Musings on Christianity 16

Musings on Christianity 16

How Do I Know I’m Bearing Fruit?

In previous chapters, I talked about how discouraging it can be to notice the sin in your life. But if we are still in sinful flesh, how can we know we’re saved?

“So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased true bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:17).

If we are bearing good fruit, this is a great indicator of our salvation. The Bible has several references to the work our redeemed lives produce. The parable of the sower goes into pretty great detail (Matthew 13:1-23). 

Galatians 6:7-10 also discusses this. But this brings the question, “What is good fruit?” “What should I see in my life?”

In searching for the things you should see, the first list that comes to mind is a pretty simple cross-reference. If Paul says to bear good fruit, what is the good fruit? In that same book of the Bible (Galatians 5:22-23), he’s kind enough to give us a list:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.”

Now, there is actually another list, a far more convicting list. There is the list of things a redeemed life should not have. That is the list of things that defile a person, which can be found in Matthew 15:19. Straight from the mouth of Jesus, he tell us what we should purge from our lives:

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

I’m not in the mood to argue what some of those terms mean. That’s the list from the mouth of Christ. I didn’t make it up, nor am I going to try to justify my savior’s own words. If a word on this list gives you pause, it’s not because the word is on the list; it’s because that word being on the list convicts you. If you feel defensive over any one of those terms, don’t defend yourself to me. I’m not going to condemn you. Instead, look in your own heart and ask yourself why the presence of that word on the list makes you feel defensive. 

When I train my students at DINFOS for informational videos (some might call them spots or commercials), I tell them that one thing that frustrates me is someone who shows a commercial of what not to do. What I mean is they show a Sailor in a bad uniform or pretending to do bad things. I don’t want to see bad examples, I want to see good examples. It’s not the same as saying, “don’t do this.” In the above reference to things that defile a person, Jesus simply states the things that defile a person. Again, he doesn’t portray the things they do, he just states them as wrong.

So what I want to do is focus my life and my efforts on the fruit of the Spirit? Why? Because if I bear good fruit, I have to be a good tree. A bad tree can not bear good fruit (Matthew 17:18-20).

Therefore, my hope is that if I focus on bearing good fruit, the rest will take care of itself. The Spirit’s work will be made manifest in me.

While thinking on this, I decided to actually delve deeper. Lists are fine and good, but  I don’t want to have love the way I think love works. I want to have love the way Paul (the author) meant it. Once more, Paul was very kind to offer us a description of what love is or, even more accurately, what love does.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Now I have something to work with. For me, that’s a very convicting list. I’m known for all the wrong things (irritable, resentful) and I am not known for very many of the right things.

To combine thoughts in previous chapters, does this mean I am not saved? No. Why? Because my spirit mourns these faults. I can repent and be loving. I want to work at this. I want the love of Christ to work through me to bear this fruit.

And that is the crux of sanctification. An unrepentant, unredeemed person looks at his life and does one of two things: He says, “I’m not worried that I’m not very loving, I donate to the church every week, and so I’m good.” He says that or something to that effect, justifying his sin by pointing out his works. The thing is, our works aren’t what save us. Instead, we should seek out the work God does in us. The other thing an unrepentant, unredeemed person may do is give in because it seems like too much. You can’t be perfect, but what you should do is strive to that effect.

Christ’s righteousness, his perfection, is credited to us if we are in him. This isn’t a direct quote of 1 Corinthians 1:30, but it is what I base this faith on.

However, that only applies to those who seek Christ’s sanctifying work in their lives. All people sin, but the believers in Christ have forgiveness through Christ. His Spirit works in our lives to sanctify us. But the unrepentant live in their sin, showing their love of sin is greater than any lip service or token demonstrations of faith in Christ.

So though I may be convicted by that verse, I am encouraged that I have been shown the way, and I can now focus my thoughts on things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).   

This is my current commitment, and I encourage all who seek Christ and to be more Christ like to do something similar. Don’t hide from the verses that make you feel guilt. Seek out the Lord’s discipline, for he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6-11). 

If we accept it and grow, we’re bearing the very fruit our lives should bear. There are more ways to bear fruit, but this is an area I felt I could improve in tremendously. As I grow, I hope to embody more and more attributes of Christ. I want to grow in Him and reflect Him more each day. This is just the latest manner I’ve chosen to do it. 

For our panel: What are some other fruits we could pursue? What should one do, or how should one react if they realize they’re not bearing good fruit? How do people go about changing? What are some things people like myself can do to help themselves be more loving?

Book Review: The (NIV) Bible

Book Review: The (NIV) Bible

NIVGreetings all,

This review has been long in coming. It was easily my favorite book of 2018 (for a number of reasons)So a real in-depth review of this book is simply not possible. There are numerous versions with commentaries for each book. So I took some time to think about what I could offer that I haven’t already said.  So here’s what I came up with:

Why the Bible? As I’ve said, this book changed my life. I see and think differently.  My coworkers have noticed. People who hang out with my family notice. The more I try to read and understand how to live Biblically, the better I feel, and the more blessed I feel. Despite some low lows in 2018, I had a source of comfort, support, and wisdom.

Favorite Books:  My favorite book of the Bible is actually Job. Why? Because that guy suffered. That guy had everything, lost everything, and gained even more. His story gives me context to my life. His behavior during his trial gives me perspective on how I’m supposed to act during my trials. It’s not a “fun” book of the Bible or even very comforting. But it is edifying. It gives me perspective that I don’t think I would see the Bible, Christ, salvation, or suffering the same way without it. A close second is Romans.  I’m not sure which of my old blog posts I went into detail on that, but I did. I’m sure if you search Romans, M.L.S. Weech, you could see an in-depth perspective on why that book means so much to me. The short version is that I find that book to be the most comforting book in the Bible. That’s probably different for anyone (my wife seeks the Psalms for comfort for instance), but that’s my vote.

Leviticus
Image taken from the Covenant Community Church website. This image is not an endorsement or condemnation of CCC or its doctrine. I simply wanted an image for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Books I Struggled With the Most: I’m currently reading 1 Chronicles. I’m starting to put together what it’s doing. But I’m at a complete loss in this book. Yes, that makes it harder to enjoy. Also, it’s repetitive. Now, I’m certain there is a wisdom and there are many secrets to glean from this book and many others. One idea I’m playing with is a study of Christ through his genealogy. 1 Chronicles makes that sort of study possible. Some may argue Matthew or Luke, and they’re not wrong per say, but Matthew skipped a number of  generations to simplify memorization. 1 Chronicles lets me fill in the blanks. I also struggled with Leviticus. I understood what it was setting up a bit more, but it was a lot of direct information.

Bible StudySo I close this with another attempt to explain why I think reading the Bible is such a worthy endeavor. First it is my personal opinion (I’m unaware what my church thinks on the subject), that simply reading the Bible with an open mind is honestly one of the best things one can do if they are interested in salvation. Now, let’s assume you’re not saved and have no interest in being saved. Very well.

This book is still the richest single collection of narratives, poems, and historical information one can hope to find. Let’s get the tangental comment of historical out of the way. First, not even a scientific atheist would argue the existence of a historical Jesus. Debate the other aspects if you wish, but no one denies it. Even still, that’s not actually what I mean. I’m referring to the Epistles, which are actual letters written by actual, historical people to actual, historical readers in archeologically verified locations. Letters from Paul, James, Peter, and John are like finding an old World War I person’s journal or letters to home. This is my basis for the term historical information. Sure, one can read a thousand books on a thousand locations, but the Bible provides one book about dozens of locations.

So whether for spiritual purposes or educational, reading the Bible is a pursuit most worthy.

I hope you’ll choose to try it. If you have questions on where to read or why, I’d be happy to offer you my thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt

 

 

 

 

Sonnets For My Savior 28

Sonnets For My Savior 28

You

When the world calls to me,

let me choose You.

When it asks me to turn from You or use You for money,

let me choose You.

When the world offers me power,

let me choose You.

If the world offers me all the food I could devour,

let me choose You.

You are the creator of all things;

let me worship you and not your creation.

Help my heart seek only the joy Your love brings;

Help me cast aside my desire for the material for the grace of salvation.

Should the world offer me glory or fortune or fame,

please, Lord, let me instead choose to honor Your holy Name.


 

Thirst, Come, Drink

The water of the earth can’t compare.

Any who drink of it, will be thirsty again.

To those who truly thirst, do not despair;

True living water exists for such men and women.

Come to Him, who can satisfy your thirst.

Seek Him, and you will find.

All who come to him, be they last or first,

will be provided for, for he is the Savior of mankind.

Drink deeply the water he gives.

Drink ,and you will be filled.

For he is the Savior who died and yet lives;

He is the Messiah, who did just as God willed.

Only believe in Him, who has come from the Father,

for those who believe, out of their hearts, will flow rivers of living water.


 

Forgiveness and Peace

Please rid my heart of this anger.

Forgive me for this sin.

Change my heart, oh Great Redeemer,

and purify me from within.

I feel slighted,

but vengeance is yours.

The fury in my heart has been ignited,

but judgement is all an angry heart procures.

Help me to turn my cheek.

Help me to give away my cloak.

Take my prideful heart and make it meek.

Grant me a heart that doesn’t provoke.

Help peace reign where anger lives.

O Heavenly Father, please great me a heart that forgives.


 

Whom He Chose

Let us prefer to be foolish

rather than regarded by this world as wise.

Let us think all earthly things rubbish

next to Heaven’s glorious prize.

Let us choose to be weak

rather then regarded as strong.

For it is written that Heaven belongs to the meek.

He who relies on his own strength will discover himself wrong.

Let us praise our God who raised up what is low

to make nothing things that are.

For those who worship God know,

His power is the greatest by far.

Let us not seek to meet any standards of this earth,

but instead let us seek to praise God, for what he gives is all that has worth.


 

What Must Change

This world is broken,

and I lack the power to fix it.

My pride demands I be outspoken;

It pulls me from Christ and won’t let me submit.

If I claim I know what should occur,

I place myself on the throne of perfection.

The world can’t run as I prefer,

if indeed I’ve given Christ all my affection.

If he is my ruler,

I can’t demand control.

If Christ is my ruler,

I must trust in him with all my soul.

It isn’t the world that should change to my whim;

rather it is I who much change, which is only possible through Him.


 

The Betrayer

Woe to he who would betray

Christ the Savior on that fateful day.

This deaf fool heard all Jesus had to say,

but could not bear to submit and obey.

Woe to he who accepted thirty pieces of silver

as a blood price for his terrible deed.

He thought he was a clever deceiver,

but Christ choose him that Jesus may do as God decreed.

Woe to he who tried to feign remorse,

for his actions showed his lie.

Rather than face the consequence of his chosen course,

he instead chose to die.

Woe to he who betrayed Jesus with scorn,

For it would be better for him if he had not been born.


 

Blind

They spoke the truth about what would happen.

They recognized what the sign would do.

Their hearts were hardened against what was done then,

for they refused to see what was plainly true.

Lazarus rose, and many believed.

Rather than rejoice, the leaders feared they’d lose their place.

In truth, they weren’t deceived.

Rather they wanted to avoid disgrace.

But God found a use even for the blind Caiaphas,

For the high priests’ lips spoke prophetic words.

It is better that Jesus died for us.
Indeed, the death of the Lamb saved the herd.

God used their blind and hardened hearts for our gain.

For Jesus died and rose again, just as the Father did preordain.

Sonnets For My Savior 27

Sonnets For My Savior 27

Whose Meaning Matters

God is not a God of confusion;

His word isn’t a mystery.

There is no need to create allusion

to his word about Himself and our history.

Resist the urge to press in your own meaning;

Instead, consider only what the author meant.

What what right does a reader have to be intervening

upon the words that God himself had sent?

When you speak,

would you have someone find his own interpretation?

Why is it then that you seek,

to alter a writers’ assertion? 

If you would ask others to listen so that you could be heard,

What right do you have to reinterpret the scripture’s Holy Word?


 

With Earnestness

Let us seek Your word to learn,

not to appear as though we care.

For only in earnest hearts does Your Spirit burn,

and where two or three are gathered in Your name, You are there.

Keep us from meaningless demonstrations;

deliver us from hypocritical practices.

Provide an exit from distracting temptations;

Let us seek Your word rather than our own sinful vices.

If we pray, let it be with all our hearts.

If we study, let it be with all our minds.

Let pleasing You be where our every thought starts,

for he who truly seeks you always finds.


Let us give unto You everything,

for greater than all that is the peace that you bring.


 

Before He Comes

Many will come

to try and lead us astray.

Through them, great things will be done,

and the undiscerning will fall away.

Nation will fight nation;

kingdom will fight kingdom.

Watch for the abomination of desolation.

Beware false Christs; walk in wisdom.

If one says, “he is there!” do not go.

If one says, “he is here!” do not go.

When He will come, none but the father know,

but when He comes, all will know.

Like lightning streaking across the sky,

all will see and know Jesus has arrived.


 

Steward

Let me care for the lands You give me;

let me nurture them to a plentiful harvest.

Help me plant and water every seed;

Help my heart be driven; guard me from disinterest.

Let me add to the money with which You bless me.

If You give me five talents, help me return to You ten.

Whether You grant me a fortune or a single penny,

help me save now so I don’t suffer then.

Help me care for the home You’ve placed me in.

Help me keep the foundation strong.

For You are generous, God, as you have ever been,

and to mistreat what You give me would simply be wrong.

For I know that You bless a good and faithful steward,

For those who have will receive an even greater reward.


 

The Choice of Obedience

Peter, what were you thinking?

Did you expect to defeat the great crowd?

Didn’t you hear what Jesus had been saying?

They couldn’t have taken Him if He hadn’t have allowed.

Twelve legions of angels could have come.

But then how would the Scriptures have been fulfilled?

God’s will must be done,

so Jesus had to be taken and killed.

Behold the love and obedience of the Son,

who accepted a cup he never deserved.

With his choice the many were paid for by one.

This is how our Savior served.

Yes, he was delivered to endure the Father’s wrath,

but remember he choose to obey and walk that path.


 

The Gift

I thought I had to do something.

I felt like I had to earn His love.

The reality is we can do nothing.

His grace is simply a gift from above.

A million good deeds could not erase my guilt.

No amount of earthly pleasures could fill the void.

The realization led my heart to wilt.

I feared my hope was destroyed.

The Word is what helped me see;

All my transgressions had already been paid for.

Christ had died to set me free,

and there is no need for anything more.

It was easy for me to understand my desperation,

the challenge was accepting His gift to receive salvation.


 

This Burden

The more I learned of right and wrong,

the more I felt this weight grow.

I laugh at the thought that I was strong.

How to carry this burden, I didn’t know.

The Word led me to freedom.

The Word showed me the way.

So I set off to find the Kingdom,

but I had to let all I knew fall away.

I had to become a fool to find wisdom.

I had to forsake my strength to fight might.

Though temptation came at times both often and random,

I had to hold fast to what the Word says is right.

The journey wasn’t easy, but I found the King one day,

and just as I believed in my heart, the King lifted that burden away.

Sonnets for my Savior 8

Sonnets for my Savior 8

As Long As I Live

The pangs of Sheol laid hold on me

until I called on thee, until I called on thee.

The snares of death encompassed me

until I called on thee, until I called on thee.

The Lord is gracious and righteous;

He is holy and merciful.

His blessings are surely bounteous,

His love is amazing and beautiful.

I offer You my thanksgiving,

and I call on Your holy name.

I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living,

for you delivered my soul from death and my heart from shame.

I pay my vows to You;

as long as I live, Lord, I call upon You!

 


 

Guard My Heart

We could wash our hands a million times and never be clean.

Please don’t let us worship You in vain.

It is not what we consume that makes us obscene,

but what comes out of us that leaves a stain.

Let our worship be from the heart

not from our lips.

Let your word be where we end and start;

Make us deaf to false teaching and help us avoid poisonous relationships.   

Grant us sight so we know who to follow,

let our footsteps not match those of the blind.

Help us break free of the pointless ceremony in which we wallow;

instead let our hearts and Your Spirit be intertwined.

Let us never break your commandment for the sake of our tradition;

But always look to you, with our highest love and most humble submission.


 

How Love is Shown

To show His love,

what did he do?

He came from above,

and faced every torture man could think to put him through.

He gave himself up

as a sacrifice to the Father.

He drank from his cup,

so that God’s wrath need not fall on another

If he was willing to die

at just the right time,

why can’t we just rely

on He who could pay for every crime?

He gave Himself up just to redeem our wickedness,

so we must offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness.


 

The Ransom

Our rightful king did not come to be served;

instead He came to serve.

The things He suffered were undeserved,

yet He bore them so our souls He might preserve.

He gave his life as a ransom for many;

his precious blood was spilled for our sake.

If we look in ourselves for righteousness, we won’t find any,

but His sacrifice covers our every mistake.

Adam’s disobedience cast us into sin,

but Christ’s obedience made us righteous.

If our hearts He resides within,

then the grace of God is given to us.

Through his love our spirits have been taken,

and from God’s hands, they can never be shaken.


 

The Glory

The glory, Lord, belongs to you,

for all good things come from you.

The gifts I use are given by you,

and the praise for all deeds belong only to you.

The goodness of life, Lord, comes from you,

for all things are done for good for those faithful to you.

Evil is altered for good by you,

and the strength gained through adversity is provided from you.

This universe was created by you,

so that all the creatures in it might glorify you.

Man and woman were created by you,

and we live our lives to please only you.

Praise and glory we offer to you!

All praise and all glory belong only to you!


 

Giving

Even I would not hand a stone

to my son who asks for bread.

What father would leave his child alone,

without a place to sleep or a roof over his head?

No father would give a serpent

to a son who asked for a fish.

Indeed, what father has not spent,

all he could to grant his child’s every wish?

If we know to give good things,

even in the state we are in,

how much more will our Father, who is in Heaven, bring

to his children who follow Christ and turn from sin?

To seek with praise and supplication is such a simple task,

and our Father, who is in Heaven, will always give good things to those who ask.


 

One Day

One day our Lord will return;

one day he will rule.

Woe to those who did spurn

the gift of Christ and did offer his followers ridicule.

One day Jesus Christ will sit on his glorious throne;

one day Jesus Christ will be the judge.

Woe to those who have evil sewn

and, against those who followed Christ, held a grudge. 

One Day the Son of God will come;

one day, the Son of God will appear.

Woe to those who did succumb

to the call of false Christs claiming, “He is here!”

One day the Son of Man will appear in the sky,

one day the Son of Man will return and rule from on high.

Sonnets for My Savior 5

Sonnets for My Savior 5

A Family Under God

Let husbands love their wives with a sacrificial love;

let husbands love their wives as they love themselves.

Let wives respect their husbands as heads just as the Lord is head above;

let your scripture be the source for guidance into which the family delves.

Let children be obedient and honor their parents;

let them be raised in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.

Let Your word and Your teachings be parents’ primary arguments

to guide them to a life free from the evil one’s seduction.

Let family members bear with each other and forgive

just as the Lord has forgiven us.

Let their worship for You outlive

any personal distrusts.

Let families live only in accordance to Your will,

so that love and blessings from their hearts overfill.


 

Appreciation

Let us give thanks to the Lord with all of our hearts

and proclaim all of His wonderful deeds.

We owe all we have to Him who gives all one needs;

We know that once You have one’s soul, from You it never departs.

He is our rock and our salvation,

so let us always keep him near.

His presence means we need not fear

the curse of eternal damnation.

He grants us our strength and makes us strong,

and to His people He gives peace.

We give thanks to the God from whom all things flow.

He has passed over the sins we have committed, indeed every wrong.

Through him we receive a release

and await the new lives he will, eventually, bestow.


 

An End to Suffering

We pray for Your day to come fast,

for that day, You will wipe the tears from our eyes,

and death will no longer last.

Mourning, crying, and pain will cease on the day You arise.

Even if we suffer for a time,

we rejoice despite the pain

because the age to come will be sublime.

Therefore our endurance is not in vain.

From the character endurance breeds comes hope,

and hope does not put us to shame.

Even if we feel we can’t cope,

we will put our trust in Your holy name

We await Your return eagerly,

for on that day, from suffering we will be free.


 

Faithful

Oh gracious God, You keep Your ears open for our supplications.

Your love is steadfast with those who love You and keep Your commandments.

You are faithful and provide ways to escape our temptations.

You provide for us and heal us from our ailments.

When we seek You with all our hearts, we find you.

When we come and pray to You, You hear.

Let us hold fast to our hope, for when You make a promise, You always come through.

We exalt You, Lord, for to us You are dear.

In times of temptation, we take heart in Your son.

Even if some are unfaithful, your faithfulness remains.

Even when we suffer, we trust in your will, which will always be done.

We were trapped in sin, and You have broken our chains.

Thank you for being merciful and true

and we give thanks for all the glorious things you do.


 

Trust in Your Wisdom

Your Wisdom is pure;

Your judgements are unsearchable.

Though we may doubt, you are always sure.

The depths of your knowledge are unmeasurable.

Fear of You is the beginning of knowledge;

to shun evil is understanding.

In times of sadness, let us pledge

to offer You praise that is abounding.

Should we encounter disappointment,

let us see it as an opportunity

to glorify your sovereign judgement

and conduct ourselves with dignity.

Any one can praise You in times of gladness,

but blessed are those who praise You even in times of sadness.


 

Doers

We know it isn’t enough to know.

Our fathers and ceremonies are not what count.

With all we do, we are held to account,

and we will reap what we sow.

You, Lord, measure our heart,

so the rule of law is not where our salvation lies.

Any person who relies on himself dies,

but those who put their faith in Christ are held apart.

Those who do the law are justified;

righteousness doesn’t come from listening.

Even those who haven’t heard it can be a law to themselves if they do what is required.

Those who know the law but break it show themselves falsified.

The disobedient will find the obedient condemning.

For those who receive grace through faith are the ones who are desired.


 

Call Me

Here I sit in my iniquity;

call me please, so with You I may sit.

To claim not to need You is fatuity.

I am a sinner, so to You I submit.

I am sick;

You are the only physician who can heal me.

Rebuild me, Lord, brick by brick,

and leave my transgressions in the debris.

I listen for Your call,

for I can not escape my sin.

Let me hear You before I fall,

for there is nothing good in my skin.

The table of tax collectors and sinners is where I should be,

so please sit with us and share the truth that sets us free.

s

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 1

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 1

Forward

I’m probably the least qualified individual to speak about God. I’ve read the New Testament. I’m reading the Old Testament, but I haven’t been to church in more than 10 years. I don’t have a degree in theology. I can’t read The Bible in its original text. I’m just a man.

If you’re reading this to gain knowledge, I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. What I am is a man who feels called to testify about God and His glory.

I titled this “Testimony: My Trail of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer.”  I need to explain it. I’ve only just learned on March 3, 2018, that my mom even had Cancer. As I type this, I don’t even know what kind it is. So why “struggled”? Because I have faith that God will cure my mom of this disease. I have such faith, that I’m writing this story as it’s happening. Like any story I write, I don’t start writing until I feel confident I know the ending.  As this story develops, I hope you’ll understand why.

I’ll reference scripture, but only in the sense I’ve been reading it. The point of this book is to testify God’s glory. I’ll tell the story as I experienced it. I’ll reflect on how that affected me. That’s all this is.

The structure of this story will be as follows:

I’ll talk about a specific event. I’ll point out all the “elephants” in the room regarding faith and how I feel.  Then I’ll reflect on that event from a religious point of view, using The Bible to help establish these revelations.

I’ve made an effort to improve my relationship with God for years now. This trial, this test my family is facing, is one I insist on passing. As I struggle, every bump in the road and every bit of bad news is just another part of the test. Do I turn from God? Do I lose my faith and lament life and its hardships, or do believe more strongly? Do I increase my faith and trust in God? This is the test, and I believe that successfully passing that test will end with my mom free of this disease. In the end, keeping my faith is the only thing I can do.

I invite you to share this journey with me. I invite you to watch this opportunity to see a miracle as it happens because I believe it will, and when it happens, people will know God’s power.


 

The Call

Feb. 27, 2018

I was driving home, happily listening to “Oathbringer” by Brandon Sanderson. Audiobooks usually help me get through any drive. I’d just hit Maryland 295 when I noticed my phone vibrating.

I have a rule: Don’t call me during working hours unless it’s an emergency. Some of my family members aren’t very good at that rule, but my heart jumps any time I get a call before six. When I noticed my sister, Carlie, was the one calling, I promise you I felt an added degree of worry. You see, Carlie is actually good at following that rule. Also, Carlie, my baby sister, still lives with my parents.

I picked up the phone.  “Carlie, hold on!” I scrambled to drive 70 miles per hour, pause my audiobook and keep the phone in position. For anyone who might have been behind me, I’m sorry.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“They’re airlifting Mom to Phoenix.” She was crying. I could hear her breath catching. “They think she might have had a stroke.”

I have this unique skill. I think in addition to it being a gift from God, it’s something my time in the Navy developed. I go into this mode where I’m super focused. I process information, and I keep calm. That doesn’t erase the emotions.

My mother is the center of our family. She’s who we call when we’re mad at one another. She’s who we call when we want money. We all converge on her house on Christmas. She’s hyper productive. She’s genuinely compassionate. Every good thing about my personality, I got from her. And all I knew is she was hurt.

The last time I’d spoken to my mom, Etta Zavala (a very long story), was the previous Friday. I’m a momma’s boy. I call her pretty much every Friday. We talk about how our week went and what we have coming up the next week. During that last conversation, I was honestly annoyed. She’d seemed distracted. A number of my sisters were there. I was on speaker phone. She was sitting down to eat and talking to my sisters. So the conversation was short. I’d said something like,”Well, you clearly have a lot going on, I just wanted to call and say hello and I love you.”

It seems that day my sisters and father had noticed my mom wasn’t speaking correctly. My mom reads more than I do. She suffers the same issue any parent with more than one child has. You know, that habit where she has to list every child she’s ever had until she reaches the one she’s actually trying to talk to? Well, apparently by this point she wasn’t just naming the wrong child, she was using gobbledygook words in place of our names.

Carlie explained this to me as she filled me in on how things got to where they were. She seemed off. My mom takes medicine. I’m not really sure what it’s for, but she’d gotten some new medication, and they wondered if that had adversely affected her. She only got worse as the days moved on. She didn’t want to do anything. My mom, who would cook dinner while vacuuming between commercials on a show she was trying to watch, didn’t want to do anything.

By the day my sister called me, they’d basically tossed her in the car and took her to the doctor. Her ability to speak was greatly diminished.

Carlie told me all of this, and I listened.

What I said was, “Well, she’s with the doctors, and they’re going to take care of it. I know God is going to make this right.”

In an infinite moment before I said that, I considered my options on how to react. I was terrified, but I’m regarded as the “calm” one in the family. I keep things in perspective. But something else occurred to me. Am I a man who believes and trusts in God or not? I swear to you I immediately sensed, this is a test of faith. 

I’m going to believe God will fix this!

Carlie promised to keep me in the loop. I told her to focus on mom and let me know what she learns when she learns it. I’m a journalist. I deal in accurate facts. I don’t deal with theories or worries. I wait to know what is going on, and I go from there. At that moment, all I knew was my mom was sick.

I don’t have the perfect clarity some claim to have when tragedy happens. I’m not sure if she called back or if we were still talking. I only know that “stroke” was the first theory. Then I got another call.

“They found a tumor,” Carlie said. “It’s in the speech area of her brain.”

Suddenly, that stroke seemed like a preferable option. You can recover from a stroke. You can go to speech therapy.

Best as I can remember, she hadn’t been taken to Phoenix yet.  My sister, Crystal, called to tell me she was going to meet Mom at the hospital. My brother Ben called.

Do you still trust God? I didn’t hear the voice, but I could feel the question in the back of my mind. I’m going to believe he’ll fix this!

I told Crystal, “God will handle this.”

I told Ben, my best friend who married Crystal, “The whole point of faith is for times like this.”

I sat by my phone, stubbornly working and acting like the woman who raised me and a number of siblings that’s hard to specify wasn’t in any danger. Why? Because I wanted to show God I wasn’t worried. I was. I really was. But I kept reminding myself, God will fix this.

I waited for word. Crystal told me, “They’re bundling her up for the helicopter now. I’m worried because it’s really windy.”

“People don’t know enough about helicopters,” I replied in that confident tone I use when everything is going insane. “They’d never take off if they didn’t already know they’d land safely.”

They never took off. That weather Crystal mentioned caused the hospital to change the plan. Instead, they’d drive her there via ambulance.

Carlie told me they weren’t driving, “with light’s blazing,” so I replied with, “See? They’re not that worried about it.”

I hung up, and wept. I’d run out of strength and fake confidence. I’d run out of the ability to focus. I didn’t have anything to do. I was powerless.

But aren’t we always powerless? In comparison to God and His will, what can we do? Nothing. We never have any say. Even in that moment, and every moment, I understand that my tendency to become hyper focused and drive myself into whatever I have to do (that day I had to write a blog post and set up the book cover tournament I do every month) is only an illusion of power. But the other reason I tried to act like nothing was wrong, was because I was doing everything in my power to show God I trusted Him.

Hours passed. Three. Long. Hours.

I have wonderful friends. I have an amazing girlfriend. I hadn’t told them what was going on yet. I was still working it out. So messages kept coming. Each time my phone buzzed, my heart leapt, hoping it was news about my mom. But no. My girlfriend was stuck in traffic. My coworkers were being their usual chipper conversationalists. My sister, Rosa (long story), who didn’t know my mom was sick, sent a message asking if I’d pick something up from the house she’d just moved out of. Every single message that wasn’t news on my mom felt like a whip.

I wanted to shout at everyone. I wanted to yell. I wanted to be mad. But that’s not what God wanted me to do. At some point, I filled my girlfriend in. I wasn’t ready to talk to my friends yet. They didn’t know. What right did I have to be mad at them for something they didn’t know? I sent Rosa a message, but she was some 2,000 miles into a 4,000-mile trip across the country.  What I felt God wanted me to do was remain patient. Wait. Trust him. So I did.

Ben called, “Hey, they’re taking her in, but it’s going to be a few hours before they know what’s up.”

“Ok,” I replied. “I’ll just finish up and try and get some sleep. There’s nothing else to do, and I want to be able to function when we get word.”

So that’s what I did. I finished my blog post. I even played a few video games. Why? Because if I could just act like nothing was wrong, if I could just trust God and let him handle things, it would all work out.

I went to my bed, I knelt down on the floor like I do every night, and I prayed.

My prayers have a pattern. I begin with the day’s greatest blessing. Then I offer prayers for those I know. Then I pray for what I need. Lately, I’ve been saying, “Lord, you know my heart, my goals, and my dreams, but what I need most is strength.”

My girlfriend and I want to abstain until what we both hope becomes a wedding day.

That’s not what I prayed for that night. That night, I wasn’t the least bit interested in my hormones.

“Lord, I’m going to trust that you’ll handle this in your time and in your way. I’m going to have faith that this will be an opportunity for me to testify about your grace and your glory. So I ask that you take care of my mom.”

I don’t dream often, and the dreams I have are either mundane or bad. They’re always related to whatever was on my mind before I go to sleep. I woke up four or five times from vivid dreams where something happened. Each time I woke, I’d say, “God will take care of this.”

At some point, my phone buzzed. Carlie wanted to know if I was awake.  Once I said I was up, she called.

They found the tumor (it was hard for the doctors in Yuma to pin down due to the differences in equipment). The doctors found the tumor, and it was operable. At some point the next day they were going to surgically remove it and go from there.

“See?” I said. “They’re going to pull it out, and it’ll be fine.”

Carlie was so strong. I’ve honestly never seen her this strong. She was always tough. Well, if I’m being honest, stubborn is the better word. But she, like me, uses fury to push through more than she should. But she was patient, detailed with her information, and comforting. She’s also working to improve her relationship with God, and she validated my faith by agreeing God would handle this. We talked for a few minutes.

When she hung up, I prayed.

“God, praise your grace and your mercy. Thank you for watching over my mom.”  By the end of the sentence, I was bawling. I was a weeping mess curled up in a ball. I love my mom. I’d promised God I’d praise him when this was over, and I’d just learned that this tumor was operable. Sure, they’d have to look at a few things, but my mom was going to have that thing taken out of her.

The next day, I intended to testify, just as I said I would. I did testify, but I also learned the test wasn’t over by a long shot.


 

Questions and Revelations

You’re telling the world about your mom and her struggle with cancer on a blog?

Yeah. Angie was updating people pretty regularly via Facebook, so it’s not like people don’t already know. And I promised God I’d testify. I have this platform to do so. I feel I’m keeping my word to God the best way I can. To be honest, I intend to compile these posts into a memoir. I’ll donate every single dollar in royalties to cancer research, as I think this is God working through me to make more progress against the disease. I’m honestly a very private person. Part of the reason for my pen name is to keep a level of privacy. But when one promises to testify for God, he does it.

So you think God gave your mom a tumor to test your faith?

God tests us in a number of ways. I’m a huge fan of the book of Job. His whole story was about how God tested him to demonstrate just how faithful he was. I haven’t read that book in The Bible yet, but I’ve listened to some sermons. I’ve heard the story a few different ways. The one I’ve heard most is God let the devil pretty much do everything but kill Job. The point was no matter what the devil did, Job wouldn’t turn against God. The point is, nothing happens without God’s will, so yes. is God only testing my faith? No. Remember, my mom is the centerpiece of my whole family. My sisters are being tested. My brother is being tested. My father, who’s already lost several members of his family to cancer in the last few years, is being tested.

So why praise a God who’d give your mom a tumor just to test your faith?

If I’m being frank, because I’m nothing compared to God, and if I’m right, and he is testing my faith, turning away from him would only make matters worse. You can look at this from a bunch of different ways, but here’s the thing. We all want to believe in a kind and glorious God (well, those of us who believe in God).  A lot of people want to give God all the credit for everything good that happens in life. That empowers the doubters in the world to point at the bad.

Then there are those who hate God or refuse to believe in God because of those same bad things. God does this and lets that happen.

There are those who believe God doesn’t do anything. God put us on Earth and lets us make decisions.

What I currently believe is God is God. He is merciful and wrathful. He is great and powerful.

Job 1:21: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return tither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Could God take my mom? Yes. At any moment, God could take everything I have from me. If I were a different man, I’d focus on the fact that he took them. I once had more than $20,000 in my bank account. Now I don’t. I once had two nieces and a nephew. Then I didn’t. Then I found them again. (Long story, but true.) Now my Mom has cancer! But for me to be angry at God for taking anything from me, I’d have to first realize that God gave them to me in the first place. So I learned about that phrase and, as I often do, I paraphrased it in a way that makes sense to me.

“I don’t have or deserve anything. Everything I have is on loan from God, and he can loan me more or take all I have back whenever he wants.”

That reminds me of some critical things. These things in my life were never mine to begin with. We think too possessively as humans. My mom. My money. My house. My thinking is if I do a better job of realizing it’s all God’s, I’ll have a better perspective of how things are.

So what does God want?

Oh! if I only knew. Look, the basic point is God wants us to worship him. So my new mantra is, “The more I’m tested, the more I’m going to worship God.” Now some may argue that’s exactly why they don’t believe in God or choose not to follow him. “Who would ever follow some bully who would give tumors to parents or take children from mothers.  Well look, believe in a God or not, something: life, nature, the world, is taking those things and those people. The difference, from my point of view, is if we continue to praise God, he’ll reward us. Frankly, on this earthly plain, God could make every day of my mortal life miserable, and people would probably say, “Look at him, he’s miserable, and his whole life is miserable because he won’t turn from that mean God.”  But here’s the part where I do math. Let’s assume that I live the 75 or so years most people in my family live (easy), what is 75 years of suffering compared to eternity?

I write fantasy and science fiction. We read stories about people who are immortal or ultra powerful.  Do you ever read anything where they tell you about that bad century a few millennia ago? No, because in comparison to infinity, every other number is nothing.

Do I want God to make me suffer for my entire mortal life? Of course not! Look, I think I’ve had some tough times in my life. I don’t want to get into a “my life has had more trials than yours” competition, but I’d unfortunately think some of my trials have been pretty numerous in comparison to others (see below for that). But I’ve had some great years too. Even if I can’t point at that many years, I can point to moments that are worth decades. I remember my niece Kailynn’s laugh. I haven’t heard her for decades, but the mere memory of her laugh is still enough to make me smile.

I remember the feeling I got when The Journals of Bob Drifter went live.

I remember the worst year of my life (2013).  Life is more than any one thing. We do too much as a race pointing out all the bad or pointing out all the good as proof of God’s existence or not. I believe God is always with us. We’re tested. We’re frankly punished. It happens. But if we keep our faith, if we do our upmost to live in accordance to God’s will, the blessings will come.

Can I prove this or not? Well, I’ve started this entire project specifically to present evidence in support my theory.

But it’s not fair! Why does God give so much to bad people, but he punishes and tests me?!

Man do I struggle with this. Listen folks, I was single for thirty-seven years. How do you imagine I felt at every wedding? A considerable number of my brothers result from marrying my sisters. I’ve wanted to be a father since I was 8, and I once remember a man complaining to me about, “how many kids he has to deal with.”

You don’t think I wasn’t jealous? There were times I said, “If I see one more wedding invitation, I’m going to punch someone!” Life is pretty unfair when you’re selfish enough to only look at what you have and what you don’t have, especially when you’re only looking for more.

So here I am hearing about yet another member of my family having cancer. (Seriously, I’ve actually lost count of how many family members I’ve lost to cancer in the last couple years. I mean I literally, have lost count.) But I had them to begin with. I also know people who wish their mothers or fathers had died. The man who’s genetic material brought me to Earth wasn’t a good man, but the man who raised me, who taught me to be accountable, who taught me how to be strong, and who taught me how to be relied upon was a blessing in my life. It’s easy to get caught up in how much more I want in life. It’s easy to get caught up in how many bad things have happened in my life. But I think if I focus on all of it, I see it’s just life. And when I focus on the fact that I’ll die one day, I can remember that this mortal life is sort of like a test run. Life as a whole is a test. We live it, proving to God who we are. I’m just tired of being angry. I’m just tired of thinking I’m made to suffer as some sort of punchline or curse.

Will I get angry again? Yes, I’m human. I got angry, like forty minutes ago. Seriously!  I just have to think, to believe, there’s something more after it all. If I live right, and I believe, I’ll be granted eternity of wonder when this test of life is over.

Could I be wrong?

Yes. Yes I could be wrong. I’m human, and prone to that particular position. But if you’re  a non-believer or even a Christian, what’s the harm? What do I lose if I choose to believe God will make sure this all works out in the end? I’m going to live, and I’m going to die. These are facts. I can live miserable, lamenting all the things I don’t have. I could be resentful I’m not a best seller. I could envy my friends who are married. I could resent family that have never had to deal with abuse or cancer. I could be a downright asshole. But what would it get me? So I might as well be the man I want to be, believe in the God I know exists, and live as if I’m right. If I’m wrong, and you’re not a believer, it’s not like you’ll be able to tell me, “I told you so.” We’ll be dead.

But if I’m rightI gain eternity of salvation. Sounds like a win, win to me.

Thanks for reading

Matt