Shadrach, Meshach, and whatshisname

I’m with them.

They had been thrown into a fiery furnace for not bowing to an image of  Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  Similarly, I am finding myself in a bit of a ‘warm environment’ which I believe is due to my not giving in to demons and other annoying influences.

Read what they said to Nebuchadnezzar:

our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.  (emphasis, mine)

I serve God, through Jesus, with strength and conviction from the Holy Spirit and in the Name of Jesus, saved by His blood by the Grace of God.  I look to Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the very Father God to protect and save me.  But if He does not, I will not turn from God nor will I stop drawing close to Jesus and neither will I stop turning to the Holy Spirit for guidance and protection.  I will not worship anything else.  Emphasis, MINE.

Are there any questions?

Dealing with Race in America

Keith is truly a man of God and a man of guts and integrity. He pointed out correctly that the problem is one of perceptions and degrees. White people…and while I want to say “MOST white people” I will just say “many white people” are pushing in the correct direction…but there is so much farther to push….so much so that from the black perspective, we’ve hardly moved at all. The black perspective is accurate.

My only defense for white people is that for MANY white people, they’ve made a 180 degree turn from that of their parents and grandparents and, from personal experience, that was not easy. Many many times I heard from my father, “Why can’t you be like the rest of us?”. I am truly sorry that we have not made more progress. I do not know what more can be done in one lifetime than to make a complete about face, push against the tide, and do what I can to convince those around me to consider turning around, too. I ask for forgiveness (from Keith, from my other black friends, and from God) for not having done more or enough to matter.

Please refer to previous posts Generalizations are Generally Wrong and In the Name of the Father.

The light breaks through

images

I am going to delve into another sensitive area in this blog post. I grew up hearing from black people that we don’t have the ability to discriminate. This may come as a shock to every other race on the planet. In order to explain this unique perspective on the issue, allow me to define the word discriminate.

First, the dictionary defines discrimination as: “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” That definition pretty much says it all. It would appear to be all inclusive. However, living life as an African American I ran across an interesting time and space anomaly. I was told that African Americans cannot discriminate, we really can’t be racists. Yes, you read that right. If you want to understand the heart of so many misunderstandings, you need to understand this concept.

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Learning to pick my battles…

…even if only after the fact.

I’m doing…okay.  I’ve been trying too hard for a while now…encouraging loved ones to leave a toxic boss (efforts wasted); helping my neighbors survive his 2.5 month hospital/rehab stay after what was supposed to be outpatient surgery and encouraging them to make better choices (efforts wasted); writing about fighting evil and being reconciled to God (efforts draw evil to me); water pipes splitting and soaking carpeted floor, sections of floor falling in, door falling off hinges; battling mosquitoes, heat, drought,  …are we having fun, yet?

It’s like single-parenting….you just don’t die from this….well. not yet, anyway

I am emotionally depleted and physically worn out from the heat.  My plants are heat stressed and turning yellow.  My dog has had intestinal issues for days (throughout the house) and is not eating (she just watches as the cat eats her food 8 inches away) and my neighbor insists on throwing chicken bones and pizza scraps in the yard for her to find.  Oh, and my cat apparently has cat-betes and is losing his eyesight.

But, I persevere.   Yesterday, I spent the Fourth watching the flag gently wave in the rippling heat and the Morning Glories slowly unfurl and re-furl…and not much else.

Besides, I am happier and more stable than I was in North Carolina.  I’m physically stronger and on less medication.  And I pick my battles…even if only after the fact.  (“Well, that was a pointless, losing battle.”)

Today’s Lament

I was in a bad place last night.  I had gotten whipped up emotionally in what I was wanting to pass on in my blogs, was frustrated because I struggled to convey clearly what I had received, and then had several interactions with people during the day that went sour.  Driving home last night with the top down on my car, I had to admit to Jesus that He is the only One for whom I don’t have to adjust my personality…the only One who appreciates me just the way I am and Who welcomes what I have to give.  I am too direct, intense, or ‘real’ for everyone else.  My brother is able to accept me but advises me to ‘turn it down’ for everyone else.  I have nearly ruined 2 of his business relationships recently because of my ‘corporate’ voice; I need to learn how to lighten up, joke, and say, “yeeeuuup.” like the locals..

The ‘being whipped up’ and then ‘feeling the down side of that’ dances way too close to bipolar mood swinging.  (Please God, don’t let me take that demon back.  I am doing so well without it.)

In all honesty, if it weren’t for my relationship with Jesus, I would be totally alone.  Please take this the right way but I am often having to adjust my sensibilities for people .  No one wants to hear what I know about anything:  God, talking to Jesus, science, quantum physics, the government, hate, racism, global warming, …even thunderstorm downbursts.  No one around me, family included, knows or even understands what I did when I worked for the government; none of my family and very few of my friends read my writing; people that I have offered paintings to don’t even care to see them and don’t even bother to respond and say “no, thank you,” much less “yes, thank you.”

Why did God give me intelligence, quick thinking, keen insight, and artistic talent if no one wants it?  Is it truly just for Him?  and me?  My paintings are stacked in storage and staged down my hall waiting to be bunched up on my walls.  My writings dry up on my hard drive or are sent out into the internet ether…received by 5 maybe 6 viewers; liked by 2 or 3.  I implore tech support ‘experts’ to help me with Trojans and malware only to discover they know a fraction of what I do about my computer and their software.  Half the time they hang up on me.  Why?

I ‘get’ why I have received the disappointments, neglect, and abuse in my life; I understand the wisdom of God developing ‘wounded healers.’  But what is the purpose of my having knowledge, wisdom, and talents that nobody wants?  God doesn’t need it; He invented it.  I don’t understand.  Somebody help me…what good can I glean from being totally useless to friends and family, irrelevant in conversation, and more than is necessary or wanted by the world?  I am sincere in my query.

And, yes, I realize this is  a demon which I must check at the door.

(BTW, I pulled this photo from a post I wrote over a year ago on my blog, Turning 60.  Most of that blog deals with identifying and getting rid of my life’s demons.  The blog starts with A Little Late Getting Started , goes through Forgiving my Childhood , A Reversal of Fortune, My Addictions, Starting Over , and I Have Exceeded My Welcome (which sounds remarkably like what I have just written.  I guess I have not travelled very far after all.) This picture comes from the one titled, Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit.)

Christ’s Embassy – some of the Best Practices

” We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

I am not implying that these are the best practices of these denominations or that these are the only good practices.  What I am implying is that these are practices that should be adopted by all of the other denominations…and any BiaFoC Collectives established from here, forward:

  • Spend some time on your knees.  (From the Episcopalians).  That is a good posture to get used to and familiar with.  It is difficult to cop an attitude while on your knees, except with God and He is the Only one Who will let you say everything you want to say without interrupting.
  • Silent prayer.  (The Presbyterians and, similarly, the Quakers). The more time you spend in silence, the better.  Try to spend half the time silently talking and the other half silently listening.  Consider a quiet bell to mark the dividing line…and to wake up the older men.
  • Confession.  (The Catholics).  I would suggest this twist on the conventional approach:  have slips of paper and pencils at the door.  BiaFoCs can write down their demons (illnesses, resentments, hates, fears, prides, addictions, vanities, generational abuses,…) as well as their gratitudes and intercessions.  The pieces of paper go in a bucket.  The bucket of confessions is prayed over then burned; the issues go up in smoke.  (More of an Episcopal thing.). You can call it “checking your demons at the door.”. Make it clear that you can not dig in the ashes to take your issues back home with you.
  • Stephen Ministry (multi-denominational, I think) where a seasoned with experience in adversity, spiritual warfare, personal demons, and faith walks beside a new BioFoC or a BiaFoC who is struggling.
  • Healing Ministry (the Order of St. Luke, which is multi-denominational.) with regular weekly ‘Soaking Prayer’ and “Generational Healing’ services.
  • Sponsors, ‘seasoned believers’ to walk along side of the new members to introduce them to the faith warriors in the Collective, the various services like the different ministries, and to help them find their best Collective Subset.  The sponsor should be confident enough to talk candidly about God, their relationship with God, and their faith.  I address how sponsors can help new believers in my article about the BiaFoCs Inverted U.  When someone who ‘gets it’ walks along beside someone who doesn’t yet, the connection to God is clarified and faith is strengthened…for both of them.
  • Prayer Ministers, Prayer Chains and Prayer Request boxes.  Many churches have these.  Many don’t.   In God Loves You. No Exceptions. I relate how street corner preachers were ‘augmented’ by an humble booth at a street fair which housed a table with a shoe box labelled “Prayer Requests”, scrap paper, and pencils.  Prayer Ministers were on hand for requests for immediate intervention and supplication.
  • Walk through Practicing the Presence of God during the service, and talk about it. (Nobody does this.)  Talk to God as if you really believe He really is there…and not with the “Apostle’s Creed” tone of voice.  Creeds are fine; Creeds are good. But demonstrate what Practicing the Presence looks like…what it sounds like.  Ask God a question and wait for an answer.  Someone may hear it.  If you, who believe, don’t act like you believe, how is anyone else going to believe?  Or believe that you believe.

If you are a pastor or church leader, look into adding these to your offerings at church.  If you are not a pastor or church leader, consider taking these ‘best practices’ to them.  Look into becoming trained as a Stephen Minister or joining the Order of St. Luke , if you feel led to.

If your faith could be stronger, try taking on more adversity; suggestion: help shoulder someone else’s.

 

 

 

Christ’s Embassy – The benefits of Adversity (a clarification)

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

There are benefits to being desperately in need of God…desperate to the point of not questioning the truth of God…just desperate and dependent.  It is not a bad place to be.  People talk about issues that have affected families down through the generations:  I believe that black people have stronger faith and blind dependence on God because of how horribly they have been treated for many generations.  I don’t envy them their experiences…just their faith.  Not sure that what I have just written wouldn’t get me hit or shot, but I think it is true.

This sounds perverse, but be thankful to God for your adversities.  It has strengthened your faith.

Consider this: If you don’t have a very strong faith or dependence on God, consider helping shoulder someone else’s adversity.  Own it and turn to God for help.

Christ’s Embassy – the BiaFoCs Inverted U

” We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

(Much of this information about the Inverted U, while basic data analysis, is borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath – Underdog, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants.  How this data depiction applies to faith and connection to God was revealed to me while reading Gladwell’s application of it to class size and wealth.)

The Inverted U describes situations that improve as a factor (like time, money, or class size) increase..up to a point.  After that point, the situation stays the same for a bit and then gets less good and eventually is as bad as when you started…if not worse.  An example Gladwell gives is the quality of life as your income increases.  Gladwell’s book was published in 2013.  In it he states that, “scholars who research happiness suggest that more money stops making people happier at a family income of around seventy-five thousand dollars a year.”  Beyond that and the returns are diminished.  (Again, I will leave it up to you to read the research further.)

I would suggest that a similar graph will describe the relationship between hardship and faith, if the practice and application of one’s faith is applied to lessen one’s adversities.  Before I get into examples, an aside was offered in Gladwell’s book on the 4 Phases of the Inverted U or, as I translate it, the 4 Phases of the Hardship/Faith Relationship:

  1. Establishing the Footing (as in a foundation):  Becoming a believer: desire, repentance, baptism,…
  2. Flagging:  Too much stress and hardship (financial instability, illness, toxic relationships, abuse, neglect, poverty, poor nutrition and self-care) Believer needs help; Believer turns to God; Life improves,…
  3. Flat (The Optimum State): Tolerable stress balanced with strong connection to God
  4. Falling:  Too many blessings; Not enough Stress and Hardship; A lessened sense that one needs God

As Gladwell states:  “All positive traits, states, and experiences have costs that at high levels may begin to outweigh their benefits.”

I would add, likewise, all adversities have potential benefits that, if utilized, can mitigate those adversities. Over time, however, with the decrease in adversity, the appeal and perceived value of those benefits also decreases.  The benefits of adversity CAN be faith, hope, confessed dependence on (and frequent communication with) God, honed problem solving skills, stamina, desire to persevere, …

The key is to maintain the Flat: The Optimum State: retain the desire for the Presence of God, and the need and appreciation of blessings, when hardships decrease and life gets easier.

How? Increase your need for God.

How? By giving more of yourself (time and money); by helping shoulder some of the hardships of others… which, in turn, presents more need for divine assistance and continued connection to God…for your own strength and for wisdom concerning the other.  For example, growing a prayer list of other fellow BiaFoCs who need God…and praying for the mitigation of their hardships will keep you busy.

It’s a delicate balance.  Demons must be released which opens up connection to God; as demons revisit, they must be released again, and one’s attention must return to God.  Note, blessings can carry demons with them such as pride of accomplishment, ‘free’ time spent dwelling on things that are detrimental to our connection to God, financial prosperity, …

A while back I wrote on keeping busy.  That is how I deal with demons and keep focusing on God.  If my deeds are validated, I give that validation to Jesus.  If I am thwarted and I get discouraged, I give that discouragement to Jesus.  At this point in my life, it is a constant dance to keep my demons at bay and to turn my attention back to God…but every time I do, it is more automatic and a stronger, clearer connection.

(Addendum:  Tonight I am a bit thwarted; I am trying too hard and failing to get these ideas across as clearly and convincingly as they were presented to me.  And I wonder what the point is.  What difference is any of this going to make?  In many respects, it feels as though it is too late.  (Here, Lord.  I don’t like giving this discouragement to you but I don’t know what else to do with it.  I’m confused, uncertain, and vulnerable.  I need protection now, please.  You’re the only One I can talk to…the only One Who understands.)

Christ’s Embassy – Critical Mass

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Many of my ideas are applications of research and findings documented in a work by Malcolm Gladwell titled David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  Jesus directed me to that book when I was wanting advice on protecting myself from evil influences.  The first chapter, which was about playing aggressive defense, gave me some good pointers.

The next chapter, however, addresses an issue of a different nature: misconceptions about the correlation between class size and education quality.  (In fact, the book is more about misconceptions than it is about battling giants.)  What Gladwell says about class size sheds amazing light on why certain churches are successful (truly helpful; facilitating the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and directing people toward an ever-closer relationship with God)…and why others are not.  Maxwell’s research revealed that despite the common misconception that the smaller the class, the more effective the educational experience, there is actually a critical mass necessary for a successful class of adolescent to teen-age students.  (I will leave as an exercise for the student to look up why.)  I will suggest that the same is true for effective BiaFoC Collectives (Believers in and Followers of Christ in Collective).

Mega-churches, by definition, are so big that for logistics sake, the people are separated into groups.  Those groups are usually defined by common characteristics:  age, marital status, with family (or not).  The issues addressed within those groups naturally pertain to (read: are of interest for) those groups.  For example, adolescent-age groups often address  bullying; high school groups address peer-pressure, sexual morality, movies, music, etc. but bullying, not so much.  Single mothers address child support, discipline, parent-teacher conferences, child psychology.  Elderly couples address wellness, senility, travel, living on a fixed income, and death..  Young families address balancing work and family, budgeting, finding time for faith, finding time for each other.

In a mega-church, such groups (which I will call “Collective Subsets”) can have a critical mass of BiaFoCs which engenders good back-and-forth discussion, ‘teaching and learning,’ and moral support.  In a smaller church, typically all adults are lumped into one class and half are bored; the other half are asleep.   If not, there are so few BiaFoCs in the group that no one speaks up…or only one, and that was usually me.  I am sure to you pastors and Christian educators, this is not news.  But I have a solution for those of you interested in starting fresh or willing to try something innovative:  Divide and Pair Up.

Divide into the Collective Subsets and then Pair Up, on occasion.  For example, every month or so, have the Senior men meet with the Young Professionals to help with advice on starting a business, integrity, and finding time for God.  Have the Mature or Retired Couples meet with the Young Families to help them manage budgets, DIY projects, prepare for parenting and discipline challenges, and occasionally take the kids for an afternoon.   Have the Elderly Couples meet with Teenagers to discuss morality issues, spiritual development and challenges, education and career choices, or plan trips together.  (Teenagers can usually talk with their Grandparents when they cannot talk with their parents.)  Young singles can meet with the Elderly Singles to see if they can join forces in running errands, making small repairs, going to plays and concerts, putting together a foursome for bridge.  The Teenagers can run a free Summer Day Care for Young Families and Single Mothers to take advantage of.  Grandmothers can pair off with Single Mothers to give parenting advice, emotional support (proof that one does not die of single parenting), and a shoulder to cry on.

In the typical medium sized church, there is usually one or two single moms who are going under for the third time; no one notices when they stop coming to church. The Elderly feel irrelevant…in spite of their wealth of wisdom and experience; they have a knowledge of spirituality unimagined by the Teenagers.  Mainline denominations probably have rules against combining congregations to facilitate a critical mass.  Would one Collective consider focusing on only two or three Subsets and the Collective on the other side of town focusing on another two or three?  How about a Collective for the Single Mothers of a community or town?

These are just some thoughts….

Next time, I will present the BiaFoC Inverted U…or finding and keeping the right balance of hardships and blessings.

 

(Note: some feel it is too late for fixing churches.  In case it is not, I will continue to pass along what I have been shown. I would like to add that the main reason for critical masses and like-situated groups of people is that the Struggling Christian needs to be with enough people with the same questions, wrestling with the same issues, and worrying about the same things so tht they do not feel isolated and alone…to know that they are normal.)

Christ’s Embassy

” We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

God does make His appeal through us.  Jesus is not here.  We are.  We are His hands and feet…as well as His lips and fingers.

Much of what I have read recently came together yesterday the way rivers, streams, and runoff come together to produce torrents and flash floods.  I have been quite busy scribbling notes as the Holy Spirit fed me insights, connections, and brilliant ideas.

At some point I thought of writing this all in a book … a book of instruction for individuals and churches.  However, the penlight of the Spirit revealed that I was being drawn toward the trap of anticipating notoriety, fame, success, and reward.  It didn’t take much convincing to change my mind.  So, nope, I’m not going there.  I will lay it all out here as individual posts.

First of all, God is responsible for this work.. He directed it.

Jesus led me to the blogs, books, and writings which have been blended to support the concepts put forth here. He planted the idea for me to write this and even made me slow down in my reading at the parts that were key to the development of these ideas. The Holy Spirit gave me joy when the concept really started to take off and I depend on Him to pave the way for me to get the necessary permissions to borrow the essential truths from the various sources of research and insight. Jesus orchestrated the book; I am merely conducted the work and performing the writing. Furthermore, any spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors are His. (Just kidding)

As I wait to get permission from specific publishers, I will set up the environment of what I hope to address:

Have you ever turned to a church for help and were told “no,” or were merely ignored, or were referred to the state or country department of social services? …even if you were known to be Christian and a member of that denomination?

Have you ever wondered why mega-churches thrive and smaller churches are failing?

Have you ever wondered why the seriously struggling in our neighborhoods have a stronger faith in God than those who seem to be truly blessed by God?

Have you ever experienced yourself drifting from your faith when hardships lighten up?

Have you ever wondered why so many of the wealthy and successful blow it by falling prey to drugs, addictions, adultery, crime, and suicide?

Have you ever felt alone within a congregation…misunderstood, ignored, marginalized?

Has it ever taken you a week to do what you could do in 15 minutes…if all the time you had was 15 minutes?

Do you ever get drawn off track by enticements, doubts, pride, addictions to validation, fear, or memories of abuse?

Do you ever feel that you have something to give but no one to give it to?  There is no one who wants it?

I am going to present a new way to be a ‘Believer in and Follower of Christ…’ a BiaFoC.  Okay, that sounds awful but I may in fact use that acronym because the term Christian carries along with it a bunch of associative junk that I intend to avoid:  preconceptions of what a Christian is, does, and has done…the details of which I will leave for another blog and, hopefully, a different blogger.

As I mentioned above, I hope to present advice and guidance for individuals as well as ‘BiaFoC Collectives,’ heretofore referred to as churches…a term and concept that has its own associative junk.  In fact, mainline churches with their council-approved doctrines, prayer manuals, and pre-ordained services may not be flexible enough to consider the recommendations I will make.  Some of what I will propose, I borrow (if not steal) from existing denominations, with slight modifications or blending.  In truth, I am gleaning the best practices of many denominations and suggesting a hybrid.  I can do this because 1) Jesus is suggesting it and He is the Executive Director.  I don’t need anyone else’s approval; 2) I am not having to make these ideas fit within any existing paradigm.

I am a free agent.  I no longer ‘belong’ to a particular denomination.  I belong to Jesus.  I am not ordained or formally educated  in theology, apologetics, or doctrine; a seminary education limits one’s options and can weaken one’s faith…(which is another subject that I will not go into, here.)

I will address a variety of issues:

  • four stages of BiaFoC faith and the keys to staying in the optimum stage;
  • techniques for identifying, shedding, and ‘keeping shed’ one’s personal demons;
  • keeping protected from the evil one and Practicing the Presence of God
  • fundamentals of the BiaFoC Collective…
    • its strengths and key components (“divide and pair up”)
    • the critical mass of BiaFoCs
    • the critical mass of issues
    • key practices
  • doing enough but not too much
  • the right way to measure prosperity and success
  • balancing intake and outflow
  • “Reach out”…not outreach
  • being public

I am excited.  While I await permission to proceed, I will be composing drafts.

I am not a salesman; ask my brother if you don’t believe me.  In fact, over the years, I have tried many times to market the products of my God-given talents (painting, photography, graphic design, writing,…) all to no avail.  Furthermore, I doubt my writings here get very far; the typical post of mine sees less than 10 views.

If what I present appeals, use it.  It comes from Jesus.

 

 

 

America Is Not A Christian Nation

I am re-posting this article because the author(s) make an excellent point:

” We need to show our coworkers, neighbors, relatives, and friends Jesus. If you want the Country to follow God more closely; The solution starts with us carrying out the Great Commission. When we start carrying out the Great Commission more effectively, I believe that is when you will see the changes you desire in the nation. ”

I would suggest changing the title because it leads one to believe that whether or not America is Christian is a significant issue. Besides, how does a nation become a Christian?

There is a great deal of good information and wisdom, here, though. I recommend this be passed along.

Thanks be to God and to God be the Glory.