Are You Serious?

It can be difficult to know who is!

It’s always been a challenge for me to figure out and I suspect others probably wonder  the same about me! Of course at times I wonder how seriously some things actually should be taken. Perhaps it’s because of my analytic nature that I focus so much on details and have a tendency to be more literal in how I understand things. I’m someone who’s quite serious,too much so in fact,who’s trying to interface with a read the fine print “Just Kidding” world.
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This fixation of mine seems to play out most noticeably in my relationships, both personal and professional. I don’t think it’s really so unusual or remarkable in any way,on the contrary! I see this mindset as being rather common hence the familiarity of the phrase in our culture. However,when combined with any sort of OCD or perfectionist tendencies it typically leads to disappointment and frustration on the part of all who’re trying to understand the appropriate roles of the respective parties in any given situation.

Enough setup?

Looking back on my spiritual journey which for me began at age nine or ten it seems to of,almost without fail, follow a distinct pattern. I find myself being drawn into “all things spiritual” until I reach a point where I can’t find answers to my questions or perceive “it” or myself, as somehow being in contradiction or one of us not living up to the associated claims. All of this is based on or evidenced by how I see “God” manifested in the world, in myself,and in other Christian people I know. At times the answers I do find seem to conflict with what’s taught or simply lead to more questions.

Here’s one…

Is Christianity the perfect ideology for people with low self esteem?

The idea of redemption was never hard to sell to me…As a youth I was so full of self loathing that the idea of being someone other than myself or a better version of who I was seemed like an answered prayer! (I’m still rather frustrated on this score) There are times that I think Christianity would be the greatest thing in the world, that it’d be worth screaming from the rooftops about if it simply did what it claims to do! I suppose that yet again I’m just “doing it wrong” but it’s awfully hard for me to conceive of a God who loves us so much and yet Who would make it so complicated or confusing to be redeemed or to get a taste of that victorious life we’re teased with!

In first Corinthians fifteen Paul talks about our faith being in vain. I don’t think I’m taking too great of an interpretive leap here to juxtapose the relevance of his statement to our spiritual lives. To me He seems to be saying that if Christ didn’t walk out of the grave then what we believe is in vain. If we’ve been crucified with Christ,born again and are in truth new creations in Christ which will someday rise just as He did,why are so many of us still dead in our sins?

“Because someday hasn’t come yet dummy and as long as you dwell in this tent of flesh,you’ll fight this battle regardless of how you feel about it”…The Holy Spirit

WOW! He’s in a mood today…

Anyways, my point is that if our new lives in Christ aren’t a miracle of some kind isn’t what we’re believing also in vain? I understand the eternal aspects of this statement but I also have to believe there are significant implications for our here and now lives as well! It is a bit confusing when you read what Paul says in Philippians about his own righteousness.

Philippians 3:9

KJV And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Or verse 12 of Chapter three in which Paul goes on to say…

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

And of course this confusing admission of his own inadequacy.

Romans 7:14-16

KJV For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

Obviously Paul saw himself as a work in progress! That he was running a race,not that he had finished one…

There are however ways to know we’re on the right road!

Galatians 5:22

KJV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Certainly I”m not SO arrogant to in any way expect more from myself than Paul did!

Or am I?

Or pigheaded enough to be unforgiving towards myself when God the Father has already seen fit to forgive my many sins…

Surely not!

WHEW! Glad that’s been cleared up…

So, then what am I really so unhappy about or what are my real expectations?

Oh not much…

I once heard an analogy when I was in addiction recovery that related to what’s known as “recovery time” and “clean time”. It served to help distinguish the differences between them. The phrase “clean time” relates to how long someone has gone without using whereas the term “recovery” is an indication of the healing that’s occurred in someones life, of how much of the causative component involved in a persons addictive behaviors have been dealt with. Clean time is also known as “white knuckling it” the idea being that a persons sobriety is a function of their own “self will” and that inevitably it will fail.

Recovery time is so much better because once we understand the reasons we used to begin with we’re much,much less susceptible to their influence. Nothing is quite so liberating to an addict as understanding why it’s not just “okay” to be who they are and sober but how actually fantastic it is! They’ll never go back to using because they understand how much better off they are where they’re at! It’s no longer a struggle to stay sober,because from this new perspective you know that YOU’VE WON! And that you can live in victory over your addiction because you have something that’s SO much better!

That’s what I want from my spiritual life!

I’m tired of white knuckling it!

And I can’t stand the frustration of the failure that comes with it.

Which is what most religion comes down to in my opinion

and I definitely don’t believe in that.

What I do believe in is love.

And it’s transformative power!

So what I want is a personal encounter with it, or Him…

1 John 4:8

KJV He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

After all that I’ve been through…

all that I’ve seen and done.

I have to be honest enough to say I don’t have it!

which gives me the perfect opportunity to end this post using my title and the likely reaction to it by some!

Are You Serious?

Emmanuel עמנואל, “God is with us” Part III

If we could, for even just a day, have our eye’s opened to all of the many way’s in which God intercedes for each of us on a personal level perhaps we’d better understand Paul’s seemingly impossible exhortation here…

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice evermore.Pray without ceasing In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Maybe that means keeping a deer from running out in front of your vehicle. It might mean keeping any uncontrolled cell growth which commonly exists within each of our bodies from becoming cancerous.

Recently, it was the job I didn’t get that I’m thankful for!

I had applied for an over the road driving job with a smaller company who ran regional freight. During the ensuing interview which seemed to go very well I remember the owner telling me that because of how junky his equipment was I would have to drive around scales and that I would be paid on a percentage of what the load paid. Despite both of those pieces of really bad news I filled out the application he gave me and faxed it back to him ready to work if and when he called!

But he never did…

So I called another company that I had been considering who I knew ran first class equipment but who also ran a much bigger territory. I was hesitant about my ability to meet their expectations because it had been over four years since I drove on that level. The thing is,God didn’t really leave me any other options! Getting back into the transportation industry with no recent experience is difficult so I was ready to take anything…

but I was also well…afraid!

I struggle with anxiety and fear quite a bit, it’s one of the biggest areas my Heavenly Father is helping me to grow in! Mostly by protecting me from things that would overwhelm me totally, other times by just being close to me in the midst of any circumstances that I feel threatened by. What faith is to me is knowing that God had control of my circumstances yesterday, and so therefore also has my today and tomorrow under control as well!

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

That’s what this verse means to me…It’s also why I’m so thankful! There’s nothing as empowering and fear squashing as knowing that the omnipotent God who created the heavens, the earth, and all that is,is with you and that He cares about YOU!

Does that mean nothing bad ever happens to me?

We all know that “Stuff Happens” don’t we…

The question most people have is when does the “stuff” STOP happening?

It stops when GRACE happens! When we come to the place where we can truly say,

“Father, not my will but yours be done”

and mean it…

Several years ago I was driving along in my truck near Jamestown N.Y. on hyw 87 on my back west after doing four drops earlier in the day. I had heard that the D.O.T. was setting up in the rest areas inspecting trucks so I was very leery of being inspected. It was later in the evening, maybe 8pm,and usually they quit inspecting at dark so I thought I was home free…then I saw it,the flashing yellow lights on the roadside sign,”surely this is some kind of construction warning” I thought,but as I drew closer startled panic settled on me as the words “all trucks must enter” assaulted my unbelieving eye’s! I was trapped and there was nothing I could do…no ramp to pull off of and “fix it” so with cold resignation I pulled off onto the ramp twoard the man waving his flashlight holding hand at me.What else could I do but accept the fact that I was screwed,perhaps my full cooperation and good attitude would as they had so many times before see me thru,I doubted it.As I pulled to a stop he stepped up onto my side step and spoke to me,

How’re we doing tonight? Oh,I’m doing fine I guess…What’re you hauling? Nothing, I’m empty. Well, have a good evening then!

And that was the extent of it, I hauled out of there on an adrenaline high that would entice any skydiver,or cause a lion tamer to stare curiously in wonder,not yet ready to dip my chip in the “crock of life” I’d just been handed,it just seemed un-real to me. Why did ‘nt he at least ask to see my log book? thats S.O.P. basic stuff,you look at the driver,gauge his condition,look at his book,and then if all seems right,you send him on,or if,as was the case here,you’re not at all busy,just send him inside anyway for the 3rd degree check,you know,wanted/warrents/unpaid tickets/child support un returned library books,lol really! but he did’nt,so I’m driving down the road thinking, WOW! that could have been a whole weeks salary down the tubes but for some reason which I can’t explain I just walked thru the fire without so much as a mark on me…Does the Lord work in mysterious ways? did he know that if I would have been shut down/fined etc…that it might break my spirit? someday I’d like to ask him.

Emmanuel עמנואל, “God is with us” Part II

Long before the first wisp of chimney smoke makes it’s way up the flue and is carried along on the chilly November breeze to our olfactory senses, the preparations have already begun. With the passing of the oppressive summer heat and the previous vocational opportunities it afforded me I made new plans. It’s fall,and so it’s time for me to shift gears once again…

Literally!

Working in the logging woods is one of the cornerstones of the local economy where I live employing perhaps half of the local people in various capacities. In the past six years my involvement has been in nearly every aspect of it at one time or another.I’ve operated sawmills,skidded logs,hauled logs and sawed out products such as railroad ties and “cants”. However,one thing I’d never done before was haul bulk logs on a “pole trailer” which is basically a very long piece of steel pipe with log stakes attached.

                                     looks like fun doesn’t it?

Well let me tell you it’s not…At least not for me it wasn’t!

The reality of the dangerous nature of the work I was doing combined with the questionable mechanical integrity of the equipment I was operating was the source of much anxiety for me. Hauling the massive loads of logs to the local mills was also problematic in that I was sure any DOT officer worth his salt would certainly shut me down and ticket me based on the numerous safety compliance violations of said vehicle.

But what a blessing…I immediately made a renewed commitment to praying!

I did it before leaving,quite often during the trip,and then I thanked God after and despite all of the aforementioned complications I was able to be quite successful. From my perspective God was faithful to me in so many ways during this time. A specific example of Gods favor toward me was that despite the fact that I was carrying very heavy loads on some very thin trailer tires over roads full of sharp rocks I only had one flat tire! If I’d of had that flat on the state highway instead of on the gravel road where it did happen it definitely would’ve been a much bigger deal! It happened right in front of this old country church which gave me the opportunity to check it out and take some really neat pictures of it’s interior! I’ve had people tell me it’s a symptom of being delusional to place unwarranted significance upon chance occurrences or to read too much into what is most likely just coincidence and I understand that…but when you’re hauling a load of logs down a two lane hilly,curvy road and you experience a sudden loss of power due to a lack of fuel and then at the last moment before you stall out in the road you see a perfect place to pull over it’s hard to just brush it off as luck…over and over again

I wonder if they understand that?

I’m afraid you’re right!

Do you ride horses? I haven’t recently,but many years ago I remember a time when a friend took me on a short ride. We had stopped for a bit, the gentle mare I was riding bent her head down and began to graze on the grass there at her hooves. “Don’t let her do that” my friend said,

You should always maintain control over a horse…once they get the idea in their head that they have the control they’re just no good to be ridden anymore!

A horse is an extremely strong animal, much stronger than any man! Despite this obvious physical superiority they can be trained to do various tasks using a small “bit” in their mouth that’s attached to a set of leather reins. Many horse trainers also use a whip or some similar instrument to terrorize the animal,seizing upon it’s natural fear of man to bring it under submission.

There are only a few animals that seem to have no natural fear of man! One such animal is a Cottonmouth snake also known as a “Water Moccasin”.

 

Another is the particularly aggressive Salt Water Crocodile. Include Grizzly bears,Great White Sharks,and Elephants! What most of these animals have in common is their extreme territorial nature. They own their domain and take any challenge either real or imagined very,very seriously…

Fear is extremely powerful. To this day I still don’t care to swim in the ocean because the movie Jaws scared me so much! And snakes? forget about it! Especially a Cottonmouth,they scare me to death!

Consider the role fear plays in each of our lives, are we like the horse? Do we let ourselves be “ridden” by a much less powerful creature who subdues us with fear and uses a bit of some kind to steer us? What would happen if we understood how powerful we are and decided to take control of our situations?

We wouldn’t be any good to be ridden anymore would we?

Are you sick of your life being one bad thing after another? Of being depressed or anxious because your life is just an endless stream of disappointments and failures? Do you worry about things that might happen, or sometimes just feel hopeless about your situation? Do you ever wonder what’s the point of living if it’s just a pain in the butt that you somehow manage to survive!

You may have someone on your back riding you…

Okay sure, I can relate to some of the symptoms you mentioned and I am sick of it but what can I do about it?

I’m glad you asked but right off the bat I’m going to tell you that whoever or whatever is on your back will not give up without a fight. How do you suppose a horse would go about getting someone off their back? They’d rare up and throw them off that’s how! No mamby pamby pleading with it or half measures here will get the job done. It doesn’t matter what issue it is that’s got you down, they’re all weapons formed against you by the enemy which is attacking you on a spiritual level and so you have to use the much more powerful spiritual weapons available to you to defeat it!

The number one weapon is Gods word!

A book of your rights as a child of the Most High God. A personal love letter to you that’s filled with lifesaving promises which are truth, that when spoken by you to your problems carry His same authority and are guaranteed to scatter the comparatively petty demons that are making your life miserable! You will get immediate relief, but they’ll be back to see if you’re serious or if you really meant what you said so continue to read The Word and hide it in your heart so that you’ll be ready to put another “whoopin” on ’em when they do!

If, I’m sorry…WHEN you run into trouble, or just aren’t getting the kind of relief you’re seeking you need to find a group of believers and ask them to agree with you in prayer over your needs. Here’s where it can get tricky, first off you’ll have to face your fear of walking into a church and at some point asking to be prayed over. That’s when our enemy will do everything he can to prevent this from happening and you from being helped! Try it, but be ready when our enemy starts to tighten is grip of fear around you and begins to speak lies to you because he most definitely will!

After all, he wants to continue to ride you…

You may go to a church and the people there seem like they don’t know what you’re talking about or that might even say,

“We don’t do that sort of thing here”

At which point just say “Okay thanks”  and just keep looking until you do find one!

When you do find some other believers and you and them pray together, the only way the Holy Spirit can work is for you to have faith. You’ve got to believe that Gods word and His promises are true, if you doubt that God can fix your problem or that He loves you enough to do it then you close yourself off. If you doubt that God is willing to fix it you’ll do the same thing. God loves you, He can do all things,and He is willing!

Matthew 8:2-3 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Tragically, our situation as Christians is that even though we may understand that through Christ we’ve been set free from the penalty of sin for all eternity we don’t seem to realize that eternity starts here and now! Someday all of us will stand before the Father and give an accounting of our lives. I’m sure we’ll tell Him about the many struggles we faced and point to our circumstances that kept us down. We may even try to explain that the reason we didn’t grab hold of the plan He had for us and become all He designed us to be is that we were paralyzed with fear.

You know what I think He’ll say?

What did you do with My Son?

In conclusion, I think that this is the whole point I’m trying to make…

If you’re saved by faith in Christ, you’ve been born again to rule over those things that would rule over you.

When I Pray

In the mid nineties a book was published entitled “Conversations With God”. I thought the title was interesting and I heard great things about it so I bought it. And although I wouldn’t recommend the book for various reasons heretical piece of trash I’m still intrigued by it’s title. Having a conversation with God sounds so much more casual that prayer, and for many “too busy” people it’s a good fit. It’s our inner dialogue when we’re asking for direction in our lives or when we need answers. It can be us turning to God in sudden desperation and knowing that He’s there. Prayer is a conversation with God, one in which we do most of the talking…I have heard His voice speak to me before but that’s a whole other story. I’ve read in other places that prayer is the lifting up of our desires to God and hoping that they match His, and I can see the truth of that. To many, prayer most commonly happens in what we think of as being the traditional way, In a church or in a private place, heads bowed and on their knee’s. How we choose to relate to God is a personal thing to each of us, but regardless of how it happens we’re called to…

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray without ceasing.

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So what is prayer and how can we do it without ceasing?

Isn’t it all of those things I mentioned and so much more?

Proverbs 3:6

In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

As Christians, It’s at the heart of what it means to have a relationship with Christ. It’s the acknowledgment of our brokenness and of what Christ’s death on the cross means to us. It’s how we are to live our lives in His presence, abiding in Him and He in us.  When people ask me if God is real, or how do I know He loves me I often tell them “Why don’t you just ask Him?”… “Start a conversation with Him and see where it goes!”

Isaiah 26:3

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

We can pray in the Spirit, speak in tongues, or with the tongues of man and of angel’s. Prophesy in His name, cast out demons or call Him Lord, Lord! We can worship on Sunday, or Thursday, or even on alternating Tuesdays…

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But it’s only what’s in our hearts that matters to God!

I’ve written this to myself and maybe to other people who may feel somewhat discouraged at times about their prayer life. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of the people and things that really need to be prayed over in my life. At one point I was carrying a note pad in my back pocket to write down my prayer requests. I stopped because it was a “hassle”…oh boy, I have no defense for that! I know that our enemy is clever, and that he’s always looking to lay down some ground work so that at some point we might think,

” How could you NOT carry a note pad around in your pocket, don’t you care? You’re a “bad Christian”  lol…or this one, “I’m just no good at this, I can’t pray like so and so, it’s so beautiful when they pray!”, This goes for bible reading as well,  “I just fall asleep when I try to pray at night, whats the use?”

Prayer is an expression of the heart… We can use it to praise God! We can use it to lift up others into the presence of God, or to tell God the details of whats going on with us and to ask how we can bring our lives more into line with His will. I think whats critical is that we talk to God about whats most important to each of us, whatever that might be! That we do acknowledge Him in all of our ways and seek His council as to our lives. I’ve “prayed” in cars, and I’ve prayed for cars! I’ve whispered a quiet word and I’ve screamed at the top of my lungs! Most of the time I wake up and drift off to sleep in “prayer” thinking about how to live in Gods purpose more fully,or how to know him more intimately and serve Him more effectively. I know that if I had only “prayed” in one way I would’ve never been able to “pray without ceasing.” I don’t think that God wants us to view prayer as a task that we must perform, or as an empty ritual that’s done solely for the approval of  others who may see or hear us. I don’t think He’s impressed with anybodies great oratorical skills or commanding “King James Version” vocabulary. My problem is that I tend to become “religious” about prayer and that mostly has the effect of taking all of the fun out of it. What gives our prayers “umpfh” is the faith that’s behind them. I like to think of faith as being a conduit between us and God through which all business is done.

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.

SO…

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Down to the river…

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Hi! Altonwoods here, (not my real name)…And I’ll be your guide today as we go “down to the river” to do whatever it is that people do at the river! Yesterday was the last day of school around here and my daughter has been bugging me to take her. I’ve also been wanting to try out the new camera I bought my wife for mothers day, (awwwww, so sweet of me!) another reason is I wanted to try and get another shot of this plant that I found last year about this time down here!

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This is it…It’s like a giant pink honeysuckle that smells amazing! I found out it’s called a Mountain Azalea…So , we went in search of it but we were too late! It had already bloomed. After that we decided to go down and see the big spring that’s kind of back in the woods.

These are pictures from last year but it still looks the same. We parked the car and started walking down the trail, the dirt down there is just amazing, black and moist, the product of hundreds of years of composting, plants and flowers blooming, sun is shining, life is so good! That’s when something happened, my wife Grace (not her real name) slip’s and falls trying to cross a small creek in a very muddy area. I heard her saying that she was going back to the car and a moment later she falls AGAIN! Boni (her real name) and I are over by the spring and I hear her screaming! When we got to her she was laying on the ground, crying, telling me that she thinks that she’s torn her rotator cuff and that she feels like she may pass out from the pain! (she fell backwards and “caught” herself, that’s the way I tore mine)

So, several things go through my mind just then…

1) All week long we’ve been talking about Jesus,healing, doctors, prayer, medicines, Christians, etc…

2) Was I going to have to take her to a hospital?

What happened next went exactly like this.

It’s Boni and me, crouched down next to Grace, listening to her wail, and then my daughter Boni say’s…

“Somebodies gotta do something!”

I knew what I had to do, so I reached down and laid my hand on her arm, and asked for her to be opened to the healing that was promised to us by Christ, and that her pain would go away, then I stood up and watched as she, after just a moment, got up and walked off a distance, I heard her say “Thank You, the pain is gone!” Which I really must admit was a surprise to me in a way. I believe in healing, I just was a little shocked that it could happen like this, all I know is what I saw…

So we just went on with our day, thanking Jesus!

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Here we are at my favorite swimming hole, we ate sandwiches and chips and we drank root beer! This is the Eleven Point River, most of the water comes from Greer Spring a few miles upstream. It’s a trout stream, the water temp is about 58 degree’s and it takes your breath away when you go in! Here’s a few more pic’s…
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Beautiful Boni with a ham sandwich in her hand

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Our heroine, “Grace”

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And of course, yours truly! signing off from, “Down at the river!”