pillaged, and killed by illegal immigrants lies in electing a godless corrupt individual - or any individual?

  Something that has been on my mind a lot lately, is what do people outside of the conservative Christian/evangelical movement think of us for so fully supporting a man like Donald Trump..... and more specifically, I have wondered what illegal immigrants and Muslims think of us.

 Seriously. Put aside whatever you think about Donald Trump. Does it matter to the millions of evangelical Christians what these people think of us? Do we really want to be associated with the hate and fear associated with building a wall? If that doesn't concern us even a little,  then we seriously need help.

 What are the chances of these people being interested in our Jesus if they associate Christians with Donald Trump, specifically his campaign promise to build a wall and ship the Muslims back? Should we care that associating with that could turn off people on Jesus forever? Should we be concerned that the Republican stance on immigration could possibly be opposite to what the Bible teaches, and what Jesus would want?

 What would Jesus' position be on building a wall, illegal immigrants, and Muslims? Would He be building a wall, or would He be building bridges and loving illegal immigrants and Muslims? Would He even take a political position and/or side with a political position on it?

  I have been reading lately of Christians in Muslim countries and what they go through. When they make the decision to serve Christ, they are asked if they are willing to die for their faith...... for it is a harsh reality there, not just a figure of speech. Christians there go through a lot, and often lose everything, including their lives, yet they joyfully and fearlessly serve Jesus. There are people going to Muslim countries as missionaries, risking their lives to take Jesus to them....... and then there is us.....We Republican Christians are so scared of Muslims we are more focused on building a wall and sending Muslims back home, then we are with showing God's love to them and winning them to Jesus.

 And I honestly don't have the answers, nor am I trying to pretend that I do. I want to feel safe. I want our vets and homeless people taken care of before people who are breaking the law by just being here illegally.

  Yet is that Christian? Is it being like Jesus? Or are we being ruled by our fears, by our insecurities and lack of trust in God?

  No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he tapped into an all too prevalent fear and hatched his political career on the fears of conservatives, and sadly many Christians.

 Are we more focused on winning souls to Jesus and showing His love to them, or are we more concerned with building a wall and feeling safe? I fear the latter is all too prevalent among we who claim to trust God and want to be like Jesus in all we do and say. Immigration and politics should not be the exemption to that.

 And I repeat my statement that I don't have the answers. I have just come to believe that the Republican stance on immigration is not at all like Jesus, and not what the Bible teaches. What it should be, I don't know...... but if it is based on fear and selfishness, it is not like Jesus.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My new Facebook page

   This past week, I made a Facebook page independent of my regular one. This is the kind of page authors, celebrities, etc use. I am using it primarily for book reviews, blog posts, and encouraging and funny memes. It is visible to anyone who "likes" the page, and only to those who like it. My Facebook friends do not see the posts unless they have "liked the page.

 This page will be free from politics, and more personal things I post. My regular Facebook page will have rare political posts, family stuff, statuses, and things I can't figure out how to share to my other page.

 So whether you are a friend with me on Facebook, like my page if you're interested in following my blogs, reviews, and other such things. Click this link, or click the Facebook logo up in the right hand corner of  this blog.


   I had something amazing happen last night that only local people can truly understand and appreciate. I was shopping in the very busy suburb of Youngstown, Boardman. This town has everything - a mall, plenty of other shopping places, and tons of restaurants. A little after 5 pm, I pulled out onto the main busy 4-lane road running through Boardman. I was headed for the Salvation Army Store, and if I count right in my mind, there are at least 7 traffic lights between my starting point and my destination....... and I got all of them green. That never happens when there aren't many cars, but at that time of day, it was almost a miracle.

 Newsflash: I hate waiting. Patience is not a virtue I excel at. I hate waiting in lines, following slow people, waiting for trains, getting behind a school bus, waiting in waiting rooms, and obviously waiting at red lights.

  I am waiting right now, and it isn't that much fun. I started this house-buying process two months ago tomorrow, and it has been up and down lately. Yes, everything is going through, no it isn't, yes it is, and on and on. Thursday, after a call from my realtor, it seemed God had answered prayer and it was going to work out, and then a phone call from the loan officer shot that down. Three days later, I am waiting..... waiting to hear from either the realtor or the loan officer.

 And yet, I feel I have been waiting for so much longer than that. It has been 8 years since I moved back to Ohio and into what I thought would be a temporary stay with my parents. Eight years later, a bankruptcy, deep depression, lots of ups and downs, unemployment, part time jobs, times when God seemed millions of miles away...... after all of that, I finally stand on the edge of again owning my own place, and getting out on my own again.

 And I wait. I wait for a phone call that will either tell me everything is again on course and I can finally close on this house, or a phone call telling me what I don't want to hear, and that I'll have to back out.

  As I have been waiting these 8 years,  I have found out something about waiting. It can either drive further from God, or it can drive me to my knees and closer to Him. I wish I could say the latter has been true all of these 8 years, but it hasn't. It hasn't been true most of my life. I feel like I have always been waiting. Waiting to be "normal", waiting to get to the point I could marry, waiting for the perfect job, waiting for people to befriend me, waiting, waiting, waiting......

  I wish I had let waiting draw me closer to God all of these years, but I often lost patience and faith instead. Thankfully, I can honestly say this waiting I have experienced lately has done the opposite, and has drawn me closer to God. That isn't to say I am enjoying the waiting, but I do believe it is in God's hands and if it doesn't work out, then He has a better house for me.

 As I typed this blog post, a song came to my mind that made an impression on me the first time I heard it, and pretty much any time I have heard it. The man who wrote and record it got his musical career launched when the song was used in the movie Fireproof. The music video below has scenes from the movie. If you have never heard this great song, give it a listen.

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it’s not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait

I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting on You, Lord

Friday, November 18, 2016

Citizen of two worlds

**This may be hard to believe, but I was always the kid double-spacing and trying to come up with enough words to get the right amount of pages on papers in school and college. Now that I have discovered a love of writing, that is no longer a problem. The problem is writing so much that no one may read it all. Once I start writing from the heart, I can't shut it off..... so here is another epistle, but one from the heart.

    A Southern Gospel group I listen to recorded a song that I like several years back, and then recorded it a second time more recently. It is titled "I'm a Citizen of Two Worlds". The chorus goes:

I'm a citizen of two worlds
And it's hard to choose between them
I live here, but my home you cannot see
I'm a citizen of Heaven
Where's I'm going to have a mansion
My real home right now is calling me

     I have been reminded over and over again in the last few months how true this is. Our country has been divided in the last 8 years more than it has been possibly since the Civil War. This election has proven that nothing is going to change in that regard, and that the America I grew up in is gone. Unless we have a revival in our country, the fear, hate, vitriol, and division that has increased in the last few months is going to continue to rule our country.

  I don't claim to be a super Christian, and in fact if I look at myself and where I feel I should be, I feel far from being a super Christian. Yet, when I look at how far God has brought me, and the changes He has made in my life, I also realize I am most likely not as bad as I view myself. It is entirely possible - actually it is a certainty - that my ideas of where I need to be and where I need to improve are far from what God wants.

    My church upbringing combined with my inferior views of myself, and who knows what else, resulted in this thinking I have had for years that I needed to reach a certain level of Christian maturity before God was happy with me. I had to be a Christian for a certain length of time, and get close enough to God before He'd answer my prayers, use me, and look on me as one of His children. What that length of time, and how close to Him I needed to be was something I never figured out.

  These last couple of months have been interesting. The election, this house buying process, taking an unpopular stand among even my church and family members has changed me in ways I would never have imagined. I'm not even sure I can explain it, but I will give it a shot.

 And before I do, let me make it clear I am not un-Christianizing anyone if someone assumes that. Yes, I am disappointed in people, and yes, I was hurt by some. I didn't always take a stand in the right way, and I don't feel I am better than anyone else. With that aside, and hopefully believed by anyone reading it:

  I have truly grown spiritually in the last couple of months, and especially in the last couple of weeks. Certain things caused me to pray more, and draw closer to God. The last time I felt this much spiritual growth and closeness to God was back in March when I was hospitalized for 3 days.

   As I looked at the political landscape, convinced that no matter who won this election that this country will be pulled further from God, and feeling like I didn't belong in the Republican party, the conservative movement, the evangelical Christian movement, and even in my church.....my focus turned in a different direction. I found myself wondering some things about we Christians - I'd say "I", but it is evident that I am not the exception, but just another typical Christian:

Are we truly living for Heaven, or has our lives here on earth in America eclipsed Heaven?

Are we too worried about keeping our freedoms and rights?

Are we too afraid, and losing our faith and trust in God?

Are we too addicted to comforts?

    There is something that has been said of some Christians in years past, "they are so heavenly minded, that they are of no earthly good." What if the reverse is true of we modern day Christians, especially we American Christians? What if we are so earthly minded, so American/patriotic/freedoms minded that we are of no heavenly good? It is a sobering thought that has brought me face to face with a few things about myself that exist in many others also:

1) My freedoms and rights ARE too important to me.

   In Muslim countries when someone wants to become a Christian, they are asked if they are willing to die for their faith, for doing so is not a rhetorical question, but a very likely reality. Here, we are so worried about our rights and freedoms that we will act and vote in ways that are not at all like a Christian should because we are too worried about being persecuted or inconvenienced in any way. We are afraid our Christianity may cost us something here in America.

2) I am too focused on this life.

  Serving Jesus should be the most important thing to me, and my relationship with Him should overshadow everything else...how I treat people, how I vote... or if I vote..... but is He the most important thing?

3) I fear I have the wrong attitudes towards gay people, Muslims, immigrants, and anyone else who we conservatives have learned to fear and hate.

   Yeah, I don't use the gay label for myself, as I feel it is an identity, but even having same-sex attractions and knowing what it is like to be in their shoes, I still fear the gay agenda and what many of them want to accomplish here in America.

   Muslims....wow. I know they are not all terrorists, but the blunt reality is that every terrorist and and terrorist attack in this country since 911 have been by Muslims. You can't whitewash that as much as liberals want to....... but yet, I don't feel I have the correct Christian response to Muslims and the immigration issue. No, I don't believe we should have open borders and let people come in unchecked, but I don't believe I nor many other conservative Christians have a Christ-like view or reaction on this whole Muslim/immigrant issue.

   If we are so afraid of gay people, Muslims, and illegal immigrants that we are focused on building walls instead of tearing them down - literally and figuratively - are we being like Jesus?

4) Politics are too important to me. 

   Yes, anyone with a brain should be concerned with who is elected for any office, but I feel that I and any voting Christians are too worried and focused on election outcomes while people are dying around us without Jesus...... the very people we are fighting politically.

5) My priorities are totally out of whack.

   This kind of repeats my other points, but it doesn't hurt to emphasize something. The most important thing to us as Christians should be serving God and winning others to Him. Yet it would seem that to the evangelical voting block, nothing matters more than winning an election and keeping our freedoms and rights.... no matter what we have to do, no matter who we hurt, no matter how we may hurt our witness and the very cause of Christ....winning an election comes above all else.

    Voting a third party for the first time in my life has helped me to see things in an entirely different light. I was 100% against both candidates, and had big fears and concerns about either one winning. To me, there was no good outcome and America was doomed either way. I had to step back, put it in God's hands, and trust Him -  not any candidate -  because neither was/is trustworthy to me. I still have concerns, but it has truly helped me trust God more and leave everything in His hands. I still have major doubts that the candidate of choice will carry through on much of anything good, but I am slowly learning to let go of my desires to have everything the way I want it. If I am really in this thing of serving God, I have to surrender everything, even my desires for freedoms, comforts, and rights.

    I'm not saying you could not have done that by voting for the man on the GOP ticket. I don't mean to infer that at all. However, walking away from my usual "support the Republican nominee no matter what" thinking has forced me to surrender all of this to God. Politics and voting may never be the same to me, and I hope they are not. I am done doing what man expects of me in voting, and anything else.

     A Facebook friend sent me a song via messenger after one blog post I did where I said that  I don't belong anywhere. The song is titled "I Don't Belong", and was originally titled "Sojourner's Song". It has long been a favorite of mine, and was the inspiration for the title of my first blog, "Thoughts of a Sojourner", which I turned into a blog for book reviews and reviews of other things.

    The reality is that. If we are serving God and have a relationship with Him, we don't belong here on earth. We don't belong in America. If we love this world too much, this country, our freedoms and rights, we may never feel at home in Heaven. In fact, we may never want to leave this earth.

   What would our lives look like if we were "all-in" for Christ? If we were totally surrendered to God with even our fears, our politics, and all the issues that are important to us, what would it look like? How would we vote? How would we act towards and view gay people, illegal immigrants, Muslims, and anyone else who we fear?

  There is a story that may or not be true. Michelangelo was asked how he managed to do such a good job on the statue of David. He replied that he just chipped away everything that was not David. What if we all prayed that God would do that with us.... that God would chip away everything that isn't Mark, or John, or Martha, or whatever your name is until only Jesus is left?

  I definitely have not arrived, but what would my Christianity look like if I truly lived for the next world, instead of for this country I live in? If I really set aside being a Republican, conservative, evangelical Christian, and above all was a Christ follower?

   Don't get me wrong. I am patriotic, I love America, I don't want to be persecuted. However, when I read stories of what Christians in other countries go through, I feel convicted. We conservatives like to talk about how we live in an entitlement society where people want free heath-care, welfare, and feel they deserve everything.....but what if we Christians have bought into this entitlement ideology also? Are we really entitled to the freedoms and rights we have as Americans? If we are, then why aren't Christians in other countries having those same freedoms and rights?

  The day will come when I stand before God and give an account of all I have done. On that day, my freedoms and rights won't matter. On that final day when the earth exists no more, America will also exist no more. I won't be viewed more special because I am an American, or because I voted Republican most of my life. What will matter is if I lived as God wanted me to, if I did His will, if I loved people, if I showed Jesus to the world, and loved everyone..... even Muslims, gay people, and illegal immigrants.

 It has been said that we may be the only Jesus some people see.....and if that is true, what do those looking on at we Republican/conservative evangelical Christians seeing? Do they see people who love everyone, or.....

  We don't belong here, and we should be reminded of that fact occasionally.....daily. If we never feel like we don't belong here, we may need a spiritual check up.

    As a guy dealing with same-sex attractions, I had to get to the point that I didn't let those rule me anymore and surrender them to God. I had to surrender my desire to have a family, and my fears of being a single lonely guy. That has made a tremendous difference in my life and in my relationship with this God I now believe loves me with a love we humans will never understand. But that is just one area of my life. I want and need to surrender everything else to Him...and lately it has been a glaring reality that this whole politics/freedoms/rights, etc is the next stronghold that needs to come down.

 I can be patriotic and be a Christian, but being a patriotic American must always take a back seat to being a Christian. I don't belong, not even here in America.


words by Gloria Gaither, music by Buddy Greene

It's not home Where men sell their souls
And the taste of power is sweet
Where wrong is right And neighbors fight
While the hungry are dyin' in the streets
Where kids are abused And women are used
And the weak are crushed by the strong
Nations gone madJesus is sadAnd I don't belong

Chorus:I don't belong And I'm going someday
Home to my own native land
I don't belong And it seems like I hear
The sound of a "welcome home" band
I don't belong I'm a foreigner here
Singing a sojourner's song
I've always known This place ain't home
And I don't belong

Don't belong But while I'm here
I'll be living like I've nothin' to lose
And while I breathe I'll just believe
My Lord is gonna see me through
I'll not be deceived By earth's make-believe
I'll close my ears to her siren song
By praisin' His name, I'm not ashamed
'Cause I don't belong

Repeat Chorus

I belong To a kingdom of peace
Where only love is the law
Where children lead And captives are freed
And God becomes a baby on the straw
Where dead men live
And rich men give
Their kingdoms to buy back a song
Where sinners like me
Become royalty
And we'll all belong

Yes I belong
And I'm going someday
Home to my own native land
Where I'll belong
And it seems like I hear
The sound of a "welcome home" band
Yes, I'll belong
No foreigner there
Singin' a sojourner's song
I've always known
I'm going home
Where I belong
Yes I've always known
This place ain't home
And I don't belong