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Archive for the ‘Problems’ Category

The first answer that I received was, “You should pray without ceasing.” (from I Thessalonians 5:17) Yes, we should, but I am not there, though under the Holy Spirit’s tutelage, I do pray far more now than in years past. But really, under what circumstances do you pray? Frequently, we pray when we are hurting, confused, afraid, sad, or lonely. Do you pray when you are angry, happy, dull of mind and spirit, or thankful?

Listen to Jeremiah’s prayer: “O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.
For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, ”Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it. For I have heard the whispering of many, “Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!” All my trusted friends,
watching for my fall, say: “Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him.” But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten. Yet, O Lord of hosts, You who test the righteous, who see the mind and the heart; let me see Your vengeance on them; for to You I have set forth my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers.” (Jeremiah 20:7-13)

Jeremiah is clearly upset, dare I say angry, with God. He doesn’t say God has lied, but he does say He has deceived him. He is angry about the mocking, threats, subterfuge, and potential harm coming his way because he is obeying God. And unlike me on occasions, Jeremiah is not mistaken in his following of God. God clearly told him what to say and do. And he can’t even hold in the words given to him by God because they are “like a fire” (v.9) within. So, Jeremiah pours out his complaint before God. But this is not like the complaining of Israel in the wilderness, because that whining involved unbelief (Hebrew 3:7-19).

And that is the turning point of this prayer- belief- when Jeremiah says, “But the Lord…” (v.11). The simile he uses feels deep and substantial, like the tune (1) most used for “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” God is “like a dread champion.” Despite our present society’s aversion to war (2), our God is a Warrior, and of the most fear inducing kind for His enemies. Jeremiah knows His Champion defends him, as He is “with me” (v.11), and they will fail at their scheming and threats. Even with this knowledge, in his pain, Jeremiah longs to personally, presently see their judgment, not merely in the afterlife. As he struggles his faith comes to the fore and he praises God for his deliverance. He transitions from accusation to appreciation and anger to approval. Prayer accomplishes much in the heart of the one praying.

This is not the end of his struggle in the prayer, however. I did not quote the whole of the prayer above. In verses 14-18 he curses the day that he was born in a very similar but abbreviated way as Job did in the midst of his suffering (Job 3). Jeremiah ends his curse with, “Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?” (v.18). Shame is Jeremiah’s focus. I wonder if shame is more taxing and bothersome to us than suffering?

Oh, what is all of this complaining about? Does it show fragility of faith, or is it warranted and acceptable to God? God says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:15) And “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1) “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7) (3) God wants us to call on Him in our joys and distresses. The other day, while trying to finish a deck before I was to leave town for five weeks, I did not see how it would all get done. I called out in my distress, “God, why does it always have to be so hard?” I didn’t get an answer to the question just then (4), but I did get an answer to my real need. It was a very long day, but my wife observed as we dropped into bed that night, “It is amazing how much you got done today.” It wasn’t just my hard work, though that was involved, but things went smoothly that frequently will not. God is good and He patiently hears our cries.

Indeed, Jeremiah’s prayer reminds me of many of the Psalms in which David bemoans his plight and despairs the outcome, but comes around to seeing what God has, is, or will do. Or consider Psalm 73 where the psalmist bemoans the wicked: “Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease…” (v.12) But then he says, “When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; thenI perceived their end.” (v.16-17) Mysteriously, God uses our prayers to forward His purposes. God is all knowing, but somehow prayer can bring about change. Moses experienced it multiple times (e.g. Exodus 32:7-14, Numbers 11:2).

When you don’t feel like praying, pray more. Boldly pour out your complaint and confusion before Him, knowing that He cares and is pleased that you have turned to Him with your troubles.

  1. Tune: Ebenezer
  2. Not that anyone with reason or an ounce of the goodness of God in them loves war
  3. Also see 2 Kings 1, Psalm 102, Psalm 142
  4. A couple of days later I heard the Casting Crowns song, “Voice of Truth”, and I thought, “His purposes and glory were served and need was accomplished.

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Partial obedience precipitates lasting consequences.

Do you remember Saul’s debacle with Amalek (1)? In First Samuel 15:1-3 the Lord spoke to Saul through His prophet: “Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

He did not kill all the people of Amalek nor their livestock. It came back to haunt him and all Israel.

My pastor was teaching from I Samuel 30 and 31. Amalekites burned Ziklag and took David’s and his men’s possessions and women and children. David attempted to kill every Amalekite (2), for it says he fought from twilight until dusk of the next day. But 400 young men escaped on camels. Now there must have been at least some Amalek women and children at home and other men, too, but this band of young men could certainly repopulate Amalek in time.

Then comes I Samuel 31 and II Samuel 1. Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle by horrible means and their bodies hung from the walls of Beth-shan. When a messenger tells David what has happened, David has him cut down for killing God’s Anointed, Saul (3). The messenger, euthanizer was an Amalekite. So, Saul’s failure to fully obey God in the beginning came back to cause him problem in the end.

And the difficulty did not end there. One Amalekite, Haman the Agagite (4) set out to destroy all Jews in the time of Esther. His designs were foiled by Mordecai and Esther (Esther 9), but he came close to succeeding.

Partial obedience seems like full obedience to the half-hearted disciple. This word is hard. Sinner that I am, I have been there working my half-hearted obedience. And God says, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.” (I Samuel 15:22-23) Oh, God give me a whole heart like David’s, so that I may be as him, a man after God’s heart. (Acts 13:22)

  1. Amalek was the grandson of Esau, so Amalekites were Edomites. (I Chronicles 1:36)
  2. Amalek was stubborn in resistance to God and His people. God hardened their hearts and, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, “The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”” (Exodus 17:14-16) When Balaam prophesied the final time before Balak, he repeated the idea of Moses’ prophecy, “And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.”” (Numbers 24:20)
  3. Neither the Philistines’ arrows nor Saul’s own sword, but the Amalekite at Saul’s request killed him.
  4. Agagites were descendants of Agag, king of Amalek, at the time of Samuel and Saul. Saul foolishly spared him but Samuel cut him down. (I Samuel 15:8,33)

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This is the first day in more than a week that I have been motivated to think. My wife and I have COVID, identified Wednesday morning but probably resident within us for 3 or 4 days before that. The Wednesday before we had been tested because we were sick. I had a bacterial sinus infection and my wife had a non-COVID viral infection. I had heard that these associated bacterial infections were common, and I think it is the worse part of my sickness and symptoms.

Being nearly 62, but in relatively good health, the thing that has surprised me the most is how this disease zapped my motivation. I am highly motivated, though not Type A Business motivated. If there is something that I want to do or see that I need to do, I usually spend inordinate amounts of mental and physical energy accomplishing the task. But several days ago I was lying in bed and managed only one coherent thought. I was only motivated to do two things: breath and lay down. Sleep followed for 15 to 16 hours a day, but when I had to get up it was with much labor and the first thing that I wanted to do was lay down again. I certainly did not want to eat and even small amounts of food nauseated me. I didn’t want to start a fire, though I managed to twice in every 24 hours. I think that I did that for my wife, though it may have brought me significant benefit. I was forced to be upright, take on bracing fresh air, exert myself to carry in two loads of wood, and remain in front of the stove long enough for it to heat up so that I could close the damper. Then I went and lay down again and promptly fell asleep.

I have began to reflect on whether this is the sickest that I have ever been. The answer is a definite “no”. I will not recount my numerous sicknesses over 62 years, but I will quickly relate what seemed like the most life threatening sickness at the time. When I was in the 10th grade, which would be the winter of 1976, I came down with a flu that had me in bed for a week. I had a fever of 104 degrees for 4 days. The only thought I can remember from that time was that my mother seemed worried in such a way that she wasn’t sure that I was going to survive. Besides being massively behind in school, the worse problem was that it reduced me to a literal 90 pound weakling. When I got back to school, I had difficulty walking up stairs. I waited for the bus to go home out by the double doors to the weight room. The football players were in Spring training. At first I watched, but slowly I began to lift a few weights. Many of the athletes were my friends and seemed pleased that I was willing to try their strong suit. In a year and a half I went from being the weakest I ever was to probably the second strongest (must be a story for another day). About half way through that period of time, the basketball coach caught me lifting weights. I’m sure all kinds of liability specters danced before his eyes. A combination of much explanation, pleading, and his knowledge that I was an honorable student and person caused him to allow me to continue with restrictions, the most of which I was already following anyway.

Well, I have made it further mentally that I expected at first sitting, so I think that I will just go take a nap.

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When the pastor preached from 1 Samuel 1 yesterday morning, I was particularly struck by Hannah’s response to Eli, the High Priest: “Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.”” (I Samuel 1:14-16) She uses drinking wine as a metaphor for how she is presenting her request to God. As I contemplated this turn of words, I considered how we so often get it backwards.

We pour comfort into ourselves that results in pain when we should pour out our pain before God that results in comfort from Him.

The comforts we seek are drink, drugs, food, sex, attention, things, excitement, accomplishments, money, relationships. Some are bad in and of themselves, but others are not inherently bad, but we sour them by our selfish pursuit of them. Instead, you should be “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) And “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) As the pastor pointed out, what we need most is God. He is our source of peace, even when there is no resolution of the problem, not our comfort food or drink, not a psych evaluation.

The result in Hannah was as follows: “So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (I Samuel 1:18) Did she just pretend that she was not distraught? Did her troubles vanish in a moment? No, her faith in God that caused her to pour out her spirit to God, had resulted in the comfort from God. She did not even know at that moment if God would answer her request for a child in the affirmative, but she trusted God to do what was best. As pastor pointed out, she was a type for Mary, who had a strange and stressful pregnancy and birth, but trusted God through it all. And when she visited her cousin Elizabeth in Luke chapter 1, Mary quotes or alludes to much of what Hannah prayed in praise to God in 1 Samuel 2, both speaking boldly of God’s salvation.

In my times of stress and strain, I need to pour out my spirit to God concerning my troubles and trials. As Corrie Ten Boom said at the end of the “Hiding Place” that she and Betsy learned from concentration camp to tell others, “However deep our suffering, God is deeper.”

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Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Certainly Psalm 22 conveys Christ’s death in sorrowful and grief ridden detail. It is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament (NT). But He was not esteemed and was despised in His life which increased His sorrows and grief as conveyed by the second most NT quoted Psalm, 69. (1) It is interesting that these two Psalms are the most quoted in the NT. The NT writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit thought it most important that we understand how Jesus fulfilled the role of Suffering Servant and what it means for us.

I should count, but it seems like David is repining and distressed at least as often in the Psalms as he dwells on a “good theme” (Psalm 45:1 (2)) It is obvious from these most NT quoted Psalms that David is acting in the capacity of a prophet concerning the coming Messiah, but also he is simply stressed and strained. (3)

Concerning the prophecy, since so much of Psalm 69 is quoted in the NT as referring to Christ (4), it seems reasonable to think it most all refers to Him. The deep waters that threaten Him in vs.1 and 2 are in deep contrast to the deep thirst He experienced on the cross. What were those deep mire and deep waters that threatened Him? Was it the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sin? And what was He restoring (v.4), other than our relationship with the Father, that He had not stolen? Verse 5 obviously does not apply to the Perfect, Holy One, and you might think that v.6 doesn’t either. But Isaiah says, “Kings will be your guardians, and their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth and lick the dust of your feet; and you will know that I am the Lord; Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.” (49:23), and Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (1:16) When we trust in Him, we do not find ourselves ashamed of Him. Death loses its sting and trials have purpose and are ultimately for our good, (James 1:2ff, Romans 8:28)

On the subject of David’s complaint, I wonder at the spiritual battle going on while he was trying to be a righteous king trying to do justice. All of the “dogs” (5) bay and howl when their sinful scavenging is called into question. How were the evil doers blaspheming God concerning His sanctuary that caused David’s zeal to flare up? We know what caused it with Jesus: money changers. People were making up excuses to accuse David. In the midst of these trials, God knows that we are but dust, so we may call out to Him as David did. He called out in complaint. He called out in faith. He called out in praise. He called out in curses upon His enemies. He called out, pleading with God to answer him quickly and decisively.

God knows my frame, too, that I am but dust. I must call out to Him for help with my challenges and problems and weaknesses. For “The humble have seen it and are glad; you who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.” (Psalm 69:32-33)

  1. http://e-mechanika.pl/ryq4jqn/096575-most-quoted-psalms-in-the-new-testament Psalm 110:1 is the most NT quoted verse in the Psalms.
  2. And Psalm 45 is not even written by David, but the sons of Korah.
  3. In Physics stress is causative applied force and strain is the resulting deformation. Psychophysically we can have stress, troubles and trials, and either be strained, worrying or sick or depressed or complaining, or not.
  4. Verses 3, 4, 9a, 9b, 21, 22-23, and 25 are quoted in the NT. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_69#New_Testament
  5. “Dogs” was a Jewish derogatory term for Gentiles in Jesus’ day, but the insult had a wider meaning for any evil doer (see Isaiah 56:11, Philippians 3:2, Revelation 22:15)

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On this Labor Day, after chores were done and the moderate heat of afternoon had come, I decided to take a walk. Having focused too much on circumstances and societal ills recently, I was reminded by hymns and prayer and preaching of the Word and reading of the Scriptures and fellowship with brothers and sisters yesterday that I needed to once again renew my perspective in things that are “true, …honorable, …right, …pure, …lovely, …of good repute, …any excellence and …worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). As I began my walk, parts of my body aching, the sun heating*, and my thoughts melancholy, I told God that I wanted His peace and joy. In fact, I pleaded, “I need Your peace; I need Your joy.” As I thought about why, the following words began to come:

I need Your peace; I need Your joy
Though trials come and storms destroy
Forever on this hope depend
That I am Yours; You will defend**

This world with sorrows ever bent
To rob our joy to full extent
Broken relationships and plans
Beg for a healing from Your hand

Your purposes are hard to see
Sense of security can flee
I on this confidence rely
My soul will to You upward fly

My health and body will decay
Unless suddenly in a day
And some loved ones before me go
We saints ever with You, I know

So frequently with sin beset
With worries frequently I fret
Temptations against me array
Through Your Word and Spirit I pray

And by these means I overcome
And more like Jesus I become
More victory through You I win
And peace and joy in You begin

I am so apt to be drawn to the difficulties of any situation and must constantly place before my mind, my eyes, my ears, and my heart the eternal truths of God’s grace in salvation, past, present, and future. I am thankful that “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14) And even more so that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) My hope, our hope, is in Him.

A writing note about the order of the verses. If you number the verses as seen, 1 – 6, the original order as written was 1,2,,3,5,6,4. I cannot decide if the beginning of peace and joy should be the end or if the order would better be 1,2,4,5,3,6 so that heaven is last. If you care to think about it, I would appreciate some feedback.

.

*for which I had come out for a “therapeutic sweat”

**”I am Yours whom You will defend” was how I originally wrote the line, and I think it may more clearly communicate the intent, but “That I am Yours; You will defend” seems to fit the meter and flow better.

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Over a period of time I was talking to a friend about her need of Jesus. During this time I had a loved one who was sick, bills were piling up, responsibilities seemed endless and overwhelming. One day in the presence of my friend I opened up about my fears and difficulties. On the one hand I guess it made me seem like a more real person, but the next time the subject of Jesus came up I quite honestly said, “I am asking you to trust Jesus when I sometimes struggle to trust Him myself.” She was quite understanding about my struggles, but I had a moment of deep conviction. If we are going to point a skeptical and dying world to the Savior, we must learn ourselves to react in faith rather than fear.

Just as “courage”, according to a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear,” so faith is not the lack of fear, discouragement, loneliness, temptation, confusion, or any other difficulty, but the firm conviction that God is greater and able and willing to give us peace and patience in the midst of the difficulty and regardless of the physical outcome.

I had a moment of fear the other day as I crawled into a tight crawl space to jack up a floor supported by rotten floor joists, which I needed to replace. It was so tight that I could not turn on my side until later when I dug out a space for my hips and shoulders. The fear was momentarily paralyzing, but then I took a deep breath and prayed that God would give me calmness. A peace washed over me in seconds. I had to pray again later when it happened again. I ended up working in this situation for eight hours, only crawling the 20 feet to the tight exit when I needed to cut a board or get an additional tool.

Many fears and difficulties are not so obvious as these two examples I have given. Because of their subtlety, many fears and doubts can creep up on us almost unbeknownst to us. We are tied up in a web of fear we never saw being wrapped around us. We learned it as a child. We think it the natural reaction of any sane person. We hardly give it heed, but are nonetheless confined by its stifling cords.

And that thought directs my mind immediately to Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The great antidote for fear encumbrance is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. It was the same for us at salvation when the fiery serpent of sin had bitten us and we were destined for death. “And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9) Looking was equivalent to believing and had an immediate positive effect for John 3:14-15 says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” So, salvation was just a look, or glance, trusting God in Christ to overcome temptation, including fears; faith walk is a “fixing” of our gaze on Jesus. Every moment we are tempted to fear or go our own way, we must fix our gaze on Jesus. The result is that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is willing, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will give you the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) And when you are tempted to have a worrying fear, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known unto God, and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The Hebrews passage begins with “Therefore”, which points you back to the “chapter of faith”, Hebrews 11. This “great cloud of witnesses” fortifies our gaze on Jesus. We are not in this alone. Others have had worse difficulties and still fixed their eyes on Jesus. As the Holy Spirit enabled them to overcome Satan, temptation, and death by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11), so we are encouraged to do the same. Practicing this “fixing” brings endurance and the realization that Jesus suffered far more and had a victorious end.

I want to react in faith, not fear. It is a more peaceful way to live and a strong testimony for the truth of God being in my life. The realization that garden variety fear was stifling my walk and my witness has brought focus to my reaction in the last few weeks. I hope it is a focus that causes me to more frequently fix my eyes on Jesus in faith rather the circumstances in fear.

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I usually like to keep my titles short and leave the depth for the text and images. I’m reversing that today. I frequently have ambitions upon arising in the morning of gettin’er done. I have learned, however, to better go with the flow, be patient with the process, and pray through it.* I only had limited time, needing to do other things in the afternoon and having every expectation of eventual rain. I finished the railing on the deck. Then I realized that I needed another load of lumber. Of course, I’m not blind, but frequently I can keep working until the need for a certain piece of lumber or hardware arises, without which I cannot do the next step. It was two hours before lunch. I can hand pick the lumber at the lumberyard, pay for it, load it with the help of guys at the store, haul it, and unload it before lunch I thought. And I was on track, lumber in the the truck, ready to go.

I hopped in the cab, stuck the key in and turned it, “Claaaack, claaaack, claaaaack, claaaaaaaaack.” How did my battery go dead? After a minute of consideration, two guys in a diesel, company truck pulled up beside me and kept their engine running. I asked the driver across our window openings if they could jump me off. “Sure.” The solenoid clacked faster, but no start. We charged it a minute, but no start. The other guy tapped the starter with a hammer while I tried to start it, but no start. We forgot to put it in gear and rock it, but I know it would not have started. We concluded that the starter was bad. They went along and I was left wondering if we were right and how to get to the an auto parts place. I called my youngest son who is a mechanic. He said the boss was out and the work was slow so he would come and check on it and take me to the parts place. He did essentially the same as we did, but no start. He took me to the parts place, I purchased the the starter, and he dropped me off and went back to work. Have you ever changed out a starter in the Lowe’s parking lot? It was warm, gravelly, and very awkward to get while the truck was sitting on the ground. And to further the suffering, there were three bolts rather than the usually two holding it on and the small wire for the solenoid magnet had a different connector so that I had to cut, strip, and crimp the old wire into the new one. The best part was that it immediately and strongly started once I had hooked up the battery cables and turned the key. I arrived home two and half hours late for lunch. Afterward, I hurried to unload the lumber because I could sense rain coming. The moment I completed unloading and stepped into the truck, the rain poured. I returned the starter core for a refund and arrived at home as the rain began to subside.

The timing of no vehicle breakdown is ever convenient, but I have no complaint. Two random guys offered to help. My son could come, confirm the diagnosis, and take me to get the part. A cashier saw me at work during her break and brought me a water bottle. I didn’t get soaked either replacing the starter or unloading the wood. It started immediately. Though there were moments of frustration trying to reach bolts in seemingly unreachable positions that I could not see, I think I passed the patience test and even chuckled a bit over the process and prayed a considerable amount. And, hey, the starter was original equipment, serving the old truck for 24 years.

You can see the case rust and easy position of the first bolt. The third one was next to the bracket above about 170 degrees counterclockwise to the first.

It seems very odd to me that the paint and label had not come off during those many before I removed the starter.

I always compare parts before installation, usually at the parts store but that was impractical this time.

I hope to finish the deck soon and show you the results, but It will get done when it gets done with whatever situational bumps appear in the road. For all the difficulty, God was kind to allow the details to work out so well. I have certainly seen worse.

*Except when I don’t because I’m still being sanctified.

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It’s not enough that you know
Or have had a Jesus moment
Life in Him will make you grow
Sanctifying development

If you are not really sure
Receive the gift He does proffer
Then you will surely endure
No better or lasting offer

I would fall away from Him
By doubt or outright rebellion
Going out upon a limb
Cast away to oblivion

Nothing can me separate
Or plunge me headlong into hell
Nor peace with God confiscate
Of these with joy I do tell

I may walk by the Spirit
And not according to the flesh
Trust His words in Holy Writ
My joy and resolve intermesh

After the trials of this life
One day I will look on His face
When forgotten all the strife
With success completed the race

Some of my poetry is straight up how I feel and what I believe. Other parts are aspiration based on what I believe can be and should be and will be. This poem is a combination. Life is complicated and messy, but God is faithful and enables me more as the years go along and I submit to Him more. May He and the the grace He provides be glorified in my turning to Him in every difficulty and disappointment.

Also see “Response to Troubles and Trials

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Last Sunday as I entered the church auditorium, I greeted a couple and conversed with them for a moment. I complimented the lady on her coat, which was sorta of a yellowish-tan, not quite gold or orange color. So, I followed up my first comment with, “What would you call that color?” Without hesitation she responded, “I’d call it sunshine.” Her husband and I chuckled and I said, “That sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I was driving my wife to a doctor’s appointment 1:15 minutes away. About a third of the way into the trip I told my wife about the conversation on Sunday. She said that was cheery. We both went back to our thoughts and the following poem began to come. I didn’t write anything down until we reached our destination. I had composed the 1st verse and two lines of the 2nd verse by the time we arrived.

“I’d call it sunshine”
Even though the day be drear
I’d look for joy
In the midst of trial and fear

Not pretend it’s fine
When hardships are all around
But peace with God
Is settling and profound

Can’t keep it in line
There is so much going on
God controls all
It’s trust and rest I must hone

I am His, He’s mine
Though life is full of trouble
Unchanging grace
And His Word are comforts double

This poem is not about pretending everything is OK when it is not. It is not an Optimist’s perspective. Instead, this is a reminder for those who know God to look at the unseen realities that God has revealed and living based on that. And it is a reminder for those who have not come to know God that there is a spiritual reality that they should consider and seek to know God.

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I have recently determined that there are several ways of asking why of God. “God, why is this happening to me?” is the simple question, but the intent behind asking reveals the heart and faith of the questioner.

“Why?” is frequently an accusation that God is being unfair to strap you with a particular problem or difficulty. You lose your job. “Why did this happen to me, God? I’m supposed to support my family, pay my bills, and pay my taxes. How am I supposed to fulfill my responsibilities.”

But “Why?” can be asked in a different way to mean “What do you want me to learn from this difficulty?” and “How will you get glory from this difficulty?” That is, “Why is this difficulty occurring to further Your kingdom and glory in me and those around me?” You lost your job. “Why did this happen, Lord? Were you trying to get my attention because I was doing something wrong, or are You trying to increase my faith, or do You have a better career in mind? Be glorified through Your provision for my family during this difficulty and in my reactions and trust in You. Bless my wife and children with provision and security. Bless those looking on with a sense of Your goodness to us.”

There is a third, mixed reaction to difficulty that involves asking “Why?”. I am reminded of the honest answer of the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” I can relate well to this response. I frequently respond initially with “Why…that’s not fair?” but then consider God’s goodness in times past and the Scriptures about His faithfulness and moderate my stance to “Why is this happening in this way for my instruction and Your glory?” In reality, it usually comes out in more colloquial language: “God, what are you up to?” or “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “How do You get glory from this?”

I mark my progress in the faith largely by how quickly I move on to trust. And at times I am finding myself responding in faith immediately. Perhaps because of a sense of inability or defenselessness, I seem to respond in trust more immediately the more drastic the difficulty or disappointment. And that is the good in trials for us, learning to trust without accusations of “WHY?”

But lest you think I am saying that I have arrived, I also shrink back into discouragement and complaining all too often. A circumstance, a Scripture, my wife, a friend, or even a stranger communicate how blessed I am and how foolish ungratefulness is and I am set, sometimes hard, back onto the path of faith. May God patiently work His plan in me and through my circumstances, and I would append that request to say, may He do it gently because I am frail (“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust,” encourages Psalm 103:14.).

I have been thinking about Job lately. Do you feel like Job whose friend, Eliphaz, encouraged him by saying, “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)? That’ll put pep in the step, not! I keep having to “humble [myself] under the mighty hand of God,… casting all [my] anxiety on Him, for He cares for [me]”.*

As I told my Sunday School class, “Resist temptation and replace it with something better.” Jesus is always better. Thanksgiving diverts my attention from temptation to Him. I’m preachin’ to myself. You can listen in if it gives you any help. Maybe I will even get to the place of saying with James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*I inserted personal pronouns in place of yourself, your, you.

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I may have broken a record yesterday, if such records could be accurately recorded.

In a 24 hour period of time, I lost a truck key, and locked a truck and car key in my truck.

Have you ever been so involved, so intense, so overwhelmed that you finally say, “I can’t do this anymore or something is going to give.” As they say, I have “been there and done that”.

Well, I had a single key in my pocket as I worked. All I can figure out is that it was drug out onto the ground when I pulled something else out of the pocket. It goes without saying that I looked and looked. It may show up yet. The person for whom I was working was not home and I couldn’t think of anyone else who could pick me up or who it would not tremendously inconvenience to do so. So, I walked home in the dark. The next morning I drove the car with my wife’s spare truck key and car key. I worked for awhile and then drove the truck to Lowes. I sat in the parking lot, making a list of what materials I needed. The list was more lengthy than I anticipated. I promptly slid off of the seat, locked and slammed the door, immediately remembering my keys, both truck and car, were on the seat. I’m down two truck keys at this point. During COVID, Public Safety and Sheriff’s Department will not open cars unless there is a child or a pet locked inside. I don’t blame them. I imagine they would need a full time Officer of the Door just to take care of this mishap. The one locksmith company I called “no longer has a professional in your area”. Then I remembered that I had once had a second spare key. I called my son, knowing it meant an hour of driving to and from and between. He was good-natured about it and only lightly razzed me about it. I couldn’t find the spare key at home. He did. Then he took me to the car to drive it home and then back to Lowes to fetch my truck.

So much for a highly profitable and efficient workday when you take a 2 1/2 hour lunch break to gain access to your vehicles. Actually, given the mental distraction of the events, it was amazing that it was that short of time. And yes, I have put into place several safeguards to prevent that from happening again, but it seems like that there are always situations that can overcome any pre-planning and preparation one may muster. Well, I didn’t go off. I just sighed and prayed, but I can’t say I laughed about it. Maybe I will later.

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I could be talking about the underpinnings of society, but that seems to be going no where at the moment. So, I’ll just talk about a recent deck repair that I did.

Two of the posts had significant bows due to warping at a knot or knots. The first one pictured is the worst since a crack goes almost all the way through the two knots on either side. Gravity is persistent and will overcome any imbalance eventually. For that reason I hand pick all lumber when I am building a deck and take back boards that are not looking like they will go the distance. Nothing is permanent and decks can be expected to last 20 to 30 years depending on how often you stain it, the quality of the original boards, maintenance, and how it was designed.

Here is it close up. I should have shown the other side so you could see how serious the problem was to the structure of the post.

The other one looked as follows. If the grain at the top of the knot split to combine the two cracks, the post would not be far from gone.

The first step was to install a temporary support. A few posts from a previous job and my trusty persuasional tool (sledgehammer) served the purpose well. I hammered the temporary up to plumb, allowing you to see just how bowed the post was.

The next step was cutting the post off and rigging a way to pulled it out of the concrete slab. The slab was added after the house and deck were built, so they poured it around the posts. My car and truck jacks worked slowly but surely.

I was surprised how shallow the post was set. The aluminum plate, badly corroded, was sitting on gravel in the hole whereas these plates were usually used to set posts on concrete. There was not too much cracking of the concrete.

I filled the hole with concrete and inserted a “J” bolt that would later secure the bottom plate.

Two days later I installed the new posts. You can see in the background that I had not yet installed the second post.

A post whose bottom can dry out will last much longer.

Next I went around and clamped together joists which had warped and separated and screwed or bolted them together as needed. Some just looked ugly and others presented possible structural problems.

That does not look good from a structural standpoint. I had to jack up the left joist a bit to clamp and screw it together.

This one looks bad but is well supported so I don’t believe it caused a real problem.

However, real or perceived, I was tasked with fixing it.

My father would always say that there was nothing better than a nut and lock washer. I have a son and son-in-law, who are Materials Joining Engineers, who would likely differ. At any rate, I must not have quite learned the lesson. However, in my defense, I find that a flat washer crushed slightly into wood works quite well.

Decks And Such (https://facebook/decksandsuch), be the job small or large, fixes the prob lem (prob-><-lem -> problem) and gets the results.

I am pleased to thank God for the strength and experience to work in this way and the flow of work that has begun in 2021. When work slacked up in December, I became concerned, but it was all part of the plan. I had back problems soon afterwards that prevented me from working. As soon as that subsided, the work started coming again. We can depend on God to provide; we need to trust Him even when things get lean.

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

.

I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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I frequently hear in election cycles these days a repeated phrase that sounds something like the following: “This is the most important election of our life-time.” I think the purpose of the statement in its various forms is to stir certain emotions and resolves toward rushing to the polling place and casting a vote to stop this madness. But like the 100th artillery shell to fall near your trench, you become numb to the effects of these dire predictions. Either the effects of this election will end life as you know it, or it won’t, and there is little to be done about it. We are “election shell-shocked”. That does not mean that there is less danger because we are insensitive to the falling declarations of disaster, but only that we can no longer respond to it as such. But the situation is grave for the continuance of our free society and it causes me to think about the first verse of a hymn:

“Once to every man and nation,
comes the moment to decide,
in the strife of truth with falsehood,
for the good or evil side;
some great cause, some great decision,
offering each the bloom or blight,
and the choice goes by forever,
‘twixt that darkness and that light.” (1)

“One salient point of this hymn is the burden that it places, not only upon the individual man, but upon nations as well to obey God and to honor His Law. If decisions to obey God are made in the hearts of the people of a nation, that nation will also follow in like obedience to that Law. If we find that our beloved nation today has gone from following God to following after the world, it is because our ministers and churches have failed to call her citizens to repentance. When we begin to see national laws that forbid sin to be repealed, and those laws converted to the side of evil, then we shall know the extreme danger of our national condition. There is only one great decision – to follow God!” (2)

Take note about the conclusion to this quote about the hymn. It does not say panic and run off doing some Herculean task. It says “follow God”. That is a daily, in the trenches, persistent, long-term repentance. It matters not what shells of destruction fall around you. You continue about your duties to your ruler. Live a life different from the world that pushes and pulls others, even a society toward God.

Furthermore, though the hymn verse is grave, the situation is not yet so grave as the hymn talks about. Later verses speak of “by the light of burning martyrs” (3) and “Tho’ her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong”. So, I think that in reality there are many choices on the road to hell, not just one great decision. There comes a time certainly when God says enough is enough. When the Israelites turned away from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 13 and 14) and God made them wonder in the wilderness for 38 more years until “your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness”, (Numbers 14:32) there was a “Once to every man and nation.” But this judgment had been building, for God says in His first response after Moses pleads that God not immediately destroy them, that “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:22-23) Did you see it? Not once but ten times they spurned God. As He says in Hebrews 3:16-19: “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” It was not merely a single act of rebellion but a condition of unbelief revealed through continued rebellion over time.

So, where are we as a nation? At the time of this writing, purposefully so, this is prior to the election. I do not know the outcome or the ramifications of that outcome. Regardless of the outcome, repentance, trust in God, and perseverance in right living are far more important than what the result of this election will be. God may again be gracious to us and prolong our prosperity, or He may gives us what we deserve, and our demise will be swift, but we must turn to God for the good of our nation, our neighbors, our family, our posterity, and our world.

What is the hope for a nation over whom destruction has been declared? In the case of Israel, it was God’s mercy for the children, for He says, “But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness.” (14:31-32) God may yet be entreated by a repentant people, just as He was by Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

May God give us “a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4 says He had not yet done so for Israel.)

1. Hymn: “Once to Every Man and Nation” by James Russell Lowell in 1845

2. http://www.faithfulcenturion.org/AOCBlog/Hymns/Hymn%20519%20-%20Once%20to%20Every%20Man%20and%20Nation.pdf#:~:text=%E2%80%9COnce%20to%20every%20man%20and%20nation%2C%20comes%20the,by%20forever%2C%20%27twixt%20that%20darkness%20and%20that%20light.

3. Surely this is a reference to Nero using Christians as torches in his garden, though many others were burnt at the stake over the centuries.

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“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by precedent, by implication, by erosion, by default, by dent of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other- until the day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.” Ayn Rand

Wow! You want to have a worthwhile history/social studies lesson? Have students write a short interpretation of this and the following quote: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolf Hitler.* Then have them discuss the following proposition: Propaganda and ignorance are happy partners that ravage the land.

It occurs to me that by quoting these two individuals, I could be wholly dismissed by anyone who knows their philosophies. Many Empiricists and Naturalists would applaud Ayn Rand for clear-headed objectivity, but she dismissed faith and religion out of hand. So much for logic and fair-mindedness. Her nearsightedness blinded her to evidences of God. We all have blind spots. I wholeheartedly disagree with her perspective in order to point out that we may learn truth from many people in many places, even opponents, if we are open to it. Her quote here is apropos to our present situation. We have a phrase yelled at us, proclaimed and assumed to be true, day after day, scouring away any right or level-headed thinking by demand and insinuation. So it’s true, right?

And the Third Reich demonstrated that persistent and horrendous lies will be taken as truth. It need not even be believable at first, nor crafty, nor partially true, only persistently and passionately told. We are experiencing these repetitions in several arenas at this time. 

The question is, “Will we allow the lies to drown out the truth by our deafening silence?” All of the loud protestations of lies as truth are the propaganda. Silence is the willful ignorance that partners with it to promote destruction of our freedoms. And yet silence is the passive willfulness.

Our ignorance runs deeper and more active: “‘They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 9:3 We repeat lies by meme and manifest, little caring that our “causes” promote evil.

Go to the source of truth (John 17:17, Psalm 119:60) and ask the Author of Truth (Psalm 86:15) to strain out all of the man-made lies that have seemed as truth to you.

Lord, have mercy on us, and draw Your people and many lost people to Yourself. Cause us to stand for truth as surely as men of valor in battle and saints in the fire. Thank You for the God-ordained institutions of the family, church, and government that give us order, peace, and joy. Strengthen us to defend them against subtle and outspoken lies that seek to destroy Your gifts to us.

*probably originating from Joseph Goebbels

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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If ever I could hope that one of my blog entries would go viral, this would be the one!

What is the way forward in this time of crisis for our country? Is is sociological, psychological, judicial, political, philosophical? There is a Facebook post shared among some that is a Venn Diagram having four circles representing perspectives on our present troubles (You can see it here). Simply put, it says that a person may reasonably hold that murder, looting, and corruption are wrong and that lawful protests are legitimate responses. When my friend posted the diagram, I had an immediate two-fold reaction. Firstly, I agreed with the diagram. Secondly, I felt like it was incomplete and needed a fifth circle. I assumed at the time that the fifth circle would be a part of a five-circle Venn struggling to overlap in the middle. Later it occurred to me that the fifth circle should surround the other four, being both foundational and all encompassing. 

Circle Five: Until and unless we repent and forgive none of these other ideas or steps we may take will matter.

We will continue to deteriorate as a society. Fomenting elements will continue to stir up the crowds. Unreasoning anger will continue to prevail. Corruption will proceed unchecked and at length increase in various levels of government and in the streets. Fear and hatred will increase.

America, repent! Lord, begin with me. Cause me to love my fellow created beings regardless of culture, color, creed, or craft. Cause us to see our eternal and daily need of a savior, the Savior, Jesus, because we are full of hatred, selfishness, apathy, and unbelief. 

America, forgive! Lord, begin with me. Enable me to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me. Change us so that we do not suspect every neighbor of ill toward us, but desire and work for their good.

Church, pray! Lord, begin with me. Give me a persistent spirit of intercession for our nation and the Church. We are in dire and perilous times. If we don’t see it, it is because our enemy is not visible. The spiritual forces are stirring up trouble and trying to destroy our freedoms and blessings. God is calling on us to arise and call on Him for help. He will not continue to tolerate our evil and refusal to acknowledge Him. 

God be merciful to us. Pour out the knowledge of Yourself and Your ways upon Your Church who is slack in their piety at best. Extend mercy in salvation to a lost nation which is satisfied in their self-righteous refusal to acknowledge their sin and need of You. We need a revival of the Church and renewal of our nation. May You be merciful to give us repentance and forgiveness.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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This poem is quite simple

Similar to a pimple

Which has really a short life

Full of passion and much strife

 

It causes a stir and pain

May nearly drive you insane

But soon will come to a head

Then burst, forgotten and dead

 

But note how it leaves a scar

The complexion ever mar

Cover it to make it small

Or accept me warts and all

 

Best to never have begun

From quarrels and strife you run

Better bring kindness and truth

Than discord and be uncouth

The first two verses of this poem came to me one day when I was considering strife and its ill effects. I knew generally where I wanted to go with it, but could not see how. Just this morning when I brought it up from my drafts file, the way forward began to dawn upon me. In one sense I might like to have developed the kindness and truth way of doing things more. On the other hand, the first and third lines preclude such a tome, and the short version seems to have punch.

The truth I see behind my verse comes from Proverbs:

17:14 “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.”

3:3 “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

26:17 “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.”

15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.”

See also Proverbs 6:14,19; 10:12, 13:10, 16:28, 17:1,19; 18:6,18; 20:3, 22:10, 26:21, 28:25, 29:22, 30:33. Evidently, avoiding strife and those who promote it is a valuable consideration and pursuit.

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