Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me, Really.

A Skit to Consider:

The Stage is set. Picture a Cafe, tables and chairs spread comfortably, soft lighting, but not too dim . . .

A man sits alone at a table, obviously waiting for "that someone special." A waiter comes by, and the man indicates that he should bring "2" of something. The waiter leaves, looking back with a knowing gleam in his eye.
The man leans back in his chair and smiles the smile of the truly content.

And Enters his Lady.

She steps in, looks around expectantly, and her face takes on the same glowing smile that he has been wearing.

The Man stands as she approaches and pulls out her chair for her. He kisses her cheek as she sits, and he joins her. They begin to talk, and it is clear that they have some "catching up" to do, but shortly the conversation slows, and they drift into happy silence.

And now, we lean in closer to hear them better. For this is no chance encounter. And this is no common meeting.

The Lady looks at the man, down to her plate, and back up to him. It is clear that she has something she wants to ask him, but is working up to it.

At last she leans forward, grasping his hand in hers. He leans in as well, smiling in delight.

Her: There's something I've been wanting to ask you. . .

Him: Anything, just ask.

Her: But it's a bit silly.

Him: Go ahead. Anything.

Her: Do you promise not to laugh?

Him: From the bottom of my heart.

Her: Okay. (she reddens slightly, but presses on) You love me, don't you?

Him: (Smiling broadly)With all that I am.

Her: (relaxing, and reddening a bit more) Well, what I want to know is this: What is it about me that made you love me?
(The man shows some surprise at the question, not alarm, but perhaps a bit of amusement.)

Her: (hastening to explain) This isn't a trick question or anything like that. I really want to know.

Him: You really want to know?

Her: Yes.

Him: Okay. . . .  Nothing.

Her: (shock and a bit of confusion on her face)What?

Him: (smiling just as fondly) Nothing.

Her: (She smiles as if this is a joke, but his expression doesn't change. She is VERY confused) What do you mean "Nothing"? It can't be nothing. SOMEthing had to have made an impression.

Him: No. Not a thing.

Her: (no smile now) ok, you DID say that you LOVE me, right?

Him: Yes, definitely.

Her: Okaaaaay, so what was it?

Him: What do you mean?

Her: Well, (she glances around, embarrassed to have to say) was it my virtue, my personality, my appearance. . .

Him: Ah. No. None of that. You really don't have any qualities that stand out all that much.
(Her jaw drops. She pulls her hands out of his, hurt plain on her face)

Him: Oh! No, don't take it like that. I don't mean anything bad by that.

Her: How can you not?

Him: Well, let's be honest. (she makes a gesture that says "by all means, why stop now?") Okay, how about your appearance? (she leans back, arms crossed across her chest. her expression reads loud and clear "its your funeral, bub") You are pretty. No question, but you're not the prettiest person alive. There are thousands of people all over the world that are aesthetically more pleasing than you are. (He holds up a hand) that's not a criticism; it's just the plain truth. But really, would you want me to base my love for you on how pretty you are? That could change at any time. This way I can whole-heartedly say that I would love you just as much if you less pretty as I would if you were more. It has nothing to do with that.
(She still isn't happy, but she isn't getting up to leave. . . yet.)

Him: Alright, your personality. You're young. You're still learning new things about the world and yourself. You are still discovering things about who you are. You may find that something that had no interest for you last week is something you could devote your life to next week, or next year. Would you want me to base my love for you on something that could change? In order to keep my love, you'd feel confined not to grow as an individual.

Him: And let's not get started on your Virtue.
(Outraged, She begins to stand, but He reaches out and places a forestalling hand on Hers)
Be honest, would you want anyone to base their love for you on how perfect you truly are?
(She sits back down. Pauses for a moment, and slowly shakes her head "no".)

Her: (after a moment more) So if it's not any of that, why DO you love me?
(At this, His smile brightens again to the beaming glow He wore at the beginning of the conversation.)

Him: That's easy. I love you because of who I AM.

Her: Say what?

Him: Everything about you can change. Your appearance, your interests, your successes and failures--they can all change drastically from day to day. If I base my love for you on ANY of those things, then you run the risk of losing it at any time.

BUT, if I base my love for you on WHO I AM, then you can never do anything that will jeopardize that love.

Her: How is basing your love on YOU any different than basing it on me?

Him: Because I'll never change.

Her: How can you claim that?

*                                    *                                           *                                                         *

A Good question, Don't you think? 

Well, here is something that may put it into perspective: What if "He" is God, and "She" is you?

Just something to think about.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Different, Not Less Part 2

I really debated on wether to say more on this topic or not. At first, I felt like maybe I was going to bore some you, the readers, with this. But then I thought, if people don't want to read it, they won't. I'm not charging, or promising anything (except honesty), and it's MY post. This is my blog about me. And about my life and walk with God.

So if I stop where I left off in the last post, I don't get to say some of the most profound (to me at least) things.

So, if you're interested, read on. If not, change the channel, and we'll see you next time.

My dear and very good friend Rebecca pointed out that I do not show the typical signs of social awkwardness and incompatibility with sarcasm that is common with those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder--Autism and Asperger's). Rebecca has spent years working with special needs children, so she is by no means an uninformed commenter, but there are a few things to consider.

First, MOST people who are recognized as having ASD are children, or they are adults with more severe cases.  In fact, a vast majority of adult autists only discovered that they WERE autists because  they had a child with ASD and realized as they went through the process of diagnosing their children that the "symptoms" were things that THEY had dealt with. The reason for this is largely because high functioning autists have generally just been labeled as "odd" in the past, and they have learned to adapt, cope, and deal with their differences.

Children's behaviors are more marked due to lack of experience in self regulating their emotions and responses, lack of a "real" understanding of social norms, and lack of emotional/social maturity. They think differently, reason differently, make cognitive connections differently, and HAVE NO CLUE that anyone else does it differently than they do. For the most part (and I speak generally and of the high functioning individuals) they think that people are being difficult, or they can't understand why people don't "get" them. Over the years, many autists have their differences hammered into them, and they figure out how to fit in, and what, generally, to expect from others.  This helps, but if you read the comments from the adult who HAVE realized their autism, you find that there is a marked sense of "relief" (not the best word, but it points in the right direction, emotionally) that there is a REASON for the differences, and that there are others who DO think in some of the same ways, who also struggle with the strange things that "other people" don't seem to have a problem with. . .

All that to say, the reason that I don't seem to have the social awkwardness is because I've learned how to "behave." The hard way.

I was the "nerd." I was the "dork." The WEIRDO. I had only a few friends through the years, and very few of them were CLOSE. Part of that was the fact that my family moved every four years or so (my dad was in the Air Force), but it was also because I couldn't figure out how to connect with kids my age.

I did pretty well with adults, but I didn't talk like kids. I couldn't be "cool," couldn't quite understand the fads, the trends, couldn't understand why some things were funny, and other things weren't. I remember wanting to make kids laugh, and doing things that made me cringe inside my head, but I'd be caught up in some kind of emotional momentum, and do and say STUPID stuff, and not be able to back off or down even when I could see that it wasn't working the way I wanted it to. A lot of times I just made kids mad at me, and I didn't know why.

Looking back, I can see that I was just too much. I was trying too hard. And I did a LOT of things repetitively. I made noises with my mouth, just clicking, tapping, "musical" noises ( or so they seemed to me). I tapped on my desk compulsively. I wasn't nervous, as I was often assumed to be, I just had the rhythms in my head and they wanted out. I knew that the rhythms were "right." They matched the pattern in my head; they fit with the music in my mind.  I couldn't figure out why it sounded so good to me (quite soothing, peaceful) and yet it bothered others. Most of the time I just felt like they were looking for something to complain about. . . I did this sort of thing in conversations as well. I'd repeat a line that I thought was funny, or thought SHOULD be funny, sure that everyone would see how great it was any second now. . . Oh, well.

That pattern lasted well into my twenties. I'll get back to that.

Sarcasm has never been a problem for me. . . . . . . Well, let me rephrase that: I have never had a problem understanding sarcasm as humor.

Mockery, however, That I learned the hard way.

I have a very vivid memory of the first time I realized that the kids around me weren't being kind, but were mocking me.

I was playing basket ball with my classmates at recess. It was the fifth grade. I was terrible at it and knew it, but that's what we were playing, so I tried.

One of the kids tossed me the ball, and I took a long time to make the shot, but I actually made it! I was so excited! Another of my classmates said, "Ben can do pretty good as long as you give him plenty of time and just let him take the shot."

At first, I agreed. "Yeah, I thought. If you'd do that I could be a good team mate."
Then I noticed the laughter.
And I realized that he hadn't meant it as a nice thing. That somehow, while saying I could be good, he meant I was bad.
And I realized that I was the only one who hadn't known that's what he meant.

I didn't trust compliments for years after that. But I DID spend a LOT of time watching people to see what they meant when they said things, and to see if WHAT they said was the same as what they MEANT. I learned sarcasm/mockery because it hurt to much not to. I learned it, and got GOOD at it. And I used it. It took rather longer for me to realize that sarcasm didn't help with whole "making friends" thing.

I realize that this is not the happiest of topics, but there is a happy ending coming.

For example, learning to understand what people MEAN despite what they say, has helped me tremendously as a teacher, both in classrooms and in mentoring others in ministry.  I don't know how to explain it, but there are so many little clues in a person's body language, where they look with their eyes, their tone of voice, and things you know about them and more that all work together WITH a person's words to make up their meaning. Sometimes a person KNOWS that they are not saying what they mean, and if you listen to the PERSON and not just the words, you can sometimes catch that. . . At least, it has worked for me.

In fact, I can look back a nearly all of the things I've had to overcome and see where God has used those things to equip me rather than tear me down.

There has been a great deal of tearing down, but He has always been there to pick me up. He has even CAUGHT me on occasion.

God has brought me through this "adventure" and crafted success from the journey.

Going back to the social aspect.

When I graduated from HighSchool, I wanted nothing to do with school EVER AGAIN. So I asked God what he wanted me to do.  God's answer baffled everyone but me. (It didn't baffle me because he wasn't asking me to go to school.) The funny thing was, that it baffled EVERYONE else BECAUSE I wasn't going to school.  Like I said before, people thought of me as smart. They thought it was a waste for me not to go to school. God told me to go paint houses.

That seems strange at first, but I realized a few years later, and it is even cleared to me now, that he was teaching me how to work with and communicate with people.

I was working with carpenters, tile and flooring men, brick masons, and painters, and GOD TOLD ME TO. So I couldn't run away; this was where I was SUPPOSED to be.

Well, in case you don't realize this, these kinds of workers don't have a great deal of patience with social awkwardness, or insulting sarcasm. And many of them can be  . . . aggressively impatient about such things. So, I watched them too. And I learned to talk so that people understood me.  I learned that just because you know all the best words doesn't mean that those words will WORK best.  I had to learn to do the opposite of what I had done in the past. Instead of learning to understand what people meant despite what they said, I had to learn to speak in a way so that they would understand me (my intentions, WHO I was, that I was worth listening to, that I wasn't just some weirdo. . .)

It took a long time, but I learned.

And YES. I did deliberately set out to learn these things. I didn't know why it was so hard for me when it seemed to come so naturally for everyone else, but I HAD, HAD, HAD to figure it out. I HAD to make people understand me. I HAD to make them listen and get it.

While I was a painter, I also worked at a Christan radio station with my best friend. We also worked together painting.  God used that to get me more comfortable with public speaking. First the radio--and we did a wide variety of things, from requested music to skits and humorous "commercials" and more. From there, my aunt conned me into some dramas and plays at our church, and one thing led to another. I gradually got past my fear of public speaking ( a must for anyone with ministry goals).

We eventually sold the painting company and opened a coffee shop/eatery, where God started to work on my problem with crowds, but that is actually still a work in progress.

Anyway, there is obviously much, much more, but the point is this: I Am what I am. Just because I don't show all of the problems does not make me less autistic, nor does it make me "cured" (God forbid), it just means I've overcome. That God is Good. I'm still learning about how I work/think/ "tick." but since this discovery, I've made breakthroughs I can't begin to explain the significance of.

My post about joy was part of/a fruit of this discovery about me. I'm finding a freedom in my life that I've never known, and it's showing up in the strangest ways, but I can see how the ways are connected.

Here is a small example: For as long as I can remember, I don't eat or drink after others. At ALL. I will after my wife, but that's it. At the thought of eating after someone else, my mind immediately supplies vivid images of all the germs, bits of food, slobber, drool, backwash, etc. . . . . (ACK!) and "No. Thank. You." My kids are the worst. I will go VERY hungry before I'll put "dirty little CHILD-yuck-mouth-germy-my-God-do-you-know-what-they-put-in-those-mouths" food near my face.

After this revelation about the Joy of the LORD, I went on a field trip with my oldest son. While there, he had a root beer float. He drank about 1/3 of it.

I finished it.

I won't say I did it absently. I held it and thought about it. but when I came to the mental point where I would normally go into convulsions of revulsion at the thought of eating/drinking after someone else, it was like the issues came up, I could hear the objections in my head, but they had nowhere to land in me--nowhere to take hold.


I don't know how to explain how that is related to the autism. All I know is that I can see the connection.
I know who I am (mostly), and I know what I've been through, and the point is not to show "what's wrong with me" or to gain a label or an excuse. The point is that there is an answer. I'm not broken, I'm different.

I'd like to suggest that ASD, while it does encompass many individuals who's struggle is and has been FAR more than mine, I think that it should stand for Autistic Spectrum Distinction, NOT Disorder. Disorder means we don't do things "right." That there is something wrong with us, when in reality, we just do it differently. But because of that, we see things that others do not. MOST of the "DISORDER" comes from conditions that tend to compound WITH ASD, of from the misunderstanding of those around the individuals.

I'm no expert in this subject, so you could argue with me if you choose. But just remember: ASD is Different--NOT LESS.

And God is BIGGER and makes no mistakes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Different, not Less

So, I'm a bit strange. (I know, I know. Some of you are laughing or saying something like "you don't say"--much sarcasm imbued) But it's more than you know. It's more than I knew. As strange as I have seemed for years, almost no one has had any idea how strange it has been inside my head.

Not even me.

I know. That sounds strange, but understanding sheds light on the shadows we live with.

I have been like a child afraid of the dark--afraid of the shadows and shapes that linger beyond what reason and self-assurance can assuage. Picture a child that, in the dark, sees the shadows and fears their shapes, KNOWING that this one is just a coat draped across a chair and that one is a lamp with a hat on it--KNOWING, but still fearing. And self-destructively critical because he DOES know, and can't stop being afraid, but there's no helping it, so he just gets used to being afraid and ignoring it. But you can't make it go away just by ignoring it; you can only learn to live with it and minimize its power in you life.

I'm not afraid of the dark, but there have been (and are) things in my life that I have known were different, things I didn't understand about myself, things that were WRONG with me that I basically forced myself to ignore and learn to live with.  Many of these things I have actually overcome. Many I still have to deal with.

As a child, I often found myself loathing the touch of others. Not always ( which actually made it more confusing), but often when someone wanted to hug me or just put a hand on me, it would make me mad/tense/irritable. For a season in my youth, it made me violent.
But I WANTED hugs. It was desperately important to me that people would still be willing, would still WANT to hug me; I just hated for them to try. It made me feel trapped/confined--like walking through the woods and your clothes keep getting snagged on branches or having spider webs get on you and you can't seem to get them off.  Logically I knew there was no danger or threat, but YOU try to just leave a spider web on you. . . hmm?

I'm passed that one. God did an amazing work through some awesome people in my life. One man, in particular, was very instrumental in this. He's a hugger, you see. And not just little hugs; no, he's the hug you way past what's comfortable kind of guy. Thing is, I knew he meant it. I knew that this was how he said he loved me and accepted me, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. . .  So, between that and some mind-blowing things God was doing where my self-image and identity were concerned, I found a place where I can hug and be hugged. It's a good thing. :)

I've also been highly sensitive to sounds, particularly high pitched ones or "crowd noises," but also sharp reports.  I flinch quite noticeably when a hammer hits a nail, or a nail gun goes off. I have a completely irrational "fear" of balloons (it's called globophobia, if you're curious). I KNOW it's just a balloon, but they set me completely on edge. When I see a child running around with a balloon, my first thought is inevitably something like "there's an accident/tragedy/disaster waiting to happen."

But the worst was always crowd noises. In a crowd, I would have a terrible time trying to think straight. I could barely follow any conversation, even if someone was right in front of me, I would keep getting pulled to a snippet of conversation here--a phrase there. It's like I'm compelled to try to follow every conversation in the room. . . and I CAN'T.

Keep in mind that I'm explaining a lot of this through the lens of hindsight; most of this just drove me crazy--I had no idea why: "There was just something wrong with me."

My default facial expression is "serious." I have had to learn to express emotion in acceptable ways over the years. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone yell at me or treat me harshly because they misunderstood the expression on my face. I've had people tell me that I looked like I thought they were stupid, when I was just listening intently. I've had teachers get mad at me because I looked like I "hated them" or like I was trying to look  . . . I don't even know. . .  Again, it's not all the time. . .

I had to learn to look people in the eyes when I spoke with them. I can't remember who it was, but one of the adults in my much younger life stopped me one day and told me that it was important to look people in the eyes/face because it made people feel like you weren't telling the truth (or something like that), so, as uncomfortable as it was (it made me feel exposed/vulnerable--like deliberately forcing your hands to your sides and sticking your chin out to be punched), I taught myself to look people in the eye. My natural inclination is to watch people's mouths or to look away and listen.  Especially when someone is sharing something emotional, where THEY seem vulnerable. It's REALLY hard to look at that.  . .  But not as hard as it used to be.

I have had to teach myself to smile when I greet people. This is not because I'm not genuinely happy to see them; I just don't naturally smile. I had to train myself to do it so that people could tell that I was happy to see them. It's habit now, but not a natural one.

I don't get claustrophobic in small places; those are actually very comfortable to me, but I can be in a very large place full of people and feel like I can't get enough air--I have recently learned that what I often experienced in grocery stores and other similar situations were "mild" panic attacks.  I still deal with this, but I've grown and learned how to cope in most situations.

I'm intelligent.  (You are probably wondering why I would list that with things like sound sensitivity and social claustrophobia.) The thing is that I've spent most of my life feeling stupid. INCREDIBLY stupid. I would walk into a room where no one had ever met me and be called the "genius" without even saying anything; I would have teachers and my parents all point out how smart I was, but then I would get a school assignment and be completely lost about how to find the answers.  I'd read a chapter in History and know the story, but then the questions would always seem to be about things that never occurred to me as important--most of them seemed so random that they seemed designed to make me fail, and then I'd see that I was one of the few that didn't get the answer. . . I'd work entire pages of math, totally sure that I was doing it right, only to find out that I had done every bit of it wrong. And I had no idea why. People would tell me how sad it was that I wasn't living up to my potential, and I'd be clueless as to how to do better--I'd study and still not know the answers. . . .

It wasn't until I went to college to be a teacher and started learning about different learning styles and being in classrooms where discussions were encouraged that I began to understand how my mind takes in information.

I'm highly auditory. I have been able to listen to people and take in most of what they are saying, and, in some cases, repeat it back word-for-word.  In conversation I can usually work out the meaning of what someone wants to convey, and the conversation is part of what makes it "stick." The thing is that while I'm talking or they are, my mind is flitting all around, making connections, drawing from other experiences and associations and using ALL of those things together to make the information accessible. I see patterns in things and the patterns make "three-dimensional" "pictures" in my mind, not necessarily about the individual concept that was being taught or discussed, but the "grand picture" of how that concept fit into the world as I know it. This ability was beyond useful in college classes, but I found that if I tried to take notes, one of two things would happen: 1. I would take terrible notes because I was trying to follow what was being said--making connection, etc..., or 2. I would write furiously, getting as much written as possible and have absolutely no memory of what was said. I would then have to go over the notes and try to piece together what I wrote with whatever memory of the lecture I could pull up. So I don't ever take notes any more. My memory is more reliable. For me at least.

There are other things that I have found out recently that make me different than other people. I think in pictures and concepts and then put those into words. When you speak to me, I see what you're saying as concepts or images and process them that way. Often my mind is randomly casting out for connections and will draw up puns based on how you said what you said, or based on the images that your words inspired. Through extensive reading and a love of language, I have learned (and am learning) to use language to bridge the gap between concept and words. Metaphors are more than poetic description to me; they are often LITERALLY how I think of something. If I say there was an ocean of people, rest assured that in my mind, I am picturing crowds of people moving like waves, waves that can crash over you, in which you can be lost and drown. It's more than a literary device for me. It's how I think.

But people don't talk like that, so I've learned not to either. . . mostly. I am happily learning how to tap back into it for the purpose of writing, though. :)

What's more, I've discovered that I see things--patterns, meanings, connections--that others don't see. I've written critical essays of literature on stories and poems that professors have been teaching on for decades and have pointed out things that they had never seen before. And I've done it over and over again.

In a previous blog post I talked about how I apparently have a gift where literary analysis is concerned; I now know why.

I mentioned in that post that God had shown me how to take that and apply it to my Bible reading.  I saw many things. SO many that I started to discount the ideas and connections I was making until Go d told me that He MADE me so that I would see things that others missed.

I am finally coming to understand what is different about me. I am finally beginning to see the pattern in me.
And it has a name:


I have done extensive research on symptoms and characteristics from the low-functioning to the high function ing--from the Autistic to Asperger.  I have read personal accounts from other Autists and found voices calling out from "out there," and they all say the same thing: "I understand."

I read an article  (<--click a="" about="" among="" and="" but="" came="" dealt="" different="" do="" else="" for="" have.="" have="" herself="" i="" in="" it="" known="" like="" lived="" many="" me="" naturally="" no="" of="" one="" other="" others="" p="" read="" same="" saw="" see.="" seemed="" she="" someone="" sounded="" talked="" teaching="" that="" the="" things="" to="" was="" ways="" where="" who="" with="" woman="" world="" yourself="">
I recently watched the movie Temple Grandin and was AMAZED at how well the way that noises and images were portrayed. At one point, I stopped the movie and turned to my wife and asked, "When people talk to you, do YOU see pictures like that?" She said no, and I suddenly realized that I always had, and here this movie was saying that this particular characteristic was unusual.  . . . Huh. I never knew.

I think, based on my early language development, and my over-all desire to have social relationships, that I would probably be classified with Asperger's, but due to the changes being made in the classification system, they, the powers that be, are doing away with the Asperger's Syndrome label anyway.

I think I much prefer Autist.

Gah! When I look back at my life and think on the times when I was so socially awkward and couldn't seem to figure out WHY I was different and HOW to be like others. . .  and it all makes sense now. Life, experience, and, most importantly, GOD have allowed me to make enough connections that I can get along fine in most situations. I still have problems in some, but I press through for the most part.

I am SO BLESSED!  Knowing WHY doesn't change anything, but it DOES lift off the burden of "What's Wrong With You!?"

Now I know that it's not that there's something wrong with me, I'm just made to see things differently.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

So I Guess I'll Write Something. . .

So, I've been in a hard place lately. I've been frustrated by things I couldn't even put my finger on. I'd just be going along fine, and suddenly, I'm so tense and irritable I could hardly see straight.

I've been frustrated at work, at home, in my writing, and in my relationship with God (and others).

I've been increasingly bitter about things that I would have sworn weren't even issues, but that I couldn't seem to get past--I'd just suddenly have something spark a memory and I'd be instantly angry and incredibly bitter.

I knew the problem had to be unforgiveness; all the signs were there. And I just kept getting angrier and angrier. I was snapping at everything.

It broke for a little while a month or so back when I was hit by the realization that I didn't know how to have joy in my walk with God. I mean, I experienced it when I was teaching, or prophesying, but to just walk around with joy? I had no idea.

My church had a combined meeting with several other churches that are affiliated with us--we do this twice a year--and when the meeting was over, our pastor called the pastors of the other churches up and encouraged everyone to come up and seek a blessing or get prayed for.

Well, I'd spent the whole service feeling like my heart had been weighed down by a tombstone. I heard the message--about how God wants to move in the Spirit and in Power in His church again--and I agreed WHOLE-heartedly. I knew it was true. And I knew/know that I can hear God, that I can feel Him move in the Spirit, that I have heard Him SAY that this is what He wants. . .

And yet.

There I stood, feeling like my heart was suffocating.

So I went forward. I went to a pastor and his wife that I knew fairly well, and explained the situation--briefly.  The pastor prayed for the dam inside me to break and for the life to flow in me again, AND I FELT IT! And then his wife looked at me and said that it was so good to see me smiling. She said that when they came in, she saw me, and I looked so serious!
Ever have one of those moments when someone says something and it hits you "right there"? I felt those words like a blow to the heart.
And I heard God. He said "You're trying too hard." and "You've forgotten My joy." Echoed softly by the quote, "The joy of the LORD is my strength."

And that's how the "funk" broke for a little while. You see, I had an answer, sort of. I at least had a direction to look. So I looked, and looked, and looked, . . .

And gradually, the funk came back. Harder and more brutal.

I thank God for my wife and for my children. My children are a constant reminder that I'm not free to allow myself to indulge in stupidity, and my wife is a constant, and the God-send that defines "help-meet" for me. She saw the turmoil in me and was understanding. She stood in the gap and freed me to back off when the strain and stress were pushing me to the breaking point. And, she sat me down at last and told me it was time to figure this thing out and fix it.

I wanted to fix it. I'd been trying to fix it. I knew all the advice that I would give to someone going through the same thing, and I KNEW it was the right advice, but it just wasn't working.

About a week before my wife had the "sit-down" with me (I'm smiling as I call it that, she was so kind and apologetic as she tried to explain it), but anyway, about a week earlier, I was at work, beating myself up about the rut I was in when God gave me an image of how I saw my ministry and my relationship with Him.

I was standing in a great hall. There was only one door, and I was standing right next to it. Meanwhile people were coming to hear from God, and as they came I would press my ear HARD against the door, hear what God was saying, and tell the people what I heard. It was great to be able to hear Him, and awesome to be able to help others hear Him, but, while in the vision it was satisfying, as I watched it happening, I immediately saw the problem, and then heard God put it into words. The problem was that I (and all of God's people) wasn't supposed to be listening from the outside; I was supposed to be in His presence. What God said was, "You've been working so hard at being the 'good and faithful servant' that you've forgotten to be my son."

I revisited that scene several times up to the night that my wife spoke with me, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't get through the door. I looked, and there wasn't even a door knob. It was heart-breaking.

I shared all of this with my wife, and she prayed with me, and I still felt miserable. (Sorry, but it's true.)

The next day--possible the day after--I was listening to a Christmas album by David Phelps. The first song of the album is Joy, Joy. It's one of my favorite songs of all time. It is so passionate, and I have always felt that it embodies the passion that God felt when Jesus was born. So I wasn't terribly surprised to find myself tearing up while I was listening, and then...

I suddenly realized that one of the reasons that I love that song is the abandon with which Phelps sings it. It's one of the reasons I love to play my saxophone in worship--I can pour out my heart through it.
And I heard God say, "You bottle too much up. You hold too much back. You suppress things that I put in you because you think that they aren't how 'things are supposed to be,' or that they don't fit your image of what you're supposed to be or be doing."

--I hate playing softly when I play my horn. It leaves me breathless; NOT because I've run out of air, but because I've held back so much that the air I have in my lungs is empty. I feel like I'm left with a lung full of wasted potential.

I've been working on a story about an interview that an angel has with someone. The interview starts as the angel steps in and runs off a demonic nightmare.

Well, when I sat down to write the story, I started at the beginning--with the nightmare. As I wrote, I drew from nightmares I'd had in the past. . . and they kind of took on a life of their own. I didn't want to sell them short; after all, I had actually experienced these, and I figured that I could just write it down and edit out anything that didn't work.

There ended up being a lot of it.  I really felt like it was too much, and that it took away from where I wanted the story to go, but I left it in and sent a copy off to my Alpha Reader, known in Blogger Land as "Rebecca at the Well," to see if she felt the same.  She did. She actually said it was borderline (if not crossing the line) horror. She had lots of other comments which were spot-on what I was already seeing myself, and I was initially encouraged, but then I got bogged down by the fact that I'd just poured so much into what I'd written, and it was all wrong.  I couldn't just edit bits out, I had to completely rewrite it, which I started to do, but then it didn't have the right "voice." And that's when the funk was already hitting hard.

I went to a men's meeting, from which I was supposed to go with a dear friend to talk some of these issues out with, but he got called away so I ended up staying and talking with an old mentor of mine. It was good. I got to talk about my writing, and my hope for it. I explained the trouble with the angel interview story, and, at the end of it, he told me a long (and fascinating) story, ultimately leading to this: "Don't worry about what you're writing. Don't make it HAVE to look a certain way, or fit a certain mold. If it's what you feel like writing--then write it."

Now, you have to realize that the last four paragraphs flashed through my mind in about two heart-beats. One second God's saying that I'm repressing myself, the next, all of that flashes through my mind, and then God says, "Yes, even the horrific nightmare stuff was supposed to happen. That wouldn't have poured out if you hadn't been bottling it up. It serves a purpose too."

None of this made sense to me. All I could see was me standing next to the door in that vision, wanting to scream in frustration at not being able to get through.

Then, in the vision, I heard a voice behind me saying, "I'm not ON the other side of the door."
"Then why can I hear You hear," I nearly sobbed back.
Then, in a voice so compassionate it hurt to hear, He said, "Because you WANTED to hear me."
I found myself arguing, trying to fight the implications in that. "But I've had to concentrate, I've had to try so hard to block out distractions, I've had to--"
"No," God interrupted like a gentle avalanche. "You didn't."

And all at once it made sense. I've been like the tree straining to bear fruit, caught in the lie that my efforts had anything at all to do with the fruit that showed up--I strained and fruit showed up, so I thought that I did it, but God was telling me that the fruit would be there whether I strained or not. I would hear Him whether I tried or not, whether I was distracted or not--as long as I WANTED to hear Him. It really had nothing to do with me at all.

I was free.

And then I heard in the song the lines "Jesus has come to bring, Jesus has come to bring JOY!"

I'm not going to lie to you: I cried. Right there at work. I cried, gasping for breath. Because I could feel the Joy. I could FEEL it. I still do.

Not ten minutes later something came up that directly related to some of the things that had been setting me off before, and it didn't even phase me. Imediately, several side issues jumped to mind, and I recognized them as spiritual attacks. And THEN. . . I realized that all of the "unforgiveness" I'd been beating myself up over wasn't actually unforgiveness, it was distraction and frustration that the enemy had used to beat me down and keep me feeling defeated, but that God used to prod me until I could finally understand.

So now I'm having to learn how to be me again. And to figure out what that means. I can do what I feel led to, however I feel led to. I can write whatever I want--God says He'll use what He wants to--I don't have to try to make it "fit."

I just can't wait to try out all of this new freedom. I don't know how to relax into this. I've always felt like I had to live up to "something." So this is so strange as to be completely foreign, but I have hope again, and I've felt joy. . .

And that's a start. :-)
Here is a link to that song. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Milestones and Road Signs

I'm a bit unusual.

(I know.)

But, more specifically, I'm unusual in that I have been given certain milestones in my life to look to.
And most of those I was given in advance...

When I was 18, I knew that I would be in business with, and, at some point, in ministry with, one of the best friends I've ever had, Scott. I didn't know how or when, but I knew that God had that for me. By the time I was 19, he and I were running a commercial painting company and cohosting a Christian Radio program (and eventually we were leading a youth Bible Study for a while).

By the time I was 20, I knew that I would be married the year I turned 25, that I would be (was supposed to be) engaged for a year; I would have two children (I even knew they'd be boys and what their names would be/mean).

I was married, after an engagement of exactly 1 year, on January 1, 2004. I turned 25 January 12, 2004.

I know that sounds like self-fulfilling prophesy, but I talked about it with some people when I was 20. They know how it played out.

I now have two sons.

There have been countless other examples of these things; I could list them, but I don't want to bore anyone.

The thing is, the next one is next year. And I don't know what it is.

I have known for 15 years that the year I turn 35 is supposed to be very important. I've had theories, but I still don't know. I have worked, studied, applied myself in every way I could think of to try to be ready for whatever it is, but I still don't know.

With all of the other "future milestones," I had road signs. "4 years to Marriage on right"   "2 years to First Born Son--No U-Turns" etc...

So it is highly frustrating to be on the verge of this next thing and not know what's there.

I have to trust that God knows what He's doing. (He's certainly gone to a lot of detail proving it to me.) I also have to trust that He has prepared me and knows how to make up the difference in where I will fall short.

I'm not really worried, like I said, God has proven Himself more than faithful. So I guess I'm just throwing this out there so that when whatever does happen, this will be a record that I "knew it was coming"--that God gave me a "heads up."

I'm putting it out there for God to use to show off (show up).

Just thought I'd share.

God Bless!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Loading Error. . .

So I've been sitting in front of my computer for a couple of days now, trying to think of something to write.
I've got a new story idea, but I'm still in the pre-writing stages of that one, so no good there.
I'm just sitting here.
Trying to think of something inspired. Something clever. SOMEthing.

And suddenly it comes to me: How often have I been given a WORD for someone, just a small thing--a phrase or so, and when I start to tell it, it becomes FAR more than I realised it was.

So often I've waited in writing until I felt like I had the "whole picture" when my entire experience in ministry has been, "Just do it and let the rest happen."

How often have I heard and said that prophesy is only a word in PART? How many times have I had to step out in faith with little to nothing to go on, and watched as God did something amazing? How often, and yet, here I am, believing that I am SUPPOSED to write--called to do it, yet I forget everything I learned about following God.

This isn't just for me either. I don't know who you are; I know a couple of people who regularly read this blog, but my hope is that the things I've written in all sincerity will reach out past my realm of influence and long after I'm gone. So, whoever you are, listen:

Take a chance. Even if all you have is the barest sliver of a hope that God wants to use you in something, step out on that sliver. And then keep stepping in ALL areas of your life. Don't let the world or the devil cheat you by limiting where God can fill in the gaps for you.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In ALL of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Stuff Dreams Are Made of. . .

So I want to write.

I want to write fiction, but I want it to be something that is meaningful. I want it to matter.
The problem is that I have been finding myself drawn more and more toward mainstream fantasy and science fiction--the worlds I've been working on have been detailed and exciting, but they ultimately lead in the same direction as 99% of the other stuff that's already out there, and I want my work to point back to God, or, at least to point in a direction that will eventually lead to God.

So I found myself frustrated, and frustration lead to writer's block, and that lead to an emotional funk that left me feeling almost depressed every time I thought about writing. . .

So, for a while, I stopped trying.

Then, one day, I was listening to a podcast by professional writers about being a writer (, and the authors mentioned something that stopped me in my tracks. I was sitting at my computer listening, and they said that they had to be careful what they were reading while they were working on a project (current book) because they tended to pick up the voice/tone/style of the books they were reading and start to write like that, and that was often not good if what they were reading was too different from what they were trying to write.

And it hit me.

I spend a GREAT deal of time listening to audiobooks while I'm at work. I generally listen to Science Fiction or Fantasy novels.

And I realized that the reason my own writing was leaning that direction was because that's what I was listening to; that's what I was reading.

Then God stepped in. (I know, right?)

He said, "If you will read My Word, I will give you your dreams."

Here's the thing: I have always seen my stories as dreams to be written down and given substance. So this was a HUGE word to hear.

My first nagging doubt was that I would start writing like the Bible, but I really had to give God more credit than that.

So, for the next week, I didn't read or listen to anything but the Bible.

By the second day I had scenes playing out in my mind about the biggest project I hope to accomplish, a multinovel allegory.

I couldn't really put the characters together before. It was like I could see them in jumpy clips of an old silent film. I knew basically what was going on, but the depth was missing--the details were lacking.
Now, it's coming together. I'm still in the prewriting stage of this project, and I have some smaller projects to work on as well, but I'm excited again.

The series is tentatively named The Invisible Kingdom. I'll let you know what happens as I go. This is a long-term project--especially as I have a full-time job and a family that comes before my writing, but my wife is on board and supportive, and we are working toward a plan for doing this.

So, I'll keep moving forward, and I'll keep in the Word better than I have been being, and I'll trust God to give me my dreams.

What dreams do you have? Maybe you can find them where I did?

God bless!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The God of LOVE in the Old Testament

In the past several years, God has shown me some incredible things about His Word.

My education is in English/Language Arts/Literature.  One of the things that I found while in school is a love for how the written language works--especially in Literature.  I have had immense pleasure in dissecting passages of text and pulling out all of the little things the author included. It is not unlike digging for hidden treasures. It was like I could open the pages and examine what the author said and then examine how the author said it. The deeper I went into the work, the more it seemed that I could find the author in the words.

Well, one day, God directed me to His book.

I had been avoiding doing this because it seemed wrong, somehow, to use something I'd learned with secular writing with the Bible.

But then God said something that made me do a mental double-take. He told me that HE was the author of the Bible, and that He was every bit as clever as anyone who had ever written anything secular.

"I crafted this work for a purpose. I used many hands and many hearts, but I crafted it. Look in my Word and see MY hidden treasures. Look in my work and find ME."

So I began re-reading the word. And this was my quest: The Bible says that God is "the same yesterday, today, and forever," and it says that "God is love."  Soooo, what about the Old Testament? I can't count how many times I've heard people refer to the "God of the Old Testament" as a vengeful, judging God," or "you could wring blood from the pages of the Old Testament."

Well, wait a second.  If the Bible is true, and it says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the God of the Old Testament is the SAME as the God of the New Testament. Jesus didn't change the nature of God... He explained it!

So I looked, starting with Genesis, starting with Man and his fall. . . and I found the God of Love.

In every situation, with every person, with every judgement, Once I started looking for His love, it was plain to see.

Look FOR the God of Love in YOUR Bible, and then FIND Him in your LIFE.

I'll be telling more about this in future posts.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Decisions, Decisions...

Well, about the time that I think I've finally got a handle on where I'm going and what I'm going to do when I get there. . . Things Change.

So, since school ended, I've been working at the job I was at before I started school. It has been a good thing. I work for a man for whom I have a great deal of respect, and I'm getting to do things I've dreamed of seeing happen with the business for years.

In addition to that, since I am not teaching professionally, I am now working a job that gives me the possibility for writing time.

I have a deep love of reading--particularly of Science Fiction and Fantasy. In the process of completing school, I have found a nearly equal love for writing the same.

I feel that I may even have a talent for it, though it will take some practice and honing before the skill is marketable, but I have been pursuing this as a career.  I actually have felt like God has been leading me in this direction, so I've been working on short story ideas and novel plot development--it has been a lot of fun.

But I'm finding myself questioning some things.

I very much want to write Fantasy novels. That is what I have read, and that is where my ideas generally go. My vision for this is to create worlds and "magics" that are based on True Biblical and Spiritual concepts. That may sound like a contradiction, but hear me out.

Most Fantasy fiction involves power, magic, gods and goddesses, and so on. They all address/fulfill a longing that is built into humans for the supernatural. We are created to seek out God, and part of that includes His power and His spiritual nature. The problem is that the VAST majority of Fantasy novels fulfill these longings with concepts that are completely carnal and lead the readers' minds to (unconsciously) seek these things in the wrong places; the novels "train" readers to expect supernatural things to look and feel a way that is not going send them in God's direction.

What I want is to create stories, where the nature of "power" is parallel with the True nature of power, where power comes from submission to the will of the source of the power, and where  control is an illusion. I want to create a story where the dealings that the characters have with their deity reflect dealings with the real God. In short, I want to give the readers magic and supernatural events and experiences that will prime them to seek and recognize Godly things outside the books.

So, that's what I've been working toward. With some distractions.

But now, I'm also finding that I have a strong desire to write about what I've learned about the Bible and operating in the Spirit.

I want to write a book/blog that goes through the Bible, character-by-character and show God's love through out the Old Testament and New.

I want to share about the struggles I've had learning how to accept God's true forgiveness and acceptance of me, and how He truly does want to speak to and through me. I want do describe how I learned to hear God and all of the things I've learned about Him.

I also want to sit down and go through as many of the "Hard Questions" that are floating around. You know, the ones that the really confrontational opponents to Christianity like to throw around. And I want to Answer them.  I've heard some of these questions, and if someone would just stop and read the Scripture they are misusing, and read it in CONTEXT, the answers are not difficult. Some of them are involved, but if a person REALLY wants an answer, and not just an argument, the answers are out there to be found.

So you see, I want to do so much with my writing, but there is only so much time in a day.

I'm taking some time now to work on pre-writing for several projects, and waiting for God to let me know which way (or ways) He wants me to go.

Decisions, decisions.  I have decided to follow Jesus, . . .

But right now it seems like He's sitting in a rocking chair, rocking contentedly, smiling and humming as He's reading a book. (A book that I'm supposed to write?) But I can't seem to get Him to let me see the title.

So, for now, I'll just carry on and keep an ear out for Him to lead me.

And I may start a couple of Topic Specific blogs as well.

I'll keep you posted.

Until next time,
God Bless.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Purpose for the Storm

My wife and I host a small group meeting in our home on Wednesday nights. This has been an enormous blessing on so many levels.

Tonight we talked about Solomon's son Rehoboam. The discussion went, generally, about choices and consequences, but there was one place in the story where something God said to Rehoboam just stood out to me. It is found in 1 Kings 12, after Rehoboam has been ousted by the Israelites and returns to Judah.

21 When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered all Judah and the tribe of Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam son of Solomon.

22 But this word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 “Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, to all Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’” So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered.

Can you see what stood out to me? :-)

Sure, Rehoboam messed up. We all do. And, yes, things had gone terribly wrong.  But here, God tells him "this is MY doing."


You mean all of this terrible stuff is YOUR work?

And Rehoboam says, "Okay." and they go home.

How often do things go poorly for us and we miss the point of the experience just because all we can focus on is how our plans didn't work out, or how unpleasant the situation is?

There is so much PEACE in knowing that God has a hand in what happens to us, and that He has a purpose.

It may not always be pleasant, but if God is doing it, it's GOOD. It's RIGHT.
That's when we have to stop and decide that if what is going on really IS God, then the reason it seems bad is because we're looking at it from the wrong perspective.  It's time to look to the Father and find His purpose in it and gain some peace in knowing that what we're going through is for a reason--it has meaning.

Don't believe that this can give peace and strength? Well, here's an example:

Jesus is on the cross. He's been beaten to the point of near un-recognizability. Nearly every friend he's ever had has abandoned him. Everyone else is mocking him. Soldiers are gambling to pass the time while they wait for him to finish dying by torture. . .
What does he do?

Matthew 27:46
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

He complains? He cries out because God has abandoned him too? He despairs?

No. He quotes scripture.

Psalm 22:1
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

Now why would that help? Okay, so he's not just complaining, but is it much better that he uses scripture to complain?

Look further in that particular Psalm.

verse 7. Those who look at me laugh. They stick out their tongues and shake their heads.
8 They say, “Turn to the Lord for help. Maybe he will save you. If he likes you, maybe he will rescue you.”

Then look at Matthew 27:41

41 The leading priests, the teachers of the law, and the Jewish elders were also making fun of Jesus. 42 They said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He says he is the king of Israel! If he is the king, let him come down now from the cross. Then we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God, so let God save him now, if God really wants him. He himself said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And in the same way, the robbers who were being crucified beside Jesus also insulted him.

And further in the Psalm:
18 18 18 They divided my clothes among them,
and they threw lots for my clothing.

Matthew 27:35 When the soldiers had crucified him, they threw lots to decide who would get his clothes.

And more....

Jesus didn't just randomly quote a "complaining scripture: he quoted one the specifically predicted what he would go through on the cross. Jesus recognized the events he was experiencing from the Psalm and KNEW that he was going through it all for a purpose. He was reminding himself that God had already said "this is MY doing." And this encouraged Jesus.

And this encouraged Jesus. . . .
1. Jesus NEEDED encouragement, so don't feel bad if YOU do; If Jesus needed it, we're lucky we can survive without it.

2. WHEN he needed it, he got it from knowing that God has a purpose for the trouble we face. It may not be pleasant, but it's GOOD. and RIGHT.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What did you come looking for?

Matthew 11:
7 As John’s followers were leaving, Jesus began talking to the people about John. Jesus said, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed blown by the wind? 8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes live in kings’ palaces. 9 So why did you go out? To see a prophet? . . . 

Why did people come to see John the Baptist?  What was it that drew them? Was it just the new fad? 
Maybe, in part, but was that all?

Jesus' words show that they did come looking for something more; they came looking for a prophet. 
They had teachers of the Law of Moses. They had Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees and more...
What did they want from John the Baptist?

Let's look further back. (and I mean a LOT further back)

1 Samuel 3:
1 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the LORD by assisting Eli.  Now in those days messages from the LORD were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

I was teaching this story to my Sunday School class this past Sunday, and it suddenly struck me that it was an odd thing to say to start telling about Samuel.

The previous chapter talked about how sinful Eli's son were, and the word that was about to come to Samuel was about that, so why throw the part in about how rare hearing from God was?

And then, while it was coming out of my mouth, I realized why it was so important. And why it was important in John the Baptist's time as well.

When people came to the temple, they didn't just come to hear the teaching--They came expecting, they cam desperate for the Living, Applicable Word from the LORD.  They wanted a vision or a word that God spoke to/for them for THAT day.  Eli's sons were despicable in the eyes of the LORD, and Eli's refusal to correct them was equally bad, so God withheld His word from them.

But the people WANTED to hear from God.  

So, what do you come to church for?  Hmm?

Do you come to hear teaching? (Well, of course.) But is that all you expect? Is that all you seek?

God is still speaking to His people. We are SUPPOSED to come looking for His interaction.

It is time to start praying for the body of Christ to seek the prophetic word again. Actively. Passionately.

And this time, the prophetic is not just limited to the prophets--they have their own ministry and purpose, but God's spoken word is intended for ALL; He wants to speak to us individually and guide us personally. And at church (or any other corporate gather ing of believers) we should seek the prophetic work to help us know the path God intends for us as a body.  

But the important thing is that we SEEK His word.  

What will you come to see? 
A man in a suit?
Choirs singing songs?

Or a Living God Active in your fellowship?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Empty Pews and Empty Faces

Empty pews and empty faces
Fastened blankly on the floor.
Do they sit and seek a savior,
Or are they edging toward the door?

Hands held clasped closely together,
For the penitent portrayal
But the 'twined fingers are twisted
A benediction of betrayal.

Do not stand and sign surrender,
And sing false songs of sanctity,
When your heartbeat holds no honor
And mocks your Maker's divinity.

Don't you know the Devil's purpose
In the distractions that demand
Every ounce of your attention
And the dereliction of your hands?

Can't you hear now, heaven's heartbeat?
Don't you feel the Father's call?
Or is numbness all you know now
Leaning limply toward your fall?

These well-stocked pews and worn out spaces...
Is the spirit willing, but flesh too weak?
Remember the gift of your Redemption
Seize the moment, dare to speak.

Friends, this world has wounds of trouble;
As Tribulation's time draws near.
The loveless languish out there, lonely,
Fraught with agony and fear.

Now, if  you find your pew is empty
And your face turned toward the door,
Quickly claim your Lord's compassion
And remember when you, too, were once quite poor.

So now kneel, my friends, in wonder
Though your shameful past is plain,
Empty faces, seek a Savior!
Fill your hearts with love again.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Not the Least of These

Well, I've been thinking about King David lately.  And, you know, he gets a lot of publicity from the whole "giant killing" thing, and he's well known for a lot of his other "kingly" actions, but how often do we stop and think about how he got there?

Most of my life I've heard people talk about how David wasn't important at all; the fact that he was left in the field when Samuel came to visit has been cited many times. After all, OBVIOUSLY he wasn't very important if no one even thought to call him in, right?

But let's think about that: Jesse had eight sons. Seven were brought with him to see Samuel. One was left behind.

Now, was that a slight? Does it say that David was thought less of? Or does it say something else?

What was Jesse's occupation? He was a shepherd. His family made their living off the produce from the sheep. They depended on the welfare of those sheep.

When I think of that, and then think of Jesse's response to Samuel's question "Are these all the sons you have?", I have to see it differently. Jesse said, "There is still the youngest, but he is out in the fields watching the sheep and the goats."

Jesse had EIGHT sons, but the youngest was the one put in charge of the family business. David was trusted with the sheep. If my family depended on the well-being of those sheep, I would be tempted to have more people taking care of them than just one person, especially the youngest!

And I know that some suggest that David wasn't out there alone, but when David spoke of fighting the bear and the lion, he didn't talk about anyone else being there. . .

So, I'm thinking that Jesse was saying "Well, there's still the youngest, but I need him to watch the sheep." Jesse had to have trusted David, or he wouldn't have put him out there, alone, with all the family's sheep.

To support David's position as a highly regarded youth, let's look at the scene just before David takes on Goliath.  When he was standing around asking about Goliath, one of his brothers, Eliab, got angry and said "What are you doing around here anyway?” . . . “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”

Hmmmm. Well, what do we know about David? Was he proud? Was he deceitful? No. Everything that we know about him suggests that he was honest and confident in God, not himself. So where does this attitude of his brother's come from?

Let's look again at the fact that while David was watching the sheep, Jesse had all of the older brothers there to see Samuel.  Why weren't they in charge of the sheep? Especially the oldest?
Then, look at how Eliab describes the sheep: "those few sheep you're supposed to be taking care of. . ."

This reads strongly of envy. Eliab is slandering David's character and then belittling his work and responsibilites. (I feel fairly certain that Jesse would have taken exception to Eliab referring to the family flock as "those few sheep.")

Another thing to consider is that in the Hebrew tradition, you weren't just given a job--especially in a family setting-- you were appointed to a task. You were sent. This implied that the one sent was granted the authority to do the task, and it meant that the one sending trusted that the one sent was well able to do what was needed.

This is very important, because it tells us about where David's mind might have been while tending the sheep.

Here he is. He has the responsibility of the entire family flock. That could be a MAJOR source of stress, but David KNOWS that his father believes that he is capable, so David doesn't stress over it. This is super important! How often do we fail/stress because we aren't sure about our place in a job or ministry? How often do we simply not act because we don't know if that's "our job." David knew.

So what did David do?

We all know that David wrote psalms and praised God, but let me show you another part of that picture.

Often, the shepherds would take their sheep out to their own pastures to feed, but at night, to help protect from predators, the shepherds would bring several flocks together and keep them in a large fenced pen. This allowed all the shepherds to work together in a controlled area to protect the flocks--Very Economical.

The problem was to separate the sheep in the mornings.  So, during the day, the shepherds would either talk to the sheep or sing to them so that they would become accostomed to the shepherd's voice. This way, when the shepherd came to the gate in the morning, he could call the sheep, they would hear his voice (probably associating that voice with feeding) and those who belonged to him would come to him, while those who did not belong to him would not.

This is what Jesus meant when He said "My sheep will know my voice."  David would come to know God's voice too.

David was out there, not stressing about his job, and required to talk or sing so that the sheep would know his voice. So what does he do? He sings of the goodness and greatness of God. . . day in--day out. All day. Every day.

Have you ever been in a worship service and just felt the presence of God there? That is God expressing His delight in you loving Him. He's showing you that He loves you back.

Imagine a mother. Her small child brings in a handful of partially crushed flowers--dandelions and other wild flowers/weeds--but it's not the quality of the gift that she responds to, it's the heart of the giver.  Our praise is not remotely qualified to give God His deserved honor, but He is SO excited that we care enough to try. So He "cuddles up" and shows us He's there.

The more we worship (truly worship--focus on Him, His greatness, gratitude for His grace, kindness, etc.) the more we experience this--the more we recognise His "voice."

David worshipped ALL THE TIME. He felt that presence constantly. He was constantly aware that God was close.

When he fought the bear and the lion, he didn't have to stop and ask God to come be with him; David knew that God was already there. David could "hear God's voice!"

This is how you begin (and improve) hearing God. Spend time honoring Him in your thoughts and prayers and songs. He is drawn to that. And soon you'll begin to recognize Him even weh you don't feel the "warm fuzzies" that we often associate with the presence of God.

I've said all this to say, David wasn't the least of his brothers; he was the greatest. God said this. And he wasn't the greatest because of any great skill or good appearance; he was great because he was close to God. David was a "man after (following, persuing, hunting, tracking, desiring. . . ) God's own heart.

What are you after?

Do you think of yourself as "the least of these?" Maybe you just read it wrong. 


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Wine of Choice

Well, I was getting ready to teach my Sunday School class (10-12 year-olds) again this Sunday. I had a couple of new students and was explaining how I like to do things. My plan was to teach on Adam and Eve and explain the curses and promises God pronounced, but before I start teaching, I like to do a little Bible Trivia. I was explaining to the new students that I like it as a starting activity, and it helps me see what kind of things they know and don't know. I told them that sometimes, if I think it's just too ridiculous that they don't know something, I will change my plan and teach on the question they don't know.

So, I took out a trivia card, and I picked the easiest (I thought) question there: What did Jesus turn water into at a wedding ceremony?
. . . In a class of eight, two thought they knew. One thought that it was blood, which at least happened in Genesis with Moses, but really. . .

So I taught on Jesus' first miracle.

It's found in John 2. I'll include it here in the New Living Translation. (

John 2
New Living Translation (NLT)

The Wedding at Cana

2 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
5 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

There are a few things I want to point out about this passage.

First, it clearly states that this is the FIRST miracle Jesus performed. "This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory."

Up to this point in Jesus' life, he was the son of Mary. We can tell by the lack of mention of Joseph during all of the accounts of Jesus' ministry that Joseph must have died in the years before. And based on what we know of Jewish tradition and culture, we know that Jesus, as the oldest son, would have been the provider for Mary and would have continued Joseph's work.

When we see Jesus in the book of John, He is roughly thirty years old. Presumably, He has turned over the carpentry business to one of the other sons, but in chapter 1, Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist, and the Spirit of God comes down, and God's voice can be heard to say the Jesus is God's "beloved Son, in whom [God] is well pleased."

This marks the point where Jesus officially takes on the role of the Son of God/Messiah. This is where He begins His ministry. It is right after this that He begins to call His first disciples--some of whom witnessed the baptism; some did not.

And then, in chapter 2, it says "The next day. . ." The next day after He starts His ministry and His new role. . .

Mary was invited to a wedding--Weddings were huge community events that usually involved inviting most of the people in their villages or towns--so, Jesus was invited too, and so were His disciples. What follows is a great testimony to the character of Jesus that I think most people overlook.

When the hosts ran out of wine, they told Mary, and she told Jesus. . . Most of us would naturally think that this made sense, after all, don't we go to Jesus when we need something? But remember this: Up to this point, Jesus had never performed a miracle. . . (Let that sink in)

Mary turned to Jesus and told Him what the problem was. Jesus, knowing that they weren't responsible for the wedding, and fully aware that His purpose was now to First be God's chosen man and Secondly to be the son of Mary responded, “Dear woman, that’s not our problem. My time has not yet come.”

Jesus knows that providing wine for people was not what He was "there for."

But here's where the testimony comes in. Mary turns to the servants and tells them to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. She totally ignores Jesus' comment that this wasn't their problem and then puts it all on the line TRUSTING THAT HE CAN TAKE CARE OF IT.

Now if Jesus hasn't been performing miracles His whole life, Mary's trust here indicates that when Jesus was put in charge of something--no matter what--it was taken care of. Mary had no reason to believe that Jesus was going to work a miracle, but she apparently had every reason to believe that it didn't matter--without miracles, Jesus was the kind of man that could be depended on.

This is so important! So many of us are quick to dismiss Jesus as a life example where day-to-day living is concerned because "well, He's Jesus; He can do anything." Well, for thirty years He did it the same way we do. . . Kind of takes the wind out of that argument, doesn't it?
This means that for thirty years, Jesus did it the hard way, and He only had the miracles for three years. He spent 90% of His life doing things the same way we do. . . or SHOULD do.

Anyway (I hadn't actually meant to go there; it just sort of came out).

So Mary put Jesus on the spot, and what did Jesus do? He told the servants to go fill the jars for the ceremonial washing jars with water and serve the master of ceremonies. And turned the water into wine.

The question I asked my Sunday School students was this: "Why?"

Why, after telling His mother that this wasn't why He was here, that it wasn't their problem, Why did He go ahead and do it?

The first answer, I'm proud to say, the students came up with after discussing it: He was honoring His mother--she trusted Him, and He took care of her.

The second goes a bit deeper. Remember: Jesus has been baptised into His official ministry; He's entered the period where He "does what the Father does and says what the Father says."

So what does this miracle say about the Father who made it come true? Remember also, that Jesus has been a businessman for years, and in a way that left His mother without any doubt that He could take care of things. Jesus COULD have made arrangements for a local dealer of wine to deliver more wine, or He could have done it any number of ordinary ways, but He didn't. God stepped in and showed Jesus' glory. . . WHY?

Well, what was accomplished?

The most obvious thing that was accomplished was what the scripture comes right out and says in verse 11: "And His disciples believed in Him." This could have been just about encouraging the disciples to really believe what they were suspecting about this strange and fascinating man.

But that could have waited. . . why THIS?

So we look closely. This is the first miracle, but it's not a healing, no one was raised from the dead, nothing profound was taught. . . He just save someone from embarrassment and helped people in a celebration.

Stop and consider that for a moment though. How often do we think of God as someone who can step in when things are too bad for us to handle? God is the God who can make a way when there is no way. Amen.

But how often do we think about God as someone who cares if we're embarrassed? Or that He would do something just to make a party better? Just so we'd have a good time. Remember: The wine wasn't just wine; it was the best wine.

So why did God choose to step in here? He cares about people. He cares enough that He'll step in even when the world isn't at stake. He could have done anything He wanted to "first reveal Christ's glory," but what did He do? He chose to join a party and do an act of personal kindness.

Why was the wine the best wine? Because "only the best" for the ones God loves.

Drink deeply.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Name is Benjamin . . . NOT Ben


So, when I was about eighteen, I generally went by the nick-name "Ben." I've found that most people automatically shorten the name Benjamin without thinking about it. It was just easier to go by "Ben" than to correct people, and, truth be told, when I was younger, I wanted kids to like me, and "Benjamin" sounded like a "nerd name," or so I was told.

Well, (back to when I was eighteen) my pastor preached a sermon on the names of different people in the Bible. He paid special attention to the names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Daniel 1:6-7

6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:
7 Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego.

My pastor explained that each of them had names that honored God, but it was the practice of the Babylonians to change the names of their captives. This was a way to rob them of their national identity--really, it was a way to tell them who they were, period. If I can change your name, I can tell you anything I want about you--what to eat, how to dress, what to think of yourself. Also, when you claim the right to name someone or something, you accept ownership of it, as in the way that parents name their children.

Each of the Hebrew young men had a name that included something of God, either the "ah" (like the breath of God as was added to Abram's name making it "AbrAHam") or the "el" (a name of God as in "El Shadai").

DaniEL -- God is my Judge
HananiAH -- God has favoured
MishaEL -- who is what God is
AzariAH -- Jehovah has helped

Belteshazzar = "lord of the straitened's treasure"
Shadrach = "royal" or "the great scribe"
Meshach = "guest of a king"
Abed-nego = "servant of Nebo"

I could pend a great deal of time on the word study, but that is not my purpose here. I may go into it later though.

The point is that this message really got my attention.

I have always known what my name means: Benjamin = Son of my right hand (an expression that means Son of Favor/ Son of strength/ Son of(with) Authority)

I also knew the story where Jacob changed his youngest son's name from Ben-oni (son of suffering) to Benjamin.

So. . . here's where things get interesting for me. I had many issues where my relationship with God was concerned, not to mention who I was supposed to be or . . . whatever. I felt like there were many expectations of me, but I didn't even know who I was or what I was supposed to do. Then I hear this message from the pulpit, and something about it "rang true" for me.

For the next week or so, every time someone would talk about me and I'd hear the phrase "Ben and I did such and such, instead of hearing "Ben and I," I heard "Ben-oni." So, in effect, every time someone said they did something with me, I heard "Son of suffering."

I probably don't have to tell you that, for someone with identity and self-worth issues, this was NOT cool.

It finally got to be so annoying that I turned to God.
"Are You trying to tell me something?!"
"Yes." I wasn't actually expecting an answer; I just thought my brain was fixating on the whole "name thing, but that "yes" was as clear as I could have hoped for.

Then God said, "I called you to be Son of Favor, not Son of nothing." This took me a second, but then I realized that "Ben" is a Hebrew prefix that means "Son of. . ." So, by going by "Ben," it was like I was calling myself "Son of . . . . what?" I had allowed myself to be called what others wanted to call me (no harm meant by them), and to let them change who I saw myself to be (this is part of a MUCH longer backstory), and by not accepting God's definition of who I was, I was leaving myself without the identity He'd planned for me, which was the source of my "suffering."

God told me that day that He claimed me--deliberately, specifically. He claimed the right to name me; He was calling me "Son."

So, I'm Benjamin, NOT Ben.

Who are you? :) (here's a hint: It has to do with being LOVED by Him)