Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Ground. . .

The Bible is a never ending source of surprise. I have read the following parable often and as many times as I have heard messages preached based upon this passage, I have come to a new understanding over the past four or five days.

Take a few moments and read this parable again for yourself:

Matthew 13:1-9
The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Matthew 13:18-23
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold some sixty, some thirty.

I had always understood these verses in the context of someone newly come to the Lord, someone like myself or in the sense of someone reaching for those who do not know God. When I preach or teach at the jail, the Word that I spread falls upon different types of ground. Some of the ground is suitable for growth and bearing fruit and ultimate harvest, but some is not. That is just the way of it. This parable gives comfort and encouragement to me. Not that I can't improve my method of reaching people or anything like that, but Jesus Himself is speaking these words to us that some of the soil that even presumably He broadcast seed upon was not suitable for further growth. All we can do is to continue to broadcast seed and pray for it to fall upon good ground.

That surely is an important truth, but over the past several days my mind has returned again and again to these words and another thought has come to me. It is not only for the casting of seed into a new field that these words are referring to. Every farmer of every crop contends with these same issues year after year in all his fields.

We live near to an apple and fruit growing area. Just north of here is a large region of apple, peach, cherry and nectarine orchards. It is a beautiful area to drive through in the springtime for the scent and view of the flowers or we have wonderful times in the fall picking our own fruit and enjoying the autumn palatte of colors on the trees. You can tell great differences between orchards that are well cared for, carefully tended, and ones that are neglected. In a greatly productive orchard the ways between the trees will be free of weeds. The trees will be well pruned, all the dead unproductive branches will be cut off and carried away. In a neglected orchard, the aisles between the rows of trees will be choked with weeds, volunteer trees, and brambles. . . dead limbs will litter the ground harboring many insects and other vermin that will injure the trees and thereby prevent a good harvest.

The only difference between the two types of orchard, is in the well kept orchard there was a continuing effort to keep the trees well tended and productive. If that farmer lets down his vigilance, it is only a short time before a tidy and well cared for orchard turns into a mass of weeds and dead wood. In the best tended fields, rocks continue to periodically come to the surface and need to be removed. Only a few seasons of forgetting to remove the weeds separate a well tended productive field, from one in which nothing of value will grow.

The problem of providing good soil for the seed to grow in, is a life long concern. The seed of God's Word needs to be continually planted and sprouting within us. It must not be planted only once and left never to be harvested and replanted again. One day, each of us who are in church, had good ground within us. We had a place for the Word of God to sprout and flourish, but that is no assurance that weeds will not creep in. There can be no loss of vigilance in the guarding of our good soil. There is no assurance that rocks will not come to the surface and need to be carted away. The act of harvest itself compacts the soil of a field, which must again be prepared, softened, and broken up before the planting of new seed again in the spring. Rocks of hardness arise within us that prevent the water and nutrients from sinking into the earth. Rocks damage the plow and confound the combine. . .

Hardness is never a suitable bed for seed. Have we seen it all before? Have we lost our innocence and wonder? Have we become cynics and skeptics? Are our eyes better at discerning failure than victory? That is hardness that must be broken up for us to regain our productiveness. These are not issues for someone newly come into church. In a quiet season, we all must honestly inspect our fields. Rock removal is never an easy task, but it must be done. . .

The end of an old year and the very beginning of a new year is a good time for fasting, prayer, and contemplation as our pastor has called for. It can be a wonderful time of reflection and inventory taking. What is the state of the patch of ground within us? Are there weeds or rocks or hard places within us?

Lord let me see my fields the way You see them. . .

Dave Stokely

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas

Jackie, Kim, and I finished baking and decorating cookies somewhere around 3:30-4:00 a.m. this morning so I did not get up early and write a Christmas message until now. We have a large crowd, close to twenty coming over around 2:30 for a meal and gift opening, but if nothing further happened this would be one of the finest Christmases in memory.We made the rounds last night dropping off gifts and cookies to various friends and relatives. We went to see my Mom in Elkhart General Hospital, dropped off her present and more cookies at the nurses station there. Everyplace we went we had just a wonderful time.

We can endlessly debate and I'm sure most of us know people who refuse to celebrate Christmas due to its uncertainty of being on the correct day and on its uncertain origins. That is all very valid. We do not know for sure that Jesus was born on December 25th. It would seem likely that the date of his birth was known for certain by at least his mother. We are assured that she survived him. She was mentioned as being at the foot of the cross with the disciple John and furthermore it would seem likely that Jesus being who he was would have inspired people to celebrate his birth right from the start. It is difficult for me to understand, knowing the continuity of belief for Jesus life, straight up from the start of His ministry until this very day almost 2000 years later, how people could have been celebrating his birth on say on one day and then to have someone change the date to another, but I suppose it could happen.

The one thing that we cannot argue, is that His birth did occur and regardless of the exact day it occurred upon we give honor to Him on this day. There are lots of things wrong with how we do it. There are lots of things wrong with how we do almost everything, but that should not cause us to feel guilty for our celebration on this day. Our family reads the Christmas story in Luke from the Bible before opening gifts. We pray, standing together holding hands before our meal, giving thanks. For some that may be the most time spent in devotion to God all the year long, but it is time spent in devotion to God nonetheless!

I think we do our selves, our families, our collective world culture a great disservice if we abandon the field and give the celebration over to those who dance around the pagan trees in happiness at the winter solstice or to St. Nicholas and his American Express bevy of little elves. Christ was born on a day and we celebrate God giving us this unsurpassably precious gift. We celebrate His taking on flesh and coming to us and placing Himself in the body of an infant in a birth that changed both men and the entire universe forever more. . . We should endeavor on this day and indeed on every day to share our gifts and share the fruit of our O most holy relationship with the King of Kings. . . . We shout it on the rooftops. . . . We share the gladness with everyone we meet. . .

Isaiah 9:6-7
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Thank you Lord for everything You've done. . .

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Dave Stokely

Monday, December 24, 2007

To Drive Slow. . .

My name is Dave. . . I am a slow driver. . . That is the way I feel sometimes. It is as if I have the problem. To many, I need to first admit my problem and then work on solving it. Some look upon my driving habits as humorous. Really I take no offense at all, I in fact contribute to the gentle humor talking in jest about how many hours it takes me to get from Bristol to Elkhart (a distance of maybe 10 miles), but also to many I am a menace on the road. My way of driving to them is unacceptable. You see I am called a slow driver, for I drive the speed limit, not five miles over or seven miles over or even two miles over the posted limit. I drive exactly at or very very slightly below the posted speed limit.

If I am on a 25 mile long stretch of one lane, in a construction zone on the interstate and the signs say 45 m.p.h. is the speed limit, I drive 45 or maybe 44.5 m.p.h. Sorry, I am not particularly worried if I have 15 miles of traffic backed up behind me. I drive the posted speed limit. I have pulled over and let people go around me. It is not my purpose to aggravate people. I know that I am the subject of anger, cursing, ridicule. . . lots of things, but in spite of that I drive the speed limit.

I come from a line of speed limit drivers, at least two generations. . . :) My father receives my writing in these emails. I don't know if he reads many of them. He and I presently have very different views on religion, etc, and many of my writings are probably quite annoying to him. I don't get much feedback from him. Maybe he's given up on reading anything that I write. I don't know, but anyway. . . one of my childhood memories is of getting a race car set for Christmas, I think that they were little slot cars. I think I was six years old or maybe seven. I remember he and I racing these little cars. Our race was to see who could go around the track the most slowly. I'm sure many of you are laughing at that thought.

We Stokelys are not at all dismayed at many times not doing things necessarily the way that everyone else does them. Those of you who attend church with me will probably not find it surprising, that I never let it bother me to be the only one doing something a particular way. I worship my way and for the most part, I try not to be effected by, or maybe I should better say, that I choose not to allow the opinions of others effect the way that I worship.

I remember the neighbors who lived across the street to the west from where I grew up as a child on 'A' Court northwest of Elkhart. It was my best friend's house. I remember my best friend's mother bragging. Actually, I think this was a conversation retold by my my mom around the supper table, but it was related that my best friend's mom had said that their family had driven to Warren Dunes State park in Michigan (I cannot remember the exact number, but from my Google Map route of it above I see that it's normally about an hour drive) I think she bragged that they had made it in 45 minutes or something. This was the early to mid sixties, before the 4 lane U.S. 31 bypass, etc. I remember my mother relating that my best friend's mom had said that they had gone (some big number) say 60 m.p.h. the entire way. Well the following week or so, I remember our family going to Lake Michigan at Warren Dunes and I remember my father telling my mother with a uniquely Stokelyish sense of pride, that we hadn't exceeded (again I cannot remember the exact number), say 35 m.p.h. the entire way there and back.

According to my father, anyone can press the controls of the slot car down and push them to go as fast as you can. It is equally as challenging and demanding to go slowly as it is to go fast. That is my battle. It is my temptation to drive fast in the car. I am not fearful of going fast. It is not my desire to be as annoying as possible to others by driving the speed limit. My driving the way I do, takes three different levels of meaning or three different aspects.

First, this is my philosophy, it is a speed limit. It is not a speed suggestion. It is not a speed recommendation. I am an engineer. On engineering drawings that I create, to have meaning every dimension has either an explicit or an implied tolerance. If a manufacturing drawing says that something is to be six inches long there will either be an explicit tolerance with the dimension such as: 6.000±.010 or 6.010-5.990. These give the allowable ranges of the part being manufactured. If the drawing just says: 6.00 for a particular length then there must either be an implied tolerance for a dimensions with two zeroes past the decimal place or the dimension is meaningless. At Speedgrip (where I work) for example: two place decimal dimensions have an implied tolerance of ±.010. We have no implied tolerance for three place decimals. We do not allow them on our drawings. They have no meaning for our manufacturing people. If they are there, they are for reference only.

The number on a speed limit sign has no implied tolerance. It's not 55 ±10 m.p.h. and it is not merely for reference. If the sign says 50 m.p.h. is the speed limit, it means that 50 m.p.h. is the upper limit, no tolerance, that is the limit. Now people will say, but the police will give you 5 m.p.h. over the limit. I'm sorry, but the police have no authority to give you anything of the sort. The police do not make the laws. The police do not set the speed limits. The police are there merely to enforce the posted speed limits. They do not make the laws, but they are as happy as anything to have everyone drive 5 m.p.h. over the posted limit. Why? You see that gives them the right, the power to stop everyone on the road who exceeds that limit. That 5 m.p.h. is their justification to turn on their lights, pull you over, question you, search your car. . . basically anything they want to do. You have put yourself under their power by breaking the law. The police must first view some infraction that you have committed before they can stop you in your travels. They must have some just cause, a probable cause is the term used, to stop you and that minor violation of the speed limit provides all the justification that they need to pull you over. The police are then totally within their rights to pull you over for going 1 m.p.h. over the posted speed limit. You have no recourse, no complaint. You were violating the law and it is their right to apprehend you when you violate the law.

This is the first of the reasons for strictly obeying the posted speed limit. I am either under the power of the law or I place myself under the power of the police. I choose to remain beyond the power of the police by strictly obeying the law.

The second of my reasons for driving the way that I do is one of discipline. As I stated before, it is my temptation to drive faster than the posted limit. It is easier to drive the same speed as everyone else around me and that is my temptation, but if I cannot control myself in this little thing, what hope do I have as successfully disciplining myself in larger more meaningful issues? For me, this is a spiritual issue. It is spiritual discipline. It is the controlling of my flesh by my spirit. It is so tempting when I leave a little late for work or church or some appointment to drive faster to get there more quickly, but to me that is compounding the first problem of not being ready and leaving on time with another problem of breaking the law to make up for my leaving late. It was within my power to plan ahead and to leave with sufficient time to get there without speeding.

That kind of action/reaction leads to double trouble. I don't do the right thing to begin with so I commit another error to try and make up for the first. I take Bibles to men and women at the jail every week who allowed one action to lead them into further trouble by somehow trying to hide or correct for the first problem with an even more serious second violation. You spend too much money on drugs or gambling or what ever and you steal a little money from the cash register at work to compensate for the first problem you had. If you follow that path you get deeper and deeper into trouble. So for me it's a matter of discipline. I'm making a conscious decision to discipline myself. I am going to control my behaviour and adhere to a way that is not the easiest way regardless of how much I might want to do otherwise.

The Bible says a couple of places where I am to submit to those in authority over me (Titus 3:1, Hebrews 13:17). I don't read where it puts any kind of limit on it. It doesn't say for me to obey those rules I find convenient or that I agree with. As I read this I am to obey the rules of the land and to me that includes speed limits. I'm surely not saying that you are going to hell if you drive 62 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone, but the Bible says to obey civil authority and so that is what I do.

My third reason for driving the way that I do is that I see it as a little mirror of my philosophy of life. I like the sign or bumper sticker I've seen: Right is right, even if no one is doing it. Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it. The way I look at it there are two ways of living life. You either live life trying to get away with as much as you can or you can live life trying to be as righteous as you can. I don't see any middle ground. Can you get away with driving faster than the speed limit? Absolutely! Yes you can. There are lots of things that you can get away with that are not the right things to do. Where do you draw your line in the sand?

I was speaking with a fellow in the jail a few weeks ago. I was surprised to see him there again. He told me, "It's no big deal. I'm not here on any serious charge. . ." OK, I'm sorry, but in my life to be in jail for any reason is a big deal. He has drawn a line in his life that since it's not a big felony charge that will get him sent down state for years. . . so it's no big deal that he's in jail. He's drawn a line in the sand in his life, he has accepted things in his life that are way way way beyond anything that I can imagine for my life. As he said. . . It's no big thing. . .

Where do you draw the line in your life? Where do you take your authority from? What if the police, the ones who enforce the laws, would 'allow' 10 or 15 or 25 or even 50 m.p.h. over the speed limit. Would you then drive that fast? If you could get away with it, would you????. . . When the speed limit on the U.S. 20 bypass was 55, people drove 60-65. Now the speed limit has been raised to 65 and most people drive 70-75. Where does it end? What if the pastor would say that looking at Playboy magazine was OK? What if the pastor would say that divorces were allowable? How about drinking? The cutting of women's hair or the wearing of jewelry or tattoos or. . . you name it. . . would you do those things if the pastor said it was OK? What if everyone was doing it? Where do the limits in your life come from? It is from the police? Is it from the pastor? How about from the laws of the land? Is that how the limits on your life are set? Abortion is legal. Gambling is legal. Pornography is legal. Drinking is legal. Homosexuality is legal. Where do you take your authority from? How do you chose what is allowed or disallowed in your life? How do you set your limits? Can you get away with it? Is everyone else doing it?

Everyone is doing it. . . why not me too? I'm just keeping up with the traffic. I hear this all the time, that you must drive faster than the limit in order to keep up with traffic. It is in some mysterious manner unsafe to drive the speed limit. Please forgive me but that is utter hogwash. I have driven in large cities all over this country and other countries, in all kinds of conditions, in all types of heavy big city traffic and I drive the posted speed limit. I've never had anyone run me over. I've never had problems of any kind. I do not have close calls. I do not just barely avoid accidents. I've never had a traffic ticket. I've never been in any accident while I was driving. It is a myth that it is unsafe to drive the speed limit. It is the easiest thing in the world. I just drive the speed limit and there are no problems. I don't base my decisions on what everyone else is doing. I don't worry about what I can get away with. I look at the sign on the side of the road and I set my speed.

Am I being a Pharisee? I do not believe that this will get me into heaven. I surely am not better than anyone else or more righteous than anyone else, but this is a decision I have made, this is a discipline that I have for my life. The Pharisee's would not violate the rules for any reason. They would not help someone in need on the Sabbath. The rule was everything. If I'm driving someone to the hospital who is in a crisis, I will speed. The rule is not everything, but it is also not completely unimportant. . .

Please I don't mind. . . I will continue to laugh along with others at my driving. I even contribute to people's mirth with tales of how long it takes me to get places, but it goes deeper than that. . .

I love you God.
Thank you Lord!

I love you all. . .

Dave Stokely

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An open letter. . .

Dear Beloved,

This manner of greeting may well have you looking over your shoulder to see to whom I am referring to or did you open someone else's correspondence by mistake, but I am addressing you. I do not know your face or name. I only know your heart. I know your heart and I love you beyond your present ability to understand. I care for you. My eyes fill with tears for you. My heart breaks. I know that you do not understand.

This letter of my writing tonight, to an addressee unknown may cross years or decades, but I know that it will be delivered and read. I know that it will touch your heart. I know that reading this will be a turning point in your life.

God is talking directly to you from these yellowed pages. I know that you do not believe. Neither did I believe. I was a fool. I beg. . . I pray for you to not be a fool a day longer. I had all the arguments. I was so very certain. I knew that there was no God right until my eyes were opened and I saw Him for myself.

I know that there is an emptiness inside of you. Questions of purpose and worth abound. . . unease simmers within you never very far below the surface. Many of your past actions you would like to cover up and forget. . . somehow giving a lie to the damning worldly philosophy that men are basically good at heart.

You like to pride yourself on the good things that you do. In some small way they purchase a covering for the things of shame that you have done, but they are mere covering. If you put them in a balance the good is completely outweighed by the bad. Stack the good and happiness and joy that has resulted from your deeds against the pain, betrayal, heartache, broken promises, and deceit of your actions. Strip away the mythology of your memories and shine the harsh light of truth on your past. See how uncomfortable you become. It is painful to even think about, but better to face now than later when all hope and time for redress is past.

If you are honest with yourself, you do not have a clue as to life's purpose or how it is to be lived. You go through the motions each day, considering it a success if no great disaster befalls you. This is not living a life of victory, maybe at best a truce. . .and yet in some ways each day lived like this is one step closer to the grave where the time for decisions is past and all questions are answered, however rudely.

Every drop of water in a great river thinks itself free to do and go where ever it likes, but all water in the river ends up in the same destination. So it is for the great mass of unsaved humanity. All thinking themselves masters of their own lives, celebrating their independence as they flow along to the lowest possible level.

The questions, uncertainty, and fear can so easily be replaced by unshakable peace and joy. It is a decision within your power to make, but until this point hidden from your eyes.

You think that you know of religion and God, but your ideas are a severe distortion of the truth. You look upon it from the outside and all you see are restrictions on your cherished independence and supposed freedom, but again that is an illusion. Going back to my little metaphor of the drops of water in a river, by doing as you desire, by being carried along by the morality of the world you are being carried along with the world, to a destination not of your choosing, a destination that you cannot foresee.

Your objection to religion is based upon and focused upon the rules. They are distasteful to you in the extreme. That is all that you can see, but that is not religion as God intended it.

In the beginning we had a face to face relationship with God. He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. We can only imagine the intimacy that must have been between them, but due to their sin God had to remove Himself from their presence and they had to leave His perfect garden.

Years later God again attempted to build a relationship directly with men, but the Hebrew people rejected God directly speaking to them. The people requested that God go through an intermediary, an intercessor rather than for His speaking directly to Him. They were so convicted of their vulnerability in His presence. They could not tolerate hearing God or talking with Him face to face. They rejected the face to face relationship. They opted for the rules and rejected the Rule-maker.

This is the religion of the Old Testament. Unfortunately many do not understand the reason for Jesus. Virtually all non-religious people and sadly a good number of those who think themselves very religious do not understand or accept the new agreement between God and man, that Jesus brought to us.

Men are not able to stand in the unfiltered presence of God. All men fall to their faces in His presence. The ancient Hebrews could not tolerate it and neither could we.

That is what Jesus has done for us. He was fully a man as you and I are. He suffered temptations the very same as you and I do and yet He is also God robed in flesh. With this flesh God covered the terrible, unbearable brilliant light of His Spirit that no man could endure. This now allows us to stand in His presence in spite of our sinful natures and again walk with Him and talk with Him. This flesh that He put on as Jesus makes it possible for us as individuals to come to know Him in a very real and personal way.

No longer do we need another man (like Moses for the ancient Hebrews) to intercede for us and to thereby transmit the desires of God to us, filtered through another without the relationship with Him. Moses was only able to pass the rules along to the people. He could not pass the relationship along to them. That is the religion of the Old Testament.

Now through Jesus, God is personally available to each man. God wants a relationship with you. Religion is not about a baffling myriad of restrictive rules. It is about a relationship with God.

Do you understand the difference of this perspective? As an unattached single person, marriage is looked upon as a restriction of freedom. There are certain things that you cannot do as a person in a committed relationship that you can do as an unattached person. Certain ways of behaviour are not acceptable. Certain places are now off limits when you enter into a relationship with someone.

You will often hear of young men talking of never getting married due to all the things that they would no longer be able to do. When married you cannot spend all your time with your friends going where ever you want. You cannot spend all your money on entertainment and toys.

But. . . but. . . but. . . most young men eventually change. They meet someone and the same changes in behaviour, the same restrictions in what you can and cannot do are expected, but now it is for a relationship that these changes are taking place.

The relationship comes first. The overwhelming love comes first and the old ways of behaving are gladly given up for love. They are no longer viewed as restrictions. You no longer want to do those things. Your relationship with your love is the most important priority for you. The changes that take place within you are not imposed from without, they naturally fall away. Your old ways voluntarily discarded for the sake of your relationship.

This is exactly the same as coming to God in the religion of the New Testament. Before we know Jesus all we see are the rules and restrictions upon our freedom. This is exactly like a young man's opinion of marriage. But if we open ourselves up to Him, if we allow Him to come into us and sup with us and we with Him, if we put aside for a time our fear of giving up our supposed independence and illusion of freedom without Him, if we allow Him to fully love us in the way that He desires we will find that His love for us and our love for Him out weigh every other consideration.

If we fully enter into an intimate relationship and loving relationship with Jesus our hearts desire is to make Him happy. Our unhappiness stems not from any restrictions placed upon our behaviour, but our dissatisfaction and dismay arise from what we perceive as our glacially slow rate of change into what He desires for us.

We still struggle with doing the things we should do and not doing the things that we shouldn't. Our flesh has appetites that will never be completely conquered as long as it still lives, but our focus is not upon the rules that we must follow. We are now more concerned with His reaction to our not following His desires for us.

When I do something that I know that Jesus finds displeasing, I have an image in my mind of my turning around and spitting in His face. When I do that which I shouldn't, my disobedience is also surely disrespect to Him. I see my spit of disrespect mingle with His tears of sorrow and pain as He watches any ungodly act that I may commit.

All I can then do is quietly weep. In my shame and embarrassment, I then ask for the forgiveness which He so readily gives and continue upon my path. I am hoping and praying to draw closer and closer to what He wants me to be.

This is the essence of what it means to be a person trying to live for God. I hesitate to use the word Christian, for some believe that to be a Christian means to be Christlike and that in truth I can never be. I am not and never will be very Christlike. That is a goal, but to think that I actually am would be a source of pride and trouble.

You have seen many who call themselves by His name and somehow presume to have drawn closer to Him than the rest of humanity through their following of rules. Theirs is not a path of humility and meekness, but one of pride and arrogance. The damage that they have done in the name of the kingdom is incalculable. For decades I mistook these fools as true representatives of Him, when in fact Jesus spent a large part of His ministry rebuking the self-righteous rule-followers and rule-makers of that day.

How do I describe for you the wonderful peace and joy of my relationship with God? He loves me beyond any human imagination. He endured my years and years of rejection of Him with no hint of holding any grudge or hardness of His heart. He is patient and understanding. He is always there, never impatient, in a bad mood or too busy for me. He protects me and leads me. He loves me and shows His love for me in countless ways. He talks to me. Sometimes He uses words, other times the flight of a bird, a flower, a cloud or a sunset.

As I write, this very moment the sun shines through my clear pen spreading a rainbow across the words of this notebook page. . . now it is gone and try as I might I cannot on my own efforts duplicate that effect. I turn my pen this way and that. It is gone. Whatever combination of angle and light that came together for a brief moment as I write, by the sunny window, of God's love and speaking to me in various ways, was only for a moment. . . small things like that happen all the day long. Coincidence you say? Over and over again at exactly the right time, these things happen. I write of His love and speaking to me and a spectrum of colors. . . the colors of His promise to Noah wash across the words of my writing.

My life is changed completely. My marriage is so so much improved with Jackie and I both trying to live for God.

Just one small example of many: I used to fret and chafe at periods of waiting. . . a long slow train in the car, a slow line at the grocery store, an hour in the waiting room at the doctor's office. . .I now relish these times of quiet and idleness. I pray. I talk to Him. I worship. I meditate on Scriptures. In just this one example, in a very fundamental way, my having a relationship with God has turned a daily occurrence from being a time of tension and frustration into one of peace and contemplation.

Never again am I powerless or swept away by events that I cannot control. In every situation no matter how mundane or dire the circumstance I have a direct connection to my God, to my Father in heaven, the One who both created and controls everything.

Not long ago I felt buffeted about by circumstances at my job. I was upset and frustrated by events that I had no control over. Have you ever been in a state like this? The realization suddenly dawned upon me that my job is not the source of my happiness. It is not the source of my security. I am not justified, validated, vindicated, or saved by my job. There is nothing there that inherently has any power over me that I do not give it. As soon as these thoughts came into my head, my feelings of tension and frustration evaporated. In mere moments I went from stress to joy and peace.

I did not have to pray for this. I was not dependant upon God granting a request. I have power of my own directly as a result of my relationship with Jesus. This power is fully available to you also.

Do you understand how life changing this is? Do you understand how much freedom you receive merely by submitting to God as your Lord? The difference between the ties that bind me to God and the chains that formerly tied me to the world is this: My submission to God can at any time be reversed or broken by merely turning my back upon Him. Those heavenly cords of lightest gossamer would immediately fall away. The bondage and servitude of the world is another matter entirely. I had to fight and fight to free myself from the bondage of the world. Smoking, drinking, legal or illegal drugs, pornography, immorality of all kinds, credit card debt. . . on and on and on. . .these chains are not at all easily cast away.

Yet those under the dominion of these spirits, haughtily disdain coming before the Lord and bending their knee in submission to Him. They have an illusion of independence of action and freedom. In reality they (formerly I) are absolute slaves to their vices. This deception of the highest order. True freedom is only available through submission to God.

In hindsight it looks so foolish, not long ago I was there blind and ignorant of the paradox and contradiction of my position. . .

I write this to you my faceless, nameless beloved one. I know you are there. I write these words from my heart to yours. My eyes shed tears for you. I raise up prayers to God for you. I see you in my mind. One day we will dance together around the throne of God in an ecstasy of worship and praise in the light of His love. . .

Your brother in Christ,

Dave Stokely
December 12, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Space Between the Words. . .

The other day, Jackie and I were discussing something or another. I don't even recall what the actual conversation was about, when I had one of those moments when my mind opened and I was able to see with great clarity. It was like for a moment the perpetual fog that I am usually in, cleared, a stiff breeze from a new direction whisked away the mist and I was able to see with crystal clearness and what I saw was just how differently she and I viewed communication, specifically words and language.

I love words. I love language. I love using exactly the right word or series of words to express myself. When I say something I try to say exactly what I mean. I choose my words carefully. To me there is weight and momentum and energy in words. If I tell you that I will meet you at 8:00 and I arrive at 8:02. I feel badly. My actions did not fulfil my words. It is not that I think that you will be upset or somehow look down upon me, but my words did not reflect my actions. I let you down. I broke my words. . . If I tell you that I will be there at 8:00, I will make every effort to be there at 7:50. Most of the time then, usually I will say that I will be somewhere around 8:00. To me, my words have substance. They are meaningful. They are communication. . .

The thing that I saw with Jackie, in my brief moment of clarity, is that to her communication is much much more than words. The words are not as important as the spaces between them. With my words, I can say, "I love you" to her, but if my tone of voice is harsh and not loving, if my body language is tense and not caring, if I immediately go on to another topic. . . if (as my Pastor relates on this topic), I've forgotten to take out the trash. . . and on and on and on. . . then to her my real message is something else. How many times this type of misunderstanding has taken place? I cannot begin to put a number on it. . . My words are meaningless if my non-verbal message doesn't coincide with my words.

With Jackie and I, I put virtually all the importance on the spoken words while she is very intent upon the spaces between the words. I don't catch subtle hints very well at all. I explain to her, if you want me to know something say it in words. Hints and shades of meaning are very likely to pass me by. I don't mean to be ignorant or dense, but I am focused upon the words. It's undoubtedly a shortcoming of mine, but I think that it is also shared by much of the male species. Pretty much to the exclusion of every other message being transmitted to me, my focus is on the verbal message in a conversation. On a wonderfully warm and sunny summers day, your gaze happens upon a tree. You can look at the leaves of the tree or alternatively you can peer at the blue sky showing through the leaves of the tree. There is no right or wrong. What do you see? It's classic, what do you see? Is it half empty or is the glass half full? Where is your focus. There are many foreground and background optical puzzles, but it goes deeper than little games.

We are in many ways literally speaking different languages with very different grammars and vocabularies. I am surely no expert on the human brain, but these differences go so deeply that I more than slightly suspect that they represent a basic difference in our wiring. It is a struggle to learn a new language and generally when you learn a second language you never become anywhere as proficient at it as a native speaker, but. . .but. . . but!!! The native speakers of a language always greatly appreciate the attempts of a non-native speaker to talk in their tongue.

Some of the differences between our uses of language between the genders may well be attributed to orientation on the basis of our roles in the family. The woman is more internally focused upon growth and nurturing, caring and creating while the man has a more external task, destination, accomplishment and achievement orientation. The woman needs to discern and interpret the wellness or illness of her charges and tend to needs of her loved ones that they may not even be aware of. The famed and fabled sixth sense of women is a wonderfully real and powerful skill,that in my thoughts, is based on a woman's ability to interpret non-verbal information or messages that would pass 999 men out of a 1000 completely by. Who as a child wasn't convinced at times that their mother truly had 'eyes in the back of her head.' She could tell when you had done something wrong or even when you were about to do something wrong despite your best efforts at hiding your intent from her.

Men on the other hand are focused externally. Our motivation is upon accomplishing particular goals, providing food, shelter, laying away for hard times. Information, facts, warnings, explicit needs and orders are the substance of our communication needs. These tasks require a completely different set of communication skills than figuring out whether a quiet three year old is seriously sick or merely guilty of some small crime.

A thought comes to me that these differences between the language uses of men and women are in some ways paralleled in the languages of the Bible. Please I am no scholar of Hebrew and Greek, but from my studies and reading about these two languages these observations come to my mind. Hebrew seems to be a language of implication, and connotation. Words suggest other words. Words have usages and similarly sounding words which influence each usage in a multi-dimensional matrix of meaning and nuance. It is rich beyond belief. We lose so much understanding of the Old Testament by not being native speakers of Hebrew.

A week or two ago I was doing a study on this verse:

Genesis 2:8
Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the man he had formed.

The word we translate as 'Eden' can also in Hebrew mean God's delight or pleasure. The word we translate as 'east' can also mean fore or before. West is away or the hind part or behind. East means the fore part, or before. Using these two connotations or expansions from the original Hebrew words this passage can also mean that God in His delight and great pleasure created a wonderful garden before He created man and then He put man in this wonderful garden that He specifically created for man.

Richness and depth of meaning is present in Hebrew that is beyond the most exquisite of translators to convey to us. We must dig and dig and continually read between the lines in order to come even close to understanding the original Hebrew meaning.

Greek, the language of the New Testament, on the other hand is renown as a very precise language. Numbers of Greek words for what we merely call love: Eros, philia, agape, storge, thelema. There are lots of examples like this. Greek has multiple words for shades of an idea. Again, my impression, but nothing so nearly as much is lost in the translation of Greek to English as is lost in the translation of Hebrew to English.

But again, the Old Testament was written to and for and about God's chosen people. Please don't misunderstand me, it is relevant to us, but the Old Testament is primarily a story of a common people in their own language, a family story, an internal story of the Hebrew people. Hebrew is an internal language, a language with many internal meanings that are lost to outsiders. The New Testament is a testament, a contract for the WORLD!!!! and the language that it is written in, is one of precision and more open to non-native readers. The languages that the Bible is written in, exactly parallel and are entirely appropriate for its purposes. . . . This is no coincidence. . . This is the plan of God.

Please. . .I never know where I am going to end up when I start typing one of my little emails. . . This is quite a different destination than I envisioned when I began. . . It is so very wonderful. Everything about the Bible amazes. . . the deeper you look the more wonder and humility you must be filled with.

The wise of this world see this as foolishness. . . we must pray for them. . . I was there once. . .I was blind and now I see!!!!

Thank you my God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I love you God. . .
I love you all. . .

Dave Stokely