Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Bible, concerning Abram and now, Hagar and Ishmael

One of my problems in reading through the Old Testament involves the battles and the wars that took place, almost regularly, and I have to wonder if that is why the "Preachers" of our day seem to be reluctant to oppose war.  Surely they have seen the grave markers of so many of our "the best and the brightest among others" go off to war with their futures ahead of them, only to return in caskets and be absent as we pause to commend them.  How sad.  War is such a wasteful occasion, both sides lose and our futures are even threatened by the thought of a resumption, elsewhere.  So it has been in the years of my life.  As I may have reported earlier, I was in in the Air Force  and on duty in Japan as the Korean War erupted and for reasons beyond our comprehension, it still exists, except for the temporary truce that was established over fifty years ago.

Now, we pause in Genesis, chapter 17 which opens to the saga of Abram and Sarai's illicit contract. The result will be the boy, named Ishmael, the name given to him by an angel sent by God.  Before we get too involved in the relationship between Abram, Sarai and the slave woman, Hagar, we ought not to overlook the fact that God was aware of the circumstance.  God renames Abram, as Abraham, and his wife, Sarai will become Sarah.   Ishmael is not to be circumcised, an essential for all Hebrew children, and God promises that he will become fruitful and He declares that he will multiply him exceedingly.  He will become the father of twelve princes and I - says God will make him a great nation. (v 17:20)  But now we have to wait until the 21st chapter to discover more of the life of Ishmael.

Meanwhile, we come to the situation with Lot and his family as they resided in Sodom and Gomorrah and the controversy that has sprung up in recent years concerning the fate of these cities.  I - for one, am not interested in such debates.  It proves nothing as our Gay brothers and sisters have created a community (without borders) for themselves and some say, flaunt God with their behavior.  I have an opinion, but to debate what actually happened thousands of years ago is an insult to all who are more concerned with living in peace with all persons.

Chapter 21 not only announces the birth of Abraham's heir, the boy, Isaac, but it also reveals what the Bible has to say about his elder brother, the slave woman's son, Ishmael.  "God was with the lad and he grew, and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt."  There is more to be said about Ishmael and the burial of his father, Abraham, and his generations as they are mentioned in Genesis 25:12-18. .

NOTE:  I just made a mistake here as I was looking forward.  Not that it is really important, but I wanted you to know.  Such is life....  I often wonder, how many other assumptions have made it to print in the Bibles we read.  It ought not to discourage us.  It may disturb those who believe that God actually took a pen and we are actually, reading his thoughts.  I can say this, they are His thoughts IF He has personally confirmed it to you.

Moving on from where we were, we will learn that Abraham and Sarah had another son, this one a gift from God and they named him, Isaac.  You will learn that he and his wife, Rebekah, had twin sons, Jacob and Esau, Esau being the first to be delivered and therefore, heir to his father's fortunes, but Jacob - to be hence forth described as the "deceiver", with the help of his mother, stole the inheritance.  What a burden that has placed on many twins born later.  I have never known of a father who would not divide his inheritance among all of his descendants, but then I have never known any such individual.  However, I have been to many church services and have sat through many sermons where the Pastor has often described Jacob as being the "unrighteous" one.  From the looks of the Biblical account, he was but - with the advent of our Lord, Jesus Christ, are we to offer such council? I don't think so and this is my opinion, not expressed in the Bible.

And, a reminder, I am not a theologian.  I read the Bible as it applies to me, directly, and am merely an observer of the other entries.  That should not be interpreted to mean that I won't be made aware of other instances where I should have paid closer attention, but for now, I study my Bible to make certain I have covered most of the passages that do apply.

I earnest beseech - a good Bible word, all of those who read this to make an effort to do likewise.

There is much more to be said about Jacob and that ought to be an encouragement to all of us who have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  There is one passage involving Esau that intrigues me and that is found in Genesis 28:9 and I quote, "...Esau went to Ishmael and married, besides the wives he (already) had, Mahalath, the daughter if Ishmael."  If you are reading, I have to add, here is the "bastard" son, again.  Ishmael - to me, is an extremely important figure for us to consider these days - and I will leave it to you to find the answer to that.

Now, Jacob has a dream and its account makes for an intriguing passage for many of us.  He dreams of a ladder reaching into heaven and there are angels ascending and descending upon it.  In the dream, God stands at the top and speaks to Jacob.  Heavy stuff.  Jacob saw a figure and knew it was God?  Ooops.  Moses knew God personally and yet, only saw His back side.  That raises lots of questions for many of us, but the others get so excited about what God says that they move on without thinking about this.  I am certain there are plenty of theologians and would be theologians who can explain this, but I want to raise the question for my readers so they they understand, it is far more important to study what the Bible says than to repeat what some thought it said.

Jacob moves on and meets Rachael at a well where she is watering her father's sheep.  Jacob is - in a word, smitten at the sight of this beautiful woman and bargains with her father so that she could become his wife.  He is to work seven years for her father and then the father offers another daughter in Rachael's place.  And what does Jacob do, of course, he sleeps with the replacement and then bargains for his first love.  Another seven years!  A word to the wise for parents teaching their teen-agers about the Bible, it would be good to pass by Genesis 29:10-35.

Sleeping around?  Even within a family, this is what those folks might have called, not kosher! Perhaps this account remains in the Bible for reasons far beyond my knowledge, but we read what we see and once read, the thoughts that develop find a hiding place within the mind.  One of the worst examples of life as we know it today is the fact there are so many abortions as a result of sex without an agreement to go beyond sex and live in support of one another - for a lifetime..  While living in Orlando, FL, my wife and I had been prompted by the teaching of our church regarding abortions that we decided to investigate for ourselves and we were led to a black lady living in a part of the city where blacks were the prominent people.  I will never forget walking into her office and - at first, glancing at the wall where we could see pictures of over a hundred babies.  "Yours?" I asked.  "In a sense, yes," she replied, "these are babies whose mothers had decided, it was better to abort them than to bring them into the world in which they grow to maturity."  If they were males, the probability was that they would become unwed fathers.  If females, they would become unwed mothers and thereby, eligible for government support.  We would hear that many of the young women, as a matter of fact, agree to sex for no better reason than a baby would make them eligible.  "Who helps you?" I asked and I would learn that her "primary" support came from Him, pointing to a framed picture of Jesus on a nearby wall.  She was quick to add that she did receive support from local churches and concerned citizens in her community and from others around the city.  "How can we help?" we asked and she reminded us, it was a two-step process.  First, you open your heart to this tragedy and next, open your wallet.  We did what we could, but that was thirty years ago and I would like to suggest, it is still the predominant factor in black communities throughout our nation.  Raise a child that learns hunger from an early age and you have - far too often, someone who will do "anything" to ease the pain.  I have asked many young black men why they did what they did and they are quick to respond, "What would you be doing if you were raised in a ghetto?"   I can't answer that question as I was privileged to be raised on a farm where hunger was never a problem, but sex was.  I was a shy kid and more often embarrassed when I heard sex mentioned, but when it becomes the most intriguing way for youngsters to "entertain" themselves, what can we expect?  It seems to be a problem that will not go away and I have to ask a question, "Why are we talking about sex in a Bible study and remaining as silent as we seem to do when it is not our problem?"  Am I not my brother's "keeper" - to love as we are expected to do as disciples of our Lord?   We have come a long way with regard to race relations. We still have a long way to go - ought to be obvious. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Bible, leaving the Garden and moving on....

From what I have been told over the years, not too many folks "leave" the Garden and explore what follows.   As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, we are left to wonder as the focus will be on those who followed them.   I don't know about you, but I have often wondered, why that is.

Apparently, things did not go on as planned, perhaps, hoped for is a better explanation, but in chapter seven, we are introduced to the flood.   And that brings us to another of those questions, never to be answered.  Perhaps, it is how we interpret the Bible.  Chapter 7, verse 24, tells us the "water prevailed upon the earth".  Most interpret that to mean, it covered the earth.  Now, some want us to believe, it only covered what was known in those days as the earth.  Not a question to be dealt with unless, of course, a person reads the Bible and wants to support claims that this is merely the opinion of man's interpretation.  Why does it matter?

The next "event" in the Bible is the question of what happened at Babel.  Now we are introduced to city builders and those who constructed Babel imagined that they could build a tower that would reach into heaven.   The Bible does not say that the tower was destroyed, but that He scattered the builders and confused their languages throughout the whole earth.  No real answers other than the obvious, that God was disappointed in the His creation and this was His response to their futile efforts.  Have you ever realized that He continues this practice to this very day?  Man's goal - at least from the days of my youth, has been to bring about the peace on earth that was suggested when Jesus was born, but it hasn't happened because the nations cannot agree on a common language.  Now, we are asked to believe the interpretations of some and most of us are not comfortable with that.  So, apparently, we accept the killing of those others, while railing against the efforts of those who would kill us.  All you have to do to understand this is pick up a newspaper, or listen to a radio or watch TV, searching for the word, ISIS.   Or is it, ISIL?  Why not leave  it as they prefer the term, IS - interpreted as Islamic State.  My experience with Muslims dates back to years before the so-called Gulf wars and to two youngsters I was helping to find employment in the Los Angeles area, They let me know that there would be wars between the Arab states as the powers-to-be are not searching for "nation" states, but an Islamic Nation.  And when another voice, this one a potential employer who had returned from a visit to Indonesian in search of oil drilling sites, his "big" news was that the Muslims had all but reached the point where they would truly govern that area.  Now, it is a fact.

And we continue to ignore the lessons that were practically defined for us - centuries ago.

When did such thoughts occur to me?  A Japanese friend (while I was stationed there in the late 40's) introduced me to a "grand" leader of the Samurians who laughed when he thought I had boasted of our victories in World War II and declared that in the "great" war to come, we would be allied, not only with the Japanese, but also the Chinese.  Try to tell that to the average American.  I did not believe him then, but as the years, and now the decades have passed away, and I will also soon pass away, I cannot help but believe I had heard the voice on histories to come.  I pray that this will not be, but I pray more for my grand children that they might embrace history and prepare themselves for what might truly become inevitable.

Reading on, we now come to Abram and you really need to take note of this individual as he will be the most prominent figure in Christian history, prior to the advent of our Lord.  Some will ridicule that statement, but this man will be - very much like you and I, and not end up his life like the people's choice - of David, as their hero.  God asks him to pick up his belongings and his family and follow God's direction to what we now know was their "promised" land.  It would be a long journey with many twists and turns along the way, including one in which he lies about the fact that Sarai is his wife and allows another to take her for no better reason than to save his own life.

At this point, I must confess that I had never even read the Old Testament before the day I finally met our Lord on a personal basis.  It was He who opened my eyes - to life as it was meant to be.  One incident in my life came to me as I read of an encounter in Genesis 12:11.  Abram was fearful of his own life when they met up with Egyptians and told his wife, then known as Sarai, to claim that Abram was her brother do that he might not be killed.  An interesting story. you need to read it.

In an earlier marriage, my wife - the mother of our children, stole some money for reasons beyond my own comprehension.  We were doing well, with the birth of our first son, I could not have been more pleased with our life as it was.  But she took the money and now we had to face the court.  For reasons unknown to me at the time, the court had mercy on her and offered probation rather than prison.  It made me happy to see what happened and I moved on without a word.  Eventually, I would pay a price that was far more than I could handle at the time.  What I failed to do was understand why my wife would steal that money and not care to explain why to me.  In fact, she lied to me and I was just happy that she was not in prison.  Now, I understand, that I was very much like Abram.  I did not lie - nor did he.  He merely asked his wife to lie.  The truth was revealed in Abram's case.  It was never revealed in ours and I let it ride.  Who was the one who failed?  I don't know about Abram, bit I do know about me and the future would eventually reveal my failure.  The truth is - as I came to know it when I asked for forgiveness of our Lord, I learned how powerful, the so-called simple act of asking for forgiveness was in fact.   My sin was far more grievous than I had ever realized. Thank God for His mercy and I have to believe, Abram felt the same way.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Bible - and, Cain and Abel and - you!

And me, of course.  I have often been concerned about these two, the first sons of Adam and Eve as you may recall.

So, we come to Genesis, chapter 4, and we are introduced to Cain, the elder son.   Then, comes Abel. He became a keeper of the flock and Cain, a tiller of the ground.  Abel offers as a sacrifice one of the first born in his keep and Cain, from the fruit of the ground.  God accepts Abel's sacrifice and rejects the offering of Cain.  Cain gets angry and God cautions him, "...sin is crouching at your door".  We know the rest of that story, Cain murders his brother.  In the next chapter in his life, he moves to the land of Nod where he finds his wife, they have children and he builds a city.

End of story?  I really have a problem with this.  The Bible records that Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, to "replace " Abel. 

My resources, well known Bible scholars, make no further mention of the man, Cain, nor his lineage, nor his accomplishments, all of which prompts me to ask about Cain's wife - no mention of her in the Bible.  I have to wonder, where did she come from?  Who were her parents?  The "land of Nod" - I am confused, according to my exhaustive concordance of the Bible, there is only one mention and I have already noted it - the land, the place, the people, where Cain found a wife.

The reason I ask has to do with the fact that I am a Father, two sons, two daughters.  According to the teachers I have listened to over the years, these relationships are important, even the fact I had a wife and she came from a family as I did.  These matters ought to be of great importance to us.  According to the lessons I have learned from others and my own study of the Bible, families are important to God.  Pages have been written with nothing more that the lineage of families

Surely, Cain's wife was as important to God.  She married a murderer.  Did she know?  If she ever found about his past, did she stay with him?  What about their children?  Did they know?

And you ought to wonder why I am raising these questions.  Here is my answer.  I was the first born of my parents.  It was 1929, desperate times, but happy times for my father as he married a much younger woman and they talked about their daughter, which he certainly expected.  He divorced his first wife after they had two sons and I don't know if this had any effect on him as I know very little about him.  I do know he and my mother expected to have a daughter and they already had a name, Shirley - after the movie star, Shirley Temple.  That would have to wait.  She was born three years later and because of the circumstances of the times, I went to live with my mother's parents - except for a school year when I lived with cousins.  In the interim, my father died and that was the last I ever heard of him until after my mother died and I discovered letters he had written to others and pictures of me when I was little more than an infant.

Family should have been important to me.  My grand parents were wonderful and their children would become close friends, but I would leave the only family I would ever really know when I joined the military, shortly after my seventeenth birthday.

Don't get me wrong, I have lived a good life in spite of the anger that used to rise up in me when I saw my friends involvement with their parents.  Although I don't recall the incidents, I have proof of my feelings in a few of the pictures as our family gathered together, but I was nowhere to be found. As others were being asked to "smile", I simply stepped behind the group an no one seemed to notice.

I have spent most of my adult life counselling others, more often about their careers, and one of the most intriguing facts I have discovered is that the futures of most of the others were dictated by the family in which they were raised.  We have reams of literature on future possibilities, but far too many of those in need are haunted by their observations of their families and their limited prospects.

Speaking of the Christianity in which I was raised, we talk a lot about the "family" of God but usually we are talking about church members, unfortunately.  I have been a member of a number of churches as I have traveled around our nation and you might suspect, one of the first observations I have taken away is the limited numbers of "real" families I have noticed.  It has always made me wonder why we spend a lot of time considering lineages and a relatively limited time dealing with family dynamics. I do recall leaving one church as the Pastor continued to make fun of the antics of children in the congregation which, far too often - for me, seemed to ridicule parental efforts.

I trust you may recall the lessons we could have learned from the story of the so-called "prodigal" (a word that is not mentioned in the Bible) son.  He learned a very difficult lesson, one that we might want to believe is true, but it is more often nothing more than our imagination.  I have heard that lesson discussed more often that I care to recall.  It typically is referred to as the joy that is in our Father's heart when a person accepts His free gift of salvation.  That is a nice idea, but - as usual, there is another side of a story that has more reality than a fictional account.  Typically, we wind up blaming the son.

What about the father's sin, the one that destroys far more of us than youthful transgressions?  It is easy for me to see as I am guilty of that father's sin.  There are four children I sired who have had to spend many more hours of grief than I ever imagined when I left their home - for good.  But I was angry, really angry, at their mother for the crimes in which the authorities had uncovered, and I was led to believe, there had to be something very wrong with - me.  I sought counsel but God intervened and opened my eyes to my sin.  Still the fact remained, I could no longer live with her and we settled on a divorce.  Unfortunately, she was not over her antics and committed another crime, even worse than the others and that ended my relationship with my children.  I hurt, I ached more than anything I had ever imagined, but the die was cast.  We have never been able to reconcile our differences.

And the important thing that came out of my experiences was my guilt as being too proud to lay aside my needs and serve the needs of my children.  Many men I have known over the years suffer from the sin of pride, but it is embedded just as it was in the "prodigal's" father.  He allowed his son to come of age without sharing the responsibilities a parent has for the children.  Perhaps, he was too engrossed with making money to ignore the younger son's craving for a better life than he thought possible - with his father.  We don't know, we will never know, but like many parables we discover in the Bible, there is often - more than we suspect, multiple lessons to be learned.

We do need to read the Bible.  Much more importantly, we need to study the Bible.  In my years, I have known only a few teachers, but sadly, the environment in which we all live puts a lot of pressure on creating an earning potential that will satisfy.  So, we pay a price.

The real reason I have written these words is the hope that - having read of my own experiences and the "story" of the "prodigal" son and his father, that maybe someone else might give a second thought about the path they have chosen.  I pray that this will be true.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Let's start reading the Bible....

I don't know if you know anyone who talks with God, but I am one of those who listens as I believe He speaks to me.  So, I respond - a lot.   And it seems that things are happening in my life that would indicate, He is listening.  For example, as I re-read my last entry, I began to wonder why very few take the liberty to respond.  I know I often say things that ought to challenge others and in the absence of a response, I have to wonder, are they listening, do they even care to listen?  That was one of the thoughts I was pondering yesterday.

Today, I have to think, God responded.  I was at a community picnic, eating with friends and a fellow walks up and takes a seat across from me.  We started a conversation without any specific ideas in mind and I started to tell him how I used to challenge job applicants to be encouragers when I was in the recruiting business.  And since he was about to seek a new employment opportunity, I tried to challenge him when he responded, "And what is your challenge?"  Wow!  Could I answer?  I hardly knew the guy, but I began to think, perhaps that was God challenging me, using my new found friend as an intermediary.  The more I think about it, the more I believe it was.

So, here goes.... I just told a friend, my new offering ought to be, "Sherwood reads the Bible" and that is what I mean to do.  Starting with Genesis all the way through to "The grace of the Lord be with all, Amen"  (Revelation 22:21, if you were not aware of that)   And isn't that an interesting comment? Did it challenge you to think about it?  That will be the gist of what follows, day by day, the Bible as I have "seen" it through my eyes and ears and senses for nearly forty years.  Here we go....

Genesis 1:1  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." and you probably have heard what will be added in the following few chapters, at least.  Let's be aware that most people who might be reading this are aware of the garden, our first ancestors and the reason they were exiled.  I want to say something that is very pertinent to our daily lives as I "discovered" in a response from God, but first....

Let's not overlook all that is written in that first verse.  Note, it is not heaven, but heavens, plural, and I know there are those who teach the concept of heavens, but for most of us, heaven is our place of abode after this life.  But heavens, plural?  I had a glimpse of them, I believe, as I was on a troopship bound for Japan, almost seventy years ago and suddenly I was frightened at the thought of living in a nation among the very people our nation had taught me that they were, actually, blood thirsty killers. Because I could not sleep below deck with 2-300 other basic recruits, I got up and went on deck and found a place to sit and think about my future.  I was really scared.  And then, I looked up and from the East to the West, from the North to the South, there was this "blanket" of stars, there had to be millions of them, and I could see a number of the planets, hundreds of shooting stars, comets, etc.and I was amazed and it seemed to me, I heard a voice, "All of these are part of my creation" and that was it. Well, I knew about God, our Creator, I learned all of that in Sunday School, but now, I began to wonder if a day would come and we would know of life on those planets and ask myself, what about all of those stars?  I don't know how long I stayed there and whether I continued to think about all that I had seen, but this I do know, suddenly, I had found peace, there was no reason to be fearful.

And the day would come as I turned to Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" and I realized something I could not grasp while I was sitting there, alone, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."  Oh, I had heard about this as a child, but then, I had no reason to fear.  My mind was filled with other concerns.

"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, He plants His feet along the sands and rides upon the storm."  My grand Dad had taught me that while I was little and it would take me years before I would come to a full understanding of that promise.

Heaven, or heavens?  What do you think?  You have heard what I have said.

Let's go back to Genesis, chapter 3, verse 8, and God has appeared in the garden only to realize the two had hidden from Him - because, Adam said, "...they were naked."  Actually, he did not make reference to the woman and most often, Bible studies lead us into discussions of the man, the woman, the serpent, good and evil, etc., etc,, but I have been more intrigued by God's response.  "Who told you that you were naked?"  (v. 9a)   Who told you that?  That they were naked was obvious and given the fact that most of us who study these chapters are content to deal with the frailties of the two and tend to ignore the four words that form the question - I have to wonder, who told us that?

Why do we seem to be obsessed with sex and servants and not realize, in the days in which we live, this "age of information", we are prone to believe what we hear, regardless of the reliability of the sources.  I listen to Christian programming a lot and an hour hardly passes when I do not hear words and thoughts that do not conform to the truth we discover in our Bibles.  Why do we listen?Thousands, probably tens of thousands, listen to such programs and accept what they hear only because they want to believe what they hear.  That is one aspect.  Turn to the secular media and it gets worse, far worse, as people believe, obviously.  If they did not, the programs would lose their ratings and would be off the air.

Who told you that?  Four simple words that form a question that - in my opinion, ought to be foremost in the minds of every Christian as - if they have studied what is written in the Bible, they would be turning away from the media and turn to the most basic responsibility we all have and that is, to love one another.  That is the foundation stone of our belief system.

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's still in the book, and....

It's very early in the morning - half past One as a matter of fact and I cannot sleep.  I have a strange ailment in my leg that started a couple of days ago.  It was more like an irritation, but it seemed to disappear earlier yesterday.  I bowled last night and it did not bother me, but as soon as I went to bed, it started to give me fits.  I got up, opened my computer, read some e-mails and now, it feels better, Who knows what is going on?  Not I.

But I had a couple of interesting e-mails and I copied one from an Internet friend, Richard Rohr, that started me to think about what I had to say, yesterday.  I copied it.  Let's see if it works:


My Mystery Opens 
Me to God’s Mystery

Friday, October 17, 2014

Only love can know love, only mercy can know mercy, only the endless mystery I am to myself is ready for God’s Infinite Mystery. When I can stand in mystery (not knowing and not needing to know and being dazzled by such freedom), when I don’t need to split, to hate, to dismiss, to compartmentalize what I cannot explain or understand, when I can radically accept that “I am what I am what I am,” then I am beginning to stand in divine freedom (Galatians 5:1). We do not know how to stand there on our own. Someone Else needs to sustain us in such a deep and spacious place. This is what the saints mean by our emptiness, our poverty and our nothingness. They are not being negative or self-effacing, but just utterly honest about their inner experience. God alone can sustain me in knowing and accepting that I am not a saint, not at all perfect, not very loving at all—and in that very recognition I can fall into the perfect love of God. Remember Jesus’ first beatitude: “How happy are the poor in spirit, theirs isthe kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). How amazing is that? I think this might just be the description of salvation and perfect freedom. They are the same, you know.
I used to pray at the tomb of Fr. Karl Rahner (1904-1984) when I was studying one summer in Innsbruck, Austria. He is the German Jesuit who so influenced the Second Vatican Council. Rahner taught me this (in his long German sentences, even worse when translated into English): The infinite mystery that you are to yourself is alone able to accept and love the Infinite Mystery that God will always be. It is finally two mysteries of Life humbly bowing and deferring to one another. He taught me how to be patient and merciful toward both of these infinite mysteries. Thank you, Karl!"
His "not knowing and not needing to know" intrigues me.  There are lots of "stuff" I know nothing about and - to me, it's a blessing.  When people started getting up-tight about Islam and the infamous, Sharia Law, I opened up the books I have on Islam and came away wondering, why are others so concerned about people they really do not know?  Now, they are worried about ISIS.  We have the power to bomb them off the face of the earth and eventually, we may have to use that power.  But why are so many of our friends and neighbors all in a "tizzy" about these people they don't know.
I was seventeen years of age, a new recruit in what was then, the U.S. Army Air Corps and I was on a troopship headed for Japan when I began to recall all of the terrible things I had heard about the Japanese and now, I was going to live as their neighbor.  I will always be indebted to the Army Colonel who told us about our "mission" and how we were to treat the locals, as he made reference to our former enemies, emphasis on the word, former.  I listened carefully and it would be over four years before I would be heading home.  It had been the most wonderful experience I would ever have and that became more apparent when I returned to what had been my home.  No one seemed to care that part of that duty involved a real war with the North Koreans.  So?  So what?  It did not seem to matter to my former family and friends that I had been in harm's way.  I was home, they thought - or I imagined that is what they thought.  They didn't say.
Times have changed, obviously.   Today, we seem to fear the North Koreans.  And the Muslims.  And far too often, I could fear that others fear that their futures are being corrupted by government, which is, in my opinion, the most effective government known to mankind.
Before I left for the Air Force, I vividly recall our President addressing the nation regarding World War II and concluding his speech with these words, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  He was right.
My Bible has taught me that, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear, because fear involves punishment and one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because He first loved us."   (And, to continue the quote from I John 4:18-21)  ..."the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also."
We seem to be losing our way.  Another e-mail received earlier this morning went to great lengths to describe the impasse some of the churches in Houston, TX, are having with their local governing authorities.  We have already been witness to the tragedy that has become, Ferguson, MO.
We want to fear such instances even though we have been instructed to love those in authority - after all, they are our brothers and sisters.
When will we begin to learn?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's still in the book, but...

You will have to excuse me - actually, you do not have any other option, but there are times when "things" happen and you get diverted from your main course.  So it was - apparently, after the 'blog' last month (the 24th if you are keeping track), I seemed to have lost direction.

When you reach my age and find yourself wondering what might be happening - because of events in your life that don't make sense, you get a bit confused, so it was with me.

But this morning, now the 16th of October, I got piled on.... "get moving, Sherwood" appeared to be the message from many different directions.

First, there was an e-mail from an old friend of mine who I first met as a letter "to the editors" writer when I noticed one of his in Nashville's newspaper, The Tennessean.  We have never met, but when either of us had a letter printed, we send an e-mail of congratulations.  Most of us have to write three or more before the editors take notice.  This morning, my friend, Ron, wrote a letter concerning the use of the new electronic cigarettes.  Since he grew up on a farm dedicated to the production of tobacco, he was more than just familiar with the deadly power of nicotine.  He makes an excellent point; electronic cigarettes are still fueled by nicotine.  And since I had made a wrong assumption that he was mainly a church goer, I wrote a response offering my opinion that God was well pleased with his efforts.  Then, he responded with more than a couple of lines, saying "thank you".

He literally blew me away with what we used to call - in churches, his testimony.  Starting with his experience with his father's health experiences, he went on to sharing about his mother's as well and wound up specifically outlining his faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.  

I read it more than once as the first time, tears formed in my eyes as I not only had underestimated his faith, I had more or less ignored my friend's struggles with life itself.  He closed by identifying his religious affiliation and used a slang term to spell out his personal beliefs.  I just sat at my computer and read it over and over again.  Then, I decided to share his "confession" with all of my closest friends, including religious leaders that I know as well.

Part of the reason I have not been writing is because I have grown more and more concerned with the "life" of the church; most importantly, those with whom I have a strong relationship, and some with whom I have no relationship as well.  Regarding the latter, when I first became acquainted with this area, I discovered a so-called Christian radio station here and would learn that it was part of a network located in Kentucky.  What attracted me was their music - for the most part, songs that I grew up with as a youngster.  And the voice of an angel who led that part of their programming.  She welcomed her listeners to call in with their prayer needs and when she prayed for them, as she had promised, it was as if I saw heaven opening up to make certain her prayers were heard.  I was driving up I-40 one day and realized I had a prayer need and called in to the station.  She asked me a couple of questions and after I had hung up, she prayed.  I was about 40 miles East of Nashville at the time, but as I turned off the freeway and headed for the office, I suddenly realized I had an answer to the problem that had troubled me for several days.

That was years ago.  She is still playing beautiful music and praying and I have to believe, God is still responding to her prayers.  That is half of the story.  The other half is what has disturbed me.  Of course, a radio station pays for its obligations by having sponsors and most of them - at this station, claim to be Christian.  I have listened to most of them and what disturbs me is that my Bible refers to acts of love over fifty times and the word "Hell" (or Hades or Sheol) less than twenty.  And having lived for over eighty-five years and been involved in church work for most of those, I have yet to meet a "born again" Christian - one who practices his or her faith constantly, who is not a testament to the love that brought them to the faith.  To be honest, I have also heard of Hell being discussed often, but not as a motivator for the good deeds encouraged by the testaments, but as merely punishment for not doing what others told them they ought to be doing.

What I am attempting to say without naming names, as Christians, love has to be our sole motivator. Hell is merely a word and its sole motivator is fear.

And fear appears to be a main motivation for many of the talk programs - on this station, as it seems to be throughout our nation; fear that others are either doing wrong - as in waging war, or by not doing what most of us want others to do.  One of the targets on the radio station in question is our government; that it is either not doing what it ought to do - in their opinion, or not doing enough for them or those they want to represent.

There is a great motivator in the Bible that I have heard since I was a youth, most preachers know it by heart and most of us ought to recognize it at the very least.  It is found in the book of Proverbs, chapter four and verses, five and six.  It reads as follows:  "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,   In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

I don't know, I have spent most of my life suggesting there is a better way to live than to fear tomorrow.  I didn't always understand that those words were in the Bible, but they had worked for me.  I learned to listen to those with more experience and not follow in the footsteps of a fool.  I didn't even know there was a God - for too many years.  My problem was - me!   If you had asked me to fear something, I would pretend I was Captain Courageous and be on my way.

But ask me to love something and I would ask, who, what, when, where, why and how?

You may deny this, but this I know above everything else I have learned in my lifetime. the greatest need that mankind has ever experienced was made evident by the fact that - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life", the best known passage from the Bible and another fact is, we really do  not live it!   If we dared
to actually love one another, wars would cease and any thoughts of Hell would soon be relegated to its proper place - that is, in Hell.

Do so and fear would vanish as surely as the son rises in the East and sets in the West.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It's in the book....

One of the demands of the Christian life is that those of us who claim to "be" Christian should prove it by citing scripture passages.  I know.  I expect this of others, so today I plan to make reference to those passages that (1) guide my life today and (2) have provided wise counsel over the years.  You need to remember that at my age and having spent a lot of those years "thinking" that I was a Christian, but I trust I can put them in order for you to understand my beliefs.  Here goes:

Let's start with Genesis, the first chapter, the first verse.  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  I not only understand the reference to the earth, I have seen His heavens, up close and personal.  Go back to my post entitled, "Are you listening...?" I offered earlier this month.  I was on a troop ship headed for Japan, had climbed up top and had a bird's eye vision of the heavens above at night and the view remains as one of the most exciting experiences in my life - proof to me, that there is a Creator and His accomplishments are beyond the knowledge of the average person.  In talking about this with others, I was offered further "proof" by a NASA engineer who attended our church in Orlando and was explaining how they control the vehicles they launch into outer space.  He called it the "Colossian cohesion" and referred to our Lord Jesus in a verse in the Bible that states, "And He is before all things and in Him are things held together."  (Colossians 1:17)

When I was in high school, I still recall a "debate" that was held in our Science class, between me and another youngster who believed in evolution and I still wonder why anyone who has ever examined the debate that continues to this very hour, would want to believe in a microbe with the potential to create, not only all of the vital organs that sustain our daily life, but the minds through which we can reason for ourselves, what is right vs. what is wrong.

There are literally hundreds of verses in the Bible through which we can substantiate our faith, but the one that comes closest to being real to me is found in the book of Galatians 2:20-21.  "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."

You may not want to accept this, but I have lived with it for almost forty years.  When I read the passages involving His crucifixion, I "see" the three figures.  One, of course, is my Lord and Savior and to His right and and left are two others; to me, it is myself and a vision of the next person I will meet.  He did not die in vain as the day would come when I finally came to the realization of my own greatest need and the fact that the whole world needs to know of this reality.

I had no idea of this until I picked up that card in the ORU bookstore, the one that read, Acts 1:8, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses - wherever you might travel... even to the remotest part of the earth,"

But Lord, I might protest and He just smiles and whispers in my ear, this reminder,  "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to you remembrance all that I said to you."  (John 14:26) 

I have several books on my shelf that were deigned to teach us about the Grace of God and there are literally hundreds of explanations and all designed to meet our needs in those times when we are confronted by the everyday trials of merely existing on this planet.  To me, the definition is simple, it is God in the person of Jesus Christ, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, living in the believer, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty plus days a year.  To me, a need arises and He is there.  Fear comes up and He is there.  Anxiety threatens our peace and He is there.  He is everywhere present in the life of the believer, at all times.  That is Grace.

There is a verse in the gospel of John that I have heard interpreted many times and it seems to me, it is mis-interpreted most of the time.  John, chapter ten, verse ten.  "The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.  I (Jesus) come that they (those who believe in Him) might have life AND might have it more abundantly."

As you are aware, I live near the "buckle" on the Bible Belt and there are churches everywhere.  I have found a area radio station that insists that it is there to proclaim the truly "good news" of our Lord and Savior.  I will be honest, I listen to it only because they have an "angelic" voice who listens to callers and prays for those with needs.  She apparently is there to fill in between their regular broadcast schedule of churches in the area and the nationally known Christian broadcasters that seem to be "on air" every time you tune in to a "Christian" station.

I don't understand most of them.  Yes, I know they would like to report conversions as a result of their interpretation of the Bible, but they spent more time talking about the ravages of sin that they do, extolling the glory of God; too often laying blame at the feet of those who seldom hear of His redemptive power, or worse - in my opinion, ignoring the ultimate joy of following in the footsteps of our Lord.

Alas, they can refer to their efforts as I do my own.  It's called Christianity.  But I have to ask, is it?

I lived almost 45 years, going to church regularly, getting married in the church, having our children baptized in the church, attending to many of the "chores" of the church and I wound up thinking that Joy was only the name of the guy occasionally sleeping with my Mother.  None of that helped me to overcome the day to day trials and tribulations that are common to the everyday citizen.  As  result of that "false" faith, I became an unworthy father and an unfaithful husband and there were times when I thought there was no hope.  However, there is hope, there is also life and life abundantly, there is real joy and as the old song does, the "half of it is still unknown".  Oh yes, I have now discovered a church where the gospel is offered to one and all, regardless of one's race, creed or sexual beliefs. There was also a day when we were all  thought of as sinners and most of us are therefore, grateful to God for His faithfulness and our opportunities.

And now, a new way of living - by loving

So far, I have spent your time listening to my experiences during those years that I now realize were best characterized as being on the fringes of darkness.  Good happened on occasions, but since I had been nothing more than an unguided missile, making my way through uncharted waters, I was living life by myself, trying to create a life that could be, rewarding.  It wasn't working.  I had everything that I had sought for and it disappeared before my very eyes,  This had to stop.

The whole truth is, I had no idea as to how I might stop it.  But then, God....  The truth is, I had been playing games with Him for almost 45 years.  I thought that attending church was an indication that you were a "good" person.  Now, I was beginning to believe that church is for "bad" people, hoping to be "good".  So, I made it a point to "be there" on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings as well and if they invited us for special "occasions", I was there as well.  It wasn't working very well as I had yet to make a connection between my experience on that bus and the life of what we believe to be, the church.

A strange thing happened.  I don't know how or when it started, but I began to realize that one of the characteristics of this particular church was the urging to learn how to "speak in tongues".  They even had classes to teach how it is done which I never attended as - for some reason, I was reluctant to join the crowd.  Some of my best "new" friends were advocates, telling us of things that had happened after they had prayed in their "heavenly" language.  I must admit, I tried - to no avail.

Then, one evening, I met with two of my female classmates at one of their homes and I discovered that somehow, I was the focus of that meeting.  To be honest, I was attracted to both and I guess you could say, I had made "passes" at them, but I realized I was still a married man and such an act was out of the character I was trying to demonstrate.  And as I began to understand the nature of this meeting, I had to speak  "Hold on, I pleaded, "let's pray about this and I led the prayer."  I still have no idea as to what I actually had in mind to say, but suddenly, without any conscious attempt on my part, I was, in fact, praying - in the Spirit."  It continued for a few minutes as I recall and when I was through, they both came over to me, threw their arms around me and asked me to forgive them.  To this day, I still do not understand what happened, but the "meeting" was over.  We went our separate ways and I headed for my Bible to re-examine the verses that had been used to convince me that the practice was "Biblical" and came away from my study, far too confused to consider a further search.

A couple of years later, I had moved away and was invited to go to a nearby city to attend a meeting of Christian men and when I looked at their brochure, I saw one man in particular who I had known in Tulsa.  It was good to see him again and he invited me to a session he would "chair" and I was eager to hear what he had learned.  To my great surprise, he was teaching men how to speak in tongues, so I quietly got up and left and went to my room.  Later that evening he stopped by and asked why I had left.  As best as I could I tried to explain to him that I had determined that such a practice was not for the days in which we were living.  We exchanged addresses and phone numbers before he left, but I have never heard anything from him.  Nor did I believe that I needed to call him.

"God moves in mysterious ways..." my grandfather used to remind me and I chalked up our encounter to be another one of those occasions.

In the years that followed I have never had another occasion when I thought the practice would be appropriate, but I must confess, often times when I would be in a group - or a congregation, and we were singing hymns of praise, that "language" would reappear.  I have no idea why, nor do I talk about in gatherings.  I have learned that when God wants a person to speak about or sing His praises, He may well surprise all whose faith has been placed in Him.

One of the problems that continues to confuse me about His church are some of the practices that some appear to believe are spiritual appear to be little more than the tradition of that particular group.

At my age and with most of my years behind me, I seem to be growing closer and closer to Him and to His word that we find in our Bibles.  My problem continues to be the fact that many of our churches seemed to be founded on the beliefs of mankind, rather than His word,  As we move along - and I pray that you will join me, I will continue to offer experiences in my life that draw me further and further away from the opinions of "man" and closer and closer to Him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The same day, a changed life

I had to consider my circumstances.  Here I was in a city where no one else even knew I was there and certainly, there was no one to help.  I asked for help.  I prayed.  And now I recalled seeing a "labor" office as the bus turned towards the depot.  It was early.  They might have job for me.  There were only two other guys sitting there, waiting.  I glanced at my watch.  It was 10:30AM.  I took a seat and waited.  Lunch time came and went.  Now, it was 2:00PM.  The phone rang.  "Hey you," as the dispatcher looked in my direction, "Are you good at Math?"  "I am a college graduate".  "I didn't ask you about your education, I asked if you were good at Math."  "Yes, sir!"  "Grab your jacket and let's go."  Welcome to a world I once thought that I ruled.

The customer was taking inventory.  He needed someone who could count, accurately.  With a clip board in hand, I headed for the first aisle where the shelves were located.  I was through the first two aisles when I realized, he was following me, double-checking my count.  "Let's take a break," he said to me and we headed for the lunch room.  "You made my day.  I followed you and you were counting accurately and that is exactly what I needed.  Thank you."  He went on to explain that he had to take inventory in this warehouse, the one across the street and others a few blocks away.  It needed to be done by the end of next week.

When it was time for dinner, he brought me a box of KFC chicken and asked if I get to work by 7AM the next day.  "Yes, sir!"  And so it went until Friday afternoon when he signed my job ticket and it showed that I had worked 50 hours that week.  "We're done.  You did great.  If I ever need anyone else from that agency, I'll ask for you, if that's OK with you?"  I assured him that it was and then he opened his wallet and handed mt $50.00, telling me he thought I had saved his job.

I had been staying in an old hotel, but I had heard that the YMCA had better rooms at less cost and so I headed there as soon as I left the job.  I paid them for the night and let the clerk know I would be back the next day to pay for a week.  It was great having a shower that worked and getting into a change of clothes I had bought after leaving work.  The next day, I went to the labor office to cash my ticket and learn that they had another job for me, starting the next week.

On the way back to the "Y" I noticed a cocktail lounge and decided it would be nice to have a beer after working all week.  I tried the door.  It would not open.  Strange?  It sounded like there were voices inside.  I tried again.  It still would not open.  As I walked away, there were two couples headed in that direction so I let them know, the place was closed.  They ignored me, walked past me and had no problem opening the door.  "Welcome to a new world, Sherwood."

I walked on and discovered the public library was across the street from the "Y".  I went in and began to realize, this would be a perfect place to search for a new. more permanent job.  I planned to see if it would be possible and contact California when I heard about my wife's future - in prison.  Then, I assumed, I would bring the kids to Tulsa and create a future for all of us.

My first interest was to catch a bus out to the ORU campus and enjoyed walking around until I found their book store was open for business.  I was looking for a book to help me study the Bible when I noticed a jewelry case and, in particular, a number of lapel pins.  I found one I liked, bought it and as I was taking it off the card, I noticed a scripture verse - Acts 1:8.  ..."you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses.... even to the remotest part of the earth."   For some reason, I was fascinated by these words and I hurried back to the "Y" to read more about this verse.  I think that, apart from Sunday services, I spent the entire weekend trying to absorb 
all that I was reading.  I had found a new love.

Sunday, I discovered a new church home.  There were two large Methodist churches in downtown Tulsa.  I had called both to see about Sunday services.  The first call was answered by a machine that gave me the time of the services.  The other was answered by a young lady who responded to all of the questions I had and suggested, I might enjoy meeting with the "singles" for Sunday School.  That would have to wait on another day, but I was sitting in a pew for 11AM Sunday morning program.  

In retrospect, I was more than just eager, I could not get enough of what I had been reading, not understanding all of it, but eager to learn what it all meant

That evening, I went back to church and listened eagerly to everything I was hearing from the pulpit, but I was also intrigued by a group of singers.  One of their songs caught my attention and after the services, I noticed one of the older fellows in the group standing alone.  I went over to him and asked, "You were singing that song, 'It gets sweeter and sweeter as the days goes by, oh, what a love between my Lord and I' and I have to ask, is that true in your life?  He looked at me, reached out and took my hand and looking me square in the eye, replied, "That's just the half of it."  Wow!

What a day!  What a week!  I had never ever really said prayers at bedtime, but that night I was so excited I hardly knew what to say, but I have a feeling I rambled on and and on....

A new day, a-dawning

What a strange experience that was, watching the streets pass by as we headed East out of San Diego and - as usual, my mind was racing, first this thought, than another.  For certain, I was not at peace.

I fell asleep and dawn was breaking as we neared Phoenix.  What a sight.  The desert flowers seemed to be reaching up to catch the first glimpse of the sun and I settled back, at peace, for the first time in a long time.  I haf breakfast and I found myself up to old tricks, catching the eye of a pretty lady sitting across from me and I tried to start a conversation.  All of a sudden, I had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom.  When I returned, she was gone.

We headed North out of Phoenix, towards Flagstaff and as I was watching the desert pass by, I decided to read my Bible.  Where to start?  For years, it seemed, I had tried to read the Bible, starting on the first page and by the time I got to chapter 5 and the descendants of Adam, I would lose interest wondering why any of that was important.  That day, I decided to try something new, I would start where Jesus started and to me, that day, it seemed like Matthew 4:17 was that place.  "From that time Jesus began to preach and say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'."

Repent!  Repent?  What did that mean?  I had been going to "church" for most of my life and I could not recall ever hearing anyone preach on that subject.  I looked out of the bus window and repeated my question, as if there was anyone to answer me.  I closed my eyes and began to think about my life.  I wasn't long before I started thinking about my Mother; we had never had a good relationship that I could recall and I had to wonder, why?   And I recalled overhearing the arguments she had had with my grandfather, concerning the cost of my care.  I loved them both, but I could not understand why they were saying the things I overheard and it hurt, as somehow, I thought I was to blame for coming between them.  And then I recalled conversations between my grand parents about how she shouldn't have married that "older" man.  I would later learn that actually, my father was older than my grandfather.  As a youngster, I had often wondered why it was that my friends all had families and all I had was my grandparents.  I began to realize that I had become bitter and many of the problems I had with my Mother had to do with the belief, she had abandoned me.

Somehow, I now realized I had been wrong - about a lot of things, and there was a reason why I should repent.  I needed someone to comfort me as the tears began to flow.  "Oh God, I am so sorry," again and again, and then I looked out of the bus window.  It was now dark, and raining, and in the distance, I could see the lightning flashes against the mountains in the distance.  I suddenly realized what else I was seeing.  As the bus raced on, the wind it created seemed to "roll up" the road dirt on the window and clean it.  I was amazed by this.  And I began to wonder, was this what God was doing to me?  Was He "washing" me?  And as I reflected on my life, I realized I had heard that term before and now the tears became more than a few drops here and there, they were like a torrent, flooding my face.  I realized I was shaking.  I looked around, did anyone notice what was happening? It looked like everyone else was asleep.  I began to thank God.  My "dirt" was gone.  It was a new day a-dawning.  Now, the sun was out and we were stopping for breakfast.

I walked into the restaurant and was greeted by a waitress, "My, what a beautiful smile!" and for a minute I was confused as to why she said that.  I looked at her and stammered, "I think I have just been "born again"!"   "Well, sit right down, my brother, and let me get your breakfast ready."  Away she went and when she returned, she had a breakfast ready with everything on my plate that I would have ordered.  I started in and began to wonder, can I pay for this?  I knew I really did not have much money on me, but as I asked, she was quick to respond, "Oh no, your breakfast is on me.  Your smile made my day."  Some of my fellow passengers began to laugh at the exchange.  One offered as I was standing in line to get back on the bus, "Go ahead.  You're my brother as well."

What had happened I wondered, as I took my seat.  I opened my Bible and began reading where I had left off and continued all the way into Tulsa.  I have no idea as what I was reading but I knew that I knew, I was doing what I should have been doing, years ago!

When I got off the bus, I hurried to a pay phone and called the school, asking for the President's office.  The secretary was quick to remind me that this was graduation day, he would be delivering the Commencement address and then, he and his wife were leaving on vacation.  She wondered if perhaps, I needed a appointment after he returned.  "No thanks," I stammered, "I think I have just met his boss."  As I hung up, I wondered if perhaps, I had lost my mind.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My prayers (9)

San Clemente is a lovely beach city, I thought I would love it.  Actually, I did - but the "problems" still existed and as the old joke used to go - I was in "de Nile", Egyptian for denial.

It wasn't difficult finding a job.  It was great being with the kids.  The wife and I were getting along. My job was setting up a "mail order" list for the Company catalog, featuring gifts from the Far East which they imported.  I liked the work, quite a change of pace, but the money was not sufficient, so I applied for and got, an evening job at a local factory, operating a punch press.  I had never operated one before, but I had assigned people to the job while I was in the temporary help business.  To my surprise, I liked what I was doing and the money helped.

To my dismay, my wife had made a number of acquaintances with stores in the area.  She would buy what she thought she needed, write a check - she was certainly experienced at that, and then when it bounced she would blame it on her husband.  One time, he was a Marine Corps pilot , shot down in Vietnam and you should have seen the look on his face when I showed up to arrange for payment. He still seemed to believe her story, ignoring the fact I had been in the Air Force and only rode in airplanes.

I needed more money so I applied for and got, a "middle of the night" job cleaning KFC restaurants. It was an "ok" job, but hard to stay awake, given the fact I was working two other jobs.  Then, one day, the boss came into the store where I was working, claimed I had stolen one of the employee's wallets and he knew it had to have been me as my wife had told him I had a record of stealing things from my previous employers.  I stopped by the bank at lunch to look at our statement as I had not heard that we had ever received one and learned, they had sent two since I signed on to the account. It indicated two of the checks I had written had bounced and notices sent to the house.  I went to the people I had written those checks and learned they had talked with my wife who had "admitted" I had a problem with checks.  This had to stop.

I had saved enough money to hire an attorney by not cashing a couple of paychecks on the assumption there were problems and assured my wife that it either had to stop or I was going to file for a divorce and take the kids.  I had plenty of copies of the "bad" checks she had written to prove my claim.  As usual, she broke down and told me how sorry she was - no other explanations.

The next day, I called a friend in Los Angeles who I had heard was opening an office in San Diego and asked for a job.  He drove down the next day, I looked at his plan, evaluated his offer and agreed to go to work with him.  We spent the afternoon in San Diego looking for a place to live, found a nice two bedroom apartment, across the street from a shopping mall and on a bus line.  He paid the first and last month's rent and I decided to move.

The next day, after the kids were off to school, my wife and I sat down and I told her of my plans.  I was going to take the kids and move.  My lawyer assured me that I had every right to do so and made it plain in a letter to her, assuring her if we moved as I had planned, I would withdraw from the potential case.  We both agreed, if there was any further bad checks or situations with money where one or the other had not shared, the marriage was over.   She agreed and we moved.

To be perfectly honest, I was not happy with the new job.  Somehow it seemed, I had lost my interest in working.  I goofed off a lot, but I was being paid a good salary.  I loved being with the kids and it seemed as though the marriage was getting better.  I discovered a job opening in an employment agency and thought the change would help to inspire me.  It seemed to work.

Then the "bomb" dropped.  Mail was missing from the next door apartment and my wife had confessed, alleging that I was the "Master mind" compelling her to do it.  She was taken to jail and I became the subject of the Post Office's investigation.  It almost tore me apart to read what was being said about me.  She even accused me to the landlord and he was kind enough to refund my full deposit and we had to move.  We were living in a dumpy apartment when the Police came to take her away and I was so angry, I would even say good-bye.

I would learn that she was being sent to a prison up-State for a 90 day evaluation as I was seeking to find someone who could help us keep the kids as reports she had made to the Agency involved in such cases, insisted I was an "unfit" parent.  I found an old friend in Tulsa, OK, a Christian I felt that I could trust and was told he could see me, if I could come to Tulsa.  I found that the authorities would allow me to place the children in "Foster" care for 90 days, found good homes for both the girls and the boys, and I left for Tulsa.

My prayers (8)

From the start, I think I realized this was not going to work.  My "partner" - the employer, had two real interests in life and that was to remind people he was a retired Air Force "Colonel" and he loved to play golf.  I knew it wasn't going to be easy as soon as I opened the books and took a close look at the customer base.  There were a limited number of potential "volume" customers and there was a a branch office of a major competitor with a substantial history to their credit.  After a week, I knew how bad it was as I had no problem reaching the "decision makers" among the largest customers and those who used temporary help were well satisfied with our competition.  Worse, that competitor had a much larger branch office in Los Angeles giving them the potential to supply more people that we would ever have as we were a privately owned franchise - lacking the financial resources to establish another "feeder" branch.  When I talked about our strategy - now that we had the facts, it was like talking to the wall.  He heard the words and he should have admitted that he had made a bad decision; whether it was purchasing the franchise or hiring me.

I used to love to play poker when I was in the Air Force and I was good at it, so I knew the old axiom, "You play with the cards you are dealt."  When the owner was in the office, I was on the streets, trying to convince new customers, the economies available by using temporary help rather the absorbing the costs of a new hire.  It started to work so we hired a full time gal in our office so that - as he said, "I could spend more time out of the office, selling" or as it was, he could spend more time on the golf course.  It did work well and our greatest need became, the ability to recruit employees and train them for the jobs we might have to offer.  There were a number of bars in Long Beach, so I dropped in on most, talking to the bartenders who would know whether they had potential job seekers as clients and started to convince them to recommend us as a source of jobs.  That worked as well, but it opened a door that had me dropping in and having a drink or two - or more, while encouraging the bartenders to send more "business" our way.  I thought that I had given up that habit.

Although I thought that things were good at home, we were living in a new house, the kids seemed to like the neighborhood, but there were problems of which I was probably not aware.  Because we were doing well as a franchise, the Home Office offered us an opportunity to supply medical personnel to the major accounts in our area.  It should have been a "bonanza" as it was easy to get jobs orders, but the problem was in securing nurses - primarily, to fill them.  So, I donned my "recruiter's cap" and was working many more hours as the only way we had of recruiting was to call nurses at home in the evening.  To "help" me, we also recruited an LPN to follow on with our customers to assure them that we could supply the help they needed.  First thing I knew, I had two bosses.  And to add to the chaos, the Home Office offered "us" another office in an even more lucrative area.

My first crisis was to come home one evening to find the door locked, the key changed and my wife and the children - gone.  Where?   I had no idea.  I did the obvious, I headed for a bar and got drunk.

The next day, I learned my "family" had moved to San Clemente with my sister.  Again, I did the obvious, I got drunk again, this time in the afternoon.   And met a girl looking for a guy.  All of which created circumstances beyond my control.  It wasn't long before I turned in my keys.

I thought I was doing the right thing.  Out of a job, I had to quit drinking and decided to call my wife. She came to where I was staying and we decided, it was all a mistake.   I moved back "home".

Saturday, September 20, 2014

My prayers (7)

Whew!   I was not just tired, I was completely confused.  Strangely, a fellow I had briefly worked with for a few days called and wanted to see me.  We met and he astounded me with an offer that made sense, but did not really interest me, but he had an investor who was interested in financing my own company, but the hard cold facts were that I would be in debt to him if it did not go as well as my friend had assured him it would.

Then, the salesman who had hired me away from the plastics manufacturer came to ee me with the President of a new company they had founded and wanted me to open a branch office for them.  That sounded good a I knew I could do it and also, earn a salary as we got started.  My first friend loaned me a station wagon for as long as I needed it and so, I was back in business.

We rented a house near a school and found a dog for the kids.  My wife wanted to blame her "illness" on water pills she had been taking to lose weight, but I wanted us to see a psychiatrist to discuss the "real" problems we had as a family.  It never happened.  I buried my thoughts in the work I was taking on and we kept up the appearances.

The new job went well.  We had an office where we were able to recruit all the people we needed and our ales were strong enough to drive a Branch office of a major labor supplier out of the area.  Then, the "management" decided to open another two offices in areas that were very "iffy" to me and it troubled me as they were asking me to bring in sales for the others as well.  I had to be honest as I had come upon a plan that added more profit to the office I had started.  There was a female oriented  "gay" bar nearby and I learned that most of them were trainable as assemblers and there was such companies in the area.  To make a longer story shorter, our new customers were very pleased with their new workers, so much so that they were adding new shifts.  We had no problem meeting their requirements.  So much so, that we changed the office I started into a base of operations from which we were placing our assemblers in other areas as well.

I assumed we were becoming more profitable as a company and when they decided to buy out another supplier in the "skid row" area of the city, I became the Manager of that office.  I loved it as it gave us a chance to get many of the "winos" off the booze and provide them with a pay check so they were not dependent of the area's "rescue" missions.  The sheer numbers of the available workers made it even easier to solicit business.  So much so, the "management" started talking about going "public" and that should have meant huge bonuses for my efforts.  I was the one bringing in the sales and monitoring the dispatch of our workers.  I had assembled a very dependable crew and assumed it was time for me to get paid for all of the efforts I had put into the business.

Then, one day two "suits" walked into our office and asked to speak to me, privately.  They were from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and they had questions as to how we intended to pay for the employee deposits the main office had been failing to pay for several months.  I had no answers for them.  I was not a corporate officer and paid no attention to their procedures as long I received a pay check and reimbursement for costs I had paid out of my pocket.

I sat down with the officers and asked why this had happened.  They insisted they had had expenses they had not anticipated and promised they would take care of this discrepancy soon.  We were given 90 days to make the arrangements to pay what was owed and when they did not, the IRS closed our offices on the 91st day.  I was out of a job - again!

And I was tired, tired of dealing with people I could not trust, tired of trying to live off of promises, even tired of the way my wife had continued to lie to me and fail to understand our situation. 

But I had to move on - no one hires people whose only virtue was the fact they were tired.

And fortunately, I found a paycheck in the form of a retired USAF officer who had purchased a franchise in the temporary help business and knew very little about the dynamics of the industry.  I had this knowledge readily available and he offered a paycheck.  It was another, "new" start.

My prayers (6)

Things began to settle in - a new apartment, eight ground level units, we attended church occasionally and even felt confident driving the old Packard up to see the grandparents.

And we had added a little brother to the mix.  The girls adored taking care of the baby and when Christmas came along, it seemed that Santa had gone of his way to shower gifts on the youngsters.  I had to wonder about that, but it was easily explained by suggesting Grandma had gone out of her way to bless the children.

Then, the bomb hit.  I got a call at the office that the Police had arrested my wife.  What?  It seemed as though someone had stolen mail out of our neighbors' mail boxes and used the Credit cards to buy Christmas gifts.  There was a signature on the receipts.  It was my wife's.

We found a lawyer who suggested it would be best for her to plead guilty with the probability that the Judge would give her a stiff sentence, but allow her to go free on probation and a warning that if she would commit other similar crimes, she would serve all of the ten years of that sentence.  He was not kidding.  I learned that by showing up in court without a suit jacket (on a very hot day) and he almost ordered me out of the court room.

What was I to do?  I suppose I should have been more curious about the Christmas gifts, but I thought we were doing well, considering all that we had been through - together.

There was a change at the office.  I had been going to lunch with the "brass" - the bosses, and I began to notice, I was no longer being invited.  I had discussed the hospital bills with the Comptroller, hoping he might understand my real needs for a raise.  My boss, my friend, had only ignored my suggestions that I had earned a substantial raise, he claimed it was not his decision, but "management's".  Then, I was chastised for my threats against the hospital without hearing a full explanation.  When they hired an "assistant" I realized my future was no longer as bright as I had imagined.

We had a salesman calling on us asking about the possibilities of our using temporary help when we had needs and he knew me from the past.  I made a proposal to Management to make use of his services that was ignored and so, one day we went to lunch together and he offered me a job, helping him to establish a new office.  It meant a raise and a car.   I took the offer.

It meant moving back to Los Angeles and I learned, there was another baby on the way.  That made the job offer even more interesting as their insurance covered the delivery of children.

The job was in East Los Angeles and our "help" primarily consisted of Hispanics, and a few blacks, most of whom had problems with alcohol.  Most employers were reluctant to even try our service as they had problems with such people, or so they claimed   I made sales and even developed some regular customers, but I could understand the fact that unless we could build more business soon, they could not afford to employ the two of us in that office.  When the President of the company took me to lunch one day, I suggested that they close this office and reassign us to the "clerical" ales office.  He took me to meet their Comptroller and the three of us discussed some ideas that I had to offer and plans they were considering and it appeared we were all thinking along the same lines.

I had placed an executive with a "mail" house that I knew could effectively use temporary help and we had lunch, where he listened to my suggestions and we agreed that he would start using us as long as I was in charge of selecting the people they would use.  That went well and another of the sales people introduced me to a company that constantly, had need for "temporaries" and I made another big sale.  In fact, these two companies started employing more "warm bodies" than the main office was assigning skilled people.  With that, we formed a new company and I thought I would be rewarded by making me the Chief Executive.  I was wrong.  They hired another person who had experience in the the highest levels of the industry.

Meanwhile, at home our second son, our fourth child, was born and we moved to the San Fernando Valley where my wife felt more at home.  And I thought we had made a good deal by agreeing to collect rents for the company that owned the apartment complex where we had moved.  It would help us financially, I thought and once again, I assumed we were doing very well.   Certainly, I was doing well with my employers.

We had opened our own office - away from the downtown "skid row" offices where the competition was concentrated and we were doing very well.  Not only were we taking care of area employers, we had customers as far away as Orange county and we were constantly, profitable.  What could go wrong?

It happened at home, again!   Somewhere in the rent collections, $400 was missing.  It had to be my wife; I seldom collected rents as I was too busy at the office, often working 18-20 hour days.  But if she was guilty, surely the courts would be reminded of her earlier conviction and she would have to serve the original ten years and possibly more, if they were to try her for this loss.  I would like to say I know - or knew, what actually happened, but I decided since they could not prove that I took the money, I would plead guilty and take the focus away from her.  I asked for and received cooperation from the District Attorney's office to investigate the owner's records and we discovered no evidence that either myself or my wife were responsible for the missing money.  I went to trial charged with grand larceny and on the advice of an attorney, asked to be tried by the Judge.  He listened to the plaintiffs, then put me on the stand to be questioned by their attorney.  They did not prove their case. I was acquitted

I might as well have been found guilty as my employer - somehow, came up with the idea of money missing from an area of my responsibility, before my trial - expecting the Judge would hear their claim as well.   He did not, so my employer had me arrested, but again the District Attorney was not interested and the claim was dismissed.  Of course, I was out of a job.