Saturday, December 14, 2019

I'm really just tired.

I've not made an entry on this page for quite some time. Life has been pretty brutal. I will not get into the things which have happened, nor will I try to compare my hardships to others. That's done all too often, something like; you think you have it so bad, just look at .... Everyone handles stuff differently, and regardless of how badly you hurt, the only thing that you know when you hurt is that you do. 

In the midst of all of this I've adopted a different attitude to testimonies. Where once I found them to be encouraging and inspirational, now they are suspect and sometimes painful. Along those same lines, the frequent memes of how God is going to bring some great blessing are also painful. And the ones that are targeted against suicide, saying that someone is listening. Sorry to burst your bubble but in fact very few people are actually listening. I know this first hand. And much to my own shame, I don't listen very well either. 

Certainly if someone specifically asks for help, folks are ready and willing. But what about the person who doesn't know how to ask or who to ask? I realize that people mean well and intentions are good. 

Here are some examples of how testimonies really are not so good. Someone gave me a CD right around Christmas two years ago. It had several testimonies on it. One that stands out is from Norman Williams. He survived the world's worst airline disaster at Tenerife. He attributes his survival to the prayers of his mother. So I ask the question, as so many others have certainly asked, were there no other mothers praying? Is God truly no respecter of persons?  

For several years I was active with a local religious group (and I intentionally use the word religious) they hold one or two annual retreats, which in and of themselves are beneficial to a lot of people. On these weekend retreats, people can reflect back to their past and unload some baggage. But like so many religious things, they broadcast a formula for success and blessings from God. They have several speakers who give testimony of how wonderful life is because they did some specific thing. Such as; I began praying about this in this way and God opened a door. So now what do you tell the person sitting in the same room, who has been or is in the same situation and has prayed the same prayer, yet it did not help? 

I read the book The Circle Maker several years ago. It too is filled with testimonies, things that to me have become just stories. Are they real or just some fiction to sell a book? 

I've been in the same places, prayed the same prayers, still life sucks. 

It becomes hard to keep your spirit alive when all of your dreams die. That's what I live every day, every dream I've had, every long term plan has been destroyed. Some by my own mistakes but most from outside influences. Even looking back at things which happened, makes the pain greater. In the past 20 years, I cannot count the times when I thought things were finally turning around, that I was actually going to taste success only to have it snatched away again. 

A few weeks ago a Facebook friend posted a link to a video. I was hesitant to watch, having a pretty good idea it would detail some loss or suffering, some action of prayer or sacrifice and then life would be good again. I was pretty close. Testimonies have become like Hallmark movies, they all end happy. Life does not end happy.

I listened to this particular speaker's story, she lost an unborn child, been there, actually we lost two. She got several phone calls of bad news in the same day. The baby, and both parents had cancer. While I haven't yet had a cancer call, I have had my share of bad calls. January has 31 days, in 2016, in the month of January, on 28 days my family suffered some loss or received bad news. It ranged from identity theft, through auto accidents, serious injuries, diseases, and death. I turned my phone off the last week of January, and as most people are familiar with the story of Pavlov's dog, when my phone rings today, the first thing that happens is I get a knot in my stomach. In 2017 I thought things were making a turn, only to again lose before the year ended. Again this year I thought maybe I could dream again, that life had become stable and I could plan for a future. On August 18th that dream too was destroyed. My wife was rear-ended while stopped at an intersection. While the other party was at fault, and they do have insurance, our lives will never be the same. My wife has multiple injuries and will require multiple surgeries. She's been a nurse for 30 years but will not be able to do that any more. I have some people offering help, most say if you need anything. I appreciate the offers. But I don't know anyone who can actually fix the specific problems I have. 

So now I can hear the self righteous saying; stop feeling sorry for yourself. If you think that's what this is all about then you miss my point. There are a lot more people like me out there than anyone knows or wants to admit, and the saccharine sweet platitudes of "Christians" do not help. In many cases they make it worse.

We'll somehow survive this, I will confess little hope in finding the joy that I once had. But there is no promise of joy in this world. There is no promise of a happy or prosperous life, there is a promise of hardships. And a promise that some day this life will end and a new better life awaits. 

If you really want to be an inspiration to someone, really want to share hope. Then don't send some picture or quote some scripture verse. Go buy a pizza and take it to their house. Sit and listen, really listen, what is life really like behind the mask we wear? Is it OK or are you empty inside? The Gospel is not a Facebook meme, it's not a CD of testimonies or a book. It's people actually loving people one at a time. It's not about promises that you can't keep. It's just I love you, no matter what, because if it's conditional then it's not love. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Venezuela, the results of gun control and socialism

I know that we still teach history in the public schools, I wonder though what exactly we teach. Throughout all of history, in every case, when a country adapts the ideas of socialism and disarms it's population, the same thing happens. Government becomes corrupt, the economy collapses, and the people suffer. It happened in the former Soviet Union, it took so much longer because they were so big and could pull resources from different countries. But the topic today is Venezuela. Even if you're like me, avoiding the news as much as possible, (because it's not news but opinion), you'll know that something is wrong there. The economy is dead, people are starving, the socialist leader is a tyrannical dictator. And although some people say that the people voted for him, the election was fixed so it really didn't count. But they didn't get here over night. The socialist, the liberal, the communist, all essentially the same in my opinion. They're willing to play at the long game. Gun control began in Venezuela back in the late 30's, actually 1939. They enacted the law on Arms and Explosives. The law in essence states that weapons used by the Armed Forces cannot be owned by civilians. The text reads cannons and mortars but it was enforced in a way which still allowed the general populace to own .22 caliber rifles and shotguns. Could still hunt for game and still engage in target sporting shooting, but no military style weapons. Common sense gun laws. Sound familiar? Remember that the first thing any dictatorial government must do is disarm the people. And that disarmament does not stop with firearms. Limiting education, skewing it to be indoctrination of the designed politic is also a form of disarmament. So in 1939 the disarmament began. The economy of Venezuela, since the 20' has been based primarily on oil. In the 50's their GDP had them as the 4th wealthiest country in the world. Then came the socialist reforms in the 60's, 70's and early 80's. The federal government spent huge amounts of money on social programs, education, welfare, health care, and transportation. But then in the 80's oil prices collapsed. (That always happens, whenever anything is grossly inflated, eventually the floor falls out, remember the housing market in the mid 90's).  With the collapses of oil prices, the government social programs dried up. In 1989 there was rioting in Caracas due to the removal of the government programs. Inflation ran rampant through the 90's. the country relied too heavily on it's oil export and when that was gone they no longer had marketable commodities. Hugo Ch├ívez became president in 1998, after a failed coup, he gained the support of the populace and eventually became president. As circumstances would have it, oil markets began to swing back up at the same time and he had more income that predecessors. The economy began to grow, then tanked again. In 2002 they passed more gun control laws, and then in 2012 essentially banned all civilian owned guns, under the guise of protecting the citizens from crime. (Does this sound familiar too). In 1999 Chavez put forth a public referendum to create a constitutional assembly, and re-write the constitution of Venezuela. (No we do not need to re-write the US constitution, and always be afraid of anyone who thinks otherwise). This new political body assumed total control of the government under Chavez' direction, and they voted to give themselves power to abolish or dismantle government institutions or officials they perceived as corrupt. (Disabling checks and balances). Maduro became president in 2013 and his cabinet was primarily leftist academics. So this brings us to today, how did the 4th ranked country in the world become the most miserable place to live? It was the dependency on 1 export and the huge government social programs. Regardless of what some of our current politicians believe, when someone tries to buy something, they actually need to have money. In a global economy, if a government gives away health care, education, and food, they have to get money to pay for those things. If you can no longer trade with the rest of the world, money just isn't there. Today they have a corrupt government with no checks and balances, (just 1 branch), huge world debt, and a population who feel like slaves with no hope. This is the end result of socialism. And this is why we should never surrender the right to bear arms. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Just be there

It's the Christmas season and for people around the world it becomes a busy time of year. For some it's a time of great joy. For some a time of great sadness and depression. But for most it becomes just a time of busyness. In the mix of this, as there is at least a little more focus on Christ, some Christian groups try to capitalize on the attitudes.  I was given a CD in the parking lot of WalMart recently. It had a number of different testimonies on it. There was a time when I liked testimonies but not so much any more. I've met too many people who find testimonies depressing. One particular on this CD is a man who was in the Tenerife airport disaster. A plane was taking off and collided with another which was taxiing. The survivor speaks of the woman who was sitting next to him being covered in fuel and burning. So many people died yet he survived and he credits it to his mother praying. Did no-one else who died have a praying mother?  Sometimes I think Christians say praises because it's expected of them, and sometimes it's real gratitude. Praising God should not be circumstantial, but it is quite often. I get it that there are times in everyone's life when they simply do not want to praise God. I'd really rather see that expressed than some fake praise and piety. If my life situation sucks and all I do is praise God, I think it sends the wrong message to unbelievers and believers alike. If my situation sucks and I can admit that I'm unhappy and really don't feel like praising God, but still remain as faithful as possible. That to me is a much better testimony.

I want to tell stories about three different people. While these are indeed real people, the names are changed to protect their anonymity. For the purpose of this text I'll call them Archie, Betty and Jughead. And I'm only focusing on things happening in the recent past. All three are professing Christians and one could see by their lives that this bears out. Archie is a middle aged male who was run over by an angry driver. He spent a lot of time in the hospital and underwent several surgeries. The driver did not have a license or insurance on the vehicle so Archie is on the hook for a significant amount. Archie has a lot of friends, they've been to see him frequently and a local business organized a fund raiser to cover some of his bills. I don't think they covered all of them but I will guess that over 200 people came out. Recently, due to complications, it was determined the best course of action would be to amputate Archie's leg. He's been in good spirits considering all that's happened. Although one doesn't see it directly I believe he's a bit frustrated. Still he stands firm in his faith, trusting God for all things, and glad to simply be alive. And I know that having a lot of people pulling for him is encouraging.

Our second story is about Betty. Betty has a teen daughter who suddenly became sick. It got pretty serious pretty fast and her daughter was hospitalized. The doctors could not determine what was happening, did a lot of tests and at times things were looking bleak. As of this writing things are looking pretty good. Betty also has a lot of friends and church acquaintances, numbering in the hundreds, which have been praying for her and her daughter. 

Our last character is Jughead. He too is a middle aged man who's suffered a lot of losses in his life. He's an introvert with few friends. Currently I know he's been struggling with some things for nearly two years. And he too is quite frustrated. The difference though is that Jughead won't put on a fake smile and sing praises, he won't curse God either but if you sincerely ask he will tell you flat-out that he's frustrated. 

Now here's where the problems with testimonies comes in. In Betty's case, prayer, or specifically that there was such a large number of people praying is attributed to her daughter's recovery. Yet I know there were also a lot of people praying for Archie when he was first run over. Were there simply not enough? Would another hundred  prayers have saved his leg? And what about Jughead? He has few friends, there is no way he could get hundreds, or even fifty people to pray for him. Does this mean that his case is hopeless? 

I've had conversations with all of these people, from Archie I get the impression that he's accepted that bad stuff happens and he's just going to deal with it. He doesn't seem to be angry at God but resigned to what it is and still faithful. He's thankful to still be alive and with a little help he'll be able to walk again soon. 

Betty is very thankful for her daughter's recovery. And very thankful for the number of people who came or called. In a conversation with her she said that several people called her and said that God had placed it on their heart to pray, or to call. I've heard this a number of times in my life. That God encouraged someone to pray or visit some person with a need. Never experienced it though.

Jughead's problems are such that I can't disclose. Let's just say he wrestles with different things and has been for a number of years. In conversations with Jughead I know there were times when he was in such deep despair that he really wanted anyone to come visit. I know he doesn't like phone calls. He said there was a time, perhaps two years ago, when things were really bad and he just wanted one real friend to sit and talk to. He said that he sat in his living room all alone, speaking to God about stories of people who He supposedly sent to visit others. To call or pray for them. Was there not a single person who God could speak to who could come by and bring encouragement? Jughead said nobody came. 

If you ask these three people about prayer and what it does you'll get three different answers. Archie will say it is encouraging to know people are praying, he may or may not believe that the prayers made a difference in his situation. Betty will tell you that prayer changed everything. And Jughead will tell you that praying for him is an exercise in futility or insanity. He said recently that he hasn't really prayed for nearly two years, and although he still has the problems, by not praying he's not as depressed by God not answering. Jughead said once that when you knock on someone's door every day and no-one ever answers, you get tired of knocking. He also asked the question; "If God is sovereign and knows all things, and I tell Him today that I need help with this problem, does He forget tomorrow?  Why do I need to tell Him every day? And for how long should I continue with the same prayer? At what point does it become insanity, doing the same thing every day and expecting different results? I don't have an answer, and sadly no-one else does either.

Can we make any determinations of how God works from these stories? On the surface it would appear that the more friends one has who can pray, the odds are better. But then what happens to God's sovereignty? Can a large group of people manipulate God? Or what about how it says in the bible that He is no respecter of persons? 

We want formulas. We want an if-then life. If I pray then God does this. But it doesn't work that way. 

Should we pray? Certainly. Scripture plainly teaches us to pray. I think sometimes as we pray we actually hear our problems and maybe see them a bit different. I know that many times if one simply talks to another about what's happening it sheds different light. Yet there are no guarantees that prayer will yield what we want. 

The take away from this is that we simply don't know why things happen and we can't control God. And to be careful with testimonies. In the recent years I've seen them hurt more than help. Especially when the testimony is offered as a formula to fix something. 

The one thing I find in all of these cases that did or would bring comfort is being there. It takes little effort to tell someone that you'll pray for them. In some cases that is comforting, in others it's just words. It takes a little more effort to actually go and make physical contact. Not to pray, not to offer some platitudes, just to be there and say I care about you, enough to actually show up. Do you want to help change someone's life? Just show up.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

October 25 II Thessalonians 1 Judgment at Christ's coming

Paul is trying to be encouraging in that he says those who have afflicted the church will be judged. There was a time when I thought that was just great. Not so much any more. I accept that each will receive according to their choices and deeds. But I find no joy in the destruction of anyone, even the pagans who reject Christ. I also have a bit of an issue with Paul saying to be worthy. As far as I can tell, all that's needed to be worthy is to believe and accept Christ. If there's something more then I'm afraid I won't make it. Doubt anyone else will either. It is an encouragement knowing that I have an eternity with God. Not that His enemies will be destroyed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 24 I Thessalonians 5 The day of the lord

Paul writes about the coming day of the lord as if he expected it at any day. I believe that every generation has felt the same way to an extent. Even today believers look at the signs of the times as if the end is coming but there doesn't seem to be any sense of urgency. Jesus is coming soon but not today. I wonder why we have this attitude. Are we too satisfied with our current life? Do we not fully believe that paradise awaits? Maybe we're worried to be branded a nut job for proclaiming the end is coming. The end is coming, I just don't feel like it'll happen today, maybe I should.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October 23 I Thessalonians 4 Live a life pleasing to God

Just how does one do that? Again we have an area where someone could very easily fall back into legalism. In order to please God I have to do certain things and not do other things. When one develops this attitude the focus goes away from living to worrying about how. If the gospel is true, and I believe that it is. Then the Holy Spirit is in us to give directions. Don't worry so much about the whats, just live life looking not for glory but for joy. And if something isn't quite right trust that God will let you know. If the only way to please my father is by doing stuff then the relationship is not based on love. God loves me, I do not need to perform to please Him. All I need to to is want to please Him, He can fix the rest.

Monday, October 22, 2018

October 22 I Thessalonians 3 Encouragement in times of affliction

We don't know all of the specifics but we do know quite a bit. Paul was an outcast from his Jewish brothers, in fact many of them wanted to kill him. He made enemies in nearly every city he visited. Was stoned and beaten. Wandered homeless for nearly all of his ministry. His life certainly wasn't easy. It would be simple to look at his life and say; If he's really living for God, then why is his life so miserable? Isn't that part of the message being preached today? Live for God and have prosperity and health. But it's not true. Living for God is hard. Paul was encouraged in that the church was still standing steadfast in spite of Paul's troubles, not believing those lies. Which brings up a point, it's easy to sing praises and shout for joy when life is going well, but when life really sucks, and trust me sometimes even for the saccharine sweet Christian life sometimes really sucks, to remain steadfast is more testimony of the truth in the gospel. Paul was encouraged because the church he helped start was still faithful, as he was faithful. Do you know someone whose life really sucks today? Are they still faithful? Then do this to be an encouragement, call and tell them. Don't quote scripture, or some cliche. Say something like there's nothing I can do to help, but I'm thinking of you and you are an inspiration.