Pondering The Good News: An Introduction

jumpI am usually not one to leap before looking, to venture out on a limb before pondering the consequences. However, after publicly stating my intention, way way way back at the beginning of 2012, to dive into The Bible book by book here at The Manofesto, I began to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into.

 

I consider myself to be a pretty decent writer, but with no shortage of Bible studies, concordances, & A Bible studyanalyses of The Good Book out there…especially in The Information Age…what do I bring to the table that’s any better or different?? There is no way that I can even be in the same league as the God-inspired authors who wrote The Bible…men like Moses, Paul, & Peter. How do I approach the task??

 

procrastinateLike a true procrastinator I have spent several years pondering this idea. Have I come to any solid conclusions?? To be honest…no. But I know three things. I know that I learn best by doing. I know that this project will be beneficial…certainly to me, and hopefully to others. And I know that sometimes one just has to jump in with both feet and get started.

 

I have stated many times here & in speaking to people personally that, while I am a Christian, I am not a very mad-man-pulling-hair-outgood one. I fall victim to temptation more often than I care to admit. I don’t think I exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit consistently. I am far too cynical. I become frustrated too quickly & anger too easily. I am frequently distracted by meaningless trivialities. I make poor use of my time. Too often I allow fear, anxiety, & general neuroses to rule my life. I haven’t been “all in” on Jesus. Oh sure He’s a swell dude that did & said a lot of cool things…but do I sincerely trust Him?? On an intellectual level…yes. But down deep in my bones I know I’m not where I need to be.

 

bowlThis internal confrontation with my own shortcomings is nothing new and I have alluded to it before. However, events in the past few years have introduced a sense of urgency. My brother The Owl & I have often commiserated about mutual frustrations & disappointments. He & I have always thought of ourselves as inhabitants of The Island of Misfit Toys. It’s not that we are smarter than everyone else or the only two people to recognize the dark path our world has been traveling down, but we do tend to feel marginalized on many levels. We have observed things occurring in America that aren’t completely surprising, but that doesn’t make them any easier to comprehend or accept.

 

What has become clear is that there is only one answer. Again…intellectually I have always known this, but I have not fully embraced it on a solitudespiritual level. As pop culture, the news media, elected leaders, & commerce go full throttle down a road built on political correctness, sin, & misguided good intentions the wickedness becomes harder & harder to ignore. It has become pervasive in almost every facet of daily life. Ideally one would move to the wilderness like Thoreau and disengage from the chaos & madness, but unfortunately that isn’t a practical solution (or is it??).

 

bible11350One may not be able to completely separate from the aggravation & disillusionment, but we can choose that on which we focus. It is obvious to me that the only path is Jesus Christ. It is time to “put away childish things” and stop being lukewarm lest He vomit me out of His mouth. Most of that involves areas of my personal life that citizens of The Manoverse need not be concerned with and surely have no interest in, but it does mean that I want to follow thru on what I originally talked about doing a few years ago.

 

I will warn you ahead of time that we’ll be skipping around a lot. It is unlikely that I will start with Genesis and end bible3with Revelation. What can I say…I’m a non-linear, outside-the-box, avant-garde kinda cat. As usual I make no promises involving timetables or structure. I enjoy learning, but more importantly The Lord is gently persuading me that this is the next step in my growth process. It’s time to stop dipping my toe in the water and dive in. He won’t allow me to drown. It is time to block out the hatred, discord, & destruction. It is time to stop becoming frustrated with the darkness and find joy in the light. #JesusWins

Passion Diminished

The word passion is derived from the Latin passio and the Greek pathema, both of which mean suffering or enduring. Today this meaning is most closely associated with what Jesus Christ went thru in the last hours of His earthly life.

 

Modern usage of the word passion is more commonly connected to other definitions… ardent affection, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept, and of course sexual desire. It is the first two definitions that have been on my mind lately, especially as they are connected to the Latin & Greek terminology.

 

ponderThe question that I have been pondering is this: Is anyone truly passionate about anything anymore?? It seems to me that most of us have subjects that pique our interest, activities that we enjoy, & stuff that we get involved in for one reason or another…but are we really passionate about any of it?? Nelson Mandela once said that “there is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”, yet that is exactly what most of us do…we play small and settle.

 

This train of thought began, in part, with a conversation I had with The Owl. We were lamenting the lostbowl art of customer service. We are both old enough (especially him) to remember the days when one could go into a clothing, music, shoe, electronics, or any other kind of store and find genuinely helpful salespeople, the kind of folks who had been doing the gig for a long time and really knew their stuff. They were passionate about their work and cared about doing it the right way. Oh sure they wanted to make a sale and earn extra cash, but it seemed to be understood that the two things weren’t mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, back then it felt like everyone knew that being honest, respectful, knowledgeable, & diligent is what would clinch the sale. I am sure that kind of service is available today, but it is certainly rarer than it used to be. Such jobs are looked down upon now. They are viewed as stepping stones to something better. Few employees are passionate about the products they produce/sell or the companies for which they work. It’s just a job, a necessary evil to be able to pay bills & put food on the table.

 

bbeeBut this lack of passion isn’t just reserved for the 40 hours/week that we are on the job. It permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We are overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are so many choices at our fingertips that we go from one thing to another, like a bumblebee gathering nectar & pollen, darting from flower to flower, never staying in one place or focused on one thing for too long. We are always in a hurry and have such a diminished attention span that we don’t take time to embrace excellence or let our passion ripen. We have developed faster & cheaper ways to do just about everything, but quality suffers because craftsmanship has become all too uncommon.

 

passionWatch a ball game. Go to a concert. Check out a museum. Read a book. Go see a theater production. What do all of those things have in common?? Passion. Excellence. Hard work. Effort. One doesn’t make it to the NFL or NBA, get a book published, become part of an orchestra, or star in a play, movie, or television show without all of those things. Certainly natural talent plays a part, but the finished products that you & I enjoy are the result of a lot of blood, sweat, & tears and countless hours of training & preparation. Yet the people that do those things at a high level make up a fractional percentage of the population. Most of the rest of us just try to get thru our day with as little stress as possible and without putting forth any more effort than necessary. And when we are forced to work hard we usually don’t feel good about it because we really don’t enjoy what we are doing. We feel obligated to serve on the committee. Parents feel like they have to involve their kids in every extracurricular activity available. Folks begrudgingly volunteer for the hot dog sale, book drive, or brainstorming meeting. We show up because we like the people and believe in the organization & its mission, but also because we’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to do, we don’t want anyone to dislike or be disappointed in us, and simply because we don’t know how to say no even when that is exactly what we would prefer to do. I’m not saying these are horrible reasons to be involved in something or that anyone has bad apathyintentions. I am only suggesting that those reasons/excuses don’t mean a person is passionate about their involvement and in the long run it shows. Most everyone has a job and atleast one hobby…but in my experience few people nowadays have a true passion. On the rare occasion that those things intersect it is obvious and the outcome is beautiful. Harriet Tubman observed that “every great dream begins with a dreamer”. Perhaps that is part of the issue. We have become far too pragmatic. We play it safe. We don’t take chances. To call someone a dreamer is at best dismissive and possibly even an insult.

 

lukewarmSadly this issue infiltrates our churches and the spiritual realm. Sunday mornings are oftentimes just a social outing where we get to drink coffee and hang out with friends. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with good coffee or great fellowship, but how can we say we have a relationship with a God & Savior that we only interact with a couple of hours per week and even that time lacks passion?? The meme you are seeing on the left is something that I ran across a few weeks ago and it’s been gnawing at me ever since. Those words are probably responsible for this discourse as much or more than my conversation with The Owl. None of us want to spend eternity in Hell so we seek salvation, but salvation should be as much about living our earthly lives in relationship with God as it is spending eternity with Him. We rob ourselves of years of joy by continuing to wallow in sin and paying lip service to God, playing “church” on Sunday but doing whatever feels good or seems cool & hip the other 6 ½ days of the week. God tells us in Revelation that “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The third chapter of 2 Timothy talks about “having a form of godliness but denying its power”, which I believe is a perfect definition of religion in America.

 

Part of the reason why we lack devotion is because we prefer to avoid suffering, thus the two meanings of passion concurrently toe-in-the-wateroverlap and diverge. Not only do we not have the dedication to put in the work required to attain excellence, we are uncomfortable with the idea of suffering, whatever that may entail. It is much easier to just dip our toe in the water than to dive in and fully immerse ourselves.

 

I do not say these things to pass judgement. I am as guilty as anyone for lacking passion in my life. Neither do I offer solutions because a) I’m not that smart and b) I’m not sure there is one pithy, one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. These are just things that I have observed, and the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.

Judge Ye Not

In recent years I have developed what I refer to as hermit-like tendencies. I have stated…only partly in jest…that if I were to ever win the lottery or otherwise come into a princely sum of cash that I would love to fake my own death, move to some remote island,mansion and hole up in a mansion reminiscent of stately Wayne Manor complete with Batcave (minus the bats). I’d have my books, Internet access, radio & TV, and of course Rocco. There would certainly be a few family & friends…my Dad, my sister & nephews, The Owl, and Greg…that would know the truth, but for the most part I’d be completely off the grid and I’d be happy. The reason is simple…humanity too often aggravates me and the less I am forced to interact with people the better I feel.

It wasn’t always this way. While I’ve never been an extrovert I have been a “people person” and enjoyed meeting & talking with different folks. A confluence of factors has led to my semi-withdrawal, probably beginning in 2006 with the two years of my life that was spent in hospitals, “skilled” nursing facilities, and homebound with medical issues that I won’t bore you with now because that’s not my purpose at the moment. It is adequate enough for my purpose here to state that solitude changes a man…alter’s one’s perspective in a deeply profound way that is difficult to reverse. At any rate, there have been other events & observations before & after that carved this path, but that was the major detour from which I’ve never quite returned to the main road…and I’m not sure I’d want to even if I could. Things happen for a reason and I’m okay with that fact.

My general unease & antipathy was recently reinforced in a truly eye opening way. And that’s saying something because I had heretofore been under the delusion that my eyes were wide open. I suppose there is always room to learn & grow.

Eph 1-7I cannot & will not go into any detail here, but suffice to say that an acquaintance of mine found themselves in some trouble…some pretty serious trouble. The story became public. What this person is accused of doing is dreadfully tragic. However, in America aren’t we all “innocent until proven guilty”?? And even if a person is guilty didn’t Jesus teach us that “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone”?? Doesn’t The Bible teach us about mercy, grace, & forgiveness?? Unfortunately modern American society doesn’t seem to believe in such principles…atleast when it comes to someone other than the person they see in the mirror each morning.

The story I am referring to was published on a website. Again the details are not important and not mine to divulge anyway. But I was truly saddened by the comments that dozens of readers left. I know Americans enjoy our blood sports, and I sincerely understand why the accusations involved evoked such passion & rage. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking…where is the mercy?? Folks were calling for this person to be shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, raped & murdered. And yes, some even suggested they be stoned, proving some familiarity with God’s Word but obviously not enough. This is all before a thorough investigation has been conducted and due process of law completely plays out. My my my…jump to conclusions much??

Look, I don’t know who did what in all this, but I do know a couple of things. I know that this person’s family is standing behind them and stepping up in ways that a month ago I am sure they never fathomed they’d be asked to do. This is a good, decent, close knit family. I am closer to the parents than the offspring and the little ones, and they are people with a deeply abiding faith, a strong moral center, and unquestionable love for one another. A few comments on the aforementioned article cast aspersions on the entire family rather than family_holding_handsjust the one person, which angered me tremendously since I know what kind of people they are. The fact that they are supporting their loved one is good enough for me and sufficient validation to doubt the veracity of the story as it is being portrayed in the media. Secondly, I know things that I have done in my life. No I have never killed anyone or committed any kind of violent act, but I have sinned in ways that I definitely wouldn’t want published in the local newspaper or discussed on television. I suspect many of you out there in the Manoverse might feel the same about your mistakes. As my relationship with God & our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ evolves & deepens I become more grieved by past errors and increasingly aware of when I choose the wrong path (which isn’t as often as it used to be but still far too much). I would hope that, if a wrong that I did ever grew into some kind of public spectacle, that others would grant me some level of mercy…but after these recent events I have my doubts.

What’s worse is that I can look back and see where I have been just as judgmental as the people who left those awful comments. I am far too quick to size up a person…assess their motives, assume their lack of moral fiber, and judge their actions. It is so easy to be reactionary in 21st century America. Social media gives us all an avenue to respond without thought, to opine without knowing all of the facts. Everyone is a critic, a pundit, and an expert. The mere fact that I can call myself a writer, publish The Manofesto, and dole out my viewpoint on anything I choose is proof of this. Who am I?? I am no better than you. I do sincerely believe that I don’t go off half-cocked and say anything too crazy in this forum, but in other situations I am easily angered and lack patience, understanding, wisdom, & compassion.

Jesus asks “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” and cautions us to “first remove the plank from your own eye, and handsthen you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” I am not advocating free reign. I am not saying that criminals should not be punished or that people should not be criticized when they make bad choices. But The Bible teaches us that “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend”, countenance in this case meaning character. Unfortunately too many of us spend a lot of time tearing others down instead of trying to help them or lead them to become better people.

I don’t have any easy answers or quick fixes for this issue. However, I can confidently say that we would all benefit from taking a moment to think…to look in the mirror and reflect on the mistakes that we’ve made and the skeletons we have in our closet whether they are big or relatively benign…before we haughtily lash out at others. No one is perfect…not you and certainly not me. The world would certainly benefit from more empathy & kindness rather than judgment, contempt, and anger.

 

My 2013 Lenten Non-Sacrifice

Ash Wednesday completely snuck up on me this year…came & went. I knew Easter was early (March 31), but I still wasn’t quite in that mode yet. To me Easter signifies spring, and since we just had a fairly significant snowfall here lentin West Virginia a couple of weeks ago my brain is still in the midst of the winter doldrums. Unfortunately I did not make it to the always lovely Ash Wednesday service at church a few days ago due to some untimely mechanical difficulties, and I am a bit tardy in publishing the present discourse, but hey…it’s a long season so we’ll just go with it.

 

At any rate Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent which is usually 40 days (give or take) before Easter. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. Lent is a time of preparation that symbolizes Jesus’ time in the desert where he was bibletempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13), the forty days & nights Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving The Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 19:1-25), the forty years the Jewish nation spent wandering in the desert, and the forty days & nights rains fell upon the Earth while Noah & his family were in The Ark with all the animals (Genesis Chapters 6-9). Forty is a very important number in The Bible, used by God to represent a period of testing or judgment. To that end it is traditional for Christians to make a sacrifice during Lent, which usually entails giving up a certain vice or bad habit that may be hindering our relationship with God.

 

For many years I did not fully embrace Lent. Sure I would go to church and participate in all the ceremonies & rituals, which since I am a Methodist doesn’t really involve all that much. But as with many other churchgoers who simply go thru the motions it really didn’t hold any type of significance outside the walls of the physical church building. However, citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I have mentioned on multiple occasions in the past few years my desire for a deeper, more genuine relationship with my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ and know that there has been an ebb & flow of growth, churchunderstanding, failure, and detours along the way. In 2010 I decided to make a true Lenten sacrifice, which meant giving up Facebook. And trust me…at the time it was a genuine hardship!! The following year I gave up fast food & chocolate. Again that may seem superficial to some, but honestly at that time those two things comprised the majority of my diet so it was difficult. In 2012 I was nearing the end of my year long sambatical from organized religion, a time that I regret but also appreciate because it was a necessary reset for many reasons. Since I wasn’t in church and still trying to sort some things out I didn’t choose any kind of sacrifice. I believe my running joke at the time was that I had given up church for Lent. Anyway, I returned to church right around Easter 2012  and have enjoyed the past 10 months or so.

 

In pondering potential sacrifices for 2013 God led me in a new direction. I am not exactly Mr. Excitement. My life is pretty basic and usually uneventful. That’s not a complaint because my lifestyle is a byproduct of my own choices, most of which I fully embrace or atleast no longer run away from. I didn’t want to make any kind of food sacrifice because I am already on a weight loss journey and have already lowered my intake of all those really good things that are bad for me. And there wasn’t really any other kind of sacrifice that seemed appropriate for a variety of reasons. As I pondered the issue I began to recall various things I have read and sermons I have heard wherein it was stated, in essence, that it is just as appropriate to add something for Lent as it is to give gregolsenup something. The whole idea behind Lent is to acknowledge that we fall short in our relationship with God and draw closer to him. I have done a lot of re-evaluating in the past few years and have stated my displeasure on multiple occasions with the superficial nature of the modern church, and it seems to me that Lent has become a perfect example of the problem. The Lenten sacrifice…for most folks anyway…has become nothing more than a sequel to meaningless New Year’s resolutions. If quitting smoking, giving up chocolate, or reducing your intake of booze & caffeine helps you develop a more meaningful relationship with God then by all means go for it & don’t let me stop you. However, I suspect that such removals are…most of the time…simply hollow acts of self-righteous vanity in which we all try to top one another with the level of our “suffering”. No thanks…not this kid. I want my relationship with God and my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ to have more depth. Your mileage may vary.

 

Having said all that what I have decided to do is refocus myself in a more dedicated effort to cultivate my relationship with The Lord. I feel like such an endeavor is a more positive way to approach Lent and something that won’t just last 40 days. Now lest you think that statement is too general…too “big picture”…I think there is a way that I can fit the task into the more rudimentary, more tangible paradigm most identify with Lent. One of the ways that I can palpably grow both my relationship with The Lord and my own depth of knowledge & understanding of things more profound than General Hospital, Double Whoppers with cheese, and Judd Apatow movies is by reading, studying, & writing. Sometimes I think that God really does have a sense of humor, and I have to smile sheepishly when I realize that after commenting at the beginning of the year that “I have an increasing hunger to write” and that “inspiration flows more steadily” the past 6 weeks have not been nearly as productive as they should have been. Sure I write superficial little ditties now & then, and that’s not always a bad thing. But The Manofesto is meant to be more than that. A year ago I promised a book-by-book look at writing-fountain-pen-400 (1)The Bible that I have yet to start. 31/2 years ago I started a series on The Fruits of the Spirit that is still incomplete. There are only nine of them for Pete’s sake…what is taking me so long?? Nearly three years ago I began a similar examination of The Sermon on the Mount that is still not finished. That is unacceptable. When I look at The Bookshelf section here and realize that I have only written 14 entries in four years I am ashamed. There was a time when I constantly had my head in a book. I don’t know what has happened as I have gotten older. There are dozens of books in The Bachelor Palace that I could write about and share my experience with The Manoverse. Therefore what I have decided to do for Lent is commit to adding atleast 6 entries each in both The Bookshelf and Values, Principles, & Truth sections here over the next 6 weeks. In practical terms that will naturally necessitate focusing my energy on reading & studying as opposed to wasting my time on more worthless pursuits. One of the  things I like about The Manofesto is that I feel a certain sense of accountability to the things that I publically proclaim, which is a good thing. I am not a disciplined person. I am single, which means I get up when I want, sleep when I want, eat what & when I want, and go where I want whenever I want to go. The only responsibilities I have are my job, my bills, & Rocco. While that freedom is kind of nice for the most part it also means that there is a tendency to become somewhat lazy & neglectful of other significant things. I want to use Lent as a launch pad to be more responsible to God, to the talents with which He has blessed me, and to the commitment I have made here at The Manofesto.

 

God bless you all and may you utilize this Lenten season to draw closer to God and improve your life as well.

My Neighbor’s Ass

In the 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail (#46 on my Favorite Movies list) Meg Ryan’s character laments “I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?”

 

I must admit that I often have a similar inner dialogue, except I am not quite so convinced that my life has been all that valuable thus far. I beat myself up about not being as professionally successful as I thought I’d be once upon a time. I feel isolated and contemplate my lack of friends, dearth of communal interaction, and complete absence of any semblance of a love life. I wonder where it all went so wrong and ponder decades of mistakes, misfortune, wrong turns, and bad decisions. And I convince myself that I am the only person in the world who has these thoughts because e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e else is happier, more successful, and completely content with their wonderful lives.

 

Social media does one no favors with this struggle. A person can log onto Facebook on a daily basis and see family members, fellow church members, or old chums from school & work proudly displaying photos of or understandably boasting about their wonderful spouse, fun & entertaining city, beautiful children, awesome job, expensive home, cool new car, and amazing vacation. I often see others going to concerts, having cookouts with friends & family, and painting the town red every weekend, all while I sit at home by myself reading a book, watching TV, and chillin’ with my dog.

 

But then I see other things. I read an obituary of a lovely 20-something whose life was cut short by something the paper politely does not mention. I see that the divorce rate is 50%…give or take…and personally know far too many people who have gone through the ordeal. I observe a multitude of homeless, illiterate people wandering the streets of my hometown. I know of those who have committed or atleast attempted suicide. I see the negative effects of joblessness & economic woes. I hear about people’s battles with serious illness.

 

It is in these moments of clarity that I understand that my life ain’t half bad.

 

Why then, do I (and others) oftentimes feel such regret?? Why does seeing what others have spark an unhealthy fusion of animosity & sadness?? As usual, my friend The Owl pointed me in the right direction for the answer.

 

The Bible has literally dozens of verses that speak of a particular word. That word is “covet”. The dictionary defines it as being “inordinately, eagerly, or wrongly desirous of wealth and possessions or excessively and culpably desirous of the possessions of another.” In a nutshell, we want what we can’t (or aren’t supposed to) have. We become convinced that what we do have…our life, our stuff…isn’t good enough. We have a perfectly fine roof over our heads, but we want something bigger & fancier or in a better neighborhood. We like our job but keep our eyes & ears open for something more prestigious or with higher pay. We love our spouse but don’t hesitate to dump them for or cheat on them with someone hotter, thinner, or richer. It seems that many are never truly happy or satisfied and nothing they attain or achieve is ever good enough.

 

At this point I feel compelled to make two disclaimers. First of all, I am absolutely sure that we all fight this battle; it’s just that there are varying degrees of covetousness and some are more successful in overcoming the obstacle than others. Jeremiah 6:13 tells us that “from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness, and from the prophet even to the priest,everyone deals falsely.” Even the most content among us has likely been envious of others at some point in their life. So if you are reading this and thinking “My humble Potentate of Profundity has lost his mind. I’ve never felt what he is describing.” then either you are a very blessed individual or you are lying to yourself. Call me cynical, but my money is on the latter. Secondly, no one is saying that folks are wrong for buying a fancy new car, jumping ship to a better job, or taking a fantabulous trip to an exotic locale. The point is that others are wrong for secretly cursing those folks under their breath and wishing they could have the car, the job, & the trip.

 

Covetousness is such a big deal to God that He includes it in His Ten Commandments. Specifically, the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17 states ““You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” So covetousness is right up there alongside murder, theft, lying, and adultery in the pantheon of things we are not supposed to do. Colossians 3:5 instructs us to “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  Mark 7:21-23 says that “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t give a rat’s petoot about my neighbor’s ox or donkey, if I even know anyone that owns such animals. However, I darn sure notice other guys’ pretty girlfriends, wish I’d been to cool places like Vegas & Italy like a lot of folks I know, and wonder occasionally why I wasn’t smart enough to move to the beach like half of my graduating class. The problem is that The Bible tells me I may as well be out robbing banks, killing people, and sleeping around because I am still wallowing in sin when I covet. What is the punishment for these evil thoughts?? Ephesians 5:5 tells us that “no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” 2nd Peter 2:12-15 warns us about false teachers that will come along and “speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.” These false teachers and the things they put forth “are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray.” The question that one must ask of themselves is “Is my soul unstable??”.

 

I don’t like to dive into these kinds of topics without being able to offer a solution, and what I have found is that the answer is always pretty much the same. You aren’t going to find what you seek in a pop psychology book or on an infomercial. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Ruth, and Dr. Laura aren’t going to assist you any more than Dr. Dre, Dr. Seuss, Dr. J, or Doctor No. These sources might provide some answers, but they won’t deliver t-h-e answer. There is only one foundation that will bring stability to the soul, allowing a person to withstand the false teachings so abundant in our world. The psalmist, in Psalm 119:36, prays to God “incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Receive your instruction from God instead of a talk show or the inane ramblings of some empty-headed, soulless pseudo celebrity and you should be on solid ground. Hebrews 13:5 implores us to “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Luke 12:15 says to “take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” I think it is okay to identify good people, look up to them, and attempt to emulate their finest qualities. But if you want to know what kind of person you should be just refer to Paul’s advice to Timothy in Timothy 3:2-4, in which he says that we should “be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;  not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;  one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.” Paul didn’t seem concerned with keeping up with the Jones…or the Kardashians…so maybe we shouldn’t either.

 

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – The New Hope

Please check out Part 1 & Part 2 or else you will be thoroughly confused. Thanks!!

I had said for several months, as church friends would interact with me online or I’d see them at family events and they would say they missed me & encourage me to come back, that I was bothered by the fact that the one person who I should be hearing from was the one person I hadn’t…the minister. He himself had taught our youth about the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) about 15 years ago at a lock-in when I was assisting with that particular ministry. The story had always struck a chord with me, and this past year I had felt kind of like a lost coin. The only difference was it seemed like no one was really looking for me, atleast not in the earnest, diligent way the woman in the parable searches for her drachma. Does this reflect poorly on my own insecurities and self-esteem?? Probably. But it was bigger than me. I feel like it is a microcosm of how the church as a whole operates in 21st century America. The machine keeps humming along and no one really notices when people go missing. There’s a scene in my favorite action flick Die Hard when one of the federal agents given the task of dealing with the crisis at hand says “I figure we take out the terrorists and lose 20-25% of the hostages tops”, with his partner replying “I can live with that”. That’s the church these days. The end justifies the means. It all seems a tad bit cool & detached. A lesson learned in The Godfather  – ”it’s not personal, it’s just business”. Maybe it’s just me, but when the line between the church & the mafia becomes blurred it is disturbing.

 

At any rate, my minister & I had a polite, pleasant conversation on that lazy Saturday. He needed me to sign some papers because I am still on the Board of Trustees and they are getting a loan for some upkeep on the church. Of course…business…The Machine…money. It never stops. He asked me to come back and I expressed some of my concerns. We didn’t dive in too deep, and really there was no need to. I’m not angry and I don’t hate anyone. The people in that congregation have been a part of my life for the vast majority of my existence. My Mom worshiped there, as did my grandmother and several aunts, uncles, & cousins. Its home and I’ve missed it. The fact is that the flaws within the church will be there whether I am or not. My mistake was in expecting the church to be accountable for things for which I need to take responsibility. I am responsible for feeding my body, so why should I assign others the task of feeding me spiritually?? Yes I know that that SHOULD be the first priority of the church, but when they fall short I can either throw a hissy fit about it or get busy doing it myself. I have spent the past year doing the former but now realize I need to do the latter. I have also made the mistake of getting too caught up in the busy work of the church at the expense of my own spiritual well-being. Again, that stuff will exist whether or not I am present. I am the one who allowed it to drag me down.

 

I spent the next few weeks in considerable ponderation of the situation. My ego felt as if returning would be admitting defeat and letting “them” win…a tacit admission that I had been wrong. After all, it isn’t like things were suddenly going to be markedly different. On the other hand, I realize…have always known…that no one in this little drama is really to blame. I don’t think there are people in my little country church or in any other church that set out to go down the wrong path. While I am smart (and cynical) enough to know that bad people with malevolent intentions certainly exist, I choose to believe that the vast majority of folks just do the best they can and try to make the wisest decisions possible. Mostly though, I finally really understand the difference between religion & faith, between being a churchgoer & having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I had always been under the impression that I comprehended that concept, but I guess one is never too old to keep on learning.

 

So now I am back. The sambatical is over. I am rested & renewed. I have returned to the weekly routine of Sunday school, worship, Bible study, committee meetings, and fundraisers. All those things have their merit and meet a need. I have always known that their place on the proverbial totem pole should be fairly low, but I now recognize that they do indeed have a place, atleast in my life. I am fully aware that selling hot dogs or building a picnic shelter or spending as much time drinking coffee & eating cookies as discussing scripture on Wednesday evening won’t get me or anyone else into Heaven. I know that going to church can only provide an outline and that it is up to me to pray, study, and build a relationship with Christ in order to write the full story. My expectations of myself have grown exponentially as I have lowered my expectations of others. All of us are human. We make mistakes. My pride & resentment have not represented me well, but they were things I needed to work through to grow. There is a reason for everything. This past year has been yet another time period I would probably change if given the opportunity, but then again maybe not. I still believe it is possible…maybe even advantageous…to experience Christ, to worship Him, to spread His good news, and to be a shining example of His teaching without chains. A church is still simply a building…land…stuff…money…business. It is easy to get caught up in the work, the responsibility, the politics…the humanity. It is easy to become insulated and not “make disciples of all the nations”. These are weaknesses which rob the modern church of its power & authority. However, I have made the decision to separate religion and faith, as I should have already been doing anyway. And I have decided that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Frustration with the business of the church need not rob me of my “blessed assurance”, and dedication to a more genuine relationship with The Lord does not preclude church attendance. The two should ideally intersect more often than not, but when they don’t then I need to assess the circumstances and react appropriately & rationally. The truth is that I have missed my friends. I’ve missed my family. I’ve missed those opportunities to gather together and attempt to do something good for the community or even just have some good old fashioned fellowship. None of that stuff has anything to do with my salvation or loving Jesus Christ, but I have come to appreciate their place in my life. Your mileage may vary & my conclusions may not jive with yours, and that’s okay. We all do what we gotta do, right?? Or maybe…just maybe…you recognize kernels of similarity between my story & yours. If so I hope my experience provides some insight, a pleasant read, and some fodder for your own ponderation.

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part Deux

If you have not done so, please read Part 1 of this trilogy. Otherwise the rest of it won’t make a lick of sense.

 

Eventually the time came that I was able to get back out & about. I have never lead the most adventurous existence, and the church had been a huge part of my social life for years, so it was with some trepidation that I returned. I did my best to put the acrimony behind me, but if I am being honest I am not sure I ever did. Armed with that subliminal resentment I began to notice the superficial pretense. I had finally taken off my rose colored glasses and saw the church for what it was…a very human creation that I was pretty sure no longer resembled God’s original intent. Little snubs & slights began to gnaw at me. I actually did get angry and skipped a couple of Sundays here & there, always pondering the possibility of finding a new church. But I always came back. I refer to it as Battered Parishioner Syndrome.

 

Then, three years after my triumphant return, the events of last spring unfolded. Again, the details are unimportant, but suffice to say that things didn’t happen overnight. The straw that broke the camel’s back was actually quite silly & petty on my end, but it came at the conclusion of a string of events that built up like a slow filling helium balloon. Even then when I quietly stormed out that last Sunday I knew I’d probably get over it and go back in a week or two. But things began to happen. I got very sick and was unable to attend for a couple of Sundays. When no one called to see if I was okay that old resentment began to rear its ugly head. A meeting that I had every intention of attending went on without me because I was unexpectedly asked to work a Saturday morning shift.  I expressed my displeasure to a few fellow congregants in regards to the aforementioned camel breaking straw, and I was told “You’ll be back. You always come back.” And that was when my pride kicked in and I decided that I was going to prove them wrong and not go back. And I didn’t.

 

At first I seriously pondered finding a new church. That probably would have been the wise decision. Like my friend The Owl I could have visited churches and atleast given them a chance until they gave me a reason to discard them. But I didn’t. I began to realize that the cause of my inner turmoil was bigger than the particular things that had happened in my church. I slowly came to understand that I had lost my zeal for the whole of organized religion. Its hollowness. Its hypocrisy. Its focus on money. Its resistance to try anything new. Its reliance on habit passed off as tradition. Its lack of meaningful influence. Its determination to fit into the world’s paradigms when The Bible clearly says that we are to be “in the world but not of the world” (or something to that effect) and “a peculiar people”. I decided…as I have to a large extent in relation to life in general…to withdraw. When something frustrates, upsets, aggravates, and saddens you the prudent course of action is…sometimes…to just shun it altogether.

 

And then a few weeks ago…on a lazy Saturday when The Bachelor Palace was a complete mess, I was not dressed for company (let your imagination run wild), and I was having a day where I was keenly aware of my own emptiness, isolation, and ennui…there was a knock at my door.

 

Faith 101

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s a proven fact that some of history’s best ideas were…borrowed…from others. I am not sure if I am borrowing or flattering today, but I will readily admit that what follows are not my own words. I was reading an introduction to the book of James in a new Bible I purchased recently and it was so good I feel compelled to share. This is probably the best exposition about faith that I have ever read. Enjoy, but more importantly, soak the words in and put them into action in your own life. I was convicted by some of these words and intend on putting a better foot forward in an effort to live up to them.

Faith without works cannot be called faith. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). A dead faith is worse than no faith at all. Faith must work. It must produce. It must be visible. It must inspire action. Verbal faith is not enough. Mental faith is insufficient.

Faith endures trials. Trials come & go but a strong faith will face them head-on and develop endurance. Faith understands temptation and will not allow us to consent to our lust and slide into sin. Faith obeys the Word. It will not merely hear and not do. Faith produces doers. Faith harbors no prejudice. Faith is more than just words, more than knowledge. It is demonstrated by obedience and overtly responds to the promises of God. Faith controls the tongue, a small but immensely powerful part of the body that must be held in check.

Faith acts wisely. It gives us the ability to choose wisdom that is heavenly and to shun wisdom that is earthly. Faith produces separation from the world and submission to God. It provides us with the ability to resist Satan and humbly draw near to God. Faith waits patiently for the coming of the Lord. Through trouble & trial it stifles complaining.


 

Amen

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The Fruits of the Spirit – Kindness, Gentleness, Goodness, Meekness

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”     –       Proverbs 15:1

After much too long of a hiatus it is time to get back on track. We last looked at The Fruits of the Spirit just over one year ago. As usual, I have no explanation for why I take these little breaks, but I have learned not to question and just go with the flow. Not surprisingly God’s timing, unlike ours, is absolutely perfect. So at a time in my life when I haven’t been feeling all that nice for various reasons related to general frustration and the flaws & foibles of numerous human beings with which I come into contact on a regular basis God has…of course…lead me to write about kindness. That God, He’s an ironic fella.

 

Depending upon which translation of The Bible one chooses, the terms kindness, gentleness, goodness, and meekness are used somewhat interchangeably in reference to The Fruits of the Spirit, to the point that it becomes confusing. The NIV, New King James, and New American Standard use, in order, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. The King James keeps goodness but substitutes gentleness for kindness and uses meekness in place of gentleness so that the order is gentleness, goodness, meekness. The American Standard uses kindness and goodness but also subs in meekness for gentleness. It can be quite perplexing. So what I have decided to do is examine these terms together because in common everyday use they have close enough meanings that I believe it might be instructive to look at them all at once in order to understand the subtle differences in a Biblical, Godly context.

 

First things first. As most everyone knows The Bible was not originally written in English. Therefore it can be rather enlightening to dig around and find out what the original words used were and what they meant, which obviously sheds some light on God’s intent. Not surprisingly one Greek word covers kindness, gentleness, & meekness. That word is chrestotes, which means moral goodness, integrity, usefulness, benignity, and beneficence, or the sympathetic sweetness of temper which puts others at ease and shrinks from giving pain. The Greek word for meekness is praos, which pertains to not being overly impressed by a sense of self-importance, and can also mean the state of being gentle, humble, courteous, and considerate.

 

I think this little ditty has taken me awhile to write partly because there is just so much to say and so many different directions from which the topic can be approached. However, from the moment I launched The Manofesto I made a promise to myself and my readers that I would always try to avoid being too verbose and keep things readable. One reason I wanted to combine these terms into one entry was because I feared that four different pieces would become tedious and repetitive since much of the same ground would be covered. For example, I already wrote about “The meek shall inherit the earth” in the series about The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was a pretty straightforward dude. His teachings aren’t complex, just difficult to put into action. Therefore in pondering and praying about all the angles of kindness, goodness, gentleness, and meekness I figured out that it comes down to two things…what is inside and what is outside. What kind of attitude is in your heart and mind, and how do those thoughts & feelings manifest themselves in your deeds??

 

Let’s work from the inside out, because everything starts with the intellect & emotions. Utilizing our two terms chrestotes and praos we understand that we must begin with humility, integrity, and a benevolent temperament. Humility is the opposite of self-importance. Humility is being able to laugh at one’s self and be comfortable with your own imperfection. Humility is gladly being a team player and not needing to always be in the spotlight. Humility means not being rude or arrogant, and having respect for rules and boundaries. Humility means humbly submitting our lives to God because we know we can’t do it right on our own. Integrity is simply honesty and adherence to moral principles, i.e. following in the footsteps of Christ. Benevolence means the desire to be charitable and kind to others. Benevolence means giving people the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judgment or taking pleasure in crushing them like a bug. Benevolence is the opposite of an all too prevalent need to seek vengeance or step over whomever is in the way of what we want. On an intellectual level most will understand these things, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves we often fall short of the mark. How often do we not feel these positive things in our heart?? How often does our attitude stray toward malevolence, arrogance, frustration, selfishness, disrespect, and being judgmental?? I cannot speak for the masses and only know my own heart, and I can say with all sincerity that most of the time I not only fall short, I fall WAY short. The attitude we harbor within our heart has a direct correlation on how we react to and treat others, but is it possible to be polite and courteous to peoples’ face while harboring harsh feelings inside?? Sure…we do it all the time. But there are two things wrong with that scenario. First, eventually…someday…the truth comes out. As the old saying goes “you can fool some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. When our true feelings come out we just end up looking deceitful and manipulative. Second and more importantly, no matter how often we might be able to put one over on some folks here & there we can never trick God. He knows our heart, and there is no escape from that. I’ve never understood why that one fact doesn’t sufficiently blow peoples’ minds.

 

Therefore, if we are able to master genuinely feeling kind, gentle, good, and meek within our heart & mind it stands to reason that it will be reflected in our actions and external attitude. I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like I can usually spot a sincerely kind and gentle soul fairly quickly. It is difficult to explain, but they just seem to have a glow, a positive aura. Such individuals reek of goodness. Meekness pours out of their spirit effortlessly. But here is where I struggle: that type of person is all too rare.

 

I mentioned at the outset that I don’t feel like I have been all that nice lately. Me and The Golden Rule have kind of been on civil but not exactly friendly terms for awhile now. The Golden Rule, for those of you who may reside in the general vicinity of Wyoming County, WV (the 10% of that population that may be literate anyway), states that we are to “do unto others as we would have them do unto you”. Sounds great. It’s a very nice idea. But when a person…like your humble Potentate of Profundity…so often feels overlooked, underappreciated, disconnected, forgotten about, lost in the shuffle, irrelevant, taken for granted, and screwed over it becomes increasingly difficult to treat others just dandy while they treat me like a big pile of dog doo. For most of my life I feel like I have embodied most of the positive traits we are discussing here. I feel confident in saying that without a shred of arrogance simply because I give all the credit to how I was raised by my parents and the things I was taught by people in my family, community, and church. I was taught to be considerate, humble, and courteous. I have always tried to have integrity, to be a team player, and to put others at ease. I get no pleasure out of causing others pain. However, it seems to me that, more & more, those who go in the complete opposite direction…arrogant, mean-spirited, condescending, dishonest, judgmental, disrespectful people…are somehow the mice that always get the cheese. My reaction hasn’t been…thankfully…to become as self-centered & nasty as others, but rather to disengage from society as much as possible. And to be honest I am not really sure that is the right answer.

 

So what is the answer?? How do we become genuinely kind, good, gentle, meek people in our hearts so that those traits will sincerely manifest themselves in our actions and daily lives?? How do we ignore the nastiness of others and treat them as we would have them treat us rather than how they are actually treating us?? How do we make Luke 6:27-31, which says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you”, more than just empty sentiment?? How do we “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32) ??

 

Well obviously I am the wrong person to offer a solution since it is a conundrum with which I struggle so mightily, to the point that I question the validity not of my faith but of the earthly demonstration of that faith by the masses. I am too easily wounded by those who don’t seem to realize I exist, even though their actions aren’t always malevolent and usually just oblivious and unintentionally insensitive. We all want to feel like we matter, to feel like we belong somewhere, and for most of the past 5 years of my life I have felt like I don’t matter and don’t belong. Am I still kind & gentle?? Yes…on the outside. But oftentimes I can barely conceal my rage, disappointment, and indignation, clearly indicating that I do not feel genuinely good & meek inside.  I recognize the problem but have no concrete answers.

 

The only answer that I can come up with just muddies the waters further. I am familiar, on an intellectual level, with the concept of being “in the world but not of the world”. But it’s kind of the same deal as with The Golden Rule…much easier said than done. I, like many folks I am sure, try my darndest to not be “of the world”, but the fact is that I live here for now and it is pretty hard to ignore the things that go on all around me and affect me on a daily basis. This whole kindness thing has really had me flummoxed for awhile now because I just don’t know very many truly meek & gentle people. The general populace has bought into the idea of The Rat Race, getting ahead, “success” (whatever that is), and stomping on whoever & whatever is in the way of accomplishing goals. So what am I supposed to do…get stomped on until Jesus comes and be happy about it?? That’s not an approach I am comfortable with, even if it could possibly be the correct answer.

 

So at the end of the day my general methodology has become retreat. I still try to be nice and helpful whenever possible, but I also avoid putting myself in situations where I know disingenuous individuals are just going to disappoint me over & over. I spend a lot of time alone in my apartment reading and hanging out with my puppy. Sometimes that’s my choice, other times it’s a choice that is forced upon me by the indifference of others. The unfortunate conclusion that I have come to can best be made by using a football analogy. There are 11 people on a football team. The team can sustain one or two people making a mistake, but if I am the lone person trying to advance the ball down the field and the other ten players are heading in the opposite direction I am going to get mauled. So rather than get mauled I mostly just choose not to play the game, which is sad because I love football and want to be involved.

 

 

 

Blessed Are They Who Mourn

For those who don’t know me personally, a significant thing to note is that I am a paraplegic, having been born with a condition called spina bifida. I JesusDoves_mediummention that fact only to lay the foundation for a bit of fatherly wisdom imparted to me long ago by…well, my Dad. He told me many times as a small child, that even though someone might come up to me, pat me on the head (people do that to handicapped kids long past what is typically regarded as an appropriate age), and express sympathy for my plight, they likely haven’t gotten out of sight before they’ve forgotten all about me because they have their own issues and problems and don’t have time to worry about me and mine. That lesson taught me much…a healthy cynicism, a sense of self reliance (because sometimes no one else can be counted on to truly give a darn), the realization that the world owes me nothing, and…for the purposes of this adventure in blogging…the understanding that sincerity can be quite shallow and not always all that sincere.

 

Jesus tells us that to be happy we must mourn, which doesn’t sound like much fun. Mourning is what we do at funerals, and really…who wants to do that all the time?? But let’s put aside preconceived notions and approach things from another perspective. Just as being poor in spirit means that we must be humble enough to realize we need God and should not try to live life on our own terms without His guidance, so does this passage require us to shun our prideful nature and submit ourselves to God’s grace. Allow me to reference James 4:1-10, which says:

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”


This is where sincerity…and our lack of it…comes into the picture. Let’s be honest…we’re human beings, every last one of us…which means we’re not perfect and we’re occasionally going to royally screw things up. And even though God is just and we will all eventually face judgment, God’s grace is a free gift available to us right now. He desires a relationship with us and wants us to turn to Him in times of joy, times of tumult, and everything in between. However, along with being screw-ups we’re also pretty stubborn and prideful. How many times have we wronged someone and apologized, but done so only half-heartedly and for selfish, specious reasons?? God knows when we’re not really sorry, and that kind of lackadaisical faith is not what He seeks. When we go against the will of God we need to sincerely seek forgiveness, not with a prideful heart but with a heart full of genuine sadness, a heart in mourning because of the sin we have committed. God will not accept a flippant, disingenuous apology. It is only when we ask for God’s mercy in an authentic fashion that He will give us true comfort.

 

I won’t even pretend to be a religious scholar and know all the idiosyncratic differences between every major religion or especially every denomination within those religions. But I do have a basic yet growing understanding of The Bible and the ways of God. I have difficulty believing that doing a few hand gestures or ducking into a booth and glibly telling another human being about one’s mistakes is a ticket to Heaven. I mean no disrespect to anyone’s religion, but on the other hand I think “religion” is sometimes the problem instead of the solution. We get too caught up in meaningless rituals and just go through the motions. When we sin we brush it off and try to work our way out of it. That may work in a health & fitness situation, where a brisk jog around the neighborhood or an intense workout at the gym can legitimately offset that hot fudge sundae we had for lunch, but God requires more. He wants intense anguish to pierce our hearts when we go against His will. Does that mean God wants us to be in a constant state of misery?? Of course not. But there’s an easy way to avoid that misery – don’t sin!! Easier said than done?? Sure. Believe me, I know all too well. Does that mean we just give up and quit trying?? No. And when we do mess up, forget the hand gestures or telling some fellow human being that isn’t any more special than you just because he wears some fancy duds. Get on your knees (or not…not even THAT is a necessary rule) and cry out to the Lord in prayer, asking for His forgiveness expressing true repentance.