Revelations From the Heart of God

 

IMG_2454.jpgPeaceful fishing; Sogndal, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway

April 21, 2019

     Over the decades since I lived in Virginia (1973-1975) and was filled with the Holy Spirit, I have been blessed by God with revelations from his heart and being to mine. A lot of them came in response to my petitions to know and understand what life on earth was all about, so that I could live a life of success, fulfillment, and continual fellowship with God–the Creator of earth and life. Other revelations came as I lived the Christian life and went through various struggles, difficulties, pain, suffering, and the battle between good and evil that we all face. These revelations helped me immensely to grow and progress, and become a better person to all that I interacted with on earth. My goal is that you too will benefit in your own life as you read about some of what I learned below.

Many on earth see life as being too difficult and too mysterious to negotiate, even Christians, especially when they have done all the hard work of accumulating the things and experiences that should make them happy and content. This is often because they find that the power of these things seems to vanish as soon as they begin to rest and rely on them to sustain the contented life. They may wonder why this is happening and why all their hard work isn’t paying off like they had hoped it would. This disappointment happens because God made life here so that worldly things in themselves cannot sustain us in a kind of heaven on earth. All of our efforts to use earth in this way are thwarted by one thing or another that comes into our life and turns it upside down. It could be the presence of a persistent depression which descends on us, degrades our happiness, and sends our life into a downward spiral. It could be a sickness, such as cancer, which enters our body and demands all of our attention and resources. It could be unexpected and chronic pain in our body which makes life miserable. It could be the breakup of your stable family life through divorce. It could be the drug or alcohol addiction that your son or daughter has become engulfed in. It could be anything, but whatever it is shatters the tranquility of a life of ease and comfort. Yet, the Bible promises peace and prosperity–what has gone wrong?

Actually, maybe nothing has gone wrong, and everything is going right:

“Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal. Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure, which neither moths nor rust corrode nor thieves break in and steal. Remember, where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”   Matthew 6, 19-20

“You cannot give yourselves to God and money. I warn you, then: do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Is not life more than food? Is not the body more valuable than clothes?”   Matthew 6, 24-25

“Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides.”   Matthew 6, 32-33

I have learned the hard lesson that earthly things are not what sustains deep happiness and joy. They have no power to do this. What has really always sustained me is the presence of God within. That is not only the true goal of life, but, ultimately, living in the presence of God eternally after we die is the best definition of heaven that there is. Do not be afraid of opening the doors of your heart and letting God in. When he comes, he will bring all things that you need and yearn for in life. And just as the last scripture above states, after he comes in, you will truly be able to enjoy and appreciate the things of this earth: a nice home to live in, attractive clothing, good food, an adequate income to support you, as well as stable and joyous relationships with your spouse, family, friends, neighbors, and fellow believers in church. What else does anyone really need to be happy? And think, all that you need to start this off is to put away your fears and seek God with all your heart!

Also, know that when God looks down on you from heaven, he does not see a flawed, imperfect, and sinful human being, but rather an opportunity for him to bring you to healing, wholesomeness, forgiveness, confidence, love, hope, and ultimately, eternal life in heaven. It brings him joy to lead you from darkness into the light. The only thing which stands in his way is you. He suffers with you when he sees you wallowing in guilt and shame, self-condemnation, brokenness and failure. He longs for and works hard for all human beings to receive healing, renewal, restoration, and transformation for whatever is broken and hurting in their lives.

What kind of life should you strive for that will bring you a sustained source of meaning, deep joy, and life enriching optimism and confidence? Just this: A life of meaningful work, serving God instead of self, ministering to others’ needs, cultivating lasting friendships, fellowship with godly believers, and prayer and thankfulness to God each day for life and love. This will bring you a happiness and contentment that earthly riches, goods and services will never be able to accomplish. These things will never fall flat and abandon you, but will sustain you through thick and thin, success and failure, sufferings and deprivation, and, indeed, anything that life might throw at you. Don’t listen to what the world says you need to be happy, for those things are usually rooted in an appeal to selfish desires. Their pursuit will only take you down. Always keep in mind the words of Jesus Christ below, and you too will never be alone in your struggles and you too will be an overcomer:

“An hour is coming–has indeed come–when you will be scattered and each will go his way, leaving me quite alone. (Yet I can never be alone; the Father is with me.) I tell you all this that in me you may find peace. You will suffer in the world. But take courage! I have overcome the world.”   John 16, 32-33

 

 

Conspiracy Theories, Hoaxes, and a Flat Earth, Oh My!

 

IMG_3176.png

April 14, 2019

     America has entered an unprecedented and untested age of new “realities”. I pinpoint the start of this trend as coming with the advent of the home computer, which began making its appearance in American homes starting around 1990. Following the computer came video games, the internet, smart phones, the information age, and widespread dissemination of facts, information, advertising, “truth”, movies, cable TV, Facebook, Twitter, news shows, and all the rest. Before this age of information hit us, books, magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV were our primary sources of information. Information coming to us through these means didn’t simply tell us anything and everything, but went through a rigorous screening process to check the content for authenticity, usefulness, morality, and decency. Publishers, and producers of radio and TV shows, would generally not allow content to reach the public without making a rational decision on whether it would be good for the public or detrimental, misleading or degrading. Those standards are largely absent in much of what is fed to the public today in our plethora of “modern style” public and social media. Rather than creating a more well informed and knowledgable public, we have a vast number of people today who are ignorant but don’t know it. Everyone is an expert, everyone knows the “truth”, but sadly, there are widespread and entrenched conflicts and factions with no means to dialogue and arrive at the truth.

You might ask, “How did we get here?” Actually, there are a lot of reasons, but I believe that there are two major underlying sources of our problems. The first is that the sheer mass of information available has surrounded the real truth with so many plausible but false alternatives, that it no longer stands head and shoulders above the pretenders. To many people, most everything can sound like the truth to them, so that they either retreat to a belief that there is no absolute truth, only relative truth, or they randomly pick something that sounds good to them and go with it. Either way, this confusion portends disaster for America. The other but more important problem we face, is that using true rationality and logic to come to conclusions is a learned ability that, frankly, a large number of Americans simply don’t possess. Today, instead of teaching people how to reason, the modern purveyors of truth tend to indoctrinate by using “logic” backwards. Many persuaders on the internet and other public media, push their individual brand of truth by declaring what it is first, and then giving all the hand-picked supporting reasons why it is true, often by making a movie, writing a book, or hosting a talk show. Real logic, however, starts with looking at the facts first, especially those facts which go against what you believed to be, hoped was, or wanted to be the truth, and then come to a conclusion based on all the facts.

This is why too many Americans believe that the earth is flat, that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, where 20 students and 6 adults were murdered is a hoax, or that we really didn’t go to the moon. No true facts back these nonsense beliefs, but rather they are backed by innuendo, casting doubt, and exploiting the gullibility of the people. The perpetrators use plausible lies and the exploitation of “obscure” but exciting peripheral details which are blown up into “facts” like one blows up a balloon, to entice people to believe the unbelievable.

This brings us to why I am writing this piece. Without knowing the real truth, people are robbed of direction and purpose in life, which center us in actions which bring us real success and fulfillment. People can get caught up in endless wanderings in fantasy, as well as wasting time “debating” about that which is either inconsequential or manufactured in peoples’ minds. It’s like getting caught in a corn maze and never being able to find your way out. To escape this conspiracy theory/hoax/false facts world that people can become addicted to, they need to understand why they were willing to believe such things in the first place. I’ll give you some of the reasons that I’ve come up with while watching the whole sordid world unfold through the years.

The main reason is probably that spending internet time with fellow believers gives people “friends” which they lack in real life. And they now not only belong to a group, but a fantastic group where the people “know things” that only a small percentage of people pick up on. This gives them status and makes them feel smart and special. This type of internet activity can also be extremely exhilarating and perk up a life that may be dull and boring. This kind of participation may, in a warped way, bring “meaning” into people’s lives who really don’t understand the real purpose of life. They may busily check the internet each day, go to chat rooms, or do research to add more “facts” to their favorite conspiracy theories. This probably helps them feel that they are engaged in meaningful activity. These people may also be reacting to feeling like they have been left behind by the greater society and don’t really have meaningful things to do in everyday life because of it–except maybe working hard to make ends meet and barely surviving.

These reasons and others like them are really symptoms of a greater problem. Besides simply struggling to survive each month, many people lack a clear understanding of why they are here on earth. They may think, “Is there a reason that we are here, or are we just caught up in an evolutionary twist of fate which randomly produced awareness with no plan, no goals, and no remedies for we humans caught up in this seemingly diabolical joke of life.” These kinds of thoughts can produce a meaninglessness which prompts people to temporarily escape through an entertaining but virtual fantasy internet life–not unlike drug addition. But, deep inside, everyone has a kind of restlessness which demands to know what’s going on. Of course, I see a clear answer available in God, Christianity, and an obvious observation that life is a battle between good and evil. Besides those things, participating in life in a way that will shine a light on the truth of why we are here is sitting in plain sight. All you need to do is participate with passion in our unique privilege of creating and mentoring a batch of new human beings, called parenthood.

The best remedy that I know of to understand the meaning of life, is for people to marry and wholeheartedly have and raise children as a major goal in life. You don’t need to have 9 kids like my wife and I did, but I would say to have 4 or 5 to make a longterm commitment. Remember, this is a major goal and not just an afterthought. As you raise and teach your children how to be successful, you will naturally come across the real meaning of life as you figure out just what to teach them! You will also come to realize that to actually teach and nurture your children to become successful and happy in life, Mom has to stay home and be the main catalyst for making this happen. If she doesn’t, children often get a de facto upbringing through babysitters, pre-school, K-12th educators, and peers. But their best educator about life is you, and you need to be available to them every day. Meaning will flow into both you and your children because of it.

Another remedy to find meaning in life is to go to church. Ally yourselves as parents with believers in God, the Bible, and Truth. This will bring both meaning and God’s presence into the lives of all family members, and give you the Divine support and wisdom that we all need to be successful in life. Church and family, if you dedicate yourselves to these two things, then all offbeat stuff like “conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and a flat earth” will not be needed to fill the void. Yes, you have to throw yourself into parenting like it was a sport to be successful, but there is no more important challenge on earth. Try it, you’ll like it! And Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! will disappear from your life like a useless fad receding into the past. (The lions and tigers quote is from the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz)

Human Sexuality and Pandora’s Box

IMG_0258.jpgCannon guarding the river, Old Town Fredrikstad, Norway

March 30, 2019

     No, Pandora is not just a source of music as some might think in our modern times today, she actually has to do with Greek mythology. Pandora was given a box filled with gifts from the gods, but was told never to open it. But, given her curiosity, Pandora did finally open the box to see what was inside, and out poured all sorts of evils and trouble. She quickly closed the box again, but it was too late, and the evil that came out quickly engulfed the world.

In the Bible in the book of Genesis, mankind was also given a sort of Pandora’s box, and the first man and woman were told to stay away from it lest they die:

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made. The serpent asked the woman, ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’ ”  But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.’ ”  — Genesis 3, 1-5

In the end, both the man and the woman ate of the fruit, and their disobedience unleashed upon mankind the horrors of evil that still afflict us today. This Genesis event’s outcome is similar to what Pandora experienced when she opened her box. All Pandora wanted to do was see what was inside, but she was warned not to do it. We are similarly warned about the destruction that evil can cause, but like Pandora, we often have a strong urge to see whether some pleasurable looking evil will really hurt us or not. Maybe God is not telling us the truth, the devil might whisper to our minds, and we sample our own forbidden fruit today.

Anything that God warns us against or that we learn from experience is evil, becomes our own personal “Pandora’s box” which we can either resist or give in to. These boxes come in many sizes and varieties, such as drugs, great riches, widespread fame, great power over others, self-adulation, or evil pleasures such as adultery. Yes, adultery may look wonderful and enticing and even good when the temptation is first presented to you, but like with most evil, the pleasure comes first and later the agony. God warns us about evil to protect us from the suffering that is always linked with it. But many things do not always give us clear signs that they are evil, and so we give in and try them anyway. Human sexuality is one of these.

Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman is one of the greatest, if not the greatest pleasure humans can experience on this earth. It was made by God to provide humans with probably the most personal, deep, and complete sharing of our bodies, our emotions, and our love for each other that is possible on earth. This deep intertwining of the most secret and vulnerable parts of ourselves and our bodies also opens us up to the possibility of the greatest suffering and long lasting wounding that we can be afflicted with. A quick look at the human anatomy of a man and a woman gives us irrefutable evidence of why God made the sexual attraction so strong. It virtually guarantees the perpetuation of the human race on earth. Also, the pleasure and wonderful sharing of sexual intimacy between a man and woman is a rewarding of the couple for creating and raising the resulting children. This loving bond between husband and wife helps keep families together so that children can grow to adulthood in a safe, loving and stable environment. It is also an earthly model of Christ’s relationship to the church:

“Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of his body the church, as well as its savior. As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her to make her holy, purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word, to present to himself a glorious church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.”   Ephesians 5, 22-27

This is where mankind’s Pandora’s box comes strongly into men and women’s lives and tempts them to open it. Scripture teaches against adultery and fornication and warns us to keep all sexual activity within the marriage relationship. It warns us that if we don’t, we are committing a grievous sin against God, against ourselves, and against the very institution of marriage itself. These warnings pit themselves against not only adultery and fornication, but also against homosexuality, “recreational sex”, pedophilia, prostitution, pornography, beastiality, group sex, and all other similar activity. When sex escapes from the confines of marriage, it can wreak misery and destruction wherever it goes. And who are the primary recipients of this misery? The people themselves who have freely engaged in these activities, and the people sinned against, such as innocent spouses. But the most long lasting and destructive pain mercilessly targets the innocent children. In America today, too many who have partaken of the forbidden fruits of sex, are only too willing to sacrifice their children’s lives and happiness for their own. Many Americans have defiled sex by dragging it through the public square, the internet, our movies, our chat rooms, our demeaning pictures and videos, our music, our wild drug and alcohol laced orgies we call parties, our cell phones, and all other places where we allow sexual pleasure to flow freely, much of it perverted. There is no way to downplay the damage that America has already done to itself  by breaking open marriage and letting sexual pleasure rage over our land unchecked, like a destructive flood. Since our Pandora’s sexual box has been opened in a wholesale manner, it is easy to see how hard and seemingly impossible it will be to put sex back into marriage and close and lock the lid. My guess is that we in America will have to endure the damage of escaped sexuality until it delivers its full course of pain, before we learn as a nation to teach our people where sex ought to be–within marriage.

In the meantime, we can make some progress in our country in restoring our sexual mores by making sure that we ourselves are in no way involved in any of the forms of illicit and sordid sex outside of marriage. We can also stir up the courage to speak against the “sexual revolution” wherever we go. At this time we have to make sure that we’re sexually pure as individuals before we will have much effect on changing America’s unhealthy ways. I see two specific actions that individuals can take to start to turn back the stampeding sexual flood in our country.

The first is to individually turn away from the urge to cohabit and enjoy sexual pleasure without the commitment of marriage. Each couple that submits to marriage instead, will strengthen the institution and be a good example to all watching. Secondly, and even more importantly, is for individuals to turn back to faith in God and obedience to his will as it is taught to us in the Bible. This in itself will turn America back from a lot more evils than just the misuse of sex. This could actually heal our country if enough people are persuaded to return to Christianity, especially our young people–the millennials!

Exercise, the Best Medicine that Money Can’t Buy

IMG_2055.jpgMe, exploring the Coast Range Mountains, Central California

March 26, 2019

     A quick search on Google led me to the following statements from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services:

“Regular physical activity, fitness, and exercise are critically important for the health and well being of people of all ages.

“Millions of Americans suffer from chronic illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity.”

The following data about Americans comes from the same website above:

12.6 million people have coronary heart disease

1.1 million people per year suffer from a heart attack

17 million people have diabetes

107,000 people each year are newly diagnosed with colon cancer

300,000 people each year suffer from hip fractures

50 million people have high blood pressure

Nearly 50 million adults aged 20 to 74 are obese

61% of all American adults are obese or overweight

The statements and statistics above show the critical need for Americans to exercise more, a lot more! It is needed not only to prevent death, but more immediately, to greatly improve the quality of our lives and enhance our mental and emotional well-being. Living sedentary lives shackled to the TV, the internet, or the iPhone, and getting most of our exercise walking to the refrigerator, the bathroom, or from our cars to a restaurant, has left many Americans enslaved by their own bodies. We are suffering from the same result you get when you neglect your car, putting in only gas or oil for years, until it ultimately conks out and leaves you stranded. Your car finally forces you to do something if you want to use it again, and our neglected bodies will do the exact same thing to us. But just like our broken down cars, it may cost us 10’s of thousands of dollars to fix our bodies, or it could be that they are not even fixable, leaving us with handicapped bodies and handicapped lives. And just think, much of our misery could have been prevented by simple regular exercise.

I have exercised regularly since I was just a little boy living on our farm. I remember that from an early age I always ran from one place to another on our farm, because I reasoned that it would take too long to walk. Also, I was involved in organized sports from about the 4th grade until I graduated from college. Even after college I ran intermittently to stay fit, until I reached 44 years old. At that time, I was a high school teacher with 6 of our 9 kids already born, when I began to notice that my left hip was giving me pain whenever I got up from my chair in the teacher’s lounge and began to walk. It was the same leg that I had badly injured in a snow skiing accident during Christmastime in 1972. During that accident, both the inner and outer ligaments on the inside of my left knee were shredded and had to be stapled together, and the inner meniscus between the knee bones was badly torn and had to be removed. When I got the cast off, I vowed to myself that I would run and lift weights until I restored the knee’s function to as close to normal as possible. I used weights and ran 5 days a week for 3 months no matter how much pain I had to endure, and it brought my knee back to nearly full function.

When my hip started bothering me, I remembered my knee accident from 20 years earlier, and so I began a regular running program to keep my body from deteriorating, and I’ve continued it even to this day. I also began to run the first of many distance road races to keep myself healthy, while also providing an incentive to keep running. Even though I like to run, it takes self discipline to run week after week, month after month, and year after year, especially as I’ve gotten older. Health and mobility are much more important to me than leisure and comfort. Even though I am nearly 71, I am very active and like to hike in the mountains and other places, and I especially like to backpack, which can be very strenuous. Many of the pictures with which I begin my articles, are from backpacking trips with friends and family. I also still occasionally race, my last competition being in November, 2017, at the 3.1 mile “Turkey Trot” race at Woodward Park in Fresno, where I raced 5 of my own kids, beating two of them! I ended up 335th out of a total of 2,717 runners–yes, running keeps you healthy and running keeps you strong. I was 69 years old. As I stated at the beginning of this article, regular exercise can prevent diseases that lead to the death or disablement of large numbers of Americans, especially coronary heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, hip fractures, high blood pressure, strokes, obesity, and surprisingly, unhappiness and depression.

Any kind of regular exercise will have a major positive effect on the body, but especially exercise which produces an elevated heart and breathing rate. I never go to the gym or use a treadmill, but simply put on running clothes and shoes and run in the great outdoors. Running like that is a great mood elevator and costs next to nothing compared to indoor exercise. An added plus is that people see you, which creates the incentive to work hard that much easier. For the last 15 to 20 years I have been running approximately 4 1/2 miles three times a week. I run fairly fast, averaging about 8 1/2 minutes per mile. The hardest part of any exercise program is to get started. You simply have to be strong enough to make the decision to do it, and then stick with it no matter what circumstances try to derail your plans. Yes, you can do it! All of you reading this aren’t wimps, are you? Even if you think you are, don’t admit it, just start running and trick people into thinking that you are a real stud or studette. Start running 3 to 4 times a week at a distance and speed you can manage, and then as time goes on, go farther and faster little by little as you feel stronger. If you are not fit now, it may take you 2-3 months to start running like you hoped that you would. I have coached high school cross country for many many years, and in my experience, everyone who sticks with it greatly improves. So can you. When you start to feel like you want to run a race to test yourself out, then you have reached the point of no return–you are hooked! It’s a great feeling to be in control of your life.

Life is meant to be lived with success. Too many people think of success as achieving comfort, and having enough money to buy whatever experiences or things they think will make them happy. Unfortunately, these types of goals are a retreat from the real goals of life, which are to build up who we are by overcoming adversity, helping people, and achieving a powerful faith in God. Almost all growth in character and holiness flows from accepting pain and suffering, discomfort, and uncertainty about the future, while doing what is good and just and right on this earth. Life is short, don’t run from such things! When you willingly embrace the difficult times that life throws at you, you are inviting God’s presence to live within you. So, long story short, get out there and run and  exercise–be a good steward of your body. Better health will not be far behind!

 

Marriage and Family Life, our Greatest Source of Happiness and Success

IMG_2059.jpgCalifornia Poppies, Central Coast Range Mountains, CA

March 15, 2019

     Why do so many marriages in America today end in divorce, 40-50% according to my Google search? Are we just no good at staying married? Do we work too much? Have we become intolerant of children? Is having a family too expensive? Would we rather have a career than a family? Is the chase after money and career incompatible with a wholesome family life? Are we too lazy to make a marriage and family work? Do we lack the patience to be good husbands, good wives, and good parents?

Well, honestly, all these and many other issues tend to sabotage our success in creating successful marriages and families. Yes, “creating” is a very accurate verb here, Because it takes a lot of effort and perseverance to be good spouses and good parents. It also takes virtue and good character, qualities that may be weak or neglected within ourselves. If we take a hard look at ourselves, we may just come face to face with a selfish person. We may find that we consider it much more beneficial to please and serve ourselves, rather than pleasing and serving others. We may find that we are stingy, and have a hard time being generous to other people. We may find that our personal success is valued much more than helping others to find their success. We may just find, perhaps to our chagrin, that sharing our lives with a spouse and children is a price that we are simply not willing to pay.

If you find that you see yourself in many of the character traits that I have been describing above, congratulations, so did I! This points out why God created marriage and family life in the first place–to help us work on improving our characters, and learning to interact with others in a wholesome and unselfish way. Yes, God designed marriage and family to point out our weaknesses and prompt us to do something about them. Instead of embracing the challenge, many of us simply run away far and fast from these kinds of commitments. But, in the end, we are running away from the very things we need to become better people. Is taking on the challenge of creating a successful marriage and family going to be easy? Probably not! But neither is becoming a great quarterback on the football team, being a great teacher, or running a successful store. Having wholesome goals and pursuing them to ultimate success can be the greatest character builder there is. And the more we successfully serve other peoples’ needs, the more we build our own character. And there is no more noble goal on earth than committing to become the greatest spouse and the greatest parent that we can be.

As I have mentioned before on this website, my own natural bent is to be on the lazy side, and I would also say that I am no fan of work–I am more of a think-a-holic than a workaholic. Don’t get me wrong, if I have the motivation I am a very good worker, so it helps me to have a natural incentive built in. For all my temporary summer jobs my motivation to work hard was twofold–I wanted to give my employers their money’s worth, and I highly valued earning money during the summer so that I could go to college without having to work at the same time. I also wanted to do my best work at the CIA in Washington D. C., but I also had a natural motivation to work because it was fascinating and a privilege to be entrusted with such high level secrets. But when I resigned and came back to California, my new work teaching and my new station in life as a husband and father, helped me to mature and grow up like nothing that came before in my life.

The first thing that I became committed to in California after I worked as a substitute teacher to earn some money, was make the decision to become a teacher. This was no easy task since it involved returning to college for a full year to earn my teaching credentials. This task came with a new inner motivation which made going back to college a lot easier–I knew that I was following God’s will. This kicked off a new phase in my life where I switched from please Dave and make myself happy, to a more selfless orientation of serving others and obeying God. Surprisingly, this brought me my first experience with true happiness and deep joy. It was hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be.

I started teaching 5th grade, coached several sports, and even drove the school bus. This was much harder than any other work I had ever done, but forming real relationships with my students and feeling that my teaching had tremendous value, were perks of working that I never before experienced. It opened up a whole new world for me that I previously didn’t realize existed. Life for me has not been the same since. During my 2nd year of teaching I got married, and the women teachers at my school actually organized a surprise wedding shower for me. And some, along with a couple of my students, even attended my wedding. This opened up my mind to what can result when you do a good job serving your fellow man–you receive a lot of thanks and appreciation. I really didn’t see that coming.

My marriage also brought a joy that words are inadequate to describe, but this union also necessitated my exit from the free-wheeling single life to a lifelong loving commitment to my wife. It was more than worth it, but again, I needed to serve another person’s needs a lot like I did with my students.

Two years after I married I started a new job teaching high school math and coaching track and cross country. At this level, my relationships with my students was much deeper and more meaningful as I was helping to prepare them for life. I taught at this same school for 32 years and then retired in 2012 with many great memories, as well as lasting friendships with fellow teachers, administrators, parents, and even with a few students. But the 9 children my wife and I had were the frosting on the cake. I so much enjoyed each child as he or she was born and grew up, and see parenting as a joy that nothing on earth could really match. My relationships with my students, my wife, and my children, taught me how good these relationships can be if you just make a lifelong commitment and work hard. Yes, I have gone through difficulties, especially my divorce, but the lasting relationships continually show me the value of human interaction and love, true love. 

In the end, what we are really preparing for is having wildly fulfilling and joyful relationships with fellow human beings and with God in heaven forever. This final destination is hard to imagine, but the great relationships that I experienced, particularly with my wife, children, and students, give us our most authentic and accurate peek into the future. Don’t be afraid of making commitments to marriage and family, because if you work hard, learn from mistakes, and persist with God’s help, you can have what I had–a down payment on heaven! Don’t look at the marriage and family failures all around you, but rather say to yourself, “With God’s help I can do it, in fact I will do it!”

Also, to keep you going, remember what Scripture says about your reward in heaven: “Of this wisdom it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.’ ”   1 Corinthians 2, 9

 

Miracles: Just a Rationalization, or a Reality?

 

IMG_0624 2.jpgWhite Chicken over Blackcap Mt., Sierra National Forest, CA

March 8, 2019

     Webster’s defines a miracle as “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws.” In other words, they are supernatural events, especially as they are viewed in Christianity. In Christianity, God, a supernatural being, is present from the very beginning of the “natural”, as Genesis 1, 1-2 recounts:  “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light’ ”

God went on to create everything that we see in the universe, including day and night, the oceans and dry land, all plant life, the sun and the moon, all living creatures in the sea and on dry land, and finally mankind itself: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” Genesis 1, 26   When God created everything, he also created all scientific laws which keep order in the universe.

Many people think of the supernatural spiritual world as a product of human imagination; and the world, with its natural laws, as the only thing that we can depend on as true and unchanging. But the truth is, as I have written above, the supernatural came first and created the natural, which ultimately will be destroyed by fire as 2 Peter describes:

“The present heavens and earth are reserved by God’s word for fire; they are kept for the day of judgement, the day when godless men will be destroyed,” (verse 7)  “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and all its deeds will be made manifest.”  (verse 10)   “What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to his promise, the justice of God will reside.”  (verse 13)

In the end, the earth and the natural will disappear with only the spiritual remaining, because it came first. I distinctly remember wondering, when I was in about 5th or 6th grade, how miracles could happen since they would oppose reality. I had a hard time accepting miracles, since the natural laws seemed so strong and invincible. My mind told me that they could surely happen through a supernatural God, but I couldn’t convince my heart. I realized back then that I was locked into the natural because it was the only reality that I had ever known. Some of you reading this may be locked in right now in the same way that I was. I have come a long way concerning understanding the reason why miracles are a logical part of earth life, and long ago have forever escaped that cage I was locked in. I will try to help those of you who haven’t yet escaped.

Miracles don’t just happen, as they are always purposeful and are meant to aid people in their journey towards heaven. They come from God and God only, as do all beneficial supernatural events. Miracles have accompanied Christianity from its very beginning, and even before that, in the initial creation of matter and the creation of time. This beginning was an act of God, and similarly so was the calling of Abraham, who was essentially the first believer in God’s work of assembling a group of people that he would call his own. To assemble such a group of believers through time, culminating in the approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world today, miracles were essential to show that God was the author. This process, occurring over thousands of years, would have died out early on if not for the presence of miracles all along the way. Real miracles! These miracles show the world that Christianity is not a religion made up by mankind, but a relationship with God which truly had its origins outside this world. And miracles have continued to this very day.

Various people that I have talked to over the years, have often commented that they see no miracles today, and that this proves that the so-called miracles from the past are simply manufactured by zealous believers who didn’t want their religion to die out. They never happened, they tell me, and they couldn’t have happened anyway, because the natural, governed by immutable scientific laws, is all that exists. They indicate to me that mankind today is more enlightened than in the past, and understand miracles as mere superstition, perpetuated by ignorant people. How wrong they are!

I remember having a pastor years ago, who used to go to the Philippines periodically to participate in a kind of outdoor revival meeting, where, after the preaching, hundreds of people formed in lines to be prayed for. He told me that these meetings were where he commonly witnessed shocking miracles. He said that his prayer line was tiring for him, and could take hours to pray for the countless needs of all the people, but that it was all worth it. People healed would cry out things like, “I can see!”, and, “Thank God for taking my back pain away”, and, “Hallelujah, I can straighten my arm!”  My pastor friend said that he didn’t know any of these people in his line, but that they were so surprised and jubilant about their healings, that they spontaneously cried out. He knew that he was witnessing true miracles.

One of the things that these Filipino people had, that is often missing in America today, is “faith”. They were simple people who were mostly poor, but their childlike faith that God could heal them had the power to unleash mighty miracles. One of the major blockages to miracles happening in America today is our often utter disbelief that they are for today, that God wills them to happen, or that they even can happen. That lack of faith has the effect of locking miracles out of our lives. They are real, but we deny our chance to receive them because we simply don’t believe. Jesus experienced this same locked mind syndrome in his day:

” ‘How is it that such miraculous deeds are accomplished by his (Jesus’s) hands. Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, a brother of James and Joses, and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters our neighbors here?’ They found him too much for them. Jesus’ response to all this was: ‘No prophet is without honor except in his native place, among his own kindred, and in his own house.’ He could work no miracle there, apart from curing a few who were sick by laying hands on them, so much did their lack of faith distress him.”  Mark 6, 2-6

In order to see miracles happen here like they did in the Philippines, we have to give up the mindset that the natural is all there is.

I can honestly say that I have personally experienced dozens of miracles in my lifetime. Many are subtle happenings where only I would know that they came from God, but others stand out enough for others to see. One was God speaking through me to my high school students, when we would take a break from math and talk about life. During most of these discussions I would not have to think about what to say, words would just come into my head and out my mouth on there own. Everything would just go on automatic as long as I cooperated with God, and didn’t stop the flow. The effect on my students was phenomenal, and lives were changed.

But the biggest miracle that I’ve personally been involved in happened to my agnostic friend, Randy, while we were working at the CIA. We often had discussions about life, and I tried hard to get him to reconsider his mindset against Christianity, but he remained set in his ways. About a year into our friendship, he came to work one Monday and excitedly told me, “God did a miracle and saved my life!” I was shocked and surprised, but happy to hear this, and asked him to tell me what happened. He said he was out in the middle of the Potomac River Estuary in a small sailboat, when a strong wind squall came up suddenly and knocked him into the water and capsized his boat. He struggled to stay afloat as his heavy coat, jeans, and boots weighed him down. The wind kept blowing with force, and in 5 or 10 minutes he found himself so far from his boat, that he could barely see it. He became exhausted and felt like he was going to drown. He said he thought of crying out to God, but didn’t because he thought it would be hypocritical, as he would do it only to save his life. In a few minutes he couldn’t stay above the surface of the water anymore, and sinking under for the last time, he accepted his fate of death. The next thing that he remembers is that he is suddenly on top the water right next to his boat in calm water, with no wind blowing. He told me that at that point he instantly knew that the God he didn’t believe in had rescued him from death!

Miracles can also happen to all of you who are reading these words, if you only believe. You have to think outside the box, and let them happen. If you think that you don’t possess that kind of faith, then persist in asking God for it, and it will be given to you. Yes, miracles do happen today, but only to those who do not insist that the “natural” is all that there is.

 

 

Would a Good God Allow Suffering on the Earth?

IMG_3173.pngDad and son, Long Meadow, Sierra National Forest, CA

March 1, 2019

     You don’t have to live on earth very long before you learn to avoid pain and seek pleasure. It’s because pain hurts and pleasure soothes. I learned early in life that pain is bad, and I didn’t like it. I can especially remember times when I caught a bad flu, had a painful sore throat, or a sinus headache, but especially when I got an excruciatingly painful, pounding tension headache, accompanied by an upset stomach and vomiting. It felt like I was in hell, and it was sheer torture waiting for what seemed like forever to feel normal again. I also remember a different kind of pain that hurt almost as much as physical pain–the pain of anxiety, embarrassment, death of a beloved pet, or worst of all, the pain of having to give a speech in front of the whole class at school. As a shy and introverted child, that last situation caused me unrelenting emotional pain for days before the dreaded speech ever had to be given.

In my young life I could see that if you live on earth, you will be facing both pleasure and pain no matter how hard you try to avoid the pain. As I left my teenage years, I began to wonder why we seemingly had to undergo times of pain on earth. I thought, did God plan this pain for us, or was it here because it had to be here for some reason? I couldn’t imagine that God would make people suffer for no reason, but if there was a reason, what was it?

I pondered this for a long time, first thinking about pain in some part of our body alerting us to something possibly going wrong, and prompting us to do something about it. I thought about getting a high fever, stepping on a nail sticking up out of a board, or experiencing sever stomach pains. These pains seemed okay, because they would force us to notice a problem and fix it before it got too big. That seemed reasonable. Or what about the pain of sore muscles, exhaustion, and the tedious hours you might spend practicing to be the best 800 meter runner you could possibly be. Here you had to pay a price to win races, but it gave the victory a lot more value to you, and elicited the admiration of others. I began to think that maybe pain wasn’t really valued alone, but as a means to achieve something that was valued. Then my thoughts turned to good and evil. Good usually produced pleasant results, while evil mostly produced pain, agony, or even death. Could it be that this kind of pain was there to show everyone, but especially the evildoer, that he shouldn’t have done something because it somehow hurt others? Here, pain was actually beneficial, because it pointed out to everyone what kinds of acts were evil, and what kinds were good. I also noticed that good was normally a lot harder to do than the seemingly fun but evil things. At this point in my understanding, I began to realize that the primary purpose of life was not to give us humans a pleasant and trouble free experience, but it was a test where we learned about good and evil, and learned to discipline ourselves to choose the good and avoid evil.

I finally came to the conclusion that the purpose of life was not to seek a life full of riches and pleasures, but rather to spend our time developing our personal characters by bringing good into this world, while also setting ourselves against evil and the pain that it causes others. We are to seek riches, but those riches are not here on earth, because whatever we accumulate here will all be taken away from us when we die. The real riches we should be working for are not on this earth, but are stored up in glorious bliss in heaven with God forever. The good we are to seek is what is stored up within our spirits in our good character. We are to seek things like faith in God, forgiveness for our sins, holiness, virtue, humility, love, understanding, patience, generosity, good works, and all other things of like kind. These all produce good, and make an imprint on our spirits that will last for eternity. I began to realize the vast importance of just how we decide to live our lives on earth. We literally have been given the power to create our own eternal futures. Knowing this, I thought to myself that I shouldn’t waste my time pursuing one pleasure after another on earth, because it takes too much of our valuable time, which is much better spent to develop good character, love for others, and faith in God. Yes, these things can come with suffering and the need for endurance, but what they produce within ourselves and others is infinitely more important than enjoying fleeting earthly pleasures which never last for long.

When you take the time to honestly study the basic message that the Bible is trying to teach you, you realize that it overwhelmingly inspires you to sacrifice your life to love others, obey God, and bring good into this world. We are never told to pursue riches and enjoy life. That is because enjoying too much wealth, riches and comfort stunts our progress towards our real goal–working for lasting treasure in heaven. Yes, a good God allows suffering here, because it leads to eternal bliss with God forever in heaven. What could be more important or more lasting? People who discover, latch onto, and live this truth, have finally come to realize why we are here on earth and what true success is. This glorious revelation helps make pain and suffering come to their knees before us to serve us, rather than bringing us endless torture. Don’t think of pain as evil, think of evil as evil!

Scriptures point us in the right direction concerning the enduring of pain and suffering: “Blest are those persecuted for holiness sake; the reign of God is theirs. Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me (Jesus). Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way.”    Matthew 5, 10-12

“I (Paul) consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us. Indeed, the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. Creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord, but by him who once subjected it; yet not without hope, because the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.”         Romans 8, 18-21

And this last passage ties everything together for our understanding:   “Christ suffered in the flesh; therefore arm yourselves with this same mentality. He who has suffered in the flesh has broken with sin. You are not to spend what remains of your earthly life on human desires but on the will of God.”    1 Peter 4, 1-2