Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cross Training

I have been going through training since childhood.

This is hardly unique. Everyone grows and matures, ideally throughout their life.
Our Heavenly Father's design is for us to develop godly character qualities. I was blessed with great parents who went out of their way to help make this happen.

My very first area of character growth was at home. I learned to share, to say please and thank you, and to consider others' feelings. I learned personal hygiene, the importance of listening and of obedience, and the importance of doing your best at whatever task you're given.

As I grew, outside organizations also contributed to character building. Church had a major part between Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, confirmation classes and regular services. School, of course, provided lots of opportunities to grow and mature. Then there was the Boy Scouts, an organization I can't say enough good things about. They challenged me to go beyond what I thought I could do, and stressed morality and responsibility with the Scout Oath* and the Scout Law.**

In my teen years, the faith I learned in childhood turned genuine, and I became a committed Christian. The whirlwind of activities that is pretty typical of every American teen's life was completely faith-related for me. Nearly every night was busy with Bible studies, prayer meetings, praise gatherings, concerts, church gatherings and outreach activities. It was a very intense time of rapid spiritual growth that lasted throughout my high school years.

College brought new challenges and opportunities for growth. God saw to it that I was immediately part of a traveling singing group consisting of 12 students.*** I learned so much about group dynamics, about trusting God to provide, how to improvise harmonies and how to graciously receive kindness from strangers. On campus, I had to learn to operate in newfound freedom wisely and responsibly. I learned some hard lessons, but definitely sensed God's guiding hand throughout this period of my life. Lots of stories - enough to fill several future blog posts.

Then I got married and the learning curve got steeper still. We moved around, found a church home, finished school, started a career and a family. I learned how to be a father and how to live my faith in a secular workplace. We bought a house and got involved in the neighborhood. So many opportunities to grow and mature... 

After several years I began to feel restless, sensing a desire to work full time building the Kingdom of God. And I didn't really know what I meant by that. After a couple of years of searching, a fellow named Fred Bishop came to our church. He was head of a Christian men's ministry called No Greater Love Ministries (NGL) with a mission to raise up "faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2) As a result of meeting him, I ended up working at a Christian TV station in Illinois (another of those stories for another day.)

No Greater Love is the greatest ongoing discipleship training in my life. Being a part of NGL has made me a better husband and father, brother, son, employee, and Christian. I have learned to live my faith on a practical basis every day. And I have a band of brothers who stand with me even in the toughest of times.

Basic entry-level NGL teaching is called Cross Training. Sure, it's a corny pun - but it's also a visual aid to help one remember four of the basic elements of Christian life by picturing the cross. 

At the bottom of the cross, the foundation of our faith is Study. At the top of the cross, we reach out and communicate through Prayer. These two elements form the vertical segment of our faith as we connect with God.  One horizontal side of the cross represents Fellowship, the other Witness. These are ways Christians can relate to other people: fellowshipping with other believers and sharing their faith with those who haven't heard.

Each of these four topics has a Scriptural basis. I'm going to spend the next few days examining each one and telling how they have worked in my life. Getting older isn't optional - becoming mature can be. Studies like this can help each of us grow up to be all God has planned. According to Him, our destiny is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29)

I'm certainly not there yet - but I'm a lot closer than I was 40 years ago. It's a lifelong process, a great adventure filled with the wonder of discovery. I wouldn't trade it for anything!

*Scout Oath
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

**Scout Law
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, 
kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

***Our group was called the Maker's Dozen. (Clever, huh?) We traveled around the country on weekends and school breaks singing in churches and youth gatherings. I have an old promotional poster which includes an idea of the stylish matching '70s era outfits we wore. I'll try to get it scanned soon, and I'll write a post about that time of my life.

Friday, February 24, 2012


I tend to be rather competitive.

In fact, pretty much everyone in my family is competitive. We like to win, don't like losing.
This can lead to some eventful game nights.

When we were first married, Patricia and I often played board games. We didn't have a TV and it was a nice way to spend an evening. Reading aloud to each other wasn't too satisfying except in small doses. (Listen to this!) So games were an excellent choice. We learned a lot about each other in those early years.

For example, I found out that my loving wife is every bit as competitive as I am. And we discovered that Monopoly was a game we just cannot play together. For one thing, it engendered heated discussions about the rules. (No, you can't put the tax money in the middle - it goes to the bank! The rules clearly say "Free Parking" is nothing more than a free resting space where nothing happens!) Won't say who was on which side of that dispute, but I will note that most of the informal rule changes that people observe in Monopoly tend to make the game take longer.* When you really play according to the rules, game play can be fairly short.

The object of the game is to collect all the property and all the money, in the process bankrupting your opponents and destroying their livelihood. And that was the problem for us. Whoever won would gloat, whoever lost would sulk. It made for some unhappy bedtimes. After a while we decided it wasn't worth the pain, and quit playing that game. We took up Yahtzee instead. And since I'm obsessive, I kept track of who won and who lost every game for a couple of years. 
It turned out to be an interesting experiment.

Because we played Yahtzee with the same opponent all the time, we developed pretty much identical strategies. And over time, we discovered that we were essentially equivalent in ability and success rate. Rather than sulking, the response of the loser would be, "Let's play another". 
One might lose a few times in a row, but eventually it evened out.  I quit keeping records after a thousand games. The results were kind of amazing. After 1000 games, each of us had won exactly 500. In the long run, the outcome between evenly matched competitors was a coin flip.

Can't say the same for Parcheesi. I contend she won at least 2/3 of the time. 
Don't know why, she's just better than me at it. **

I think competition is actually rather universal. Some people are more and some less competitive, but I believe God designed mankind to respond to rewards. Everybody likes winning, nobody likes to lose. And deep down, we're all afraid we're just not good enough, that we won't measure up. 
Some people spend all their lives and energy working to be holy, hoping to earn favor with God. And truthfully, we can never do that. The Bible clearly states that everyone falls short of His glory. (Romans 3:23) The good news is, we don't have to measure up - God's grace is freely given to us. Eternal life is His gift to all who believe, bought and paid for by Jesus. (Romans 6:23

The love of God is unconditional - but His promises are not. Every promise of God comes with a condition. He offers incentives for our proper behavior. Not eternal life; that's totally free. 
But when we put His principles into practice, blessings follow in our lives here on earth.

Some examples: 
Isaiah 1:19 - "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land"

John 15:5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Galatians 6:9 -  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Incentives tie into our natural competitiveness, encouraging us to do our best. The most effective way to harness this power is to have clearly defined goals, with specific rewards offered for each level of success. And the rules have to be consistently applied. Incentives are a powerful training tool when working with children - but yes has to be yes, and no really mean no. The worst thing a parent can do is reward bad behavior by giving in to a tantrum. When a child finds that throwing a fit actually makes things worse for them, they quit doing it.

Sadly, adults don't always respond to God in this way. Even though we know our behavior is harmful, sometimes we cling to it. Adultery, drunkenness, lust, gluttony, bitterness, unforgiveness - these are just a few of the behaviors people hang on to, despite God's Word clearly indicating how harmful they are. Maybe it won't cause us to miss heaven, but our lives on earth can be totally destroyed and miserable because of our bad decisions. And He promises much better for us - but we have to be willing and obedient.

It's not easy. I like pleasing my flesh, and often don't want to stop doing what I know isn't pleasing God. But when I do, I find the rewards are real and tangible. For example, when I eat less and exercise more, I drop some weight and feel a lot better. Still, I prefer to sit on the couch eating chips. So, like the Apostle Paul, I have to bring my body into subjection, choosing to do what is right and reaping the long term benefits while giving up the quick buzz of pleasure. 

Competition - it's a gift from God we can use to help us grow and mature. It's still true - we reap what we sow. And good seed planted in good soil will reap a bountiful harvest in our lives - if we don't give up. (Galatians 6:7-9)

*Sure it's fun winning a pile of money by landing on Free Parking. But the more money everybody has, the longer the game takes. When I was a kid, we had Monopoly games which took weeks to complete. Of course, we started with a bunch more money than the rules allowed - sometimes we used Game of Life money instead.

**Patricia doesn't really agree that she's superior at this game. And I never kept records like I did with Yahtzee - but it sure seemed to me that I usually lost at Parcheesi - not happily, either. 
Now that I've thought about this, maybe we'll dig the game out and play again and see how it goes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Salvaging Bricks

From a very young age I learned how to work. "God helps those who helps themselves" is not a Scriptural proverb, but it was definitely a guiding principle in my family. If we insisted on a real Bible verse we might hear, "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

As I have mentioned before, I grew up in a hotel in small town Nebraska. The Mary-Etta Hotel was built around 1905 as a railroad stop. We took over in the early 1960s, and the place had never really been updated. So lots of things needed attention and improvement, and my dad was always at work repairing and restoring and rejuvenating. And we didn't just have the hotel to attend to - the Mary-Etta also included a cafe, a tavern and party rooms.

Our corner apartment was on the top floor. 
The cafe is at the lower left, the tavern was just out of the picture to the left.

Running four separate businesses under one roof meant lots of work to be done, and everyone in the family was expected to pitch in and do their part. When I was young, this meant helping carry stuff from one place to another, or sweeping the steps. Sometimes my job was just staying out of the way. We had no lawn - first time I ever mowed was when I was 15 or 16. But boy, did we have sidewalks! When it snowed, we had almost an entire city block 4 sidewalks wide to clear. And my father was not one who would settle for a one-scoop path. No, we had to shovel the whole thing. (Not without complaint, I might add. Although not when Dad could hear.)

Around 1970, Dad got the idea of opening a steakhouse. He bought an old tavern building a half block south of the hotel, along with the sewing machine repair shop next door. For the next year, our family worked to turn the building into a nice restaurant. I don't remember any contractors being hired, at least not for the demolition and construction. We were doing this on a budget, while we continued running the hotel and related businesses. And Dad wanted to keep this project under wraps, so few people outside of the family were involved. Actually, even WE didn't really know what he had in mind.

One of the first things required was to remove the brick wall running right down the center, separating the building into the bar and repair shop. I thought this process would be pretty cool, blasting the wall to smithereens with a sledgehammer, maybe even some explosives. But no... as mentioned in the last post, my father doesn't believe in wasting anything. Though we did use a sledgehammer, we had to very carefully tap the wall, removing bricks one at a time. And then we hauled the loose bricks outside and piled them on the trailer that had been salvaged from a rowboat. Dad owned a little house one block east of the hotel, used strictly for storage and for a garden plot. That's where the bricks ended up, stacked against the wall.

After a year of remodeling, we finally installed carpet, heating/air conditioning, kitchen fixtures and everything else we needed. The business was ready to be opened. For the next year, our family actually ran five businesses simultaneously. And I got my first paying job, at age 14. I was the dishwasher/busboy for the steakhouse. I do not recall applying for this position. I think it was just assumed that, as a member of the family, I would do my part to help the business succeed. And I got paid! My salary was 75 cents an hour, less than the federal minimum of $1.60 - and I was thrilled to actually earn a paycheck.

That's Mom on the phone at the end of the bar in our steakhouse, circa 1973.

I worked at the steakhouse for over a year, till I picked up a job at a local greenhouse for the princely amount of $1.25 an hour. Still below the minimum wage, but a decent pay raise.
I started that job in late February of 1973 at age 15. I was responsible for watering all the plants, moving them from building to building, pulling weeds, sweeping and mopping and all that sort of thing. I liked the job fine and was shocked when, about the end of May, I was informed my services were no longer required. It wasn't that I had done a bad job - the plants were mature and mostly sold already. There just wasn't enough work to keep me busy. So I was laid off.

My 16th birthday wasn't till the end of August. Most businesses wouldn't hire anyone younger than 16. And my dad had hired replacement dishwashers, so that option wasn't really available. So I was facing a summer with little to no spending money. I did pick up a little contract work, helping a local farmer haul bales from the field to the barn. But that was only good for a couple of week's pay. (Plus great lunches cooked by the farmer's wife!)

My father had a request for me since I had time on my hands. Remember those bricks we had knocked out of that wall? He wanted me to clean all the old mortar off them so they'd be ready for a new project. Now, he wasn't offering to pay me for this task. It was just expected, as a family member, that I'd want to do my part. The problem was, I didn't. I wanted to earn some money, not work hard in the sweltering summer for no pay. So I avoided the job, hoping something better would come along.

I continued procrastinating the whole summer long. Dad didn't hassle me about it - just reminded me every once in a while that the job was still waiting. I had become a serious Christian the year before, but I still needed a lot of character growth. Finally, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I wasn't honoring my father as the Bible instructed. (Colossians 3:20) And I read the proverb about the disgraceful son who won't help when there's work to be done. (Proverbs 10:5) So grudgingly, at the very end of the summer, I made my way down to the 4th street house and started knocking mortar off bricks.

It was my second afternoon of brick cleaning, and I had managed to get grimy, hot and sweaty. One of my friends came running up around 4 p.m. He told me the big supermarket up the street was looking for a few new guys. He'd been hired, and he thought they had room for me, too. It was too late to go home and change, so I walked the block or so to the market and put in an application. I was dirty and smelly and had obviously been outside working. I don't recommend this method of job search, but they hired me on the spot. I turned 16 a week or so later and worked there until after I graduated high school and moved away for college.

Waiting for my birthday to come gave me just enough time to finish cleaning all the bricks. 
If I hadn't obeyed the prompting of my conscience to do what my father wanted, I wouldn't have been in the right place to get that job. I believe God was training me to listen to the wise counsel of His word. That good steady job was a reward for obedience.

Blessings have almost always come in my life when I've been actively pursuing God's will. Rarely if ever have I been blessed by sitting around waiting for something to fall into my lap. I have found God expects us to do what we know to be right and let Him guide and direct our steps. The brick story has served as an object lesson for me ever since. 

God blesses obedience and faithfulness, not idleness and selfishness. I wasn't thrilled about cleaning up those bricks, and can't say my attitude was stellar. But I was there working, because it was what my father wanted and I (finally) was willing to obey. And God blessed me with a good steady job to reinforce that it's always the right choice to obey His word. 

It's been a guiding principle of my life ever since.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nothing Wasted

I am not really an environmentalist.

There are people in this world who care more about baby harp seals than they do about baby humans. And those who spend lots of time and money trying to save spotted owls and beached whales, but nothing to stop the trafficking of young girls as sex slaves.

Don't misunderstand - I'm not at all in favor of cruelty to animals. 
I simply think there are a lot of other pressing issues which really need our attention. 

That said, I believe God expects us to be good stewards of the Earth He's created, to use the resources He's provided wisely and leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren. 
That's why I am kind of aggressive about recycling. (Obsessive, my wife would say.)

It's really all I've ever known. My parents were raised during the Great Depression. 
They knew from an early age that things couldn't be taken for granted or easily replaced. 
I learned that lesson through their example. When I was growing up, nothing was wasted. 
If it had any value at all, it was saved and filed away for a future need. 

My dad had (actually, has) boxes of miscellaneous screws and nails, plumbing parts, stacks of lath boards, all kinds of tools and old machines, buckets of iron and copper. Old tires were turned into swings, an old rowboat converted into a trailer, and a mangle (a big old device we used to iron sheets) became a barbecue rotisserie. Used lumber had the nails carefully removed, then was stored until a suitable project came along. The summer I turned 16, I spent several days cleaning mortar off old bricks from a wall we'd removed and stacking them up for the day they'd become a sidewalk. (There's a story in the bricks: I'll tell it in my next blog post.)

When I was a kid, my father's tendency to save everything meant I never lacked raw materials for play. Lath boards made great swords, and if one broke while we were swashbuckling there were a few hundred more in the pile. My friends and I would construct weird robots and stuff from the plumbing parts, crawl inside a cave built from old mattresses, make a jail out of old wooden chairs or set up a haunted house in the spooky basement with doors that went nowhere.

As an adult, there's this little guy inside my head that cringes at waste and says, "Somebody might be able to use that!" I've had to learn to throw things away, and I'm not very good at it. 
But I have stored up dozens of plastic grocery bags that I could use for trash disposal. <smile>

I save newspaper, junk mail, office paper, cardboard, glass containers (rinsed out), aluminum cans, plastic bottles & jars, and steel cans. Thankfully, I have a place where this stuff can be used. There is a group called Progress Port that collects all these things, shreds and crushes and bales them, then sells the results. Some of their workers are developmentally disabled people who have mental or physical issues that keep them from being able to function effectively in society at large. Progress Port funds a home where they live, and the work they do in recycling helps pay to keep the place running. They take pride in their work; they're earning their keep and being productive citizens. I think it's a great idea, and am glad to contribute my rather small efforts to it.

But I have to admit, my wife is correct in saying I can be a bit obsessive about recycling. I'm the one who empties the trash around here, and I'm always going through the waste cans and fishing out cans and bottles, paper and plastic. My excuse is, we have cats. 

That's right, felis catus is a source of some consternation in our house. You never really know what they may have knocked into the trash, so if you don't want things just disappearing 
(I know we used to have a salt shaker...) it's important to examine things carefully. Though this is true, it's also a fairly lame excuse trying to explain away my sifting through the kitchen garbage. The real explanation is that little guy saying "Somebody might be able to use that!"

Fortunately, we do have an informal neighborhood recycling program that takes care of most of the larger items. Let's say, for example, I have a broken microwave oven. It works, but the door won't stay latched so you have to stand there and hold it shut whenever you're cooking something. (This is not a hypothetical example, you might suspect.) The love of my life eventually rebelled at this necessity, despite my pleading (But it still works...) So we got a new microwave, and I was faced with the problem of disposing of the old one. I could not bring myself to throw away a still functional, if flawed, appliance. (Cue the little guy in my head.) So I took advantage of the Johnston City Recycling Plan. I set the thing out on the curb by the street. It was gone by the next morning.

This system works admirably with just about anything. Old TVs? Gone! Furniture - picked up!. Mattresses? Kiddie pools? Broken hedge trimmer? Yup, all possessed by somebody else now. The one thing so far that won't go away? Old computer monitors. Nobody wants them - everybody wants a flatscreen. Can't even pay people to take them away.

I like to think my actions are making the world a better place. And after all, I'm just following Jesus' instructions. (No, really.) In John 6, remember when He fed the 5000 men, plus women and children? Do you recall what He said after everybody had eaten as much as they wanted? Here it is: "When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, 'Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.'" (John 6:12 NIV)

And they went out and picked up 12 baskets full of food. Definitely a miracle, considering He started with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. But consider what they were collecting - people's half-eaten fish sandwiches! In our culture, who wants somebody else's leftovers? Totally trash, worthless in our society. Yet Jesus said, "Let nothing be wasted". He saw value where we would not. Food was much harder to come by then. Somebody didn't go hungry because the leftovers were collected. 

In much of the world, people die every day from malnutrition and starvation. They'd love to to be able to sift through our garbage. I'm not saying we can solve world hunger by sending our leftover Happy Meals overseas. But I am trying to consciously use less, waste less, reuse and recycle more as my little part of making God's world a better place to live.

And I'm so thankful that Jesus doesn't want anything wasted, including mankind.
"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 NIV) My life was totally worthless, destined for the trash heap. 
But the Ultimate Recycler saw something there and said, "That's worth redeeming." 

He offers the same free gift to all who put their trust in Him. And that's good news...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Baking Bread

I am the bread baker in our home. 
Any bread freshly baked at our house is because of my efforts.

Now, it isn't as if Patricia and I sat down one day and divided household duties, and after I lost two out of three thumb wrestling matches, baking was added to my side of the ledger. Actually, for the first 30 plus years of our marriage, very little bread was baked, and she was the baker if any was made at all. But mostly we subsisted on store-bought loaves, augmented once in a while with something fresh from a bakery.

Home-baked bread has a long history in my family. Even now, the aroma of freshly baked bread cooling on the rack transports me to my grandmother's kitchen, where homemade breads, pies and coffeecake were staples. Coffeecake was kind of a sweet flatbread glazed with brown sugar, eaten in big slices with lots of butter. It was one of Grandma's specialties, possibly handed down from her German family. I don't bake coffeecake, though my mother may have the recipe and my sister might make it. For me it's just a delicious memory, like Grandma's bread.

My dad's mother didn't bake bread, at least not that I recall. When I asked about it, she told me that baking bread had never turned out well for her, so she had given up trying. And once my grandfather went into the grocery business, her time was spent working at the store rather than in the kitchen. 

My own home didn't have much fresh-baked bread, either. I haven't mentioned it before, but I grew up in a hotel. My parents owned and operated a turn of the century vintage hotel in Fairbury, Nebraska, a town of 5000 a bit north of the Kansas border in the southeast corner of the state. By the time we took over in the 1960s, the hotel's glory days were past. Pretty much everything was original - all the furnishings, the plumbing and electrical, the plaster and lath walls, the carpeting. Things were sort of seedy and run down when we got there, and Dad spent a lot of time, money and effort on improvements. There was always something that needed fixing, and he kept busy.

Mom worked pretty steadily in the business as well. Even if she had been inclined to bake bread, who had the time? I'll talk lots more about growing up in the hotel in future posts, but let's try to stay on topic here. Given that my experience with homemade bread was pretty much limited to visits to my maternal grandparents' home, why did I take up baking after a half-century of life?

Like a lot of things in my life, it was kind of a process. Our tastes in bread have changed dramatically since we first married. Started out kind of plain white bread. But then interesting varieties of bread came out - honey wheat berry, oatmeal whole wheat, all kinds of stuff that we tried and liked. For a while in the 80s we were heavily involved in a whole foods co-op in Nebraska, and we learned healthier eating. (Another story for a different day.) We began eating fresh-baked whole wheat breads there and developed a taste for them.

After moving to Illinois in 1988, we had to adopt a whole new routine. Whole foods were harder to come by and way more expensive. So we adapted, buying groceries from nearby supermarkets. But we always liked the interesting varietal breads. As time went by, these breads kept increasing in price and I began wondering if there was a better way.

My mother had started buying bakery bread, so when we visited it was kind of like going back in time to her mother's house, slicing the fresh bread ourselves. I got a hankering for homemade bread again, and decided to invest part of my tax refund in a bread machine (last of the big time spenders.)

We had a bread machine 25 or 30 years ago, and were unimpressed. The loaves were a weird cylindrical shape and recipes were limited and not very interesting. You could buy bread machine mixes, but the results were underwhelming. We gave up after a short while. 

I was hoping bread machine state of the art had improved over the past 3 decades. After considerable Internet research, I made my choice. I checked around at local merchants and discovered that no one really carried bread machines - not enough interest, I guess. So I ordered my machine online, and also ordered a bread machine cookbook. I figured a few extra recipes would be helpful. That was the best decision I made in the whole bread baking adventure!

When my machine and cookbook arrived, I eagerly unpacked and set it up. The cookbook was amazing - it was the size of the New York City phone book!* It was huge, with hundreds of recipes. Everything was clearly laid out, and by following directions carefully, my very first loaf of bread was a success. More than a hundred loaves later, I've only had one or two disappointments, and those were still edible, just not as pretty as I'd like.

Baking bread appeals to me for several reasons. It caters to my frugality** - each loaf of bread cost around 50 cents or less instead of 3 bucks or so. The bread is fresher, and has no preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers or other weird chemicals. I completely control everything that goes into my bread, and I love that. 

We get to try all kinds of interesting varieties, too. Patricia's favorite is Sunflower Oatmeal Bread. Katie loves the French bread. Other staples include 7-grain bread, Zuni Indian bread, Dakota bread, Honey Wheat Berry. All the breads I bake include at least some whole wheat flour, plus lots of other healthy ingredients. The bread I baked today was Cornell bread, developed in the 1930s as a low-cost high-protein bread to improve Depression families' diets. It includes bread flour, whole wheat and soy flour, honey, an egg, salt, gluten and yeast.

Plus there's the advantage of getting to tinker with a gadget. I love fooling around with these kinds of toys. I think bread machines were designed with guys in mind. I'm always experimenting with different recipes, trying new things. I even made pizza dough once. Turned out pretty good, but I'll change some things next time (naturally.) And I simply add all the ingredients, push a couple of buttons and walk away. The machine does all the fiddly stuff that I would probably screw up - it mixes and kneads and lets the dough rise, be punched down and rise again, then bakes. 3 or 4 hours later, bread!

Finding quality, affordable ingredients has been a worthwhile pursuit. I found out there's a whole foods co-op in Carbondale, 15 miles from home. And I can buy most of the ingredients I use in bread there in bulk, which comes out very affordable. Bags in my bread supply bucket contain things like: wheat germ, dry milk, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, millet, wheat gluten, wheat berries, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, soy flour, rye flour, barley and more. I rarely spend more than five dollars on a trip to the co-op, which generally nets me 5 or 6 bags of goodies.

And there is a spiritual component to bread baking. Jesus called Himself the bread of life, and said when we ate of Him, we'd be totally satisfied and never hunger again. (John 6:51) This freaked out his followers, who took Him literally, thinking He was advocating cannibalism or something. The Bible says a lot of people quit the church over this controversial teaching. (John 6:66) But Jesus was speaking spiritually, not literally. Only when we come to Him can the empty space inside of us be filled.

Oh, we try to fill that void with all kinds of things: material possessions, physical pleasure, wealth, power, influence, food, sex, money, drugs, fame. Everything comes up empty until we yield to the only Source of life. Jesus used the metaphor of eating bread to say God will fill us with Himself when we ask Him in, eradicating that emptiness. All that's required is to willingly accept the free gift of grace He offers. Sadly, just like people in Jesus' day, a lot of us misunderstand and walk away. We think we can never be good enough, never measure up to God's standard.

The good news is, we don't have to! It was precisely because we can't be good enough that Jesus came to earth. He came specifically to pay the penalty for our sins, thereby offering us the free gift of eternal life with Him. (Romans 6:23) It's not about going to church, being on our best behavior or stopping our sinful actions - in other words, it isn't about our performance. It's about allowing God Himself to live inside us, changing us from the inside out, making us a new creature. This change is a lifelong process. That's why Jesus said He was the bread of life - we need to feed on Him daily as we're changed into His image. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

So I bake bread happily, providing nutritious food for my family, spending much less for a superior product, getting to tinker with gadgets, and occasionally remembering that man doesn't really live by bread alone, but by relationship with the true and living God. (Matthew 4:4)

*If you're interested, here is the cookbook I got. Nobody's paying me for my endorsement, but I love this book and highly recommend it as a great way to really use your bread machine.

**Some people would call it being cheap. I prefer to think of it as good stewardship. <smile>

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Not A Feeling

Love - a completely inadequate word to express our feelings and emotions.

I mean, we use this word to indicate affection, desire, pleasure, satisfaction, friendship, covenant relationship, possession - all sorts of stuff. We say we love our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouse, our children, mankind. We claim to love our jobs, our cars, the local hamburger stand, school, church, food, our pets, hobbies - the list is endless.

And we probably do love these things in some way. But it's just not the same in every case. The love I have for a delicious plate of beef and cheese nachos may be genuine, but it's simply not the same as the love I have for my wife or my daughters. (Unless something is seriously amiss.)

Other languages have more ways to express these ideas. Greek, for example, has 4 different words commonly translated into English as "love".  These various words help us understand nuances of meaning.

The Greek word, storge means natural affection. It might be the word you'd use when you have a favorable opinion of someone or something. Eros is physical attraction to someone, often sensual in nature. It's where we get the English word "erotic". Philia is the word used for friendship or brotherly love. For example, the name of the city of Philadelphia is comprised of two Greek words meaning, "city of brotherly love". And finally, the Greek word agape means unconditional love. In the Bible, this word is used when speaking of God's love for the world, as in John 3:16.

When Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) the word used was agape. In the "love chapter" of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) agape is the concept being illustrated.
The love of God, the sort He wants us to have, is unconditional love. "Unconditional" means it's not dependent on how much one deserves to be loved, it's not based on our actions. 

Agape love is given to those who don't deserve it, who have done nothing to earn it. That kind of love is given by God just because it's who He is. It is His nature to love, and He desires His children to love like that, too. The Bible says if we don't have this agape love, we don't really know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

Modern American society has a totally different definition of love. Movies, TV, popular music all present the idea that love is a wonderful feeling, an emotional ride, something you fall into and eventually, out of. We're told that marvelous feeling is the evidence of true love. And when the feeling goes away, people think they don't love each other any more and end the relationship. Many of us spend our lives pursuing the ideal love and never quite attaining it. We think there's something wrong with us when the truth is, there's something wrong with the underlying concept.

The wonderful feeling, the emotional high you experience when you're near that special someone? Not love. No, really - it isn't. It's hormones. (Romantic, isn't it?) 

When you're in a romantic situation, especially with someone kind of new, your body releases certain hormones which alter your brain chemistry, producing a sensation of pleasure. Over time, your brain builds up  tolerance and it takes more and more stimulation to get the same level of pleasure.This is why feelings don't last long-term. They weren't designed to. God made us this way so we'd find one another attractive, "fall in love", get married and have a family. But that isn't a foundation on which to establish a long term relationship. No, that takes true love.

So if love is not a feeling, not an emotion, what is it? Love is a choice, it's an action you take whether you feel like it or not. The Apostle Paul put it like this: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails."
I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV

My definition goes like this: Love is caring more about the other person than yourself. The opposite of love is not hate; it's lust. Lust is defined as wanting to please yourself, without concern for the consequences. Lust is, "I gotta have that thing, and I don't care what it costs me or anyone else". It's total selfishness; true love is selflessness.

Of course, I didn't know this when I first got married. We thought the feelings would last forever. And it was only after the emotional high subsided that we learned how to love. Don't get me wrong, I still have strong feelings for my wife. But I don't depend on my emotional state as a barometer of love. We've been married nearly 35 years, and our love is stronger than ever. 
It's different than what we had as newlyweds, or as young parents. We've grown to love and appreciate one another more and more as the years go by.

Every day I choose to demonstrate my love for my wife by my actions. I clean the cat boxes, load and unload the dishwasher, sometimes I cook dinner or rub her feet when they hurt. I don't do this kind of thing because I have to - I want to please my wife because I love her. And she wants to please me, too. Our secret of a solid, joyful marriage is, each of us seeks to make the other one happy. (This can lead to gridlock when going out to eat: "Where do you want to go? Whatever you want. No, you pick - I'll be fine. I don't know, what sounds good to you?" And so on, ad infinitum.)

Don Francisco said it very well many years ago in his song, Love Is Not A Feeling. To close this post out, I'm going to attempt to embed a video of it here. Enjoy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Survey Says...

Every once in a while I take one of those "determine your gifts" kind of quizzes. I'm really bad at them, and don't often fill one out willingly. But sometimes I'm in a class where it's required, or my daughter cajoles me into filling it out, or something, and I'm stuck.

The reason I stink at these surveys is simple - I'm too analytic. I don't simply blast through the thing, blithely filling in boxes with the first answer that pops into my head. No, I have to consider each question and think about my response. What is this question getting at? What are they after? I know that it skews the data when I do this, but I can't help myself. I have to consciously force myself to answer with a snap judgment, and it's very foreign to me. 

I like to think about things carefully. I'm the sort of guy who proofreads every text and Facebook post twice before sending, just to be sure it really says what I want, and without typos. And I really cannot understand people who don't do this. Do they want to look ignorant? (Watch out - getting dangerously close to rant mode here. Adjusting bearings to get back on course...)

Where were we? Oh, yeah - personality surveys. When I take them, I try to shut my brain off and answer without analysis. But it's hard! I mean, I can be walking through a room past somebody's computer and notice they have a misspelled word in whatever they're writing without breaking stride. I'm not really looking for it - this stuff just jumps out at me. My brain yells, "Hold on! There's something fishy in River City..." and before I know it, I'm offering advice. And sometimes people are not really appreciative when I point these things out. So I'm learning to be rather cautious about saying anything, especially on the Internet. But I can't actually shut it off.

So sometimes I manipulate my survey answers to get the results I want. Of course, if the purpose of the survey is to find out more about yourself, this kind of activity totally frustrates that goal. At times (like when I didn't want to do this in the first place) this doesn't bother me. I find it rather amusing to beat the system (I'll show 'em!) 

But once in a while I genuinely want to know more about what motivates me, so I can learn to use my gifts and talents wisely. And then I really try to answer quickly, without analysis. The last time I went through one of these, I wanted reliable data. It was one of those spiritual gift surveys. Pretty much every time I take one of those, I get the same result: Teacher. "Teaching is your motivational gift." This is okay with me - I love teaching and revel in the opportunity to do so. 
But I wondered if I was skewing the results through my tendency to analyze everything. 
(See, I'm analyzing THAT!)

So I tried to rocket through the test with little to no deliberation. And my result was: Teacher. Shocking, I know.

But there was an interesting result - I had a second area which scored just as high. Music! I love music, love listening to it and making it and sharing it with friends and family. Never thought of it as a spiritual gift before, and it was pretty cool. Now I understand me a little better. 

I'm two-pronged, analytic and artistic. I find both teaching and music exhilarating and fulfilling. 
I can worship in word and in song. Really, I'm thankful that God knows me so well and allows me to function in the unique areas of gifting He's given me. There are plenty of things I can't do, lots of stuff I don't know. I'm learning to use what I have for His glory.

I really thought this post would be more about the role of music in my life, but my brain hijacked the thread. So that will have to wait for another time. Let me end with the Obligatory Scripture Reference: "What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding."1 Corinthians 14:15 NKJV

I guess if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, I can embrace it, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Generalist

I am a generalist.
I'm not sure if that's even a real word, but it pretty well defines me.

A generalist = not a specialist.

You see, everything interests me. Well, there are a few categories I don't much care about, pop culture apparently being one of them. In trivia, I'm reasonably skilled in history, literature, math & science, Bible, word definitions - stuff like that. I reek on topics like movies, TV, pop music, really anything like that later than 1980 or so.

The point is, my wide-ranging interests have always kept me from specializing in much of anything.
I have been told I'm one of those rare cats (a nice way to say 'odd') who is neither left- nor right-brain dominant. I am both artistic and analytic. Don't think I suffer from attention deficit, but I can be easily distracted if something is interesting. And most everything is interesting to me.

My college education illustrates this point pretty well. After spending 5+ years in school, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in broadcast journalism and a Bachelor of Science in mathematics, with minors in English literature, art and German. What was I going to do with all this varied education?
I really had no idea.

I actually kind of backed into my eventual career - certainly had no inclination to enter TV production in high school. Went to a teachers' college 60 miles from home, even though I didn't want to be a teacher. (Ironic, isn't it?)* The school had a lot of family connections - it was operated by the church denomination our family was connected to, my mother had graduated from there (just a couple of years before I arrived, actually) and my sister Janet was already there as an upperclassman when I got there. Since I really had no idea who I was, where I was going or what I wanted to do with my life, the path of least resistance (easily taken by a guy who hated confrontation)** was to make my parents happy and attend that college.

Once there, I started taking general education classes, joined a traveling singing group and found a campus job with the Audio/Visual Center. I was hired as an audio engineer, charged with horsing recording equipment around campus to record orchestras and choirs and such. I had zero experience at this, and was kind of thrown into the position with a cursory explanation and no real training. ("There's the equipment, here's what we expect of you.") I was not very good at first, but I learned quickly and studied audio on my own to try and do a better job.

Our "state of the art" equipment was a couple of 4-track open reel machines. I learned to edit, physically cutting and splicing the audio tape. Eventually we got the latest and greatest thing - an Advent cassette recorder with Dolby B noise reduction! Hard to believe now, but in 1976 this was very expensive top of the line technology.

Anyway, I found I was having a lot more fun doing A/V production than with anything I was studying in class. I decided to try and find a way to make a living doing this sort of thing. After some detours
(getting married and having to support myself & my wife, for one - another story for another time)
I transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

I had taken so many math classes that it only took a few more to complete a major. Already had enough art classes for a minor, too. And I took up a second major area of study, broadcast journalism with an emphasis in production. I learned cinematography by shooting and editing 16-millimeter black & white film, studied newswriting, economics and history, and pulled board shifts on the campus radio station, sneaking contemporary Christian music into the playlist.

And I got another campus job, as a photographer/editor with the University Information Office.
I learned much more about production in this job than in class. We had top of the line equipment - 3/4" field equipment and a cuts-only editing system. This stuff is only good for boat anchors now, but then it was far better than anything the J-school had for their students. I was going around campus interviewing professors and putting together electronic news releases, including the University promos*** which aired during the rare televised football game. (With only one or two games a week televised across the whole nation, your favorite team might get on once or twice a season if they were really good.)

My boss, Bob Van Neste, was an old-school journalist highly respected by everyone in the business. He taught me so much about shooting and editing, patiently instructing me in the finer points of telling a story visually. Once again, the job was a much more valuable education than most of my schoolwork. I started helping my fellow students, passing along the knowledge I was receiving. And I was having a blast working!

When I graduated in December 1980, I needed a real job. My wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child and working as a cook in an upscale Mexican restaurant. I took a temporary position with channel 3 in Omaha as a photographer/editor. They were in the midst of a strike and were desperate for experienced shooters. I had a baby on the way and was desperate for money. Worked steadily for a couple of months till the strike was over. There was no chance of being hired permanently - no matter how good I was, they had no place for me. So I got a hearty thank you and a letter of recommendation and was back on the streets again.

I went down to the J-School and checked the jobs bulletin board. There was a position available in production at the local CBS affiliate, the most dominant TV station in Nebraska. I went to apply right away. I was the very last applicant of 60 or so hopefuls. Because I had considerable experience, plus a glowing recommendation from Mr. Van Neste, I got the job and started right away.

God has blessed me with supernatural favor, and I'm thankful. But if I hadn't pursued jobs on campus, desiring to work, I wouldn't have had the necessary experience. Like Joseph in the Bible,
I made the best of whatever situation I found myself in, worked hard and was therefore in position to receive God's favor. I didn't know it at the time, but God was directing my steps.

In the past 30+ years, I've had the opportunity to do just about everything in television production. This includes camera, lighting, editing, directing, writing, graphics, set building and design. Computers have completely revolutionized the business. Much of what I do today is at a keyboard. So my training in art, math, English, and broadcasting have all proven useful at one time or another. I started computer programming back in the '70s on a refrigerator sized mainframe that was less powerful than most people's phones today. Who knew I'd eventually use all this stuff? I sure didn't, but
God knew what would happen when the technology didn't even exist yet.

Still haven't really used the German much...

I guess my point is, even in my area of specialty I'm a generalist. And I'm glad to know that about myself. Understanding my motivations helps me to be more effective. God created me this way, and He'll use me if I'm willing and obedient. (Obligatory Scripture Reference**** - Isaiah 1:19)

*The irony is, one of my primary motivational gifts turns out to be that of a teacher. I'm passionate about learning and helping others learn, especially about God and His ways.

**As mentioned in an earlier post, I tend to avoid confrontation. I suppose I should write a blog post about that, but that would mean confronting the issue, and - well, you know...

Even I find it hard to believe that a student was creating those University promos. Nowadays, those things are high-dollar ad agency productions. Back then, it was me and others like me.

****Seems like every time I post I include Scripture references, like it's a rule or something.
And I was at the end of this rambling narrative and hadn't done so. This is an actual, useful reference - I just felt like poking fun at my own quirkiness.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Highly Personal Revelation

I have a confession to make. It's kind of personal, but I want to be transparent, so here goes...
I don't eat bacon.

Maybe that should be followed by an exclamation point. People seem to not believe this when I tell them. They say, "Who doesn't like bacon? Everything's better with BACON!"

Um... (raises hand)

Me - I don't like bacon. Never have, in fact. Oh, I tried, I really did. Tried cooking it till it was brown and crispy. Ick. Tried cooking it limp and greasy. Double ick. Finally just resigned myself to occasionally eating something I didn't like to keep others happy.

I think the root cause was simply my overall aversion to meat fat. I was always the kid who obsessively trimmed all the fat off my steaks and chops. (Doctors now say I was right about that all along - who knew?) If my serving of pork and beans happened to get the little square of fat that passed for meat, I shuddered in disgust. And bacon is mostly fat, with a little meat slipped in.
Just didn't like it.

But I ate it anyway. Kept everybody happy, avoided confrontation. That's another of my characteristics (quirks? failings?). I really don't like confrontation - but that's another story for another day.

Until one day God challenged me. About bacon? Seems like kind of a petty thing for the Creator of the Universe to be concerned about. But as always, He was after something deeper in me.
The Bible says our destiny is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29)
God's desire is for our character to be like His, and with me, it's a slow process.

So the conversation, entirely in my thoughts, went something like this:
Why are you eating bacon? Uh, I don't know...
Do you like it? No, not really
Is it good for you? No, really not
So why eat it? It keeps everybody happy
Is pleasing people more important than pleasing God?

I really didn't want to answer that last question.

The honest answer is, of course not - but I was behaving as if it was. So I repented. That doesn't mean just saying you're sorry and hoping you're out of trouble. Real repentance requires a change of behavior. Stop doing the thing you know is wrong.

So I quit eating bacon. And I'm happier and healthier for it.
But this leads to a potential danger, one it's easy to fall into. I'm convinced God doesn't want me eating bacon. It's not much of a leap from there to thinking, "If I shouldn't eat bacon, neither should anybody else". I could become the anti-bacon evangelist, preaching to all the bacon-eating sinners about the evils of consuming swine flesh. I could start my own church, the NO BACON church. Because truly holy people who are able to hear from God would surely agree that bacon is evil.

Okay, that's ridiculous. But something similar happens all the time.
People receive a revelation from God - what to eat, how to dress, what kind of music is acceptable, the right day to worship - the list is endless. And the insight is probably genuine - for them. But they think everybody should have the same freedoms and limitations that they do. So they start preaching their revelation rather than seeking Jesus, and end up putting others under bondage.

You see, not eating bacon is freedom for me. But forcing others to give it up would be legalism.*
The Apostle Paul said it best: "Who are you to condemn God's servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let Him tell them whether they are right or wrong." (Romans 14:4 NLT)

The important thing is to seek God with your whole heart. He's promised we'll find Him if we do that. (Jeremiah 29:13) As you draw near to Him, God will begin revealing His will for you. And the cool thing is, He likes variety. (I mean, untold trillions of snowflakes and never a duplicate? Dude...)
So He treats each of us as individuals. Every human ever born has been one of a kind. Even identical twins, with the same exact DNA, have different fingerprints.

There's no one size fits all plan. God loves us so much, He'll help each of us develop the character of Jesus. And the way there is different for everybody.

For me, eschewing bacon is one small step in the right direction. Please God, not men.
I have a long way to go, but I am on my way. And the journey, while often difficult, is never boring.

*For this reason, bacon is allowed in my house. My wife and children love it, and consume it with gusto. They also enjoy teasing me about my NO BACON church. Someday they'll see the light... [grin]

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Wisest Choice Ever

I was born on a Tuesday. The following Sunday I was in church.
I was in every Christmas program, never missed Sunday School, went to Vacation Bible School every year, and attended Bible classes on Saturdays for five years, from 4th through 8th grade.

I knew a whole lot about God. But I didn't know Him. Didn't know you could know Him.

This was not my parents' fault, nor my teachers', nor the pastor's. Actually this was a fairly typical situation. Most kids go along happily with what they've been taught, until one day they come to a crisis in faith. And then they begin asking questions, such as "Is what my family and my church taught me really true? What is real? What is genuine?" As a parent, you have demonstrated what you truly believe by the way you live your life. (Hope your words and your actions lined up...) But God has given each of us freedom to choose, and sooner or later everyone has to make a decision for themselves.

I came to my crisis point in junior high. I was scrawny, socially inept and very unsure of myself.
I was looking for a purpose. I wanted my life to MEAN something. I started examining the various popular ideas of the time. There were all sorts of voices clamoring for attention, insisting that they held the path to true enlightenment. There was a tremendous spiritual hunger among young people, and there was no shortage of people claiming to know the answer.

Drugs were one of those ideas. An ivory tower professor named Timothy Leary promoted LSD as the door to spiritual awakening. The Beatles and lots of other popular musicians were singing about the joys of drug use. Of course, right about this time several of those artists' lives ended quite prematurely due to overdose - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison died within a few months of one another. This caused me to view recreational drug use with a great deal of suspicion. However, a number of my friends were already experimenting, and it was readily available, even in my relatively isolated small Nebraska town.

Another idea advocated by the Beatles was Eastern mysticism, especially Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation, both expressions of Hinduism. Other popular paths included yoga, self-realization, Scientology, "free love" and vegetarianism. And then there was the Jesus Movement. A lot of young hippies got disillusioned with sex, drugs and rock & roll, and the hedonistic lifestyle. After indulging their flesh to the extreme and coming up empty, they started looking for something more. And the Holy Spirit started drawing them to Himself. A genuine revival began sweeping through the nation and around the world, as young people tapped into the real power of God and had their lives totally changed.

So I'm 14 years old and looking for what's really true. My older sister Janet went off to a youth conference in Denver and came back completely changed. She had been painfully shy before, but now she was making friends, writing songs and hanging out with a wide range of committed Christian teens. I was puzzled as to what had happened, but it was obvious she'd had a significant life-altering experience. And it wasn't some flash in the pan - she continued to grow in faith and understanding. God had invaded her life, and she'd never be the same. I was determined to find out what had happened.

My chance came in June 1972. There was a week long youth camp at a college 60 miles away, and I convinced my parents to let me go. (Probably wasn't very hard.) It was culture shock for sure. Meals in the dining hall, small groups, mandatory quiet time (a totally new concept for me), foot frolics in the gym (if they had called it dancing, adolescent males might have rebelled.) The camp director was a retired pastor. We figured he was ancient, like 50 or so. (He was 80 - and he was the one leading the foot frolics!)

On Thursday, June 29th, he sat down
at a picnic table one on one with me. I don't remember if he did this with all the students or if I had been singled out. All I know is he challenged me to consider where my life was going and encouraged me to make a commitment to Christ. There was no walking the aisle, no organ wheezing out Just As I Am, no begging, pleading or raising of hands. He presented the truth, then let the Holy Spirit do the work. By the end of the day, I'd asked Jesus in. No fireworks, no angel choirs - but I had an immediate sense of total peace.

When I got home, God didn't leave me hanging. My sister and her friends had decided to start a Christian coffeehouse in a funky old building downtown, right on the square. I jumped in with both feet. The next three years were intense, filled with Bible studies, concerts, "prayer and praise" meetings, street ministry, church services, fellowship meals - pretty much something every night. And it wasn't a chore - we wanted to be where God was moving, didn't want to miss anything.

I was filled with the Holy Spirit the moment I yielded to Christ. (Romans 8:9-11) As I pursued God, the Spirit began empowering me to do the work He had for me. Which is exactly what Jesus said would happen. (Acts 1:8) This is what had happened to my sister. She had an encounter with the living God, and He came to live inside her in the person of the Holy Spirit. Her life was immediately changed, and she's still serving Him faithfully some 40 years later. (I told you she was a major influence on my life.) If you want, you can find out more about her here: http://janetbauer.blogspot.com/

Jesus also said without Him I can do nothing. (John 15:5). And I've found that to be totally true. Lots of times I've tried to handle things on my own, without God's guidance and wisdom. ("I can handle this one, God. Thanks.") After I hit the wall and pick myself up a few times, I recognize the wisdom of staying closely connected to the True Vine. Again.

This June it will be 40 years since I made that decision for Christ. And I don't regret one minute of it. I've seen lots of my friends and acquaintances crash and burn. Without Him we can do nothing.

My life has purpose and meaning, with an awesome retirement plan. Of course there have been difficulties, trials and tragedy. I'll talk more of such things as we go along. But I am convinced that the life I would have had without Christ cannot compare to the one I've lived with Him.

And I am truly thankful.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More about me

I am a lot of things: husband, father, son, musician, writer, editor, TV production guy, photographer, teacher, friend, listener. All these characteristics are important to me, but the number one thing that defines me and directs everything else in my life is: I am a Christian. Don't misunderstand - I'm not really religious, at least not the way I define religion.

I think religion is man trying to please God through actions. It's as if there's a giant balance scale in heaven, and we think all the bad stuff we do is piled on one side and all the good stuff goes on the other side. The idea is, if the good outweighs the bad, we get into heaven. And most people think they're doing a pretty good job. Virtually all world religions are based on some sort of works righteousness. If you follow the rules, God will like you and you'll have right standing with Him. Of course, the rules are different depending on which religion you choose. For example, Islam has its Five Pillars; Buddhism principles include asceticism, simplicity and alms; Hinduism, Shinto, Sikh religions all have their tenets. (This is, of course, a massive oversimplification.)

Even many Christian groups have lots of rules - what you can wear, what you can eat or drink, how you wear your hair, what kind of people you can associate with, the kind of entertainment you can enjoy - the list is nearly endless.

But the Bible says 1> all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23) and 2> it doesn't matter how many commandments you keep, if you break even one you're guilty of them all (James 2:10).
That's the bad news. The good news is 1> While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and 2> salvation comes to us through faith in Christ, freely offered through God's grace - it's not based on any works we can do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

There are lots of very sincere, God-loving people who define religion differently from me, and I'm fine with that. Don't question their salvation, don't think they're heretics for disagreeing with me. I'm learning there are lots of ways to relate to God, and He's big enough to meet us where we are and reveal Himself to us if we honestly and diligently seek to know Him. (see Jeremiah 29:13) But for me, a key understanding of Christianity is that it's a relationship, not a religion.

Jesus said He is the vine, we are the branches. The only way to succeed as a Christian is to stay connected to Him. (John 15:5) God is so much more interested in our attitudes than our actions. If you're seeking to impress God and people with your actions, you're just a Pharisee.

If your heart attitude is correct, your actions will follow.

Nearly 40 years ago I made a choice to follow Jesus with my whole heart. I've made lots of mistakes - I am far from perfect. But Christianity has been the guiding principle of my life. Jesus has given me hope and purpose. I've found joy in serving God and serving my fellow man. I have learned what it means to really love. My life has had high and low points, triumph and tragedy. But through it all, Jesus Christ has never failed me. Over time, I'll discuss a lot of this in further detail.

I really don't intend all my posts to be this serious. But now and then there will be some like this one, because this is a lot of who I am. In my next post, I'll look back to 1972 and tell about the best decision of my life, how I came to Christ.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Getting Started

Oh great. Another blog. Why?
Lots of reasons, I guess. But primarily obedience.

I've been thinking for quite a while that I need to be writing and publishing. Years, actually.
I have lots to say, things to consider, ideas to kick around. Plenty of topics, too.
But I just didn't get around to actually doing it.

Finally, I got convicted by the actions of my sister Janet. (Not for the first time, either. I'll tell that story another time.) She started a blog a while ago, and it's been fun following her. A lot of her stories have been reminiscing about our childhood. Really enjoy those - but I don't exactly remember a lot of things the same way she does. Maybe I'll post my version of some of those stories.

After a while, I realized that blogging would offer me a couple of advantages. First, it's an opportunity to get my thoughts, teaching and ideas published. Secondly, and more importantly, it will get me to start writing. The best way to improve one's craft is through practice. Lots and lots of practice. So I intend to write consistently on this blog.

About the name - it's Spanish for "more water". It's a phrase I uttered a lot on a mission trip to Honduras years ago (followed by por favor.) My last name is Vawser. As far as we know, that's an Anglicized spelling of the German Wasser (pronounced VAH-sir, just like my last name), which translates as "water". So, maybe I'm saying you're going to find out more about me if you follow this blog. I don't always understand myself where this stuff comes from, or what it means. But I like wordplays, so there you go.

Can't tell you everything I'll discuss in this space. God willing, a bunch of stuff.
I'll talk about my life, my family, theology, practical living, good and bad times, books I've read, lessons I've learned - really just about anything that I find interesting. I may occasionally rant in this space, but that's not a main purpose.

What is the primary purpose? Obedience, I guess. Not for you. For me.
I know I'm supposed to be writing, so here goes. We'll see what happens next. Should be fun...