Friday, August 29, 2008

A Most Tenuous Thread. . .

The phone rings. . .You never know who is going to be on the other end of the line. It might be an elderly woman who has no family or friends. She is a repeat caller. Her log contains hundreds of entries. She calls every evening about this time to say goodnight before she goes to bed. She'll also call the first thing in the morning as she awakes, and several more times during the day. Television shows. . . jokes. . .fears. . . hopes. . . victories. . . setbacks. . .little happenings through the day. . .we are the receivers of modern anti-religious prayer. . .nameless. . . faceless. . .we know so much about her. We are strangers, unrelated and anonymous, but we are also her closest family and friends. We care when no one else does. . .


It might be someone needing any of a multitude of questions answered. . . information on support groups, AA, NA, OEA, anger management classes, and on and on. Our card file was probably close to a foot thick. Hundreds upon hundreds of organizations reaching out to people. . .All these different cards filled with various meeting times, addresses, and brief descriptions of what their purpose and their intended clientèle is. You never knew what the call would bring.


We were called suicide hotline workers, but in reality only a small fraction of our calls were suicidal people, but they did call. Thankfully they did call. That was our purpose. . .that was our calling. . .


We were trained to quickly establish a rapport over the phone. We were trained to listen. We were trained in ways to make connections and to help resurrect relationship bridges between the caller and any support systems that they might have. . .but sometimes nothing worked. . .I remember. . .


Sometimes the despair is too deep. . . the wounds and pain so lethal that you can find no basis to build upon, but you cannot fail. To fail is unthinkable. . . not possible. It cannot happen. Yet while there is any bit of strength left in your arm, would you ever let go of a hand grasping yours in a raging river current? You are the life saver. No one else is available. There is no other help. . .Would you ever let go? You will yourself to continue beyond what is possible. My shift ends at 11 p.m. I've already been talking for more than two hours. It is an inky blackness I speak into. The depths of it terrify me. I cannot fail. . .


They want permission to end the conversation. They wish me to say 'good bye. . .' I refuse. I will never say good-bye. I am an atheist. I have no prayer to say. I believe in no God to come to my aid, but I know that death in this way is wrong and cannot be permitted. To their goodbye, I give no quarter. . .I respond with silence. They know. I know. Their goodbye is forever. . .I reject it. . .To my refusal, they speak again. . . opening themselves more and more attempting to bribe me, cajole me. . . trying to get me to agree with the hopelessness of their place, an unspoken request asking me to allow them their desire. We return. . . round and round to the terminus of the call, but I will not. . . I refuse. . .They tire. . . I wear them down. . .I have strength of purpose beyond what they know. It is now 4:30 a.m. The approaching day begins to gently season the eastern sky. The first bird begins to sing the coming sun. . . We have been now talking for well over six hours. . .


It is a small thing, but I have a tenuous thread by which I hold them. It is less than the anchor of a spider web, but I have earned their respect by staying with them so very long and they will not be rude and hang up upon me. There is no 'goodbye' allowed. . . only 'see you later' can be offered and received. . .By such a light and airy thing, I hold them hostage. . .I cheat. I do not play by the rules as they see them. They have come to expect apathy from the madly rushing world. . . They called and I deeply listen to them. . .I am shameless in letting them know. . . I care. . .I love with passion an anonymous voice on the dark end of the phone. . .Finally, I do win. . . I have never lost the strength of my arm to grasp the hand in the raging current. . . They are worn down, exhausted. . .desiring rest and restoration of their energy, maybe even forgetting a portion of the pain. Love heals. . . Love conquers. . . the light of love leads you home. . .


This battle. . . these battles. . .I remember. I warred as an atheist for the flesh of men, to deny death, this long decades before I knew God. . .I gave no quarter, nothing short of victory was acceptable. . .defeat not considered. . .not allowed. . .


How then can I accept anything less fighting spiritual battles, for my family, for my friends,. . .for the kingdom of God. . .There is no such thing as fighting fair when the stakes are eternity. . .


I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .


Dave

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Late Summer's Eve

Solomon our Golden Retriever pup

It's been a very busy summer. I haven't gotten out into the wild places as much as usual. I miss that. About a month ago Jackie and I got a new puppy, a little golden retriever. He's the first golden boy (as Jackie likes to call him) we've ever had. Solomon is his name. Tonight I took him with me out to the little nature refuge near to my house. We've been out there a couple of times before, but tonight was a special time. We got there just in the golden hour, as photographers like to call it. The hour before sunset or the hour after sunrise, the light is warm and wonderful. We haven't had much rain in the past several weeks and in addition there was just a slight coolness to the air, so the mosquitoes were absent.

I've had dogs for most of my life. . . this is a very special puppy. He is so very very smart, very mellow for such a young dog. . . He just has a wonderful personality. I really researched the type of dog we would bring into our home after we had to put our St. Bernard down in May. That was such a difficult thing. He was only 5 1/2 years old. Jackie and I really wanted a dog that was well suited to our lifestyle, etc. and the golden retrievers seemed to fit us very nicely. Earlier in the year we visited a friend who had a golden and were really smitten with him. Drew was such a wonderful dog and our little guy shows indications of many of the same wonderful qualities that we saw in Drew.

My friend, Paul told me how from the time that Drew was a very small pup, he would play a game with Drew. Whenever they were out, if my friend could manage to hide from his little guy, he would do so and then Drew would have to search for him and find him. Paul credited this little game of hide and seek with Drew's keeping his attention focused on Paul and thereby not wandering off when they were out together, so I've been playing the same game with Solomon.

The trail at Pipewort Pond is a closed loop, a little under a mile in length. Another friend of mine, John, who lives up the road keeps the path mowed. At one point there is a little boardwalk maybe 50-100 feet long that extends out into the damp spot that is called Pipewort Pond.

Swallowtail butterfly on a button bush flower


I love this time of year. There is something in the air, that speaks of fall being just around the corner. I don't know exactly what it is, while it is still summerishly warm, the heavy humidity of July has gone away, replaced (for me anyway) with an energizing aridness to the atmosphere. We haven't had much rain at all for several weeks and that has delayed some of the wildflowers. The thistles especially seem to be delayed and even the goldenrod is behind where, I remember it's more usual blooming schedule would put it for this time of the month. Around here goldenrod begins blooming about the first of August and continues until frost, but it only appears that it is starting to really open its florets right now. The staghorn sumac has brilliantly scarlet individual sections of leaf, but only as a minor note. Their main display is still to come more than a month yet away. The button bushes have a few individual ping pong ball sized globes of fresh blossoms, but in the main their branches are now covered with immature seed heads.

For all the dryness we've had this summer, the pond at Pipewort is very much surprisingly full of water. By far this is the highest level I've seen it, this late in the year. Every so often, the little flock of sandhill cranes at the refuge, would explode for some invisible reason, in a riotous disturbance of the entire pond neighborhood. . .Celebrating something only known by them in their typically rowdy manner. The cranes and an occasional dog barking off in the distance were the only ripples to break the calmness of the quiet air.

I so very much relish these times alone walking the trail. . . praising. . .worshiping. . .talking to God. My little pup was a wonderful trail companion. Solomon was in full celebration of the prowess of his wonderfully sensitive nose. Such a big world to explore, so many things to experience for the first time. He has very limited knowledge of anything at all. To my knowledge, he's never seen a deer or even a rabbit for that matter. They are both very abundant at Pipewort. He was nose to the grass, zigging and zagging from side to side of the path. It was most enjoyable to watch him revel in discovering the natural world.

A couple of times I tried to play our little hide and seek game that Paul taught me, but he always caught me before I could get behind some little tree or bush. He's become very good a staying aware of where I am, but at one point he was so very intensely tracking some apparently wonderful odor just as we came to a bend in the trail. I saw him slip around the curve in the path, maybe roughly 15 or 20 yards ahead of me and I knew that preoccupied as he was, I now had a good chance of hiding from him. I quickly dashed behind a little juniper bush in the tall weedy grass at the edge of the trail and crouched down. I waited long seconds and actually began to second guess my hiding. I did not anticipate remaining undiscovered for so long. I started moving toward the path from my hiding spot, at the same time reviewing my options as to what I would do if he did indeed get separated from me and I couldn't find him. In truth a little fear began rising up within me, before I caught a glimpse of him somewhat frantically running back toward me around the curve ahead. He was showing a bit of panic himself, as he anxiously searched for me. Before he saw me, I quickly crouched down again, now with only the tall grass for cover. He caught a glimpse of me and rushed me, with that which spoke of days or weeks of separation, rather than the few moments that it had been. As is our custom, when he finds me, he exuberantly licks my face and neck, wiggling all over as I give him an intensely affectionate hug and scratch time, while gently singing his name. . . We rejoice at our being together again. . . feeling the reassurance of each others presence. . . the fading of our anxiousness. . .It was so very nice to be reunited, after our small moments of fear. . .

It struck me very powerfully, quite vividly in fact. . .I wonder. . .maybe when I get too caught up in the busy-ness of my life, like this summer has been. . . maybe when I get too far up the trail by myself. . . maybe when I take my eyes off of Him for a little while. . is it possible that He might hide from me for just a little bit???. . .He's still there waiting. . . watching. . .worrying over me. . . He'll surely never forsake me. He promised me that, but is He sometimes paused as I charge ahead, looking to see how long it takes me to notice. . . looking for me to come back around the bend. . . watching to see how long it takes and how I react when I realize that a distance has opened up between us. . .

I tell you. . . I discovered Him anew tonight, and once again shortened the gap between us, it had grown too wide for my peace of mind and well being. . .there was an exuberance in the air. . .I leaped into His arms as He softly called my name. . .

The Cranes celebrated with us as the sun slowly slid behind the pond on a late summer's eve. . .

I love you my God. . .
I thank you my Lord. . .

Dave Stokely

Friday, August 22, 2008

Neighborhood prayer walk - 8-21-8

Marion/Harrison Street

Terry Wallin and I had a great night tonight.

We spent a while, as usual talking to Cigar Bob. He'll be coming to church again on Sunday. He was touched. He thought the service last Sunday was wonderful. We are trying to get Bob come clothes. He has been wearing the same clothes, without changing them for the almost 5 months that I have known him (and undoubtedly for far longer than that). I brought some clothing bought at Goodwill, over earlier in the week, but they were the wrong sizes. I've told Bob that when we get him some new clothes, we can pick up his dirty laundry on Thursday when we come by and drop off fresh things on Friday.

I was over to Bob's earlier this week and his friend George (who is in his 90's) was laying on the porch, with completely soiled pants, from waist to ankle, from his urine, His hands were so covered with nicotine that they looked literally like they had been dipped in chocolate. I do not think he can have had a bath in more than five years. We must to do something for these men. I believe we are commanded by Jesus to get involved in their lives, these men are our neighbors. . . It's obvious they do not have family to care for them.

The lady shopkeeper is also attempting to help them. She gives them food and other items from her store on a regular basis. We spent a long time, last night, talking with her about the situation. She is willing, and has offered to them, to pay for a nurse to come in once a week and give them baths, etc, if we can gain their trust to do this. So far they have refused, but Bob is softening. She is seeing a change in him. She said that Bob and George come over to her store and have roaches crawling on them. A few days ago, she saw a roach crawl out of George's ear. . .

Bob gave me the wrong sizes for his clothing. He tried what I brought on. It didn't fit and now I think he needs 40 waist x 32 inseam pants and XL shirts. Tonight I'm going to again attempt to buy some stuff for him at Goodwill. A friend of mine, Jim Runyon, from Calvary Assembly of God told me of a program they have where they have clothing for people in need. It's open once a month, I think the second Sunday. I'm going to take Bob over there next month.

Please join with us in praying for God to open Cigar Bob and George's hearts to accept the help that we are trying to offer them.

The neighborhood is changing. We had a couple stop us on the sidewalk and enthusiastically tell us about the improvements that they have made to their house. It was a filthy rundown mess when they came a month or so ago. They have cleaned up and painted, etc. and others in the neighborhood have begun making similar improvements to their homes. They are hoping/praying that the landlords of the neighborhood will see the changes that the people are making to their privately owned homes and follow suit by making improvements to the rental properties.

We anointed and prayed with so many wonderful people for jobs and relationship problems.

God is moving. . .

Thank you my God. . .

Dave Stokely

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Original Sin

Lately the Lord has been dealing with me about humility. I'm currently reading a book: Humility and Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. It is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it for everyone.

The Original Sin

The first occurrence of something in the Bible is usually significant. What about sin? What was the original sin? Many would consider it as the sin of Adam, but was that really the first? Wasn't there a sin that preceded Adam and Eve's? The Bible is not laid out in a strictly sequential order. Adam and Eve eat of the apple in Genesis chapter 3, and that surely is the first sin encountered reading the Bible from front to back, but there is another sin mentioned, which takes place prior to theirs:

Isaiah 14:12-15
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! (13) For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: (14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (15) Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

When Adam and Eve were created, sin already existed in the world. Lucifer exalted himself as like God. He put himself on a level with God, an equal with God. He was filled with pride, thought himself to be 'like the most High' and thereby committed the first, the original sin. A third of the angels followed him. He then enticed Eve with the same seduction by which he fell:

Genesis 3:1-5
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (2) And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: (3) But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. (4) And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: (5) For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Notice the similarity in what Satan thought to himself: I will be like the most high and what he enticed Eve with: ye shall be as gods. Satan was offering Eve the same pride filled illusion that he craved.

In Eve's acceptance of his offer, the unholy spirit of Satan entered into her. His spirit knew her before she had known any man and in this way, the merging of Satan's unholy spirit and her sinless-virginal flesh, then give birth to the terrible troubles and sorrowful downfall of man. What an interesting parallel we have between the occasion of the downfall of Eve and that occasion of Mary's acceptance of the Holy Spirit of God entering into her, and by that most divine union now making possible the redemption of man. . .

It is obvious then that pride, is doubly the foundation for all sin which followed, first in Satan and then in Eve. It therefore is necessary that we pay great attention to pride and for us to have an understanding of it within ourselves.

Matthew 18:3
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Can we deny that this is an important statement? If you are not changed and become childlike, you are not getting into the kingdom of heaven. I want to get into the kingdom of heaven, therefore I must have an understanding of what Jesus is saying here. What is it about a child that we are to imitate? Following in the same line as the error of Nicodemus questions to Jesus about rebirth, we cannot grow small in stature. That cannot be what is meant. We cannot artificially put on amnesia and unlearn that which we've experienced in life. What is it about a child that we are to emulate? In what way are we are to remake ourselves? We cannot have the physical features of a child. We must have in some manner the spirit of a child. A child is not prideful. A child is humble. The little ones are not concerned with ego or pretense. Children in their innocence are transparent, without guile. A child will ask you why your nose is so big or why you have such a big belly or why so many wrinkles are on your face. In their innocence they are what they are. They have nothing. They have no false facade. . .and only those like them will enter into his kingdom. . .

Likewise:

Matthew 25:34-40
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: (35) For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: (36) Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (37) Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? (38) When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? (39) Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? (40) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

The servant is lower than the served. Jesus illustrated that by serving the disciples by washing their feet. We are humble when we have little. We are humble when we serve those who have little or nothing. The less we have, the more humble we are. the more Godlike we are, until when we have nothing we are then the equated by Jesus as being same as Him. He is with us in our lack. . .Do you want to draw as near as you can to Jesus? Give all you have to the poor. His words, then you will have perfection. . .

Matthew 19:21
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

What is more important than humility? We rightly place importance on holiness, but in perspective, of what value is holiness without humility? If we have pride and are holy, or possibly even worse, are proud because we are holy, of what is it then worth? Its value is nothing and even less than nothing, for that is a definition of a Pharisee. They wore their adherence to the rules, their pride in cleanliness and proper behavior, was as wounding as a weapon. Their pride, their holiness was a sword by the use of which they killed their longed for Messiah. We must be cautious. The Pharisee's had faith. The Pharisee's had holiness. They believed they had righteousness, but their pride. . .their lack of humility cast a long shadow, it corrupted everything.

In our righteousness and holiness, we can be infected and never know. Pride is so very subtle above other sin, much like the serpent that beguiled Eve. A serpent writhes upon the ground, in a false imitation of humility, but not all that crawls in the dirt is humble. The humbled have come to ground from loftier elevations. A serpent cannot aspire to the clouds. That which is of the devil cannot rise above the dirt and filth.

Matthew 23:12
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Therefore using this verse as our guide. What ever we use to lift ourselves up, then must be infected with pride and will end up bringing us lower. The snake offers that for us to use which seems to lift us above our fellow man, but will in the end bring us down to his level. He aspired to be on the same level with God. As a result of that attempt to exalt himself, he was cursed to endlessly grovel in the dirt. . .

All of these things are new awakenings to me. I must admit that I have not given the importance to humility that is its due. . .

I love you my God. . .
Thank you for loving me my God. . .

Dave

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Neighborhood prayer walk - 8-14-8

Marion/Harrison Street

Terry Wallin and I walked and prayed in the Marion/Harrison Street neighborhood tonight. A good number of people were out. We talked and prayed with many people.

Our first regular stop is always with Cigar Bob. He was very happy to see us after a week of our not coming by. We spent quite a long time talking with Bob. Sometimes he is very difficult to understand. I think I'm relating the following accurately, if there are mistakes blame my bad hearing and poor memory rather than Bob's telling. . .

I really got him going tonight when I asked him how long he had lived on Marion Street. My impression is that this has been somewhat the center of Bob's universe for his entire life. He has spent time at other locations, but he has always come back to Marion Street. He told us how he was living a couple of doors to the east from his present apartment, in a big white house in 1949 when he was 27 years old. He came home from work late one afternoon. His wife and I think he said his mother-in-law were there when he got home. There was some kind of commotion on the street near his house. His wife asked him to go see what was going on. There was an ambulance and several police cars in front of his house. There had been an accident of some kind. . . as Bob drew closer he saw the medics working on Terry, his five year old son, who was laying on the street. His neck was broken and he had two broken legs. Bob ran back to the house and told his wife to come quickly. Bob rode the ambulance to the hospital, holding his little boy's hand, taking away the fear from the eyes of his still conscious son. Bob said his son was able to rest holding his Daddy's hand. . .Terry died in surgery at the hospital that afternoon . There had been a high speed police chase and a police car had hit and killed his son. Bob did not hold the policemen responsible at all. I think Bob said it was a man named Cooper who was running from the police and resulted in the chase. . .Bob talked about Terry, about what a special little boy he was. . .Not long after this Marion and Harrison Streets were changed to one-way streets. What a sad thing. . . we anointed and lifted up prayers to God for Bob. . .what a sad thing. . .

We talked with the lady shopkeeper and her wonderful children for quite a little while.

We talked and prayed with numbers and numbers of people. You can very much tell that the sun is setting earlier than a month ago. It won't be long until we have trouble getting through the neighborhood before dark.

We anointed and prayed with the Pentecostal lady over on Harrison street for a job. She was so happy to see us. We anointed a prayer cloth for another lady who desires to quit smoking. We anointed a young man who needs a job. . . lots and lots of people. . I'm too tired. I can't remember them all, many many children gleefully took our fliers and cards. Kids saw us walking on the other side of the street and waved to us. Police officers offered friendly waves as they drove by in their squad cars. . .It is a very nice thing.

Terry and I over and over again tonight just kept repeating what a wonderful time this was, a tremendous evening, what a blessing it is to be out doing work like this. Just good things are going on all over. . . It is such a special time walking the streets and talking with people about the power of God. . .

Dave

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Neighborhood Prayer Walk 8-12-8

Middlebury Street

We had a great night tonight. I started out alone, but Melissa Wolfinger was able to join me for a short time, before having to leave to get ready for work. She was going to KIK (the old Accra Pac) for the late night shift tonight through Forge Staffing. That surely was a blessing. Let us keep her in our prayers for this job opportunity to continue.

Stopped at Zoe and David's, a few doors from Life Tabernacle. Zoe and Cathy Maldonado (who lives right next to LTC) came to church Sunday. We talked a little about that. Zoe was quite intimidated by our speaking in tongues. She very much enjoyed the prayers, the worship service and preaching Sunday. Cathy and Zoe have a funeral home viewing tomorrow night, but plan on being at church on Sunday. David has skin cancer behind his ear and a number of tumors all over his head. He needs surgery. They can use our continued prayers.

Talked and prayed with lots of people all up and down the street. Talked with several people about the kids experience at VBS. It was very much a positive reaction.

Prayed with two young boys in the apartment, maybe 11 or 12 years old. The one wanted prayer for his mother. Her back has been hurting her. I explained to him about a prayer cloth and he said that he would like that for her. His friend and he and I joined hands together in prayer over an anointed prayer cloth. Next his friend also wanted a cloth for his mother. She is having some problems with her mouth. Again we joined together and prayed over a cloth for his mom. Very nice young boys. It was so sweet. . .and so very very powerful seeing them praying for their mothers. What a wonderful thing that was. Prayed with another young man for his grandmother, Patricia Shepherd who is in the hospital in Chicago and prayed over another prayer cloth for another man whose father Mr. Mitchell is in Elkhart General Hospital. This man was very touched by the prayer and prayer cloth. . .

Lots of people wanted to know when our service times are. . .

I got down on Aspenwald just in time to watch as a fire engine and an ambulance pulled up in front of Tina and Loretta's house. I watched Loretta carry her young child, James, onto the ambulance. Apparently he had fallen very hard and had a nasty bruise/cut on his head. Their front yard was just full of people. Bob (formerly Nancy's boyfriend was over there), he and I talked for a few moments.

I met a very nice young man maybe 10 years old. He wanted to help pass out fliers. I felt just such a sweet spirit about him. I gave him a Bible. I wrote some words of Spiritual encouragement and signed and dated the inside front cover. He is such a nice boy. His name is Jason.

You know, it wasn't too many years ago, I can remember talking with people and our bemoaning the fact that (other than Rodney & Yalonda) there was no one from a mile radius around the local neighborhood who attended LTC. That is not true any more. I talked to numbers of people tonight who are coming to church with us. One lady, and I am so ashamed to have forgotten her name, waited for me at a stop sign to come up the block and approach her vehicle. She wanted a flier. She smiled as she said, "I'm a collector of these." She told me her name and said that she'd see me in church Sunday.

It was a wonderful wonderful night. . .

Dave Stokely

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Polytheism. . .

I want to be simple and predicable. That is my goal, but it seems a distant and difficult destination. Aside from my desire, I continue to be complex and erratic. I am beyond myself. I wish only to serve one God, the God that is love, but I must admit that I do worship other gods and at times they reign within me. The god of selfishness, the god of lust, the god of pride. . .the god of depression. . .deceit, envy, greed, impatience, and anger. . . among a cloud of others unnamed. At times I ashamedly pay homage and tribute to them. . . I deny them with my lips, but their thrones and palaces continue to be found within my heart. Is it possible to simplify ones self? To simplify anything means to eliminate and consolidate. What am I? Or is maybe a better question, what am I not? Can I look at what I am not, and from that reflection, from that reverse image, can I gain insight?. . .

I am not strong.
I am not weak.
I am not impatient.
I am not patient.
I am not hateful.
I am not loving.
I am not wise.
I am not foolish.
I am not old.
I am not young.
I am not mature.
I am not immature.
I am not rich.
I am not poor.
I am not simple.
I am not complicated.
I am not disloyal.
I am not loyal.
I am not dishonest.
I am not honest.
I am not capable.
I am not incapable.
I am not thrifty.
I am not wasteful.
I am not loved.
I am not unloved.
I am not generous.
I am not selfish.
I am not unlovable.
I am not lovable.
I am not beautiful.
I am not ugly.
I am not kind.
I am not hurtful.
I am not hard.
I am not soft.
I am not thoughtful.
I am not rude.
I am not hungry.
I am not satisfied.
I am not unique.
I am not like anyone else. . .

For me this was a very powerful exercise. I am sure that I could go on and on in describing the paradox that is myself. On different levels, seen from different directions, there are few, maybe no absolutes which can be used in describing me. Presented with these contradictions, how can I ever hope to be predictable and under control? How can I ever rule myself? The answer seems to be that it is hopeless. I cannot. I seem to be a completely unruly mass of conflicting magnetic poles each drawing me in their own direction. The needle of my compass swings wildly from one gravitational origin point to another, independent of my will. The world outside of me sees nothing of this. These movements are tides deeply rising and falling within me, nevertheless they consume great resources with little positive effect. . .

The thought comes to me, that by ceasing to be continuously warring within myself, with myself, I am able to know myself more fully and accept myself for what I am. Not to say that I wish to be complacent and give up on becoming what God wants me to be, but through this knowledge, this recognition of accepting that there are weaknesses and features within me that I cannot change, might I thus be better able to utilize my strengths, while at the same time becoming more able to recognize and avoid my weaknesses. These are things within me which make me. . . me. . .There things about myself that I am powerless to change, thereby I must depend upon God to provide strength in these areas where I have none. . .

If I had some physical disability, if I were blind, or confined to a wheelchair, I could spend my entire life fighting my blindness or continually warring with my inability to walk. . .but to what effect? I then would have wasted my life fighting a battle which could not be won rather than having lived a life to the fullness within the limitations, that I had as a blind man, or that I had as a crippled man, or that you. . . that each of us have, in one way or another. . . Do I live my life centered upon my weaknesses and in that way misdirecting my limited energy on my negatives and not on my strengths or do I come to admit and recognize my weaknesses, come to depend upon the grace and power of God to provide strength where I have none and in that manner to go beyond them and grow into best utilizing those good features and abilities that I have been given?

I keep a journal in which to write down my thoughts, always with me. Especially while on vacation, I so very much enjoy the time I have to read, pray, meditate and write. This morning, two weeks later, I write these things recorded in my journal, during my recent time at a cottage on Wolf Lake. Almost immediately after this coming to terms with myself, I had a moment of brightly illuminating insight. It was a very distinct experience, that of a great white light shining within me. . .I was able to see myself with more objectivity and clarity than I had ever thought possible. After these things that I have described, in a very short time, it seemed as if the dust and smoke of my internal battlefield cleared, and in this new crisply distilled atmosphere, I was given a vividness of vision, I was able to see things I had never seen about myself before. . .as very much a result of this I am changing in ways I never thought possible. . .

The Lord is continuing His work within me. . . He continues the process within me of 'all things being made new'. . .

I love you my God. . .
I thank you my God. . .

I love you all. . .

Dave

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fruit

When I was on vacation I found at Goodwill a translation of the New Testament that I had never seen before. It is called, "The New Testament: An Expanded Translation." It reminds me very much of the Amplified Bible translation, which I have enjoyed for several years, but this one is expanded based on the original Greek words and not on the English words. It also, as far as it would be intelligible, maintains the Greek word order and punctuation.

Here is the verse that led to what I am writing tonight:

KJV
Matthew 3:7-8 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

AET
But, having seen many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the baptism, he said to them, Offspring of vipers, who gave you a private, confidential hint that you should be fleeing from the wrath about to break at any moment? Produce therefore fruit weighing as much as the repentance you profess.

Due to the translation of that verse: Produce therefore fruit weighing as much as the repentance you profess. I have spent a number of days pondering fruit and the importance of fruit to our Lord. I based my Sunday School lesson, for the 5th & 6th grade boys class today on the following verses:

Matthew 7:15-20 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (16) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (20) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Why is a tree to be known by its fruits? In our class today we explored this question. What are the primary parts of a tree?

The list that we came up with in our class is this:

1. Roots
2. Trunk
3. Leaves and branches
4. Fruit

Now surely a botanist might find cause to argue with this simplified outline of a tree, but for our discussion purposes, this little list will do. . .

1. The Roots

Why don't we use the roots for judging a tree? The roots are terribly important to a tree. The roots are where a tree derives its nourishment and moisture from the earth. The roots give the tree stability. They anchor the tree in one spot. With their being such an important feature of a tree, why can't we use them for judging a tree?

When I was a young boy, the Palm Sunday tornadoes hit Elkhart and the surrounding communities. It was April 11, 1965. I was 10 years old. 78 tornadoes killed 271 people in a band stretching from Iowa to Ohio. When my family drove around viewing the aftermath, I remember one tree in particular. It didn't look like the tree sustained much structural damage, but it was on its side nevertheless, the force of the wind had felled it. The sod on the surrounding lawn was rolled up like a carpet. This tree's root were very very shallow, barely under the surface of the grass and when the tree toppled, it just pulled up the grass and went over. By looking at that tree prior to the storm you would never have guessed the shallowness of its roots. The problem with using the roots to judge a tree, is that they are hidden. Without doing some serious digging, you cannot tell the state of a trees roots. Are the tree's roots shallow and insubstantial? or are they like the mighty oaks, a deep and strong tap root?

Our roots can be thought of on many levels. Our religious past, our ethnic background, our genealogy, our past addictions, medical problems and on and on. . . in short our history can be looked upon as our roots, but our past is not a good predictor of our future. We cannot judge anyone by what has gone by previously. In the Lord. . . "all things are made new. . ." You may be a fifth generation Christian or you may be newly born in Christ and have just gotten out of the baptismal tank, it is your actions from this point forward which will determine what kind of tree you are. Your past counts for very little. . .

2. The Trunk

The trunk has an advantage as a feature of evaluation, over the roots, in that it is above ground. You don't have to dig to see the trunk. It's right there, but again can a tree be judged on the basis of its trunk?

When Jackie and I came back from our recent vacation, on our first morning to work, we were surprised to see near to where we live, a mighty oak all cut up into small sections. We were amazed. This oak tree, that two grown men would have had trouble joining hands and encircling with their arms, was more than 90% hollow. This tree was probably several hundred years old, maybe 3 feet in diameter, but it was all eaten away inside. The sections of its trunk looked like a very large donut with a very very large hole. There was only a 2-3 inch section of wood under the bark, encircling all this rotten empty space inside. As it stood there for year after year, the world would have judged it a pillar, a mighty structure reaching its aged branches to heaven, destined to last forever, but within its trunk was hidden a dark rottenness.

The trunk corresponds to our external facade, that which we present to the world, but what is within? Do I worship God, teach Sunday school, minister on the streets when people are watching and then go to places in the privacy of my home on the Internet that are filled with sin and shame? Do I preach modesty, sobriety, holiness each day and then while on vacation where no one I know can see me, do I change my behavior? Our external appearance is a poor measurement of the tree that is us. Much darkness and rot can easily be hidden under the covering of our bark.

3. The Leaves and branches

These are not items of structure. In the terms of leaves, other than fir trees, the leaves only last a season. Branches also, can be pruned or lost with no damaging effect to the tree. A tree can have beautiful leaves one season, be barren at other times, and with nothing remarkable for the rest of the year. We might think of these items as peripheral items in our lives. What do we do for entertainment? What do we read? How do we spend our leisure time? These are not unimportant, but there just isn't enough substance here to a tree or ourselves to base our judgment solely upon them. These things change within us. We certainly will not find the same things entertaining at 50 as we did when we were 20. A tree cannot be judged by either of these items and neither can a person.

4. Fruit

The fruit is the only good measure of a tree. The fruit is the only totally unselfish part, the only part of a tree which is not self-serving. A tree does not grow fruit for itself. Fruit is a blessing for the men who harvest it or for the creatures of the forest who are sustained by it or for the next generation of trees which are spawned by it. Bearing fruit is an effort. It takes time, energy, and resources to create fruit. Measure a tree by its fruit and by its fruit alone. Nothing else is a reliable yardstick.

Galatians 5:14-25
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (15) But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. (16) This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (18) But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (19) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, (20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, (23) Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (24) And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (25) If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.


What does a man cast off? Are they dark things? Things filled with rottenness? What falls from his branches at his feet for others to pick up and to freely enjoy?. . .Does he foster infection and mold and strife? or are others nourished and refreshed by his production? By their fruits ye shall know them. . .

Dear Lord let love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance be found ripening upon my branches. Please prune the decay and dark things from within me. . .

Thank you my Lord. . .
I love you my God. . .

I love you all. . .

Dave

Prayer Walk 8-2-8

Hello All,

Last night was our monthly prayer walk. The first Saturday evening of each month we gather walk with candles, pray and talk with people on the streets. Many people have been so very busy with preparations for our Vacation Bible School which starts tomorrow, etc. that this was one of the smallest gatherings we've had. It was Brother & Sister Warren, their two boys, and myself last night.

This night began our 6th year of prayer walks. August of 2003 was our first evening of men's prayer. Our beginning evening, a group of us prayed all night and as dawn broke there were maybe maybe 6 or 8 of us who headed down to Main Street and walked from the Post Office to the North Main Street bridge. I cannot remember whether the 10 Commandments monument had been moved from in front of the courthouse to its present North Main Street location by this time or not. But in any case, we walked and prayed this early morning for the city of Elkhart It was a wonderful night.

We have seen many wonderful happenings in the past 5 years. I did a search of my email account, my groups and my blog and I've never (that I can find) written a full account of James Hill.

I'm pretty sure that this happened our prayer walk of March 2004. At this point it was still only men walking in association with our 'all night' (usually until 3-4 a.m.) men's prayer. We were walking, the route as we first started, we would park in the post office parking lot and walk north to the main street bridge. The 10 commandments monument was at this location by this time and then walk back to the our cars at the post office. Often we would stop in a little Christian coffee house run by the Methodist church and warm up with some coffee and have fellowship.

This night on the way back from the 10 commandments monument a number of fellows began singing as they walked. This was not a typical thing for us to do. In fact I cannot remember singing and walking on any other occasion, but there were maybe 10-15 of us walking and praying this night and a number of men began singing the hymn "Blessed Assurance" just before we passed the North Main Street Liquor Store. As we were walking in front of the liquor store entrance a black man, about my age fiftyish, walked out the door and began dancing in the street and praising God. None of us had any idea what was going on. The man's name was James Hill. He accompanied us back to the church, where we usually had a meal of soup and bread after the prayer walk.

As I said this was March. From that night James was at church most every time the church doors were open. He was baptized and I believe filled with God's Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues later that spring. James dearly loved the Lord. He would testify to anyone any where any time!!!! He was often with us on subsequent prayer walks, but James was an ill man. He had spent his life drinking heavily and had some serious physical problems as a result. None of us knew just how serious James physical ailments were.

When James did miss church, it was sometimes due to his being in the hospital. In June of 2004 James was hospitalized. He never told anyone just how serious his condition was. To our shock, James died on Sunday June 27th, 2004 at Elkhart General Hospital. Here is a link to his obituary. I don't know you may have to be registered with the Elkhart Truth to view it.

Anyway, Pastor Johnson conducted the funeral service, and as Paul Harvey would say, then we found out "the rest of the story." That night in March, on our prayer walk, James had been in line at the liquor store waiting to checkout with his usual two bottles of liquor. He heard a voice in his head, tell him not to buy the liquor, but instead to buy instead two bags of potato chips. James recognized the voice as that of the Lord. He replied that he had tried to quit drinking in the past and had been unable. The voice again said for him to buy potato chips and not the liquor. James replied that he would need help to quit. He would need a sign that the Lord was with him. James obeyed the voice of the Lord and bought the potato chips. When James walked out of the liquor store, he walked into the midst of men praying and singing on the sidewalk. . . men singing. . . men singing as I said before, "Blessed Assurance". . . James Hill's favorite hymn. James knew. . .James knew. . . He had his sign from God. He knew that God would be with him. He didn't know that he was facing the final 3 1/2 months of his life, but from that night forward James lived for and loved the Lord with all his heart. . .

This is maybe one of, if not the most dramatic, but we have seen other equally wonderful moves of the Lord on our prayer walks. And I suspect that we are quite likely not able to see but a small fraction of what the Lord has done in response to our prayers. . .No one but the Lord knows what the next five years will bring. We can be confident though, that He will continue to move in a mighty way.

Thank you Lord. . .

Dave