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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

An extra day

I doubt I am alone in thinking time goes by way too fast. We start a new month, blink, and a new month is starting. A week goes by so fast that it seems one is on a roller coaster at times. One minute, it is New Year's Day, and the next it is New Year's Eve. I have stacks of books I wish I had more hours in the day to read, walks to take, places to visit, people to spend time with....and there is never enough time to do everything I want to do.

  Tomorrow is February 1, 2016. Something will happen during this February that happens only every four years: we get an extra day. We get what we want and need: more time. Granted, it is only one day.........or  24 extra hours, 1440 minutes, 86400 extra seconds.......but it is more time than we get most years.

  I've thought about it more this year than I have other leap years. If I have an extra day, shouldn't I spend it differently than every other day? If I am wanting and needing more time, shouldn't I use that time in a special way?

  I looked at the calendar. February 29th falls on a Monday. I have every Sunday and Monday off. Sundays are dedicated to church, God, and resting. Mondays are "me time". I usually go shopping, eat out, and occasionally do something with my nieces and/or nephews....so if I just do the regular Monday things on this extra day I have, will it be any different than other weeks or days?

  So then I thought more. Just because the extra day is on the 29th, does that mean I have to use that day as my extra day? I decided that wasn't necessary...... I could use any day of February - or the year for that matter - as my extra day. I thought, threw some ideas around in my head, and then I came up with an idea I like.

  We live about 1 1/2 hours from the biggest Amish section of Ohio. I like it there, but being a single guy I don't go there often as I'd like. I've been wanting to go there for the last couple of summers, but it never worked out.

  There is an inn in Sugarcreek, OH that my parents and one of my sisters and brothers-in-law have stayed at a few times during the last few years. It is a nice place to stay and has some package deals they run at different times of the year. For instance, their winter package running January 2-March 31 is $84.95 for two people. It includes one night's stay at the inn, dinner at your choice of 3 different restaurants, breakfast at your choice of 3 different restaurants, and a free item from 15 different places ranging from candles and lunch meat to a pound of cheese and a loaf of bread.

  I have listened as my siblings and parents have talked about the place and their visit, sampled the cookies, cheeses, and other things they brought back...... and wished I could go.

 I pulled the packages up and looked at them. Two people.... hmm. Surely one person could get it. I looked at the calendar, sought the infamous Farmer Almanac's weather, and decided on a day: February 23, a Tuesday. I called the inn, and found out not only could one person take advantage of the package, it was $10 less for a single person (I am guessing because of the meals). I reserved a room for the night of Monday February 22, and asked off work for Tuesday February 23. My plans are to arrive at the inn on Monday close to noon, check in, and then go exploring...... probably pick up some of the items that come with the package.

  My free dinner - or supper as my family calls it - will be on the agenda at some point....... and who knows what else. I plan on taking my laptop and a movie or two, staying up fairly late, spending extra time with God, and going to bed. Tuesday: Free breakfast, more exploring, more free stuff, and just enjoying an extra day with no work. Hopefully I can get some good pictures of the area, and enjoy being away from everything and everyone in a peaceful area I wouldn't mind living in.

  I plan on trying to stay off of social media, or at least cut the time spent by a major fraction - I may want to post some pictures. The very idea of what I am planning is exciting. I never really thought about taking this extra day to do something special before, and I am eagerly counting down the days (3 weeks from tomorrow!)

  We only get this extra day every 4 years...... what will you do with yours?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Pray first

I'm a slow learner. I fret and worry about things that usually don't have the outcome I fear. I was reminded of this by an incident that happened at work on Wednesday of this week.

  In the afternoons, I am stationed in the main lobby of the hospital to help with wheelchairs, escort people in wheelchairs, and whatever else is needed of me. I had just come around the corner from the bathroom to stand by the main desk. I looked over toward the doors where there is a semi-circle of sofa-like seats facing some chairs and piano. There were 4-5 people gathered around a lady sitting on one of the seats trying to get her into a wheelchair. I started over, saw they had plenty of help, and stepped back to the desk. A few minutes later, some of the people exited the building, and one of the ladies pushed the wheelchair with the woman in it past the desk. As they passed, I smiled at them and the lady in the chair said "Thank-you". Surprised, I said a quick "you're welcome", and forgot about it.

  Around 2:30, the ladies came back from wherever they were at and stopped at the desk. The woman pushing the chair asked my name. Wondering why she wanted it, I told her. She then started towards the door. I asked "What did you want my name for ma'am?" She replied "So I can report you!" Me:
"Uh, what for?" Her:"Because my sister fell and you just stood there and didn't help." I replied that I didn't see her sister fall, and she insisted that I did.  Shocked, I decided to head this off at the pass, and called my supervisor to come over. By this time, the ladies were outside the door getting the woman in the wheelchair into the car. I stepped out and told the angry lady that my boss was coming over for her to talk to. She told me to leave her alone and to "go to hell, my sister is dying and I don't need you bothering me". I raised my hands and said "ma'am, I didn't do anything". She shot back with "That's the problem!"

  By this time, John had come over; so I left them to talk. She claimed that her sister fell, and I watched it happen and laughed. The lady at the front desk verified that I wasn't out there when the lady fell. My boss said the lady kept changing her story, and to not worry about it.

But I did. I fretted about it the whole way home. I called my best friend and vented to him. I was upset, furious, worried, and feeling like a powder keg.

  I went to work yesterday, to find out that the lady did indeed call in to report me. My top boss, Mark; told me not to worry about it. She said it happened in the parking lot and I and another guard stood there and laughed; yet they found the incident on the security cameras and it happened in the lobby by those seats. No guard was around. Again, she kept changing her story.

  Today is two days since the incident, and one day since my other boss updated me and told me not to worry. Just as my immediate supervisor had told me the day before not to worry. Just as Jesus said not to worry.

  I could have saved myself a lot of worrying and fretting if I had prayed about it and left it in God's hands. I knew I was innocent. I knew the lady was angry because her sister was dying so she was taking it out on me. But I bypassed prayer and worried, got upset, probably got my blood pressure up, was cranky, short-tempered, depressed, felt like quitting my job, and more. (Yes, I was that upset).

  I had another frustrating incident happen this morning. I left for work, earlier than I need to as usual - I was raised to be early, plus I like to get a good parking place. After I was on my way, I realized I had forgotten my lunch bag at home. The lunch wasn't the problem. I keep my work tie and my name badge in the outside flap. I had 2 problems: My bosses wouldn't be happy if I didn't have my tie. And I use my badge a lot during the day to let people into the Emergency patient rooms..... it would be a huge inconvenience on me and others without it. I had gone far enough that it was a bother to turn around, yet not so far that I would be late for work if I went back home to get my lunch bag. I sighed, said a quick prayer, turned up my Amy Grant hymns CD, and headed back home.

  It was snowing. That kind of snow that if you have your high beams on, you get dizzy and nauseous. Since I hit 4 deer with my previous car, I like my high beams on to see out ahead further..... but then I did pray (as I pray every morning now) that I wouldn't hit any deer, so I drove on my way with low beams, praying more.

  Normally, I'd have been frustrated, angry, calling myself an idiot, etc..... but I decided not to fret and enjoy the music.

  I got home, grabbed my lunch bag and one of my favorite Praise and Worship CDs, jumped in the car and put the CD on and left for work. Again.

  I hate running late... or almost late, but I immersed myself in the music, prayed some. and kept calm on my way to work. I clocked in right at 7, something I never do, and had a busy, but great day. Had I let myself get frustrated and upset, it would have affected my whole day... but I'd like to think I learned a lesson with the incident earlier in the week.

  Am I the only person who instead of going to God right away and leaving it in His hands, worries and works myself up? We have such an awesome tool at our disposal, but some of us forget to use it. We can have an immediate audience with the King of Kings, but we worry and blow the problem out of proportion. He is there to listen and help us through big or small problems.

  Two days, two frustrating incidents, two different reactions from me, and two different outcomes. I hope I learned my lesson.....

The God who parties

  I've read and heard the Bible account of the prodigal son countless times in my life. Many people, myself included, tend to focus on the son in the story. After all, it is titled The Prodigal Son. The story took on a whole new meaning for me after reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. He pointed out that the story is about the father, and a more apt title would be "The Loving Father". I literally had tears running down my face as I read his thoughts on the account.

The part that really got me, was his pointing out that the father ran to meet his son and forgave him before the son could even say anything. He didn't stand back and wait until his son said all of the right words, seemed repentant enough, cried enough tears. He ran and embraced his son before he could say a word. In Manning's words:

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). I am moved that the [prodigal son's] father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son that he ignored all the canons of prudence and parental discretion and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was . . . We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up . . . we don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us . . . Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there . . . [He will say, like the prodigal's father,] “Hush, child. I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to.”

  It is true that one can read the Bible over and over and still see something you never saw before. Such is the case with this story. Manning made me see the story in a whole new light, and it brought immense help and healing to my soul.

  And it has happened again. I am reading the Revealing Jesus Devotional by Darlene  Zschech in the morning. She has spent almost a whole week on the story of the prodigal son, and she brought out some new thoughts that encouraged and blessed me.

The one that stood out me the most was this, and goes a bit further than what Manning said:  the son started into his spiel about not being worthy to be called a son and he could just be a servant. The Bible says "But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’"So the party began."

  That doesn't fit the narrative I got most of my life. Granted, I was a vulnerable hurting teenager who thought no one liked me, and that I was deeply flawed. That bled over into my view of God, and I didn't believe that He liked or loved me. The preaching styles and some of the things said by ministers I heard in revival meetings, camp meetings, and even from my own pastors at times combined with other things in my life to give me a severely warped view of God and the process of becoming a Christian.

  Whether they intended it or not, I heard:

God is reluctant to forgive you, and you must pray long and hard before He will forgive you.

You must pray out loud at the altar. Don't hang over it like a bag of feed and pray into your arm (A preacher actually used those exact words)

God is just waiting for you to mess up so He can get out His big white out bottle and blot your name out of the Book of Life.

The main reason to be a Christian is to avoid hell.

  I totally missed the message that God loves me. I never heard the part that we have a God who throws a party when we come back to Him. My memory doesn't bring to mind any preacher saying God would run to meet us and forgive us without us saying all of the right words or groveling.

  When we come to God, whether it be the first time or repenting after wandering or giving up for the umpteenth time; we don't have to grovel. He wants total surrender and repentance, not self hatred, self flagellation,  promises, or long drawn out apologies. When there is an altar call, no one should have to be begged and threatened to go to the altar. A clear presentation of God and His love should be enough to draw us. And the battle should already be won when a person takes that step towards the altar.

  I am not a fan of long altar calls, nor scary stories and 25 verses of Just As I Am. The message of the cross and the main message of Jesus is love. It isn't "serve me or you get hell", though that is a reality.... it is all about a God who became one of us, let Himself be crucified and killed for our sins; then rose again to give us life and hope.

Don't tell people scary stories to get them to the altar. Tell them to hurry up and come to pray, that God is waiting to throw a party in their honor. Tell them God is excited to forgive them, and He doesn't have to be begged for something He is willing to offer. This God wants to forgive us more than we want forgiven. He wants us to spend eternity in Heaven even more than we want it. He's waiting to throw us a party when we come back to Him.

  I have wandered away many times. I have gotten discouraged and given up, tired of fighting battles I couldn't talk to anyone about or stand up in church and ask for prayer about. Any time that I came back to God, I felt I had to convince Him to take me back. I felt He forgave me grudgingly. I believed that I had to work my way back to a certain level of commitment and prove myself - similar to probation - before I was His child and He would answer my prayers or think much of me.

  Yet that doesn't fit at all with this God who throws a party when one of His children come back to Him. It doesn't fit at all with a God who would go through everything He went through on this earth.

  The message of the cross is that God loves us so much that He was willing to die in one of the worst ways possible to redeem us and give us an eternity with Him, that He runs to meet us more than halfway when we come to Him in repentance, and that He throws a party when one of His children returns.... and doesn't put us on probation, but welcomes us back as loved children.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What if His people prayed?

 This blog post is a continuation of something I posted on Facebook this morning. Ever since I watched the movie The War Room, prayer has really been on my mind. And I feel God convicting me of not using it in a very important area: politics. More specifically, who I vote for.

  There is a lot of rhetoric and debating going on. I myself have been very vocal (perhaps too vocal) about one candidate who I strongly believe is bad for our country, and I have watched in disbelief as Christians defend him and support him in spite of what he has stood for and still stands for. There is no way to describe my incredulity without sounding rude, so we will just leave it at that.

  I have a candidate who I am most likely to vote for, there are a few I wouldn't have a problem voting for, and some that are "no way Jose'" candidates.

But who does God want me to vote for? I haven't prayed about that. I have prayed that God would put the right man in. I have prayed that God would help get the person I think is best in there. But I haven't prayed for God's direction on who to vote for.

  And it is kind of crazy if you think about it..... to pray for the right person to get in that office, yet not consult God's direction. It is similar to going down to the car lot and buying the car you like best,  and then pray that God helps you buy the right car. Or.... asking that special someone to marry you, and then asking God to help you get the right spouse. In either situation, you have made up your mind.

  This voting thing is similar to that. How can God put the right person in as president if His children don't bother consulting Him on who to vote for? How can He have anything to do with our election, if we make up our minds using everything but Him and His Word to make our decision?

  I'm guilty. I admit it. I will most likely vote for Ted Cruz in the primary.

  But what if God wants Carly Fiorna in as president? What if He wants Ben Carson, Marco Rubio.... Donald Trump (surely not!).... what if He wants me to not even vote...unlikely, but what if? What if God wants me to vote for Rand Paul, Bush, Chris Christie?

  What if God wants me to vote for Hillary Clinton? OK, I'd pull a Gideon and ask for a fleece or two on that one..... but seriously.... what if God's plan is for her to be president? Yes, it would hurt our freedoms. Yes, she would further ruin this country. Her daughter said that her mom would write executive orders to help gay people... which means what she does wouldn't be good for religious freedoms.... but what if that is all part of God's plan?

  American Christians are shallow. We worry more about current movies, musicians,  our favorite politician, who Blake Shelton is dating, who won an Oscar, who is going to be in the Super Bowl, how church makes us feel, and more. We are self-centered and have made God a part of our lives, and not made Him our life. We think we know what is best for us in regards to marriage, a job, how many kids we have, when to retire, how to spend our money, what house to buy..... and who should be president.

  Granted, my one vote isn't going to make a difference..... but what if every person who serves God sought His direction and followed it? What if we ignored who wins or doesn't win the debates, who endorses or doesn't endorse a candidate, ignore what Sean Hannity, the Dixie Chicks, Jerry Falwell jr, James Dobson and everyone else.... and instead went to God?

  But Trump is a business man! We need a business man to turn this country around! Cruz has stood up to the establishment and has a great record! Rubio acts and looks presidential and other than immigration, seems solid! We need a woman president, we must elect Hillary or Carly!

  But who does God want?

  Revival breaks out most often when things are bad. Christianity flourishes best when Christians are persecuted, not when everything is going just peachy. Hillary Clinton will most likely put policies in place to further anti-Christian agendas. She and Donald Trump will most likely put liberal judges on the Supreme Court - not just bashing him, but he has a very liberal pro-choice sister who is a judge - the chances are great. The Supreme Court is even more important than the presidency, but are affected by who is president. If we get a liberal majority on the bench, they could shred our freedoms and rights way beyond people getting sued for not doing something for a gay wedding.

  But what if that is God's plan to wake us up, to truly bring America back to God and shake us out of the shallow Christian lives we live?

  And no, I am not a defeatist or someone who wants things to get worse so Jesus comes back sooner.

  But the more I examine my attitudes, read news stories, see what candidate people are pushing, endorsing, and supporting.... it makes me realize how arrogant we are to think we know who is best for president. I seriously doubt I am the only Christian making up my mind about candidates based on what they say or do, their past, or what others say about them. Who says I am right? Who says you are right?

  The biblical account of Israel fascinates me. They went for years with no king, and finally God gave them one to shut them up (basically). They thought that would make them happy and that was what they needed. And so began the cycle. They would have a bad king who would lead them away from God and into idol worship, even sometimes sacrificing their own children. A new king would reign and lead them back to God, only to have another king go back to idol worship. Over and over again, the cycle repeated.

  We are in a similar place. The USA has had some decent presidents. We have had some who at least tried to serve God and serve as a godly leader, and we have had some who claimed to serve God yet fought against anything good and right and tried to further causes God calls sin. The Obama administration has tried to further the cause of killing babies, and has done much to further gay "rights". They are responsible for many Christians facing a level of persecution not equal to what Christians in other countries face, but still persecution.

  So here we stand on the verge of electing another president. And like Israel, many Americans are looking for a messiah. A lot of Christians want a godly president who will help turn our country back to God. Other Christians want someone who is a good businessman and they say we don't need a pastor as president, but a money person.

  The list of things people are concerned about and are looking for in in a president are endless:

Gay rights



The economy

Religious freedoms

  And many more

  But what is truly important? What is important to God? I would imagine abortion would be important, to stop the murder of innocent babies. We all think we know what is most important and assume what is most important to Him.

  I truly am concerned about the direction of our country, about who we will elect, who could be on the Supreme Court, and how this could all affect our freedoms and rights.

  So I have totally let God out of the picture. And most of us have. I am not judging when I say the majority of voting Christians have picked their candidate on everything but God's direction. I have, but am going to start praying about it. No one endorsing and supporting Donald Trump has said "I have prayed and feel God wants me to vote for Trump." No one has said they are voting for Ted Cruz because God impressed them to do so. No one has stepped forward and said they had prayed through on voting for Hillary.

It all comes down to me. I think candidate A will be best. I am concerned about my freedoms and rights. I am concerned how a president will affect my finances. I like this about that candidate and dislike that about that candidate. Could it be we have made even voting a selfish act? Of course we should be concerned about our country and what kind of country our kids will have, but what if God has a plan to bring this country back to Him, what if revival will only come under a candidate we are not planning on voting for?

  What if you and I are not supporting God's choice?

  I'll admit I have ideas of all Christians voting for the best candidate to protect our freedoms and who is godly... but that is putting my hope in a man. And I admit if God asked me to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, I'd definitely be making sure it was God. Regardless of who becomes president, it is time we Christians started praying and seeking God's will and direction in this coming election. He might want you to vote for the candidate you want.... and maybe not.

  I do believe we are so far from God as a country, that only God can bring us back... no man or woman in the presidency, though they could influence and help that move toward God.

  Case in point: At a town hall meeting Marco Rubio held recently, an atheist stood up and asked Rubio a question that he answered masterfully and showed he has true depth and a relationship with God. On the other hand, you have Donald Trump saying he doesn't need God's forgiveness because he has never done anything wrong. As a Christian, I am drawn more to Rubio because of his reply; even though he isn't my first choice..... and am alarmed at what Trump said.

But only God knows who should be president. If Christians all ignored what was said in debates, who won or didn't, tuned out people trying to influence us for or against; and sought God's direction. Extreme? Maybe, but it is a heavy thought. As I said, if we are praying for the right person to be president but make up our minds ahead of time all on our own....we may as well not pray about the election at all.

  We don't pray enough. We don't pray about enough things nor seek God's direction on enough. Does He care what color of shirt I wear to town? No. Does He care what kind of pillow I have? No. But I do believe He cares about who I vote for, and a lot of other things in life we assume we know best.

Perhaps one way to stop being shallow and self-centered Christians is to seek God's will and direction for more things in our life and stop assuming that we know best. Voting would be a great start.

  Now in closing, I really don't think God would ever ask us to vote for a godless politician, one who supports abortion, or other sins......but  it is possible that He would direct us to vote for someone different than we are planning on by our own decision making.

 Who will be the GOP candidate for 2016? No one knows, except God. Predictions are made, people seem to have a psychic ability to say who can and cannot beat Hillary.... if she is even the Democratic candidate.

   I have always tried to vote for the candidate who comes as close to Biblical values as possible...... and the last couple of elections, that wasn't very close. This election, there are a few good choices who do more closely come to Biblical values.... but I truly want God's direction on who to vote for..... if I vote.

  It is time we Christians sought God's will on more things in life. Politics is one of those areas.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The lies we believe

  Maybe I am a slow learner, but I am finally realizing how many lies I have been believing for most of my life. My relationship with God has never been a smooth one, and has been one of many ups and downs. My hidden sexual struggles, my lack of belief that God loves me, my inability to trust God, and more...... they all held me back and tripped me up, and were compounded by the lies the devil told me and that I believed.

 I just read a book that re-emphasized to me the reality of how many lies I have believed. The author himself listed some of the ones I have believed, and it really brought home the truth to me that if I am ever to reach that place of Christian maturity that I feel I haven't reached yet, and if I am ever to have the kind of relationship with God that I long to have; I am going to have to have God help me get past these lies.

  It is a daunting and depressing thought to realize all I may have missed out in life because of the lies I have believed, and of fears that I  have had connected with many of these lies.

  Satan is the father of lies, and he has that title because he is so good at it. I am tired of being held back, tired of living in fear, and tired of feeling like I still have chains even though I am forgiven and am serving God. I know what some of the lies are, but some of them may only be know to me by God revealing them to me. Lies like:

1) No one likes you.

2) You're stupid

3) You're a failure

4) God doesn't love you

5) If people found out your secret struggle, they'd run from you and you'd have no friends.

6) You aren't like other guys, and no guy would ever want to be your friend

7) You're worthless

8) You're a failure

9) You aren't good at anything

10) You're doomed to hell for just having the attractions you have

11) You'll never be happy

12) People only pretend to like you

13) God may forgive you, but He does so reluctantly and can't wait for you to mess up

14) You can never have the kind of relationship with God that others have

15) You're defective, and people can see it

16) You have nothing to offer in a friendship

17) You're boring

18) You're ugly

19) God will like you better if you keep all the rules

20) You're going to hell in the end no matter how hard you try to please God

21) You'll never amount to anything

22) You'll never have a decent job, but only dead end and low paying jobs

23) You're  not a real man and never will be

  And those are the ones I am aware of. Just imagine what kind of lives we could live, what God could accomplish through us if it were not for the lies we believe.

  I look at that list of 23 things I put down, and realize how much those lies have held me back from being everything I should be, from making friends, trying new things, having a better job, being used of God, and having the kind of relationship with God that it seems only "super Christians" have.

  If you could sum up all of the lies I believe, it comes down to a couple of things:

1) A lack of trust in God

2) Fear

   Because of the lies Satan has fed me and convinced me of, I have missed out on so much. I am a Christian, yet I am not truly free. I am free from sin, but I am still in chains of fear, insecurity, and more.

  I don't believe it is Biblical that God can only set us free from sin. If His Word is true - and it is - He can also set us free from fears, insecurity, lies, and anything else that holds us back and keeps us captive in any way.

 I made no New Year's resolutions, though I do have a mental list of things I want to work on this year.... and this is one of them: To pray for God to show me all of the lies I have believed, and to help me see the truth. If I - and other Christians - could break free from the chains that lies have forged. only God knows what could be accomplished for Him; and only God knows what kind of people we could turn out to be.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Can I Post on Facebook, part 2

I did a blog post on what you can post on Facebook a while back. With the addition of Donald Trump to the constant Facebook flow, I felt I needed to update it. So here is a complete list of things you can post on Facebook that will be of interest to all of your friends, will offend none, and cause everyone to love you:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The masquerade party (edited)

I went to a masquerade party a few days ago. It was pretty cool. I made sure I had my mask in place before I joined the rest of the party goers, so I wouldn't stick out. It wouldn't do to go to a masquerade party and be without a mask - you'd stick out like the proverbial sore thumb!

As I found a seat and waited for the party to start, I looked around and admired the masks of my fellow party goers. I was impressed, and secretly wondered if my mask would measure up to the rest of the party goers. There were some really fancy masks, and I could tell a lot of thought had been put into some of them. I let my eyes drift from person to person. Mask to mask. Oh boy -  a person without a mask - well a kid actually. And another kid, and another. Why did all these kids come without masks?! Didn't anyone tell them they were to wear one? My eyes sought out the teenagers I knew were present. Good. They had their masks on. But why didn't the smaller kids? I didn't get it.

As I puzzled over that, the song leader stepped up to the pulpit and announced what page to turn to in the hymnal. Wait a minute. Song leader? Hymnal? I realized with shock that this wasn't a masquerade party at all! It was a worship service at my church! I started to remove my mask, feeling pretty embarrassed, but as I reached for it, I noticed that no one else was removing theirs. What a dilemma to be in. I knew I shouldn't be wearing a mask in church, but everyone else was. I sighed, then decided to leave it on so I wouldn't stick out. I still puzzled about the smaller children though - how could they be so smart as to not wear a mask in church, while the adults, who are supposed to be so much smarter and more intelligent, sat there with their masks on, oblivious to the fact that one does not wear masks in church.

Or do they? And what are under those masks?

Obviously if you have read this far, you know I am being satirical, or just weird. Maybe weird. But I am striving to make a point. All too often Christians do wear masks. No, not a plastic, rubber, or what else masks are made of - we wear emotional and spiritual masks.

  That couple sitting in the pew across the aisle. They smile and look pious, but no one knows that their marriage is falling apart, slowly but surely. The young woman on the other side - she cries every night, wondering if she will ever find someone to love. The young husband sitting in front of her - his mind drifts to the images he had been viewing on his computer the night before, worrying if he remembered to clear his computer's history. The teenager on the back seat - as he sings with the congregation, he contemplates which way would be best to take his own life. No one cares. He's so tired of being bullied and beaten down. The middle aged woman toward the front - she has been having a lot of doubts lately. About God, her own salvation - yet she fears being "un-Christianized" if she voices her doubts, so she smiles and straightens her mask. The man sitting behind you - he is attracted to other guys and has no idea how to handle it, or who he can trust to tell.

   I was talking to my pal Steven last night, and mentioned a book I just reviewed by Warren Wiersbe, Be Authentic. It is a commentary on Genesis chapters 25-50, and I told him I was going to pass it on to my brother-in-law who is a pastor, as he may be able to use it. Steven asked me in jest, "why, don't you want to be authentic?" I laughed and made the statement that if I were authentic, no one would like me.

   Is that why so many people in the church wear masks? Are they afraid that if they take the mask off and be authentic - and honest - that people would look down on them? Un-Christianize them? Maybe not even want to be around them?

    I am afraid the church is all to guilty of two sins - and I am not excusing myself from at least the one - judging and gossiping. Could it be that we feel it necessary to wear our masks and cover up our problems because we fear being judged and talked about? Or because we fear we are beyond help?

   Several years ago, Bill & Gloria Gaither wrote a great song. We sing it occasionally at church - The Family of God. I've been thinking of that song some in the last several months, and it may sound terrible to make such a statement, but I can't help it - I'm blunt and outspoken - if this is the family of God, I want some new siblings. Siblings who really care.

  I made a statement on my blog several months ago, and someone from my church commented. I think highly of him, and am not knocking him for his comment at all - I'm sure the majority of people feel as he does. It was something to the effect that he would never ask someone at church how they are doing spiritually - or anything like that - for he wouldn't want someone asking him that.

   When we sit in our padded pews (well, ours are padded) - singing the songs, listening to the message - I believe that many would be horrified and shocked if they could see under the masks of their fellow church goers.

  (New content ahead)

  I know of three guys in my church who struggle with same-sex attraction. One I know better than anyone else, other than God (ha ha), the second I know very well; and I have no idea who the third one is. That is at least three people in a congregation of 250-275 people who have a major struggle that requires a rather big mask. And we are not alone. There are others wearing masks covering not that struggle, but other struggles and sins; deathly afraid someone will find out what they are hiding and struggling with.

  Much has changed since I originally posted this five years ago. I got tired of wearing my mask. Oh, I am still not to the place where I can stand up in church and say my struggle out loud. I could handle it, but my church couldn't; though many people at church know or most likely suspect what I struggle with by now. And that is OK.

  You know what I have found as I have taken my mask off and admitted I am not perfect, that I have doubts, fears, and struggles..... that there is a reason I never married nor ever will? It has been freeing. I no longer fear people seeing the real me. The vulnerable, imperfect me. The me that is attracted to the wrong sex, though God has done wonders in that area. As I slowly removed the mask - it wasn't a fast removal like one would rip off a band-aid - the struggle lost its hold on me. The devil lost an edge he had on me, always making me fear what people would think if they knew THAT. I discovered that the truth really does set you free.

  When I originally published this post, I wrote this near the conclusion:

I've thought about taking my mask off. Of reaching up, ripping it off, and throwing it to the side - but I won't. I've let a few people see under it, and oh, they say they will pray for me, pat me on the back, but they move to the other side of the church. I've heard others at church make statements that ripped me apart - what they think of the person under my mask - not knowing that my mask is covering that. If they saw under my mask, they wouldn't pray for me. They would pull their righteous robes around them and adjust their own mask, and shove me out of their sight.

  Those fears are gone. What people said in the past is still there. It is possible I am the topic of gossip and some people may feel revulsion if they know what I deal with. It is possible that some at my church view me as a leper to avoid.  And it is a fact that it is rare that anyone talks to me about what I struggle with........ but that is OK. I am not the Mark of 2010. This is a new and freer Mark. A Mark that knows I am not a freak or abomination, that God does love me, and that there are other people in church - even my church - who have struggles and don't have it all together.

  Church still isn't everything I would like it to be, and what I feel it needs to be..... but I no longer go as if I was going to a masquerade party. My mask is gone. Maybe I am more honest and open than some would like me to be, but I can't put the mask back on. This is the real me. The me that God loves with a love I will never understand.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The teddy bear in a mug

I was shopping last week for some last minute Christmas clearance deals, and right across from the leftover Christmas merchandise was the Valentine's Day shelf. It is almost enough to send a shudder up and down the spine of any confirmed single. I walked over and perused the Valentine's Day gifts and merchandise, and as I looked; my eyes fell on it: a large mug with a cute little brown teddy bear in. (Can guys say cute?) I picked it up and admired it, and felt a pang go through me and the thought "wish I had someone special to give that to." Feeling a bit morose, I put it back on the shelf and continued shopping.

  Being single isn't easy. Valentine's Day can be rough as you're surrounded by gushy couples in love and celebrating that love with teddy bears, hearts, flowers, dinner out, and the new rage this year........ pink whales and octopuses. Well, I don't know how much of a rage they are, but they are a new item out for Valentine's Day.

 It isn't just Valentine's Day. It is every day. Couples holding hands, parents with children, ads from everything from cologne to Q-tips using love and couples to sell their product. Restaurants are geared mostly for couples, and so much else in life is geared for couples so you can barely even go to church without being reminded that you are an oddity. You're only one, and are incomplete.

  There was a day it bothered me more. I have cried myself to sleep many nights wishing I could have what so many others have. I'd cringe and die a bit inside every time I had to pretend that I wasn't interested in marriage, for it was easier to put my "I hate the idea of marriage" mask on than to admit I wanted desperately to fall in love and marry...... for then I would be faced with questions I felt I could not answer.

   It doesn't bother me as much anymore. Oh, I still get a pang occasionally on Valentine's Day and Sweetest Day (Hallmark sure fooled people into spending money with that one!), and occasionally something else will spark a longing in me. Overall, I have gotten used to the idea that I am single for life. There are a few factors that I think have played into it:

1) God. I still am nowhere close to being a finished product, but as I have finally believed God loves me and gotten more of a relationship with God than serving Him out of fear; it has been easier to accept that maybe singleness is part of His plan for my life.

2) I have grown more comfortable in my own skin. I enjoy shopping and eating out with friends and family, but I have also come to enjoy shopping and eating out by myself. I'm not that bad of a person to spend time with.

3) I have come to realize that love and marriage isn't all it is cracked up to be.

   I see a lot of relationships that seem to be genuine and will most likely last "til death do us part", but I see more and more relationships breaking up the older I get. Christian men walking out o their marriages and getting another woman. Women bouncing from man to man, being in love and having the perfect guy only to have another perfect guy a few months later. I see both men and women who seem addicted to being in a relationship and can't stay unattached for any length of time, going from one heartbreak to another. I've seen couples break up a marriage that I thought would never divorce.

  Jesus is truly the only One who can satisfy. Singleness can be a gift. I look back on my life and wish I could change a lot of things. I look where I am at now and hope to change some things, but my marital status isn't one of them. As I see relationships breaking apart and marriages being destroyed, I find myself thankful I am single and won't have to go through that heartbreak. I am thankful I am not one of those people desperately searching for someone else to fill the void that the last "perfect" man or woman had been filling until they moved onto someone else.

I am thankful I have to be only answerable to God.

I am thankful for the relationship I have with my nieces and nephews that I would not have if I was married and had my own family.

I am thankful that though I am lonely at times, I can also be alone and happy.

I am thankful that who I am and how I feel isn't dependent on whoever is the love of my life at the moment, but is in Jesus.

  There will be days when I may wish for love and marriage. There will be lonely days, but God will take me through them and will always be there. He won't leave me for someone better, nor do I want to leave Him. He has helped me become more comfortable with my single status, and my prayer is that He will continue to do so and that He might use me some day in a way that a married me could never be used.

  Singleness....... it isn't a curse, and can actually be a blessing and gift.

  And that teddy bear in a mug? Maybe I'll buy three of them for the special three girls in my life.

Monday, January 18, 2016

What I want in a president

 The presidential race is starting to heat up as we are fast approaching the Iowa caucus. Social media, TV, and the radio are all full of people's opinions on who should be president, the latest polls, and more.

   I have had my short list for a while, and it is down to two candidates now. I would have no problem at all voting for either of them. Hint: Neither is a celebrity and are both Hispanics.

  I am concerned for our country. As I have watched hoards of conservatives blindly following a man who is saying all of the things they want to hear, yet has a political past that should make any conservative wary; I have found myself growing more concerned.

  There are a couple of young guys who have been debating me on Trump. They are totally for him, and I am totally against him. Neither of them were of voting age when Obama ran the first time, and I would guess both were somewhere around the age of 12. They most likely don't remember the cult-like following Obama had that is like Trump's. They are too young to see the similarities between Obama and Donald Trump.......yet many that are old enough to see it are blind to it.

  Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and I fear that is going to happen. We have ran pseudo conservatives in the last few elections and lost..... and it seems people are bound and determined to repeat that mistake with Donald Trump. I am so against him, that I don't know if I can go vote for him if he gets the nomination...... and that is saying a lot, as I think everyone should vote.

  Trump is everything I don't want in a president. Sure, he says something once in a while that I agree with; but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  So what do I want in a president?

1) Unashamedly Christian 24/7, and not just at election time.

2) Proud of his country.

3) Male.

4) Pro-military

5) Anti-illegal immigration

6) Diplomatic

7) Has a spine, yet isn't a bully

8) Pro-Israel

9) Pro-life

10) For de-funding Planned Parenthood

11) For dismantling Obamacare

12) Pro-Biblical marriage

13) Pro-second amendment

14) Humble

15) A conservative record

16) Pro-family

17) A non-golfer

18) One who is for all Americans, not just those of his color

19) One who will truly address the issue of radical Islam and not defend our enemies

20) One who prays

21) Pro-Constitution

22) One who won't pick and choose which laws he will or will not enforce

23) One who will save money and not just add more to the national debt

24) One who will actually read his security briefings

25) One that I won't have to hold my nose to vote for.

26) One who will try to unite our country, not divide it

27) Pro-law enforcement

Friday, January 15, 2016

Living with a secret

 Hopefully I don't repeat myself too much from a blog post I did in 2014 Hiding Is Part of Satan's Plan,  but this was on my mind.

I've gone most of my life with a secret. I used to be terrified of people finding out. It isn't much fun. I had to become a skilled master at answering - or dodging - questions like "why aren't you dating?" "Why aren't you married?" "Isn't it about time you settled down with a nice girl?" I was scared to death of how people would react if they found out.

  Then somewhere along the line, I ceased to care. I have gone most of my life without many close friends, and came to the realization that people who are true friends are going to love me and accept me no matter what my secret is. So I stopped trying to hide it. I stopped fearing people's reactions. If people press, I tell them. The overall reaction has been positive. No one from church gathers around and wants to talk about "it", but neither does anyone seem to avoid me.... though one lady from church blocked me, my mom, and my sister on Facebook because I posted too much about "it".

  I have become more open about it even on this blog. I have yet to come out and say "I struggle with.....", but anyone who reads my blog very often should be able to figure out what "it" is without a Master's degree. Nor have I bought the t-shirt.

  It is freeing. When you keep something in the dark, the devil will use it against you. Bringing something into the light frees you and helps loosen the hold your secret has on you. The truth really does set you free.

  We are surrounded by people with secrets. Some may have told a close friend or two, but some are afraid to tell anyone.

I'm gay

I think my spouse is having an affair

I'm addicted to pornography

Someone is molesting me

I want to kill myself

I am severely depressed

  And the list goes on. Our churches are full of people dealing with some of these issues and many others, but they are afraid to tell anyone. I have been there. People fear judgement from their brothers and sisters in Christ. They fear being ostracized or even being asked to leave the church. And those things have happened.

  Because just as our churches are full of hurting people with secrets, they also have their share of judgmental people who would be quick to judge and ostracize.

"You're gay?! Must be a child molester"

"Marriage problems? You must not be a good enough wife/husband"

"Depressed? You just need to go to the altar and pray about it"

"Porn? You disgusting pervert"

  Back when I first moved back to Ohio from Indiana, we had a Sunday School class on "it". Two men were especially vocal about their feelings. Both threw the word "pervert" around a few times. Both said they wouldn't want their children around "those perverts". The one said he'd rather have his kids around a murderer than one of "those perverts."

  That was about eight years ago. I was still guarding my secret pretty well. There may have been a couple of people present who knew, but most of them did not. I sat there feeling raw and hurt. I fought tears. I wanted to get up, walk out, and never come back. But I stayed.

  A lot has changed since then. Neither of those two men come to my class anymore. One of them was caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing and the whole church knew about it. Instead of that day shutting me up and pushing me more into my closet of secrets and shame, I opened the doors and slowly started emerging. I told more people. I stopped being afraid to post things on Facebook about it for fear someone would connect the dots. I lost the fear of my church knowing and decided I didn't care. (The issue of "it" has been discussed several times since then in class, and there were no hateful comments...... just thoughtful and compassionate comments and input.)

  And I came to the realization that God knows and understands it all. Even if my entire church turned their backs on me, He never would. Even if the church kicked me out, God wouldn't. Even if I had no friends left, He would still be there.

  It would be awesome if church was a safe place. It would be awesome if you could stand up among your Christian brothers and sisters and tell your secret, rip off the mask that you have been wearing so long, step out of the shadows and say "this is me.....this is my secret, my struggle.... I need prayer, I need help, I need loved".

  That day will never come in many churches. And many church members are in denial, which doesn't help:

"Someone in my church attracted to the same sex? No way". (Well, my church has at least three.)

"Someone in my church addicted to pornography? Nah. Not my kid, not my husband, no one I know."

"Someone in my church cheating on their spouse? Nope"

  And those in the shadows with their secrets back further into the shadows, and suffer in silence in the pews in the very place they should be able to get help, support, and love.

  I am not saying everything should be shouted from the housetop.... or the pew. Prayer request time in front of the whole church isn't the time or setting to announce you're addicted to pornography, or that your kid is on drugs, or your kid got his girlfriend pregnant, or that your kid is gay..... or that you're gay.

  But if we did church right, if we were truly like Jesus, if we truly were the family of God where "one one has a heartache, we all share the tears".....there would be no need to fear. There would be no need to hide in the shadows, to suffer in silence in the pew, to put up with the jokes and mean remarks made in your presence about your secret.

  Some day all who serve God faithfully here, will arrive in a place where there are no shadows, no secrets, no one who will judge or push them away. All will be known, and it won't matter anymore. There will be no pornography, no drugs, no same-sex attraction, no pain, no shame, no closets to hide ourselves or our "stuff" in.

  In the meantime, the church has work to do. We need to throw out our judging, throw out our denial, stop using busyness as an excuse, love more, be Jesus more to those who are hurting, take off our own masks and admit we are not perfect, and make God's house a place of safety....... make it a place where people don't have to keep secrets - at least from the whole church. We need to make church a place where people can remove their masks, come out of the shadows, and not have to sit in the pew and suffer in silence as they look at everyone else who seems to have to all together.