#tbt – Joy. It’s not just a dishwashing liquid!

(Originally written 7/20/06)

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit. Psa. 51:12

This was going to be a theoretical discussion about joy, but I’m beginning to see that God is going to use this study as a way to test me as well.  I’ve already been tested on love.  I’ve had to come face to face with what I consider to be love, what I do to show that love, and I come up woefully short of the mark.  As I mentioned before, I grew up disconnected from other people, so I didn’t really know what it was like to forge loving bonds until much later in life.  And even to this day, I still think that is one of the toughest things I deal with.  And, of course, since I really don’t understand love here on earth, it makes it that much harder to understand God’s love, an unconditional love that never asks for anything, and yet gives everything.  A love that will always be there, no matter what.  When the love I see and feel here on earth is so fleeting, it’s just hard to grasp the concept of self-sacrificing love, agape.  So, I’m working on it.
Which brings me to joy.  I’m always big on saying I may not always be happy, but I’m always joyful.  The joy is from knowing I’m saved, knowing that my future is secure.  But, just like David, I’ve let the worries of the world steal my joy.  I’ve let trivialities knock me down, forcing me to take my eyes off God.  And if I’m not focusing on God, I forget the reason why I do all that I do.  I’m reminded of Peter, when he walked on water.  As long as he focused on Jesus, he was safe from the storm, but as soon as he concentrated on the storm, he lost faith, was afraid, and fell into the water.  The cool thing about it is that Jesus was right there to pull him up, just like He’s there to pull us all up out of the crashing waves.
David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by Nathan for the sins he’d committed.  There was no question that, although David broke every commandment, he was still saved.  But, he was no longer joyful.  He’d let the world intrude into his relationship with God.  Instead of looking to the heavens toward his Creator, he chose to look down to earth where Bathsheba bathed.  I’ve been looking down at the earth for too long.  I’ve forgotten that nothing here on earth matters if I’m not focused on Jesus, on my Creator, my Savior, my King.
Joy is not happiness.  Happiness depends on current circumstances.  Something good happens, you’re happy.  Something bad happens, you’re not happy.  But being joyful is completely different.  1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “Rejoice evermore.”  Always be joyful?  How’s that possible?  Things go wrong, life takes a nasty turn, how can you be joyful in times like that?  That’s where happiness and joy are different.  You can be joyful and not be happy.  Happiness is the temporary state, joy is the eternal state.  Can you be happy and not joyful?  Absolutely.  But it’s an empty happiness, almost an echo of happiness and not the real thing.
You can lose your joy.  David did.  Any time you take your eyes off the prize, you lose sight of your goal.  My goal is heaven, and eternal unity with the Lord Jesus.  I forget that goal in pursuit of earthly goals: a good job, a wife, the next good book or TV show or movie.  Those things can make you happy, but they cannot bring you eternal joy like God can.
I’ve been acting a lot like David lately and I realize this.  I know I have sinned and fallen far short of where I should be.  I’ve let my joy wither while I concentrated on the elusive pursuit of happiness which, while a constitutional right, is not as fulfilling or satisfying as the pursuit of joy.  Today, I pray like David did, Lord, restore unto me the joy of my salvation, remind me of the important things, help me to walk the path You have set for me, no matter the price, no matter the consequences.  I’m ready to go wherever You need me, whenever You need me there.  Restore my heart, and allow me to appreciate Your love for me, how deep and eternal and unchanging it is.  Holy Spirit, fill me with joy, fill me with wisdom, guide me today and every day.  Jesus, help me to be more like you, help me to keep the old man dead and buried.  Amen.

#BlackLivesMatter?

I’m half black, half white, and fully Hispanic. But let’s pretend I was white and wrote the following:

“It was a warm evening in September, a couple of weeks after Dillon Taylor got shot, and somewhere in the mix I brought up Salt Lake City, hoping to spark a ‘conscious conversation.’ Then it happened. The nightmarish response. ‘What’s happening in Salt Lake City?” one of my black roommates asked. ‘I heard some kid got shot or something like that.’…These non-indictments reiterated what I’m up against every single day: the unintentional ignorance of black people. But I was also aware of my willingness to put away my justified ‘white rage’ in order to ensure my interactions with black people remain comfortable.”

That sounds pretty racist, doesn’t it? Would it still sound racist if black and white were reversed and it mentioned Michael Brown and Ferguson instead of Dillon Taylor and Salt Lake City? Of course it would.

This is exactly what Priscilla Ward did in a recent piece she wrote for Salon, in which she complains about the racist attitudes of those around her.

I’ve got bad news for you, Ms. Ward. You are a racist.

Judging by your article, your “justified ‘black rage’” is directed solely at the fact that all white people don’t automatically know everything about your culture. That’s not racism. That’s lack of knowledge. I’m sure you don’t know everything there is to know about “white culture.” Your roommates even tried to reach out and ask you questions, to which your implied response was that they should have already known.

There never seems to be a time when someone actually calls you any names, prohibits you from doing anything, or prevents you from going anywhere. I’m sure if you had chosen to wear your bonnet, fry chicken, and sing some Aretha songs, a desire you felt you needed to suppress, your roommates would have accepted it wholeheartedly. Nowhere in your article do you mention any blatantly racist action from them, only that they lacked knowledge about your culture. The irony is that you make a point of mentioning that you had to pretend to care about things in “white culture,” such as Taylor Swift, and yet you expect everyone around you to care about “black culture.”

You end the article by saying that you still don’t share who you are or what you are all about, but instead you choose to continue being angry. It’s a self-imposed censorship, because you apparently see everyone around you as racist. And yet you will say things like, “I don’t say ‘white.’ I use ‘they’ instead.” Again, if the roles were reversed, those would be the words of a racist.

It is because of people like you who fabricate racial issues where there are none that I take issue with hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter. In a post I wrote last week on abortion, #AllLivesMatter, I mentioned that we should be saying #AllLivesMatter instead of #BlackLivesMatter. It led to a lively discussion on race relations in one of my Facebook groups. While at no point did I mean to make light of the black lives that are lost or of any unfairness aimed at blacks, my issue with the hashtag is that it’s based on two misrepresentations:

“#HandsUpDontShoot” — This came about because of the falsehood that Michael Brown was surrendering, with his hands up, when he was shot. It was confirmed, by the autopsy and by several witnesses — black witnesses — that he was doing no such thing. He was charging at Officer Wilson when he was shot.

“#ICantBreathe” — This was another hashtag based on misinformation. Eric Garner did not die from being choked to death. His death occurred in the ambulance and was caused by several health issues, such as asthma and obesity. Another fact that seems to escape media attention is that the entire arrest was supervised by a black officer.

Yes, these were both tragedies and shouldn’t have happened. But let’s be honest. Both men were resisting arrest. The color of their skin was incidental. If they had complied with the officers, the situations might not have ended in tragedy. And yet, these men are the poster children of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Race-baiting, hate-filled speakers such as Al Sharpton are the spokespersons for the movement. Riots and violence are the response of the movement.

Here are some questions for those who support #BlackLivesMatter.

Which black lives matter?

Is it based solely on skin color?

Do blacks with lighter skin matter as much?

Do other races that have dark skin — such as Hispanics and Arabs — matter?

Do black lives that have been taken by white officers matter more than black lives that have been taken by other blacks?

And as I mentioned in my previous post, what about the 16,000,000 black babies that have been aborted in the last 42 years? Do they matter?

There does need to be a conversation about racial discrimination in this country, but as long as it involves imagined slights and imaginary heroes, there will never be a resolution.

#tbt – Picking fruit – Love

(originally written 7/16/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)

I think it’s interesting that love is the first fruit mentioned. There are several verses throughout the Bible that state that without love there is nothing. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1) Charity in this verse and love in Galatians are translated from the same Greek work agape. Now there are many types of love mentioned in the Bible, each with different words. Phileo is a brotherly love, storge is affection, eros is romantic love, but agape is a self-sacrificing love, a love that is unconditional and selfless. Paul says that without that type of love, all his words amount to nothing more than noise. And immediately after saying that, he goes on to give one of the best biblical descriptions of agape, just in case any of his listeners might not know what he’s talking about.

Agape is long-suffering – perseveres patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles.
Agape is kind.
Agape does not envy.
Agape is not boastful.
Agape is not full of pride.
Agape does not act unbecomingly.
Agape is not self-serving.
Agape is not easily angered.
Agape harbors no evil thoughts.
Agape does not rejoice in the face of unrighteousness.
Agape does rejoice in the truth.
Agape bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all.
Agape NEVER fails.

That’s a tall order, and few people can attain that level of love. I’ve been thinking of the love I give in my life, and I know that, before I was a Christian, the love I had for people was more in the storge or eros category. I grew up moving from place to place, unable to make close friends, and knowing that, even if I did, I would be moving away again anyway. I had no roots. My parents both worked hard, so, emotionally, I tended to be on my own a lot. I knew my parents loved me, because they sacrificed all in order to care for us. We never went hungry, we always had a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. But, emotionally, there was something missing in my life. I became a loner, unable or unwilling to make friends, and every time I tried, I ended up being hurt. So, I learned to be emotionally self-sufficient (by the way, it’s impossible to do so, but it is possible to fool yourself into thinking you are.). I built my castle walls and guarded my heart from pain…as well as from joy…

Relationships I had with women were shallow and short-lived. I didn’t have my first real relationship until the age of 26. It was the first time I’d been with someone longer than three months, and the first time I truly allowed myself to care about someone. That relationship only lasted a year, but I immediately met someone else. I married her, thinking she was the answer to all I was looking for. But, in all honesty, I didn’t know her at all when we got married. Not only that, but I was looking for things from her that I should have been looking for from God. At that time, though, I wanted nothing to do with God. Needless to say, the marriage didn’t last. We both wanted things from each other that the other wasn’t able to give. It was a self-serving love, each of us putting our happiness above the other’s. We got divorced six and a half years ago.

Since that time, I came to Christ and realized what I’d been looking for was right there with Him. He truly loves me just the way I am, and there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me any more or any less. He accepts me, warts and all. He died so that I wouldn’t have to. He gave His all for me. I still am very guarded about giving my heart away. After all, old habits die hard. But I have developed some very strong friendships, people who I would die for.

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:7-8) And yes, the word love in that verse is also agape.

Husbands, would you die for your wives? Wives, would you die for your husbands? Would you die for your friend? Most people would say yes. But agape asks this question – “Would you die for an unrighteous person, for a stranger?” Would you give all that you can to help another at the expense of suffering yourself? Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” The word used here is agapao, self-sacrificing love. Would you sacrifice yourself for your enemy? Jesus did.

When I started this blog post, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Love – agape – is something that can be and has been written about for ages, and yet never fully understood until one actually experiences it.

I thank all those of you who actually read this, and I will close with another verse from 1 Corinthians 13 – “And now abideth faith, hope, charity (agape), these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity (agape).”

#AllLivesMatter

I’m a conservative, and I’m pro-choice.

I believe a woman can choose when she wants to have sex.
I believe a woman can choose whom she wishes to have sex with.
I believe a woman can choose where she wants to have sex.
I believe a woman can choose how and why she wants to have sex.
I even believe a woman can choose what kind of protection to use, or even whether to use it.

But once a woman gets pregnant, choice is over and it’s time for consequences.

I originally planned on writing a cute little allegory comparing sex to a party and children to vases (trust me, it made sense), but the situation is too serious to couch in parables and metaphors. There is a genocide occurring in the United States, and it is not only tolerated, but has been legalized by our government. Over a million unborn children are killed yearly in this country. That’s more than 3,000 deaths per day. Per. Day. Imagine 9/11 happening every day for the last 42 years.

In general, most women decided to have abortions because of the following reasons, none of which is even remotely good enough to warrant the taking of a life:
a) a baby would have interfered with other responsibilities
b) they couldn’t afford the child
c) they didn’t want to be single parents

(Note: This does not include rape, incest, or fetal/maternal health, which make up less than 2% of abortions.)

The consequences of an unplanned pregnancy should not be paid by the unborn child. And yet, millions of innocent children have paid that price. In the time it has taken you to read up to this point, an average of 60 abortions have taken place in this country.

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at what is going on in some of these abortion clinics: (Warning: some viewers may be disturbed by this video – although everyone should find the content disturbing.)

On January 22, there will be celebrations honoring the 42nd anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Even some churches are celebrating this “milestone.” But here’s the truth. This is not a celebration of choice. It’s a celebration of death. Since the Roe vs. Wade decision, over 50,000,000 babies have been killed in the U.S. That’s 5 cities with a population the size of New York City.

Right now, it’s trendy and socially conscious to chant or tweet #BlackLivesMatter. But here’s a sobering fact. Of the 50,000,000 babies that have been aborted, 16,000,000 of those have been black babies. That’s over 30% of the total from a group that comprises 13% of the population. 80% of Planned Parenthood clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Black lives matter, but only once they’re born?

Shouldn’t we say #AllLivesMatter? Shouldn’t we stop the slaughter? Shouldn’t we be defending the most defenseless among us?

For more information, check out www.liveaction.org.

#tbt – Picking Fruit

(originally written 7/14/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.”(Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)

For some time now, I’ve wanted to do an in-depth study of the fruit of the Spirit. The proof of a Christian life is in the fruit, just like the proof of a good tree is the good fruit it bears. If the Christian life doesn’t show good fruit, then one would be left to wonder if it truly is a Christian life.
The Bible says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV) So that is the fruit by which the Christian life is measured. It’s my intention to talk about the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, but before I do that, I want to spend some time on the verses right before those, which are not quoted as often. Galatians 5:19-21 tell the other side of the story – “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” That is a long list of bad fruit, fruit of the flesh versus fruit of the Spirit. And it covers a large range of issues, and most are covered by the Ten Commandments. Sex, both adulterous and premarital, Hatred, wrath and murder, which, according to Jesus, are the same. Bearing false witness, covered by sedition and heresy. Covetousness with the envying, and so on.
They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But, aren’t we all guilty of doing these things even after we give our lives to Christ? Does that mean none of us will inherit the kingdom of God? Are we all doomed to hell?
The answer is in the Greek. The word “do” could better be translated as practice, perpetrate, exercise. All words which show a long-term disobedience to God. And that is the difference. I’ve heard a metaphor which paints a good picture. Imagine a pig and a sheep falling into a puddle of mud. The pig continues to wallow in the mud, while the sheep gets up and tries to clean itself off. That’s the difference. Those who practice, commit, exercise the fruit of the flesh are content to wallow in the mud. Those who try to live by the fruit of the Spirit will try to clean themselves off. Sure, there are times we Christians stumble. We are by no means perfect. It’s because we realize this that we have come to the One who is perfect.
So…ask yourself this question today – do you lay with the pigs or hang with the sheep?

3 Things I learned from Eugene

Since his first appearance on AMC’s The Walking Dead, “Doctor” Eugene Porter has been one of the quirkiest characters. His antics led to him becoming one of my favorites on the show. My fiancée and I were discussing him one day a couple of weeks ago, and I introduced her to another Eugene from back in the 80s.

It occurred to me that I could combine the two Eugenes and, within a week, the following video was born.

As with anything dealing with pop culture, SPOILERS AHEAD!

For anyone unfamiliar with Eugene, here’s a quick summary. He crossed paths with an ex-military man named Abraham. Weak, cowardly, yet intelligent, Eugene convinced Abraham that he was a scientist on a mission to get to Washington D.C., where he would be able to create a cure for the undead plague. As more people joined him and Abraham, Eugene continued playing the part of scientist by using his vast wealth of knowledge and extensive vocabulary. What was puzzling was that he was able to do this while looking nothing like a typical scientist. Which, as it turns out, he wasn’t.

After completing the video project, I realized there were three things I learned from Eugene.

1. Be true to myself.
Eugene is an expert at this. From his Tennessee top hat to his cargo shorts, Eugene is a man who knows who he is and he’s comfortable with that. He dresses how he likes and has made perfectly clear that no one will be damming up his Kentucky waterfall. But it’s not just his outer self that Eugene is true to. He’s fully aware of how smart he is and has no problems admitting it. Actually, he sometimes admits it too freely and too often. He’s also honest with himself about his cowardice, and he’s willing to do anything it takes to avoid danger.

2. Be true to others.
Eugene is not so good with this one. From the moment he first meets Abraham, Eugene pretends he’s something he’s not so that he can survive and be accepted. Telling that lie was easy. Maintaining that lie proved tougher.


Tweet: Telling the lie is easy. Maintaining the lie is hard.


In order to keep up the lie, Eugene had to shoot a truck, blow up a bus, and wreak general havoc in trying to slow his group down. The longer it took to get to their destination, the longer he could keep up the lie. People died trying to help him fulfill his “mission.” The funny thing is, I believe that if Eugene had just been honest and told them he was a smart guy who could probably come up with some solutions in D.C., Abraham and the others might still have helped him. Lying set Eugene on a course for disaster. As Shakespeare said, “at the length truth will out.”

3. Be true to my mission.
Eugene stayed true to his mission, but it was the wrong mission. It was a mission based on falsehoods and it was destined to fail.

I find it easy to make decisions about where I want to go and what I want to do, but if I’m not true to myself or to others, my mission will fail. My mission for this year is wrapped around the word “COMPLETE,” but I’ve realized that it’s not enough to want to complete things. I need to complete the right things.

The Prodigal Son Returns!

“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to [his] father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls [to me].’ So he divided to them [his] livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” (Luke 15:11-13)

Writing has become so difficult for me that it feels like I’m crawling when I should be running, and I have no one to blame but myself. I turned away from writing. I have allowed those “muscles” to atrophy. And now I struggle to put words on paper, much like an inactive athlete struggles to regain his endurance.

I’m well-trained in writing. I know usage. I know grammar. I have an extensive vocabulary. But I have not written. I have remained sedentary. I realize the fault is solely my own. I am the prodigal son.

I’ve turned away from what I love in order to indulge in pastimes like watching TV and playing video games. Those are fun, but they get me nothing. They are what Jesus might have called “prodigal living.” They entertain for a while, but there is a part of me which knows what I should be doing, and knows I’m ignoring the thing I was called to do. I’m the athlete who has decided running to the buffet is more rewarding than running a race. I’m the artist who has decided painting a house is just as fun as pouring my heart out on canvas. I’m the writer who has decided that indulging in other people’s stories is better than creating my own.

“But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” (Luke 15:14)

Maybe you have experienced a time of famine, when you know in your heart that you have left your first love. You have left what makes you YOU. And you think you can never go back.

“I’ll never be an athlete.”

“I’ll never be an artist.”

“I’ll never be a writer.”

You think it’s too late. That’s what the prodigal son thought. He said, “It’s too late for me to go back to being my father’s son. Maybe I can be at least a servant.” And we say the same. We find things similar to what we want to do, but aren’t what we want to do. Because doing the things we love will take time and effort. And we don’t believe we have either to spare. We don’t believe we are worthy of those dreams because we’ve spent so long feeding “swine,” feeding those indulgences which threw us off track.

But here’s the truth. Just like the father embraced his son as soon as he saw him, those dreams of ours, those things we were made for, will embrace us the moment we turn back to them. It’s never too late. The athlete can rebuild his endurance. The artist can put brush to canvas once more. And the writer can again put words on paper. Will it be easy? No, but it is possible. Is it worth the pain and the struggle? Absolutely.

However, I’m not sure the prodigal analogy works perfectly. For one thing, even though our dreams are always waiting for us to come back, they can’t physically embrace us. But the bigger reason why this is an imperfect analogy is because we never find out exactly what the son did once he returned. Did he accept the father’s love? Or did guilt just continue to eat away at him for what he had done? I’d like to think that, because Jesus is telling the story, it has a happy ending and the son did not let past regrets interfere with the present.

As a returning prodigal, how do I ensure a happy ending for me? For instance, by now I could have completed the revision of my novel, and maybe even have sold some copies. But if I concentrate on the past, then I will paralyze myself for the present by thinking of all the things I could have done. Instead, I can plan on completing my revision now. I can move forward from here. I can practice my craft and remember that writing is what I love to do. It is what I was made to do. I was given this gift, this “portion of goods that falls to me,” and I’ve wasted it often. The question is whether I will continue to do so.

I don’t know if any of this is accurate or even if it makes sense. But what I do know is that, thanks to pondering this, I have been writing. I sat at my desk, keyboard in front of me, and practiced my craft. Will anyone see this? I don’t know. But I’m seeing it. I’m seeing I still have the ability to write. Even though I haven’t practiced my craft, I can still write. Am I writing well? Probably not as well as I can be, but that’s not the point. I will sit here at the computer every day and write. And by writing, I will get better. I will improve. And I will be a better steward of the gift which has been given to me.