Letters

What Makes You Married?

Here’s an awkward question: what constitutes a marriage?

The Bible has lots of wisdom about how to make your marriage good, and a fair bit of discussion about whether marriage is the right choice.

But it never says, “This is what you do to become married.”

I know how people get married in my culture: there’s a marriage license from the state. You involve either a preacher or a judge or officiant of some kind. There are some vows, and a declaration of some sort. But not one of those is in the Bible, either as instruction or by example.

From a Biblical perspective, how do you actually become married? What do you do that makes you a married person now, instead of a single person?

I had reason to search this out a while ago. A good friend of mine, a person of faith, had begun to share a household with a woman he cared deeply about. That happens a lot, yes, and maybe we’re too quick to judge. I’m becoming convinced that being a Christian is more about loving people than judging them, so I focused on loving them, and not judging them, even in my mind.

And I saw things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The first thing I saw was that they had clearly chosen this relationship, and this was a relationship of love, not of convenience, not of sex, not of whatever.

Beautiful Wedding Couple, Bride And Groom Holding Hands Looking Stock Photo - Image of lovers ...Over the weeks and months that I knew them, I realized how committed they were to that relationship. They’d never done a ceremony, so nobody had asked them the traditional question, but I watched them live it out: “Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

They did that well.

In fact, I had to acknowledge that their relationship was a better illustration of what I think a marriage should be like than an awful lot of couples I knew that had gotten the license and the preacher and the service.

I had to confess that this confused me.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, refer to her as “your girlfriend,” because there was so much more than that in that relationship. Made-up terms like “significant other” or “partner” felt, well… made up, insufficient to describe this relationship.

Honestly, the word that fit was “your wife,” because that’s what she was in his life. Except that she wasn’t.

I was more confused now than before.

So I searched the scriptures. The question that drove me was “What is it that makes a couple ‘husband and wife’?” And the scriptures were remarkably silent on the topic. People got married all the time, and it talked about marriage all the time, but what they did to become married was never discussed. Genesis 29 shows a glimpse, but no more than a glimpse.

So the best I can come up with from the Bible is four components of creating a marriage. If you’re going to get married, as I see it in the example of the Bible (it’s not even mentioned in the teaching), you apparently have to do four things.

1) You have to make some sort of public statement. “We’re getting married” seems like it should be enough. In other words, this is something you declare in your community, not something you go off privately or do secretly.

2) Apparently, you have a party. There’s a bunch of people, they eat and drink and celebrate. If Jesus is around, apparently there will be good wine (see John 2).

3) You go to bed together.

4) Then you live together; you make a household.

I can’t find any more than these four in Scripture, which tells me that the other 99% of what we do in American culture is cultural: the best man, the bridesmaids, the ceremony, the “officiant” (whether preacher or justice of the peace), the certificate, the honeymoon. All of that is mere fluff. Some of it’s nice fluff, but it’s not part of what gets the deed done.


So I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I began referring to my aforementioned friends using the word “husband” and “wife” where it felt appropriate. At one point, I explained that they did a better job of marriage than a lot of officially-married couples I knew, and we moved on. In other words, I blessed them in their relationship.

Some months later, he pulled me aside while we were all hanging out together. “So… would you like to do a marriage ceremony?” There was much rejoicing, a little bit of planning.

A few months later, in a gathering of their friends in the back yard, they spoke out loud the commitment that they’d been walking out for years.

Then we had a party.

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Letters

More Thoughts on Job and His Sorry Friends

The more time I spend with Job, the more I’m impressed, both with the man and with the lessons that his book teaches me.

He started out as the richest, most influential man in the area. He was a godly man, and his godliness cam naturally; it wasn’t a performance.

Then disaster struck and took “everything he [had]” from him. What a mess. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

Job starts out whining and feeling sorry for himself. His focus began as “Why God? Why me?”

Forty chapters later, Job still didn’t have the answers to that question, but he stood in respect of God rather than in accusation of God.

God’s response to Job’s “Why?” questions was essentially, “Son, this is above your pay grade.” I infer (and it is an inference; the Book doesn’t say it outright) that essentially Job didn’t know enough for the real answer to his “Why” question make any sense. I that’s true for me sometimes, too.

This morning, a couple of thoughts stick with me from Job:

• I find myself wondering if it would be wiser to bypass the self-pity and “accusing God” stage and just skip to the end: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore … I repent.”

Still chewing on that one. I’m not sure that’s actually a real-world option when you’re actually in the thick of it. But it would have saved Job so much pain had he been able to go there. Which leads me to the next observation:

• When satan took “everything he [had],” he didn’t take Job’s three self-righteous friends with the funny names (“Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite”). And listening to how they were “helping” Job, I can understand why: they were part of his trials, not part of him getting over his trials. Their “counsel” was part of why it took Job so long to actually connect with God.

I have decided I don’t want to be one of that kind of friend any more.

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Letters

我從台灣對外國人的偏見,了解到系統性的黑人歧視是真實的

[EN]

我在大學第一次接觸到美國的黑人文化,也因此,我成為了更好的人。慕迪聖經學院(Moody Bible Institute)距離Cabrini Green不到一個街區。我教Pierre怎麼游泳,他則教會了我如何原諒。我的室友Ronnie,曾是非洲人覺醒學生組織的主席。他花了三年試圖告訴我,問題是在系統之中的,「是系統,Jesse。它隱蔵在系統之中,我知道你並未察覺,但它充斥在我每天的生活中。」,我聆聽著,但我依然無法看到他口中的問題。

而在台灣生活了十年,打開了我的眼界。Ronnie,我看到它了。我終於不單單只是聽到它,我終於用我自己的眼睛看到它了。我也看到了,其他人沒看到,尤其是當他們身在其中。

如果有個人認為他不正義的舉動是可以被接受的,那就沒有任何方法在他這樣想的情況下告訴他他的所作所為是不正義的。藉此,我知道Rosa Parks感受如何。我完全贊同馬丁.路德.金恩博士在『從伯明罕市監獄發出的信』所提到的:

「到處都是不正義之事,不論在哪都對正義是種威脅。」

「我們再也承受不起與狹隘的、偏狹的『外部煽動』的主意共處了。」

「我們可以很簡單地同意,當時機到來時我們達到我們的期望。我在這裡是因為我被邀請至此。但更根本的原因是,因為不正義在此。」

台灣人們需要西方人。他們在他們的機場和市場歡迎西方人。但他們需要的是西式的訓練和西方的思考方式,工程師為了抵抗區域內強大的侵略者而建造屬於他們的防衛性武器。台灣需要英文老師­­;而更重要的是他們需要每天和英語母語者交流。然而,因為對岸那個巨大的威脅,以及過去被殖民的傷痛,台灣制定法律限制所有的外國人。台灣因為過去,而拒絕他們未來需要的朋友。我們都做過一樣的事情,對吧?

我接下來要說些很無聊的細節,請大家忍受一下了。在美國,工作簽證能夠給你居留權,五年之後外國人可以成為公民。相較於美國,台灣比較複雜,台灣在這方面有著許多奇怪的限制,例如:你如果在星期一被解雇,而你在禮拜三才找到新工作,你的五年就要重算;而且如果你被開單,五年也要重算;且證明這五年是有效的,需要多次的工作允許證來證明,但政府不直接給我,而是給我的老闆,而我的老闆從來沒有給過我。即便你上述條件都符合,你要成為公民還需要放棄你原先的國籍。

我的故事從12年前開始,我的老闆不給我我的工作許可,然而法律上只有要求但並非強迫他要給我,所以我只好把我的工作許可偷來,並藏在我的領帶裡,然後回家爆哭一頓。我遇到的下一個老闆,他依然不給我工作許可。因此我向警察和移民署求助,那個接我電話的警察大喊:「他們必須要給你」,然而他們就沒有後續的處理了。

很快的,在地的勞工督察找上了我,但是是在我不該出現的補習班找到了我,我當時在一間連鎖補習班工作,但我完全不知道我到底該在哪裡上班,我工作地址是用中文寫在那我從來沒收到過的工作許可上的,接著我收到了督察的傳喚,我的老闆超級擔心,叫我對政府單位說謊,我們甚至為了我要怎麼說謊開了一個會,老闆的老闆用奇怪方式和我握手,我感覺我的生命受到了威脅。我的公司的所作所為就是為了欺騙政府好躲過審查,當時我和我老闆坐在一起,對著勞工局的督察(一個人很好且在乎你,但沒什麼權力的人)撒謊,而我老闆的老闆則是進入了他們長官的辦公室,偽善的和他聊天著。那個長官看起來嚇壞了。最後,我為了那出於被威脅而說的謊言押上了我的指紋,我們就像什麼都沒發生的樣子離開了。

幾個禮拜後,我才知道原來那個詭異的握手是性暗示,我這才知道自己被性騷擾了,並且如果我不聽他們的向政府說謊和同意那個性要求,他們打算找他們的黑道朋友找我麻煩,而我拒絕了那個要求,或許這就是幾個月後公司想把我炒了的原因,且開除員工需要給付資遣費,而他們一向拒絕給付。

在合約結束前兩周,老闆基於我自願性的回報工作進度,他們突然說要進行一場考核,就為了找出為什麼我的教學進度落後一頁,而且他們表示絕對不會跟我續約。荒謬的是,正常情況下任何老師的教學進度都差不多落後表定三頁左右。

法律上,老闆應該要接受我的辭職,但他拒絕了。為此我去了兩趟警察局,但警察卻從不強迫老闆送出相關信件。接著,老闆舉報我無故缺席(這對外國勞工是違法的),然而聰明如我,我早就向勞工局提出我想要辭職的渴望,我給了那個勞工局的督察(上面提到的那個,人很好且在乎你,但沒什麼權力的人)寄了一封信件,裡面內容包含了我承認自己當時做了偽證以及證據,我還附上了一張CD裡面有著我老闆說:「我恨外國人的」的錄音。那個督察收到我的信件後,安排了一場調解會議,然後打電話通知我一定要帶上台灣朋友翻譯。

這場會議持續了三個小時,而結果以老闆接受我辭職收場。這是個突破,過往雇主和外籍勞工的爭執,往往都沒有達成協議,然後告上法庭或是勞工被驅逐出境,而我是台南的第一個成功的先例。

我問了那個陪我去調解的朋友,為什麼我的老闆一開始要在我的工作地點上說謊,我想不到任何理由要在一個事實並不傷害人的的情況下說謊。他回答:「因為文化大革命。老一輩的人受到了毛主席很大的影響,包含像他這樣說謊。」,他也告訴我那個大老闆控制了當地的「英文教學界的黑幫」之類的東西。

不久後我前公司的同事跟我說,那個人很好的督察在看到我的情形後,決定繼續觀察那間公司,然後那個補習班倒了三間,那間補習班突然間對我的那位前同事很好、很尊重他,他們過去也曾試著要開除他,我很開心她的處境有了好轉。

不久後,我之前的直屬上司因為他們之前對我做過的糟糕事也辭職了。她改行去拿更多薪水而且還更少壓力的工廠工作。我也很為她高興。

然而,我的下一個工作的老闆告訴我,因為我的前老闆一直騷擾牠們,所以他們必須要辭退我。現在回頭看,我不知道我怎麼度過那段艱困的歲月的。我想是神的指引吧。

移民局的員工、市政府的工作人員、和兩個立委助理都問我:「為什麼我不搬去台北,那裏有更多工作機會,而且這樣你的前老闆也沒辦法找你麻煩。」

每當遇到有人欺凌,他們往往選擇屈服。這是過去蔣介石時代所留下的遺毒,正如以色列人因為受過埃及人的統治,就害怕前往他們的應許之地。這正是台灣人的困境!所以針對上述的問題,我的答案是慈祥的、有力的且令人安心的「絕不!」,可沒有任何一條法律禁止美國人在台南教英文,也因此政府應該要保護一個願意跟台南人民共處的美國人!而且台南人們的英文跟台北比起來也需要更加進步。台灣的政府依然不打算幫助我,而我甘願受苦是因為我愛台南。

而唯一給我幫助的,是一個了解問題所在但從來沒直接跟我說話的人­­­—那個勞工局的督察(上面提到的那個,人很好且在乎你,但沒什麼權力的人)。

那些用著孩子般天真的態度問我為什麼不搬到台北去的人們,他們並不知道他們這樣的言論不單單只是歧視我而已,同時也歧視了台南人們。許多西方人住在人口繁雜的北部,但在台南有著許多令人喜悅的事。台灣人以訛傳訛的以為因為它是個大城市,因此西方人較喜歡台北。但實際上,是因為勞動部對南部的小型的英文補習班和北部的有錢英文補習班有一樣的要求,造成了他們沉重的財政負擔,進而造成台南的補習班並沒有足夠的經費去合法的雇用美國人,所以他們需要從黑市找人,而傳聞我的前老闆控制了那個黑市貿易。儘管因為台北的法規,台南和台北不太可能有黑市方面的連結,但我看到更重要的是:

西方人避免來到台南因為當地的英文補習班市場被不可見的黑市控制了,而這不只傷害到我,也傷害了選擇保持無知的台灣人。

而我也因此知道,當非常接近問題的人選擇不正視問題,系統將會壓迫人們。事實上,台灣人並不知道勞動法規是怎麼殘害台南的英文教學。台灣人和我一樣都是系統性偏見的受害者,我上述的複雜情況(那些不合理的要求…),都在殘害著台灣人渴望的英文能力。但如果台灣對美國人就像美國人對台灣一樣:維護他們的權益和保護他們,問題將不復存在。倘若如此,許多美國人取得雙重國籍將可以讓他們有資格在任何地方工作(包含較沒經費的南部英文補習班等等….)。

然而儘管經歷了11年的請願,台灣政府依然不允許這種情況發生。並且,當因為台灣的邦交國紛紛跟台灣斷交,台灣在請求幫助時,他們並不知道他們對待移民的法律也是造成他們如今處境的一部分原因。

故事最精采的部分來了,我之前工作的那個英文補習班接受了美國政府的公共資金。我打給了他們的美國辦公室去通報這件事,但他們直接一聲不吭的把我的電話掛斷。而我不會透露消息來源,因為消息取得的方式是違法的,我想幫台灣人民,幫助他們抵抗那些政府睜一隻眼閉一隻眼的不誠實的企業。12年過去了,時日至今,我依然期盼一個對當年事件的回覆。

七年以來,我每個禮拜一都會寫一篇以客觀角度並且尊重台灣有事實主權的方式的社論,但我承認我有時候會偏袒台灣。2014年時,我稱讚台灣警察並沒有對闖入立法院的學生使用暴力,因為我在台灣我才了解,這跟華盛頓的警察形成了對比,那些闖入美國行政部門的學生就沒台灣的學生那麼幸運了。蔡英文總統曾說:「台灣是個充滿活力的民主國家,我們有許多問題,但都值得去解決。」,她借用了我寫給美國國會的信中的字。

在過去的12年,我從來沒有沒有公開過我的控告者的名字,也沒有發布可以從中知道我在何處的文章,我這麼做為的就是和平。我知道台灣需要時間去改變,但至今我依然沒看到改變,工作許可依然由老闆把持著,取得雙重國籍的權力依舊不存在。

我曾經兩次向政府申請永久居留權。第一次,委員會對此的投票結果是否定的,我可以證明那一次的會議是失序的,因為政府為了否決我而毫不掩飾把數分鐘的的會議寄給我。我以對媒體業的貢獻,並且向他們表達我未平息的冤屈以及我的耐心,還有最重要的—沉默,向他們第二次申請。對我的申請的回覆應該是90天,而移民署超過兩百天都並沒有對於委員會的投票給我一個正式的回覆。

我唯一的結論是愛,我無法因為這系統性的問題而恨台灣。黑人並不會因為我系統性的歧視而恨我,我並不知道我對他們做了什麼­­—因為我身在這系統之中因此我無法了解和看到它,我們不應該為我們自己找藉口,但黑人並非為了什麼目的而小題大作。我培養我成白人共和黨人,我必須學著去聆聽黑人就如同我知道台灣人如果想了解我是必要聆聽我所說的話。

這個訊息曾是我渴望讓美國人知道的:我們系統內看不到的不公義導致了貧窮!但我想,我如果這樣做將會傷害到台灣人,而現在,經歷了等待那期限應該是90天的回覆兩百多天後,我想移民署並不會在乎。

當然,我有很多我認為真的很好的台灣朋友,許多都是滑板人。為什麼我會選擇台南,一個在台灣滑板受到最多限制的城市(滑板場和法律)?台南有充滿天賦的滑手,就跟其他地方的滑手依樣有著好勝心跟天分。在任何系統中的不公義會影響每一個部分。面對問題,我從不逃避,不論是大是小。要離開朋友真的是一件很困難的事,尤其是他們用他們的耐心改變了我的人生,過去12年台灣打開了我的眼界,讓我了解了黑人艱難的處境,它讓我更了解我的家鄉,因為它不斷拒絕我得請求,並且我一直試著和他們溝通。

我無法拒絕台灣人,他們教我太多了。  · · · →

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Letters

Literal or Metaphor

I’ve found myself coming back over and over to Jesus’ conversation with Nick at night in John 3. I have realized something new about Nick’s communication, how it differed from Jesus’ communication, how that difference got in the way of Nick understanding what Jesus was saying, and how often I’ve done the same thing. made that same mistake, and not merely once or twice.

Here’s the passage:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'  [John 3:1-7]

Recently I realized that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, while Nick – not understanding metaphor – was trying to understand his words literally. No wonder Nick had such trouble figuring Jesus out.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?” [verse 10]

Then I recognized that those two facts are related: Nick did not understand how Jesus was teaching because he was Israel’s teacher: because he spent his days studying the scriptures. He approached scripture very literally, and that literal way of interacting with the scriptures kept him from understanding what God was doing right in front of him.

That has been me often enough. I’ve approached scripture so terribly literally that I have misunderstood my Father who speaks literally sometimes and metaphorically sometimes. I’ve prided myself for not being afraid to interpret scripture literally, and yet that very literalist approach has often kept me from seeing, from understanding what God was doing in me, right in front of me.

Because God does not always speak literally.

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The Great Cloud of Witnesses: An Exercise


Here’s an interesting spiritual exercise if you’re interested.

Hebrews 12 begins with this image: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”


I’ve been reflecting on that great cloud of witnesses. This passage starts with “Therefore,” which means “Because of what we’ve just talked about....” All of Hebrews 12 rests on the foundation of Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith.”

The great cloud of witnesses, then, is all the saints of God that have gone before us: the famous ones, the great ones, the ordinary ones, the nobodies. By now that’s several billion witnesses that are watching us run our race. Some of them are my predecessors, though it may take a number of generations before I find the interesting ones.

• The exercise that I’m working on this morning is reflecting on specific “whos” that are among that great crowd. Most of these are family members that have gone before me. In my line, there were some preachers several centuries ago, and Sunday school teachers in more recent years, and I know of one or two forbears whose names show up in history books. I’m thinking of them.

• And I’m thinking specifically of them witnessing my race, my life, my choices. I absolutely reject the idea of making my choices because of how it looks to others, even to them, so that’s not it. But I consider their thoughts and feelings as their look on their great (or more) grandson. Are they embarrassed? (What would they be embarrassed about? Heaven has already blotted out my sins!) Are they cheering me on? They’re probably not bored!

• Most of all, I’m trying to look at my life from their perspective: They see the great plan of God. They see history from beginning to end as they’re watching me. What do they see in my life (which is different than what I see in my life) that relates to the great plans of God.

My encouragement then is to take some time and ask Holy Spirit to show me some of what’s going on as the great cloud of witnesses watch me, and specifically as these witnesses that I can think of are watching me, what’s their response to me? Are they cheering? Can they offer strength or encouragement?

This crosses my mind: “What do family members do when they’re watching one of their kids or grandkids running a race? Especially, what do they do when they are approaching the end of the race?” Why they stand up and cheer, don’t they?

Do you see them cheering for you? Can you hear them? Can you feel their joy in you? Their pride in you? Their excitement as your race is approaching that next interesting thing in the purposes of our mutual King?

If you try this, what do you experience? What do you see? What do you hear? Who’s cheering the loudest? Who’s poking the angels and pointing you out?

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Taiwan’s Prejudice of Foreigners Taught Me Black Systemic Racism Is Real

College was my first exposure to American Black culture. I’m a far better man for it. Moody was less than a block from Cabrini Green. I taught Pierre how to swim and he taught me how to forgive. My room mate, Ronnie, was president of African Awareness Fellowship. Three years, he tried to tell me that the problem was with “the system”. “It’s the system, Jesse. It’s hidden in the system. I know you don’t see it. But, I see it every day.” I listened, but I still couldn’t see.

Ten years in Taiwan opened my eyes. Ronnie, I’ve seen it. I haven’t just heard about it, I’ve finally seen it with my own eyes. Others don’t see it, especially if they’re part of it. I’ve seen that too.

If a man thinks his unjust actions are acceptable, there is no way to tell him that he is unjust in a way he will find acceptable.  · · · →

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Testimony: Date Nights

Early in our marriage, we realized that marriage is work. If our marriage was going to be as good as we knew it could be, as we hoped it would be, we knew that it would take work. We needed to invest in our marriage: in the relationship.

So very early on, even before we had children, we started the practice of weekly date nights. We set aside one evening a week for a single purpose: strengthening our relationship, investing in our marriage.

We only had a couple of rules.

• Dinner together was a given; all else was negotiable. Sometimes we went and did a thing together, maybe a museum or a garden or a movie or play volleyball. Sometimes we’d buy a big basket at the grocery store, fill it with all sorts of good food, leave it on someone’s doorstep, ring the bell and run like the wind. Whatever we did, we did it together, and we enjoyed being together in it.  

• “Business” conversations were off limits. No making plans, discussing money, solving problems. Dreaming together was good, but not the work of making things happen. This was an investment in our future together, not fixing problems behind us. We had six other days in the week to work on those.

• We did not share our date night with anybody else unless both of us were completely on-board with the idea. Double dates were rare. Less rare was us showing up with a fancy frozen treat from the local dessert shop and knocking on a friend’s door: “We wondered if you could help us? This is too much for just the two of us. Can you help us with it?” Laughter was frequent.

When we started having kids, the subject (and cost) of babysitters came in to play and date nights became even more important. We preferred long-term relationships, so we tried to hire sitters by the quarter. “Yes, we’d like you to babysit our kids every Monday evening for the entire school year, please.” We declined to negotiate the rates down because of the long-term commitment.

Like everyone else, we went through seasons. We’d promised, among other things, “…for richer or poorer…” and we had both of those seasons. So sometimes our dates were at the local hospital cafeteria, or a bagel and a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese at the grocery store, or take a sandwich and go for a walk by the lake, but skipping a date night wasn’t an option.

The hardest year was probably when we were part of a poorly-planned church-planting team in another nation. We were a year into that experiment when I lost my job, so there we were: locked into what we considered an expensive lease on our home, not just unemployed but completely unemployable because of international law, and increasingly depressed at what we saw (what I saw) as failure all around us. We were broke!

We were facing the possibility of having to forego our date nights. Ouch.


In our work with the church, were trying to get a youth group going for the teenagers, and we were talking with the kids about what night of the week to try to do something. Several folks had several ideas, like humans do.

“Not Monday nights!” one of the girls said. “Oh, why not Mondays?” I asked. “Because Mondays is when I’m coming over to your house to babysit so you can have your date night!”

I gasped. I didn’t know that they even knew our situation. We started to argue, when her (single) mom came over and backed her up. “We’ve talked about this, and her mind is set, and I don’t suggest you try to change it. She’s as stubborn as I am.”

She went on to explain that they’d watched our relationship, and even though we’d never talked about it, our young family had been teaching them how to do relationships, just by being us. They wanted to give something back for all that we had (unknowingly) given to them.

So for the next year, this young lady came to our house after school. After dinner, she and the kids would get down to the serious business of playing, while my Lady and I headed out the door for a walk or an ice cream cone or something quiet together.

That was one of the most intense years of our lives (we had kind of a lot going on, doncha know); she may have saved our lives.

But God. God knew. Jesus understood something of what it takes to make a successful marriage with His own bride. Father understood how much work fathering actually is. And I think Holy Spirit just wanted to love on our kids and us.

At the end of that year, very large amounts of raw sewage hit the ventilating device, and we left with our proverbial tail between our legs. That experiment had cost us everything, every dime we had, every relationship but our marriage, and except for this one miracle teenager, it might have taken that too.

A decade or more later, completely out of the blue, back in America again and just beginning to get back on our feet, we answered a soft knock at the front door. Here she was again, now a happily married woman, introducing us to this strong man she had fallen in love with. The look in her eyes when she whispered “my husband” was golden. They had just stopped by to thank us for investing in them all those years ago.

We wept. Maybe it wasn’t all wasted effort after all.

God is SO good. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.




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Thoughts on Being Pruned

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I spent the day the other day, pruning my tomatoes. It was really hard to not think about this verse in the process. So I gave in, and thought about it. I had some interesting thoughts. Keep in mind the Lord’s pruning of his children (that’s you and me) as you read this.

Pruning really is hard work. Pruning is not something you just do as you’re walking past in a few minutes, the few seconds that you have to spare. Pruning, particularly effective proving, takes thought, takes planning, takes endurance. In the parable, this would be God’s job. When he’s preparing us for effective, fruitful ministry it’s a lot of work for him. No wonder it feels like a lot of work for us too.

Pruning really is important work. This isn’t a case where if you get pruned, that’s nice, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. Rather, this is an example of Hebrews 12, where it says that set God trains, disciplines his children. Discipline is important work. Without discipline, will never accomplish anything in the Kingdom, or, frankly, in the world.

I can imagine that pruning a plant, cutting off branches, hurts the plant. I know for a fact that pruning branches, cutting off branches, is painful to the gardener. I am confident that when God cuts things out of our lives, particularly when he cuts things out that we enjoy, it hurts him. But he is so completely committed to our good if he is willing to do things that hurt him in order to make us stronger and better.

Pruning helps a plant focus its energy. Instead of a thousand tiny little fruits, each one nearly meaningless, a well pruned plant will produce a more modest number of excellent fruit, really nourishing. Sometimes you can tell people who have not submitted to pruning. They have a thousand little ministries, a thousand little interests, but they’re really not making a difference when you come right down to it. The people who have learned to focus their attention on one area are the ones who really change the world.

Different kinds of plants are pruned in different ways. Sometimes, the same kind of plant is prune in different ways if The Gardener has different plans for the plants. It seems obvious that the same is true for people. God sees us as individuals, relates to us as individuals. He trains some of us in one way, and he trains others of us in other ways.

Some plants are pruned in order to make them more fruitful. Some plants are pruned in order to make them stronger. Some plants are pruned in order to make them more beautiful. Not all prophets are trained the same way. Not all gift of Mercy are in the same category. One may minister to a thousand individuals. The other main Minister two groups of tens of thousands, or invest themselves into groups of three or four.

Pruning is more important when the plant is beginning to develop, than it is later on. That is, unless the plant has managed to avoid being pruned when it should have been. Similarly, young believers, developing believers, kit pruned more often, perhaps, then mature Saints. Though all of us, all of us, do get pruned by our gardener.
All About Grapevine PruningIf a plant is pruned regularly throughout its life, it will generally not need nearly as much pruning, not nearly as aggressive pruning, as the plant that has managed to avoid pruning for some time. That plant will get more cuts. For years, I managed to avoid the gardeners attention. And my life was unruly, hurtful, and unfruitful. I needed more pruning than I should have needed, at my stage in maturity.

Sometimes, a successful pruning will remove strong, healthy, even fruitful branches. This is for the best interest of the plant, the fruit, and the Gardener. Just because God removes something from our lives, that does not mean that it was a bad thing to be in our lives. Some of those things were good. But if we are going to be successful at changing the world, some things that are not part of our calling need to be cut away. If we are truly going to know and experience God’s heart for us, his heart for the world, then there may be much that we would have to say no to, good stuff that we will have to say no to.

At least with tomatoes, plants that produce big strong delicious fruit, are pruned more vigorously then plants that are designed to produce lots of little fruits. Slicing tomatoes get pruned more than cherry tomatoes. It would follow, then, that those of us who have a calling to greater things, bigger areas of influence are likely to need more times of pruning, and greater pruning. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes, if a plant is not pruned by The Gardener in time, the plant will just let some branches just die off, simply because it doesn’t have enough roots, enough strength to support so many branches. This is not a healthy thing. Dead branches on a living plant or a pathway to pests, predators, and disease. Areas where things have died in our life, rather than been pruned away, are similarly dangerous, places where disease or bitterness can find root.

So as I was pruning my tomatoes, I was also discussing God’s pruning of me. I found myself inviting my master Gardener, whom I trust, to prune me as he sees fit, from his view in Eternity. I love partnering with him in the work of the kingdom, and I know that he can lovingly prune away the things that hinder my effectiveness, that hinder my fully receiving his love.

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Not Calling Out Sin


I do not hold to the common Christian religious opinion that says if I see a sin somewhere, then I am somehow obligated to point it out or preach against it or otherwise required to be part of fixing the person involved. I am not.

That does not mean that I do nothing (that’s another conversation), but if I see a believer online doing or saying something that reveals sin, I am not going to feel obligated to rebuke them either publicly or privately. If I see someone in my town or in my neighborhood doing something that I consider sinful, I am not going to feel obligated to confront them.

I have a couple of reasons for this.

He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”" by Daniel C. Fergus ...• The church, generally speaking, has well and truly earned her reputation as a judgmental busybody. The world views God as an angry, nitpicking judge, and we’re the reason; after all, we’re the only Bible many people read. I don’t choose to perpetuate that view.

• If I’m going to focus on someone’s sin, it’s going to be my sin. I am responsible – you are not – for my sin. You are responsible – I am not – for your sin. We forget this sometimes.

• I observe that the only people whose sin Jesus actually called out were the religiously self-righteous. So if I’m going to follow his example, I should call out the sin of the religious people who focus on other people’s sin. Yeah, that wouldn’t end well, would it?

• I don’t care to focus my attention on people’s sin. That is contrary to Scriptural instruction (Philippians 4, Colossians 3), so focusing on people’s sin is itself sin, which of course makes it hypocrisy. Not going there.

• We are commanded – I am commanded – to “set [my] heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” I find that I’m healthier and happier and more effective (not to mention more obedient) when I do that. So I’m going to focus on what’s good. I may even <gasp!> speak God’s blessing into the life of someone who’s not completely perfect.

• Frankly, I don’t have the time to deal with everybody’s sin. Sorry. I actually have a life. I hope to live it.

• And more importantly than all of that, a sinner – even a nice one like you or me - is accountable to someone FAR more loving and far more powerful than I am. This is waaaay over my pay grade.

Now, somebody will bring up Matthew 18 and use that as an excuse for calling out sin publicly: Not only did Jesus say you have to, he said how.

Yes, he did say how.  And the first statement he made there (before he said, “don’t do it publicly,”) was, “If your brother sins against you….”

There are two qualifiers in that:

1. This is only applicable if the person sinning is your brother: if they’re in close relationship with you. If they don’t call you brother or sister (and NOT in the religious sense!), you don’t qualify.

2. This is only applicable if the sin involved is against you. If it’s not against you, you’re meddling. Stop it.

And somebody’s going to say, “Well the prophets in the Old Testament called out sin!  So I can!”

It’s true. The poor people working under the inferior covenant that God never wanted did proclaim the judgment that is part of that covenant. That’s part of the form and function of that covenant that a fear-ridden people proposed instead of God’s covenant. That’s why that covenant is dead and gone. We live in the day of the New Covenant.

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if we focused on loving God and loving the people He loves. Best I can tell, that’s all of the people. We’re supposed to focus on loving people, not correcting people.

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Don’t Look At The Waves

Matthew 14 tells this story.

As soon as the meal was finished, [Jesus] insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

----
That’s kind of the season we’re in, isn’t it? An awful lot of wind coming against us, battering us with waves of nasty stuff in the news. And us, trying to walk on the water to Jesus.

When we look at him, we’re in good shape. But when we look at the nasty stuff that the world is throwing at us, that the media is shouting at us, it’s easy to lose our nerve and to sink. We end up crying out for help.

But while that’s embarrassing (and we get incredibly soaked by the waves and scared) and uncomfortable, it’s not such a bad thing to get rescued by Jesus from sinking, I don’t suppose.

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What Am I Declaring About Myself?

It had been a really tough night. Only got a few hours sleep, then had a long day, full of physical work. Really tiring.

I found myself whining to myself, “I’m so tired!” as I went back for yet another load.

Then it was as if Father cleared his throat. “Ahem….” My ears perked up.

And I realized what I had just declared about myself. Yikes. I repented.

Instead, I recognized that yes, I was physically tired, but that is not my identity. That is a fact: it’s true that I’m tired, but I don’t need to live under that fact. I choose to live under the fact that God is my provider, and that ALL good gifts proceed from him; none are missing.

So I rejected the curse of tiredness. I changed my mind, and I went about my work. I didn't deny pretend I wasn't tired. I just decided that that was not the whole story, not even the important part of the story. 

And you know what? The weariness went away. And the discouragement with it went away. And I got a lot more done. I took a break here and there (I don’t always remember to do that), and I realized, “I actually like this work. And I’m getting a lot done! I might not be getting as much done as I would like, but I’m getting a lot accomplished here!”

And I didn’t actually get it all done, but I got enough done, and I’ll have the rest of the week to finish it. But the work I did, I did as a victor, not as a victim. And I accomplished a whole lot more than I would have if I had given into the sense of weariness and quit. 

I didn’t stay under that weariness, that discouragement. I just repented, changed my view on the subject, and worked within my limits.
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Testimony: The Covid “Vaccine”

A Little background:

 
• The Covid 19 virus is a real virus. People are dying from it.

• But the virus is being blown way the heck out of proportion, and most of the deaths attributed to Covid are actually people who had the virus dying from something else. (CDC has acknowledged it..)

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the virus. (This is not a time for judging.)

• There are a few vaccines for the virus. Except that they’re not vaccines, they’re “experimental therapies.”

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the vaccines/experimental therapies. (This is not a time for judging.)

• The federal government and a good number of state and local governments are working overtime to convince us that we need to get the vaccines/experimental therapies. (Ironically, as I’m writing this, I’m getting text and email notifications working to persuade me to get the treatment.)

• The attempts to manipulate/convince the public are primarily based on either bribes or threats; they are mostly not based on logic, research, or science.

• It’s pretty well documented that the medical community has opportunity to make a lot of money from the government for promoting the Covid “vaccine,” for treating Covid symptoms, for reporting Covid deaths. (NB: It’s my policy to place a lower value on the opinions of people who are being well paid to have and to convince me those opinions.)

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the government’s intentions. (This is not a time for judging.)

• The Bible is pretty clear: we don’t actually have reason to be afraid, and in fact we are commanded to not fear.

• A fair number of people are afraid to trust God when our health, our life or our government is on the line. (This is not a time for judging.)

OK. That’s the background. (Note that I’m not interested in arguing about these points. If you feel that urge to fuss about these, go somewhere else to do it.)

TESTIMONY. This is my own story; fair warning: it might be long and rambling.

I’m a fairly strong, fairly healthy adult male with a solid immune system. I’m not actually afraid of the virus. I’ve walked with Jesus long enough to know that he’s serious about his ability to take care of me, and I know that it’s true that “whether I live or I die, I am the Lord’s.”


I’ve heard first hand reports from medical professionals, from people who have taken the vaccine; I’ve read the manufacturers’ statements about them (and their disclaimers of any liability for their product).


Based on what I’ve read (and I’ve read the original CDC & other reports, not just the news reports about them), I don’t see any reason why I personally need to take the vaccine/experimental therapy that they’re so aggressively promoting. I don’t judge those who take it, but I am comfortable concluding that it’s not for me.

But there are people around me who are scared of the virus, some more than others, of course. Many of these are MY people, people I would die for, people who would die for me: people I love.

These people are scared for me, and they believe they have reason. They consider me higher risk for more than one reason, and the reports agree with them. Some of these people trust the vaccine/experimental therapy, and they want me to “protect myself” and take it. Some of them want me to take it as protection for themselves. (This is not a time for judging.)

So this put me in a tough place. I was confident that I didn’t need the vaccine/experimental therapy, and that in fact, I would be wise to avoid it.

But people who love me were paying a price for my choice. That wasn’t comfortable for me. There were people, people I love and whom I love to be around, that weren’t comfortable being around me. That’s not comfortable for me.

That’s been a hard place. And when I find myself in hard places like that, I try to remember to take these to my Father, so I brought this awkward, confusing, emotionally-charged mess that was in my heart to him. He listened quietly for a while (or at least I assumed he was listening, but he sure was quiet). I poured out my concerns and confusions to him. I wasn’t OK with this divided heart thing going on.

We spent a while here, days, maybe weeks, not minutes or hours. But eventually, his peace did what it does, and it settled my thoughts and emotions and drew my attention back to my Father’s goodness where it belongs.

And in that process, he drew my attention to Mark’s version of the Great Commission, and to one clause in particular: “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.” He wasn’t giving me a direction in the midst of the options, he was just reminding me: “This is the way I am with you, Son.”

As I kept praying (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped listening too early!), I felt his affirmation that I could trust him, I could trust this promise, whichever way I chose to go, but this was my choice to make; he wasn’t going to make my choices for me here.

I still believe that this virus isn’t a threat for me personally, and I still believe that I don’t need the experimental therapy that’s being promoted.

So I signed up to get the experimental therapy, confident that it will by no means hurt me. That was long enough ago that I had to work really hard to get it; it was really awkward, really uncomfortable, really irritating to jump through all the hoops. (The notifications I’m getting now announce that some places have it available for walk-ins.)

After several weeks, I made it to the front of the line and it was my turn. They had me sign a raft of papers (and were really confused when I insisted on reading what I was signing), and the nurse who gave me the injection confessed that he didn’t believe we needed “a ‘vaccine’ that is 95% effective against a disease with a 99+% survival rate.” We laughed about it together.

When it came time for the second injection, people crawled out of the woodwork to tell me their horror stories of how bad the second one was, and how dangerous it was, and how that’s where people got sick from the second one. Thanks folks!

So I reminded myself pretty aggressively of Father’s promise. “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.” My version went this way: “If I am injected with anything deadly, it will by no means hurt me.” It was kind of hard work to agree with him instead of all the fear-driven testimonies.

The next morning, I woke up feeling “off,” and the doubts whispered into my ear: “See! I told you you’d get sick! Now it’s happened to you!”

So I had a conversation with my soul. “If I am injected with anything deadly, it will by no means hurt me.” I kind of had a shouting match inside my soul for a while, but eventually my soul gave in, the symptoms vanished, and I had a great day. That was a month or two ago, and I haven’t been sick for a day since.

I still shake my head (sometimes when my soul gets out of line) at how much this changes the hearts and the choices of some of the people I love, but then I remember, “I did this for you, because I love you.” I can’t generally tell them that, of course, because they think I was convinced of their opinions when I saw the error of my ways because of their insightful presentation of the media’s hysteria.

And I feel my Father’s comfortable pleasure with my choices here. It was my choice, your choice might be completely different. But this is how I dealt with it.

I hope my story is helpful to you.
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The Chef’s Knee

I was raised in the church, but I was raised by a couple of left-brain, logical thinkers: by a school teacher and an engineer. They taught me math and science and the occasional Bible story, but we knew nothing of the power of God. We prayed for every meal, but it was a routine; we did it because that’s what good Christians did.

The church we were part of explained why nothing supernatural ever happened and why the miracles that the Bible talked about weren’t really what they seemed to be, and how science explained them.

Many years later, after I came to a real and personal faith and began to pursue Jesus for myself, I discovered that the gifts of the Spirit were real and that there was actual power present in them. I’ve spent the last half century pursuing knowing my loving King and learning all I can about the tools that he’s given us to run this race well.

The son of a schoolteacher doesn’t have any trouble studying the Book, and the son of the engineer has got some natural advantages applying the wisdom of that Book to his life. But power? But the supernatural? Now wait just a doggone minute here. It’s harder to overcome the natural and logical mindset that I was raised with.

Fast forward a few decades. I’ve taught hundreds, maybe thousands of people about the love of God, the gifts of the Spirit, and even about how to heal the sick. I didn’t have much personal experience actually healing the sick, and the voices from my childhood kept explaining away any healings and miracles that I did see.

So one Friday night, I’m with a team of friends hosting a large meeting, when all of a sudden, one of the group gets up and announces to the auditorium that God wants to heal everyone tonight, “If you need healing, come forward.”

I was confronted with my unbelief. So I kicked into administration mode and connected people who needed prayer with people to pray for them (“Just like we’ve talked about,” I reminded a few of them), but there were so many of them!

Among the last to arrive was the chef in charge of the kitchen at that facility, and he was bearing down on me, and he was limping. We had talked a few times; maybe I wasn’t a complete stranger. I looked around for someone with a healing gift. Not a one!

So here I was, acknowledging that God heals, but full of unbelief, and I was expected needing to heal this guy’s torn ligaments. I was doomed.


So we found a place out on the edge of the crowd where he could sit down and where I could get my hands on his knee. He explained how he needs to be on his feet all day, every day, and the stress weakened his knee, and then he stepped wrong or fell or something (I wasn’t paying as much attention to his situation as I should have been, being much more attentive to my immanent unmasking as a healing fraud).

 I laid hands on the knee, and quietly complained to Father that this wasn’t fair! He wasn’t impressed with my panic.

Eventually, my adrenaline levels dropped enough that I remembered to ask Father how to pray, and I had an impression, so I prayed in that direction. I prayed hard in that direction. I prayed every little detail I could think of in that direction, and in the direction next to it just to be safe.

Eventually I had to come up for air. “How does your knee feel? Stand up and test it.” I tried to sound confident.

He tested it, and sat back down with kind of a scowl on his face. “It feels warm inside, but I’m not sure it’s any better.”

My heart didn’t really have any further to fall, but I figured “warm” was a good sign. “OK, let’s pray some more.” It was clear he wasn’t in a hurry.

Over the course of the next hour or two, I threw every prayer I knew and six or ten that I didn’t know at his knee. I wasn’t going to fail because I’d given up: I was going to go down fighting. Every ten minutes or so, we’d check it again, and every time it was a little better. “Not a lot better, but yeah, it’s a little bit better.”

It must have been the nine thousand and twelfth time we stopped to check his progress that he bent and stretched and matter-of-factly announced, “Yeah, I think that did it!” I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked him for his patience. We were nearly the last ones out of the room.

I had reason to return to that conference facility several times, for several different kinds of events, often including meals, and every time he saw me (he never once missed me!), he’d come out of the kitchen, wrap me in a bear hug, squat down and bounce back up and announce, “Yep! It’s still healed!” (You should have seen the looks on the faces of some of my business associates at the tech events there! I remember that feeling, when I first heard that healing really was for today.)

Healing is still not one of the primary tools that I use in the ministry Father has me involved in. And every time that I slap hands on someone for healing, hell rubs my nose in that fact. “You don’t have that gift!”

“No, but I know a Guy!” and I remind him of the chef’s knee. Shuts ‘em up every time.

It’s still a challenge, still a battle every time I go after healing, and I mean that literally: when we heal the sick, we’re conquering the works of hell (both in the natural and in the minds of those we’re healing): hell is fighting (unsuccessfully) for survival; of course there’s a battle.

And no, not everybody I pray for is healed, not by a mile or six. But I have a testimony to keep me going.

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Letters

A Measure of Faith

Romans 12:3b: “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Measure: μέτρον Metron. “determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit.”  This is the same word that describes our “sphere of influence,” also a limited extent.

We learn several things here:


• Our faith is “dealt” or distributed to us from God. We are not the source of our faith. Ephesians 2:8 affirms this.

• God has dealt faith to each one of us. Nobody is left out.

• We’re given a measure of faith, a certain amount. No one among us has infinite faith. It’s possible to increase our capacity for faith, of course, but I’m thinking in other directions right now.

If we reference the mustard seed in Matthew 17:20, we know that a little bit of faith goes a long ways. But if we have a measured amount, it is possible to spend it all, whether a little bit at a time, or in great big battles. This suggests that it’s possible to run out of faith.

That leads me to some questions:

○ Is this the reason we feel depleted after a great fight: we’ve spent a lot of our faith?

○ I wonder if this is why some folks wander away from the faith? Maybe they’ve just run out of faith. Perhaps they’ve squandered it?

○ Does this suggest that maybe we want to be frugal in our spending of faith? (For example: sure we can believe God for every dollar we need, but if we get a job, we spend less faith, so we have more faith to invest in other areas.)

○ Is faith refillable, like my truck’s gas tank? When the gauge is reading low, just go fill it up, remembering that faith is dealt from God. (No pat answers please.)

○ Is faith sharable? It’s awkward to siphon gas from my truck to put into your gas tank, but it’s possible. Can that be done with faith too? Can faith be rented out?

I think we’ve got rather a ways to grow before we know it all. 



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