Time for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time when we recognize the blessings and graces in our lives.

I’d like to thank God for His love and His graces in my life of which there are many. I’d like to thank my wife, without her love and support I’d have a very dark and lonely existence. I’d like to thank my family for their continued support and understanding. Without them I’d be lost for direction. I’d like to thank my sister for all of her work with this blog. She really makes it happen. I’d like to thank those friends that have stayed with me. They are truly God’s perfect representation of caring for the prisoners in the world. I’d like to thank my readers, both current and new. Without you this blog would have no purpose.

I’m sure there are a hundred more things and people to be thankful for and I am.

I hope that, for all of you, these days are filled with God’s graces and blessings, family and friends and remembrances of what really matters in life.  ~jdoe

Thank You For Healing Me

by Matt Redman

Yes, You stepped in with Your power to save
Let forgiveness reign
Worked a miracle within

Thank You for healing me
I was dying beneath my shame
But You brought me to life again, I will sing
Thank You for freeing me
I was dead to the truth of You
But my healing was in Your wounds, and now I sing
Thank You for healing me

Though outwardly I may waste away
On the inside I’ll be more alive every day
As I walk through times of pain and grief
There’s a deeper truth inside of me…
You have placed Your life inside of me
So I sing

Thank You for healing me
I was dying beneath my shame
But You brought me to life again, and I will sing
Thank You for freeing me
I was dead to the truth of You
But my healing was in Your wounds, and I will sing
Thank You for healing me

Locked

My040 Keys

Keys

We all have them.  Keys to: our car; our house; our desk; suitcases; diaries; the shed in the backyard; and the list goes on.  They are simple tools that we use to facilitate our lives.  They come in many sizes and shapes and even colors.

But have you ever really thought about what they also represent?

Authority.

Power.

Control.

Those in authority have the power and exert control.

If not, then everyone would have access to everything. 

Imagine total strangers walking into your home or office or other place you hold important and private.  All those places where you keep things that others are not to touch or use or read or or or…

And keys are things we can become sensitive to and develop envy of those who have them.  In prison, exile, the guards all have keys and exert their authority and power over we inmates by controlling our movements and access to things like showers, laundry, socialization rooms, exercise and even food.  And of course freedom.

With all this authority, power, and control comes all responsibility.  We don’t really think about keys giving us responsibility because we’re lulled into a sense of security, but what if you left your cleaning chemicals available to small children and an ‘accident’ were to occur – who would be responsible?  You.  So in reality you accepted the responsibility of keeping the child safe when you accepted the key to that cabinet of chemicals.  And so it is with every key we’re given – we assume, and accept, all the responsibility that ownership, possession, of any key we hold brings.  But there’s even more to owning keys…

Trust.

How do we come by most keys?  Someone of higher authority provides them; that someone places their trust in us to be responsible and cautious and careful and caring and and and…

When we are given a key we are entrusted to use our authority to exert our power and control justly and fairly and responsibly; because if we don’t, there are consequences.

So, what of Jesus’s words in Peter’s Confession of Christ?  [Matthew 16: 13-19]  Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.”  Matthew 16:19

My040 Locked

Jesus is giving us the keys to His Kingdom; the keys to salvation and eternal life.  Jesus is giving us authority, power, and control.  Jesus is trusting us to be responsible, just, and fair.  Yet He’s also telling us there are consequences associated with possession of these keys.  This then, requires us to be cautious, careful, caring, and and and…  It’s a Big Deal to accept these keys because it’s a Big Deal that Jesus would entrust them to us – we humans who are so imperfect.   He knows we are likely to stumble and drop, or even lose, the keys He’s given.  That’s why He warns us of the consequences – what we bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and what we loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.  Matthew 16:19b

Accepting the keys is accepting, and assuming, a great deal of responsibility.  It can be scary though.

Why?

There are unspoken stipulations in Jesus’s offering of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven:  that you give your life over to Him by accepting, and confessing, Him as the Christ, your Lord and Savior; the ultimate authority.

Giving our life over to Jesus isn’t something to be done lightly because it’s a huge step in one’s spiritual journey.  And it’s worrisome to give control of your life to Him because our path isn’t shown to us in its entirety but is instead revealed to us step by step.  This then, reveals that there’s yet one more stipulation to our accepting the keys Jesus offers us.

Faith.

Faith does not always come easily because it is believing with conviction and without evidence or proof.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary).  Therefore, accepting the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven requires an act of faith on our part.

Give your life over to Jesus and have faith that He will lead you into the Kingdom of Heaven – these are the unspoken conditions, in Matthew 16:13-19, that are placed on us in order to receive the keys He offers – the keys to eternal life.

Where am I on this journey?  I’ve given myself over to Jesus and working on the outwardly confessing of Him as my Lord and Savior.  I stumble every day, dropping the keys and fumbling around looking for them and picking them up.  It’s comforting to know though that He is there offering me a new set of keys should I lose the ones I’ve already been given; of course they come with His warnings and stipulations – and it’s a daily, hourly, moment by moment challenge because I am but a man.

Yet He trusts me.

Which means I have to have faith in Him – and in myself.

I hope you’ll pick up your set of keys and join me on this journey; together is better than alone.  ~jdoe

This Way

Sometimes I walk the track with a friend who does not believe there is a God.  This often leads to deep discussions concerning our individual faiths; he follows Buddhism while I follow and practice Christianity.

During a recent walk my friend made some remarks concerning God allowing suffering and discomfort in the world.  For him it’s proof that God does not exist; for what God would allow such suffering in the world?

I laughed.

I asked him if it were true that, “Buddhism teaches that suffering is inherent in life and that one can only be liberated from it through mental and moral self-purification?”

He said yes and asked me what my point was.  I said, “You follow a religion that acknowledges suffering exists in the word and through efforts on your part to purify yourself morally and mentally you are delivered from that same suffering.  Can’t you see the parallels to Christianity?  God asks us to lead sinless lives (mental and moral purification) so that in Heaven we will be liberated from suffering.”

He responded, “Yes, but we don’t follow a God who could, if He wanted to, prevent the suffering; A God who takes credit for all the good and washes His hands of all the bad.”

I laughed again.

I told my friend that I didn’t see God that way.

But then I had to stop and think.  I had to admit to myself that  my prayers often, almost always, asked for relief of some form of suffering while thanking and praising God for something good in my life.  So wasn’t I behaving as though my friend’s statement were my belief; that I followed a God who took credit for the good and ignored the bad?

I told my friend that I didn’t follow God to be relieved of all my suffering but that I did believe God had relieved me of suffering many times in my life.

My friend then asked me a much more serious question, “If you don’t follow God for comfort and convenience, then why do you?”

I told my friend that I needed time to figure out how to best answer his question.  I was disappointed with myself for not having an immediate answer for him.  Plus, I had to admit that my interactions with God were primarily times of asking for help and times of worship.

My friend’s question didn’t ask why I believe in God, he asked why I follow God.  One can believe but not follow, right?

Over the next few days I spent my mediation time on answering the question “Why?”  Lots of answers came to mind – shallow answers.  I started thinking that maybe the Bible held the answer.

When I thought about the Jews of the Old Testament it hit me – they followed God for relief of oppression and deliverance from Egypt.  In essence, they were following God for comfort and convenience.  God asked for more though.

God asked for love, devotion, and obedience.

And therein lay my answer; I follow God because I love Him, am devoted to Him and cherish my efforts in obedience to Him.

Yes, I still ask for relief of suffering but I’m now expressing my love for Him and re-examining my efforts at obedience.  It’s an act of purification and growth.

Why do you follow God?  ~jdoe

My040 This Way

Disclaimer: I have very little knowledge about Buddhism.  What I do know has been communicated by my friend.  If there are inaccuracies in my writing concerning Buddhism I apologize.  jdoe

Rain

My040 Rain
Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

The song that follows touches me because it says, in words I wish I had written, that even in our darkest hours we can glorify God. That no matter what our situation is, we can praise Him. That He cares for us and opens the doors for us.

Recently, I have been struggling with issues stemming from the choir I am part of. I’ve wanted to leave the choir due to the way the choir director treats the members of the choir. Recall I spoke about it in my previous post Raise Your Voice.  Yet when I hear this song, and I play it often for myself, I hear the reason for sticking it out: to offer up the tribulation of being a member of the choir in praise of God and that I’m singing for Him, not for me. This song clears my head and heart when I hear it. I hope that you too will find it helpful when you’re faced with fears and challenges that fall like rain.  ~jdoe

“Bring The Rain”
By Mercy Me

I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I’ve gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It’s never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
So I pray

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

I am Yours regardless of
The dark clouds that may loom above
Because You are much greater than my pain
You who made a way for me
By suffering Your destiny
So tell me what’s a little rain
So I pray

Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty

Roots of Faith?

I know in my mind and have faith in my heart that Jesus was born, died, and rose in triumph over sin that I may have eternal salvation.  I also know in my mind and have faith in my heart that God is active in my life every moment of every day.

Yet, my active involvement in my faith has changed.  I can attach this change to my starting medication to address the hallucinations I have and the depression I battle.

This brings into mind a question: 

What, if any, link exists between psychometric drugs and faith?

My040 Roots of Faith.jpg
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

My first reaction was there is no connection between psychometric drugs and faith, after all my belief in Christ as Lord and Savior remains solidly planted in my heart and mind.  But that’s not what changed.  So I needed to look more closely at what I felt had changed, that is, my active involvement in my faith; those things that bring faith into practice as praise and worship.

I feel I still live as a Christian – loving God with all my heart, soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  (Mark 12:30-31)

I’m still attending church and singing in the choir.  But… other things I used to do like praying the rosary, reading the bible, and privately praying three times daily have turned into occasional activities.  Also, participation in the choir has turned into work and no longer fulfills me. (I must add here that there are also other issues with choir that feed my ambivalence.)

To answer the question of linkage between my medication and active participation in my faith I had to look at the roots of that which drives participation beyond attending church.

I feel I can eliminate the antidepressant as the cause of change.  I was once on antidepressants while on the street (outside this prison) and experienced a positive impact on practicing my faith by becoming more involved, not less.

Yet, what of the anti-hallucinogen?

I’ve learned, through work with psychologists, that hallucinations can spring from the part of the brain associated with creativity.  Once I learned that, it became easier to deal with those hallucinations the medication had not driven away.  But the implication is clear:  If the anti-hallucinogen quiets the creative center of the brain then how I see and feel and participate in my faith is indeed connected to the creative center in my brain.

This brings a new question:

Do I see negative impacts on other creative activates undertaken?

Absolutely YES!

My writing for this blog has become challenging and for my short stories has ceased altogether.  Also, the journaling I did on a regular basis has stopped.  Next, my passion around music has waned to the point that I don’t care to sing anymore.  Finally, and most importantly, I’ve found that I can no longer envision a future for myself once released from prison; from exile.

In summary then, all the creative activities that were alive in me have withered or died just as my active participation in my faith has also all but ended.

So a third question now arises: 

What role does the creative center of the brain play in one’s faith?

I once took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) survey and scored 100% for both schizophrenia and delusional disorder.  I recall a fair number of questions around belief in an omnipotent entity (God).

Apparently, I’m not the first person to see a direct link between one’s faith and the workings of the mind – the creative mind.  The implication of that survey is that your faith is something manufactured by your mind as opposed to a belief, a knowing really, in an all-encompassing deity.  And aren’t hallucinations and delusional beliefs manufactured by the mind?

This suggests then that the part of the brain that creates hallucinations and delusional beliefs also creates faith, or at least some portion thereof.

It’s a scary thought really – that my faith is no more real than a short story written for pleasure.

Where does this leave me? 

With more questions than answers.

What to do?  I’ve decided to adopt an attitude of “just do it’ and renew, even if by habit, my participation in praying the rosary, thrice daily prayer times, and reading the bible daily.  My hope is that by doing these things as tasks I will rekindle the part of me that carried these actions as an integral part of my faith practice.

I’m curious.  I’d like to know if any of you that are on psychometric medication have seen a change in how your creative self manifests.  Am I alone in seeing a direct link between the creative center of the mind and faith?

I look forward to hearing from you.  ~jdoe

Sketches, Reflections of Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Sketches Reflections of Father's Day

This is jdoe’s lil-sis.

I have been reflecting and sketching out memories, thoughts.   Sparked by father’s day and receiving the most recent blog written by my brother (to be posted next time).  The blog post talks about the impact jdoe’s illness and medication has had on him recently – and in it he talks about having lost his ability to see his future.

The quote that ended jdoe’s last post, and opens mine asks “Who needs fathers?” … We all need fathers.  Our earthly father that God blessed us with, and our Heavenly Father God.

We lost our father earlier this year, so the months that have followed have found us with twisted heart when we read a card or letter from our Mom, now only signed ‘love Mom.’  Or the fact that we didn’t have to shop and send a father’s day card.  Our father for many years prior to his passing was locked in a prison of his own;  one that left him unable to walk, remember, and eventually talk.  For several years Dad was ever there, but darkening – his sun was setting.  This relationship we had with our father is not unlike the relationship my brother now has with his children.  My brother is locked in exile, physically removed from day to day family life and restricted in communication.  Yet, there is a fundamental difference – he is still fully available, and has life to look forward to – a new dawn over the horizon.

I thought I’d write this week’s post, remind my brother jdoe of the vibrant future that lies in-front of him with a strong family that he helped to build.  Remind him of the person he is.

Do you remember these words, bro?  Below is from an excerpt from an email I sent my brother a couple years back – I’d like to focus on the “Father” in him…

I thought about you a lot today.  And I was thinking, I cannot even start to imagine what it feels like to walk in your shoes.  All the feelings and experiences that lay behind you.  Looking out over what looks like very rocky ground infront of you. 

Then I started thinking about the man standing in those shoes, You, jdoe. 

This is the man I see standing in your shoes…

A devoted son, brother, friend, and father.  You have a deep well of love for family, friends, even strangers. 

A man that has raised four great children that have turned into wonderful, loving, hard working, respectful, fun, adults. You instilled family, just look how your kids like to be around each other. 

Your love for jane is deep and strong, obvious to anyone who sees the two of you together.  What an amazing example the two of you have set for your children and others.

Someone whom I, and others, look to for sound advice. 

Someone whom I, and others, can trust. 

You know what to say, and how to say it. 

Intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to anything you put your head and heart into.  Through your daily demonstration, your children now also live these characteristics out.

Someone who has learned from his mistakes, and grown better from them.  Who now shares his experiences in hopes to help others.

You have a contagious smile and laugh, spreading joy and light.  Fun and playful, wise and thoughtful.

You are a talented artist, with cars, music, stories, painting rooms (lol), re-upholstering, well just about everything you touch.  You are willing to share your knowledge with those willing to learn.

You are thoughtful, tender and compassionate, strong and firm. 

A gentleman, kind and respectful.

Spiritual, believer.

Love Thou jdoe ~lilsis

Memorial Day Prayer

My040 Memorial Day Prayer

Every year we lose brave women and men and add hundreds of veterans to our nation’s roll call. These fine people do what they do for love of country and for love of their fellow countrymen. We are indeed blessed to have each and every one of them stand up for freedom and human rights around the globe. Please say an extra prayer this weekend for those lost, those who continue to battle on and those who have come home to rest.

Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone

Lyrics Chris Tomlin

Through countless dangers, doubts and fears
I have already come
God’s Grace has brought me safely here
And Grace will lead me home
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

 

Be Selfish In Prayer

My life is sort of like “Groundhog Day,” so when I realized this weekend was Mother’s Day I also realized an opportunity lost in not writing a post for Mother’s Day.   When my sister reminded me what this weekend’s post was about, we realized that it was perfect.  Mothers, just like Jabez, need to be bold and selfish in prayer.   Happy Mothers Day.

My040 Be Selfish In Prayer

I’ve been thinking that my prayers are too selfish.  I’m always asking God for guidance and blessings, protection and strength to resist temptation; especially strength for as an addict it’s easy to let my mind wander where it shouldn’t and become weak.  I feel I do a really good job in my rejection of temptation but I also feel I’m able to do so due to God’s hand upon me.

Recently, I began to wonder about my method of prayer and whether or not there was a better way to ask for God’s blessings and support.  So I asked the Priest here at the prison and he replied, “Pray like Jabez.”  I asked him who Jabez was and he said to find Jabez in my Bible.  I searched by consulting my concordance and I found that Jabez is mentioned only one time, and it’s in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.

Have you read 1 Chronicles?  If not then you need to know that the first nine chapters trace the genealogy of man from Adam to Israel’s return from captivity; a time span of thousands of years.  1 Chronicles Chapters 1 through 9 is boring to read and many (most?) people skip these chapters, as I did, and miss the single person called out for his cry to God for a strong life.  Jabez, and only Jabez, is the focus of the author’s only record beyond the genealogical record.  One must ask, “Why?”

First we need to understand Jabez’s name.  Names in Biblical times often predicted the life’s achievements of individuals.  For example Soloman means peace, which is appropriate as Soloman was the first King of Israel to reign without war.  So what does Jabez mean?  It means ‘pain,’ or more literally, ‘he causes (or will cause) pain.  Jabez’s mother named him such saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”  What a way to live life!  Can you imagine living in Biblical times with a name that predicts you’ll cause, or have already caused, pain?  Knowing this, one might wonder how Jabez won the only spotlight in the first name chapters of 1 Chronicles.

The answer is in the way Jabez prayed!

1 Chronicles 4:10 reads

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil so that I will be free from pain.”  And God granted his request.

Note that last word, “pain.”  To include his name’s meaning in his prayer underlines the importance of one’s name in Biblical times, and the belief that one’s name predicted their life’s outcome.

Jabez asked for four things:

That God bless him

That God enlarge his territory

That God would keep his hand upon him

That he be protected from evil

It all sounds like good things to pray for.  It’s when you look behind these four requests that Jabez’s wisdom becomes more evident.

First, he asks to be blessed ‘indeed.’  In these times, adding indeed to a prayer was like our adding exclamation points at the end of a sentence – a form of almost demanding to be blessed.  It also means that the request is honest and almost pleading; a pseudo command.  Jabez was not afraid of sounding selfish in his prayer for blessings – he was bold in his request!

Second, he asks for his territory to be enlarged.  At first look it sounds like he was asking for more land property – a literal translation in our culture today but not in the times of this writing.  Jabez was asking God to increase the size of his ministry.  Jabez was also asking God to provide all that was needed in order for Jabez to achieve the new, added, work God would ask of him.  In other words, Jabez was asking God to use in him a greater capacity than what He was using Jabez at the moment of this prayer – it could be translated to say, “Give me more to do for you O God.”  Again, not selfish but bold.

Next he asks for God’s hand to be with him through it all.  In this Jabez acknowledging that he could not achieve his new objectives without God’s help.  Jabez was saying, “Work through me to the glory of you, my God.”  Jabez was telling God that he wanted to be God’s instrument of glory.  Jabez did not want to become great, Jabez wanted God to become great through Jabez.  Again, not selfish but bold.

Finally, Jabez asks that God help him to maintain a blessed life by protecting him from evil.  Jabez knew there’s evil in the world and that those working to do God’s work would come under attack by that evil.  Again Jabez was acknowledging he couldn’t do it without God’s glorious help.  As bold as Jabez was in his first three requests he was equally humble in asking for God’s help and protection.  It could be translated, “I’ll do all I can, O God, help me with the rest.”

My learning from this is that maybe God wants us to be “selfish” in our payers by asking Him to use us for His greater glory.  Maybe I’m not being selfish after all.

There are people who believe that by praying this simple prayer daily that they will, and do, see God moving in their lives more obviously every day.

I’m willing to try, are you?  Please join me.  ~jdoe

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Today’s Daily Bible Daily Verse:   “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:37-38

law book and gavel

And now an entry from the “I’m Only Human” file:

I’m judgmental.  I know I am and I’m working to change but it’s hard!  I’m finding that some parts of me I’m working to change are taking more effort and time than others.

“Who am I to judge,” I ask myself yet when I see multiple people display a frustrating behavior I’d find myself feeling somehow superior because I’d never act that way – until I caught myself doing exactly what I’d just condemned in others actions.

For example:  The rule in here is that you cannot stop and gather to socialize on the walkways of the main compound.  Yet people do it all the time and what’s really annoying is they do it in the middle of the walkway where people are trying to pass.  So a bottleneck occurs which causes people to bump into each other or everything just stops.

I think to myself, “Why can’t these people congregate on the sides of the walkways or better yet, wait until they’re in the rec yard where socializing is encouraged?”

It’s as I think my thought of superiority because I’m not stopping in the middle of traffic to talk that someone stops me to chat and there I am doing the same thing – blocking traffic.

Of course it doesn’t occur to me that I’m guilty of the ‘bad’ behavior until I mediate at the end of the day.  At that time I examine my day fully and stumble through my day of very human actions.  And I swear to curb my judgmental way.

Until the next day.

The worst part of acknowledging my nature is having to admit how like all the other people I encounter I really am.  I want to be better than I am which for a judgmental person equate to thoughts of being better than others – something the Bible warns us not to think and believe.

Sometimes I’ll try to feel  better about myself by saying something like, “I may block traffic but at least I don’t do it daily.” HA!  How self-righteous can I be?!?

So I’m working to become more humble and a whole lot less judgmental.

In Matthew 7:1-2 we’re told, “Do not judge, or you to will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I pray I’m not judged by my ‘perfect’ expectations of others for I would fail miserably.  Instead I pray I am judged by my desire to be closer to ‘perfect.’

How will you be judged?

~jdoe

Beulah Land

My040 Beulah Land

Beulah Land

Written by Edgar Page Stites

Beulah Land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land – Sweet Beulah Land

I’m kind of homesick for a country
Where I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won’t matter anymore

Beulah Land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land – Sweet Beulah Land

I’m looking now across the river
Where my faith is going to end in sight
There’s just a few more days to labor
Then I’ll take my heavenly flight

Beulah Land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land – Sweet Beulah Land

One of my favorite versions is sung by Casting Crowns: https://youtu.be/12OWe8bC30w

~jdoe