Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Epitaph

The older one gets, the more aware one becomes of the brevity of life, especially if one has lost a number of close relatives to death.

My maternal grandfather and my father both died at age 65. All of my grandparents are dead. Both of my paternal aunts are dead. One of my cousins (who was roughly my own age) is now dead, as is his father. There may be others I'm not aware of.

My father probably could have lived a lot longer than he lived, if it hadn't been for his self-destructive drinking habit. On the flip side, he had a lot more financial resources than I, so he could afford better medical care. Also, I honestly don't think his life was as stressful as my own life has been. It's hard to say how likely it is that I'll die at a comparable age. But it certainly seems like a possibility which I can't completely ignore.

If one assumes that my lifespan will be comparable to that of my father and my maternal grandfather, then I have about 15 more years to go. Of course, there's no way to know if things will actually happen that way. Perhaps I'll live to be 100. Or I could die tomorrow in a freak accident. One never knows. But it can't hurt to be prepared.

Some people prepare Last Will and Testament documents as a means of preparing for that day. The primary reason is to specify how their assets should be divided after they've died. I'd probably do that, if I had any significant assets to leave to my family. But I really don't have a lot of assets to leave to anyone. Plus, I have no wife or children to leave anything to. The likelihood that I'll die before my mother dies seems slim. The only family member who seems likely to be a beneficiary after I die is my younger brother. Overall, things like life insurance or a Last Will and Testament aren't a very high priority for me at this time. But that doesn't mean I haven't given some thought to preparing for my own demise.

Yesterday, I visited a web site where they had chronicled some interesting epitaphs found on various people's gravestones. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to write one for myself. I thought I'd share it with you.

My Epitaph
© Mark Pettigrew

Here lies the body of Mark Pettigrew.
Grateful that his tribulation is through,
he now resides in a much better place,
thanks to the gift of God’s marvelous grace.

When he was young, he made Jesus his Lord
so that his innocence could be restored.
Angels rejoiced when he called on God’s name,
knowing his life would ne’er more be the same.

As you stand reading this brief epitaph,
here is a question to ponder, my friend:
Will you be wheat, or will you be chaff
when at long last your own life’s at an end?

I figure that if I'm going to have an epitaph of some kind, why not do something good with it? The preceding epitaph might even be instrumental in helping to persuade someone to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I guess some folks would think that it's morbid for me to write a poem focusing on my own future death. But when you think about it, the text on most folks' tombstones is written by whoever survives them. Rather than run the risk that the text on my tombstone would poorly represent my values and my life, I'd rather take a small measure of control over the matter.

Of course, the only way to do that would be for me to create a Last Will & Testament, if for no other reason than to specify that the above poem was to be engraved in my tombstone (possibly accompanied by a nice photo of myself). That would only be effective to the extent that there was some kind of financial incentive for people to follow my wishes, unless of course my survivors (or friends of mine) just chose to honor my wishes because it was the right thing to do.

Trusting that folks will do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing sometimes seems a bit naive to me. People often choose not to do the right thing. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that my survivors won't ignore my wishes. I'd hate to end up with an epitaph like the one found on the tombstone of one John Gray:
Poor John Gray, here he lies,
No one laughs, and no one cries,
Where he's gone, and how he fares,
No one knows, and no one cares.


NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Monday, February 19, 2007

My Sexual Orientation

Some time ago, the mainstream media came up with a new slang word to describe heterosexual men who nevertheless were in touch with their "feminine sides". They were called "metrosexuals".

The "metrosexual" man was described as a person who spent a lot of money on ridiculously expensive designer clothing, and sometimes on completely unnecessary salon treatments designed to eliminate body hair and make the guy look like he never went through puberty.

Most "metrosexuals" were decidedly narcissistic and materialistic. And even though we were told over and over again that metrosexual men were straight, they were, at the very least, somewhat envious of gay men. Such men sometimes went on TV shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" in order to get fashion advice. They undoubtedly got great advice, if their objective was to learn how to dress in such a way as to attract gay men. But if that was the case, I have to wonder if they were really straight after all.

When it comes to the issue of fashion, it should be clear that I'm no metrosexual. I tend to buy a minimum of clothing (usually at places such as Marshalls or Filenes Basement or Penneys), and then I wear it until I'm at risk of embarrassing myself because the things have become so threadbare that folks may think I get my clothing out of a dumpster. I guess it's the ex-hippie in me. (Or rather, the ex-Jesus freak.) I still remember a time when it was considered cool to wear blue jeans with fringe on the cuffs and lots of patches on them. Back then, materialism was considered to be decidedly uncool. Rich kids even went out of their way to dress as if they were poor kids. My, how things have changed.

I do concede that I probably could attract more women if I'd spend a little more money on my own clothes. But my income is very limited. If given a choice regarding how to spend my money, I'd rather spend it on books or computer gear or music gear or magazines or art supplies or office supplies or food or rent or basic transportation. Clothes are a necessity of life, but I prefer to spend as little time thinking about clothes as possible.

So like I said, I definitely am not a "metrosexual". But hey, never let it be said that I'm not trendy. I don't follow trends. I start them. I'm coming out tonight, baby!

What's my sexual orientation? I'm a retrosexual. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not the only one.

Now, I'm sure that you know that "retro" is a term which is often used to describe old or vintage things. Like clothing from the secondhand clothing store. Or little things, like morals, that now seem to be going the way of the dinosaur.

A retrosexual isn't interested in sex outside of marriage. A retrosexual knows that fornication is self-centered and immature. A retrosexual knows that adultery is not only self-centered and immature, but also extremely destructive to families. (And no, I am not referring to those random collections of people liberals like to call "families". I'm talking about real, genetically related nuclear families in which no one has to go on the Maury Povitch Show in order to find out "who's the daddy". In a family comprised of retrosexuals, everyone knows who the daddy is, since the mommy and the daddy have never slept with anyone other than one another.)

A retrosexual is in possession of something which is considered in liberal circles to be obsolete. A retrosexual possesses self-control.

It isn't that the retrosexual wouldn't like to have sex. A retrosexual is not asexual. In the context of marriage, a retrosexual would very likely be an enthusiastic participant in the sexual act. But a retrosexual believes that God does in fact know a thing or two about the difference between healthy sexual relations and unhealthy sexual relations. The retrosexual knows that there are much worse things than self-denial.

A retrosexual knows that sex is supposed to be an act of love, not an athletic contest. A retrosexual has no interest in trying to compete with other men in terms of sexual expertise, for the simple reason that a retrosexual has no interest in marrying a woman who would be in a position to compare his lovemaking techniques with the lovemaking techniques of all of the many other men she has slept with.

A retrosexual does not envy or admire James Bond when it comes to sex. A retrosexual knows that such a Playboy lifestyle might seem superficially appealing at one point, but there will come a time when James will pay a price for his self indulgence.

A retrosexual has learned to be comfortable with the gender he was assigned at birth. A retrosexual has no desire to be the other gender. A retrosexual has no desire to dress or act as if he or she belongs to the other gender. A retrosexual has no desire to have sex with anyone who does not belong to the other gender. A retrosexual is not necessarily perfect. A retrosexual may have even experienced a brief period in his life when he flirted with one of these other "alternative lifestyles". But that is long in the past. A retrosexual is not too proud to ask for forgiveness and receive healing.

A retrosexual may have reached the age of 50 without ever "getting any". But a retrosexual is O.K. with that, because he understands that even though sex would be nice to experience, there are numerous negative consequences when people ignore God's advice pertaining to sexuality. A retrosexual is thrilled to be able to say that there is virtually no chance that he has ever contracted an STD or passed such a disease on to anyone else. A retrosexual has no guilt about having fathered a child he could not or would not take care of. A retrosexual remembers how painful his own parents' divorce was, and he feels extremely fortunate to have been spared the pain (and considerable expense) of divorce from a wife of his own.

A retrosexual can remember a time, not so long ago, when a rainbow was seen as a sign given by God to Noah in order to seal a promise that God would never again destroy the earth --- not as a sign that God was a senile old man who didn't care what people did in the bedroom.

A retrosexual knows that there will come a time when his sexuality is a moot point for all practical purposes. Eventually, provided that people live long enough, they all turn into nomosexuals, either because they're no longer physically able to have sex, or it just doesn't interest them anymore. (For the record, a "nomosexual" is someone who "doesn't get no mo' sex". It's a little joke of mine, rather like the term "retrosexual".)

When his life on earth is over, a retrosexual wants to be able to look back on his life without embarrassment, guilt or shame, knowing that even though he wasn't perfect, he made a strong effort to obey God in matters pertaining to sexuality.

A Force To Be Reckoned With

Yesterday, while visiting a web page hosted by Christianity Today, I saw a link to the official web site for a new movie entitled "Amazing Grace".

At the time, I was writing a blog post which was related to the topic of God's grace. So I briefly mentioned the movie in that blog post.

Subsequently, I explored the official web site for the movie some more. I watched the dramatic movie trailer (which, surprisingly, did not bog down on my computer, despite the fact that I only have a dialup ISP account). I read a substantial amount of the information available at that web site.

The more I read, the more excited I got. This is going to be one awesome movie!

Initially, I thought that the movie would be about John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote the beloved song "Amazing Grace". That would certainly have been a story worth telling! (The scene in which he accepted Christ during a tumultuous storm at sea would have made for great drama.)

John Newton is depicted in the movie. But he is not the central character. The central character is William Wilberforce, the British politician who, motivated by his intense Christian convictions, played a decisive role in terms of ending the legal slave trade in Britain. He was inspired to do so, in part, by his friendship with John Newton. Therefore, the movie title is very appropriate.

(The image shown here is a portrait of William Wilberforce. That public domain image was obtained from Wikipedia. To read the full article about William Wilberforce, click here.)

William Wilberforce has been highly praised by leading figures in the American abolitionist movement (including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln) and also by Nelson Mandela, who led the antiapartheid movement with the help and support of the clergyman Desmond Tutu.

Charles Colson, the former Watergate "hatchet man" who founded the Prison Fellowship ministry after becoming a Christian, is an ardent admirer of William Wilberforce, and for good reason. William Wilberforce is a sterling example of how a committed and compassionate Christian who really understands the good news of Jesus Christ can change the world for the betterment of humankind by means of the political process.

The life of William Wilberforce serves as a sharp rebuttal to the arguments of liberal secularists who think that Christians have a civic obligation to stand on the sidelines and allow social and political policies to be shaped solely by people who deny the validity of the Christian faith.

If the arguments put forth by William Wilberforce had been dismissed on the grounds that his passion for abolition was a reflection of his intense Christian beliefs, the result would have been needless suffering for the millions of slaves and potential slaves who were rescued or spared as a result of his activism on their behalf.

In my opinion, this has huge implications for us today.

Liberals often argue that the pro-life cause is invalid because substantial numbers of those who actively campaign against legal abortion are motivated by their religious beliefs. The fact that the most common arguments against legal abortion are not intrinsically religious does not seem to phase such people. Such people seem to be intent on making it appear that social conservatives want to turn the United States into one big theocracy.

There may indeed be a few people who deserve to be characterized in that manner, but they are a fringe element at best. Notwithstanding certain highly biased film "documentaries" (or as I like to call them, mockumentaries) which have chosen to depict Christians at their absolute worst, the fact is that most Christian social conservatives understand how important it is to preserve freedom of religion in this nation.

In reality, it would be more accurate to say that many of the liberals who regularly slander Christian social conservatives would love to create a two-tiered caste system in the United States, in which people of faith would be forever relegated to the role of second-class citizens and forbidden to vote according to their consciences.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of the most interesting revelations on the web site for the movie "Amazing Grace" comes from a brief article entitled "The Amazing Change Campaign". It states:

William Wilberforce's work is far from finished. There are still an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today. Modern day slavery can come in many different forms. Entire families may work long days in rice-mills, brick kilns or on plantations. Children may be abducted and forced to fight in a rebel's army. All of the people in these examples are slaves—they cannot come and go as they please and are often beaten or threatened with violence. They have no autonomy in their day-to-day lives and deserve the right to be free.

I knew that slavery hadn't been completely abolished, but that's a pretty astonishing figure. The filmmakers are to be admired for bringing this fact to light.

Some people seem to think that the Emancipation Proclamation completely ended slavery forever. Sadly, that is not true. The fact that it is not true furnishes us with ample incentive to continue to work tirelessly in order to reduce slavery throughout the world, with the ultimate objective of eliminating it altogether.

A reflection on the facts regarding slavery should also cause us to seriously question the premise behind one of the most commonly used arguments against outlawing abortion. The argument goes something like this: "People will always get abortions, whether it's legal to do so or not. If you illegalize abortion, you won't succeed in eliminating it. You'll just drive the abortionists underground."

They say this as if they're actually telling pro-life people something we don't already know! They say this as if we're so stupid that we think that illegalizing evil is tantamount to guaranteeing the elimination of evil.

If efficacy is the sole measure of the legitimacy of a law, then by definition, no law is legitimate. Show me a law, and I will show you a person who has demonstrated total disregard for that law. If that were not the case, we would not have police, we would not have courtrooms and we would not have prisons. Whether the law is an attempt to curb larceny or murder or prostitution or rape or corporate fraud or slavery, there will always be people in this fallen world who choose to ignore the law.

So should we just throw up our hands in despair, eliminate all of our laws and the various institutions designed to enforce those laws, and declare open season on all of our most vulnerable citizens? God forbid! No law is perfect, but many people have benefited from our imperfect attempts to take a stand against those who would deprive their fellow human beings of their God-given rights.

It's been said that all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.

In the long term, I think that's false, because God is a holy and righteous judge. God will not tolerate evil forever. God will ultimately triumph over evil, with or without our help. In fact, God already triumphed over evil when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead. For people of faith, the utter defeat of evil is a foregone conclusion.

However, in the short term, I think that the statement is very accurate. We have a moral responsibility to take a stand against evil, wherever it exists. The fact that we cannot perfectly eliminate evil is an incredibly lame excuse for not doing our best to reduce evil as much as possible, regardless of whether one is talking about the evil of slavery, the evil of terrorism, the evil of disease, the evil of addiction, the evil of legal abortion or the evil of homelessness and hunger.

The responsibility to combat evil is a burden in some respects, but it is also an awesome privilege. God could defeat evil without our help, but instead, he has chosen to partner with us and to allow us to participate in his great work of redemption. We may not all be able to change the world in a manner comparable to the way in which William Wilberforce changed the world, but we can all do our part.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I Am Persuaded

When I first became a Christian by asking Jesus to forgive my sins, I was 13 years old. I hadn't even started high school yet. My commitment to Christ was heartfelt. But that was roughly 37 years ago. When I say "roughly", I don't use that word lightly. I've been through some rough times. Even now, I am going through some rough times, particularly in relation to my finances.

When examining the claims of Christianity over and over again throughout the years, I've sometimes had questions for which I was not able to immediately find satisfactory answers. But that has been equally true with regard to virtually all of the belief systems I've ever known about, including atheism and agnosticism. If there is a belief system which perfectly and completely answers every conceivable question, I haven't found that system yet.

From what I've seen, choosing which belief system to commit one's self to isn't necessarily a matter of finding the system which immediately answers all of one's questions, but rather, it's a matter of finding the system which makes the most sense overall. From a purely theoretical and intellectual point of view, I've never found any belief system which does a better job of explaining the realities I've observed in this world than Christianity. As for the fact that I still have unanswered questions, I think that that fact is attributable to my own imperfections, not to any inherent flaws in Christianity itself.

In any event, I think that the intellect plays a less prominent role in the decision making process than many people will admit, when it comes to matters pertaining to faith in God or the lack thereof. Intellectual persuasion is important, but those who rely solely on the intellect will never personally encounter the living God. In the final analysis, the only way to experience God is to surrender one's heart to God.

When things are going well, it's relatively easy to believe the Bible's claims to the effect that God loves us, and to the effect that God will take care of all our needs.

When one is going through trial after trial, it's a different story. During times of trial, one's negative emotions sometimes try to control one's life and to undermine one's faith. Some people succumb to those negative emotions. Others choose to fight back. Many who still struggle with their faith do a little of both. I'm probably in that last category, but I'm trying to move more and more into the category of those who choose to fight back.

I freely admit that there have been times when I've looked back and wondered if I made the right decision when I committed myself to Christ. After being confronted with evidence of abundant sin within the ranks of professing Christians, I have sometimes been tempted to question the credibility of the Christian message. I have sometimes been tempted to blame God for my problems, when things were going badly for me. I've been tempted to accuse God of failing to deliver on God's promises. During my worst moments, I've even yielded to that temptation.

But then I stop to consider the possibility that God might not have actually promised all of the things I would have liked for him to promise.

In fact, based on my reading of the scriptures, I can't help but notice that God promised some things which most people, including myself, would consider to be very undesirable. For example, Jesus promised that his followers would be persecuted, just as he was persecuted.

John 15:19-21 says, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me."

Jesus was very upfront with his disciples about the persecution they could expect to receive if they followed Him. That may very well explain why many of the earliest Christians willingly died as martyrs rather than betray their newfound beliefs. They could not claim that Jesus had promised them perpetually happy, painless lives on this earth. They knew better. In fact, the persecution they received may very well have served as confirmation that Jesus knew what he was talking about, and that they were on the right track.

Part of the problem I have sometimes had with the aforementioned verse is that it isn't always clear that one's problems do in fact constitute persecution related to one's faith. Often, it is difficult or even impossible to see any direct connection between one's Christian commitment and the unkind ways in which one has been treated by others. This is especially true when one is abused (or neglected) by people claiming to be good Christians.

However, I think perhaps that there are "surface reasons" why people act as they do, and then there are the real underlying reasons which they may not even be aware of themselves.

Ultimately, our real enemy is not any human being or group of human beings. Ephesians 6:12 says, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." In other words, Paul was talking about spiritual warfare.

How do demonic forces attack us? Sometimes they do so directly, in very obvious ways. Just as often, however, I think that their strategy is to persuade others to attack us. The people who are used by the Devil in order to attack us and undermine our faith are not always aware that they are being used for that purpose. If asked, it's doubtful that they would admit that they are motivated by any opposition to the Christian faith. In some cases, they might even claim that they are Christians themselves. And for all I know, they might be Christians.

I don't believe that Christians can be demon possessed, but I do believe that Christians can sometimes unintentionally act as instruments of Satan's will. If you don't believe me, consider that Jesus said, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" to Peter when Peter objected to the idea that Jesus would be crucified in Jerusalem.

What I find particularly interesting about that episode is that Jesus had just finished praising Peter, moments before, for Peter's insight regarding Jesus' identity. And of course, Peter was the "rock" upon whom Christ later built the church. So the fact that one is a believing Christian does not necessarily mean that one is immune to Satan's influence. There is only one who can claim such immunity, and that's Christ.

Actually, I'm not even sure that it would be accurate to say that Christ was always immune to Satan's influence. After all, the Devil tempted Jesus in the desert. If there had been no real possibility that Jesus might have succumbed to temptation, then the fact that Jesus did successfully resist temptation would have been meaningless. Victory is meaningless if there is no real struggle. So rather than saying that Christ was immune, it would be more accurate to say that Christ was vulnerable to the Devil at one time, but Jesus was victorious in spite of his vulnerability. As a result of Christ's victory, our own victory is likewise assured, provided that we ally ourselves with Christ.

Just as Christ's struggle made his victory meaningful, so also it is our struggle that will make our ultimate triumph meaningful. And maybe that is a partial answer to the question of why God sometimes allows us to suffer. It's been said that nothing worth having comes easily. I think that's a bit simplistic, but certainly, some of the best things in life are unavailable to those who are unwilling to fight and struggle to have those things. If ever anything was worth struggling for, it would be an eternity in Heaven with Jesus. That's a goal worthy of pursuit.

Not that we are saved by works. We aren't. Ultimately, salvation is a gift, freely given, not earned. But it will only be given to those who endure to the end.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)

Anyone can start running in a race. But only those who persevere will win the prize.

If we have received Christ as Lord and Savior, we are headed in the right direction, but none of us can honestly claim to have "arrived" yet. That's one reason why it's so important to practice spiritual discernment moment by moment, even when dealing with one's Christian brothers and sisters, regardless of whether or not they occupy positions of leadership within the Church.

(That includes the things I write in this blog. I do my best to listen to the voice of God, but I'm just an imperfect human being, struggling to understand my own faith. If I inadvertently say something which contradicts God's word, feel free to ignore or discard what I say.)

How do we know the voice of Satan when we hear it? One of the most obvious clues is that what is said to us tempts us to doubt the legitimacy of the Christian message or portions thereof.

For example, God's word declares that even though we are sinners, we are of great value to God. God loves us so much that he died to set us free. Therefore, anything which causes us to suffer a significant loss of self esteem is a lie from hell, designed either to cause us to abandon our faith in Christ, or (if that is not possible) to immobilize us so that we are incapable of helping to advance the kingdom of God.

That's not to say that we are free to ignore legitimate criticisms or to dismiss such criticisms as "lies from hell". That's irresponsible, and it may very well constitute rejection of the voice of God in some cases. But even when criticisms themselves are valid, they can be used by Satan in order to alienate us from God. We cannot allow them to do that.

Romans 8:1 says, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".

Legitimate guilt is one thing. Condemnation is something else altogether. The former motivates people to strive for improvement. The latter motivates people to give up on faith or on life. That's the difference. The Holy Spirit often convicts people of sin, but the objective of doing so is never to hurt people. The objective of doing so is to set their feet on the right path.

If there is a voice in your head telling you that you are worthless, you can be sure that that voice is not from God. If you hear such a voice, get ready to do battle with the enemy of your soul. How? By speaking the truth from the word of God! "I am valuable. Jesus says so. He valued me so much that he died for me. So shut your mouth, Satan. I'm not listening to your lies."

We may wish that we were not involved in spiritual warfare, but the fact is that we are, whether we like it or not. Satan seeks to destroy every one of us, believer and nonbeliever alike. He doesn't really care how he does it. He has no scruples whatsoever.

It's a bit frightening to know that we have all been targeted by demonic forces who seek to destroy us. But there is positive news as well. The positive news is that God has not left us defenseless. Ephesians 6:13-18 talks about putting on the whole armor of God: The "belt of truth", the "breastplate of righteousness", the "shield of faith", the "helmet of salvation", the "sword of the Spirit", the "gospel of peace", and prayer.

Regarding our battle with the evil spirits of the world, I John 4:4 says: "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." So it isn't just a matter of putting on external spiritual armor. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit actually have the power within themselves to be overcomers!

Galations 2:19-21 repeats that same theme: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ 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 gave Himself for me."

John 16:32-33 says: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Not "I will overcome the world". "I have overcome the world."

God's promise is not that our lives here on earth will be free of pain and suffering. The promise is that in spite of our pain and suffering, we will prevail, if we use the resources God has given to us and if we rely upon the Lord, who has already triumphed over sin and death.

How will we prevail over evil? "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6)

2 Timothy 1:8-12 says the following: "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

I admit it. I sometimes fear that the trials of life will overwhelm me. I fear sometimes that I will abandon my faith because I just can't deal with those problems any longer. But when I meditate on God's word, I realize that it isn't about me at all. It's about God. It's not about my strength, it's about God's strength. I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded.

If left to my own devices and my own puny strength, it's true, I wouldn't be able to handle the trials of life on this earth. I suspect that if you were really honest, you would have to admit the same thing.

Fortunately, God's message to me and to you is that he doesn't expect us to handle such things on our own! God knows we are weak. He's made provision for that.

Ironically, admission that we are weak is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength: Strength of character. When we humbly admit that we are weak, that's when we open the door to the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through Christ, we can do all things. (Philipians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.")

2 Corinthians 12: 8-10 says: "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

There's a new movie coming out, entitled "Amazing Grace".

God's grace is truly amazing! It empowers us to do things we could never do in our own strength. God's amazing grace is sufficient for you and for me.

As I write the above words, I have to tell you that I'm writing to myself as much as anyone else. I'm no giant of the faith. I wish I were, but I'm just not. But God's strength is made perfect in my weakness.

I need your prayers, if you're the praying kind. If you're not the praying kind, I just have one question to ask you:

Why not?

Unemployment Blues

I've often heard it said that finding a job, when one is unemployed, is a job. If only that were true.

In my opinion, looking for a job is often a lot harder than working at a job once one has procured employment.

With a typical job, one has a reasonable amount of certainty that one's hard work will pay off. As long as one is employed, there is a reasonable guarantee of a paycheck every week, every two weeks or every month.

When one is unemployed, on the other hand, one can easily spend many hours trying to find work, only to turn up empty handed at the end of the week.

With a job, one may have to deal with the stress of the job itself (especially when working for people who treat one with great disrespect), but one doesn't have the added stress of trying to figure out how to obtain adequate food, how to keep paying one's bills, and how to keep paying one's rent (or mortgage) in order to avoid homelessness.

When one is unemployed, a substantial amount of time can be spent just trying to procure emergency assistance so that one can survive until one is able to find employment. And that's assuming that such assistance is available. Often, depending on the type of help one needs, the help one needs is not available.

When asking for help, rejection can cause depression, and to a state of mind which is not at all conducive to a successful job search. Even when help is available, asking for such help can be stressful and humiliating. Feelings of guilt and low self-esteem are not uncommon.

With a job, it isn't always perfectly clear what one ought to do in order to please one's boss, but it's still a lot easier to figure out what is expected of one when one is on the job than it is to figure out which strategy is most likely to succeed in terms of procuring a new job.

When searching for work, there are known strategies which increase one's chances of finding work, but there are no guarantees. One can do all of the "right things" and still turn up empty handed for any number of reasons.

I've had more than my share of jobs, and I've gone through more than my share of periods of unemployment. If I had been in complete control of my own life, I would have gotten one good job and kept it for the rest of my life. But that has not always been something within my power to control. So I just keep plugging, trying to do the best I can do in difficult and stressful circumstances, and hoping that in the end, it will be enough.

So far, I've managed to survive. But that is by no means guaranteed. And besides, it would be really nice, for a change, if I could do a lot more than just survive.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When Common Sense Is Forbidden

NOTE: Please be sure to read the Update at the end of the following blog post after reading the post itself.

The term "common sense" can be presumptuous and misleading. The use of the term suggests that there are certain things which everyone just knows intuitively.

The problem is that there's always an exception to the rule when it comes to common sense. It might seem like common sense to you and me that one does not step out into a busy street without looking both ways to make sure there aren't any cars speeding in our direction. But it isn't common sense to a two-year-old. That's why the guidance of parents is such a necessity.

An adult who had been raised in a really primitive society in the middle of the rain forests of South America, and who was more familiar with jaguars and piranha fish than with automobiles, might likewise be lacking in an awareness of the need to look both ways before crossing the street. Such things usually have to be taught at some point, or else they have to be learned through painful experience or observation.

We tend to think of certain things as "common sense", not because they are universally known and understood by every single person on the planet, but because they are almost always known and understood by the people within our own circles of family, friends and acquaintances. When we meet those who don't know and understand those things, we sometimes find their lack of knowledge and understanding to be shocking and hard to understand.

There is another type of common sense, which has less to do with knowledge of facts than with reasoning abilities.

Most people seem to know and understand that two things which are mutually exclusive cannot both be true at the same time. We generally tend to assume that everyone understands that simple principle of logic. Unfortunately, that assumption is not necessarily true.

For example, let's say that a political pollster calls your house and asks the following question:

How likely are you to tell your friends to vote for the incumbent politician during the upcoming election? Would you say that you are extremely likely, somewhat likely, neither likely nor unlikely, somewhat unlikely or not at all likely to tell your friends to vote for that politician?

Now, let's say that you answer the question as follows: "I will tell all of my friends NOT to vote for the incumbent politician."

How would you feel if the pollster then proceeded to say, "So, does that mean that you are extremely likely, somewhat likely, neither likely nor unlikely, somewhat unlikely or not at all likely to tell your friends to vote for that politician?"

If you're like most people, I suspect that you would begin to wonder to yourself if the pollster was a complete and total idiot! After all, you've just finished telling the pollster, in clear and unambiguous language, that you will actively tell all your friends not to vote for that politician. It therefore logically follows that you are not at all likely to tell those same friends to vote for that politician! Repeating the question and forcing you to answer with one of the five available multiple choice answers written by the polling organization suggests strongly that the pollster is not listening to you very closely, if at all.

It ought to be clear to anyone whose reasoning abilities have not become impaired --- in other words, to anyone with common sense --- that the answer of "not at all likely" comes closest to your actual answer to the question.

But not everyone has common sense these days when it comes to such matters. In January, I lost my job as a telephone surveyor, because of a very comparable situation.

The survey I was conducting at that time was related to a private business, not a political candidate, but in every other respect, the situation was parallel to the scenario I just described in the preceding paragraphs.

Throughout the entire survey, the woman I spoke with had been saying, "Just give it the lowest possible rating." Over and over and over again, that's what she told me. So when we got to the survey question which ended up getting me into trouble, there was no question in my mind that she wanted me to give the lowest possible rating to that question as well --- not because I assumed that that would be the case before even hearing her answer, but because of the specific manner in which she actually answered the question.

In fact, if one paid attention to the manner in which she answered the question, it should have been clear that she really would have preferred to give a rating which was lower than any of the five multiple choice answers which I offered to her. If I had asked her to rate the company on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best possible rating and 1 being the worst, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have asked me to give the company a negative 1 (or lower), because none of the 5 available answers I'd offered to her sufficiently expressed her dislike for the company. Saying that one will actively tell one's friends NOT to use a company's products or services is stronger and more adamant than saying that one is not at all likely to recommend the company's products or services.

When the company fired me over the manner in which I recorded the customer's answer (by entering "not at all likely" as her answer, without actually hearing those exact words from the customer's mouth), they accused me of failing to clarify a "vague" answer.

Apparently, they define the term "vague" in a manner which is much different from the way in which the dictionary defines the term. I felt then, and I feel now, that there was nothing even remotely vague about the customer's answer. She made her feelings about the company known to me, in no uncertain terms.

But let's assume, for the sake of the discussion, that their characterization of the woman's answer as "vague" was accurate. And let's hypothesize that a surveyor from that same company called me after I was fired and asked me the following question:

"How likely are you to characterize the reason given to you for your dismissal as a good and fair reason? Would you say that you are extremely likely, somewhat likely, neither likely nor unlikely, somewhat unlikely or not at all likely to describe that reason as good and fair?"

Let's say that I then responded by saying, "As long as I live, I plan to tell everyone in my circle of acquaintances that the reason given to me for firing me was incredibly unjust and incredibly irrational."

According to their own criteria, their surveyor would then have to repeat the question in order to "clarify" my ostensibly "vague" answer.

How absurd!

It's bad enough to lose one's job over such a ridiculous situation. What makes it even worse is that my right to collect unemployment insurance is now being challenged, based on the company's argument to the effect that I failed to clarify the woman's supposedly "vague" answer.

In my view, I was fired because I used my common sense, rather than annoying the woman (who was clearly already angry at my employer's client) by pressing her to give me an answer which was already abundantly clear to me.

Now I am in jeopardy of being evicted from my modest room at the Lawson House YMCA, because my right to receive the unemployment insurance benefits I desperately need in order to get caught up on my rent is being challenged for the same lame reason.

Even if one could argue that I should have ignored common sense and provoked the woman by compelling her to give me an answer which conformed to one of the five available multiple choice answers written by the client company, the most that one could truthfully claim was that I was fired on a technicality.

My job was to represent the customer's answers truthfully. I did that to the best of my ability. I did not deliberately violate company policies. I didn't press for clarification of the woman's answers for the simple reason that I didn't believe that the customer's answer was vague or that clarification was necessary.

So I have a final survey question for you. If I am denied my unemployment insurance benefits and put at risk of homelessness for the reasons mentioned in this article, how likely do you think I am to take such a defeat lying down?

Now don't be vague!


UPDATE: Fortunately, after a delay which caused me to experience some financial hardships, the Illinois Department of Employment Security chose to grant unemployment insurance benefits to me. My former employer filed an appeal in an attempt to try to prevent me from receiving those benefits. They lost and I won. I thought, and still think, that my victory over my former employer amounted to vindication with regard to my point of view about the matter.

Unfortunately, many prospective employers don't really care about the circumstances connected with a person's involuntary loss of employment. No matter how unfair those circumstances might have been, they have a tendency to just assume that the employer was in the right and the employee was in the wrong.

Of course, I could lie and claim that I quit the job, instead of acknowledging that I was fired. But there's just one problem with such a strategy, where I'm concerned, and that's the fact that I have a conscience. I won't claim that I've never told a lie in my entire life, but I've generally tried to be a person of honesty and integrity. Consequently, even if I wanted to lie about why I lost my job (and I really don't), I'm not sure that I could pull it off successfully. Practiced liars tend to do it well. Those who lie rarely tend to lie poorly.

The irony is that my honesty --- which ought to be seen as an admirable quality by potential employers --- has been a real handicap when seeking a new job. That helps to explain why I am still trying to find a new job, as of February 2008. It was great to get unemployment insurance benefits, but unfortunately, those ran out quite a while back. I've been struggling ever since.

I did figure out, after a long period of frustration, that there was nothing compelling me to volunteer information which could be held against me. But it's a rare job interview indeed in which one is not asked, at some point, why one lost one's previous job. I'm not going to lie when asked such a question. So I am handicapped, to some extent, every time I go to a job interview.

Having to deal with the entire situation for many months on end has been very discouraging. What makes it even more discouraging is that there are those, including some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, who have incorrectly assumed that the mere fact that I've gone this long without finding a job is proof that I'm not making a conscientious effort to find a job.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Falling Between The Cracks

In the past few years, there has been much talk of "faith based initiatives" and the many ways in which the Church can do a better job than the state when it comes to helping the needy.

In theory, I believe that the Church is better equipped than the state when it comes to charitable works designed to help the needy. The Church was involved in charitable work long before most local, state and federal governments became involved in such work.

The governmental practice of avoiding anything even remotely hinting of religion has often meant that their hands were tied when it came to addressing the spiritual causes of problems such as criminality, drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

However, it would be false to claim that the Church always did a better job of addressing social needs than the government. In some cases, what the Church has to offer is really pretty lame.

I have been in a position in which I needed emergency help on more than one occasion, so I have had the opportunity to look into what types of help are actually available. Certain types of help have been relatively easy to find and procure. Other types of help have been considerably more difficult to obtain.

In this blog article, I want to look into at what types of help a person might conceivably need. I want to look at what the Church does right. I also want to look at what the Church could be doing much better.


Food is a fundamental need for all human beings. To their credit, many churches seem to understand that fact. Some support "soup kitchens". Others work with local agencies such as the Chicago Food Depository, in order to distribute food obtained from secular sources by means of food distribution centers staffed by church volunteers.

In neither case could it accurately be said that it is possible to obtain enough food to meet all of one's needs, but at least the churches do seem to be involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in feeding the hungry. In conjunction with government "food stamps" (which fairly easy to qualify for and receive), the programs offered by the Church can be sufficient to keep a person from starving to death.

That isn't to say that such programs are beyond reproach by any means.

For example, the scheduling is often done very poorly. Often, if a church has its own soup kitchen, that soup kitchen will only be open one or two days a week at most. If all of the soup kitchens would coordinate their schedules, then it would be theoretically possible for a person to eat every day of the week, just by going to different soup kitchens on different days. Instead, I've seen cases in which two or more churches will both schedule their soup kitchen days on the same day of the week, at the same time, so that it's literally impossible for an individual to benefit from both programs. Even though two or more churches are offering soup kitchen days, it may be that a particular needy person is unable to take advantage of all the help which is theoretically available, for the simple reason that the person cannot be in two places at the same time. That makes no sense to me.

Another thing that makes no sense is when a needy person has to spend so much money on transportation to get to and from a particular soup kitchen that whatever savings were realized by getting the free meal are lost by paying for the trip to and from the soup kitchen.

Here in Chicago, a round trip ticket on the bus and/or subway generally costs about $4.00. One can buy a good meal at McDonalds for that kind of money (if one drinks water rather than a soft drink). One can go to the grocery store and buy enough food for a good meal for that kind of money. (A meal consisting of ramen noodles and a can of chicken, for example, can be had for less than $3.00.)

If a poor person has $4.00 to spend, and if the choice is between walking next door and buying $4.00 worth of food (without having any related transportation expenses) or taking a bus trip across town in order to get a "free" meal at a church's soup kitchen, it may be a toss-up as to which is a better choice. In fact, in such cases, it often makes more sense just to go ahead and spend the money on the food, because doing so may take far less time. When one is looking for work, one cannot afford to schedule one's entire week around the schedules and locations of various soup kitchens.

Government food stamps are far superior in that respect. One can use them, regardless of where one lives, without having to travel halfway across town in order to do so. One might have to take a single trip across town in order to apply for such benefits, but once one has been approved for the benefits, one doesn't have to keep going back on a regular basis in order to receive those benefits.

The first thing the churches need to do, if they want to sell folks on the idea that they are as good at addressing the needs of the hungry as the government, is to create a similar faith-based program which is widely recognized by grocery stores and inexpensive restaurants throughout the city or region. Food vouchers could easily be issued by numerous churches which were all participants in an interfaith program, and the administrators of the program could then coordinate their efforts with private businesses so that the vouchers could be used almost anywhere, with obvious limitations on the types of food items which could be purchased. (No $30 steak dinners or $100 bottles of champagne!)

Vouchers could be obtained from any nearby church which was a member of the interfaith initiative, rather than forcing people to spend money on transportation in order to go get their food vouchers.

Another problem with many church soup kitchens is that they tend to operate on the assumption that the person being helped is able to be physically present at the soup kitchen at the time when the meal is being served. Who does that leave out in the cold? People who are struggling to get by on the small amount of money they're able to eke out of their minimum wage part-time jobs, that's who. If their employers schedule them to work on the same days and at the same times as the soup kitchens, then they have to choose between being fed or going to work. That's ridiculous. Offering meal vouchers instead would enable people to buy meals (even in fast food restaurants, if necessary) anywhere in the city, so that they need not choose between eating and working. The same comments are applicable to people who need to feel free to travel around the city in an effort to find work. It's hard enough to find a good job these days without being anchored to one region of the city during certain times of the day or week. A good food voucher program would mean that people didn't have to choose between being fed or going to job interviews in order to find jobs which would lift them out of their difficult circumstances.

Why doesn't the Church implement such a program? My suspicion is that the administrators of many church-based soup kitchens aren't really motivated primarily by a desire to feed the hungry. Rather, the food is just a lure to get folks in the door so that they can hear the gospel.

I have nothing against preaching the gospel. In fact, I wish that more people could hear the saving message of Jesus Christ. But I think it's morally inexcusable to offer charity with such strings attached. Listening to the gospel should be something folks do because they're genuinely interested in the message, not because that's what they're forced to do if they want to receive emergency help. My message to those who have to resort to such bribery to persuade folks to listen to their sermons is that they need to improve the quality of their sermons. Then the bribery won't be necessary.

Visit any soup kitchen and stand in line in order to get a meal. You will witness a strange phenomenon. Before and after the meal, when talking amongst themselves, many of the folks in line will be cursing a blue streak. But when the chaplain in charge asks everyone to pray, many of the ones who have demonstrated just moments before that they really have no deep regard for Christ will bow their heads and go through the motions of praying for their meals. Why? Because they know that it's expected of them. It's what they feel they have to do in order to get the help they need. This kind of a scenario breeds a type of insincerity which is spiritually injurious to those who are forced by their personal circumstances to play the charity game.


Compared with what's available for people who are homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless, the food situation is relatively good.

Yes, there are homeless shelters. But take a look into how such shelters are actually operated, and you will quickly see that things could and should be done much, much better than they are.

First of all, most homeless shelters only offer a place to sleep at night. During the daytime, they're expected to leave and to take everything they own with them.

In the early nineties, I briefly looked into the possibility of staying at the Pacific Garden Mission, during a time in my life when I was seriously worried that staying there might be my only option. I discovered that they offered no storage whatsoever for one's personal possessions, during the daytime. If one had a suitcase full of clothes, one was expected to take that suitcase with one every day, when leaving the facility, because they would not store it for you in a locker or storage room during the daytime.

Imagine what a drawback it would be, when applying for a job, if one walked into the job interview carrying all of one's worldly possessions because one could not find anyplace to leave those possessions!

A properly operated homeless shelter would take into account the fact that people need storage for their possessions if they are to ever get back on their feet.

I'm not just talking about storage for the relatively limited number of possessions they can carry with them. Sometimes people become homeless solely because they cannot continue to pay their rent due to changing circumstances. Yet, they may already have a lot of furniture and other possessions for which they worked long and hard, back when they still had jobs. Having to throw those things away because there is no longer anyplace to put them can be heartbreaking and emotionally debilitating.

Some organization needs to offer free storage (for limited periods of time) to such people, so that they can survive without having to give away or throw away almost everything they own. That would even include parking for people who still own their own vehicles. Not having a vehicle can be a real liability when it comes to getting certain types of jobs (particularly when those jobs are located in the suburbs). One would not expect the Church to buy vehicles for such people, but at the very least, it would be nice if help could be offered so that such people didn't have to give away the vehicles they already owned! If every suburban church with its own parking lot set aside 5 of its parking spaces for such a purpose, it would make a huge difference in the lives of a lot of temporarily displaced people.

It would help even more if suburban families with extra spaces in their own garages or driveways would offer parking for those who had temporarily lost their own homes.


Another drawback, related to most homeless shelters, is that they almost all operate on the assumption that any person who is homeless is in need of rehabilitation services. To someone in need of such services, that can be a blessing. To someone who is not in need of such services, it can be insulting and demeaning to be forced to participate in such a program. More to the point, forcing a person to waste time in a rehabilitation program which is not really needed by that particular person can actually hinder that person's ability to get a job, find a normal apartment and get back on his or her feet again quickly.

Certainly, it's true that people who are either mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol are more vulnerable to homelessness than the general population, but it does not follow from that fact that anyone who needs emergency housing needs rehabilitation. The only thing wrong with some homeless people is that they lack homes and/or jobs. If one is evicted for nonpayment of rent, it doesn't necessarily mean that one is irresponsible. It may simply be that one has been trying, without success, to get a job. In some cases, it may even mean that one has a low-paying job but has not yet been able to save up enough money from that job to get caught up on one's rent.

A related problem is that many emergency housing programs are only available to people with problems with addiction or mental illness or specific "politically correct" physical illnesses such as AIDS.

I have no problem with the idea that such people should be eligible for emergency assistance. I do have a big problem with the fact that there are so few options for comparatively ordinary people whose only fault is that they have temporarily fallen behind on their rent because they cannot find work and they cannot qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Why should preferential treatment be given to people who have failed to resist the temptation to engage in extremely risky behavior, while those who have successfully resisted those temptations are sometimes less likely to receive the help they need?


Wouldn't you think that it would make more sense to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, than to respond to such homelessness only after the fact? I suspect that if you looked at the actual numbers, you would find that financial assistance which would help people to avoid eviction by helping them to pay back rent which they owed would ultimately be less costly than waiting until those people became homeless and then dealing with them as homeless people. Certainly, it would be far less traumatic for the people being helped.

I find it both sad and strange that many churches seem to be far more interested in financing missionary endeavors in far away countries than they are in helping people in their own neighborhoods in times of crisis. I have nothing against missionary work, but I also believe in the wisdom of the old saying that charity begins at home.

If a person in crisis cries out for help to a local church, and if those cries for help fall on deaf ears, then why shouldn't that person distrust claims to the effect that that same church is using its foreign missions money in the way that it claims that the money is being used? While it is true that donations to one's local church are not to be thought of as some kind of insurance policy, it is also true that churches which respond with indifference to the crying needs of their own people ought not to be surprised when those who have received such a response conclude that their churches don't really care about them, and when they respond to such indifference by either searching for more caring churches or abandoning the Church altogether.

In addition to the fact that local churches ought to offer emergency rental assistance programs so as to prevent people from ever becoming homeless in the first place, such churches also need to be actively involved in helping unemployed or marginally employed people to find work so that the need for such assistance is not a recurring need over a long period of time.

While it is true that some people who can work refuse to do so, it is presumptuous to assume that because a person is not currently working, that person does not wish to do so. Getting a job quickly is sometimes much easier said than done.

Even if a church has very little in terms of monetary resources, virtually every church worthy of the name has a telephone and a list of contact information for members, to say nothing of connections with other churches in the area. So what's to stop a pastor or church leader from getting on the phone and calling everyone possible to tell them about a particular person's need for help, and to urge them to pray about doing whatever they can do to help that person?

These days, many churches also have their own web sites. What's to stop such churches from using their web sites specifically for the purpose of making their members aware of specific members who are in need of help? What's to stop them from using their web sites for the purpose of appealing for help on behalf of those who need such help? It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that if it was obvious that they were actively working toward the purpose of contributing to the material well being of others, that would draw more people to their churches, and it would ultimately enhance their own prospects for success.

Most churches do have the resources to help people in crisis. The fact that churches seldom use their abundant resources for that purpose is a sad commentary on their lack of real compassion for the people who, in many cases, have made their ministries possible in the first place.


One of the biggest problems I see, when it comes to church-based charities, is that those who are involved in such charities often use that involvement as a means of imposing their own views on the people they are helping.

For example, when I looked into the possibility of receiving help from Pacific Garden Missions, I learned that they were not content to merely require that participants in their programs attend their chapel services. They also mandated that it was unacceptable for participants to attend certain types of churches or to listen to certain types of Christian music (such as Christian rock music)! In short, it wasn't just Christianity they were forcing on others, it was their particular brand of extremely conservative Christianity that they were forcing on others. I even seem to recall that their was a provision in their policy handbook which stated that it was unacceptable for participants in their program to attend Pentecostal or charismatic worship services!

I couldn't help but think that if they were really convinced that their particular take on Christianity was the correct one, they would not have felt the need to force people to adopt those views (or to externally conform to those views for the duration of their stay) in order to receive the help they needed.

Homelessness is inherently humiliating for the homeless, even without adding in such factors. To be forced to temporarily abandon one's own personal convictions (about matters which genuine Christians often cannot agree upon) merely adds to that humiliation. For a person who has been a committed Christian all of his or her life to be told implicitly that he or she is a second class Christian and that he or she must temporarily pretend to hold altogether different views in order to qualify for help he or she needs is just wrong, in my opinion.


Back in the early 90's, I was terrified at the prospect of having to stay at the Pacific Garden Mission --- not because I was too proud to ask for help, or even because I thought that some of their rules were ridiculous, but because it seemed clear to me that being forced to do so would actually make my situation even worse than it already was.

As it turned out, God delivered me from having to stay there. Instead, a Christian I met during that time of crisis invited me to live with him, his wife and his son in their suburban home in Lindenhurst, IL. He even gave me a room of my own, and fed me on occasions. He helped me to find a job, and allowed me to save a certain amount of money to be applied to rent at a new place before requiring that I leave his home. His name was John Speckman. His wife was Debby Speckman and his young son was named Johnny. John wasn't perfect, but I will be forever grateful to John and his family for taking a chance and reaching out to me with genuine Christian compassion. It saddens me that I have lost track of him. (He was an engineer for NutraSweet, in Mt. Prospect, IL during the early nineties when all of this occurred.)

I hope that if I am ever in such a situation again, I will be able to find similar help from another Christian. But what I would really prefer would be that God would materially bless me so that I could pass that favor on to someone else.

Even though churches often have many social programs these days, those programs simply are not adequate to cover every conceivable situation. They are often based on demeaning stereotypes which are not universally applicable to specific people in specific situations.

We need more individual Christians, like John Speckman, who will recognize the limitations of social service programs, whether those programs are church-based or government-based, and who will do whatever it takes to insure that no one who needs help fails to receive help.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In The Back Seat

Certain memories from one's childhood linger in one's mind. They can often take on extra resonance when one compares them with things which occurred later on in one's life. This poem describes such a memory from my own childhood.

In The Back Seat
© by Mark Pettigrew

In the back seat of my father’s old Ford,
I slept like a sailor at sea.
Knowing that I would be safe and secure,
for my mom and my dad cared for me.

Every Wednesday we’d come home from church,
after choir practice ended that night.
When we got home, carried straight to my bed,
I was certain that things were alright.

Oh, how I miss those days of my youth,
when my parents still loved one another.
Awful divorce; how I hate the vile word!
How it injured both me and my brother!

Long have I thought of those days of my youth.
Long have I wished they’d return.
Keep your commitments to people you love,
for love is not something to spurn.


When my father would drive us home from weekly choir practices (at Oakland United Methodist Church), it was a long drive, so I would often lie down in the back seat and fall asleep. But I was seldom completely asleep. Usually, it was more like a groggy state halfway between fully asleep and being awake. I knew the twists and turns in the road by feel. When the car would shift in a certain way, I could tell instinctively that we were almost home, without having to sit up and look out the window. After pulling into the driveway, my dad would pick me up in his arms and carry me to my bed.

When I think of that time, it reminds me of how much I relied on my parents, and how much I trusted them. That kind of trust is a precious thing, and it should not be violated.

Regarding the line which says, "Long have I wished they'd return", it's pretty clear that those days will never return. My father passed away in 1999, and it had already been apparent for quite a number of years prior to his passing that our family would never be restored to what it once had been.

Nevertheless, when I wrote that line, I was trying to capture the feeling that I had, for a very long time after the divorce, that something precious had been lost when my father committed adultery, leading my mother to file for divorce. Even though I knew it was unlikely, I still hoped that my father would humble himself, repent of the things he'd done to hurt our family and reunite with my mother so that our family could be whole again.


To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Cross-Eyed Man

Here's another poem I wrote last Fall. I hope you enjoy it.

Cross-Eyed Man
© by Mark Pettigrew

I’m a cross-eyed man
‘cause I’ve been born again.
The blood of Jesus
washed away my sin.

If I keep my eyes
on the final prize,
the benefits of heaven
I will realize.

I’m a cross-eyed man
with a cross-eyed plan.
In a world of sin,
I’ve got to take a stand.

What I counted as gain
I now count as loss.
I love what Jesus did for me
on that cross.


To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Broken, Not Crushed

Not long ago, I wrote a number of poems, most of which pertained to my faith in Christ in some way. I thought I would share another one of those poems with you.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

© by Mark Pettigrew

My heart, once whole, is now broken
as on the altar I lay.
Searching, I look to the heavens,
not knowing quite what to say.

Prayer, once a ritual, fails me.
Nothing I say can suffice.
All that I know is my vices
grip me, as if in a vise.

Freedom is mine for the taking,
freedom from death and from sin.
I long to know His forgiveness.
I long to be born again.

Asking for mercy is painful.
This, I must freely admit.
But there are worse things than “painful”.
Now I’ve gone too far to quit.

Long have I carried these burdens,
long have I suffered this pain.
Tears are now flowing like fountains,
cov’ring this altar like rain.

Jesus is beckoning to me,
offering all that I need.
So I kneel down at the altar,
confessing every bad deed.

Now I am broken and humbled.
Now restoration is mine.
Joy is the fruit of repentance, and of His mercy divine.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Many people fear that if they humble themselves before God, confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, it will be a painful experience. They're right. It's never fun or easy to acknowledge that one has failed.

But it isn't a question of whether or not we will acknowledge our sins and our failures, it's just a question of when and how we will do so.

Will we acknowledge our sins willingly, in order to receive the blessings of God's forgiveness? Or will we wait until Judgment Day, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? The pain of confronting our sins and dealing with them now is nothing compared with how painful it will be to do so if we wait until we're forced to deal with those issues.

Don't put things off any longer. Give your heart to Jesus so that you can know the joy of salvation.


To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.