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Posts Tagged ‘Church of Christ’

I did my best to sit upright in the class, wishing I wore glasses, thinking that a reflection might allow me to close my eyes a bit. Oh my gosh, this stuff was so dry, they poked through the book of Acts like crash scene investigators piecing together what happened. I listened with twenty-five percent of my brain, just enough to answer a question if they called on me, but this was like shoving bamboo shoots under my fingernails.

This was how I used to feel when I was in Sunday school years ago, when we would study the Bible, I could never connect with the characters as actual people, it was more a study in forensics. Now before I go any further, I want to be clear, this site is not nor will it ever be a platform to rant against anyone or anything. I was raised up in a very legalistic background, and I believe with all of my heart that those folks think they are serving God right. But sometimes we need to step back from our comfort zone and look around, do a self check, check the pulse of our faith, etc. We get an annual physical; there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same thing with our faith.

One of the things that I remember about church when I grew up is that everyone sat in the same place every week.  Several of the old timers positioned themselves either next to or directly behind the large support pillars, depending on if they cared whether the pastor saw them sleeping or not. The ones next to the pillars would lean their heads against it and snore, while the ones behind it would nod expertly in line with the pastor. I remember one week the poor pastor saw so many sleepers that he commented that it made him feel good to know he put so many people at ease. I used to nod off then too, because there wasn’t anything to be too excited about.

Those years were so sad for me, legalistic as could be and nary a clue. If you would have asked me, I would have told you all about how bad legalism was, never for a moment suspecting that I was part and parcel. We were trained to know the bible, so we could show everyone how messed up they were, missing the part about love and Grace, and it is capitalized for a reason, because it is so amazing.

Back then, the Apostles were yellowed text, cracked with age and not pertinent to me today, Jesus was God on earth, a perfect God-Man that I know never had anything in common with the guy who back then ran a forklift in a freezer dock. But it was what my folks did, it was what my wife did, I believed in God, so I needed to just roll with things, and that is what I did. But then the most wonderful thing happened.

The yellow pages began to turn black and white, and they weren’t cracked and broken anymore, the pages became whole. The two thousand year old Apostles were no longer men from other cultures that spoke different languages, that I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with, they became what they were, a bunch of average at best guys. I felt the Saul (the Apostle Paul) trying to swallow the lump in his throat when he encountered the burning speaking bush. I felt the wretched shame tear through Peter’s soul when he heard the Rooster crow, knowing he had let the Lord down, after he had assured him that he was solid, that it wouldn’t happen. The surprise on Thomas face when he “did” find the holes in his Master’s wrists, and he would forever wear the moniker “doubting Thomas”. The funny thing is, it took me being rocked out of that environment painfully, in what would eventually prove to be the biggest blessing of my life.

Yes, these people were no longer “forensic” they were people, but the people who were at the forefront, they were there, they walked with the Master.

That brings me to the best news of all, that guy who drove the forklift in the freezer many years ago, who thought more about making a better life for his family than his everlasting soul, yeah well. Guess what, that God-Man, as hard as this may be to believe, He became a Man, and He knew my name, He had always known my name. When He came down here, He had in fact been a man, He could have left anytime, but He didn’t.  Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, He looked at that future and said “whoa, is there any other way”, but in the end, He said Father, Your will be done. The thing that is really hard to wrap my mind around, always has been, always will be, is that that God-Man cares about me, but oh man, he does.

He snatched me up and I was blessed with a knowledge that managed to escape me for thirty two years of my life. Grace, last night I sat down with my two teen-aged girls to make sure that they understood grace, the blood of Christ and that we can’t work our way to heaven. Yeah, they knew, but my dad and step mom managed to make it eighty years without knowing, just saying. Jesus knows us, every one of us, I don’t know how, but He does. Maybe when Your blood atones for someone’s sin, You just know them, but He does. If church is legalistic and forensic, if you can’t feel the indecision in the Apostle’s, the lump in Paul’s throat, then it is time to do a self check. I am not a fan of church hopping, but the church is us, and I use two criteria. If you are serving, and serving the Lord well, meeting the need well, and you and your family are being fed then you are probably where you should be. Only you can answer that. God Bless-JFT

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In my attempts to understand and work through the hard times that kept coming last week, God put people and answers in my path that has led me to some really key spiritual discoveries. These discoveries are huge, they are something I have battled with all of my life, and have finally found resolution to them, in a very long and winding road that led all the way back to a seven day long migraine headache.

After the first attack, when I answered the Spirits call, and was immediately struck down, I did not recognize it as an attack, much in the way we did not recognize the first plane to strike the world trade center as an act of terrorism but more as just a plane hitting a building. But after the second time when the Spirit called (refer to previous post) and the second immediate attack I knew something was up, something was wrong and I was under attack.

I wrote some of what I was going through in my blog, and you all responded with concern. Larry wrote me an email with some thoughts that sent me down the path of discovery though. He wrote  ” When I state that your migraines (and most migraines) are caused by a demon, this does not mean that you personally have a demon in you because your inner man is filled with the Greater One. And Jesus does not share space with a demon or Satan. (Only unsaved people can house a demon in them.)

 

But instead, it means that somehow a demon has influence over you. I think of it as a string attached to a door into your soul (mind, emotions, memory, etc.) or your flesh. Somehow this demon can pull on the string to open that door at certain times. Usually, the string is attached because of sin or a curse. So, I always tell people to ask the Lord, “Why does this demon have a right to attack me? What have I done? Or is it something that someone else has done which now affects me?”

This is the Holy Spirit’s job to help you and disclose these things to you.

Once, you know why the demon is able attack you, then you can go on the offense.

 

Hmmm, I thought, demons. Well, God uses angels all the time, I certainly don’t expect the devil to be everywhere at once, of course he uses the evil equivalent of angels to get his dirty work done, but how. I am a good person right? But I do have sin, and it got me to thinking, and it caused me to do some self-examination.

I meet with a group of guys once a week, we open up with one another, we share things that we are having issues with, family issues, work issues, spiritual issues, and we hold each other accountable. It works very well, most of the time, we share much of our deepest problems and pains, but one thing that I realized, is that you can only be held accountable for what you share, and if you don’t share something, then you are hanging on to it, and I still had a couple of things I was hanging on to.

To many of the people who know me, I am outgoing and friendly, to my neighbors I am generous and open, to my accountability brothers an open book, but the truth is, they were misled. They thought they were standing in the open vault of my secrets, but on the back wall there was a book case with a false wall, behind it was the door to the real vault where I kept the remainder of my real deep dark secrets. In that vault were the insecurities, the shame of things I had done and still did in secret, the things no one knew about that I had never confessed, and that I had been terrified anyone would ever know about. As my accountability friends would mill about the faux vault drinking their latte’s I would stand in front of the false wall with my arms spread casually over the bookcase, my heart racing the whole time for fear that one of my friends would stumble and fall on the latch that would open the false wall, exposing the real me for who I was, a sinner, not worthy of heaven, not worthy of anything.

Larry’s letter was so clarifying to me, we weren’t being “truly” accountable, I don’t know why, I know we were trying, but I just wasn’t able to open up “that” deep with these brothers. I do trust these men, maybe the problem is all mine, but the simple fact is this, the devil knows me, he knows my sin and he knows my weaknesses. Yes, I have grown over the years, but trust me; the devil was making the most of what he had. Like having a string to a trapdoor that even I was not aware of he was accessing me through my weakness. Unfortunately I found that there were some things that I don’t share with my accountability brothers. Ahhhh, says Satan, gocha, a rift with the believers, something they don’t feel comfortable with.

There are things, not much just a couple that I share with no one and I keep buried deep inside. So it all began to come together, I had wondered how Satan was hitting me so hard when I was a faithful servant of his, and Larry’s clue led me to the conclusion.

It was at the close of day seven of the migraine, and I was exhausted, spent, and my mind was working slowly. My balance is funky these days, so I decided to shave and shower before bed, four fifteen comes early, and I try to cut my “getting ready for work in the morning” time down. As I showered, I was not thinking about any of these things, but instead “do I have fresh jeans and a shirt laundered for work tomorrow” as I soaped up.

This is what I just love about the Holy Spirit, He interrupts, he doesn’t wait, and tap his toe humming a Barry Manilow, Maniloe, Manilo whatever tune? Who cares, I think you know what I mean. He just comes right in, anyway, so I was washing what hair I have left, and I heard a voice in my head, and here are the words that were given to me by the Holy Spirit in the shower. “The Keys to the Kingdom lie with you Jim”. For the first time in my life, I knew exactly what God wanted me to do. In order to stop this demon from torturing my family and I, we needed to treat it like any common household pest, figure out how it is getting in, and then close that door.

For the most part, I am an open book, and am open about my past, my sin, etc. but there is that small little vault that I still keep locked to the world, so it wasn’t too hard to figure out where the trapdoor was that the demons were sneaking in through. The Holy Spirit had told me what I had to do, the “Keys to the Kingdom” (gosh, isn’t that a cool line) were in transparency, because true accountability came “only” with true transparency.

I love my guys, my accountability guys, I really do. I don’t know why I can’t go that extra step, maybe one day, maybe because I am the old guy in the group, I don’t know. When I got out of the shower, I was exuberant, I couldn’t wait to follow through, I texted Larry thanking him for leading me here, to this final answer. I felt the final small hole in my heart begin to fill in as I went out on to my back patio and called Tom. Tom and I have been friends since the fifth grade, we are very close. He lives a couple hundred miles away, but we are closer than ever, he is the best man I know. He is the guy I had chosen, I called him up, and I told him he was the only friend that I felt comfortable really telling everything to, and then I opened the vault, loaded the last couple boxes of dirt onto a dolly, and wheeled them over to the incinerator. When we were finished, I left the Vault open, and I poured cement into the trapdoors, the ones that had been tripping me up for decades, causing guilt for decades, I was closing them forever.

As Christ followers, it becomes cliché to say that we die to self, but last week I feel I did, several times. But the last time I died to self, the new guy doesn’t even feel like the old guy, and I don’t mean only spiritually, I mean physically, I don’t feel like me anymore. You may ask yourself “what’s wrong with this guy that he can take something as simple as a migraine headache and turn it into a battle between the forces of good and evil”, and my answer to you will be, I didn’t, they did. I have asked myself that same question, why me, why now. The answer is God does what He does for a reason, and while it may or may not make sense now, it always does later. I am just blessed, mine makes sense now. So, this post is quite a long and winding road, but in synopsis;

As the Holy Spirit put it, we may all have the “Keys to the Kingdom”,

But first, we must be

Transparent

In order to be transparent, we must first

Open the Vault

While we are in there, we must burn the garbage, empty the vault, and

Seal the Trapdoors

We can’t go it alone, we even need someone more than God, we need a friend.

Be Accountable To Someone

When you close the trapdoors that the devil sneaks into your life through, he will have no secret means by which to ambush you personally. Living “fully” transparent will make you a much more effective soul winner for Christ, no holds barred, All In. Even though I had the migraine last week, I would still have to say that last week was the best week of my life to date. God Bless-JFT

P.S. I would like to give special thanks to my brother, friend, and mentor, Larry Nevenhoven for his wise counsel last week. Without his words, I would not have found my way out of the maze.

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Fitz was an old warhorse, a chain-smoking graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy who was first my mentor, then my peer, then my boss, then the worst enemy I have ever had. A small man with a large IQ and a Napoleon complex who always felt he should have been controlling the Atlantic fleet rather than a power plant, he was out to prove he was large and in charge. He had thrown our friendship out the window along with that of any other friendship he had garnered over his thirty plus years working here at the power plant. Fitz was Roman Catholic, and had railed against my faith, calling me an infidel. He was angry at the world because it had taken him so long to achieve in life, but now he was powerful and he was planning on leaving his mark . His reign lasted six years, and by the time a wise new manager struck him down, we were all like abused dogs that had been beaten one too many times, trusting no one and fleeing like rats from a sinking ship when he would enter the room. When Fitz’s last day finally came a couple months later, it was bittersweet. We had once been friends, but those days were long gone, replaced by many memories of abuse and anger. The cake and ice cream social they had in the lunch room was only attended by management. Management were required to attend functions of this type, but for everyone else it was optional, and so everyone else stayed in. I was working that day, and I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to him. That was three and a half years ago.

Twenty-two months ago, Fitz was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. About eighteen months ago, I went to see him, I didn’t call, I just showed up. He was leery at first, non-trusting, wondering what I wanted, but then I just came right out and started talking straight. I said words like “God”, and “love”, and “Forgive”. He softened up, the old Navy salt wore off and he started crying and told me he was really scared. He told me that his wife Christy had left him, and that she had then gotten cancer too. And that he was more worried for her than for himself. He heaved as he told me all of this and poured his heart out and the enemy faded, and my friend reappeared. He had surgery, and so far he is making it, he thinks he will live, I doubt it, but God can do anything. This past Saturday, as I was fighting a small headache, the Holy Spirit called me to attention. I felt the nudge to call my old enemy Fitz on the phone and encourage him, and so I answered the Spirit’s call.

Fitz was delighted beyond measure when I called him, we talked for over an hour and I had to say goodbye three times before I was able to get off of the phone. When I did get off the phone, it was time for church. Church last Saturday was not an average worship service, it was one of those that you will remember for the rest of your life, it was one of those that leave you with a memory forever. As soon as it ended, I was struck down hard, violently, and painfully. My mind was scrambled and I wound up in the hospital. It was Saturday night and I would wander in a fog for seven days.

Later in the week on Wednesday evening I felt like my head was in a vice all day, but I hated being closed up in the house all the time, this is day five. I got up and looked out of the front window as Eddie, my neighbor (the cop) was watering his lawn across the street. For some reason, I felt the Spirit leading me to go talk to him, because he was sad and he needed to talk. I crossed the street and greeted him, he did seem sad. I didn’t tell him that I have a secret agent called the Holy Spirit that feeds me information about him, but rather, I ask how things are going with Patty, his new wife. She has been battling with her ex for custody of her two daughters. It has been dragging on for near three years now, and it is straining their marriage. Eddie is hurting as he relates how he just doesn’t know what to do, he has failed before, and he doesn’t want to fail again, he wants it to work. In the mean time, my wife pulls up at our house from work, glad to see me up and around. She respects that Eddie and I am talking, waves and goes into the house.

After Eddie and I have talked for a while, I ask if he and I can go into his garage, and he says we can. He has a piece of carpet there to catch oil drippings, and both of us knelt, and placed our arms around each other’s shoulders, as brothers in Christ should do, and then we prayed. We prayed for his marriage to Patti that God would bless it richly, we prayed that God would be with her two teen-aged daughters and help them to be okay despite the war between their parents. We prayed that the judges would make wise decisions, and that God would give Eddie the wisdom to be a good husband and a God centered man. Tears of relief streamed down Eddies face as we laid his cares at Jesus feet there on the floor of his garage, and when I said “Amen” Eddie was noticeably lighter as we got back to our feet and said our goodbyes.

My headache increased again as I crossed the street and entered my own garage, as the sun set on the fifth day of the worst migraine headache I have ever had in my life. My wife sat at the table with the mail in front of her and a grim look on her face as I kissed her on top of the head quietly. Is something wrong I asked? “Yes” she said as she handed me the letter that had already been opened. Looking at it I noticed the return address was that of my father, who would turn eighty in two weeks and my step mother who was in her early seventies. What was this all about I wondered?

They were splitting up; they were married almost seventeen years, getting together after my own mother died of pancreatic cancer in 1994. She had written the letter which they had sent to everyone in the entire family, and told me that she felt that they had committed adultery prior to their marriage, and the elders at their legalistic church agreed with them. They had set a date and would go before the entire church and confess their shame and ask forgiveness, then legally separate. My jaw dropped, I was shocked that this could happen in a church that bore the name of Christ. I immediately called them.

She answered the phone, and sounded weepy. I asked her what was going on, and we began to talk. As the conversation unfolded, I asked her if they had engaged in an affair while my mother had been alive, and she said no. I then said that they must have been intimate when they were dating then, and she responded that they were not, they had waited. When was this “adultery” then I asked. She said that when they were dating, they had lusted, and referring the scripture    Matt.5:28 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Here is the problem with that, adultery is reserved for the married folk. If you are married, and you have an extramarital affair, you have committed adultery, but if you are single, it is fornication. Now when it comes to lust”, or any sin for that matter, I say to the legalistic of the world READ JOHN 8:7 BEFORE YOU TELL  80 YEAR OLD MEN TO GO GET A DIVORCE YOU HIPOCRITES!  Just Sayin’  Now, for your reading pleasure, John 8:7 “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I was able to tell her about the blood of Christ, and how it was shed for us, How she did not commit adultery, and how even if she did, God forgives her. How if she commits a sin, she doesn’t have to notify everyone in the world about it and repent to them, God is the important one. In the end, they cancelled the separation, and stayed married.

The Migraine ended after seven days, the dizziness remains, focus remains elusive, I am not the same. It was a week of battles, but in the end, I think the devil came out worse, haha.

God Bless-JFT

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I went to greet the new family

         As they strode from the parking lot

                    You could tell they were nervous though they tried to hide it

                                 Smiling more often than not.

 

 They had called in advance

And I drew the straw

 So now here I stood

 Extending my paw.

 

                                                                        

                                                                            Here is our doctrine

                                                                                I began as we walked

                                                                             As I expertly spewed out

                                                                    It was then that they balked.

 

                                                  I was sure they were trouble

                                   By the expression on his face

               For a moment I wished

     I was packing my mace.

 

 The man said hold on,

                  And he stopped in mid stride

                                 Then he turned towards me in the aisle

                                              and dropped the hand of his bride.

 

                                                             Looking me in the eyes

                                                                      He stood still in place

                                                                         Then he said “your doctrine neglected                              

 

to mention  The concept of  Grace”.

 

                                                                  You see, without Jesus blood

                                                                  We don’t stand a chance

                                              Doctrines more works based guides

                                            Our church egos to enhance.

 

                                        We’ve never been able

                                       To work ourselves in

                                     Salvation from Grace

                                     Our rescue from sin

 

                                Our doctrine is what

                 Keeps us safe from the rest

                        I said as I stood boldly

                      Standing up to the test

This doctrine is important, our ways keep us safe

After all what would God want?

The stranger looked back at me, what would God want, he asked?

What would God want?

Well, let’s see.

He created Adam,

               He loved Adam,

                                 He created Eve,

                                               They both betrayed Him,

                                                                   He didn’t kill them,

                                                                                             He loved his people all along,

                                                                                                               Wanted obedience,                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                       And thought that maybe a do-over would work, so he flooded the earth and started over again with the best, most perfect people he had, Noah and family.

 

                               Guess what, we still were messed up, we still failed.

 

So God gets tired of waiting on us to figure it out, and decides to give us a break, cut us some slack. God decides to give us a golden ticket to Heaven. And what do we want to do, we want to act like it isn’t a golden ticket, like it is a general admission ticket that was bought and paid for with our own hard earned money. That is what we are saying to God when we forget to tell people about Grace, because when we forget to tell people about Grace, we are forgetting to tell people about Jesus, Gods Son, and that means we are not grateful for the blood His Son shed for our sins. Doctrine is important, it is important to know what you believe, and to know why, but doctrine without Grace is as worthless as Christianity without Christ.

 

I looked at the at the man as he removed his hand from my shoulder and I felt suddenly different, like Christianity without Christ I thought. Wow, who would ever say such a thing, much less even think such a thing.

Traditions and doctrine

                Had become more our creed

                                        Than the wonderful Grace

                                                            From which hell we’ve been freed

 

 

 My children had been raised

 

     More Mosaical than we knew

 

             Not remembering the first church

 

                        The first church in Acts two

 

 

    

   I walked door to door

              

                  And locked up the place

                         

                             As I said a silent prayer of thanks

                                          

                                               For the gift of Grace                                                                                   God Bless-JFT

                                                                                                                                                                                                Fiction

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Steve Nash blasts around the massive forward and makes the lay-up, effortlessly hooking the ball in that unique way he does it. The ball hovers for a second above the rim, then drops through the basket. The giant forward has a look of pent up frustration on his face as the small and nimble Nash throws a “got ya” smirk over his shoulder and trots back toward mid court. This has been going on for most of the game, Nash is going to have a high scoring game, and if the Suns don’t screw it up, they are going to beat the Celtics.

She comes into the living room pulling on one pump while hopping on the other, and I am so ensconced in the game I hardly notice. She is calling to Hayley telling her that they need to be gone in ten minutes. I am hoping she doesn’t even ask, I’m obviously planning on watching the game, but she can’t help herself, she asks anyway. Doug, won’t you come with me tonight, please?

I act like I didn’t hear her, a good play is going on and I am on the edge of my seat acting as though I am so focused I don’t hear her. Doug, Honey, she says and picks up the remote, pausing the game. Why don’t you change your shirt and come with us tonight, then afterward we will go out to dinner, she says. She begins rubbing my neck and purrs “pulleesseee, for me”. I enjoy the rub for the moment then say “I’m sorry honey, but this is a really important game, they are playing the Celtics, I really don’t want to miss it. How about next week?

She stops rubbing my neck, and I can feel her whole body droop into a collective sigh of disappointment, then she says  to Hayley, come on. I stand and wrap my arms around her, come on now, I’ll go next time, this is just a really good game, please understand. She says “alright Doug, but I am going to hold you to it”. I hold up my right hand and say, I promise. I actually said the same thing to her two weeks ago, yet she shows restraint by not reminding me of it. She smiles slightly and kisses me on the cheek, “see you when we get back, love you, Hayley, let’s go. Hayley gives me a hug, then says bye daddy, and they go out into the garage and start the car. A minute later, I hear the garage door go closed, as I fast forward through a commercial to get back to the game.

The following morning, I am taking Hayley to school on my way to work. She is seven and in the second grade. “Dad, how’s come you don’t come to church with me and mommy, don’t you love God” she asks in her sweet little voice? I look over at her, and as always the freckles on her nose, and her missing front top left tooth combined just melt my heart. Of course I do honey, I answer, why would you ask me that? Because you never come with us daddy she says, and when you love God, you want to go to church, that’s what mommy says. Well honey, you can love God and not go all the time I respond, loving God is something you do in your heart, people can love God in their own way, I say, making it up as I go.

Hayley looks at me and I can see the wheels in her mind turning, then she says “Daddy, Misses Edabaum says when we are guilty of something we make excuses, are you making excuses because you feel guilty”? Exasperated, I am grateful we are pulling up in front of the school, because I have no answer for her. Sorry honey, I have to get to work, we can talk later I say as she takes off her seat belt and I give her a big hug and kiss. I love you daddy, she says as she hops out and pulls her backpack on, then picks up her little lunchbox. I tell her I love her as she turns away and scampers off to class. I stay for a moment longer, just watching her and taking in the sight of her. I watch her until she disappears through the front door of the school. I sigh wistfully, hoping she will always be so sweet and innocent. I then snap out of it and pull out of the drop-off zone and merge with the flow of traffic, savoring the tender moment with my girl, no matter how old she gets, she will always be my little………..

That is where it ends. I don’t remember anything past that. It is dark and cold where I am. I hear sounds, voices echoing through the darkness, but none I recognize. The voices are just an unintelligible, reverberating series of echoes, but nothing beyond that. I still have no recollection of what happened, wait, hold on, I think it is starting to come back a bit. I was driving, I had just dropped Hayley off, I merged with traffic, no problems. I remember thinking about her, my little girl always, and then I turned my head to the left. I know, I was looking both ways as I went through the intersection, I remember it now, as I looked to my left, I remember seeing two headlights and a huge grille right outside my window, why was it there? It was a semi, a tractor-trailer rig, and it had run a red light, I don’t know why I know this, but the driver was looking at his phone, he was reading a text, and I also know he was racked with guilt because of the wreck. I don’t remember anything else. I remember no impact, nothing. It is probably a good thing because I think it would have hurt. There is no other explanation. I must be in a coma.

I wander in a sleepy land for some time with no sense of space or time, just darkness and hearing voices far off, like train whistles echoing across a prairie night in dead of winter. One day though, or night for that matter, I hear a voice that is close in, it is a clear voice, and it is speaking to me. Doug, open your eyes, the voice says. I struggle to open them, and then to my surprise, they open. Everything comes into focus instantly, and I am surprised and happy because I had figured that I was probably blind, after having spent so much time in the dark.

I am lying prone, and the Doctor looks down at me, concern on his face. Are Melissa and Haley here Doctor, I ask as I focus on his eyes? No Doug, they are not here, he says. How bad am I Doc, I ask as I look around the room a bit, can I still walk? He looks down at me and says “yes Doug, you can walk as well as you ever could” then he tells me that he is not a doctor. “Where am I, I ask, is this a rehab center”? He just looks back at me and then extends his hand to help me up. I am surprised, I feel no pain as I stand, testing my weight on each foot. The man turns around, and I am blown away to see great wings coming out of his back, with beautiful white feathers cascading down past his knees. Although shocked at the implications of my death, I smile inside and say “are you what I think you are”, thinking that if I was with an angel, I was in the right place. Reading my mind, he said Doug, you haven’t been judged yet, the decision is yet to be made. Anxiety instantly floods my soul, “oh man, oh man, dear God” I find myself saying, He turns and says “Doug, the time for prayers is over, come with me”.

His name is Silas, and He is an angel of The Lord, charged with bringing people to judgment. We exit the room and ender a huge hallway, I look to the left and right, the walls are made with cut stones bigger than any I have ever seen. Looking at it from a distance, it would look like a  block wall, but the stones are each the size of a semi trailer. The walls disappear up into the clouds, and there is no ceiling in this hallway, I look up and the ceiling is a moving mosaic of clouds, the sheer immensity of it stuns me. At the end of the hallway, we encounter a room with huge doors made of olive wood, I don’t know how I know that, but I do. The olive wood doors have engraving across them of a huge bird like creature with broad wings spread wide. There is one on each of the two doors, and their wings touch in the middle. I look to Silas and he nods to them saying, Cherubim and Seraphim, The design is from The Lord’s temple in Jeruslaem. He then places his hand on my shoulder, and kisses me once on each cheek. Doug, this is as far as I can go with you, then he opens the door for me, and I enter.

Before me is a huge desk, the size of a house. And on each side of the desk is another figure like each one on the door. Cherubim and Seraphim as Silas called them, but these two are instead gold statues. Each one is at least fifteen feet tall, with a wingspan of thirty feet, their wingtips meeting in the middle, touching just below the top of the huge desk before me. Behind the desk sits an ominous figure. His face is aged with experience, His beard long and white, matching His long and white hair. His eyes a bright and luminous blue, beautiful and yet piercing and His entire body glows white so much so that there are no shadows near Him. I know instantly that it is not possible for darkness to be in company with Him, His brightness would prevent it. I know without doubt who He is from the moment I first looked in through the door. I knew he had created me. I knew that He had knitted me into existence in my mother’s womb. I knew He was God, and I knew He was my Judge.

The Judge opens the book and turns to the page that has my entire life recorded on it. Doug, how do you plead, He asks? Innocent I say quickly. The Wise Judge reads the book intently, studying one page, then another, turning pages as He goes. Finally, He pulls a feather from and ink well and writes with its tip on one of the pages. “You are guilty my beloved”, as he looks up at me, and closes the book. “Wait please, I shout! I was always a good man wasn’t I, I was always honest wasn’t I”? Yes, the Wise Judge said, that you were. I was always kind wasn’t I? Yes, he agreed, you were. I came to church every Christmas, Easter, I worshipped You then, and sometimes I even came on a whim when Melissa asked me, certainly You can’t boot me when I was so faithful to you, can You?

As the Judge listened to me, a tear actually rolled down His face. I protested for what seemed forever, making a great case for my clemency, and He listened. When I was done, He began to slowly shake His head, as another tear followed the first. Doug, kind you were, generous you were, with everything but me. You never missed a game the Suns played, but you only came to church when your wife wouldn’t take no for an answer, and worship Me you did not. You forget I see all, and I know your thoughts. I know you were lamenting every minute you were in church, I know you thought it was a waste of time. You refused to give Me your heart, you rejected My Son. Remember Doug, I know your heart. Finally, I pleaded “how can you condemn me, didn’t you call me beloved? “Yes, I did call you beloved, because you are my beloved” He said. I loved you so much I gave My Son for you, but you refused Him, you never took Him as your Savior, you were too busy. Yes, I love you, but you are lost. I began to protest, but my upper and lower lips grew together, muting me as the Wise Judge slowly and quietly dropped the gavel, issuing my sentence.

Two scaly gargoyles led me down into a dark cave, my hands behind my back. They placed my hands behind me, and I thought they would handcuff me, but my hands grew together as my lips had. My arms ached in the painful position, skin and bone growing together painfully. They demons walked behind me, pushing me before them into the dark. Horror filled my heart as I was pushed through giant spider webs, and I could feel creatures scurrying across my skin, but my hands were welded together behind my back, so I could do nothing. It was then that I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes either, and the jagged stone floor was hurting my feet. Finally, the deeper I went into the cave, there began to be more light and I could make out scorpions crawling across the floor, the sharp pains I felt weren’t rocks, they were stings.

As the cave opened up, it appeared that we were in the inside of a volcano, rivers of lava surrounded me, and it is so hot, how could I possibly not burn up, but I didn’t. A huge hideous creature with the body of a goat, and the torso and head of a dragon came and greeted us. Two long curved horns protruded from his head. Welcome, he said, I am so glad you could make it. I never doubted that you belonged to me. I tried to refute him, but my lips, and now even my teeth had grown together, so that I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even make a sound. Circling me, the creature appraised his prize with pure happiness. Yeah, I gocha didn’t I, after all, what God would condemn such a good, honest decent man as you? He then leaned his head back and cackled as loudly as he could. I just love it when you guys buy the lie, no need for commitment; religion is just for the weak. I remember when you read that book by Karl Marx with the quote Religion is the opium of the people“. I remember what you thought, you thought Marx was onto something, I just love guys like you who think worshipping God is a waste of time. I just love guys like you who embrace my greatest virtue, pride. Oh well, welcome to your reality, you will have only one possession that you are allowed to keep while you are here (for eternity). As a matter of fact, that one possession will actually be enhanced, who says I am not generous. Your one possession that you may keep is your memory, and it will be enhanced a thousand times, every memory of the good life you had will now be available to you. Welcome to Hell! He then leaned back and cackled in a loud booming voice that shook my entire body, and caused me to fall to the ground, partially into the lava. My skin burned but would not be consumed, and I screamed, but my mouth would not open.

I hit the floor, landing on my head first, and jarring me from the dream. I started and sat up quickly, terrified to my core at what I had just experienced. I looked around, it was six twenty, Melissa had been gone fifteen minutes. I stood up and shook my head, what a dream, what a horrible dream this had been I thought. The game was still on but I no longer cared about it, so I looked around for the remote control to shut the TV off, I had to think about things. That was when I saw it, sticking out from under the couch. I reached down and picked it up, and my blood ran cold. It was a feather, it was one of Silas’ feathers.

 I bolted to the bedroom, peeling my shirt off as I went and letting it drop to the floor. I grabbed a clean one and ran for the door, picking up my shoes as I went. One thing I knew, as I drove to church, I was going to be going slow, and looking in all directions before entering an intersection.

God Bless-JFT

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The view from the bottom is completely different than anything I have ever experienced before. When you have been surrounded by the gray cloud that has enveloped you for so long now, and the life that you knew and even loved is gone, it is quite an adjustment.

When you are at rock bottom, and you rise by just an inch from the bottom, you will find joy in the strangest things. When life has been really bad, you will find yourself feeling happy because someone smiled at you in the grocery store. Your mood can even be buoyed by a beautiful sunrise. It would console me to put Ivy, my little one on my chest and rock her to sleep, and for her to still be there on my chest in the morning when the sun rose.

I made a lot of mistakes in the first couple years of my new and different life, but every step I took was a fraction of an inch higher from the bottom, but my heart was not yet changed toward God. I went to church regularly, but there was just still a huge separation from God, I still felt forsaken.

As my girls and I went through the seasons of our lives, the years began to build. After a couple of years, when I would look over my shoulder at the past, I could not even recognize the man that I once was. He looked the same, perhaps younger and more naïve, but the face that stared back from the mirror at me was a more seasoned face, one who had seen things, one who knew that everything can blow up in your face when you least expect it.

As the years since my old life began to build up, without realizing it, I began to engage in reckless behavior. I began to push the envelope in many ways, engaging in activities that are meant to get your adrenaline flowing. God was not visible in my witness yet, my example was not laced with the Holy Spirit, It was laced with Jim. When I didn’t have my girls, I lived a life on the edge. Besides trying to check off a bucket list before the term was even born, I would confront dangerous situations with excitement. I wouldn’t say I had a death wish, but I acted like I didn’t have anything to lose either. I was so wrong.

God knows everything there is to know about us a thousand years before we are conceived. When Jesus walked the earth, God knew I would be born, and he knew the challenges I would face. That just sends shivers up my spine. God knew I had a purpose long before I did, when I walked through the valley of self-pity and cried “why me God”, He didn’t get angry. When I ran into dangerous situations because I embraced my recklessness, He put a bubble of protection around me, He had a plan. And somehow, I fit into that plan, I was being protected and groomed for Kingdom work that lie ahead, work that I had no idea of.

Then I asked out this pretty little gal who was different than anyone I had ever met. She was a new Christian, and had been divorced at the same time I had. Single a couple of years, like me. I tried to take her somewhere impressive for dinner, and then afterward for a walk in a pretty area. I thought I would be smooth and try to hold her hand, she yanked away and gave me a look. Wow, who was this woman with scruples that wouldn’t even hold my hand on the first date, I wanted to know more. We dated for a couple of years, she was a single mom of one daughter. She was independent and a warrior woman at heart, with a great sense of humility built in too. She was a controller in her company, ran all the finances and a small staff. Yet, when the company lost its janitor to another job, she stepped in and said “I will do it”. It paid a few hundred a month extra, just what she needed to send her young daughter to Christian preschool. She would run the company’s finances all day, then brush the toilets and empty the trash, clean the break room in the evenings. What a hard working woman of humility. Her co-workers nicknamed her “Shasta” the Dutch cleaning woman, and they would all laugh, her included.

As a legalistic guy who had been trained to remember scripture my entire life, I tried to explain to her my much more legalistic views. She didn’t know the Bible like I did, but she had something about her that I didn’t have, a simple Faith. I thought she needed to know things the way I had, after all, my faith had really carried me through the hard times, right (gimme a break). But she had a simple faith in God, and Jesus the Savior, and that was all she needed, she knew her Savior.

We were married in January of 2001, and off toward our new blended family life we went. A few things we forgot to discuss first though. We never discussed where we would attend church, I liked my church, and assumed that is where we would go, and she thought the same-strike one. We didn’t discuss the finances, I assumed we would have a separate account with a little personal spending money, she assumed the “what’s mine is yours, we’re married now, one account approach”-strike two. And there were certain issues with the family blending that we did not even think of, Strike –three. Also, four and a half years of being single for both of us had made us very independent people, sure we loved one another, but I was my own man, she was her own woman, strike four, wait, there is no strike four, the batter was out at three right. Now you see what we faced, second marriages have the cards stacked against them in the first place, and then we had all of this. Six months into the marriage, we met with the Christian counselor for the first time.

God Bless-JFT

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I showed up early in the greeter’s room this past Sunday to have a cup of coffee and visit with my fellow greeters before the ball starts rolling. I poured a hot cup of coffee and sat down with one of my friends at a table. He was telling me about a vacation he had booked for his family this summer that he was excited about. He had gotten it at half price, so he had scored. I noticed that many of the chairs were lined up in the front of the room, Bill must be doing an orientation for new greeters this morning, they had asked for new volunteers last week.

New faces I hadn’t seen before began to filter in and mingle, before finding their way to the front of the room, and being seated for the orientation. It seemed like there were a lot of people who had signed up, which is great, we are always short of people for the greeter corps. Just then, a face I clearly recognized came in the door, a face I would never forget, and a face I had prayed I would never see again. A face named Scott.

Scott was a supervisor at the plant twenty years ago, he was ex-navy and hard core, and for some reason I never discovered, he didn’t like me. Right from the beginning, when I started there, it was clear he did not care for me. He did his best to make my life miserable, he gave me the jobs no-one else wanted, he would slam me on my reviews every year and had even tried to get me fired without success. He would also never pass up the chance to confront me in front of others. This guy was what I referred to back then as a “Flaming Jerk”.

I know the old story about a boss who is really hard on an employee, because he likes him and expects more. This was not one of those cases, this guy didn’t like me, and there was no silver lining. One time I told a co-worker that I had purchased a three-day Disneyland package, and we would spend the rest of the week in a hotel by the beach. My girls were so excited, they were still small and really looked forward to it. Scott waited until two weeks before my vacation and then cancelled it, saying that they didn’t have the coverage, and he actually smiled slightly as he delivered the news. He was the Bain of my existence for the first seven years I was at the plant. I had been rid of the vermin for thirteen years, and now he shows up here, at my church home, but not only at my church home, but the greeter corps to boot. Was there no justice in this life?

After the orientation, the greeters who have been doing it for a while are expected to stand in a receiving line and welcome our new brothers. I reluctantly stood in line, shaking hands of our newest volunteers. As Scott approached, He looked at me then did a double take, and that old grin crept back on his face. He stuck his hand out and I did my best to make my hand feel like a cold dead fish as he shook it. He then looked me in the eyes with a serious look, and said “Jim, I realize we have a lot of history, and I wasn’t always good to you. I hope you will give me a chance to make it right. I feigned a smile and said “Sure, no problem”. He smiled again, nodded and walked to the next one in line. Another chance huh, sure how about “Fat Chance” I thought as he walked on. I tried to get my mind right so that I could finish greeting the newbies as they continued to come.

Jim, how are you the next one said as I looked toward the calling of my name. Fine, how are you I asked as I shook the hand of a guy about my age, I had “no clue” who he was. Jeremy, from high school, do you remember me he asked? He stood there smiling broadly, and then it came back to me. Jeremy was a kid in my class; he always tried to hang out with my friends and I, but he didn’t fit in. I had a group I ran with, guys who were my bud’s, but Jeremy was kind of a goof ball. He wasn’t really cool, and was kind of a cling on guy, if you know what I mean. He kept at us, wanting to do things with us, be one of our crowd. We used to like to go “cruising” on Friday and Saturday nights to socialize and meet girls, and he asked if he could come with us. We reluctantly said yes, and let him tag along. About eleven PM, he asked if we could stop at a place with a bathroom, because he had to go. We found a fast food joint, and let him out. One of the guys thought it would be funny to just leave him there and go on. I didn’t like the idea, I thought it was too mean, but it wasn’t my car so I didn’t say anything. We left poor Jeremy at a fast food restaurant in a not so good side of town at eleven PM by himself. I have thought about that over the years and felt bad. All of these memories flooded back as I shook his hand. I then looked him in the eyes and said, “I have felt really bad about that night we went cruising over the years, it was so wrong. I hope you will give me a chance to make it right. He looked at me warmly and said “think nothing of it, we were just kids, not only forgiven, but forgotten. As he walked off, I realized I was his “flaming Jerk”. I was thankful to accept the grace he extended to me, yet reluctant to extend the same grace to Scott.

As I drove home after services, I realized I was a hypocrite, I wanted to judge people when it suited me, but I didn’t want to be judged with the same yardstick by which I was so eager to judge others when it was my turn in the barrel.

Luke 6:37 NIV

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

God Bless

JFT

This story is fiction, written to illustrate a point.

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