Musings on Christianity 5

Musings on Christianity 5

Where is the line between Grace and Law, and fellowship and judgement

Growing up, the biggest stumbling block I faced in my walk with Christ was composed of groups of people who attended a church but didn’t act very Christian. You may have seen people like them. They’re the ones outside events screaming into bull horns. They’re the ones outside a soldier’s funeral proclaiming that man went to Hell.

Their actions and hostility all led me to a place where I thought that’s what Christianity was. I thought Christians were a group of self-entitled jerks who used God to snub their noses at others and proclaim how holy they were by comparison to others. I wanted no part of that. It got to the point to where I honestly feared walking into a church. My mom was told God demanded she remain married to a man who molested her daughter (a direct contradiction to Matthew 5:32). I was told it was sinful for me to go and use the bathroom during a pastor’s sermon.  So the story of how I came to be a member of Hope Bible Church is one longer than I can tell.

If I were to try and summarize, it started with invitations. They didn’t demand or say anything. They just offered. Then, as I told them my story, they were kind enough to refer me to the online sermons. This let me hear the word and listen. I didn’t like everything I heard, but I understood it. Even what I didn’t like wasn’t a statement of persecution; it was a statement on how the Bible clearly says those things are sinful. HBC didn’t expand on the law. They simply shared the word and what it means. That’s not to say there isn’t accountability in the church.

There in lies the root of this chapter’s question. Whenever I talk about the faith with people, even other professed Christians, I hear an interesting range of ideas.

I don’t need a church that judges me: I do. And the members of the church are supposed to judge (1 Corinthians 6:3).

But that thought quickly swings high and right with. Our church must punish sin. No it doesn’t. In fact, the most extreme thing Christ taught us to do if a person sins against us and refuses to repent is to let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. John MacArthur’s notes on Matthew  18:17 state, “If he still refuses to repent, step three requires that the matter be reported to the whole assembly — so that all may lovingly pursue the sinning brother’s reconciliation. But failing that, step four means that the offender must be excommunicated, regarded by the church as “a Gentile and a tax collector.” The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and henceforth to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother.”

But this balance is a tough one to have, especially when a body seeks to increase the law. After all, this was exactly what happened to the Pharisees. No church should seek to elevate itself above God. However, it should absolutely serve as a place of worship  and prayer (Mark 11:17), loving discipline (1 Corinthians 6: 1-8) and fellowship (1 Corinthians 14:26). I’m also a fan of the summary of Churchly discipline found in 2 Timothy 4:2.

Personally, I fear a church without discipline every bit as much as a church that seeks to condemn and persecute. No, churches actually can’t let anyone come in and do what they want (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), but neither should they seek vengeance because that belongs to God (Romans 12:19).  That doesn’t mean we don’t rebuke or discipline. (again see 2 Timothy 4:2)

Think of it like a true friend. Would you really let a drunk friend drive home? Is it loving to let a person put himself in danger? If you would do something to protect the life of one you love, how much more would you work to save his or her soul?

But I’m also confident we have those friends. Those friends who can’t wait to list out our faults and tell us how wrong we are. There have even been those friends who look at our misfortune and simply presume wrong (Job).

The same balance you’d have with a friendship should be the least you expect from a church in my opinion. From there, we need to seek churches that have a firm grasp on how to identify sin and lovingly correct it so we might grow together in sanctification.

For our panel: How does a church balance discipline? What should a church do (if anything) to help sinners repent? Should a church seek and speak against sin? If so, how? What does loving rebuke look like? How can one who’s experienced some of the misguided persecution of a church like I’ve mentioned above reconcile that against the loving grace of God and how a church should correct a brother? Is there ever a point at which a church should proclaim or deny a person’s salvation?

Sonnets For My Savior 13

Sonnets For My Savior 13

What It Tells Us

A line from Abraham proves God’s faithfulness.

A line from Judah, Jechoniah, and Manasseh, demonstrate God’s forgiveness.

If there are evil sinners in the line, it is only to show that God can shift malice into kindness.

If God’s faithful are in the line, it is only to show God’s truthfulness.

Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are mentioned in the line.

Each name shows more of God’s character.

Rahab was a harlot, and Bathsheba an adulteress, but still to them God was kind.

Ruth was a Moabite, but her faith and trust led her to her great redeemer.

Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abuid and Eliakim,

Before Joseph came Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob and Achim.

The line shows that by right the throne belongs to Him.

The line shows that Jesus came for sinners because sinners are his kin.

From Abraham to Joseph they waited for the promised King;

Lord bless the day he was born; for that day we offer praise; for that day we sing.


They Come

Look to the east, the wise men come.

They search for the Jews’ king.

Born in Bethlehem was God’s only begotten Son

just as the prophet said in his writing.

From there was born a ruler

who is the shepherd for Israel.

There is no way to a life that’s fuller

than to be among our Savior’s faithful.

They are here with treasures for His birth:

gold, frankincense and myrrh,

but those gifts are only a fraction of His worth.

For the day of His birth was one of wonder.

His risen star showed the way

to the Christ who was born on that glorious day.


Strong and Courageous

He promised to give every place Joshua’s foot walked on.

He promised no man would stand before him.

Three times God told him to be courageous and strong,

for God would never leave or forsake him.

He was warned not to turn from the law to the left or to the right.

He was told to meditate on the lay every day and every night.

With God at his side, Joshua would win every fight.

With God beside him, everything would be alright.

Let us hear your word, our God above.

Let us follow your path and do your will.

Let us keep your words in our hearts with love.

Even in times of trouble, let us keep them still.

Smile, oh God, on those who are strong and courageous.

Let us face our trials with faith, for You are always with us.


He Chose to Obey

He could have sent Judas away.

He could have remained hidden.

Instead Jesus chose to obey

so that He might do as the Scriptures had written.

He could have let Peter fight.

He could have petitioned for angles and received more than twelve legions.

Instead He chose to do what was right

and accept the price for our salvation.

He could have come down from the cross

and proven himself to the chief priests, scribes, and elders,

Instead he chose to endure the cost,

so that he could provide hope for all of us sinners.

Our glorious Savior chose to let himself die

to obey our Father and provide us a path to life.


When We Have Faith

When Joshua obeyed in faith, the walls of Jericho fell.

When Moses obeyed in faith, the Red Sea parted.

For those who obey and have faith, all will be well.

Blessed are those who work to walk the path You’ve charted.

Goliath fell to a young David and his sling.

Abraham and Sarah eventually gave birth.

Ruth offered her faith and became grandmother the king.

Elijah asked, and fire fell to the earth.

Gideon had faith, and God delivered Midian into his hands.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had faith and were protected from immolation.

A centurion’s servant was healed simply by Jesus’s command

A thief on the cross asked Christ to remember him and thus, found salvation.

Mountains can move from here to another place.

Indeed all things are possible if we only have faith.


Again and Again

Peter denied Christ three times,

but he was still the rock on which Christ’s church was built.

Peter had doubt sometimes,

but he always repented, for he acknowledged his guilt.

Christ taught us about forgiveness

in the parable of the unforgiving servant.

That wicked man sought payment with ruthlessness

even though his master was benevolent.

One should forgive

as he was forgiven.

For each day that we all may live,

we should pardon our brothers no matter what offense was given.

How often should we let go each time our brother offends us?

Seventy times seven is what our lord Jesus Christ tells us.


He Can Not Be Denied

Herod wanted to prevent His birth,

so he had all the children in Bethlehem killed.

But all of his effort and desire was of little worth,

for all of his evil only helped to see prophecy fulfilled.

Pharisees sought to prevent His teaching,

so they challenged Him and questioned his miraculous deeds.

But all their effort to stop His preaching

only provided the opportunity to place on display their hypocritical misdeeds.

Caiaphas sought to destroy Him and put his life to an end,

so the chief had Him crucified, and a guard for his tomb was given.

But with the will of God, they could not contend,

for after the third day, just as He said, He is risen.

The power of Christ can not be denied,

for the Son of God is King, and over Earth he will preside.

Sonnets for My Savior 11

Sonnets for My Savior 11

He Came

He was promised when Eve was deceived.

He was promised when Moses led the Jews.

All the prophets who came were disbelieved.

From Moses to the Baptist, they were abused for their news.

Isaiah said he would come as a baby.

Micah told them where the Christ would be born.

Nephi prophesied He would be born to a virgin lady.

These signs would announce that God had done as he had sworn.

He came as Isaiah predicted.

He arrived just where Micah said he would.

The virgin Mary gave birth just as Nephi depicted.

He came, but His people did not welcome Him as they should. 

He came to be a ransom for many.

He came to pay our price and suffer our agony.


The Devil Is Your Best Friend

“It’s OK,” he says. “No one will cast blame.”

Seek not encouragement from friends.

Instead, obey the one with the most Holy name.

His law is written, and his rules do not bend.

“It’s OK,” he says. “Everybody does as you do.”

Seek not the approval of man.

Instead, follow after He who died to save you.

He is the way, the truth, and the light; the only path to Heaven.

“You’ll never be perfect,” he says. “Do what you wish rater than suffer guilt.”

Seek not a path of comfort.

Instead, do what is right according to the one by whom this world was built.

He is God, and His will is one no man can subvert.

Do not listen to the words of man,

Instead hear God, for against His wrath, no man can stand.


That Day

They mocked him, daring him to save himself if he could,

ignorant of the reason for his death.

Nine hours he hung, bleeding on a cross of wood.

“It is finished,” he said, and then he breathed his last breath.

They buried him in a rich man’s tomb

and rolled a stone to the entrance.

The disciples were each filled with gloom,

but they should have remembered what was said in advance.

How foolish it was to think

that a mortal guard could do what death could not.

At an angel’s arrival, the guards did shrink

as he removed the stone and sat upon the rock.

They mocked Christ on that day,

but when he returns again, they’ll know him, kneel, and offer praise.


Let Us Be Ready

Let us wear wedding garments that we may celebrate Your feast.

Let us carry our flasks of oil that we might be ready when You come.

Let us feed and give water to your brothers even to one of the least.

Let us welcome strangers, no matter where they’re from.

Let us increase what you entrust to us no matter the amount,

so that we might be good and faithful servants.

For to those who return your gifts with interest receive more than they can count,

when you rent out your vineyard, let us be loyal occupants.

Let us stay awake

for we know the thief is coming.

For we have more at stake

than simple possessions or even gold that’s gleaming.

Let us be ready for Your return,

for those who do not seek the Son, are only destined to burn.


For Your Brothers

When You are hungry, we will give you food.

When You are thirsty, we will give You refreshment.

If You are a stranger, we’ll offer our welcome and not be rude.

Should You be naked, we will offer you a garment.

If You are sick, we will visit you.

If You are in prison, we will come.

As we do for your chosen, we do it for you, too.

We serve so that Your will might be done.

Let us serve our brothers to glorify your name.

Let us offer our love and fellowship.

For as we treat our brothers, you will treat us the same,

so we share and help to demonstrate our worship.

Let us inherit the kingdom you have prepared.

For whatever your brothers needed, we have freely shared.


The Irony

“…not as I will, but as you will,” He said. He wanted the cup to pass.

Instead, he accepted the will of his Father.

Peter pulled his sword, ready to fight to the last.

Instead, Jesus told him to put it away so He might fulfill scripture.

The people chose Barabbas, denying their Savior.

They saved the guilty, and condemned the innocent.

Soldiers abused and mocked our Ruler.

But even in this, Jesus did that for which He was sent.

“…let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him,” they said.

They reviled him thinking His death was evidence of a lie.

They did not realize that if He came down, we would all be dead.

They didn’t know that his death was for our sin, and through him we are alive.

He did not come down because he lacked the power;

he stayed hung to the cross to save us in our most desperate but shameful hour.


The Commission

Make disciples of all nations.

Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

We can build fellowship and establish good relations,

teaching them the good news and blessing all who hear it.

Help them observe all He has commanded.

Help them learn of Christ and the resurrection.

Prepare them for the end before Jesus has descended.

For only through accepting him can people receive salvation.

Let Your commission be obeyed.

Let us be bold in our testimony.

Though our ability is insufficient, Your Spirit will come to our aid,

Let us follow the spirit of Your commands and not get lost in simple ceremony.

Let us take up your great commission.

To help Your kingdom come, is our most holy mission.

Sonnets for My Savior 10

Sonnets for My Savior 10

The Reward

Praise the Lord, for my quiver is full!

Three arrows, I have in hand.

Let the Lord’s wisdom be a well from which I pull

the knowledge to raise them to obey his command.

Help me teach them diligently.

Let me speak of Your word at all times.

Let Your grace fill me abundantly,

that they won’t fall victim to my crimes.

Help me rejoice in wise sons who are glad

and leave a good inheritance to these boys.

It’s such a blessing to be their dad,

for they bring me so many joys.

They are a heritage from the Lord,

the fruit of a womb, a reward.


The Blessing of Humility

Help us clothe ourselves in humility.

Let us be worthy of Your grace.

If we humble ourselves before the almighty,

He will lift us from disgrace.

Let humility bring us wisdom,

which is found in those who take advice.

Cheerful service should be our only ambition,

and the value of others should more than our own price.

Help us avoid boasting of our strength or riches.

Keep us from acting out of ambition or conceit.

We know a fall come to him who to pride clinches,

and that man will only find defeat.

Honor is for the lowly in spirit,

so listen for God’s call to be humble, and be blessed when you hear it.


What is Better

Martha toils, making preparations;

she works while Mary appears to only rest.

Soon frustration and jealousy become temptations,

and thus she faces a test.

She’s blind to the work she does.

She’s angry she works alone.

She demands of the Lord because,

she wants Him to make Mary atone.

“You are worried and upset about many things,” he said,

“but few things are needed — or indeed only one.”

For Mary’s actions were misread;

for His presence is second to none.

Choose to rest in His salvation,

for that is worth more than any sort of perpetration.


Our Mouths

Let what comes from our mouths be clean;

keep defiling things from spilling out.

Help us seek your word and grant us wisdom to glean

the way to be clean both within and without.

Ceremony does not cleans us,

nor should we make void Your word for the commandments of men.

Be in the front of our minds as we discuss

our actions and thoughts both now and again.

Guard our hearts from evil thoughts;

Deliver us from the temptation of murder, adultery, false witness and slander.

For through you we have received victory over the sins against which we fought,

and through you we have received lives that are grander.

Live in our hearts and keep us pure,

that our mouths might speak clean things that will forever endure.


My Eye

There’s a plank in my eye,

and it won’t let me see

the sin that is inside

that keeps me from serving Thee.

Who cares about the speck in the eyes of others

when my eye is nearly blocked out.

I have no right to judge my brothers

when my own transgressions give me doubt.

I must look within and remove this plank;

then I can see clearly.

For my salvation, I have only You to thank,

and such a gift, I treasure dearly.

Before I judge others, help me to first look within,

for how can I judge, when I am still covered in sin?



Your love is more powerful than death and more enduring than mortal life.

Your love can’t be stolen by angels nor forbidden by rulers.

We remember this, LORD, in times of strife.

We find comfort in this when faced with hecklers.

Your love is more powerful than anything that exists today.

Your love will be more powerful than anything that comes.

We remember this, LORD, come what may.

We find comfort in this because Your love always overcomes.

Your love is greater than any power.

Your love is highest and deepest.

We remember this, LORD, in every hour.

We find comfort in this when our path seems its steepest.

Nothing can separate us from your love in Christ, not any thing.

Because of this truth, LORD, our hearts forever sing.


To Serve

We should not worry what others receive,

for You always grant us what You promise.

For we will be blessed if we believe

and we serve with hearts that are honest.

Your reward is great

and more than we should get.

Let us be happy with our state

rather than grumble over what you give to others and become upset.

It is your right to give to others as you have given to us.

It is good that all can receive your gift.

Help us avoid complaining or making a fuss,

for you’ve paid us fairly no matter the length of our shift.

First or last, let us not worry over where we stand,

Only let us serve You as You command.

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!



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.

Book Review: How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur

Book Review: How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur

(NOTE: As with last week, please don’t worry about the For a Few Credits More review. I simply review things in the order that I finished them, and this was next on the list.  It looks like I’ll review the next story in that anthology in next week.)

Bible studyAfter I finished reading the Bible all the way through, I was happy I’d done it, and I truly felt better, but I didn’t feel wiser. Anyone who just sits and reads the Bible is doing a great thing in any area of study, reading, or literature, but I wanted to understand it.  This is where How to Study the Bible by  John MacArthur comes in.

MacArthur establishes a few prerequisite for the study of the Bible. I understand them in one context, but I’d still challenge anyone to read the Bible all the way through and not be changed by it.  Detractors might say that anyone who reads anything with an affirming mindset will only become more convinced, and those people are correct. I leave these choices to the individual.  If you are saved and open to the Holy Spirit, I do believe you will find more value. I just also feel that anyone who does the same thing I did, read it and see what you learn and feel, will be positively impacted by it.

MacArthur provides a few key aspects that boil down to a concept called hermeneutics, which is the interpretation of the Bible. It’s not what people think. It’s a way to understand the context, language, and syntax used when the Bible was written.  Understanding the audience and the purpose of the information is key to having a greater concept. Reading the Bible isn’t about looking for affirmation to one’s thoughts; it’s about reading the Bible to better understand what it says. Where most people get frustrated with people who carelessly through scripture around, I’d advise others to go to the source interpret what it says rather than look for evidence to what you think.

The basic mechanics of study involves the approach to reading and making sure one understands the aforementioned hermeneutics.  From there, it’s reading with a purpose.

I’m currently trying this.  As early as I can in my day, I read my New Testament section.  I started in Romans because it’s my second favorite book in the Bible. I read it (the whole thing) once a day for thirty days. (I’d say it took about 45 minutes a day.)  One twist I added (because I find making a thing your own increases effectiveness of learning) is I started tracking what Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) Romans connected or cross-referenced with most.  I’m doing this with the John MacArthur English Standard Version Study Bible.  So in the notes, each time I saw a Gospel mentioned, I made a mark.  I did this both in the Bible and on a note pad I kept around.  If you’re curious, Matthew was mentioned more than 16 times (That’s just what I have on my notepad and doesn’t include the totals from the marks I made on the book). Mark was mentioned more than twice. Luke was mentioned more than seven times, and John was referenced more than 19 times. Again, these are just the numbers I have right in front of me.

I also took notes. I tracked words or phrases that come up a bunch of times, just to see if I could identify themes. Matthew won the overall count, so I broke that book of the Bible into chunks of seven. I read Matthew 1-7, and I just finished Matthew 8-14.  As I type this, I’ve just read Matthew 15-21 for the first of 30 times. That’s how this book recommends going through the New Testament. That might be a bit more than I can chew, but I’m torn between wanting to dedicate the time I read and the amount I read with how intently I can read it. I have pages of notes on Romans, and not so much on Matthew. I am reading it, and a lot is sticking. I also find the Epistles a bit easier as they’re clear messages rather than narratives as the Gospels are. Still, I read what I committed to reading and try to hold on to what I read (The repetition of 30 times helps).

The end of the night is for my Old Testament reading. That’s just starting at Genesis 1:1 and working through it. I read about a chapter a day there.

What I’ve discovered is pretty cool.  Doing this, I see a the connections. Many argue the Old and New Testaments conflict.  There’s a reason for that. Jesus came to further explain and uphold the law (Matthew 5:17-20). One thing Jesus did was com and separate a legalistic, ceremonial sense of justification from the real source of salvation (his death on the cross and resurrection).  But we see other things. As I read about Rahab, I found Matthew 1:1, and realized, “Hey! That’s the same woman from the Old Testament!” Those connections are simply astounding. And, the conflicts are resolved when one has the context for it.

I guess I’m going to digress here because this was a major sticking point in my growth with Christ. The Pharisees and Sadducees had started to rely on the Law and ceremony. They’d become hypocritical.  Jesus quotes the Old Testament at least once a chapter. The Law is still the Law, but through Christ we have Grace. Through the Law, we are condemned. We need the law to understand how impossible our salvation is on our own.

Christ helped us better understand the law and how we are to act individually and with each other. (The sermon on the mount is pretty much all about that. Matthew Chapter 5-7.)

Reading the Old with the New makes it easier to understand the context of the law and appreciate the grace God gave us through his son Jesus Christ.

I have a few other plans regarding how I’ll read and study the Bible. My intent is to read it again and again. The trick is, I want to look at it in every way I can, seeking to understand what it says more than evaluate how I feel about it or what it means to me. This is something people do too often. First, Word of God is our Sword of the Spirit. We use it to fight temptation and stand strong. In terms of apologetics,


we use it to understand context. I’m wary of those who use it to attack a brother. I have a plank in my eye, I don’t have time to look for the speck in my brother’s eye (Matthew


I’m not saying any time someone quotes scripture at you, they’re being a hypocrite. But the spirit of why one is doing something matters.

I’m thrilled with this book and the approach it offers. If you’ve read the Bible, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense, I wouldn’t stop there and say, “It’s not real.”  First off, the Bible isn’t like a story to read (It can be, but that’s the lowest use of it).  It’s a manual. It’s a reference book. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a single text book I’ve read once through and considered myself a master at the subject.  But to study anything effectively, one needs a study approach, and this one is really giving me more insight.


Thanks for reading,


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.



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.



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.



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.


Sonnets For My Savior 4

Sonnets For My Savior 4


I deserve punishment;

You granted me grace.

I deserve banishment,

but still in Your kingdom, I have a place.

I can not do anything to erase my transgressions,

nor is there anything in me that is right.

Yet still You call me one of Your possessions,

and You bless me with the light.

I was blind until you gave me sight;

I was dead;

I could not be worthy of You try though I might,

so Your Son gave me His worth instead.

My salvation is only possible because of your love.

Thank you, My Lord, who rules from above!


Let it be Known

He turned water to blood,

but still Pharaoh’s heart was hard.

He brought frogs, gnats and flies, and the livestock died in the barns and the mud

but still Pharaoh’s heart was hard.

Boils, hail, locusts, and darkness he cast upon land,

but still Pharaoh’s heart was hard.

Then all the firstborn were taken by His hand,

and some may ask why He made Pharaoh’s heart hard.

Pharaoh was raised so that God’s power might be known.

He has mercy on whom He shows mercy,

but some are set to be examples.

Our mighty God rules over all from his throne.

His plagues were sent to eliminate controversy.

Those who doubt must remember these displays of power were only samples.


Let My Seeds Grow

Do not let my heart be a path.

You, my Lord, can cover the road with fertile soil.

If my heart is on rocky ground, soften it, so I do not earn your wrath.

If my heart is surrounded by thorns, plant in it still, Lord, even though it is a toil.

Produce grain in me, a hundredfold, sixty, or thirty,

even if I should only be a harvest of one.

Please do not stop sowing, Lord, even though my heart is dirty.

Plant in me again and again, until my heart is won.

Do not let any birds snatch your seed away.

Let my roots go deep into the ground.

Don’t let persecution cause my faith in you to decay.

Let your word be all to which I am bound.

Let me grow in you.

Sow the field of my heart until I am made new.


How Great

How great is your sovereignty, Lord?

Every decision comes from You.

How great is your mercy, Lord?

You save us despite all that we do.

How terrifying is your judgement, Lord?

You reprove and discipline those whom you love.

How terrifying is your wrath, Lord?

Vengeance is yours to repay from above.

How immeasurable is your patience, Lord?

You are slow to frustration.

How immeasurable is your love, Lord?

While we were sinners, Your Son’s death gave us salvation.

How great you are!

How great you are!


Cleanse Me

I’m covered in the filth of my own nature.

My flesh overrules the desire of my soul.

Despite my wish to serve only you, my sin is in control.

Have mercy, Lord, for I am a sinful creature.

I am prideful, selfish, and lustful.

I serve my body when I wish to serve you.

I am unable to stop or help myself through

this constant failure of which I am so regretful.

Your blood is all that can wash my life clean.

Only Your spirit can set me free.

Only through You can I be made right.

On my behalf You can intervene.

Let me be your devotee.

In service to you, let me find my true delight.


Let Us Be Gathered

You sowed good seeds in your field,

but your enemy sowed weeds among them.

You let both grow so that our wheat we might yield.

Once the crops are harvested, the weeds You will condemn.

Have Your angels harvest us.

Let us be gathered into the barn.

The end of the age will be as thus,

but blessed will be those who to You are sworn.

Let us shine like the sun in the kingdom of our father;

gather for yourself all those who believe.

You can sow good seeds and no other.

Let those who have eyes see and perceive.

Please don’t cast us as weeds into the fire,

for to be with You, Lord, is our greatest desire.


Glory in Obedience

Let our hearts be closed to greed.

Let them be filled with honesty.

Let our actions be examples of modesty.

Let us give what is owed and to all who are in need.

Your name is as Holy as your person;

let us not profane it.

Let us not seek vengeance, no matter what transgressions people commit.

Let us not cause a person to stumble or make their situation worsen.

Let us be holy, for You are holy.

Let us glorify You in our obedience.

Let our love for You be reflect in our love for one another.

Let us love all, both the mighty and the lowly.

Let us deal with our neighbors with love, peace, and expedience.

Let us treat all with respect, as if they are a sister or brother.

Sonnets for My Savior 3

Sonnets for My Savior 3

Only Through Him

It was He who came down to teach and call sinners to repent,

and it was He who willingly took all of our transgressions.

He ministered to us and taught us great lessons,

and through His sacrifice, the price for our sins was spent.

He is the way, and the truth, and the life,

and those who love him are saved.

He freed us from our sins, to which, before Him, we were enslaved.

How could they not know you, Jesus? How cold they offer such strife?

We can not reach the Father in any other way.

We can not earn salvation by any thing we do.

Without you to speak for us, our spirt and body will decay.

Only because of your sacrifice, we are made anew.

Keep us with you, Lord; please don’t let us stray.

The only path to Heaven, Jesus, is faith and believe in you.


What Happens When We Are Weak

His power is made perfect.

The Spirt gives us aid.

The grace He provides to His elect

is sufficient for me, so I am unafraid.

Now let us boast about our weakness;

Let us be content in all situations.

For He who can cure blindness

can surely remove all frustrations.

He is my life, and He is my power.

When I am weak, then I am strong.

When He is with me, I need not cower,

Nor need any whom to him they belong.

He is all in life we ever need.

We are more than conquerors through him, indeed.



You forgive us when we do wrong,

only for us to hurt you again.

How much pain have you taken for the likes of men

even though we’ve been sinners all along?

There is nothing in us that is good

even though our hearts desire to do your will.

How is it you forgive us still

even though we’re incapable of doing what we should?

Your grace and love are boundless.

Your mercy is without end.

You give it all to those who don’t deserve you.

That you are great is doubtless,

so on You alone we depend.

Please help us love how You love, forgive how You forgive, and do as You do.


Without Comparison

What is man beside He who created the universe?

What claims can man make to the face of He who hung the sun?

There is nothing man can say to bargain or coerce;

there is no feat to undertake and no deed to be done.

His very name is holy, and we were born into sin.

He is upright in all of his judgments.

Just what do we imagine we could do to win

the slightest amount of pride or any compliments?

Indeed, we all fall short of His glory.

Our redemption is through His son.

Therefore belief in Jesus is obligatory

because righteousness is given, not won.

Do not seek the self to save.

Instead trust in Him whom God rose from the Grave.



Only say so, and it shall be.

For the commander says go there, and the soldiers go.

If He says, “Open your eyes,” the one to whom He spoke shall see.

He can cast down what was high, and lift up what was low.

His words were power, for He spoke with the authority of the Father.

Blessed are any who obey.

Heed his instruction, and listen to no other,

walk in his path, and do not allow yourself to stray.

The paralyzed stood when He said stand,

and the dead woke when He said rise.

Even the ocean in the storm complied with his demand.

He who believes in Him never dies.

Obey the commander just as all these other things.

Listen to He who rules, and enjoy the life that obedience brings.


Lift Us Up If We Fall

He stepped upon the surface of the sea;

His feet were as steady as on dry land.

Through the wind and waves, His disciples saw firsthand

a figure walking toward them and felt the urge to flee.

But one among them asked to join the master,

and the Lord bade his servant to come.

Only steps did Peter travel before to doubt he did succumb;

Jesus pulled him up and kept him from disaster.

Lift us up, oh Lord, if we begin to sink,

and forgive us the doubts that cause us to fall.

Even if we should slide past the brink,

please save us from the squall.

If we find a fear and then begin to shrink,

let us have faith that you raise all of those whom you call.


Your Holy Instructions

Let us act as you have instructed;

Let us do as we should.

Let us honor the house into which we were inducted

by abhorring evil and holding fast to all things good.

Let us give affection to all of our brothers

and show honor to all.

Let us have zeal and serve you above any others,

and give help and hospitality to any saints who call.

Let us not seek revenge, but instead act with compassion,

for vengeance and wrath are yours and yours alone.

Instead, let us present ourselves in a giving fashion,

for only with good can evil be overthrown.

Let us exemplify these Christian actions with every breath we take,

so that we may live not for ourselves, but only your sake.

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 28

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 28

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

See Part 24 here.

See Part 25 here.

See part 26 here.

See part 27 here.

The Pieces

It would be a week before we had an informal service for Mom.

That first weekend was mostly an opportunity to see each other. If one were to ask me how many siblings I have, I tend to stop and count. My childhood to my adulthood has seen a sort of core group of siblings. That group consists of five of us (the five youngest).  There are more, but the divorce, distance, and time have estranged us in some ways. I keep in contact with a few of them via social media, but I’m honestly terrible at things like that.  Even among those five, I tend to interact the most with my immediate two siblings (the children of both my mother and biodad).  Why? Simply because I see them the most. I’m positive I don’t call or message any of them as much as they’d like.

However, those of us in that core five were all there. I’m stunned because I simply can’t remember the last time we were all under the same roof at the same time.

We’re all extremely isolated individuals, me more so than the rest. But we had time together to talk. This isn’t the part where we all huddled together and held each other. We’re a family of task oriented people. We see a thing to do, and do that thing. The closest “group hug” we came to was the one I spoke about in the last segment. We spent the bulk of that week seeing more and more family and arranging for the service.

We went to the funeral home the following Monday. We were all pretty much still angry and hesitant at that point. We didn’t bicker with one another at all (which is frankly evidence of God’s grace in and of itself). We didn’t even snap or bark at anyone.  I could feel the tension, but we all focused on respect and making sure we had Mom’s final arrangements at heart. Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not claiming we were all ready to lash out (although I was).  I’m simply stating it’s hard to let go emotionally when it’s so darn hard to let go physically.  I had no idea how long it takes to arrange a cremation.

We picked an urn. My aunts needed a smaller necklace because Mom wanted at least some of her ashes spread with her parents. Some of us wanted death certificates.  I was one of those. I don’t have any idea what I would need it for. I think I just wanted something. I certainly didn’t want any of the ashes. I don’t begrudge those in my family who do, but I personally wouldn’t be able to function if I had a constant reminder of the wound that exists in my life right now.

The rest of the week was mostly spending time together. We played cards. I’ve played cards with my mom for 38 years. Playing a game without her felt like trying to shuffle with one hand. All of us kept having those moments where we found ourselves looking for her.

One sister kept walking to the living room expecting to say hi to Mom.

Dad wouldn’t go into the bedroom.  He and I both slept in the living room. I haven’t spoken to him about it yet, but I have to admit, I simply couldn’t sleep.  Something happened to my back during the trip, and I’m just not used to having people around. I think there were perhaps seven people in the house at any given time, and there were times where there were perhaps 15-20. Neither my dad nor I do well around large groups. I’d discussed getting a hotel room, but it became pretty obvious that we all just needed each other, even if we just had to be around one another.  Thanks be to God, my back eased up after a few days. I think having Dad around, sleeping in a chair or couch next to the couch on which I slept was more of a comfort than I realized even in that moment.

The days were harder I think. There were things to do, and that required going through my mom’s stuff. I am firmly convinced that my mom stalked her children. She had copies of things I’d thought lost long ago. She had pictures from events I didn’t remember taking a camera to. She had every baby picture of every one of her kids in multiple sizes. She kept random letters from old teachers of mine. She had this for all five of her natural born children.

We each kept what we felt meant the most to us. I honestly don’t have a clue how one of my sisters managed it. She plowed through all of that paperwork to find what we needed for all the administrative things people have to have in times like this. I helped when I thought I could be helpful. We eventually got everything compiled into whatever group it needed to be in.

One thing remained: the obituary.

At first, I thought there was a form to fill out and that someone else would write it.  That wasn’t the case. Someone had to write it. A lot of people had thoughts on what needed to be said. Then I volunteered. I’ve written more than five books, and each of them are more than 30,000 words. Some of them are more than 60,000. I’ve written hundreds of news stories, dozens of features and thousands of captions. Mom’s obituary is 337 words, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

I waited until everyone else had gone to bed (or at least started that way). One of my sisters talked to me about the important things to note. The problem was, there were so many people who mattered. I did the math, and realized my mother is directly connected to at least 50 children (three generations).

After I finished researching and talking to my sister, I opened this very lap top on which I’m typing now, and prayed.

I don’t remember all of the exact words, but I was horrified. I wanted to pay tribute to my Mom, and I wanted any who read the obituary to understand why she was so special. If she knew you, she loved you. It was like the greatest disease you could wish for. All she had to do was meet you and know one of us loved you, and she loved you. She loved you and forgave transgressions for which other parents would cast you out of the house. She provided for you no matter what debt that put her in. She was meticulous in identifying birthdays, anniversaries, school days, and anything else that mattered.

I’ve prayed many times. I’ve seen many of those prayers answered. But in a moment, a flash of realization, God answered. He didn’t answer with audible words; he answered with inspiration.

To tell of everyone my mother loved or cared for would take too much space, and to list just some of them would raise them above the others, when my mom would never want that feeling. In these ways, my mother was so very much like our savior Jesus Christ.

I typed out the words in moments, but my eyes were flooding with tears before I finished the third paragraph. Then, as I teach my students, I had to revise and edit. I’d just finished shattering my heart describing a woman I loved so very much, and I had to stomp on the shards over, and over again to make sure that the skill of the writing matched the emotion of its content. I read it at least five times.

I tell you all, whoever reads this, I’ve often been described as dogged and driven. People sometimes speak of amazement with how able I am to focus on a task. This isn’t my strength. It never was. It was only ever the strength and faith God gave me, not one he placed in me as my nature, but one he loans me through his own. I’m weeping now, this very moment as I type this recollection. But I endure because of the strength He has given me.

When it was done, it all came rushing out.  I made it outside, sat on the step of the porch and let it all go. I don’t have a clue how long I balled. Amidst gulps of breath and sniffs of snot, I quoted every verse of scripture I could bring to mind.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew Chapter 5:4)

“We rejoice in our suffering, for suffering builds endurance, and endurance builds character, and character builds hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God has filled us with love through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).

“‘For I know the plans I have for  you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I thanked God for the strength he gave me. Eventually, the tears ceased. I went back inside, and went to sleep.

The next day, the family was happy with the obituary. We sent it off, and I created a program for the service, so people would have something if they wanted it.

My adopted sister and brother (I honestly couldn’t explain with a million words how my head works, so just know that if I think of you as family, you are) stopped by for a day. They brought their youngest daughter.  We talked, and they provided me company and comfort. I showed them all the stupid stuff my mom kept just because I had it once. She kept this photo copy of a random comic I bought. I didn’t even buy another issue, but there it was.

Students in my class would recognize what’s called a phase card. It’s a card that indicates what privileges a military student has.  My mom kept it. I don’t even know how she got it, but there it was. If some random person took a random photo of me, she found it, printed it, and put it in a book.  She did this for every one of us.

Dear God, almighty Father, praise you for giving me a mother who loved us so much.

One of my nieces, a talented stage performer, recorded hymns. Not only were they beautiful, but they were so comforting because these were hymns my mother requested. They were hymns of praise and worship. As I’d grown in my faith, I realized how estranged my family had become with Christ. Those requests, and hearing someone we love sing them, comforted me because they demonstrated that though we struggled with (at best) misguided churches, my mother’s faith remained all the days of her life.

All that was left, was to say goodbye during the service.



Questions and Revelations

Did the verses help?

They didn’t help. They filled me. They gave me strength. They weren’t like some bit of fresh air from a stuffy office; they were the source of any effort I could offer. They still are. If one were to ask me to prove God exists, I can’t really point to anything specific. I don’t think that’s how it works. Instead I invite them to seek Christ. Read God’s word. Let it be what you turn to in times of need. If you do this with an earnest heart, you’ll get it, and if you never do, there isn’t anything I’ll be able to say or do that will convince you. Since I’ve began this journey, I’m certain that my ability to get through it is based primarily on God’s word and the ability he gave me to seek it to find the right verse for the right occasion.

What did the obituary say:

I thought about where to put this, and it just seems this is the right spot. One can read it if he or she wishes, but he or she can also move on.

These are the words God wrote through me to pay respect to my mother:

Marietta Zavala

June 23, 1949-July 26, 2018

Marietta Zavala, 69, passed away July 26, 2018, in Yuma, Arizona.

She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 23, 1949, to Dale and Corinne Starbuck.

She moved to Yuma in 1984, where she began working at Yuma Proving Ground until she retired Dec. 1, 2010.

She is survived by her husband Rafael Zavala, and her sisters, Gladys, Dawn, and Michelle.

She is also survived by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but to offer names would require more space and time than a simple column can provide, for what made her special, was her endless love, compassion, and generosity to anyone she met.

She managed birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and holidays for more than 50 people, a number which only reflects those she was related to by blood or marriage, but she loved and cared for so many others who think of her as Mom, Grandma, or Great Grandma. She never let a single child she ever met go without presents or, more importantly, a phone call to tell them how much she loved them. This is the legacy she leaves on this earth. It is one of a woman who would always welcome those who needed somewhere to stay; it is one of a mother who cared for children as if they were her own regardless of their relationship. That boundless affection was reflected in her constant desire to prepare her home to be a place of welcome for those for whom she cared.

When someone needed anyone, she was always the first to be called and the first to be there. She will be missed by all those who are now unsure of who to call because the one who was always there has been called to Heaven.

The family is scheduled to host an open house memorial from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 3 at 7584 E. Olive Ann Lane, Yuma, Arizona, 85366. Flowers and letters of condolence may be sent to the same address. 

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading