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. 

My prayers (5)

So, I made it to church, nearby - Hollywood's First United Methodist church.

I had cleaned up, dressed up - apparently well dressed, as it wasn't long after the services was over and I was noticed - by two young couples who hurried to tell me about a Single's class, to which I was cordially invited, and to a gathering that "just happened" to meeting in a few minutes.  Why not...

The meeting was being held at the home of the sponsors, "Doc" and Mary, a not yet elderly couple who were "Mom" and "Pop" to the group.  There were a number of cute younger women present and a couple of guys.  I can't recall everything that happened, but I was back the following week, and the next, and again and again, in the following weeks.

I was attracted to a cute, younger gal and it wasn't long before we were - a couple.  I really liked her and it was very obvious, she liked me as well.  The "liking" grew into loving and before either of us ever considered the consequences, we were in bed together.  When we learned that she was pregnant, our love bloomed.  The wedding that followed - in another church (for some reason that I have long since forgotten) was formal and not everyone noticed the baby bump.

With the thought of a baby on the way, we were excited and a new job was better than I had originally hoped that it might be.  Our offices were at the corner of Hollywood and Vine and drew lots of applicants, most of whom were more interested in "stardom" than an "eight to five" routine, But since most needed money to pay for their rent and expenses, we were rather prosperous.

Our first daughter was a long time coming, but when she arrived, she was even more beautiful than we had hoped that she might be.  I was so proud I even convinced a car leasing friend of mine to put us into the latest model car that was available.  Life was good and then came a promise to make it even more so.  Another agency offered three of us, a brand new office and it was located just three blocks away from my best client.  Then, the agency owner asked if she and her husband might use our new car for the weekend.  Why not?  There was a reason I should have reconsidered the request as - unknown to me, she and the bookkeeper (not the husband) had planned a trip to Las Vegas.  They apparently took all of the company's assets and lost them.  The next (and lat) time I would hear of "our" car was when the CA Highway Patrol reported it abandoned on the highway leading from Las Vegas, a hole in the oil pan and the engine burned up.

We had used up our assets in making the move and now, we were dead broke and another mouth to feed.  I lost it.  My world had fallen apart.  Had it not been for my Sister, who knows what might have happened to us.  She offered us a bedroom and a lot of love and so we moved in.  I had no idea a what I should do other than find a job and I took the first one that was offered - as a cashier in a place called Melodyland, where eventually my sister would join me.  Friends of hers offered us a car, a '46 Packard, not easy to look at but it worked and I bought it for the cost of the registration fee.

An old friend called and offered me job, taking over management of an employment agency and move into the owner's house as she was moving to another State.  We would be moving from my sister's bedroom to a three bedroom house, fully furnished, in a neighborhood that was very concerned about appearances.  They asked me to be sure and put our old "clunker" into the garage, so that others would not complain about it sitting in the driveway.  

The agency had established a bad performance reputation and I realized it would take a long time getting it going again, but we were living an a beautiful rent free home and a great place to raise our daughter and another one that was on its way.  Just as I was beginning to believe things would improve, I had a call from a former agency manager, offering me a salaried position in the plastics firm where he was the Sales Manager.  That was precisely what we needed.

We had to move and found a two bedroom furnished apartment and then had an offer to buy a house on a contract basis.  It meant we also had to buy new furniture, but with the new job and a "boss" who knew of my work ethic, it looked like we were better off than we ever had been.  Then, there was an argument over something I have long since forgotten and my wife threw herself down on the bed, crying.  I couldn't stand it and suggested we go for a ride and cool off.  Along the way, her water broke and we headed for the hospital.  Five hours later, our second daughter was born, but there would be problems.  The pregnancy was only in its seventh month and the baby weighed less that five pounds, compared to the ten pounds and eight ounces her sister had weighed at birth.

She would remain in the hospital for the next ten weeks and the bills began to amass.  We were unable to maintain payment of our house contract, so we had to move.

Our little new baby was every bit a precious as her big sister and we were - or should have been, very blessed.  Even though my company was not given over to periodic raises, nor bonuses, the regular pay check was sufficient for most of our expenses.  I settled our huge debt that we owed the hospital by presenting them with my thoughts about suing them for the incompetence they demonstrated in caring for our daughter after her birth.  I had no idea this might be possible until a hospital employee who had noticed my tears on my nightly visits to the hospital while our daughter remained there, came to me and offered to be a witness if we brought a suit.  Others joined her and as the hospital recognized the seriousness of my complaint, they settled at no further costs to us.

All the while I kept thinking, it was the fact that we were "good" people that made it possible for all of the good "luck" we were experiencing.  That would change/

Friday, September 19, 2014

My prayers (4)

Time moves on, they say....  Have you ever wondered, who are they?

I ask that question for only one reason.  It is going to look like I have missed the mark - of my calling, as I was really upset with a whole lot of people.  I had remembered those people I worked with in the military.  For the most part, they were authentic and the people with whom I was "moving" at the time, were definitely not - authentic.  Actually, they were not even good copies, but they were not to blame.  It was time to take a close look at my own self.  I was becoming a bad copy.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?  I tried doing what I thought that others were doing, at least it seemed that way.

I renewed my friendship with a guy I thought ought to be, the Governor of Tennessee.  You may know him - Jack Daniels.  I had found a job where I could "work" three or four hours a day, then find a likable bartender and spend the evening, making friends with his friends.  Don't scoff.  I met more friends doing that than I ever met in church.   But then, I really did not know that much about church life.  However, I did seem to be enjoying myself.

I hate it when I hear a Pastor or a recognizable Christian talk about the "fair weather" friends that you meet in bars.  They don't seem to understand the phrase, misery loves company.  By far, the most common people I met in bars were miserable people who were not able to cope with the requirements to be sincere about the relationships they were trying to escape.  Their major problem was that they came into the bar, hoping against hope, they would develop a new and improved relationship.

The best bar I found in the Los Angeles area was near to Beverly Hills where the bartender started to call me - the Professor.   He claimed that when people came into his bar and started talking to me about their problems, I had a solution to offer.   And when they offered to pay me for my advice and counsel, I would suggest a drink.  If they persisted, I would say, "OK, another drink for the barkeep."

And I really loved to go there.  The problem became, I went home alone.

I had often wondered why schools or folks who teach about relationships don't spend more times in bars.  That is where the "hurts" are authentically displayed.

My problem was that the the jobs I held - and there were several at that stage i my life, did not offer benefits.  There were no health plans, no vacations, no benefits of any kind.   Only the right be lonely and that is not the plan that God had in mind when he empowered the two in the "Garden" to go gorth and multiply.  When I finally came to that realization, I realized my "Professorship" was coming to an end.  I sought counsel.

It came in the form of a man you may have heard of, Napolean Hill.  He wrote a book that has been read by thousands, tens of thousands, his publishers will claim.  Just listen to the suggestions he has to offer - "Thoughts are Things", "Desire" - the starting point of all achievement, "Faith" - Belief in something, someone, greater than yourself,  "Imagination", "Persistence".  And there are others, but for the most part, we spend most of our lives, dwelling in yesterday or worse, yester-years, lying to our selves, "Since it didn't happen yesterday, it won't happen today, forgetting there are tomorrows".

It was like he hit me over the head with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels.  That was all I had as proof there were yesterdays in my life.

I needed to get back in church.  Which church?   The closest one would be a good start. 

I opted for another Methodist church.  That was where I started, I assumed.  But there are many Methodist churches, not all alike.  I was fortunate, I found a good one, I thought.

My prayers (2)

Japan was a scary place - for me, in February, 1947.  We were off the ship and headed for what was once, the Japanese "West Point".  On the train, it seemed that we were climbing up a hill, moving slow enough to allow us to look into the homes of Japanese families along the way.  I was surprised to see that they looked like normal families, not the enemy nation I had feared.

We would live in tents while we were briefed on our responsibilities as the "occupying" force in what was once, an enemy nation.  He did not mince words.  He was very clear and I came away with a sense that this might not be as bad as I had begun to think it would be.

When they called out our new duty stations, I learned that I would be headed for JAMA, the Japan Air Material Area, Northeast of Tokyo.  Assigned to the Motor Pool, I was asked about my skills and told the Sergeant, I could drive tractors and milk cows.  I wound up driving truck tractors as we both learned, I was good at backing the trailers into their assigned places.  Then, one day, I was asked to drive the General into Tokyo for a meeting and on the way home, he wondered aloud, why they would have me - a white man, doing chauffeur duties.  I tried to explain it was only temporary, but as he learned what else I was doing, he decided to transfer me to another base where I might find a "real" job.  With that I went to Itazuke AFB on the island of Kyushu and met M/Sgt. Max Miller, the man who would head me into the career I would follow for next twenty-five years, only because I knew the alphabet and those who had come before me did not.

I took to that job as if it was my life - and it was for years.  I would eventually replace Sgt. Miller and learn more about the beautiful island on which we were stationed and its people.  One turned out to be a former Colonel in the Japanese army who wanted to learn English as eagerly as I wanted to learn Japanese.  We would become close friends and I would learn how easy it is to learn from people who were once your enemies.

I also learned - as a white man, the beauty of black people who were every bit as skilled in their jobs as people of my race.  Prior to my assignment to guide blacks into our white ranks because the military had finally decided to integrate the forces, I had never known black people.  Three of the seven in our "experiment" (to some) and I would become long standing friends.

I also learned about "queers" - that was the common name for homosexuals who, if they were discovered in the military, were subjected to "Section 8" discharges where they would lose everything they had worked for during their service to our nation.  When I became an NCO (non-commissioned officer), three of these men, all with more than ten years of service, and knowing that I was now heading our Personnel office, they confessed to me their personal circumstances and asked that I give them a "heads up" if I ever heard of any investigation.  It would never happen but dealing with many who regarded such people as being "without merit" haunted my life for the rest of my service.

My assignment also afforded me with an opportunity to temporarily return to the States to attend a school where we learned about a new process by which we would be reporting an individual's skill qualifications when the "new" U. S. Air Force came into being.

Ironically, I was also involved in interrogating our men who had fallen in love with Japanese women and wanted to marry them, prior to their return to the States.  All the while, I was secretly involved with a Japanese woman and we were seriously considering the possibility of marriage.  I was the one with the "problem" that would eventually end our relationship.

My return to the States for the school I attended was an "eye opener" for me.  My sister had been sent to a religious school in Tennessee after our Mother had decided that her life in Detroit was possibly in jeopardy and with my furlough making the trip a possibility, Mother decided we could  drive down to see her and take our grand parents along.  This was the first time in my life that I would spend personal time with the Mother who had brought me into the world and the grandparents who had literally raised me, I realized that I knew nothing - really, about them and it became apparent, they knew very little about me.  My grandparents love for me was obvious, but they knew very little about the man I had become.  All I can say is that my Mother's love - for me, was questionable.  I liked my sister, but I hardly knew her.  And this is what I would be coming "home" to....

And what was really strange to me was their lack of concern about my spiritual life.  My "life" with Hireo (my Japanese friend) was filled with spiritual questions; he believing in the religion of his parents prior to the war with Korea and China and then, the Americans, was confusing and my attending the church of my youth and the religious impressions I "learned" in military chapels was equally so.  The only place where we heard of spiritual meanings came from the teaching of the Samurai's who held sessions we would attend, all of which we wuold attend together and Hireo would have to translate for me.

All the while, I would think of that night aboard ship where I had "seen" the universe of the One so many others seemed to know was their God.

I came "home" to a nation I hardly knew and a life that seemed to become more questionable with every passing day.  What troubled me more than anything was the lack of love I sensed from those who had cared enough to provide me with a name and a place of birth.

Are you listening? I pray that you are

As most of you know - those who occasionally look at these posts, I claim to be a Christian and - to be honest with you and others, I have decided to lay out my beliefs so that there would be no question as to what I do believe and what I emphatically reject.  So here goes…..

It all began with my most elementary education, being raised in the home of my grandparents who attended the Cole M.E. Methodist church in Brockway Township, St. Clair county, a few miles distant from the town of Yale, in the State of Michigan, and my beloved elders decreed that attendance at that particular church was mandatory.  I learned to live with that requirement as I learned to love my grandparents.  I was sent there to make room for my newborn baby sister when times were really tough.  It was 1932 and the “Great Depression” was beginning to wreak havoc across the land.

Not many of my closest neighbor’s kids attended church, but I knew most of those who did because we all attended the same school which was directly across the road.  We attended Sunday School in the basement and to the best of my memory, all we heard were the ages old stories from the older Testament.  With my boyhood “pals” we would sit in the back rows of the church during regular services and to my shame, my fondest memory was hearing my grandfather snoring in the midst of the morning service.  My most disappointing experience was hearing our Music ministry leader declare that I would never learn how to sing.  That guilt trip lasted for many years.  I was however, the gifted monologue speaker who could recite paragraphs that most could not even pronounce, thanks to my gifted grandmother.

There was no money for me to even think about attending college, so when I heard about the WWII “GI Bill of Rights” and it covered everyone who was in the service prior to December 31, 1946, I got excited.  My 17th birthday would occur on August 28th of that year.  As a result, I quit school and joined the Army Air Corps on September 24, based on the assumption that I could pass a GED exam.
That was easy and I would begin my “career” where all of us in the Air Corps begin, at Lackland AFB, TX.  When I enlisted I was told that I would be sent to a “trade” school after basic training, but then they cut back on such training and I discovered I was being sent to the Philippine Islands.  And that was our destination as we sailed out of the New York harbor on January 10, 1947 - heading East to go West, the first of many of life’s lesson I was about to learn.

We would pass through the Panama Canal - and stop for three days for some minor repairs to our transport, the USS General Pope.  Onward - and now headed West, we would also stop in Hawaii and enjoy a day on shore leave.  Now I began to realize, what I had chosen to do and its significance in my life.  As we reached Hawaii we could view the hulk of the USS Arizona that the Japanese had sunk on December 7th.  With others, I went on a bus tour to see the “sights” and on our way, we passed by Schowfield Barracks where my beloved Aunt’s brother was stationed on that fateful day.

The war was getting closer than ever to me and I began to wonder and worry about the fact I might be meeting our former enemies during my tour of duty.  That became even more real to me when we learned that half of us would not be going to the Philippines, but would be debarking in Japan.  I began to fear even more about my future.

Our "bed" arrangement amounted to tiers of cots, eight high, and I wound up on the top.  At first, it seemed like fun, but I began to toss and turn and worry about my future in the land of the enemies we had feared during the war years.  One night I could not sleep and so I carefully crawled down and went up on deck.  Careful to stay out of sight of the guards who were probably looking for people like me, I found a place that was out of their sight and was amazed by looking into the sky.  From East to West, from North to South, it was pitch black, except for - it seemed, billions of stars and the planets I could recall from my high school Science class, plus hundreds of shooting stars and what I assumed to be, comets blazing above the horizon.  In Michigan, we used to marvel at the Northern "lights", but this scene was far more exciting.

It was then I either heard a voice or it was my vivid imagination taking over, but it sounded like a voice saying, "This is My universe, taste and see.  I know every substance by name, the date they were created and when they are due to expire.  Just as I also know the numbers of hairs on your head and all of those who have inhabited your planet from the beginning."  And that was it.  Did I imagine that?  It was real then and it is real, today, and the longer that I live, the more real it becomes.

To this young lad who was at one moment, frightened about my future, he climbed down from his perch, climbed up to his bed, and went sound asleep.

We would be reaching Japan in a few hours and as I look back on that experience, it is as if our Creator had noted my fears and was assuring me that He was as interested in me as any part of the universe He had opened for my eyes to see.  If it was a stage play, it turned out to be Act One in a long running play in which He would eventually become, the leading actor.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Let's talk, let us really talk

 My apologies to any who might have been following these blog entries, but I note that I left you on August 26 and there was a very good reason.   My sister, Shirlee, my beloved sister and my only sister, was on her way to celebrate my 85th birthday on the 28th.  What a joy that has been.  Not just that she was here - all the way from California, but it was good to be together here as the fact of the matter is this, we have been separated for most of our lives.

I say that to say this, life - real life, is what we make of it.  For Shirlee and I to be born on the eve of and in the midst of the truly Great Depression, it has not always been easy.  Our father passed away a few years after Shirlee was born and while I had it relatively easy living on the farm with our grand parents, Shirlee was passed from one home to another - several times, and I find it amazing that she has become the grand person that she is and has been for years.  We both have learned the value of perseverance.  Yes, there were times when it wasn't easy, but perhaps that instilled in us the need to take each day as it appears and make the most of the hours that it provides.

My birthday celebration was proof that we had learned our lessons well.  In all of my years I have never ever been so warmly welcomed by people I had known for less than a year.  They were there as I shared the pain that followed my wife's death and have gone out of their way to bless me.

Life IS what we make of it.  It definitely is NOT what others have seemed eager to make of ours.

Life moves on - hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year.

Some prefer to live by what they "see" today, apparently ignoring the fact that life has been at work in all of our yesterdays.  We are only as prepared to deal with the issues of this hour, as we have been by the lessons we have learned in the past.  The "good news" is, we can reflect on our past lives and discover there are two definite choices.  We can either ignore our errors or take steps to rectify our mistakes.

I tried that for almost forty five years and came away with the realization that the only way you can improve on the errors a person has made in the past is by, living today to its fullest.  But how?

I had come to the so-called end of my road.  Life had become unbearable.  So, I went to a gun store and bought a pistol, believing that a well placed shot might end my misery. I had no idea that I would not be able to pull the trigger.  Suddenly, it seemed, there has to be a better way.

I tried talking with counselors, people I had known from my "church going" days and came away with nothing that could point me in a new direction.  For some reason, a name from my past came to mind and I called him, even though I knew he lived halfway across our great nation.  His secretary took my call and suggested that I could see him whenever I was in his city.

I headed that way, but knowing that he was a nationally known Christian evangelist, I decided it was time for me to get serious about the Bible I had heard so much about, for so many years.

As I opened it, I discovered Jesus saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Repent?  I was a college graduate and yet, I had no idea what that meant.  I started to reflect on the word in my mind and it wasn't long before I began to think of the various ways I had attempted to deal with life as I knew it to be and - to my amazement, I began to realize how wrong I had been.  If I was ever to see the "kingdom of heaven" it was - in fact, time to repent and I did.

That was on May 12, 1975 and I shall never forget that date, going on forty years ago as I write.

The only way I can explain the events of what was about to happen in my life is to refer to a Bible verse (John 3:3) where Jesus instructed Nicodemus - a religious man, "You must be born again."

As my life began to take on new meaning, I became aware of all of the secular claims of merchants that they were - for example, .."born again".. car dealers and similar claims were all over the place, it seemed to me.  I began to take that Bible phrase, seriously.

My wife and I had four children and the birthing process had become very familiar.  Those little darlings came into this world with but two thoughts on their minds, how did they get fed and how did they dispose of the waste that followed.  It was our responsibility to teach them these things.  The first was not that difficult, warm the milk and put the nipple into their mouths.  Dealing with the second was - for many of the people I have known over the years, the worst part of the birth experience.

Here was another experience I suddenly realized I needed to be taken more seriously.

The "world" seemed to realize this as well when someone coined the phrase, "garbage in, garbage
out" as it took on a life of its own.  That was years ago, it still is popular today.

The years have passed along and while I have attended more Bible "studies" that I could possibly recall, I have yet to hear anyone dwell on these critical aspects of life.  Today, there are thousands of churches across our land, so many in fact that many are readily rejected by people who would never think of listening to what they have to say.  Such an attitude is so prevalent that - if you look closely, you will soon discover than many of even some of the larger denominations have become anathema to the rank and file of others "belonging" to those that are lesser known in other regions of our nation.

And yet, there are many who would claim that we are a Christian nation.

I don't know anything about any of that.  I don't care to.  What I want to know, are you "born" again? Do you hesitate to call God, "our" Father?  Who was the one - or ones, that cleaned up the messes in your life as you began your walk with our Lord, Jesus Christ?

Some say, if you are "born again" - that is all that is required.  You won't be sent to Hell when you die,  Have you ever heard of the term, "easy believism"?   If the only reason Jesus came to earth, died on a cross for our salvation and taught us a new way of living, was to keep us out of Hell, why did He say, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly."  (John 10:10b) 

He warned us, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."  (Luke 14:27)

We are truly Christian when we have decided to become His disciple.  The word - disciple, came from the Latin  discipulus - learner.   After nearly forty years, attempting to walk in His footsteps, learning how to learn from Him, I can assure you, it isn't easy, especially in the times in which we live.

But He made it a lot easier when He taught us, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."  (John 13:34)

Or did He?   How easy is it to love one another?  Those we know, no problem.  Those we have yet to know?  There IS the problem. 

But then, who was it that actually taught us how to love?

It was on a cross at a place we call Calvary where He died that we might live.  That is Christianity 101.  You start there by examining your own life and asking yourself, is it possible that I could lay down my life for others?   I didn't think so, the first time I considered that thought.  Then, I realized I had joined the U.S. Army and volunteered to do so.  With that I realized the cost that had been paid for others as He taught, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends."
(John 15:13)