The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part 1

Nearly one year ago, right after Easter, I exited the church in which I grew up and had attended regularly since I was a child. I had not returned until today.

The cause of my initial exit is trivial, important only to me. There were valid issues, but some problems can just as easily be blamed on my own neuroses, stubborn pride, and failure to deal with disagreements effectively. However, the bigger reasons for my nearly yearlong sambatical, as well as my abrupt decision to return to the fold, are worth delving into because I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there are numerous disenfranchised Christians who, like me, have felt a growing chasm between what they are seeking versus what organized religion in 21st century America currently offers.

My friend The Owl, who is much more devout and genuinely devoted to living a Christ-like life than most folks I know (including your humble Potentate of Profundity), says that the church has become too worldly. He hasn’t found a “home church” in a long time, even though, to his credit, he still occasionally gives it the ol’ college try. He has most certainly spent more time in close proximity to pews & steeples than I have in the past year. However, his devotion, strong faith, and heartfelt determination to, as my Dad would say, “live life closer to the foot of the cross” despite not having close ties to a church has been influential in my own thought process. After all, a church is just a building, right??

Ah yes…a building. There’s a building. There’s land. There are bills to pay, things to buy, and stuff to maintain & repair. These things make money necessary. Fundraising becomes an obligatory evil (atleast in smaller churches). Committees are formed. Disagreements are either argued about or fester quietly for years. Folks jockey for position. Egos are bruised, feelings are hurt. All the sudden instead of focusing on Christ and His teachings, we spend a half hour on Sunday morning with Him…theoretically…at the center and the rest of the time running the business that the church has become. Even worship service is bogged down by meaningless ritual, incongruous nods to secular pop culture, screaming children lacking manners & discipline, and squirmy, visibly disinterested adults who are merely fulfilling an obligation but clearly have no sincerity of purpose. I honestly believe that most adults are more attentive when they shell out $8 at the local cineplex for some profanity laced, overtly sexual, ultra violent CGI crapfest than they are in church. And many are undoubtedly more passionate about a host of other pursuits…golf, fishing, watching the game or the race…than they are in worshiping God and spreading the good news of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I have been right in the thick of the hypocrisy. I’ve been that disengaged, disinterested, distracted person just going through the motions and only giving my bare minimum (or less) focus to The Lord. I’ve been the person who attends all the committee meetings and helps out with all the fundraisers but has merely a cordial (at best) relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve been the person who attended church on Sunday but sinned freely and capaciously the other 6 days of the week. But at some point something either broke or awakened inside of me and I decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. This discontent with my Christian walk culminated with me walking away from the church.

It really all began nearly 6 years ago during what I call My Unfortunate Incarceration. I’ll spare those not “in the know” the details and just give the Cliff’s Notes version of my sad tale. In April 2006 I landed in the hospital with an ulcer on my tailbone. 6 weeks in the hospital were followed by 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility. That was followed by an entire year homebound until, at last, I had the surgery that probably should have been done right off the bat. Another month in a hospital, a second shorter stint in a “skilled” nursing facility, then a few more months at home finally ended with me resuming normal activities after having, in essence, lost 2 years of my life in my early 30’s. I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I must admit that given the chance I’d skip over or significantly alter that time period in a heartbeat.

Looking back it was during those long dismal months that…atleast subconsciously…the yearning for a closer bond with The Lord blossomed yet I began to grow apart from the church. After all, besides my Dad, sister, and an aging, perverted, hard headed, yet genuinely kind & decent cousin all I had was Him. Regretfully though, instead of embracing the opportunity to cultivate that relationship I chose to wallow in a newfound bitterness caused by being “out of the loop”, “out of sight, out of mind”, and left in solitude by people who I am sure were blissfully unaware they were doing anything wrong. These were the days before Facebook allowed us all to stay in constant contact with hundreds of people across the globe on a daily basis. My Dad & sister would run into people who’d say “Tell Sam we’re thinking about him & praying for him”. I didn’t buy it. I just wanted them to take 10 minutes and give me a call. I was lonely, bored, and probably depressed, yet few people outside of my immediate family seemed to give a damn. When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery my friend Greg & his wife Jenn…who live in Texas…came to visit. Sure they were in town for his father’s wedding (or maybe it was his brother’s), but that visit meant the world to me. It was aggravating that friends that lived thousands of miles away found the time to make contact in my hour of need but others who lived much much closer…many of them “church family”…did not.

Holiday Essentials with Your Humble Potentate of Profundity

It goes without saying that Christmas is…or atleast should be…all about the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. It should also be christmas-lightsabout family, an attitude of giving, and a time of reflection & contemplation of life. However, I am not here to hop up on my soapbox (not today anyway) or proselytize (not that there is anything wrong with that). There are a lot of cool things about the holiday season, and since I do not have a spouse or children I tend to enjoy a lot of other peripheral traditions besides opening presents on Christmas morning. So these, in a nutshell, are the things that entertain me, make me a bit wistful, and help me fondly recall the idyllic childhood of my selective memory.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus on the Biography Channel

I’ve railed against the stupefying mediocrity of television elsewhere here at The Manofesto, but I have to admit that amongst the plethora of nothingness that passes as “entertainment” on The Idiot Box there are occasionally some hidden gems. Whenever I am not watching a ballgame on TV I tend to gravitate toward more informational fare on Discovery, History, or The Science Channel. If only I’d have had that sort of intellectual curiosity 30 years ago. Ah well…c’est la vie. At any rate, A&E used to run this terrific show called Biography, which is exactly what it sounds like. A few years ago the show somehow got its own channel, which is probably overkill but what’re you gonna do?? At Christmas time they inevitably run a show about the jolly old elf himself…Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, etc. They explore the origins, the myths, and how our modern interpretation came to fruition. It’s educational, it’s fun, and it’s not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

 

 

Reading A Visit From St. Nicholas

Unfortunately I do not have children of my own and have begun to have very serious doubts about whether I ever will. If I did I would like to think that one of the final things I would do as they lay their little heads down to sleep on Christmas Eve is read this most beloved poem. As it is I still like to find it online and read it to myself. What a beautifully written story it is, with the power to make even middle-aged men feel like children once again.

 

 

Die Hard

Coming in at #9 on my list of Favorite Movies is the best action movie of all time and the world’s most unlikely Christmas film. It’s a terrific change of pace from the sentimentality and mawkish preachiness of typical holiday fare. Obviously I don’t shy away from all that sweetness & light…not at all. But sometimes it’s fun just to sit back and watch smartass Bruce Willis (at his very best) shoot things and blow stuff up.

 

 

Crazy Christmas Lights

lightsI am physically unable to put up a huge decorative display, and even if I could The Bachelor Palace is not really conducive to that sort of thing anyway. So I can get my fix a couple of ways. If the weather cooperates I can hop in the ol’ gasoline powered extended cab sleigh and traverse local neighborhoods where folks with that funky Christmas spirit have decorated the outside of their own homesteads. The swankier sections of town where the pretty people live are usually the mother lode of ornamental holiday nirvana. It’s not a bad way to spend a chilly December evening. The other, far lazier option is to just hang out on the couch and find The Travel Channel on your television. They frequently replay a couple of specials about people who go all out with their Christmas light presentations. Either way the soft glowing lights (I am partial to white lights) are an essential part of the holiday season.

 

 

Thanksgiving with The Macy’s Parade, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and NFL Football

This list is obviously more about Christmas, but sometimes I feel like Thanksgiving gets the short end of the holiday stick. In 21st Century America it is treated as nothing more than the kickoff to the commercialized Christmas season. I am not excessively offended by that, but I also think Thanksgiving deserves some love. It isn’t quite as special these days since my mother and grandparents are gone and I usually go out to eat alone instead of having the old fashioned family feast at home, but I do have my own little checklist for the big day. I still love to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, even if it does strike me as being a lot hokier now than when I was a kid. Being a huge football fan I appreciate the fact that there are always a couple of NFL games with the Dallas Cowboys & Detroit Lions facing off against various opponents and sometimes there is even a college game or two. And to top everything off I like to watch the 1987 Steve Martin/John Candy classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, which is the world’s best…and maybe only…Thanksgiving movie.

 

 

A Holiday Inn & White Christmas Double Feature

I’m an old-fashioned guy, and no time of the year lends itself to kickin’ it old school better than Christmas. One of the things I could never do but would love to have the talent for is singing and dancing. I envy people who can entertain a crowd with song & dance, and that is what these two films are all about. The plots themselves are secondary to watching Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, & Danny Kaye display their inimitable talents. It’s such a shame that films like these are not made or barely appreciated anymore. I have two teenage nephews and I’d be surprised if they’d watch either of these for longer than 10 minutes before wanting to play some inane video game or watch “reality” television. That’s fine…to each their own. As for me, I will anxiously await AMC’s showing of these two films, during which I will dim the lights, snuggle with Rocco under a warm blanket, and drink a mug of piping hot cocoa overflowing with marshmallows.

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Rudolph & Frosty get all the love, but among the plethora of classic, Rankin-Bass produced, stop motion animated holiday specials this one deserves some props as well. Starring the voices of Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, & Keenan Wynn, it’s a unique Santa Claus origin story with one of the most memorably named villains ever, Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger. It’s usually on ABC Family a few times.

 

 

 

Christmas on The Food Network

I am addicted to The Food Network. I can’t actually cook all that well myself, but I sure do get a kick out of watching pros who know their way around a kitchen whip up a plethora of edible delights that look quite tasty on TV. The holiday season provides folks like Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, and Emeril Lagasse several weeks to wow the viewers with all kinds of festive ideas & recipes. Yummo!!

 

 

 

 

Made-for-Television Holiday Movies

We are all familiar with the big screen classics that debuted in the theaters decades ago and now grace our television screens each & Christmas season. However, there are a lot of other lesser known holiday films available for our viewing pleasure every year. Channels like Hallmark, ABC Family, and Lifetime (Television for Women) produce new made-for-TV flicks all the time and replay several that have evidently gotten good ratings. You won’t see many big stars, great production values, or even very good stories, but you’ll be entertained, maybe have a laugh or two, and possibly get your heart tugged on a bit.

 

 

Miracle on 34th St.

This is a fantastic way to kick off the holiday season!! The beginning of the film incorporates the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade into the story, so it is usually amongst the first Christmas movies I watch. It used to be on NBC immediately following the parade every year, but then they started showing a dog show instead. However, if my sources are correct then NBC is showing it on Thanksgiving this year again!! I know that most of us (unless there are young crumb crunchers out there with an odd addiction to The Manofesto) understand the truth about Santa Claus, but I also think that most of us retain…dare I say…an inner child that we love to bring out during the holidays. Even if we know the real deal with Santa there is something charming about the idea that he may actually exist.

 

 

 

Mannheim Steamroller & Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I love all sorts of music and I really enjoy Christmas carols. I have to give a shout out to my friend Greg and The Godfather of Conservatism Rush Limbaugh for introducing me to these two groups, both of which put a distinctive spin on traditional holiday tunes. They are each a unique mix of orchestral & progressive synthesized music, with TSO having more of a rock edge. Once one is familiar with their singular styles it becomes instantly recognizable when heard on the radio or the sound system at your local shopping center. Both groups have done tunes other than Christmas songs, but it is the latter for which they are best known & loved and that has become an integral part of my yuletide merriment.

 

 

Elf

The new kid on the block in the pantheon of beloved Christmas films is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell as an orphan who accidentally ends up in Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and grows up at the North Pole think he is…you guessed it…an elf. He learns the truth and sets out to New York City to find his real father, who just happens to be a grumpy book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. Ferrell is hysterically funny and nails the childlike vibe one may assume would mark an elven personality, and James Caan is the curmudgeonly Dad. This is one of Ferrell’s best roles, and it is amazing just how quickly Elf has taken its place amongst the annual holiday classics. I do have a concern about possible overexposure, because USA Network shows the film a lot starting even before Thanksgiving.

 

 

Christmas Unwrapped on The History Channel

Okay, so I am kind of a nerd. I love history, and I love Christmas, so this is a perfect marriage of the two. It explores the origins of the holiday, various symbols like the Christmas tree, and how the celebration has evolved over the centuries from a strictly holy day to 18th century rabble rousing to the modern bent toward consumerism. There is a lot of interesting input from a variety of experts in history, religion, and folklore, and it is all narrated by the soothing voice of newsman Harry Smith. I don’t mind being educated at the same time as I am being entertained. Your mileage may vary.

 

 

Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

MacCaulay Caulkin seems to have followed the same path as a lot of child stars…overnight fame at a very young age, followed by years of personal & legal issues that were tabloid fodder for the jaded, voyeuristic masses, and eventually relative obscurity. However, for just a little while each holiday season he is simply that precocious and insufferably cute little boy that was inadvertently ditched by his family (twice) and left to fend for himself at Christmas time. The original came in at #12 on my Favorite Movies list, while the sequel ranked #37. I fondly recall watching the original when it first started airing on television in the early 90’s with my oldest nephew (who is now in college). We laughed so hard at the cartoon violence when little Kevin is “defending his house” against bumbling burglars Harry & Marv that tears were streaming down our faces. I don’t laugh quite as much now, but these two films are still virtual comfort food. The second isn’t quite as good as the first, but the two still need to be connected and viewed, preferably together.

 

 

The Ref

If one checks The Vault and peruses my Top 100 Favorite Movies series it becomes obvious that I adore Christmas films. I believe somewhere around a dozen made the cut. Checking in at #28 is The Ref, an overlooked 1994 offering starring Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary. The story revolves around a thief who takes a bickering couple hostage on Christmas Eve and regrets it tremendously since they and their crazy family drive him nuts. For some reason The Ref has never quite entered the well-known pantheon of traditional holiday movies, but I have adored it since the first time I rented the video over 15 years ago. It’s rather difficult to find on TV but well worth the rental.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Balls, Peanut Butter Fudge, Hot Chocolate, Wassail, Eggnog, & Pita Piata

Let’s face it…food is an important part of the Christmas season. Even the most steadfast of dieters throw their weight loss goals aside for the holidays. And depending on cultural influences and what our families prepared when we were kids, we all have our particular favorites. Chocolate chip cookies are great any time of year, but when I was young both my mother and her mother always made a huge batch right after Thanksgiving, enough to last until New Year’s, so chocolate chip cookies always remind me of Christmas. My grandmother also always made a big ol’ turn of fudge and peanut butter balls as well. On my Dad’s side of the family I was introduced to pita piata, and Italian dessert that is basically a nut roll containing brandy soaked raisins amongst a host of other tasty ingredients. Pita piata is native to the small village of San Giovanni i Fiore in Calabria, Italy, where my great grandparents immigrated from at the turn of the 20th century. As far as beverages go, who doesn’t like hot chocolate?? And what drink is as identified with Christmas as eggnog?? You may have also heard the old Christmas carol Here We Come A Wassailing. There is actually a beverage called wassail, and the best way I can describe it is that it tastes like liquid apple pie. We usually enjoy some wassail after the folks from church trek through my small hometown caroling.

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Firmly entrenched as one of America’s favorite holiday classics is 1989’s third offering in the adventures of the wacky Griswold clan, led by the bumbling stumbling Chevy Chase himself. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since this one originally hit theaters. As I said when I rated Christmas Vacation #6 on my Favorite Movies list, this isn’t high art. It’s mindless entertainment & harmless fun, and it’s something I look forward to every year.

 

 

 

Reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

There is no shortage of movie adaptations of Dickens’ tale about mean old Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and shown the error of his ways. There are a few classic B&W films from the mid-20th century, a “motion capture” animated feature starring Jim Carrey made just a couple years ago, loose interpretations like Bill Murray’s Scrooged or the popular cartoon Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and a particularly well done 90’s TV movie starring Star Trek:TNG’s Patrick Stewart. All of these are perfectly delightful. However, might I suggest the following: On some chilly December evening, take Dickens’ novella off the bookshelf, settle down into a comfortable chair or couch, and read the book!! Last year I discovered a wonderful trick to enhance the experience. The Bachelor Palace doesn’t have a fireplace, but somewhere on the television there is a wonderful channel that is nothing but an endless loop of a roaring, crackling, very peaceful fire. So now I dim the lights (except for what I am going to use to read by), grab a warm beverage, burrow myself under a blanket, and read A Christmas Carol in front of a 40 inch high definition fireplace.

 

 

The Polar Express

While Home Alone has fond memories that I associate with my oldest nephew, The Polar Express hearkens a memory connected to my younger nephew. He was about 7 years old when the movie hit theaters and I decided to take him to see it. I think I was much more enthralled than he was to be honest. 7 year olds have a bit of an issue sitting still for almost two hours. At any rate, I fell in love with this film and my fondness has only grown in the ensuing years. The Polar Express was really the first movie that brought motion capture technology to the forefront, and it is so unique and so different that one is left with an indelible imprint on the brain. It also allows for things like Tom Hanks portraying half dozen different characters, which is pretty cool. When ranking The Polar Express #16 on my Favorite Movies list I referred to it as “whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful” and said that it embodied the indefinable Christmas spirit.  A few years ago I was spending some post-surgery time in my 2nd “skilled” nursing facility in less than 2 years. It was in late November/early December, and after a kind soul hooked me up with a very small television one of the first things I was able to watch was The Polar Express. This particular period of time was amongst the saddest, most depressing of my entire life, and I will always be forever grateful that this fantastic movie helped pull me from the abyss.

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Not too long ago I read a really interesting biography of Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. I was never really a comic book fan, but I always enjoyed the comics in the Sunday paper, and felt a certain kinship with loveable loser Charlie Brown. It wasn’t until I read the Schultz book that I realized all the ups & downs and insecurities in his life and how much they influenced his work, and really began to understand why I always liked Charlie Brown. Several classic animated TV specials were made based on Peanuts, including A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, but at Christmas time there isn’t anything much cooler than A Charlie Brown Christmas. The story has Charlie Brown having a problem finding the Christmas spirit, the main issue being one that isn’t uncommon in Christmas stories…the overt commercialization of the holiday. Eventually he finds what he is looking for with the help of his blanket toting pal Linus, whose simple rendition of the biblical Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14 is awesome since we live in such a PC world where every effort is made to appease Islam while spitting all over Christianity. Even back in the 60’s when the special was made corporate TV types wanted Schultz to remove the Bible passage, but he absolutely refused. After reading the aforementioned biography and knowing how devout Schultz was I understand why he took such a strong stance, and I have the utmost respect for the man because of it. As with other classic specials that have aired annually for decades, A Charlie Brown Christmas obviously resonates with the viewing public, and it is certainly an important part of my Christmas season.

 

 

The 24/7 Christmas Carol Radio Station

I love Christmas carols. I never ever get tired of them during the holiday season. In the archives here at The Manofesto you can find a two part ditty where I rank my all-time favorite carols. I think there are basically about two dozen carols, but they’ve all been covered by so many artists in every imaginable music genre that it seems like there are hundreds of them. At any rate, the day after Thanksgiving one of the local rock stations on my radio dial begins playing nothing but Christmas music 24 hours/day, and I think it is marvelous. I am sure stations nationwide do something similar. I really only listen to the radio when I am in my truck, and since I don’t travel all that much and have a short commute to work maybe that explains why I don’t tire of the endless caroling. It always kind of makes me sad when the station goes back to playing crappy pop music immediately after midnight on Christmas night.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Frosty the Snowman

When something is shown annually on television for nearly 50 years then it has obviously made a significant impression on a whole heck of a lot of people. I am secure enough in my masculinity to proudly proclaim that I look forward to watching these two animated specials each Christmas season. Rudolph is based on the song of the same name, written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, who was inspired by his brother-in-law Robert May’s creation of Rudolph for a Montgomery Ward advertising campaign in 1939. The stop motion animated special began airing in 1964, and I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of the population has watched it hundreds of times. Cowboy Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, and after the success of the Rudolph animated special Rankin-Bass took Autry’s song and made it into another stop motion classic in 1969. I’m not quite as fond of Frosty as I am Rudolph because let’s face it…little Karen and Professor Hinkle can’t quite compete with Herbie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, and my favorites, The Island of Misfit Toys. However, both of these shows are absolute must-see-TV for me during the holidays.

 

 

 

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch utilizes more traditional animation than Rudolph, Frosty, and The Polar Express, but that’s okay. Simplicity can be good too. I’ve always sort of wondered what kind of substances Dr. Seuss may have been imbibing, because I’ve never seen an amalgamation of prose & poetry quite like the turns of phrase that made him famous. The Grinch was first published in 1957, and this holiday classic first started airing in 1966. The Grinch is a character whose disdain for Christmas seems very similar to Charles Dickens’ creation Ebenezer Scrooge, and who is similarly redeemed by a sudden change of heart. I don’t know if Dr. Seuss was inspired by Dickens and just decided to simplify the story for children, but it’s an intriguing theory. There is a powerful moment near the end of the story when, despite The Grinch having stolen all their Christmas trees, presents, and even their food, The Whos down in Whoville arise on Christmas morning and still sing, or make a joyful noise, if you will. It’s such a simple yet potent reminder of what Christmas isn’t. I think we forget that sometimes and need to watch this little cartoon to be reminded.

 

 

24 Hours of A Christmas Story

The older I get the more I embrace the nostalgic impact of Christmas, because really, all of us enjoy feeling like a child again sometimes even if there is a tinge of sadness involved. Nothing embodies this wistfulness quite as well as 1983’s A Christmas Story. It is my #5 Favorite Movie and for most folks under a certain age maybe the most popular holiday movie of all time. In the late 90’s TBS/TNT (it goes back & forth) started running a 24 hour marathon from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 8pm Christmas night. What an awesome idea!! I usually catch parts of the first showing at my aunt’s house after eating our annual family fish fest, then maybe a little more after I get home from church before getting some zzz’s. On Christmas Day I catch glimpses here & there depending on where I am. And I always atleast try to watch the entire last showing, as it kind of puts a melancholy period at the end of what has been a wonderful, month long sentence.

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

As mentioned, for most people under a certain age…maybe 30 or 35…A Christmas Story is likely the most beloved holiday film. However, my generation grew up with various television stations showing It’s A Wonderful Life dozens of times during the yuletide season. This created one of two reactions. There was the inevitable backlash, with people beginning to hate the movie because of the endless airings (something that I see happening with atleast 2 or 3 other Christmas classics these days). Or there were people like me that came to love IAWL more & more each year. Unfortunately for us Lifers NBC “rescued” the movie from public domain back in 1993 so now we only get to see it twice a year…usually once in early December and then always on Christmas Eve. It is odd that a movie about suicide would become such a perennial Christmas favorite, but I think the central themes…friendship, family, and realizing that what you have and what your life is ain’t all that bad…really hits home with a lot of people. I know that this is a story that has always resonated deeply for me, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world this and every year.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

My Lenten Sacrifice – 2011

A year ago I wrote about my search for a genuine spiritual experience instead of the superficial, hypocritical, half-hearted religiosity so common in 21st Century America. This wasn’t…isn’t…meant as a criticism of any particular group or individual, for I have been known to be as guilty as anyone of being a “7th Day Christian”, meaning one who only plays at being a Christian for a couple of hours each Sunday morning. Am I doing better?? I think so, but I am always striving to do more…..to be more. I certainly don’t lack in good influences, including my great friend The Owl, my buddy Don (whose blog, Citizen Don, is linked on this page), and several folks with whom I attend church. As part of this progress last year I decided to take Lent seriously, and the results were pretty good.

To review…for the heathens among you and those in Mingo County…Lent is the traditional time of preparation beginning on Ash Wednesday and culminating in Holy Week, which of course is the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Typically Lent lasts 40 days, similar to the forty days Jesus spent in the desert resisting the temptations of 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 and his animals were holed up in The Ark (Genesis Chapters 6-9). 40 is a very important number in The Bible, and is used by God to represent a period of testing or judgment.

Traditionally Christians sacrifice, or give up, something during Lent. I used to make light of this tradition, cracking jokes about giving up various frivolities or things that I didn’t really utilize anyway, but Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and cleansing our life of sin. Our goal should not be just to refrain from something meaningless during Lent but to take a major step toward ridding our lives of sin forever. Conversion means leaving behind our old ways and embracing new life in Christ. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”. That verse has haunted me for years not just because I wonder how many people’s old lives have truly been crucified so that Christ now lives in them, but more pointedly I ask myself if I have truly become that new creation God wants me to be. Maybe the fact that I even ask myself the question speaks volumes about how short I fall on a daily basis. At any rate, I decided in 2010 to take my Lenten sacrifice more seriously, and I am doing the same this year.

Last year I decided to give up Facebook during Lent. On the surface that may seem like a meaningless, frivolous sacrifice, but in reality it was very difficult. Facebook is how I stay in touch with all sorts of friends & family, and to be honest I’d much rather spend a rainy day reading a book and mindlessly perusing Facebook than watching almost anything on television. I missed staying in touch with folks during that forty day period, and it truly was very hard, but I did it and was very happy. I read more, prayed and studied The Word much more, and even got some tidying up done around The Bachelor Palace. However, I will not be giving up Facebook again. Been there, done that afterall. It’s time for a new challenge.

After some brief contemplation regarding the 2011 Lenten Sacrifice, the answer became clear fairly quickly. I am 38 years old and if I’m being perfectly frank, probably not nearly as healthy as I should be. Genetics are against me, as obesity and diabetes are present on both sides of my family. I am a paraplegic due to a birth defect called spina bifida, which means I use a wheelchair and don’t get a lot of exercise. Environmental forces don’t help either, since I live in one of the nation’s most economically challenged states & don’t exactly have a large bank account myself, and studies linking poor eating habits to lower incomes are easily found. However, putting all those factors aside, I am the one who goes through a drive thru or has greasy, carb-o-licious food delivered to my home atleast 3 or 4 times per week. I am the one who invades the snack cabinet at work every night and eats 2 or three candy bars. I am the one who lost thirty pounds just 5 short years ago (albeit while locked up in a “skilled” nursing facility) and gained it all back. So legitimate reasons/excuses be damned, I am the one who needs to take the initiative to regain the proper perspective on my health and well being.

A confluence of events has lead to this moment, and I can see God’s hand at work. First, as mentioned, I lost 30 pounds in 2006. The odd thing is, I was literally laying in bed for those 6 months. Was the food at The Home atrocious?? Absolutely. I wouldn’t feed that crap to my worst enemy. But my Dad and my crazy perverted Cousin Robert both visited daily and brought me food, whether it was leftover homemade lasagna, 

Dad

Cousin Robert

fried chicken from the grocery store deli, or a cheeseburger from Wendy’s. So I didn’t starve, but still I lost the weight. And despite everything I’d been through emotionally and physically I felt about as healthy as I’d been in years…and I liked it. Secondly, in January of this year, within a couple weeks of each other, both of my best buddies…Greg & The Owl…both landed in the hospital with previously undiagnosed diabetes. They are both alive only by the unfathomable grace of God, and I am so very thankful. But for two people whom I consider like brothers to become that ill…with the same disease, both in the general age range as me, and with similar body types…well, it was eye opening. And if I am truly being honest with myself both of them are far more physically active than I, so that likely makes me even more susceptible to a corresponding fate. And finally, there has just been a general malaise that has befallen me in the past several months. I’ve always been lazy, but my energy level isn’t where it needs to be. I’m older, but I’m certainly not old. I find it more difficult to do things I once did with ease, like transferring in & out of my wheelchair or even getting dressed. More & more I look for easier, streamlined ways to do something…or even not do it at all if there is physical exertion required and it can somehow be avoided. I find myself needing not just a quick catnap but a deep snooze after eating pasta or other carbohydrate heavy foods. Never one for vanity I am increasingly uncomfortable with my heaviness. It’s time to make some changes, and Lent seems like the perfect opportunity.

What I have decided to do is give up both fast food and chocolate. That might seem superfluous to some, but I can assure you it is a large chunk of my diet. I frequent Wendy’s, Hardees, and Burger King so much I could drive to any of them in my sleep. I have Domino’s, Papa John’s, and a couple local places (Dagwood’s and Smitty’s) delivered so often their delivery guys might score spots as groomsmen in my future wedding. If I ever make it to Hershey, PA I think they may award me the key to the city. That all stops for the next 40 days beginning Ash Wednesday. Does that mean I will NEVER eat fast food or chocolate again?? Never say never. But I do plan on using the time to develop healthier eating habits and detox from all the bad stuff I know I have been putting in my body for years. I trust in God to show me the right path, and it will be up to me to follow it over the long haul. Rome was not built in a day, and I find it highly unlikely I will ever be considered buff & sexy, but I’ll settle for a little lighter, more energetic, and comfortable with my choices.

Proudly Closeminded and Intolerant

Facebook is a mixed blessing, a double edged sword. On one hand it provides the type of beneficially mindless entertainment that even those who rail against such frivolity need in appropriately moderate doses and serves as an avenue to stay in touch or reconnect with friends and family. Conversely, it can, as much as one allows, lay bare attitudes and behaviors that may be otherwise unknown by the masses. I am one who probably puts a little too much out there, providing access to my beliefs and views on everything from religion & politics to sports & pop culture. I also observe what others opine and post. I know for a fact that some are outraged and flabbergasted by my sentiments, and I am oftentimes saddened and flummoxed by theirs. This can create regrettable tension. Theoretically these are your friends and you are their friend, but in reality the relationship is often tenuous. The person you went to high school with but haven’t seen for 20 years probably isn’t a true friend, especially if you weren’t even friends in school. The co-worker from that job you had for 6 months ten years ago probably isn’t really your friend either. So when you combine the flimsiness of the relationship with polarizingly passionate perspectives on issues that some may take more seriously than others it is a combustible cocktail. Fortunately the inevitably disastrous fracturing of the fragile association is fairly painless. You can choose to just not have the stuff your friend posts appear in your news feed, you can delete them, or you can ban them completely so that you won’t even see their interactions with mutual friends. I have done all three, and it is likely all three have been done to me by others.


It is never my intention to anger or offend, and I am not easily offended myself. But one of the things I have observed over the course of the past few years is a growing sense of moral relativism. Society has a progressively increasing “if it feels good do it” attitude. Anything and everything is rubber stamped as long as there is no heinous crime being committed or no one is being physically hurt. Those who espouse opinions that go against the grain of this laissez faire attitude are on the receiving end of a rather vitriolic backlash wherein they are labeled intolerant and close-minded. I have been called those things a few times myself over the years, and I used to get upset and angry, loudly proclaiming that I am indeed tolerant and open minded despite what those who disagree with my principles may think. However, I have begun to reassess this standard defense of my values. Maybe I am a little intolerant and somewhat close-minded. And I think that is just fine with me.


Tolerance is a tricky term. Being tolerant used to mean the ability or inclination to put up with things one did not agree with or like. For example, a non-smoker tolerating a friend lighting up in their presence, or a Pittsburgh Steelers fan (like myself) tolerating a Dallas Cowboys fan (such as my sister). It is an absolute necessity that makes our world more interesting. Afterall, how prosaic would life be if everyone agreed about everything?? The key is something my Dad taught me…disagreeing without being disagreeable. But over the course of the last few decades tolerance has found new life as a politically correct code word meaning “anything goes” and not only blurs the line between right & wrong but obliterates it completely. The only wrong in this politically correct universe are those that attempt to insert any type of ethical standards into the situation, especially if they invoke Christian values and the name of God in the process. Likewise, being open minded theoretically means the ability to be receptive to new or different ideas. This too has unfortunately evolved into terminology that means acceptance of all manner of obscenity and abject ideology. The PC crowd has been enormously successful in weaving these thought processes into society while demonizing God and morality.


What I have been trying to work out in my own heart and mind is this: Where is the line between being judgmental and simply standing up for one’s beliefs ??


The Word tells us in Matthew “judge not lest ye be judged”, but I think maybe that is a passage that has been twisted into a self-serving bit of hyperbole by the tolerance police. It is a sad fact in 21st century America that a growing segment of the population openly mock God, but there is another growing portion of society who, while they profess a belief in God, want to water Him down into an easygoing, relaxed, permissive entity who doesn’t care how far off the path we veer. They treat God like a substitute teacher or a benevolent grandparent who will let us goof off, break all the rules, and still give us milk & cookies before reading a bedtime story and tucking us into bed. Even loyal churchgoers who theoretically study their Bible regularly say things like “love the sinner, hate the sin” which, to my knowledge, cannot be found anywhere in God’s Word. It is true that God is love, that He commanded us to love our enemies and our neighbors as we do ourselves, and that He is so desirous of a personal relationship that He sent Jesus to die on the cross so that His blood can wash away our sin, but we shouldn’t mistake kindness for weakness. Jesus did not hesitate to call people out on their BS, so to speak. He was no pushover and ticked a lot of people off. I mean let’s face it…He was crucified!! That doesn’t happen to a lackadaisical milquetoast. We are to emulate Christ and I believe sometimes that means being a bit more of a radical revolutionary than a pushover. Should we go around picking fights?? No. But I think it means we don’t walk away from them either. It’s all in the approach.


And that is the point at which I currently find myself. I have come to realize that my approach may need some…tweaking. Maybe I do come across as judgmental and a bit harsh on occasion. I have had to diminish my exposure to various political media because, whether I strongly agree or completely disagree with the biased angle being presented I tend to get a little too fired up either way. This is when Facebook gets me in hot water because it offers an immediate forum where I can vent my frustrations before taking the proper time to ponder and cool the engines. At the same time, I do not want to sit on my hands and not express my views, especially when it comes to faith. We are to be “fishers of men” and “make disciples of all the nations…teaching to observe all things that Jesus commanded”. Jesus said “they persecuted Me they will persecute you also” and “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake”. He taught that “blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”. This is a uncomfortable thing for most to grasp because we don’t enjoy rejection. We want to be liked and accepted. We want to fit in, to belong. Especially for Christians it can be difficult to embrace that we are to be a peculiar people. Who really wants to be thought of as peculiar, aka unusual, strange, or weird?? But at the end of the day I think there are times when we must stand our ground and refuse to back down. There are situations in which we need to be close-minded and intolerant.


I suppose it all goes back to what Dad taught me about disagreeing without being disagreeable. We can stand up for our principles without being hateful, even if “hate” is another word too easily thrown around by touchy feely humanists to condemn anyone who disagrees with their warped outlook on all sorts of subject matter. George Herbert, a 17th century poet and clergyman, said that “living well is the best revenge”. Similarly, maybe the best way to convey Godly principles is not to argue but to live a Godly life with Jesus Christ as our role model. Values like salvation, forgiveness, wisdom, grace, mercy, love, peace, faith, kindness, etc. shouldn’t be treated like a product others have to be convinced to buy under duress or like abstract concepts from an tedious book that are taught in a dry, uninspired lecture. They are to be practiced daily. My Mom always said that you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Conforming that notion to the present discourse it seems that a better strategy in proving God’s way is the right way…the only way…is to become the best example possible. Stay positive and show the power of God in one’s own life rather than being critical of others’ choices. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used civil disobedience or non-violent protest to make his case, and at the end of the day let’s face it…he made a heck of a case and changed the world. I cannot honestly say my protestations are always as civil as they should be and that is something The Lord and I are ironing out, but I plan on continuing to stand up for what I believe to be right, and on the occasions that I am perceived as being captious or abrasive I will need to decide if that is truly the case and what exactly must be done…or not done.

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Joy

joyLast summer I began a series on the Fruits of the Spirit, but did not get very far before getting distracted with other things. The truth is that those other things are usually either easier or more fun to write, or spur of the moment musings brought on by something that has inspired me in my daily life. Something like a close examination of a lengthy and important Biblical passage takes a bit more research and prayerful consideration and therefore becomes a bit more of a task. However, circumstances have converged in a way that has aroused my desire to pick up the mantle. A general malaise and feeling of dissatisfaction with my life has somehow coincided with the writer’s block that hits me on occasion lifting. So rather than write a bunch of stuff that would only be of interest to disciples of Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Cobain, I have decided to write about joy. Oh how I dig irony.

 

Most may assume that we have a firm grasp on what joy is, but do we really?? Joy is defined as great delight, gladness of heart, keen pleasure, elation, glad feeling, and festive gaiety. Oftentimes the terms joy and happiness are used interchangeably, but is that accurate?? I think not. The author CS Lewis pondered the question thusly: “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy. Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is”. We can follow that up with this musing from another author, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both”. I think one would be correct in stating that happiness is much more akin to pleasure, and therefore happiness and joy are not the same. Lewis is right…happiness is usually within our power. It doesn’t take all that much to make the average person happy. The possibilities are endless and depend on one’s own individual preferences. Personally I am happy reading a good book, when my favorite sports teams win, playing with my puppy, eating good food, and whenever I catch a favorite old movie on television…just to name a few. Others have spouses and children that make them happy. Some folks travel. Others play music. The problem, however, is this…as easily as we can be happy we can also quickly become unhappy. Anger, bitterness, and frustration are byproducts of being fallible human beings and dealing with others just like us. Happiness is all too temporary. Those things that make us happy may only last mere minutes or hours, and then it is right back to the inherent unhappiness in a world fraught with sin.

 

We spend our entire lives in the constant pursuit of happiness and pleasure. “The pursuit of happiness” is even written into the United States Declaration of j2Independence as an unalienable right endowed to men by God. The Founding Fathers almost had it right…but not quite. What we tend to find is that this pursuit of happiness is exhausting and ultimately empty. At the very least we are limited by time, money, and other responsibilities. In extreme cases we see people who tried to find happiness via alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and other assorted illegal or unhealthy activities have their lives destroyed or even ended prematurely. St. Thomas Aquinas once stated “man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joy it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures”. Now I am not saying that we should stop having good clean fun. To be honest I get aggravated with Christians who unwittingly put a bad spin on the faith because they are uptight wet blankets that will not allow themselves to loosen up. However, what I am suggesting is that we put fun/happiness/pleasure into its proper perspective and understand its fickle nature. What we truly need to pursue is joy, and that cannot be found in a bar, as an ingredient in any drug, on television, at the mall, in any food we eat, or in the seemingly intimate embrace of another human being.

 

Romans 14:17 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. At the end of the day the pursuit of happiness will always leave a void remaining within us, but true joy in The Lord is eternal. That joy will enhance the highs of life, but it also assists in riding out the low points…and there WILL be low points. One of the problems we run into is that we don’t like feeling sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, etc. In order to avoid those bad feelings we pursue more happiness, which in turn eventually lets us down again. We are like a cat chasing its tail, and it’s a game we cannot win, a most vicious cycle. What we need to do is change the game. Life does not have to be like golf or tennis…us against the world. Life is a team effort, but we not only have to accept the help of our teammate, but we have to make Him the captain of the team. Psalm 16:11 says “You will show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The only way we can grow from the meaningless, vacant pursuit of happiness into having joy is to put our ego aside and let Him lead.

 

Now one thing we do have to understand is what I mentioned about those low points. I truly believe that the closer we draw to God the more it ticks off Satan and the more he tempts us in an effort to force us into sin. And while it is a certainty that we will still sin on occasion, we can lessen the impact if God is our team captain. I don’t want to plunge too deeply into the topics of salvation and grace, not only because it is straying from the purpose at hand but also because those subjects deserve their own focus. Suffice to say that if we are covered in the blood of Christ our sin is washed away and we are assured eternal life. But more germane to the present issue, if we have full joy in God then we can better weather the storms of life that are sure to come along. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.

 

Also, if we are experiencing true joy in our life then we are better equipped to witness to others. Mother Teresa once said ““joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And isn’t that part of our mission?? We are to be “fishers of men”. I am certainly not an expert fisherman, but I know enough to understand that it is a lot easier and one will catch more fish with a net.

 

for_joySo how do we find joy?? I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question, as I am still figuring it out myself (and, to be quite honest, not doing such a great job lately), but I know a few things. I know that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. One needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…that is the foundation for everything. I know the basic rules, i.e. The Ten Commandments, and other teachings of Jesus and that we are to strive to be Christ-like. I know that I am “in the world but not of the world” and that we (Christians) are to be “peculiar people”.  And I know that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, everything else is vanity. But there is a difference between knowing and doing. Famed 19th century minister and author Henry Ward Beecher said that “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” We are so busy pursuing temporary, meaningless, and sometimes carnal and sinful pleasures that we overlook the eternal joy within our grasp. Stopping the cycle of futility is an ongoing battle. Much like an alcoholic is never truly “cured”, we need to fight for our joy every day, resisting empty temptations and turning instead to our Father in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to all men. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – Phillipians 4:4-7.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

The first edict Jesus gives in The Sermon on the Mount is be poor in spirit. Now this is a little confusing. Why would anyone want to have a poor spirit as opposed to a wonderful, great, fantastic spirit?? How is having a poor spirit supposed to make us happy??

 

Well okay…a poor spirit, by that definition, does not make us happy. But let’s look at it from a different angle. Think about it monetarily. We all probably know psfolks on nearly every level of the economic scale…extremely poor, lower middle class, well-to-do, rich, and super wealthy (those are not officially sanctioned terms, just my spin on things…I’m confident you get the idea). At any rate, those on the upper end of the scale are doing just fine. They don’t need any help from anyone. It doesn’t really matter where their wealth comes from…the point is that they have it. They also tend to have more stuff…bigger houses, fancier cars, more toys. That’s not a criticism just an observation. On the flip side, the lower down on the scale you go the less stuff people tend to have and the more help they need. Our world tends to put wealth on a pedestal and look at the poor with a mix of pity, disgust, and disregard, so that frame of reference also makes this particular directive somewhat difficult to accept. None of us desires to be poor.

 

Jesus’ point though doesn’t really have as much to do with money directly as it does our tendency to put money (among other things) higher on the priority list than a relationship with Him. He is trying to tell us that no matter what we do for a living, how strong we are mentally and physically, or how much stuff we have, we are nothing without God and we are to always, always, always rely on Him. Those who never lose sight of the fact that God is to be the foundation of our lives will ultimately be happy…if not in this life then most certainly in the next one. Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. This statement follows the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler, a story in which a man was willing to do whatever it took to have eternal life…except give away his earthly possessions, status, and influence. Jesus goes on to teach that “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (i.e wealth, riches, worldly gain).”  1 Timothy states “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, Godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

 

When it comes to our relationship with God we need to always be as humble as the underprivileged masses who can’t allow themselves to be too proud to ask for help. They need help to survive, so they must swallow their pride and accept assistance. In the same way we must put aside vanity and ego and enter into a relationship with Christ with humility and submission to His will.