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The 9578 Blog

My Testimony In Real Time

I don’t intend to stay here

It was in the garden center at my place of employment, the Menards store in Cedar Falls, Iowa, sometime in the afternoon on Sunday, February 5th, 2017, when I realized I wasn’t God.

I don’t mean in terms of creating anything or knowing everyone’s thoughts or mapping out the destiny of the world from a recliner in the house my girlfriend and I share. I mean as far as my desire to be adored, revered, and followed. There, in the garden center, I came to realizations.

Less than 24 hours prior that I decided to attend Prairie Lakes Church on a rare Saturday evening off from my work. I had been a church jumper for years and had alternated between denominations. At one point I even became an atheist. I was an absurd atheist because there wasn’t really a moment where I didn’t believe that there wasn’t some sort of creator. With my father’s death in January 2013, I had started attending a Lutheran church with the person who would turn out to be my ex-wife. Our renewed spirituality was not enough to save the marriage and that collapsed in September 2013 with me leaving the home.

Funny- it’s been almost four years now and I still feel shame in typing that sentence. I ought to. I did my fair share in behavior and actions to cause our separation and divorce. But I digress.

Still wanting what I thought was some kind of relationship to sustain me against my life, which appeared to be collapsing around me, I decided to join the Catholic Church because I knew for a fact that no one who knew me or what had happened to me would know and then I could be in peace. But then I began what I will call an inappropriate relationship with someone in the church and when I broke that off because of a guilty conscience, that was pretty much the end of my involvement in the Catholic Church outside of one or two masses I attended.

Aside from going to Christmas service with my girlfriend at her church, I stopped attending altogether. Over the course of 2015-16, my life began to get pieced back together. I met my wonderful girlfriend, We moved in together in April 2016. I started a new career in Menards. I got on Dave Ramsey and began to get my financial house in order.

Anyone familiar with Dave Ramsey will know that he is not shy at all about sharing his faith. Through working on his program, I felt the call to fix my spiritual house and bring it into order.

So I went to Prairie Lakes. And I saw the person I knew from those days. Although I don’t like to be vague in these posts, I will have to be here. I alienated him and members of his family with my clinginess and selfish need to be admired and adored. Truly immature behavior on my part. It horrifies me now writing this just as it did when I saw him.

But I do believe that the Lord brought me to this point on purpose. If it were not for the feeling of guilt over past behavior, I would not have embarked upon this journey. I would not have examined myself and come to realize that Jesus needed to be in the place of my selfish desires. It would not have led me to those moments in the garden center at work.

In just a few days, the hopelessness and despair of that moment when I left Prairie Lakes turned into the opening stages of my with Jesus. Unlike previous times, it is based on authenticity on my part.

I realize this post jumps around a lot, and I apologize. But I am sure that I will be coming back to fill in blanks on these details in the future.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Full Circle

I’ve been gone for a while. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to say it.

I have left Hope City Church in Waterloo for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cedar Falls as I desire to worship my Lord in a Reformed setting. I’ll get into more of that in a minute. Before that though, I wish to state that I have nothing personal against anyone at Hope City Church and I won’t use this blog to criticize them. There are still people I love dearly over there and I can’t think of anyone who goes there that I don’t like.

So if you are expecting dirt and gossip, then go elsewhere. I wish nothing but the best to Hope City along with Pastor Q and Pastor Dustin, and the congregants. That is all that needs to be said.

I hadn’t intended to leave at all. And I certainly hadn’t intended to either study Reformed Theology again, or go back to church in a place I unceremoniously walked out of nine years ago.

I was introduced to Reformed Theology by a family member. Then, in an unrelated note, I lost my job as journalist in Illinois in Summer 2003 so I moved back to Iowa to sort out my life. I began attending Bible Presbyterian Church in Walker, Iowa, which was also home to Cono Christian School. I was being mentored by a wonderful pastor named David Innes and was being introduced . Then, as can happen in churches, an apparent breakdown in the relationship between elders, the pastor, and members of the congregation occurred. Pastor Innes left the church.

I was livid, and gradually began to draw away from the church, which wasn’t a good idea. If there is one theme running through my life that resulted in more unforced errors than any, it’s that I let my emotions dictate my actions. I had placed too much faith in men.

I still miss Pastor Innes to this very day. Would I talk to him again? No. I would prefer he not know of the mess that I made out of my life, my apostasy, my actions in the years since we last talked, and the fallout from all of that.

So I drifted into a band, began courting whom would become my ex-wife, and drifting away. After my ex and I were married I joined Covenant Presbyterian. My son was baptized there.  But then in 2007, I went back to the University of Northern Iowa to attempt to become a teacher of American History. In taking Humanities from the left wing faculty, challenges to the faith occurred. I was already in a troubled state of mind regarding home-life, trying to balance being student, with overnight shifts at my then job. I broke down mentally in December 2007.

Into 2008, I began to fall away all together, and finally walked away from Covenant Presbyterian all together after an argument with another member of the congregation. (Again my emotions at work). But not only did I do that, I walked away from the faith all together (which leads me to wonder, looking back, if I ever in the faith to begin with). Between 2008-2013, I alternated between Atheism (including participating and Unitarian Universalism (trying to get as far away from where I was previously in a church environment) but really, I was a worshipper of me and my delusions of grandeur- the sins I mentioned in previous posts (the chasing after other women, the pornography, and strip clubs), while they were always present, really took off in this period.

As an aside, sitting here writing this is very hard to do. The way I behaved toward others, especially to my Lord, my ex-wife, my son, family, and friends just leaves me ashamed and embarrassed. I recall a sermon I heard a few weeks ago at Covenant Presbyterian Church where our Pastor expounded on Psalm 73, which includes the verses:

“When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” 

I only got interested in the faith in 2013, when my father died. My ex-wife and I started attending a Lutheran church in Waterloo (she and my son still attends there- thank God she joined and kept him involved in religious instruction since I was completely derelict in my duties). But with all of my antics and other issues that I won’t get into on here, the marriage finally collapsed in September, as mentioned in previous blogs.

As I wrote above, I had no real interest in looking back at the Reformed Faith or going back to a church that I left. But I was very much interested in overcoming my social anxiety and shame from years of licentiousness. I purchased what I thought was a Christian self-help book called “When People are Big and God is Small” by Ed Welch in the spring of this year.  Imagine my surprise to discover that this book was heavily influenced by the reformed branch of the Christian faith. I thought about Covenant again and thought further about how much sense the Reformed Faith made. Then, I realized that this Halloween marks the 500th Anniversary of troubled theological professor and monk Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Thesis to the church door at Wittenburg which began the Protestant Reformation.

From there I began listening to The White Horse Inn, a podcast dealing in faith and theology hosted in a roundtable manner by Dr. Michael Horton, a proponent for a modern Reformation.

Last month I decided to attend services at Covenant with my mother.

There are not too many members at Covenant now that were there when I had my fallout. The pastor is different too. I am not sure what those who are still there make of me. The word “church jumper” might come to mind.

It looks like I have come full circle. In 2008, I was working a retail job and pursuing a career in teaching history in college while I was attending Covenant. In 2017, I am back in retail full-time and back at the church I walked away from.

It’s been a humbling year to be sure and it feels like I am eating crow whenever I’ve gone there these first few times. But I will go through that feeling in order to live and worship God. My feelings have led me to really bad decisions in my life for 35 years. Perhaps it’s time to stop listening and acting on them and go with what God wants me to know.

I will be discussing more Reformed Faith in future posts.

For My Friend

A friend of mine (who will remain anonymous) asked me the other day “Has going to church really helped you?”

I wanted to address on my blog where I can give my friend a more well-rounded answer. I hope my friend is not offended by my doing so. My friend (and everyone else) should also bear in mind that this is the opinion of a man who’s only been in a real relationship with Jesus for roughly four months. Take this response with as much of a grain of salt as your diet will allow.

I responded that “Giving Jesus control of my heart soul and life as my Lord has helped in everything.”

I answered as I did because the act of going to church in and of itself doesn’t mean anything unless you a) confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior and ask Him to forgive your sins and have a living, working relationship with him or b) are seeking Jesus and want to know more about who He is.

It’s a sad fact that not everyone is there for those purposes.  How many people go to church just because it’s just something they’ve done every weekend? How many people are in the pews on Saturday night or Sunday morning because they want to improve their social standing? How many go to worship because they want to keep up appearances? How many are there not because they want the Master but because they want what’s on the Master’s table and thus are attempting to play some quid pro quo game with our Lord.

Not that I am sitting in judgment of people like those mentioned above. I’ve done some variation of all of these in my life. But I can say the Lord doesn’t care for it.

And so the Lord says, ‘These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.'” (Isaiah 29:13) 

Going to church in and of itself does nothing for me if I don’t have Jesus as King of my life. As the writer of Hebrews put it “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

In His famous encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4, the Lord Jesus told the woman (just before revealing to her that He was the Messiah): “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

From our correspondence, it sounds to me like my dear friend is seeking our Lord with an honest and true heart. That is the thing that makes going to church a profitable and necessary experience. As you all know, I go to Hope City Church in Waterloo, Iowa. It is a wonderful, biblically sound church that has benefitted my spiritual journey in many ways in my brief time there. But the reason it’s put so much into me is that I go there with a heart to seek Jesus, learn about all of his ways and seek godly community with my brothers and sisters. If I didn’t have that, Hope City would be just another stop on my winding spiritual journey. It would be just another church and Pastor Q’s sermons would be just another guy talking.

I hope my friend understands that I am in no way minimizing the importance of going to church. My friend has begun to attend service at a time when the question of why going to church is important  is being asked more than ever.  I can’t count how many times in various circles I have heard a variation of the following: “I don’t need to go to a building to have a relationship with my God.”

I will be the last person to condemn people who say that to Hell. But I will say in no uncertain terms that  I have come to reject the notion of “Lone Wolf Christianity.” I see no place in scripture that endorses this idea. In fact, I will go further in stating my adamant belief that the “Lone Wolf” idea is downright destructive and unbiblical. I pray that my friend does not succumb to such thoughts, especially given the fact that my friend appears to be seeking the Lord for all the right reasons.

I would like to point out to my friend, and anyone else that might be reading this, a very small case for the importance of going to church.

Have a peek at Acts 2. After listening to Simon Peter’s stirring speech at Pentecost, the people came together to form a community.

Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)

Those of us who are believers and those of us who are seeking after the Lord need to be in a church which preaches the Word of God. They were put here to teach us in order to lead us to Christ and then to help us grow in Christ.

The author of Hebrews writes “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) 

If we are to be godly people, we need godly people in our lives. We need Christian friends who will love us, encourage us in our walk with Jesus, and tell it to us like it is when they perceive we are struggling and/or desperately need someone to tell us “no” in those times in our lives when we desperately need to hear it.

Each of us has gifts that we are called to put into a community of faith, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12. If we do life alone, we can’t give them to others.

Finally, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other,” (Romans 12:5)

I am leaving out tons of other verses, I know. But this should give my friend the idea.

Church will only help if you desire our Lord or at the very least desire to know more about Him. If you are seeking after the Lord, asking for Him, and knocking on the door requesting to know more about Him, then God will use His church to help you learn, grow, and help you.

Church has helped me because I went in with a heart that desires Jesus.

I hope that answers my friends’ question. And I hope my friend keeps seeking the Lord, attending church, reading the Word, and praying.

Down and Out On 9th Street

About 75 miles west of Cedar Falls lies the town of Fort Dodge- home to the truly one of a kind 540 AM KWMT, which plays classic country songs from the 1940’s through the 1980’s. It’s one of the few classic country stations I’ve ever heard and certainly the only one that covers such a large swath of time.

While taking my son to Boy Scouts on Monday evening, KWMT played Johnny Cash’s immaculate reading of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” If you’ve never heard this, it’s one of the saddest songs from the country genre. It tells the tale of a man waking up on a Sunday morning hungover and completely by himself.  He puts on dirty clothing and tells the listener what he sees as he stumbled out into the city streets.

With the exception of a boy kicking a can, everyone he sees is either participating in some sort of community or, like the person cooking fried chicken in verse one, is getting ready to.

“In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl that he was swinging
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singing
Then I headed down the street
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing
And it echoed through the canyons
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday”

I nearly burst into tears in front of my son. The song took me back to the Summer of 2014, when I was living on the second floor of an old house on 9th Street. in Waterloo. Somehow a family of mice got into my part of the house. I had no internet or cable. I bought an old rocking chair from a thrift store which promptly spread bed bugs. Most of the windows wouldn’t open. I had no air conditioning unit. My brief summer semester class just ended (I taught U.S. History at the local community college in those days). My father had died the previous January. My marriage imploded that September. A family member’s alcoholism destroyed what was left of my relationship with my father’s side of my family in July. I was a broken man. So broken and sad that I didn’t bother searching for a job in those days, and determined to live off my DJing and waiting for the next semester’s classes. Looking back it, that was an incredibly bad decision, but I was out of my mind at the time.

I did go to Catholic Mass in those times. But I was also sleeping around with a woman I had no interest in whom I actually met through the Catholic Church. Part of the reason I quit being Catholic was because, in my shame, I didn’t want to run into her anymore when my conscience got the best of me in late 2014. That half-hearted attempt at a Christian life and the ignorant thought that I could make a go at being a popular DJ were the only things that kept me from doing physical harm to myself.

Most days I would drive to a bar with the computer from the community college I had “borrowed” so I could surf the web. For a price of a Pabst Blue Ribbon, I could gain access to their wi-fi. I met a few people but no one I would call close. When I would come home to the humid apartment in the summertime I would just sit there and think about everything that happened/was happening. No one except the girl I had no business with and my son would come over on occasion. Other than that it was me by myself. Tortured with my thoughts and my regrets over my failed marriage, my poor decisions, my selfishness, and my past.

I’ve never felt that alone before.

“On a Sunday morning sidewalk,  I’m wishin’ Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday, that makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’, that’s  half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city side walks, and Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.”

A couple of years removed from those down-and-out days on 9th Street and viewed through the perspective of my relationship with Jesus, and the mission of Hope City Church, I think I can see the Gospel in such a sad, bleak picture as Kristofferson’s song.

How many people in the Cedar Valley right now feel just as alone as I did? How many are in far worse condition than I was? How would I have felt if someone from the local church knocked on my door and sincerely asked me how I was? And not just hand a bag to me but pray with me and check back in on me every once in a while? How would I have felt if they told me that they wanted me in their community?

What if I could join Hope City Church in their missions into the city and let someone down on hard times with no one in the world that I and my church care about them and want to have a relationship with those who are hurting and

What makes “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” particularly sad was that the isolation and despair of the character in the song happened on a Sunday morning, the best time of the week for those of us who are in Christ. We gather together as a family to worship Jesus and we (myself included) are supposed to take His love and his comforting presence into our community and bear witness that God is a “father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5) who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3).

Those verses cause me to wince a little bit when I hear Cash sing of listening to a Sunday School class sing. That more than likely meant he was outside of a church. And no one invited him in. Maybe the character in the song would not have gone in. It’s the fact that no one invited him that sticks out in my mind.

I am not that much of a people person, honestly. I’m socially awkward and anxious. When Pastor Q announces meet-and-greet time at Sunday morning service, my skin crawls and sometimes I leave the room. This feeling that I should go with my church into my community to meet people and form relationships with them as some sort of ambassador for Jesus is very strange to me and WAY out of my comfort zone. But a gentleman I love at Hope City told me, out of our comfort zones can be a perfect place to be.

Every time I think I should evade this strange longing in my heart to go out, I think back to my 9th Street days- the site of my personal “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” And I resign myself to the fact that my Lord is telling me to go out with my church among the lonely and forgotten. And not just hand them a bag of things and leave but actually keep contact and connection with them.

This scares me to death. But the hurt in my heart at the thought that someone is out there having their own “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” is beginning to outweigh the fear of social situations.

God is telling me to go somewhere.

It’s Time To Go

When Jesus begins, some things are going to end. And this morning I am sitting in grief because of it.

As I wrote on these pages before, I am a throwback bar DJ playing taverns and various places around here in the Cedar Valley for about four years. I’ve become disillusioned with it. I’ve not been making money at it and, since coming to Christ, I’ve lost a lot of my will to try to hustle for it.

The money part of it I won’t go into particulars for the simple reason that I would be making other people vulnerable without their permission (a big no-no according to Christy Wright). Needless to say, I have lost a lot of it, especially last night. As you may have read in previous posts, I am a Dave Ramsey enthusiast. I’m deep in student loan debt and figured I could use my already existing side business to make extra money. There’s been no extra money. In fact, expenses are going beyond revenue as no one seems to want to buy what I am selling save a local bar here in town. As a Ramsey follower, going into more debt is the closest thing to a cardinal sin there is. “You can’t fix stupid with stupid,” I heard him say once when pointing out that real millionaires never get wealthy by using credit cards or going into more debt. I can’t keep my DJ business going like this.

I could blame this person or that person for that, but in this case, if I am being honest, I don’t get shows at most places because my product is not what the market demands. In our system of capitalism, the market determines what goes and what doesn’t. My product isn’t going. Therefore, it’s time to go.

As for the misgivings, I’m starting to really tire of the bar scene. I don’t hang out in bars because I don’t drink. That wasn’t a decision I made when I came to Jesus, I made that decision before I became a Christian as I have seen negative effects of alcoholism in my own family. I don’t care for excessively drunk people and yet I am in a position where I have to encourage such behavior.

Secondly, I don’t feel comfortable with some of the lyrical content of some of the songs. Objectionable content is certainly not something that is unique to rap music (despite what the denizens of the cultural wars say). If you flipped on the Top 40, country, or classic rock station, you will find it there too. The fact that I play predominately rap music isn’t the problem. The problem is in the question “am I living what I believe?” Encouraging heavy drinking through some material that I am not comfortable with is at odds with the reality of Jesus in my life.

For some reason I am thinking of James 3: 10-13 at this point:

“And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”

I’m becoming more convinced that I shouldn’t be doing this and that God is sending me messages that He has something else to do for Him.

What makes me say that? A few reasons. There were children in the park last night where I was spinning outdoors. I felt so uncomfortable spinning certain records in front of them- even though with my 12-inch vinyls I can drop the needle in a different spot on most of them and play the radio-friendly version. I was uncomfortable with working with one person in particular there. The whole thing was uneasy for me. It’s been uneasy for me since February when I finally let Jesus have control. Last night was the most uncomfortable.

After the despair of the evening, I opened Facebook and saw a gathering on the deck of one of the pastors at my church. I saw people there I loved deeply (or at the very least people whom I wanted to know). These were people who have talked about going into our city to bring continual and sustained hope and action to the those whom people forget about. I’ve heard the term ‘adopted’ used to describe one place one person wanted to go and minster to. As in long-term, sustained service not a one-day service project to make us feel good about ourselves.

I would have given everything to be on that deck with those people. Including all of the money I lost last night. These were the people I wanted to go with. And my Lord is God I want to serve. I think of the money I’ve spent trying to build a DJ business and I sit here and ask “how much of that money could have gone to the Mexico mission? Or the various other ministries of the church?”

I guess what I am saying is that my heart’s no longer in my Djing. And as Dave Ramsey said “When your heart’s no longer in your job, make sure your body follows as fast it can.”

I have a couple of other engagements I have to meet for a local bar owner that was always good to me. But when those are done, I’m hanging it up.

It’s time to go.

Condition of the Heart

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” -1 Peter 3:15.

At some point down the road, I could see myself as some sort of apologist for my faith. Ready to give answers in our faith that would point the curious to Jesus, and provide some comfort, Lord willing, for my brothers and sisters in the faith. (But who knows what He has planned for me? It could be that my entire mission in the faith is to stay on the path of recovery and that is it. I pray to be good with whatever He has in mind.)

Let’s assume that I can serve in some amateur apologist role in the church. Let’s say I studied Greek and Hebrew, learned systematic theology, and all of the other massive things that would go into such a role. Let’s say I have great and convincing rhetoric and a sharp mind that could confound atheists and skeptics.

I could have all of this and, yet, it will mean nothing if God doesn’t change the condition of the heart within the people or groups of people I’d be talking to.

I thought this in my morning devotional as I read John 12:1-19. Jesus had just rose Lazarus from the grave and as a result, many began to follow him and believe him to be Messiah.

Notice the reaction of the religious leaders who were opponents of Jesus, though. They plotted to kill not only the Lord but Lazarus as well. One would think after seeing such a miracle, people would fall to their knees and confess Christ as Lord.

But they didn’t. Much of humanity is still doing the same thing as the religious leaders. Do we have miracles from God in raising people from the dead? No. But according to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, we don’t need such dramatic miracles to drive us to our knees.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:19-22)

Not confessing Christ as Lord is a condition of the heart, not a response to a lack of compelling evidence.

I remember listening to a debate between an atheist and Christian. In his closing remarks, the atheist claimed that he would believe in a God if said God would manifest himself in the room or do something supernatural such as lift a chair that was on the stage where the debate took place in the air.

The Christian responded that while God could do such a thing without any difficulty, it wouldn’t do any good for the atheist to see such a miracle because the atheist would find something in his naturalist worldview to explain the manifestation of the lifted chair.

The problem is in the heart.

We who are Christians would never have come to Jesus if the Lord didn’t grant us the gift of faith. We would be like the religious leaders in John 12. Indeed many of us have done so before God reached us.

That is not to suggest for a second that we should remain ignorant of our Bibles or of theology. To paraphrase R.C. Sproul, if we are Christians, we are theologians. The question is how good of a theologian will you and I be.

But, as for me, John 12 helps me to understand that ultimately the success of the Gospel comes from God taking the heart of stone that is within the human, and replacing it with a heart of flesh that beats for Him.

Unless He does that, no words of mine or yours and no amount of evidence will help.

And with that in mind, all we can do is pray.

 

 

Graveclothes

I have been engaged in a 40-day study of the Gospel According to John. I’ve reached Chapter 11 where Christ brings Lazarus back from the dead.

The devotional for this passage emphasized Jesus sharing in the mourning of Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. I cannot emphasize how much passages like that mean to me- that we have a compassion Lord that shares our sorrows with us just as he did with Lazarus’ family.

But it was when I read the passage (John 11:1-57) in my Life Recovery Bible today.  The notes regarding John’s account bring up a slightly different angle: Christ has the power to bring us back to life, but our graveclothes have got to go.  Let me explain. If you’ve read my blog, you have read about some of my addictions. Perhaps I am taking more of a reformed theological approach to my plight, but I believe those addictions and other sinful behavior rendered my soul completely dead and incapable of choosing God even if I wanted to (which I didn’t). Like Lazarus, Jesus raised me from the dead. But, as Scripture said, Lazarus had been in the grave for four days by the time Christ arrived. Although I have no experience with dead bodies, I assume that the body and graveclothes of Lazarus were fairly ripe by then. It’s no wonder that Jesus’ first command after raising Lazarus from the dead was “Unwrap him and let him go!.”

I never thought that graveclothes could be allegorical for sins and addictions. But there is.

In taking the journey of recovery and doing it as a result of my new life in Christ has been difficult lately. I believed I knew what my problems were and what sins needed to be addressed when I started. But in learning to surrender my life to Jesus, I’ve come to realize that I had a lot more graveclothes than I thought I did. This led to frustration on my part

This led to frustration on my part. Frankly, that is one of the reasons I haven’t been writing lately. How silly this is. How could I honestly think that I would master all of my sins in the two months since becoming a Christian?

But as I was reminded by a couple of men who are turning out to be mentors, the process of sanctification will take the rest of my life.

One day at a time. One step at a time.

 

Writer’s Block

Anyone who’s listened to oldies radio or classic rock radio will have no doubt run into the 1970 song “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. The song, written by group keyboardist Robert Lamm, dealt with having trouble writing a song.

So it is with me. This is the usual pattern of things whenever I try to get a blog up and running. I begin with white hot intensity. Then, as I begin to lose beginners enthusiasm, I sink into writers block. While I’m experiencing writer’s block, I make a few feeble attempts at getting content up. Then, I give up dejected before heading to the next project.

I refuse let that happen with this blog.

In the first place, this blog is a journal of my faith. Thus, it is the most personal blog I have ever wrote. I want to use it to give glory to my Lord Jesus, and document my thought as I strive to move closer to Him in this process of sanctification. I want it to be honest and real.

So I am making an honest attempt at plowing through this spell of writer’s block in hopes of emerging out on the other side into, Lord willing, a fertile creative period where I can use whatever marginal writing ability I possess to be a blessing to Jesus and other people.

So how am I doing?

Good. I am over a month into my Christian walk and I am joining Hope City Church in Waterloo. Currently we are going through a series on the book of Nehemiah. Pastor Q seems like he is using the theme of restoration in our lives and our community as his approach.

But lately I find myself getting into my old manner of thinking. I suppose it was bound to happen at some point. Although I am a new creation in Jesus, the old man still lingers. I keep thinking of ways I could volunteer at the church or use what I think my abilities are, I have to check myself. Am I wanting to do these things for God’s glory or my own? Do I want to be a leader because I want to serve or do I want to be one because I want top level status in my church? Do I have any business thinking I can serve in the first place?

I’m asking these things because I want my motivation Jesus-centered rather than me-centered. And I suppose that is one of the reasons I suspect that, after numerous attempts at a Christian life, I finally actually became a Christian. I never asked myself in previous attempts if whatever it was I was doing meshed with what God wanted me to do.

Maybe that struggle with trying to come up with some self-serving glorious content for you, dear reader, is the reason I got writer’s block to begin with. I suppose that is possible. It’s pretty easy to slip into old modes of thinking. And since I write about my faith, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that Satan would attempt to play on my self-aggrandizing to snuff out whatever writing talent I have that may be useful to the Kingdom.

So where do I go from here?

Well, right now, my road leads to my living room where I will do my devotional and pray before I head into work.

I wish I could think of a better way to end this post but I have writer’s block.

Gifts and Transition

It has been quite the month for me since becoming a Christian.

Again, as I have written before, I’ve made attempts at a Christian/religious life before and I have even said the sinner’s prayer asking Jesus into my heart on multiple occasions. But I think I want to mark February 5th as the day it took hold because that was the day I asked Jesus to be Lord upon the throne of my life, not just a feel-good drug to serve as a temporary respite from the severe depression caused mostly by my selfish lifestyle. As I understand it, a Christian is one who accepts Jesus as Lord of their lives, so that would be the day I became a Christian.

So now what?

I have decided to join Hope City Church, which led me to the chapel where Pastor Q was leading Growth Track, which can be best described as Hope City’s answer to a membership class. Since I have to work every other weekend I will not be able to complete all four classes until sometime in May!

This particular class “Step Two: Connect” goes over things that most membership classes are devoted to. Basic beliefs. The mission of our church. How the church governmental structure works, etc.

But it was the section of the class entitled “Finding Community” that I found most encouraging and a little scary. In a future class I will be attending (again, probably sometime in May), I (and others in the group will be receiving a sizable questionnaire that will attempt to pinpoint where our strengths are and what areas we could serve in if we chose to serve.

There are some areas I think I could serve in off the top of my head. I am told that I am a good writer. I used to teach U.S. History and know a little bit of church history and theology from my past attempts at a Christian life but I don’t know if that’s of any use for Hope City.

There is one more thing, however. For about four years, I have been serving as an all-vinyl DJ spinning mostly classic Hip-Hop from the 90’s and early 2000’s. Above is a picture of me spinning  I play in bars in the area. I told my lead pastor this. Since by my estimation, we are roughly the same age (give or take a couple of years), he knew what I was talking about.

I had ideas of what I could do for my church. Fundraisers for missions. Dances. A fun time for people in the church my age. But then again a lot of what I am spinning probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a church crowd at all.

Then I start to ask myself if I should be spinning these tunes at all. It’s not that I endorse the message of much of them. Since they are older tunes they hold a nostalgic quality to me and people roughly around my age. And I love music so much. I love making a crowd dance and laugh and have a good time. But I wonder if I should give it up.

I believe I have a gift but I don’t know if I can use it in my new faith. And I don’t really think I should compartmentalize my life and faith. Any thoughts?

 

 

Leg Troubles

I haven’t stopped writing for the blog but the pace has been pretty glacial the last couple of days. I have a fairly good sized pain behind my knee which is extending into my left back side. Some friends and co-workers believe it’s the sciatic nerve. I am not sure what it is.

I haven’t been to the doctor to see what it is because, well, I don’t want to spend money on such things unless I absolutely have to mainly for insurance reasons. I don’t understand how insurance works in general and my plan which I have through work in particular. And I don’t like to spend money on something when I don’t know exactly know how much I am going to be spending on.

If you wouldn’t mind, dear reader, could you spare some prayers for your blogger? Pray that the Lord heals this pain. Or please pray that if the time comes where I have to visit a doctor that it wouldn’t break my finances.

And if there is anything I can pray for you about, feel free to comment and I will do so.

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