I Did It!

I’ve done it!

My040 I Did It
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Several days ago, I finished reading the Bible; yes, I read it cover to cover and it took me about 14 months to do it. I have a “Life Application Study Bible” that my sister sent in (thank you Sis!) and so I also read every study note written at the bottom of the pages. If you’ve ever seen or owned one of these Bibles, then you know there is more written in the study notes than actual verse in the Bible.  So, I don’t think 14 months is too bad given I read the equivalent of 2+ Bibles.

Many scholars of the Bible will tell you that it’s not necessary to read cover to cover but that instead you should seek out, through a concordance, verse that specifically applies to whatever issue, need, desire or event you’re dealing with.

But my own experience is that reading it word by word from beginning to end often brought to mind things from my past that I had never dealt with spiritually. It seemed that every book within the Bible spoke to some part of my life – past, present, and future. It also helped me to see when I’ve not lived the Christian life God intended. Reading it cover to cover also helped me to see where I struggle day to day – such as my being far too judgmental of others. As said in the Bible: remove the plank from your own eye before pointing out a sliver in another’s eye (Luke 6:42) , and, you will be judged by the same measure that you used to judge others (Matthew 7:2).

The Bible begins with two books that, when read back to back, make for a great action movie – as does the last book of the Bible; so, it begins as it ends – with creation at its heart. And between these books is a whole lot of life and wisdom. One thing I learned is that there truly is nothing new under the sun. If you’re experiencing it in your life today I guarantee you there is verse and wisdom to help you to integrate your challenges into your life AND a lifeline to cling to.

When I shared my accomplishment of finishing the Bible with a friend here in prison he asked me what the greatest lesson was that I learned. On the surface it’s easy to quote the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and,”…love your neighbor as yourself,” [Mat 22:37-39] and so I did. My friend wasn’t satisfied and he rephrased his question to, “what was your biggest personal learning about your life?” I said I didn’t know and that I not looked at that relationship in that way as it never occurred to me to do so.

I lied.

I knew the answer and it’s been painful to accept the truth of it all. So, what is my truth?

I wasn’t the husband and father that God wanted me to be while conversely, my wife was, or tried to be, the woman God asked her to be.

Maybe I’m my own worst critic but the truth is when I’m called to account for my life I’ll have a lot to answer for. It’s not that I didn’t do anything right because I did but when the successes are balanced against the failures I’ll be found wanting. And when accounting for my failures I’ll have no rational explanations for my actions.

My friend also asked me if reading the Bible and applying it to my life changed my prayers. Again, I said I’d have to think on it but that my first reaction was that I now prayed more for others and less for me.

A partial lie.

The truth is that I pray fervently that my family will give me the chance to be the husband and father – the man – that God asks. I’m human. I’m a sinner. I’ll stumble, fall and fail but I will get up and try again if my family can forgive the sinner that I am I promise them I’ll make them the greatest part of my life. It’s a lot to ask but I have no choice as my family does mean everything to me here on earth so I ask them and I ask God for this chance.

Thinking through my friend’s questions caused me to become quite introspective. And, of course, I had to admit to myself that I cannot attain heaven without making significant changes within myself and ultimately without giving my life over to Jesus, my Lord and Savior. It is a universal truth.

I’m a sinner and I fail daily. I ask for forgiveness each night as I lay down and pray. I promise God to do a little better every day. And then I start this cycle, the next day, all over again.

My advice is to read the Bible cover to cover at least once and to find your truths; then pray for wisdom and guidance and forgiveness.

It’s all there in God’s Word. He gave His Son that we might have eternal life. Turn the pages and turn to Him.

~jdoe

Do Unto Others…

My040 Do Unto Others

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. Did you honor your mother? I made sure to send cards to the three mothers in my life – my mother, my wife and my sister and I also called.  I did this because I love them and it’s that feeling of love that brought me to contemplate what love is in Biblical terms.

The greatest commandment is to love God wholly and the second is to love others as you love yourself. I’ve been struggling with this second commandment a lot lately.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of people in prison that are not nice. It’s these people I’m having trouble “loving.”  They’re selfish, rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful – not much to love, right?

So, I set about discovering what was meant by “love others as you love yourself.” This effort took me throughout the Bible; yet it is was John’s three letters, along with the Holy Spirit, that helped me to see what it means to love others as I love myself.

Now, it must be said that I have no emotion I’d label as love for myself, at least not like I feel for my wife, mother or sister.  For me, I connected love with an emotion – and admittedly the emotion I feel for others in prison is NOT love.  It is discouraging trying to love others and feeling all sorts of emotions other than love.

So, I meditated on it and I listened for the Holy Spirit to talk to me and He did. The Holy Spirit told me to read the Bible! But wasn’t that what I was already doing? I felt a little let down by this direction as what I’d read provided no particular concept on love when it’s hard.

I’m reading the Bible from cover to cover right now. I’d just finished 2Peter when the Holy Spirit said to read the Bible and so as I continued reading, the next three books were John’s three letters. They’re like little gems in the Bible and are quick, easy reads. Yet they held for me, the answer to what it means to love others as I love myself and it gave new meaning to the phrase, “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

What I learned is that love can be an emotion, an action or both but that they are not necessarily connected. What drove this home for me was John’s constant talk of taking action to show love and his admonishment to love one another. For example, in 1John 4:9, we are told that God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world for us. Yes, God was reacting to an emotion of love that He felt for us but just as importantly He took action.  Again, in 3John 1:5-8, a letter to Gaius, John talks of showing hospitality to strangers and then sending them on their way in a manner that honors God. John was telling Gaius to take action, not to have love as an emotion for these strangers and it hit me…

I don’t need to feel the emotion of love in order for me to show love.

I need simply to act.

Perhaps this is obvious to you, but it was a revelation for me! It changes everything about how I interact with those whose personalities and actions are challenging – I can act in a loving way and thus fulfill the second greatest commandment.  Just as I don’t feel the emotion of love towards myself I try to treat myself in a loving way and it’s that manner of treatment that God wants us to share and so, “do unto others…”

So I’m trying to put this into practice. It’s not always easy, as kindness is often taken as weakness inside these walls; and once you’re seen as weak you become a target for all sorts of abuses. But I’m trying none the less. I’m saying excuse me when others bump into me. I’m giving the beggar of coffee a spoonful of my instant and I’m listening to the “whiner” when he needs an ear – and other things as well.

Read the three letters of John (they’re brief and can be read in less than 30 minutes) and find your own blueprint for love.

~jdoe

Done. And Done.

My040 Done and Done

Two posts ago, in Decisions, Decisions (Life On The Inside – Part 4), I shared that I had a decision to make concerning a program offered at another institution.  When I wrote that posting I said I’d have made my decision by the time you read the post.  That turned out to be wrong.  Today, April 15, I made the decision.  Why did it take so long to make my decision?  Reservations on my part mostly having to do with things other than the program.

My biggest reservation has to do with the fact that it has taken my two years to carve out a ‘life’ within this institution.  Putting together a circle of acquaintances and friends is not easy for me.  I’m introverted, and I am not the one to walk up to someone and introduce myself and then make small talk which would lead to making a new acquaintance or friend.  When I think of my small circle of people here they are primarily those who either approached me or introduced me to someone with whom I might share something in common.

Next is a fear that I will be put into an unsatisfactory living situation.  When I first came where I am today I was placed in a cube with a ‘hater’ who also happened to be the primary drug supplier for my housing unit.  A ‘hater’ is someone who, because of your crime, hates on you with verbal abuse and, in extreme cases, physical assault.  The one I was placed with was verbally abusive and threatened to have me beat up by those in the unit who relied on him for their drug fix.  Of course, I alerted the unit counselor of the situation asking him to move me before anything happened but he left me there for a month to the day.  During that month I lived in fear for my safety while putting up with name calling and insults as well as the exclamations of hatred and predicted harm if I didn’t move out.  That experience has kind of scared me.  (You can read more about that situation in Love Thy Enemy and Love Thy Enemy – Concludes.)

After this come the more minor fears such as finding a decent job in the new institution, learning the policies and procedures, using the showers per inmate standards, finding radio stations and programs, establishing an exercise routine, and the list goes on.

Imagine being plucked from the society in which you now live and being dropped into a whole new society, culture, and geography.  If you sat and contemplated this in its fullest measure you’d have an idea of what an inmate faces when changing institutions.

Having said all this, you might think I’ve decided against applying for the program – but no, I’m turning in my application this coming Wednesday, the 18th.  Why did I decide to do this?

In talking about the program and its benefits with my wife, while also sharing my reservations and fears, she said she’d support me whatever I chose to do.  However, she also shared a perspective I had not considered:  Maybe I was actually more afraid of change in general.  I had to admit to myself that yes, change does frighten me because with change comes some loss of control and comfort borne of familiarity.  She also pointed out that my Parole Officer may look on someone coming out of the program more favorably than someone coming out of general population who hadn’t made the effort to better themselves.  My wife is wise and observant.

Secondly, I’ve been praying for the Holy Spirit to talk to me and give me guidance in my decision, and I believe it has come in two ways.

The first way is through my study Bible.  I’m reading Colossians and the way my Bible is laid out is the top half of the page is the Bible passages and the bottom half is made up of teaching notes about the verses above.  Well, the teaching notes recently have been about trusting God and knowing that through Him all things are possible.  So, I’ve decided to put it in God’s hands because there’s a chance I won’t be accepted.

The second way happened yesterday as I walked the track.  I was walking along contemplating my decision and literally asking for the Holy Spirit to talk to me; to make it obvious to me what I was to do.  As I thought this, a guy I know only by sight and name came up behind me and put his arm around me.  As he did this he said, “Have you put your name in for the Life Connection Program yet?”  I was dumb founded.  I asked him how he knew I was thinking about it and he said, “I didn’t but you’re a spiritual person, so I figured you’d be interested.”  I’ve spoke to this guy maybe a half dozen times and there he was, putting his arm around me, and in essence, telling me to do it – in fact his last comment was, “Better pull the trigger on that,” as he walked away.  Couldn’t be more obvious could it?  Doesn’t that sound like the Holy Spirit speaking to me through others?

Finally, making this move would put me within a half hour of my two oldest children, within two hours of my youngest child and shave three hours off my wife and mother’s drive to visit me, while also saving money in travel expenses.  Sadly, it will add three hours onto my sister’s drive to see me which does sadden me for she’ll go from half a day’s drive to all day.

So there you have it, my process for making my decision.  I’d be interested in your stories of difficult decision making and whether you felt God had interceded by given you a sign in some form.

As things progress around this I’ll keep you informed.

My advice:  Listen, for God does speak to you.

~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

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

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