Visits From A Man Named Nobody 80

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 80

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Twenty-Four

May 29, 2038, 10:34 p.m. 

13 Years, 189 Days Ago

Paul gently held his mother as she retched. Her heaving stomach had long since emptied itself of it contents. She wept. 

“It hurts!” The statement was barely a whisper, but it still carried with it the implication of immense pain. 

She heaved again. Despite doing so for at least five minutes, nothing came out. Each time she finished convulsing, she fought to take in a breath before another wave of nausea hit her. It was like she was being suffocated by the illness. 

“I’m here,” Paul said. “I’m sorry. I … I don’t know what to do.”

Each bout of nausea got worse after each treatment. This session, the fourth, there was no optimism as they sat the treatment room, and Derek administered the treatment. They waited for the inevitable aftermath, and it came just five hours after they got home.

This time, Paul’s mother didn’t even sleep. She didn’t eat. She just went into her bathroom and waited with Paul, and the nausea, as expected, hit harder than ever. 

Paul stared at his mother as she heaved again, but this time, something plopped into the bowl. 

Paul glanced inside and froze. Dark red blood swirled in the water, changing it’s color in a terrifying moment. 

“We’re taking you in,” Paul said. 

He tapped his PID, activating it so he could press the emergency button. After a few painful moments, during which his mother coughed more blood into the toilet, a man’s face appeared on the PID.

“Emergency services. An ambulance is already on the way. My name is Don. Please tell me the emergency.”

“My mom’s coughing up blood,” Paul said. “She’s been going through chemotherapy, and they told me to report any blood immediately.”

Don’s holographic head nodded. “Someone will be there soon. Are there any other symptoms.”

“It hurts,” Paul’s mother whined. “I feel like my head is going to explode. God, I don’t want to do this any more. I don’t want this pain. Lord, I’m ready. Call me home and end this suffering.”

Paul fell back against the bathtub as if he were shoved. Did she really just ask to die? Is the pain that bad?

A siren screamed in the distance, and Paul shook his head and sucked in a breath. “Let’s get you up.”

He reached over to help his mother up, but she tried to push him away. “I said I’m done!” Though the comment was barely audible, the anger in her tone was clear.

“OK,” Paul said. “I’ll just go let them in.”

He rushed to the door. Coincidentally, the ambulance came to a stop in front of the house right as Paul opened the door. The large white vehicle’s hybrid engine seemed to both rumble and whine at the same time. Red lights flashed on the top of the vehicle. 

Two people, both women, exited the front doors and quickly walked to the back. They opened the rear side of the ambulance and rolled out a gurney. 

“The door is open!” Paul shouted. “We’re in the bathroom in the master bedroom.”

Paul didn’t wait for any reply, rushing back to his mother. 

He got to the bathroom and found her sitting on the stool crying. She held herself, awkwardly crossing her arms in front of her chest and yet still twisting her hands around so they could clasp together. 

“I can’t do it anymore!” Her comments came in quiet whispers of agony. “Please take this pain. Please don’t make me go through any more.”

“The ambulance is here,” Paul said. “They’re going to get you to the hospital and make you feel better.”

She looked at him, her full lips trembling, holding in a scream. She took a deep breath. “I don’t want to feel better,” she said. “I want the pain to stop.”

“That’s …” Paul didn’t understand. 

“I don’t want comfort,” she said. “I want it to end.”

“I … “  Paul couldn’t think.

“I love you,” she said. “I’m sorry I can’t fight any more. I just can’t do this any more.”

… to be continued …

Visits From a Man Named Nobody 24

Visits From a Man Named Nobody 24

PT 1 // PT 2 // PT 3 // PT 4 // PT 5 // PT 6 // PT 7 // PT 8 // PT 9 // PT 10 // PT 11 // PT 12 // PT 13 // PT 14 // PT 15 // PT 16 // PT 17 // PT 18 // PT 19 // PT 20 // PT 21 // PT 22 // PT 23 //

“It would be pointless!” Paul felt as if he’d finally gained the advantage in a conversation with Nobody.

“Unless the point is to teach that even the most righteous will suffer.” Nobody spoke as if the answer had just occurred to him. “What if the point of Job isn’t so much why, people suffer, but that people will suffer? Then the story of Job teaches us how one can suffer righteously. It shows us God is in control, even when we think he’s not watching.”

“But he let him suffer just to prove a point!” Paul wasn’t letting that perspective go.

“When did he promise no one would suffer?” Nobody asked. 

“So he just lets people suffer?” Paul asked back.

“Suffering is a result of sin,” Nobody said. “Man chose to rebel, that’s what sin is. Man chose to pursue what he wants rather than obey God. The natural consequences of that choice are death and suffering. From that point of view, suffering is a result of sin, which was brought on by Adam’s disobedience. Then we see in Job that no one is promised of life without pain, but we also see that even our suffering is accounted for in a broader plan.”

Nobody leaned forward. “People suffer, and it’s always tragic, but there’s always a reason. We may not know it. That reason may even be, ‘It’s just something that has to happen.’ But our suffering shapes us. I’m here because my suffering shaped me, and it’s prepared me to help you.”

“You’re helping me because … because you suffered …”  Paul couldn’t say the words.

“I suffered like you suffered,” Nobody said. “I was beaten. I’m not happy about the pain I endured, but I’m happy I found purpose through that pain, and I’m very happy that I can help you because I understand what you’ve been through. So sometimes, people suffer to help ease the suffering of others.”

Paul considered what he was hearing. “But there are others. You said you only visit me.”

“Honestly,” Nobody shrugged. “I can’t help everyone. But if I help you, you’ll be able to help someone. Then, they’ll be able to help others. I had to start somewhere, so I started at the best place I could.”

“What made me the best place to start?” Paul asked.

Nobody’s mask shifted position, making it obvious that he had smiled. “That is the secret you’ll have to uncover on your own, and you will. For now though, we have to talk about relationships.”

“Why? What does that have to do with suffering or my life?” Paul asked.

“If you never let anyone in, you’ll never find those who can help you in your time of need.” Nobody leaned back on the couch. “Also, if you only try to hold on to the people you’ve chosen, you’ll become even more possessive of them, and you’ll resent them for having others in their lives.”

Paul groaned and rolled his head back. “You’re talking about Bill!”

“Whose name you can’t speak without making it sound like a curse,” Nobody said.

“You traveled through space to sit on a couch and tell me to be nice to a guy who’s just trying to hook up with my mom?” Paul asked.

“He’s not trying to take her from you,” Nobody said, “and if you give him a chance, you’ll see he’s actually trying to become a part of your life.”

“I don’t want him in my life!” Paul said.

Nobody sat there as still as a statue as Paul thought about the conversation. 

“My mom can date him if she wants!” Paul wasn’t sure why he felt the need to defend her relationship, but there it was.

Nobody just kept starting at him.

“I won’t get …  I’ll get over it if she wants to spend more time with …. ” He couldn’t speak the lie. 

“If you don’t give him a chance, you’re putting your mom in this position where she has to choose,” Nobody finally said.  

“She should choose me,” Paul said. 

“That may be the first truly selfish thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Nobody said. 

Paul leapt up from the recliner. “It’s not selfish to think a mother should prioritize her kids!”

“Are the words “prioritize” and “serve” synonyms?” Nobody asked.

“No.”

“Your mom works to provide for you,” Nobody said, holding up fingers as he counted off each point. “She spends time with you both to help you as well as she can with school and to just spend time with you having fun. She’s there when you need her, so I’d say she’s prioritized you perfectly well. Does prioritizing you mean she can never date or have a relationship apart from you?”

Paul slumped back down in his chair, mumbling. “You always make me feel like a jerk.” 

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 23

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 23

PT 1 // PT 2 // PT 3 // PT 4 // PT 5 // PT 6 // PT 7 // PT 8 // PT 9 // PT 10 // PT 11 // PT 12 // PT 13 // PT 14 // PT 15 // PT 16 // PT 17 // PT 18 // PT 19 // PT 20 // PT 21 // PT 22 //

His mother drove home, and they shared pleasantly meaningless conversation along the way. She pulled in front of the house to let him out. He scurried to the door, knowing she wouldn’t leave until she saw him enter the house and turn on the light. 

He did so, spinning around to wave at her as she drove away. He didn’t notice when he turned on the light, only flipping the switch to make sure he could say goodbye to his mother, but when he turned around, he realized Nobody was sitting on his living room couch.

It had been more than three years since Paul had even heard from Nobody, and it had been even longer since he’d last actually seen him. Regardless, Nobody looked absolutely no different from the last time they spoke. 

He rested an arm along the back of the leather couch and had one leg propped on the knee of the other. 

They stared at each other for an embarrassingly long time. 

“What?” Paul asked.

“Don’t you want to sit down?” Nobody asked.

Paul scanned the living room. He didn’t notice any signs of freezing or cracking. There wasn’t any wet spot on the brown carpet that he could spot. Wherever Nobody teleported to, it wasn’t the living room. 

“I didn’t do anything,” Paul said. 

“I know,” Nobody replied.

“Then why are you here?” Paul asked.

“The same reason I come every time,” Nobody answered. “I’m here to help.”

“You can’t do this!” Paul shouted.

“What is it you think I’m doing?” Nobody asked.

Paul stomped up to him, but Nobody didn’t so much as shift his position on the couch. “Every time you come here, there’s something going on. It’s either something I did wrong or something bad happened. You can’t be here!”

Paul still couldn’t see Nobody’s face through the opaque mask, but he’d have sworn Nobody smiled. “I am here to talk about important things, but it’s not something bad. Not this time.”

Those last words only made Paul more afraid. “But you show up, and I’m supposed to just act like it’s expected even though you might appear when something terrible happens?”

Paul was still looming over Nobody, waving his arms in frustration. 

“I come when I know you need me most,” Nobody said. “I’ll be there to comfort you when you’re sad, but I’m here now to talk to you about relationships.”

“Relationships?” Paul echoed the word as if he didn’t know what it meant.

“Yes, now would you, please, sit down?” 

Paul stepped back, only glancing behind himself for an instant to make sure he wouldn’t trip. When he was sure the recliner was there to catch him, he let himself fall backward into the chair. He didn’t want to take his eyes off Nobody.

“I’m listening,” Paul said.

“Why don’t you like Bill?” Nobody asked.

“No,” Paul said. “It’s not going to go down like this anymore. I’m old enough to ask the questions I’ve always wondered, and you already know what I’m going to say anyway.”

“This has nothing to do with what I know about you,” Nobody said. “It has everything to do with you coming to realize your own heart.” 

Paul threw his hands up in derision. “I’m not playing your game without any answers. You know what I’m thinking. You know what I’ve done. You even know what I’m going to do!” He couldn’t help it. His voice grew louder with each sentence. “You have the ability to teleport, and you’re using it to talk to me.”

Nobody set his raised leg down. He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and weaving his hands together. “You haven’t asked a single question yet.”

“Why me!?” Paul asked. 

“You could have asked any question,” Nobody said. “Yet you didn’t ask how I teleport. You didn’t ask how I know what I know. Instead, you ask why I’m visiting you. Why?”

Paul opened his mouth, but no words came. He thought about it, but all he really knew was he wanted to know why. “Do you visit others? Do you know what they think? Do you have some sort of advanced ability to sense kids who are …”

“Why did you stop?” Nobody’s stare was all the more disquieting because Paul couldn’t see the man’s eyes through the mask. 

“Is it because of what my dad did? Do you visit kids who are abused?” Paul whispered the questions. 

“I only visit you, and I visit you because I know I can help you,” Nobody said. 

“How do you know?” Paul asked. 

“Why do people suffer?” 

There it was again. Every time Paul really thought he was getting the answers he wanted, Nobody always asked a question that completely changed the direction of what limited conversations he’s had the chance to share with Nobody. 

“Don’t ignore me!”

“I’m not ignoring you.” No matter how loudly Paul yelled, Nobody’s voice was always soft and gentle. Paul wasn’t sure he could make Nobody angry even if he honestly tried. “But in order for you to understand how I know I can help you, I have to help you understand the nature of trials.”

“People suffer because the world is full of humans, and most of them are terrible.” Paul was surprised to realize he meant it.

“Only most?” Nobody asked.

“All of us,” Paul groaned. “I remember;’ there is no one who is good.’” 

It was one of the first things Nobody had said, and it turned out to be a verse from the Bible. Then again, most of the words Nobody said were taken from the Bible. The man was like a living audio book. 

“But is that why people suffer? People suffer because they’re bad?” Nobody asked.

Paul shrugged. 

“So does that mean everything bad that happens is some sort of punishment?” Nobody asked. 

Paul shrugged again. “It’s what Mr. Dorny says.”

“You already know he’s not a reliable source of information.” That might have been the first time Paul ever heard Nobody speak with any sort of frustration or derision in his tone. 

“It’s not just him,” Paul replied. “Lot’s of people say bad thing happen to people who sin. Is that your point? I should behave or God will punish me?”

Nobody shook his head. “God does punish people in His time and in His way, but what about Job?”

“Come on, man! You’re acting like I’ve read that Bible a dozen times or something,” Paul said. “There’s like a million books in that Bible, and I’m pretty sure like three of them are just lists of names.”

“I guess you’ll just have to read one of those books again,” Nobody said. “Job is one of the earlier books. But to help the discussion along, he’s the one God let Satan attack.”

“The guy whose kids died?” Paul asked.

Nobody nodded. 

“You’re not helping your case,” Paul said. “The guy didn’t do anything wrong, so God lets the devil do all these bad things to him just to test him. That doesn’t sound very loving or kind to me. Are you saying even when we do right God might still let us suffer just to prove a point?”

Nobody tilted his head as if he were thinking about something. “What point would he be proving?” He didn’t ask the question like he normally did. This question sounded like he was really trying to puzzle something out. 

Ha! Paul thought. He doesn’t know how to answer. He doesn’t know how to make God look kind and loving after letting all that stuff happen to Job.

… To be continued …

Musings on Christianity 41

Musings on Christianity 41

Do We Have to Suffer?

In the last chapter, I talked about how we can endure suffering. But that leads to the question of our need to suffer.

I’m aware of a few viewpoints on this. Dr. John McArthur said, “God wants you to suffer,” in his book, Found, God’s Will.

I’ll admit I wanted to reject that statement, but I thought about it in a few different ways. I’m respectfully not wiling to go so far as to say what God wants is the suffering for its own sake, but I know that God wants us to follow Him, and in this world of sin and judgement, that path will lead to suffering.

Thus far in my reading of Acts, Paul has been stoned, beaten with rods, imprisoned, and beaten by a mob, and this was all after he was blinded by Christ’s radiance in his conversion.

Then there is our Savior Christ, who suffered, bled, and died on the cross for our sins. If we are to be like Christ, must not we pick up our cross and follow him( Matthew 16:24)? Does that not necessarily mean we must suffer?

However, this might lead people to make themselves suffer or foolishly place themselves in harm’s way in a misguided effort to please God, and that’s not the same thing.

Those who live a life dedicated to Christ are indeed going to suffer. They suffer in a fleshly way because they deny themselves temptations others may delight in. This discipline honors God because it shows we’re willing to choose Him over temptation.

Christians suffer for their faith. There are a lot of causes for this. Sometimes my faith is insulted because of something people claiming to be Christian do or say, and sometimes it’s because of some very well-known Christian views on sex, gender, abortion, and marriage. There are people who passionately disagree with these views and aren’t shy about how they express that. I personally don’t see the point in debating the issue. I think what I think, and I don’t expect I’ll change someone else’s opinion. They think what they think, and I’m not going to sow discord or anger over an issue where I’m not going to change someone’s mindset. But it hurts seeing those “witty” “Christians are stupid because” posts I see on social media every day.

To date, while I’ve absolutely suffered, I wouldn’t say I’ve suffered for the sake of Christ per-se. I haven’t been accosted or beaten. I haven’t been insulted or spat on. So does that mean I’m being disobedient to God? I think this is what causes a lot of confusion with people.

I don’t want to over think it. I’m positive that today’s troubles are sufficient for themselves (Matthew 6:34). So my theory remains. I think a person truly seeking God will inevitably suffer for their faith. How we endure that suffering is an opportunity to glorify God. I think that human beings, regardless of their faith, are going to suffer.

Twice since this book began, I’ve been exposed to COVID-19, and twice, thanks be to God and Gis mercy, I have been protected and free from that disease. For any thinking to misread that and say that no “Christians” catch COVID, that’s not what I said. If I did catch the disease, that would also be God’s sovereign will, and that would have been an opportunity to glorify Him. I’m not asserting that “Christians won’t catch COVID;” I’m only giving the glory to Him for protecting me and my family to this date.

My mother passed away. I’ve been separated from people I love for short and long periods, and periods that haven’t even ended yet. Suffering comes to us all, and this is because of sin. The curse of sin brought pain, suffering, and death to this world. All of that stems from our father Adam, who disobeyed God’s one command. His disobedience led to our curse.

It was Christ, the second Adam, who’s obedience grants us our salvation. That salvation is possible because Christ chose to lay His life down for us (John 10:18). He accepted that suffering for us, so when suffering comes in our lives, we endure it for His sake.

For our panel: Does God truly want us to suffer or is it just an inevitable part of life we face when we live as Christians? What parts of scripture prove or disprove this? If we are indeed supposed to suffer are we then supposed to seek that suffering? What is the reason for suffering (We know the cause is Sin, but for what reasons)? What do we gain from suffering?

Musings on Christianity 29

Musings on Christianity 29

What Does It Mean to Live by Faith?

The greatest challenge some may face in becoming Christians is also a mindset that best represents a Christian. Yes, all people should be God-centered but one can not be God-centered without having faith, and that challenges people.

Hebrews 11 is essentially a summary of the Old Testament, but it presents that summary from the perspective of faith. It begins by defining faith.

“Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”

This can challenge some people. What they want is “proof” or “reason to believe.” But if you have proof, you don’t need faith. I don’t need faith to know I’m 5-foot-6 or 178 pounds. I measure my self. I can weigh myself.

Faith is the trust that something is real or will come without any real evidence. When we act on faith, we glorify the God we serve in faith. This, I feel, is the crux of faith and the message of Hebrews 11.

We start again with creation. Scientists have been working to prove one theory for as long as I can remember, and while that theory is commonly accepted, it is far from proven. Why? Where evolutionists rely on evidence they still have yet to find, creationists live by faith. Is it wrong to seek to understand? No, but any evidence I seek is more to defend my faith than to secure it. This is because, “By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3).

To live by faith is to live as God commands, trusting you will receive the promises His word makes. The challenges come when something doesn’t go the way one would wish. I’m not immune to this. I didn’t want my mother to die. I didn’t want the corona virus to attack the world. This leads to the questions like, “why would God … “ and “why do … “ 

I wouldn’t argue it’s wrong to ask questions. Plenty of people asked God plenty of questions through prayer. Even that can be an act of faith. When things happen, and someone prays to God genuinely seeking his comfort and council, they glorify God.

But one can’t become lost because of the lack of answered desires. All of our best promises are to come when Christ returns. There are good things in store for believers, but as long as we are in the cursed flesh of sinful humanity, the pains of that curse will remain. But if we live by faith and walk by faith, the greater promises that will come when Christ comes again are ours.

When our prayers are unanswered, we continue to pray in faith. When our desires are denied, we move on in the faith that those desires weren’t a part of God’s plan. We have faith that God’s plan will lead us to our greatest joy, and that joy isn’t one we will have on this earth. Even if a Christian were to have the most ridiculously happy life a person could imagine on this Earth, not all of those days together would be in any way comparable to a moment in Heaven. People have probably heard the inverse of this from Romans 8:18, but both are true. Nothing is worth comparing, and that is the promise we trust in as we live by faith.

Does that mean we are never given assurance? Of course we are. The Bible is full of assurances of faith, and Hebrews 11 is just a short summary of so many examples. Christ being raised from the dead is in itself an assurance of faith, for he was the perfect, sinless man, who lived by faith and walked by faith. So when man, in his wicked rejection of Christ, led him to crucifixion, Christ accepted that humiliation. He walked in faith, knowing he was doing as the Father commanded, and the Father rewarded that faith with the resurrection that thus serves as the assurance for our faith.

So we’re called as Christians to live in faith that if we hold fast to Christ as our hope, we have been saved and are assured a place with him in Heaven.

So we can not allow despair or sadness to take our faith. If it does, then our faith was false, and we never had hope. Please read that carefully. It does not say despair or sadness is a symbol of a lack of faith. What I wish to emphasize is that if despair or sadness can cause one to turn away from faith, their faith was false.

This is what never giving up means. The guy who keeps struggling even when he’s lost 1,000 times shows that he has faith he can win just once. That is faith. The only reason one would have to stop is if he becomes convinced he won’t win. If faith is what keeps us going, than only its absence can be the reason we stop.

I urge you all to never stop. Pray when you are happy, sad, lost, confused, assured, confident, or in despair. Live as Christ lived trusting that you will receive the rewards He promised. Do not let the seasons of this world lead you to forget the glorious eternal life that is to come. Live by faith, and you will be commended.

For our panel: What is your favorite story of faith from the Bible? Do you have a personal trial of faith you would like to share? Does fear or sadness immediately mean you have no faith? How does one endure suffering in faith? Does the absence of answered prayers mean an absence of faith?

Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?

Musings on Christianity 13

Musings on Christianity 13

How Can I Hold My Faith In Times of Sorrow?

I was barely in junior high when my family was divorced. My biological father did something terrible. He was abusive in several senses. His verbal insults to me were cruel. Name calling and slapping were common things. He’d flick middle and ring finger at my lips for speaking against him. He did more, and he did worse, but the worst thing he did wasn’t to me, so it isn’t for me to speak about.

What he did broke my family for a very long time. I wish I could tell you we moved away, and everything got better, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of love and laughter, but it seemed those times were interrupted with abuse that struck generation after generation. From the time I was a boy until now, I felt like a failure as a man because I couldn’t protect my family from the harm that came their way.

I constantly wondered why. You see, I have always believed in God. So I constantly asked why did this happen? Then came 2013. Yet another member of my family faced an abusive past. To say I was struggling at work would be a drastic understatement. It felt as if I couldn’t do anything right.

I spoke to a coworker a few times that I was tempted to even deny God’s existence, but I couldn’t. I knew he was there. I just couldn’t understand why I felt such pain. I couldn’t understand why I felt such helplessness.

A lot of things started happening then. In that conversation with my coworker, I said that I understood there was a reason, I just didn’t know what it was.

This is a brief story on the truth that there is a reason. His plan is perfect.

It started, with a dog. My sister Rosa and I spent pretty much every evening together with her daughter watching television. I’d hang out with my niece while she worked on an online college course. I let her dogs out, and realized at nine or ten at night that one dog was gone. The time I had with my sister and niece was perhaps the only place I had at that point in my life where I truly felt I was “right.” I felt as though I was competent. I felt as though every decision I made wasn’t some sort of epic failure, and then I lost my sister’s dog.

I told her, “I’m going to find her.” I wandered around in the rain, calling out her name, and, in between calling her, praying. “God, please reunite Rosa with her dog.” I was careful with the prayer. I wasn’t looking for God necessarily to make me look good. Instead, I was just asking God to reunite a person with her beloved pet. For perhaps a few hours I searched. The rain pounded me, but I held onto my faith. I desperately needed to see something.

Then I heard a voice, “You’re looking for that little white dog aren’t you?”

Standing outside in the pouring rain was a man smoking a cigarette. I wasn’t even sure how he was doing it. This was a real man. My sister knew him. They’d spoken. But there he was standing outside in the rain at that moment, at that time. So I called that little white dog the Miracle Dog.

In a lifetime filled with the abuse of so many people I loved, that little answered prayer (we found the dog a few minutes later) was this sip of water when I had felt like I was dying of thirst.

Perhaps you’re wondering how that one little thing could make up for at least four different instances of abuse in my family? Readers, that was a preview. It was God showing me, “Look how carefully I place people. Look how minute the details of my plans are.”

You see, he had to put me in a house I really didn’t have any business being in. He had to place me with a family that didn’t need to accept me. Rosa isn’t my sister by blood. We adopted each other. There wasn’t really a reason. It just happened. But there I was. Then he had to have a lost dog. I think the rain might have been just a flash of dramatic effect, but who am I to question God. Then he placed that guy outside at that exact moment just when I looked in that exact area to tell me something he’d briefly noticed hours before.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways,” Romans 11:33.

The Bible is full of these stories of faith paying off. The birth of Isaac. Abraham’s testing with Isaac. But the one that sticks out to me the most, the story that I affiliate a bit more with now than I had previously, is the story of Joseph in Genesis. He was sold to slavery, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, forgotten in prison, and then, just when it was time, made the second most powerful man in Egypt.

There really are several stories of what some may call coincidence, and one might feel the Bible can have those because it was written to give faith. I’m not actually ready to present my case for why the Bible is real, though there are several books out there that address that question. All I need you to see is that the Bible has these stories. But I’d never thought in all my days that something like that would happen for me.

But that was just a dog. I mean, you keep looking long enough and you’ll find anything, right? Right! But why? Why keep looking. Why not give up? I had something to hold onto. Christ. It’s hard to explain the concept to you. There is no physical thing keeping me from denying Christ. Nothing is stoping me from turning away or letting him go. Nothing physical at least. Any non-believer could say, “Oh, just watch. If his life gets bad enough, he’ll turn away.”

Again, I was tempted. But that silly dog was the exact amount of encouragement I needed to begin a journey that strengthened me for even stronger trails, particularly the death of my mother.

But today is about how meticulous God’s plan is. Here I was, a man who was surrounded by horrid examples of what a father was, constantly feeling like he was failing his nieces and nephew. Here I was, a man helping to raise children that were never his. “Why!?” I wondered.

Then I met Julie, and then I met my sons. Three wonderful boys who fill my life with love and joy, and they needed me. I wrote that correctly. They didn’t need someone. They needed me! This isn’t arrogance. You see, my sons are struggling with their own feelings of loss and confusion. They’re struggling with a divorce of their own and trying to understand. I lived a life where I saw so many perfect examples of the worst a father could be, but I was also shown so many wonderful examples of what a father should be. The man who raised me. The comic shop owner who literally caught me trying to steal from him, and then forgave me, and then allowed me to take care of his shop when he went to get lunch. 

I met those boys and saw their need, and never felt more certain that I’d perfectly understood a very important verse of the Bible.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” Genesis 50:20

God’s plan is perfect. In that moment I realized that every trial I faced and every hardship I encountered wasn’t necessarily punishment. I was unworked metal that needed forging for His use.

I was custom forged to be the father my sons so desperately wanted and needed, and now, looking back, I wouldn’t wish those I love to go through what they faced, for it was far harder than my own struggles, but if I could go through it alone, if I had to feel that pain again, I’d do it in a heartbeat if it would make me a fraction of a better father than the clumsy, well-meaning man I am now.

When we hold onto our faith, when we trust in His plan, in time, in His time, we understand why. The incident with the Miracle Dog was years before I met Julie, but God knew I needed just the smallest bit of light. I needed to find a stupid dog lost in the rain. I needed to see His perfect plan in that moment, just to get me by for a few more years until I could truly get it.

I have to tell you that not every suffering is made to forge you, but it can. It can prepare you. It can sanctify you. It can focus you. It can rebuke you. When you endure that suffering and maintain your faith, that comfort does a lot. But when you come out of the other side of the trial, I can tell you the blessings are far greater than the suffering was painful. One hug from my sons, and all of that pain and abuse just melted away. One smile from my sons, and I feel like the most blessed man in the world. One “I love you” from my sons, and I feel like the most loved man on earth.

And to think, it almost never happened. I could have chosen what many called, the wiser path. I could have stayed in the Navy. I could have gotten back into the Navy when I learned I’d been selected to be promoted to chief petty officer. I might have stayed in if the job at DINFOS wasn’t available. You see, even there is the meticulous work of our God. I wanted a job there as a civilian, but there weren’t any openings, not until a dear friend of mine got promoted, right when my time in the Navy was ending.

When we focus on all the bad that happens to us, we will only ever see our suffering. This is how we become convinced we’re alone. We’re looking at the punishment rather than our offense, or we’re looking at the fire rather than the blacksmith. But when you choose to focus on God, no matter what, you see the hope. At least, I did.

It might take hours, while you’re looking for a little dog in the rain. It might take years, while you’re working on getting a book published. It might take decades, while you’re looking at abuse and hate and hoping you’d get the chance to show love and compassion. The time it takes forges you. And when it all comes together, it’s more wonderful than you could imagine.

I’m still alive, so my trials aren’t over. I’ve had this time of joy in my life, and I mean to enjoy it. I mean to praise God for every minute of it. In times of need he is there. In times of plenty, He is there. Those times of need are when I know, after these days I’ve had, I can lean on Him harder. He is the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

For our panel: What else does suffering do for us? What other value might there be in holding on to Christ?  How, can we hold on to Christ when we feel lost? Would you be willing to share a story in which you felt lost, and holding onto Christ helped you? How does holding on to Christ help us in the moment of suffering, before the relief comes?

Sonnets For My Savior 46

Sonnets For My Savior 46

What You Seek

Cry for those who turn from God to seek wealth.
Lament for those who prefer the respect of man over the Son’s sacrifice.
Mourn over those who think the things of this world lead to health.
Wail for those who cast aside God for the sake of any vice.

Listen for God’s call.
Respond when it comes.
Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all.
But it is to Him you must run.

God may grant an unrepentant child his earthly desires,
but those rewards are all the child will obtain.
When death comes, all that waits is a lake of fire.
The child has traded a moment of pleasure for an eternity of pain.

Think carefully about thing things you look for.
All the worldly things are filthy rags; God’s love is more.

 


 

Keep It

When the moon is gone, and the sky is black,
let me keep my faith in You.
When enemies surround me, and they are ready to attack,
let me keep my faith in You.

Should death be near, I shall not be afraid,
for I only pass through death to life unending.
Let me look upon Your grace having not strayed.
Help me hold to You with a trust unbending.

You created the Earth.
What could it do that You can’t control?
You power is the only power that holds worth.
Your grace is the only thing that can make a broken man whole.

When trials come to test our faith in You.
Let us endure the trail, keep our faith, and glorify You.

 


 

The Servant

He toils away through the night,
unsure of when his master will return.
He does as he knows is good and right,
and the master’s joy is what he will earn.

The manager is wise and faithful.
He’s determined to be ready.
The plates are clean as is the table.
His actions are trustworthy and steady.

When the master returns, the servant will be blessed,
for the servant was loyal and steadfast.
The humble servant passed the test,
so his gift is sure to last.

Christ will return when we least expect.
Display for Him how well His house has been kept.

 


 

Courage

The Lord our God is with me.
I shall be strong and of good courage.
Though enemies may surround me,
I shall not be discouraged. 

Wherever I may go,
He is my strength and my shield.
I stand firm because I know
none can match the power He wields.

What can the created do
against the might of the creator?
No matter the trials I go through,
I seek wisdom if I seek His favor.

I never have reason to fear
if I have faith in my God and keep Him near. 

 


 

Neighbor

Bleeding on the side of the road,
he’s beaten and broken.
They pass by as if they don’t know.
They pass by as if he hadn’t spoken.

Self-occupied and distracted,
they ignore others even when they have the means to assist.
Uncaring of how they have acted,
they’ve blinded themselves to the opportunity they’ve missed.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Have compassion on them and offer them care.
Follow Christ and let go of yourself.
If you would receive, why do you refuse to share?

Treat your neighbors with love and kindness.
This is the fruit of a life of righteousness.

 


 

Trials

Let us face our trials with you on our minds.
Let us turn to you for strength.
Let us praise you all the more in trying times.
Let us hold fast to you no matter the trial’s length.

For you are our refuge.
You are our foundation.
You are our relief from aches many or few.
Glorifying you is appropriate in any situation.

Let us keep our faith in You.
You are our rock and our salvation.
Let our trust in Your will and glorify You.
Let us hold tight to You and resist temptation. 

We can not know how many trials may come;
May each cup pass, but regardless, Your will be done.

 


 

Weeds

They climb up from the soil,
choking the flowers that should bloom.
Though the sower did toil,
the weeds gave the seeds no room.

How the sower is saddened to see his seeds whither and die.
What wonderful things they could have been!
From the sower’s hands, the weeds did pry,
the life of the seeds and the plants within.

Be not the weed that chokes the seeds.
Let the flowers grow.
If you would be one who leads,
lead them to the sun and its eternal glow.

Seeds grow and become the sower’s crops and harvests earned,
but all that can be done with weeds is to be collected and burned.

Sonnets For My Savior 43

Sonnets For My Savior 43

Ungrateful

A mother protects her son from foolish deeds.
The son wails and gnashes his teeth in frustration.
His mind wants danger more than what he needs.
He sees the mother’s love as an act of restriction.

How much more has this happened to God the Father?
How often have we cursed Him for what would become our blessings?
How many times have we called His commandments a bother?
How frequently have we scorned Him out of desire for harmful things?

But our Father is patient, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He has plans for our welfare, which give us hope.
If everything that happens comes from God above,
why not be still and silent, for with Him, we can all cope.

How can we receive good from God and not receive the bad?
Why do we grumble over what we want, forgetting all we have?

 


 

The Change

In my mind, there is a mirror
Showing me the man I used to be.
The change in me becomes clearer,
for that wretched man sickens me.

He was angry and lustful.
He believed everything had to be done by his own hand.
He was bitter and mistrustful.
He only sought God to meet his every selfish demand.

How can such a different man wear the same face?
What can explain such a change?
It can only be God’s glorious grace.
Now the man I was seems strange.

Still, the mirror is a great comfort to me;
It shows me how I’ve changed and proves I’ve been set free.

 


 

Peace of Mind

Almighty above, you created man and his mind.
You have the power to quiet a man’s thoughts.
Hear now our prayer, for if we seek so shall we find.
His emotions are racing, and his ideas are tied in knots.

Let your servant’s head be clear.
Help him and guard him from false ideals.
For to you I surrender my anxiety and fear.
For only You can help; only you can heal.

Our trust is in your mercy and grace.
For you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Look kindly upon your servant’s face
and grant him peace from above.

Let your name be praised, and bring glory to yourself.
Bring peace to his heart and return this man to himself.

 


 

Lament For A Guide

How long will your servant suffer?
How long will illness ravage his body?
Only You can free him, no other.
Hear our prayer and grant him the grace You embody.

How long will those who scorn you mock his testimony?
For he proclaimed his health to your name.
Heal him lest doubters scoff and call his praise of you phony.
Cleanse him lest doubters use this in attempt to bring you shame.

Our faith and trust are in You alone.
We praise You, for your mercy abounds.
We kneel before Your mighty throne.
When our strength fails, Your power compounds.

We sing Your praises even amid our pain.
We pray in hope, for in You our hope will always remain.

 


 

The Why

Why do you obey?
Is it for His glory or your reward?
For what reasons do you act in a certain way?
What are your treasures, and where are they stored?

What would you do if your prodigal brother returned?
Would you gnash your teeth and grumble?
Would you begrudge the loss of what you thought you’d earned?
Or would you be glad and remain humble?

Man can observe your actions and think you righteous,
But God sees the heart of every man.
It does you no good to only act pious,
if your actions are only part of a selfish plan. 

Deeds can seem wonderful to a merely human eye,
but those deeds are fear less important than the reason why.

 


 

Understanding

Thunder booms inside my mind.
The core of my spirit quakes.
In You is the only peace I’ll find,
For I lack the strength it takes.

My heart breaks with sadness.
My souls cries for relief.
My eyes seek and only find darkness.
This confusion vexes me beyond belief.

You understand that which is beyond my understanding.
Your comfort can soothe any pain.
Your love is far beyond human comprehending.
I cry out to you and pray in Your holy name.

Grant me wisdom and compassion to help my fellow man.
Work through me to comfort them even when I don’t understand.

 


 

You’re Going To Suffer Anyway

Pain comes to the wicked and the redeemed.
Misfortune falls on the generous and the selfish.
Trials come to the reviled and esteemed.
Death comes to those you hate as well as those you cherish.

Curious are those who turn from God because pain exists,
for their stiff necks don’t lead to lives without pain.
Curious are those who blaspheme God, shaking their fists,
for what does their fury ever obtain?

They make the same argument; pain comes to everyone,
but they only think in earthly ways.
However, what those who’ve turn to God have won,
is glory immeasurable in future days.

What is the reward of those who suffer without belief?
Those who have it can at least take comfort even when they feel grief.

Sonnets For My Savior 39

Sonnets For My Savior 39

The Only Way

It is Him.

There is no other way.

He has no alter ego or pseudonym.

Turning from Him only leads to dismay.

He is the only light.

There are no dimmer flames; His is the only one that exists.

Following Him is the only way that is right.

He is the only way in which salvation consists.

Only He paid the price.

Only He advocates for us.

We are only saved by His sacrifice.

To follow any other is treasonous.

There is only one who frees us,

and He is our Christ, Jesus.

 


 

The Mark of a Christian

A kind smile.

A generous gift.

One who walks the extra mile.

One whose values will never shift.

Providing for others

When they are in need.

Caring for one’s brothers

Rather than clinging to greed. 

Standing in truth.

Living in light.

Letting go the things of one’s youth.

Turning from wrong and doing what is right.

But the greatest trait of children from the Father above,

Is living a life with a heart full of love.

 


 

Holy Father

Holy Father,

There is no one above you.

Holy Father,

There is no one mightier than you.

You are merciful.

You are righteous.

You are wonderful.

You are glorious.

Holy Father,

You are life and light.

Holy Father,

In you are only goodness and right.

All glory be to Your name,

Our perfect, Father, whose grace washes away our shame.

 


 

His Glory

It would mean death to see His face,

for his glory is so great.

Oh! being wrapped in His grace

is such sweet, sweet state.

Moses stood in His presence,

and the mere reflection required a veil.

Oh! to have that pleasance!

Our God shall always prevail.

Gracious and merciful.

Slow to anger. Abounding in love and faithfulness.

Every action of His is purposeful.

He forgives the repentant when they transgress.

Let Him be worshiped in every territory,

for to God alone belongs the glory.

 


 

More

Too often I do what I do not want to do.

Too often I do what I hate.

But the Lord’s love for me is true.

His grace is more, and His mercy is grate.

My iniquities form a mountain I can’t climb.

My sins form chains I can’t break.

But the Lord lifts me time after time.

Any prison created, he can unmake.

My sins are countless.

His kindness is boundless.

My failings are limitless.

His love is endless.

My crimes are too great for any to ignore,

but my Lord’s forgiveness is so much more.

 


 

Endure

Endure, though you may lose everything.

Endure, though you may lose those you love.

Endure, though pain may bring its sting.

Endure, for God is watching from above.

Endure, though your heart may be filled with sadness.

Endure the trial with every breath.

Endure, when circumstances threaten to bring you to madness.

Endure, though you may be near death.

The sufferings of this present time

are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.

His presence is so sublime,

as to make all the earthly things we’ve lost rubbish to us.

Endure, even if it’s hard to understand what your suffering is for.

Endure, for what we have in Heaven will be worth even more.

 


 

Joy

Beware the difference between joy and feeling good.

A feeling passes and doesn’t endure.

Joy remains when no one thinks it should.

Joy isn’t cheaply earned; it’s real and pure.

Understand where joy comes from.

It doesn’t come from the things of the Earth.

All the things of world will fall away when time is done.

But joy can be ours if we believe in Christ’s birth.

He provides freedom.

He offers peace.

Service in His kingdom

ensures one a joy that will never cease.

The most pure joy doesn’t come from within.

The most pure form of joy comes only from Him.