I read an article a few years ago. A journalist was interviewing a successful author who made his living on writing horror. Many of his books were made into movies, TV Teleplays and TV shows. One of the questions the journalist asked, “why did you choose horror as a genre?” I can envision the author staring right through this journalist as he answered, “who said I had a choice?” He didn’t expound on his answer neither did the journalist ask a follow-up question.
“Who said I had a choice” as though some unseen force was on his shoulder whispering words as his hand worked furiously putting pen to paper trying not to miss a word. Whether his answer was meant to be literal or metaphorical it had quite an effect on me non the less.
A question I have been asked over the course of my christian life. Why did you choose to become a christian. That question confused me but I had my stock answer at the ready. “When I was 22….and I went on like a kookaburra”. This was a gray area for many years. I never gave serious thought to the answer.
Growing up in the Jewish faith I was sheltered from the knowledge of Jesus and Christianity. I had no idea what the the Christmas hype was all about or the billboard signs that read, repent or perish. As I got older the name of Jesus was quite popular in bars and pool halls and I could never figure why this guy Jesus was so popular with some of my girlfriends when they shouted out his name with delight.
I travelled across America from the east coast to the west coast when I 21. Stopping in Los Angeles to visit my sister I felt like I was transported into a strange new world. Charles Manson was on trial for his gruesome murders. Girls walked around in flowing dresses that almost touched the ground. Young people my age wore jeans with patches and rips in them, not the kind that the young people get in shops today. Hippies I believe they were called. To top it off I was walking down the street in short sleeves in January. Not at all like my eastern seaboard upbringing.
Meandering down Hollywood Blvd I could see two lone figures up ahead seemingly engrossed in conversation. As I walked past I heard these words. “Jesus was Jewish”. I thought, Huh, so Jesus was a real person. I continued on without breaking stride.
Some time later as my friends and I were leaving California heading back to New Jersey I was sitting in the back seat watching the sun set over the pacific ocean. I had this peacefulness that came over me. The seed was planted.
Eight months later I was hitching across Canada with my dog Sunfish. A beautiful Shetland Sheepdog that some hippies gave me while camping in the Blue Ridge mountains in New Jersey just a few months prior. She was my best friend and greatest travel companion. No problems getting rides.
Pitching our tent at a free campground I borrowed a bicycle from a fellow camper. Peddling down the country road with Sunfish jogging behind I heard a thud. Jumping off my bike and turning to see where the sound came from I saw Sunfish lying on the ground lifeless. She was hit by a car. My first and only dog was killed. I carried her back to the campgrounds and buried her in the woods. That would become the saddest day in my life.
Numb from my loss I packed up my belongings and headed towards the highway. I took a ride as far as the driver could take me. Dropping me off virtually in the middle of nowhere I walked aimlessly and took the first dirt path that lead off the highway. Open fields on both sides with cattle or sheep far in the distance grazing on the lush flat land. Up ahead a loan oak tree standing with its heavy branching almost touching the ground. Beyond the tree was nothing as far as the eye could see until rolling hills met with the skyline.
Dropping my pack at the base of the tree I slumped to the ground my back leaning up against the oaks trunk. My mind dull with the thoughts of not having my new best friend by my side. The last thing I remember was tears sliding down the sides of my face as I fell asleep.
Waking the next morning the sun breaking through the boughs of the old oak I realized I hadn’t moved my position. Something was noticeably different. The sadness was gone, replaced by a sensation I had never experienced before in my 22 years of living. I was overwhelmed with the an unmistakable feeling of happiness. I recognized this feeling as love and it was so overwhelming I thought I would explode.
Grabbing my pack, with a smile that was starting to hurt, I hurried down the path to the highway to catch a ride to God knows where. All I understood at the time that I had this great feeling of joy, happiness and love that I somehow had to share it with others. To this day I cannot explain what happened to me during that night as I slept under that oak tree. What I do know is this, it changed my life forever and I knew right away it was Jesus.
Much later I learned that my experience was a phenomenon known as being born again.
Now if I am asked why I chose Jesus being a Jew I can say with complete confidence, “who said I had a choice”.
Growing up I loved spy movies. I especially liked the ones where the Russians would send undercover agents to America to blend in with American society and wait until they are called on to spy or do some sort of dirty deeds for their mother country. Sometimes they would send single men or women to marry an American, or even couples to blend in, raise a family, become an indispensable member of the community etc.
Sometimes you could get half way through the movie until you realized that this couple or individual who you grew to like and see as the protagonist turns out to be a “traitor”.
But how did these spies stay on track as they infiltrated society and blended in so they would seem, at least outwardly that they were just like any garden variety suburbanite.
Enter the handler. There is always a handler. Another Russian spy, usually working for the Russian embassy or consulate and always has diplomatic immunity.
His job is to make sure the fake Americans stay on track, keep the motherland first and foremost in their minds and to be prepared for the day they will be called on to “spy”. Or perhaps they have already been spying and passing on information to the handler. His job is to make sure that his charges don’t get sucked into society, don’t get too comfortable. Or worse get turned and become a red white and blue American. The handler is essential to the success of the mission. The mission is to do what they are asked to do and the end result is to return to the motherland in one piece.
Being a true believer, a christian in this world is not much different. If you are truly born again, then you know how different you are to the world we live in. We should never feel as though we fit in. We should always understand that our time here on this earth is temporary. We were sent to do a job, a special mission for each of us. Though many of us may not know what that mission is until later in life, we spend our time fitting into society waiting for the call, knowing it will come.
So we pass our time trying our best to be one with our surroundings, we get secular jobs, we join churches, we go to schools and learn the ways of the world, we fit in. But we understand that this world is not our real home. We know that we are just passing through and we were sent to to fulfill a purpose.
With temptation all round us it is imperative to not allow ourselves to get sucked in. The world calls us to give in and become one, not just outwardly but inwardly too. Oh, how difficult it is at times to remain seperate in our hearts to the ways of the world knowing it is our duty to live in a world that is not ours. We can’t do this on our own.
Enter the handler.
Jesus. The perfect man for the job.
He knows us, he loves us, he understands us but most importantly he trusts us. He knows he can depend on us when the time comes. He looks past our frailties and our human weaknesses. He handles us like a pro because he has been here before. He keeps us on track, always reminding us of the bigger picture. He continues to remind us that this world is not our home, we are just passing through. He too is essential to the success of our mission.
When our mission is complete he will then say to us, great job guys, you did good, you can come home to the Mother Land. Heaven.
We press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God… Ph 3:14 The christian world, those who strive to find God’s calling in their lives continue to press forward each day, hoping they will someday find that elusive calling or purpose in their lives that God promised.
Perhaps it’s God’s way of keeping us struggling forward knowing that he has to dangle the bait in front of us to keep moving, never stagnating, never being completely satisfied with this life on earth.
Content? Yes. Satisfied? Never
We have a wise God.
How much do we really know about heaven. There are many accounts of those who say they have been or have had contact with those that have already gone before us. There are thousands of near death experiences of those who left this world for a short time say they went to heaven but had to return because it wasn’t their time for one reason or another. During their brief stay they have tried to put into words what they experienced.
Then there are those who have had dreams about heaven not to mention the multitude of psychics who proclaim their gifts of being able to contact those that have left this world.
There are many movies on heaven with the help of creative minds that has probably given me the most food for thought when it comes to life after death.
Then of course there is the bible. Heaven is mentioned close to six hundred times giving pastors, preachers and teachers of the Good Book thousands of sermons or classes on the subject over time.
I am not a theologian, a psychic nor have I had a near death experience. I have not had any dreams or visions about heaven nor do I see myself understanding completely what the bible teaches about God’s heavenly kingdom.
My thoughts on heaven have come from all the above and I must say I have not drawn any satisfying conclusion to what I believe heaven will be like at least from an earthly physical standpoint.
I have been thinking about heaven on a more consistent basis the last few years for a variety of reasons, one being that I am beginning to feel the finish line is not that far away. It’s probably the only thing we can count on in this life, is that we will die and that something has to happen to us after we die.
Paul stated himself, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable” I Cor 15:19 In other words if we live only for this world and in our service to God only for the benefits that this world has to offer then it will be a un-fulfilling adventure in itself.
When Jesus taught his disciples how we should pray in that infamous sermon on the mount in the book of Matthew, the words, “thy (God’s) will be done in earth as it is in heaven”, a prayer I had read hundreds of times and must have said a thousand times without understanding its relevance.
Maybe heaven is not that far away. Aside from the miraculous spiritual aspect of God giving us a new life physically and a new life born again spiritually then maybe he also wants us to understand the connection between the two.
I have come to believe that in each one of our lives, young or old we are having experiences that gives us a glimpse into what heaven is like. I started thinking of some of the memorable experiences that I have had that could very well be a link between both worlds.
Experiencing the birth of my children has to be way up there.
Holding that child for the first time, sitting on the bed next to my wife with that baby in my arms, his/her eyes still closed but the warmth of our bodies connecting the feeling is actually indescribable. Handing the baby back to its mother and realizing that we have done something special in bringing a new life into the world watching the baby take its first suck of the breast had to be one of the most rewarding times in my life. In retrospect it was far greater than that. God was giving me a glimpse of his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
When I blurted out, ‘look at what we created’, I now know my wife was gracious in her allowing me to accept some of the credit. My part in that creation was rather small, literally and metaphorically speaking. I can almost see God at each birth looking down on me with a wry smile and his arms folded across his chest, a big sigh and a shake of his head. But he let me think I was king of the mountain even if for only a moment knowing that the baby’s first night home will change my tune.
That is only one little experience in my 67 years on this earth. When I first started writing this post over a week ago I couldn’t get any traction. I finally got the point, this is not about me. This not about how many experiences I have had that could connect heaven and earth. This is about all of us having these earthly experiences that connect us or act as a conduit between heaven and earth that allows God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I saw a movie recently that the police or security agencies had this software that could take hundreds of partial images from various cameras placed around a city or country. These images were then put up on a large screen in no specific order. Together they looked like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle all jumbled up. None of the pieces were clear enough or gave enough information to give a clear picture of who they were looking for. When they put all these pieces into the program, wallah, they were all pieced together to form one solitary picture of their suspect.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do the same. Take our seemingly insignificant mortal experiences that relate to our connection to heaven and program it to show us a fuller picture.
Individually our experiences along these lines are like a drop in the ocean but together we could probably come up with a fairly good overall picture of what heaven is like through our early experiences. But until then we may need to be sufficiently satisfied with the few that we have individually.
I believe I have had enough of these links to satisfy my curiosity that God will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Now I am starting to see my life on earth in a different perspective. Heaven comes to earth everyday. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open to see and experience it.
Have you had a glimpse of heaven?
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) I am sure he was talking from experience. Peace in our hearts and in our minds at the same time is like taking a vacation in Heaven.
In the early years after the death of my son, peace of mind went missing and my heart was a constant raging sea. Months could pass before experiencing peace that I am sure I had taken for granted my whole life.
Watching my 36-year-old son suffer with bipolar I have failed to understand his pain. When he writes from time to time on his Facebook page that he had a great day and was enjoying peace I started to realize what was important to him.
When my good blogging friend, from Missing Peace struggles to find meaning to life the title of her blog tells it all.
Through my own experience I have learned that peace of mind and heart are as important to the soul as is water, food and sleep to the body. Without them we will not be at our best.
All Paul pointed out, the peace that God gives passes all our understanding. Like turning on a light switch. Most of us don’t understand electricity and how it works but we know we can see when the light is turned on. Peace is a similar necessity of life.
Peace comes more regularly these days although the visits are usually fairly short but I have learned to appreciate and be grateful for when it does come.
So, if you want to ask God for peace of mind for yourself or for someone you know who really needs it just claim Philippines 4:7 when you pray, “Lord bless my loved one with the peace of God which passes all our understanding knowing that our hearts and minds will be protected by Jesus himself”
Peace of mind? Oh what a feeling.
Last week I received an unexpected call from a dear friend. I hadn’t heard from her in almost six years. Our families had been friends years ago and as it happens when we moved cities we lost contact with each other. We chatted away for a few minutes going through all the politically correct conversation when two people haven’t talked or seen each other for some time.
I finally had to say, “Janice (not her real name), I know you didn’t call out of the blue to talk about the weather, what’s on your mind”. She laughed as she knows me too well. Get straight to the point is my middle name.
“You’re right” she said, and went on to tell me about a self-help program that she had been using for about a year and how much it had helped her and her family and even friends that I also knew well. She was adamant it could be a blessing to me also. She reassured me that she still believed in God and Jesus but this program helped her so much she just had to share it with others and thought of me.
If you know me you would know that I should have chosen to be a detective or prosecuting attorney as a career path. I opened up my investigation by asking, “what’s in it for you Janice?”. She told me nothing. She just wanted to share some good will. The next ten minutes she must have felt like she was before a grand jury or worse under the spotlight being coerced into a confession to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I know Janice and her husband and I know the type of people they are. Honest, of good character and I know she would never offer me something if she didn’t think it would be good for me and Rhonda (my wife).
I have had my own experiences with self-help programs, one I was fully into for a year. AT the time I felt this particular program could help me in certain areas I was having difficulty in so I made the decision to commit to the program lock stock and barrel for one full year. This I did and I threw myself into reading, learning, researching, listening and watching everything I could get my hands on and it wasn’t cheap.
When I completed my year, precisely to the day I had a good look at my progress, where I was at in my life compared to a year ago and I had to admit this particular program had been a blessing and had helped me in areas that I had been quite weak in. It hadn’t changed my life radically but I got enough out of it to feel satisfied that the year was well spent.
Weighing up the pro’s and con’s on deciding if I should continue the program was a blessing in disguise. It made me look at what I had in my life that brought me to where I was before committing to this self-help program and where I could go if I continued.
The scales seemed to be evenly balanced but I eventually decided to let the program go and not continue. What tipped the scales for me was this; I had realized that this program was so much like a religion in itself. Everything outwardly was working some good in my life but I was becoming dependent on this programs doctrine. I knew it was starting to become like a religion to me and I had no room in my life for two religions. My beliefs and commitment to the Lord over the past forty years of my life were in jeopardy as I could see that this program albeit very good outwardly was eroding some of the basic fundamentals of my relationship with the Lord that I had painstakingly built up over the years since I was a young man.
I had to think about why I felt I had to commit to this self-help program in the first place. I wasn’t happy with my life, too many ‘bad things’ were happening to me, my personal struggles seemed like they would never go away and I felt God was not working for me any longer. God seemed distant and unapproachable. I was starting to doubt God’s place in my life and my place in the world. I was looking for another way to find truth and purpose.
It was a wakeup call, I decide against continuing the pursuit of happiness with this new way of thinking. In plain english, there was no room in my life for two religions, two beliefs, two God’s. The one who had worked well enough throughout my life, He could just as well work well for me the rest of my life. I just needed to get back to basics.
I did look at the material Janice gave me via the programs web site but I already knew my answer. I communicated with Janice that this particular program was not for me. She understood and we promised to keep in touch. We said our goodbyes and I thanked the Lord for the opportunity to reaffirm my faith and love in a God who although sometimes seems distant and unavailable is always there either right next to me, walking in front leading the way, a step behind to make sure I don’t stumble and fall and then there are times when He even has to carry me because I am to weak to make it on my own two feet.
Trusting God has a lot of merit, its been tried and proven over countless years by millions of men and women of God. It’s the old fashion way and it suits me just fine.
(Footnote: I want to make it clear that self-help programs can help in areas of our lives that need work on. Medication can help, it takes away the pain, even if for only a short time to give us rest and peace of mind. A good movie helps keep our mind off our troubles if only for a few hours. Helping those in greater need than us is also rewarding. Laughing is a great way to feel good. Talking to someone who understands is encouraging. Reading a good book takes us out of our world for a short time. The list goes on but most of these things do not cure or heal the greater need. Trusting God does.)
My prison ministry involves one 31 year old man, Ben. Over a month ago I visited Ben for the second time and he opened up and told me his story of how God changed his life.
Over eighteen months ago he was dramatically arrested for parole violations. His original sentence was drug related and with other charges he wound up with a two year sentence. He has been in and out of jail for the last three years and has been incarcerated for twenty consecutive months. The end of his sentence just five months away.
Ben told me with a wry smile that he was one angry man when he was last arrested and sent back to prison. He started fights with anyone around who looked at him the wrong way and caused trouble where there was none. The penalty for fighting and other serious offenses was at least a weeks isolation. Each time coming out angrier than when he went in.
Reminiscing to himself as he related how he got into such a mess, he said, “I had it all not too many years ago. I had a great partner a beautiful daughter and my own business. We had big plans, buying a house, expanding my business and working toward a successful life together.”
He admitted that drug use since he was a young teenager had taken its toll and for many years he was able to keep it under control. But as pressure built up in his life from raising a child, his relationship with his partner starting to sour and losing the passion for his business drugs became his best friend.
Ultimately his partner took their daughter and left for the refuge of family and friends over 2000 miles away. “This sent me over the edge. My daughter was my best friend and although my relationship with Sharon (not her real name) was beyond repair we were able to keep our differences at bay for the sake of Tina (not her real name.)
“About months into my jail term something happened. I had been having bad dreams for quite some time but when in isolation on this occasion I actually saw the demons above my cell looking down at me. They looked liked monsters and they were milling around in constant movement trying to figure a way to get at me. It freaked me out. It scared the crap out of me.”
He then confessed that up until that time he had professed to be an atheist. So much so that he refused to allow anyone to teach his daughter about God.
“As the demons seemed to be getting closer to finding a way at getting to me I prayed. I asked God to help me. I can’t remember exactly what I prayed but I know that God became real to me that night. That night the demons left and I had peace for the first time in many years.”
Not long after Ben got a hold of a Bible and made a promise to God.
“I told God that I would read the bible everyday. I started from Genesis and read every word to the end of Revelations. I started to pray every night without fail.”
Ben now smiling from ear to ear related how things started changing. Prior to this time Sharon would not answer any of his letters. He was cut off from his daughter not knowing if she had gotten any of the letters he sent her.
“Miraculously Sharon started to write me and we have been in constant communication ever since. I renewed my relationship with Tina and I talk to her every week. Sharon and I are now committed to put aside our differences and she has invited me to live with them when I get released from jail so I can be a part of Tina’s life.”
His life in prison has dramatically changed. He started drawing and sketching again sending most of his work to his daughter. He believes he has become a positive influence on other prisoners and has been moved to a section of the prison for those who earned the right to live less supervised in dormitory type quarters. He now has a job within his unit that keeps him busy and earns him some extra money to call his daughter.
“I work out every day, I keep myself in shape as I want to be a personal trainer when I get out” he tell me. “I even eat only healthy foods now”, he says with a chuckle.
Most of all Ben is growing in his faith learning to trust God for everything in his life. He has no regrets about his past and looks forward to his future with mixed feelings knowing it’s not going to be a walk in the park.
As I write this I am reminded of a letter he wrote not long after he allowed God back into his life. He mentioned that all the faith and love that his parents raised him with had come back to him and how thankful he was for all they had taught him about God growing up.
Now I have a wry smile on my face. You see, Ben is my son.
Whenever I find myself struggling to find God’s purpose and plan for my life I am tempted to think that somehow God in his infinite wisdom and his excellent organizational ability somehow either forgets about me or has placed me in the to do (later) file.
I have been struggling for many years, not being content in the state I find myself. Some how I have made myself believe that God has not listened to my insistent nagging that some may call prayers. I know God’s not deaf, I know he has promised to answer our prayers. What I don’t sometimes understand is why it takes so long to answer and why there is no obvious manifestation of these prayers.
I’m not talking about the every day “give us this day our daily bread”, that a given. The Lord has continued to bless us, keep us safe, healthy and relatively happy. I’m talking about the life changing stuff. My big picture purpose, mission in life, the big calling. The stuff real saints are made of.
Over the years I’ve sometimes felt like I’ve made my big splash. That the Lord has been dragging me (kicking and screaming mind you) out to pasture where I can live my days in relative ease and security.
I think many of us christians are faced with this continual battle. “Lord I need to do more for you, point me in the right direction, give me one last shot at the basket before the buzzer goes off, one last chance to prove myself so I can show you what a great believer I am.
I’m sure the Lord is pleasantly amused at our (me and you?) zeal and desire to make a big splash he doesn’t necessarily see things that way.
About a year ago my thirty-six year old son was diagnosed with bipolar. This explained his strange behaviour over the years that we couldn’t quite figure out what was up in his life and had come to conclusions that were not necessarily in line with this illness. With the proper help and medication he is able to feel and act normal in-between the severe up and down mood swings that goes with the territory.
I spent much of my reading time researching the illness and trying to understand what he goes through and why.
I recently read a book by an ex-preacher who told his story of living with bipolar. This man became aware at the age of 15 that he had something peculiar about him, it took another fifteen years to be diagnosed with this bipolar disorder. Many more years battling the mood swings and depression it brings on resulting in many visits to the mental wards plus loss of his ministry and even family. He has in time learned had to neutralize his illness which has helped to normalize his life somewhat.
I had believed in the beginning that my boy would be able to overcome this illness like you could cancer or any other similar disease that cure and remission is possible.
A statement this author made in his book helped me understand the severity of this illness. He said that bipolar is something that lives with your forever. You just have to learn how to live with it.
With this thought in mind I had to be prepared to accept that my son would have to deal with this illness for the rest of his life and at the same time continue to work toward a happy, peaceful and relatively normal life, not only for his own benefit but for those he holds close to him.
This mini revelation shined the light on my life and my constant struggle to find God’s highest will and place in my life. Something that I have allowed to eat at me for too many years and even possibly has been the major cause of holding me back from not only enjoying the life that God has given me but to also be the blessing to those who I hold close to me.
I too am learning to accept that the high calling I hold so close to my heart, the one last mission that seems so important to me to show God I still got the stuff, the desire to know that God can still use me that would give me more purpose in what I have considered a mundane life these past years always seemingly just out of reach.
I am starting to accept that it just might not be God’s highest for me to attain this higher calling that I continue to reach towards. In fact I am sure that my desire for these unseen blessings are keeping me from understanding God’s true purpose in my life. To continually live each day like it was my last where I am, with the people I am with the talents and love that God has already given me.
With this in mind I know that Jesus words stands out when he says, “peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto, let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.”
All the missions in life, our high calling or the thrill of purpose God gives us is nothing without peace in our hearts. I know my son would prefer to have peace of mind heart and soul as he battles his illness more than any success the world has to offer.
As I continue to struggle forward God is helping me to re-evaluate my priorities in life.
I was a relatively quiet spectator on the sidelines. I very rarely took my eyes of my own kids as I wanted to capture every move they made. Of course I wanted their team to win. It’s a great feeling but most importantly I enjoyed going through each experience with them from a far.
I felt their joy when they scored a goal, I felt their pain when they got injured. I felt their disappointment when they made a mistake. I felt their loneliness when the coach wouldn’t put them into the game. I felt their humiliation when it was their mistake that cost the game. I felt their pride when they got man of the match.
I only had eyes for my boy. I don’t know if all parents are like that but I was. Of course I wanted them to do well and inside I was jumping up and down when things were going well and my heart ached when they seemed despondent and discouraged. I may not have been able to help much from the sideline but they knew I was there.
At the end of the day, win , lose or draw I was proud of them.
As I write this I can see God standing on the sidelines in the game of Life cheering me on. Not caring if I win or lose or draw. He just enjoys watching me play the game. He feels for me when I am happy, He feels for me when I am sad, When I get injured or hurt He feels the pain.
When I win a game of life one day we rejoice together. We I lose on another day I know their will always be another game, tomorrow. If I get hurt I know He feels my pain.
On our way home he always reminds me that we get to play the game again tomorrow.
And tomorrow He will be on the sideline watching my every move.