Blog 11: “Resting in Him”

The drug cartel has moved into Playa del Carmen, our adopted city of residence. I didn’t learn this from any personal experience, just word of mouth. When I saw a police pickup truck with its lights flashing, with one officer standing in the back of the truck, outfitted in a full SWAT uniform, I had to ask “why all the muscle?”  When I saw a car being pulled over by the police, with one officer carrying an assault rifle while questioning the driver and another standing by looking all SWAT-like at attention, also holding an assault rifle, I wondered if there was going to be shoot-out.

The cartels had not been spotted here before, but we saw them in some of their activities while picking up some street food tacos. The cities of Cancun, Playa, Tulum, and others down the Caribbean Sea coast, make up the state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula. To say tourism is their main industry would be like saying a cruise ship´s main function is to ferry rich vacationers around to luxurious seaports, that is to say, the economy here doesn’t have any other significant industry, other than I believe they make some tequila on the island of Cozumel.  The police have only two main functions here: hunt for drug traffickers and protect the tourists. So, it’s a very big deal that the drug cartels have been spotted.

We are entering into the hot and rainy season, the off-season, when all the sensible snowbirds have flown back north to avoid the heat. It doesn’t feel so hot, but I believe the humidity is around 150%. The sun is so intense, you have to shield your eyes and squint, even in the shade with your sunglasses on. I shoot baskets at an outdoor covered court as dawn approaches and come back as drenched as if I just walked out of the ocean. Then, if I get back before 7, I can race to the 5th floor roof and the pool before the maid comes up to clean. It’s the most beautiful time of the day for me; it´s cool, the water is cold, the ocean breeze is a natural air conditioner, and you can see the cruise ships coming and going from the island of Cozumel. I would love to share it with Laurie, but she won´t be up for two more hours. It’s now after 1, and it’s so hot I haven’t been out since.

Laurie reached a milestone yesterday, she got out of her wheelchair and walked with a cane.

But between that and her physical therapy and her pool exercises, it takes a lot out of her and she sleeps a lot, sometimes as much as sixteen hours a day. Experts say it’s normal. The brain normally takes up about 20% of our energy, but for a stroke survivor, it’s much higher. When neurons in the brain make connections, it creates over 100 trillion synapses. These synaptic connections are working at reconnecting what was disconnected and new cells are replacing the ones that suffered trauma. So, the affected parts of her body are learning like a baby how to function again. And what her body is learning in physical therapy, her short-term memory is transferred to her long-term memory while she sleeps. So, day and night, God is slowly healing her. I say “healing” because I believe she is recovering quicker than the natural process.

I´m also reading the three-volume set The Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall. It´s literally the only three books I brought with me from my massive library that I sold off or gave away before I left Portland. (Everything else is on Kindle). When I sold my roll top desk, a grievous undertaking for a writer, a woman, a lover of Gurnall´s books, bought it and so it helped to medicate the pain of my loss. As for Gurnall lovers: it’s a very exclusive club, so far, I just know about her and me.

I cried out to God this morning and He spoke encouraging words to me through Gurnall. He wrote, “we can´t stand the time of trial and testings in our own strength.” Of course, I’ve always believed and preached that, in theory, but I know prior to this trip I was depending mostly on my own strength to navigate through life. Finances were fine, I was doing some writing and driving for a retirement community once a week and doing a Bible study there. Laurie was working as a florist (until she totally burned out on it). I was relatively comfortable and coasting, which led to a diminishing purpose in life. I still prayed and read the Word in the morning, as has been my habits for over forty years, but quite honestly, I didn’t feel I needed Him too much—I was doing OK. But then life just didn’t have the right flavor.

Much of this trip has been designed by God to correct this. Like other such seasons in my life, I know I´ll be thankful for it, especially when it´s over. Then I read Gurnall´s words: “The one who abandons faith in the midst of a spiritual drought can be compared to the fool who throws away his pitcher the first day the well is dry.”

I know my frailties and know my soul needs to stay under God’s protection to overcome the fears of things we are facing, things mostly in my head—projective fears, fears of things that haven´t happened yet. It´s a strange thing about fear:  a) We can use it as a shield, like if we`re faithful to worry about something we`re doing our part to fix it, and b) If we don´t worry, I guess we just don´t care. And there´s always the right answer on the quiz: c) We´re not worried because we are trusting God.

He comforts me, even though my faith is weak. I sometimes dispute the mercy of God and wondering if He has forgotten us and will fail to rescue us. If I keep surrendering my doubts and fears, He sends His relief in many small and sometimes larger ways. Two scriptures come readily to mind. Jesus said that not even a sparrow falling to the ground escapes His notice. That being true, how much more does He look out for His own people? And then He adds, “Oh you of little faith.” (Ouch) In other words, why worry about something that He is already in full control of? And the other one: ¨My God shall provide all of your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”

 Mark Twain once said, “I´ve had many worries in my life, but most of them never happened.” I believe he would agree with Jesus.

 

Blog 10: It’s Not How You Fall, It’s How you Get Up.

This is supposed to be a travel blog of sorts, but since Laurie’s stroke, traveling has been reduced to grocery shopping, church, and physical therapy. But it is what it has become, not by choice. I was thinking how much I like retirement, especially that you don’t have to kiss up to a boss in order to get paid. I just go to Mr. ATM, give him my card, and he spits out the money. He never makes me greet him in a certain way when I’m having a bad day. There is no time- clock, so I can come and go as I please. There’s no “one-down” relationship to deal with—Mr. ATM treats me as his equal. And although Mr. ATM doesn’t smile, he at least doesn’t yell and get all worked up about something he thinks I did wrong. He’s actually very even-tempered.

20180506_170519I love shopping locally, picking out fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and milk. Makes you feel like part of the community. These people are so poor and work hard, seven days a week to make ends meet. And they so appreciate your business, much more than Walmart. And the their food is much better. There’s nothing like a sun-ripened mango.

In my down time from caregiving, I’m reading Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and realizing how grateful I am that God delivered us from that type of organization.  People who know me know what group I am talking about, and if so, I apologize for any offense you might take from my post, that is not my intent. I fully realize that there are many sincere believers in this group, and that God is using their lives in wonderful ways.

For the vast majority of those who don’t know me, I don’t mention the group because God may very well want them to stay, and I don’t want to do anything that would interfere with that.

I’m just beginning to understand the anger I’ve had against them since leaving ten years ago, which is helping me let go of it. It’s this: They started out as a supernatural move of God in the “Jesus people” movement, where hundreds of hippies like myself got delivered from a life of drugs, insanity, and aimless illusions. Never thought I would ever use this word, but it was organic, (that hurt), free-spirited, and our pastor was called a “brother.” But then it slowly changed. We didn’t notice it much at first, because we were ministering either in Canada or South Africa for 15 out of 17 years. But each time we came back for furlough, we began to see things that made us more and more uncomfortable.

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In a word, it became “controlling,” even though God was still using them to bring hundreds of souls to Christ. The word “headship” was introduced, and with it came a new sense of being dominated, which over the years has led to much spiritual abuse. The problem lies in the “headship” maintaining a “one-down,” parent-child relationship with the member.  I liken it to raising a teenager until about the age of sixteen, and just as the teen slowly begins to break away from their parental influence and begins the natural and healthy process of becoming their own adult, the parent clings on to them and  demands that they stay in a child-parent relationship.

So, the organization is a good place to be converted to Christ, if you don’t mind having a false spiritual authority placed over your lives, commonly referred to as “heavy shepherding,” an authority completely foreign to New Testament leadership principles. The Bible does refer to “headship” in the church, but it is always in reference to Christ being the head of the church. And in a real sense, these leaders have replaced Christ and His authority. In our first service at our new church, the pastor addressed the small congregation and said, “what a privilege it is to be your pastor.” We knew we were in a healthy church.

Back to my anger that I’m letting go of. If they hadn’t changed, I would still be enjoying the wonderful church experience I once enjoyed, the worship, the preaching, the fellowship, not to mention my career as a preacher, none of which I have ever regained. Ronald Reagan was once criticized for leaving the Democratic party for the Republican. He responded, “I didn’t leave the Democrats, they left me.” Likewise, I didn’t leave this religious group, they left me. So, the anger I’ve had with them is over the way they became more heavy-handed and intimidating, which shattered us and our children–all they stood and gave their lives for overseas, trashed in a moment of time. Children don’t recover from that sort of thing as quickly as adults, sometimes never. And we’re just one of hundreds of such families. But knowing where this anger was actually coming from, them departing from the healthy place they came from, is helping me deal with it.

This has been day 34 of our challenging Caribbean get-away. We have unmistakingly seen the hand of God in all of this.  If Laurie had had her stroke one day earlier, in Portland, we would have never gotten to the Caribbean Sea, so our dream would have stopped right there. She loves the sea and the sun and can relax here better than anywhere.  It happened in the city of Cancun, and we ended up at a hospital where a Christian nurse named Lucy is doing the laborious work of gathering all the endless hospital documents 20728273_10210133102419387_4125664610878013531_nfor the insurance and disability claims. She is emailing them to my daughter Rachel, another wonderful nurse, and she’s sending them on to all the right places. This takes an enormous load and frustration off us so we can concentrate more on Laurie’s recovery. These two women can’t imagine the incredible blessing they have been to our lives, in spite of own their jobs and own homes to run. And finally, unable to find a place in Cancun to live, we moved down to Playa del Carmen, where I believe we found the church God has for us and a home that’s perfect for physical therapy, with a rooftop pool and a very motivating view of the sea.

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Thank you, Jesus, and all those who are praying. God is good.

 

 

 

 

Open to Change

 

I find myself as a caretaker for my wife in a wheelchair, moving at the speed of woman. Now I know why women take so much longer to get ready to go out than men—things I really didn’t want to know. And Laurie is actually low-maintenance compared to most women. For me? Put on my shorts, a shirt, and sandals and I’m out the door, but my wife, well, you married men know what that’s about. Not complaining, but I feel I’ve just solved one of the mysteries of life for men. Next, I’m tackling why men can’t find anything in their wife’s purse.

We listened to the song, “10,000 Reasons” (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman this Sunday morning; I’m about to say something pretty sappy about it: I had goosebumps down to my heart. I warned you. I believe one of the lines speaks of praising God in heaven and goes something like, “10,000 years and then forever more.” It speaks to me of permanence. We left Portland four weeks ago with two backpacks and a suitcase full of meds for old people, like pilgrims passing through this world. Won’t it be great when our pilgrim days are over and the “forever more” begins.

Even following American politics from a distance, it’s plain to see one party is preparing for the mid-term elections with a “lights-out” surge toward naked socialism: reparations for African Americans, income handouts, guaranteed jobs, and other redistribution of wealth schemes.

I personally have had some second thoughts recently about my hardcore opposition to what I’ve seen as the “erosion of American capitalism.” Since my post-hippie days, I’ve worked hard all my life, mostly as a pastor and missionary, now defrocked, and later at a variety of low-skill jobs to make ends meet, but have little to show for it, at least on the financial side. We lost our home in the 2008 crash, but mostly because of losing my thirty-year career as a preacher, and we have never recovered financially.

Now, before you think I’m hitting you up for a “fund-me” campaign, p_20180429_174104_1.jpgI’m just trying to set you up for what I want to say next about socialism. Living now off my social security and a VA pension, and with my wife disabled from a stroke, the thought of a guaranteed living wage, universal health care, and other government handouts, not to mention the possibility of less pop-up advertisements on my laptop, well, it’s all very appealing. Those who are younger, skilled, and able to earn greater amounts of income, helping those on the other end of things, from where I’m sitting, that’s looking pretty good.

Until recent stories like twenty-three-month-old Alfie Evans from the U.K. surface from time to time. Alfie was born with an undiagnosed degenerative neurological condition and was living on life support. The doctors gave him no chance for recovery and chose to disconnect him from life support. So, the parents wanted him removed from the Liverpool hospital to a Vatican hospital in Rome, with the Pope’s blessing. The Italian government even made the extraordinary gesture of granting Alfie Italian citizenship, so he could freely fly to Rome. But the U.K. courts and the European Court of Human Rights denied Alfie’s parents the right to do so and instead have offered Alfie a “dignified and compassionate” death at their own hospital. After he was unhooked from support, he died just today.

So there’s the bait and switch. Socialism comes garbed as the ultimate solution to inequality, suffering, wants, and injustices of all natures. And who doesn’t want that? But with this “benevolent compassion” comes a hook: the loss of many basic personal freedoms.

If only socialism was the large-hearted, philanthropic system its promoters claim it is, but it isn’t, it’s a decoy. With the powers to supply all one’s needs, come the powers to dictate what is deemed unlawful speech and how many official genders exist. Swedish daycares are experimenting with boy toddlers wearing dresses and given dolls to play with, while girl toddlers are given G.I. Joes and toy trucks, in hope of breaking down the “unnatural stereotypes of the genders.” Are these the people we want imposing the limits on religious expression and what kind of car we can drive? Because these are the same people that denied little Alfie’s parents the right to remove their sick child to a religious environment, where they could find comfort, solace, and hope of a miracle.

William Shakespeare in King Richard III said it best in the words of his lead character:

“And thus I clothe my naked villainy, 

with odd old ends stolen out of holy writ,

And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

 

This was our second Sunday at the Cornerstone church. The pastor taught on Abraham being tested, when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the same mountain Jesus would be sacrificed on for our sins many years later. And just as God supplied a substitute for Isaac with a ram, Jesus was the substitute for us on the Cross.

Abraham was changed forever after his experience on Mt. Moriah. God changed the world with His Son’s sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. Abraham didn’t know much about God at this point, just that He was a good God. He didn’t know how God would intervene, but he believed God’s promise that through Isaac He would multiply Abraham’s seed as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

I’ve seen a side of God I hadn’t seen before. 20180427_171144Going through this experience with my wife’s stroke and not knowing how financially, mentally, and spiritually we’re going to make it has changed me.

God spoke to me: “You take care of Laurie, and I’ll take care of the rest.” Anyone who knows me knows I’m not the caretaker type. I didn’t realize how selfish I was. It wasn’t so hard giving to people what I want to give them, which made me feel good about myself. But to give to someone what that person actually needs is another thing. He’s given me a deeper love for Laurie, and there’s a joy in serving her, which I know has to be from God.

Laurie says she never knew or felt how much God loves her since having the stroke. She was never able to receive God’s love before, not like this.

Blog # 8: Playa del Carmen

 

Laurie and I couldn’t find a decent place to stay so we moved on to Playa del Carmen, about an hour south by taxi from Cancun. A Craigslist post from a expat American from Georgia named Jason landed us in a budget-stretching one bedroom, ten minutes from the beach, with a rooftop pool overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the distant island of Cozumel. Sound like paradise? We needed the pool for Laurie’s physical therapy and the view of the Caribbean Sea to keep her spirits up, at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

But to keep this from sounding like your typical social media blog, which would normally contain the top five greatest hits of the week and  none of the flops, one of our laptops apparently picked up a virus and is rendered useless until we can find a tech. guy, (Joseph, where are you?). Laurie temporarily had her wheelchair stolen at Walmart, she caught the flu from a coughing doctor in ICU, hospital and physical therapy bills threaten to rob our nest egg unless we get reimbursed, even though we’re trying to trust God, we have fears around Laurie’s recovery.  We’re not super-saints by any stretch, just two older people learning daily to stay in the moment and trust the One who has never let us down, even when sometimes it appears that He has.

I’m reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who as a five-year-old Somali girl, endured compulsory female genital mutilation, and as a teenaged girl escaped marriage to a man she barely knew by fleeing her African home and obtaining asylum in Holland. She began doubting the righteousness of her religion when she first learned what the Quran meant when it said to “wage war on the unbelievers,” that it wasn’t just referring to the seventh century battles of Uhud and Badr, but that the massacre of September 11 was also fully justified by Allah and the Prophet. She said most Muslims don’t study much theology and rarely read the Quran, which is taught to them in Arabic, which few Muslims understand. So, when the people are told Islam is a religion of peace, they take it at face value from their leaders, who are deemed infallible.

I thought of how the history of Catholicism is similar in one way. For 1,000 years, commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages,” the Bible was locked away in the Latin language where only the elite could read it. As a kid growing up in a strict Catholic home, I won’t say we were discouraged from reading our Bibles, but we were told that only the priest could properly interpret it, and so, although we had a huge family Bible, complete with full-page pictures, it was never actually read, even once. So, we also just took “truth” at face value from our leaders. And since the Pope was “infallible,” you couldn’t argue with God.

In the “heavy-shepherding” Christian cult Laurie and I were a part of for thirty years, there were also some similarities to the above. Biblical “truth” was filtered through the interpretations of the esteemed leaders. I believe for the most part, they were sincere, or is that being too kind? We used to joke about being “brainwashed,” and our response was, “well, my brain needed to be washed,” which it certainly did. Our former leaders had their own brand of “infallibility,” and you would be labeled suspect if you questioned it. Case in point: During a particular teaching session, one of the top pastors taught that Samson, since he had ultimately committed suicide, had gone to hell. When someone in the congregation timidly asked how one of the “Heroes of Faith” from Hebrews 11 could end up in hell, he was met with a reddened face and an angry “stare of death.” Contradiction was as the sin of rebellion—cross that line at your own peril. The leaders ruled liked Old Testament kings.

Laurie is able to leave our apartment, go up the elevator, climb the five steps to the roof level, and get into the pool for a swim,Jpeg all without her wheelchair. Of course, that means inching along in a tight hug with me, and more than once we’ve been told to get a room. She has always wanted me to take dance lessons with her, and so this may be her answer. People here have been extremely helpful—special mention to an expat named Paul from Ottawa, Canada, who always seems to be around when we need a little extra lift into the pool.

We also found another excellent church last Sunday here in Playa. Other than the twenty-three steps to the second floor, 20180422_102954sandwiched in between four brawny men from the congregation—these men took their jobs very seriously, no one was falling on their watch, it was good, simple worship and a biblical, well-prepared teaching with good revelation—we’ve found our church home.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Connecting

Charlie and his beautiful wife and two teen-aged daughters picked us up for church last Sunday morning. Friends of Lucy. This was one reason we came to this tourist haven; not just to enjoy the sun, the beautiful Caribbean Sea, which we haven’t seen yet, and to escape the cold of Portland, both weather-wise and spiritually. but to find a church that believes in miracles and one we could be a part of and do something for God.

They met in a rural area, a small, chalk-white building, cut into the tangled jungle, white plastic chairs and Mexican smiles, hugs, and kisses by the dozen. During the worship, Laurie felt faint, so they transported her in her wheelchair to a car parked by the entrance, where she could rest in hear the music. The preaching was mostly in Spanish, but Cecil, a retired airline pilot with Japan Airlines, sat next to me and translated, and then I sent him out to the car to translate for Laurie.

At the end of the service, they carried her in her wheelchair up the nine stone steps back into the church and to the front to be prayed for. The worship and music was intoxicating. They pulled her up from the wheelchair, and with support, she walked for about 10 minutes. If love alone could heal, she was healed a hundred times. She definitely felt a supernatural strength flowing through her body when they prayed, and her legs noticeably strengthened from that point onward.

God heals in several ways. One: Miracles. These are instantaneous, supernatural acts of God. I believe the main reason Western Christianity has gone Laodicean is what I call “the death of Pentecost.” I’ve seen far too many miracles in my own ministry in South Africa, including a dramatic healing of my own back, that doctors said without surgery I might never walk, to ever have doubts on the subjects. Good Christians differ on this doctrine, but to me, it’s not a doctrine but a living reality.  Two: Healing. This is where God heals you quicker than the natural healing process. Three: Doctors. God uses doctors and medicines to heal people. Four: When we get to heaven.

Right now, we are believing for a supernatural healing, as Laurie is doing physical therapy and feeling a little stronger every day, but we’re still believing God for a miracle.

After church, Charlie and his family hosted a food fellowship with half of the church. Laurie was up for eight straight hours, by far her longest.

I’ve posted a video of the church praying for her, which follows:

 

 

 

 

Spiraling

So, who is this woman I married? Shy, a bouncing blonde ponytail, with her vivacious six-year-old​ daughter​, a diligent caretaker of ten ​stray ​kittens. I had no idea​ who she was, not really. ​ What man ​ever​ does​ to begin with​? She loved Jesus, she was so beautiful I wanted to weep, I had two small children left to me by my ​first ​wife’s death from cancer​;​ it was a match that had to be.

Who is she? I asked myself this when, as I was hopping her on one leg to ​her wheelchair,​ she said, cheek to cheek, “I’m glad this has happened.” I rested her against ​a ​wall, “What?” She said it brought us closer together and closer to God. It’s what we wanted. but I thought snork​eling​ on the Caribbean Sea and praying together again in the morning would be sufficient. No half measures with God. Living in Portland was like spiritual Sodom. ​Moving here, ​w​e were volunteering to make our lives available​ to God​ ​and now He is ​preparing us​ for what He has for us.​ I told a friend, jokingly, I wished my blog​ was​ “NOT changing from glory to glory ​TOO​ ​MUCH​,” but he was relentless and responded, “Nothing is too much to be conformed into God’s image.” ​I wanted to tell him to lighten up. ​

I’ve seen Mexican ​men and women​ working incredibly hard here, not always true in America​,​ where their votes are bought by food stamps. I saw a young gay man lounging by the pool. I remembered how I ​used to​ respond in my legalistic, judgmental church days​. That is,​ “If I befriend him, he will think I approve of his life​’s​ choices,” right? ​I know the Scriptures, but since my name isn’t Jesus, I treated him with respect. ​I tried to ​explain to him why Obama was not the savior of the world and why Trump was not the ​Beast of the Book of Revelations, even if he looked and acted the part many times. ​ ​After I was ​more delivered from my judgmentalism, someone​ asked ​me ​what ​I ​would do if a homosexual walked into ​my​ church? I said I would sit him with the rest of the sinners. After all, God hates religious pride above all else.
We were shunned ​by religion ​as if we were gay, Laurie and I, because our sin was equally grievous, at least in the eyes of our church leader: ​we stood on principle against a false religious movement, that was invading by a coup attempt to take over our fellowship in South Africa. ​My church leader at the time sided against us. That was ten years ago, and that didn’t have a happy ending. That is why I write novels on spiritual abuse. My novel, “The Grass that Suffers,” is being readied for publishing, hopefully within a month.

​I guess I’m getting into the habit of naming each blog. “Spiraling,” because after “launching” and “splatting,” we are now spiraling to a place of finding a new and present reality, physically, mentally, and spiritually. On the spiritual side, through our friend Lucy at the hospital, we met a group of beautiful miracle-believing Christians, and went to their church yesterday morning. That will be my next blog. ​

Splat

I’m writing this blog from the intensive care unit of Victoria Hospital in Cancun, Mexico, where my wife, Laurie, is out of the room, having multiple tests done to find out the cause and cure for her stroke. I’m sitting here alone listening to ICU machines making crickets sounds. If you read the last blog, posted in Portland, it was titled “Casting Off.” I wasn’t sure what to call this one since we don’t appear to be “casting” anymore, or at least not with the same exuberance. So, I’ll leave it untitled until one presents itself.
It happened at 2:30 in the morning on our first night here. I heard her cry out and found her on the floor, having collapsed—her entire left side of her body had turned numb as novacane. 9-11, and the ambulance rushed us to a state-run hospital. Not our choice, but it’s where the paramedics took us. State- run hospitals make the American VA hospitals look like the Mayo Clinic.
I first realized that we were in the wrong place when the wheelchair had only one usable footrest and the left wheel slanted at a perilous angle. Most of the blood was from men who obviously got the worst of it in knock-down fights. Thrashing about in the hallway on their gurneys; no one was in a hurry to clean up the splatter. Oh, I’m sorry, you’re reading a travel blog from Cancun and you were looking for hot bodies on the beach that say, “How cool are we?” You wouldn’t really want to see our bodies, anywhere, but we’ll eventually get to the beach.
So, we caught a $600 ambulance ride to a private hospital, where they not only knew how to insert a proper IV but had real equipment and medicine to meet the crisis. That was two days ago and there’s been little physical progress, as I await her return from the MRI. Lack of blood flow to the right side of her brain apparently killed some cells that operate the left side of her body. Fortunately, her face muscles were not affected and she still has a beautiful smile.
This was not the trip we planned: snorkeling in Cozumel, sunsets on the beach, but it’s what we got, and for a reason, which I will explain later when God shows me. But I already have some ideas.
They allowed me to move into her room. With the price we’re paying, it’s the least they could do, but there’s no mini-fridge or microwave and you have to wash out your laundry in the sink. But there’s good AC and I can be close to Laurie. But the next night the hospital filled up and so they accommodated me across the street at the Hacienda Hotel, and thanks to a God-send Christian nurse named Lucy, 20180406_103521 (1)the hospital paid for the first two nights. There have been other angels along the way in this crisis, who aren’t getting their proper due.

So, in order to keep this from being a depressive blog post, let me just say I already see some of God’s hand in allowing this to happen. One: Our family, back in Oregon and Arizona, are praying and texting several times a day. We have good relationships with them, but never this must loving contact. That is good. And friends we haven’t heard from for a while are texting and praying as well. Our youngest daughter, Abby, texted, “Mom, you better get out of that hospital and on the beach soon. I love you so much, and I believe you will recover. Your mind is strong.” Another daughter, Rachel said, “I love you, the kids and I are praying all the time. I’ll get on the plane in a minute and come down there if you need anything.” Being a nurse, she spoke personally to the neurosurgeon and requested all the medical records to make sure the doctors were doing everything right.
Two: Laurie and I came here for change, and there is no doubt that this will change us. Who said change was easy? especially at our age? For all the stress, panic, worry, tears, and what ifs? I know good things will come from all of this. One of my favorite scriptures: Jeremiah 29: “For I now the plans I have for you, plans to bless you, to give you a future and a hope.” And “All things work together for good for those who are called in Christ Jesus.”
I asked her, “Are you afraid of death?” She said she never thought of it. She believes it was everyone’s prayers that gave her the peace of God instead of panic. And then she said she was glad this had happened. She said this while I was hoisting her, hopping on her good foot and clinging to me on the way to the bathroom. And I will tell you why she said that in the next blog.
I can’t wait to get Laurie back, I mean all the way. God is good, many are praying, we covet yours as well.

Casting Off

My wife Laurie and I have decided to join a growing trend of people who sell everything and relocate to a warm, inexpensive country overseas and become “digital nomads.” But not so trendy is the way we’re NOT doing it. There are two basic groups of “nomads”: Young people who have little to get rid of and pack their lives into a backpack and travel the world, financing their journeys through on-line blogs. The second group consists of older people who sell their considerable possessions and house and buy condos in places like Panama or the Bahamas and live off their retirement money.
We don’t exactly belong to either group. Like the young people, we loaded up our backpacks and sold everything (or gave it away). But unlike the young people, we will be living off my Social Security. Our life’s accumulation of worldly wealth sold for a paltry $1,267, and that included two cars and my pastoral library. And unlike the older folks, we don’t have a house to sell and will be renting furnished apartments.
Years ago, I promised my wife, who was born in the Caribbean, that I would take her back there, and so we plan to settle on the Caribbean island of Cozumel, off the Mexican, Yucatan Peninsula. She will snorkel and I will write and market my first novel. And so, we leave in two days each with one back pack and one check in duffel bag full of meds and a CPAP machine.
We are not going just for the less expensive living. We also need a spiritual shakeup. After burning out on American “churchianity,” we find ourselves spiritually depleted and are hoping to attach ourselves to a Christian group that is doing something for God. Having been South African missionaries, we feel we have a lot to offer and are looking for God to open doors of opportunities for us.
And so, I will be blogging our experiences, with pictures, and perhaps paving the way for other seniors to make similar lifestyle changes. Scary, you ask? Everyone we talk to about what we’re doing is excited for us, but I can read the fear on some of their faces. Yes, if it wasn’t a little scary, it wouldn’t be an adventure. But do you know what would be scarier? Staying where we’re at and becoming spiritually, mentally, and physically comatose. Paul said in Eph.6:10, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” Fear immobilizes its victims. Faith pushes beyond and looks for God on the other side. The outcome of our battle rests on God’s performance, not on our strength and abilities.
“Everyone is a hero if you catch them at the right moment.”

What about those who’s round peg doesn’t fit the churchly square?

In the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14, one of the guests commented, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.” He says this to elicit Jesus’ opinion on who will be at this heavenly banquet.
They expect Him to respond by saying something like, “Those who precisely keep the Law, they will be worthy.” And the Pharisee’s would have nodded their heads in agreement.  700 years earlier, Isaiah, in the 25th chapter of his prophetic book, says that Gentiles, despised by the Jews of that day, will also be at this banquet. The apocryphal Book of Enoch agrees that Gentiles will be at this banquet, with a slight twist. He says that the angel of death will be there to slay all the Gentiles, and the good Jews will have to wade through the blood to get to the banquet table. The Qumran adds another twist: no one with physical deformities will be allowed at this banquet. Thankfully, Jesus has a different reality on this.
In verse 16-20, the master of the house sends out his servant to gather people for the banquet. People come and are seated in the living area. But when the announcement comes that the food is ready, they get up and leave. One has to go test his oxen, another has to look at a field he just bought, and another just got married. Imagine having guests in your own home doing this. “Excuse me, I have to go and feed my cat.” Or, “I have to go mow the lawn.” They all had flimsy excuses: What? you didn’t test the oxen or look at the field before you bought it? Not likely. The excuses are purposely flimsy. Why? They wanted to humiliate the host.
The host is righteously upset. He’s been humiliated. Insult and injustice causes great anger. And anger generates enormous energy. What is he to do with it? Bible says, “Be angry and sin not.”
The master of the house has every right to retaliate, but he doesn’t. He responds in grace and invites others to come. He uses his energy to invite the poor, maimed, blind, and infirm and yes, even Gentiles. The very ones the religious elite say are not eligible.
He says to “Compel, even force them to come in.” He’s not saying to physically drag them in. The Spanish Inquisition used this terminology to justify their horrific brutalities toward “heretics,” those whom Rome deemed not “Catholic enough.” But the master knew that this third group of invited guests would have a difficult time believing they were worthy to attend such a banquet and would need some strong persuasion. “Are you kidding, you want me at the banquet? Hah, do you know what I’ve done? I don’t even go to your church.”
This latter group was the broken, the abused, the trampled underfoot, the dregs and outcasts of society. The very people the religious elite would cast away and declare as unworthy.
The heavenly banquet has already begun. The religious elite are invited. But if they refuse, or are too proud, Jesus will go to the “common people,” those who “heard Him gladly.” Those who are most convinced of their own worthiness are the least likely to be found at the banquet. Those who are broken, bruised, and used by this world, who can’t believe they’re worthy to attend, are the most likely to be included. Those whose church attendance has been impeccable, whose good works are all up to date, those who have ticked off all the right boxes of religious activity, will consider their ticket successfully punched. Maybe.
But what about those who aren’t on the church membership roles? The ones who aren’t included in Christianity Today or Charisma magazine? What about those who are trying to love God but don’t have a ready audience? What about those who don’t fit the ecclesiastical mold, those who round peg doesn’t fit the churchly square? Those who are bankrupt in the business of the Western church?
In Rev.4:10,11, the twenty-four elders are seen in heaven, falling down before Him
who is seated on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before Him, crying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” I believe the saints around the throne of God will do likewise, feeling unworthy to even be there, much less, to be receiving crowns. Will there be those demanding larger crowns there? I think not.

We are instructed, commanded by Jesus to invite people to the banquet. We’re not responsible for them to accept, but we are responsible to invite them. Those who refuse to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” will be cut off. Anyone who doesn’t desire to know the truth has already rejected it. Truth and error are all the same to the spiritually ignorant man, and so he doesn’t value spiritual Truth.
Many people say a person can be saved in any religion if he just follows the “light.” That it doesn’t matter what someone believes as long as he believes something. But in reality, their imagination is making as many roads to heaven as Scripture tells us there are ways to hell.

How do we know the truth? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the way.” The Word declares that anyone who does not hold that truth is marked lost for eternity. He who will not take God before he dies, the devil will take as soon as he dies.” This is why it is critical to know what you believe and why you believe it.

Retiring From Religion

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a crooked lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life? Sounds like a reasonable question, except it’s a trap. First of all, the lawyer is asking the wrong question: what can anyone do to inherit anything? If you had a rich relative and they died, leaving you an inheritance, the only thing you did to earn it was that you were in that family. When you are saved into God’s family, our inheritance is Eternal Life in heaven. It’s a gift. We can’t “obtain” it by our works. The lawyer asked, “What must I do?” If Jesus were to tell him to jump over a twenty-foot fence, it would be equally impossible.

Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer directly, but tells him he must, “…love the Lord your God with all his heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Truth: You have to have the love of God in your heart before you can love your neighbor as yourself, especially some “neighbors.”

So, the lawyer, looking for some wiggle room asks, “Who is my neighbor?” He draws some careful boundaries about who is neighbor is. To a good Jew, no Gentile could be considered his neighbor. Actually, he believes his “neighbor” could only be another Jew who carefully follows the Law. He thinks he’s covered.

So, Jesus tells the parable: A man is beaten, stripped naked, robbed, and left for dead. A priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan all encounter him. The priest and the Levite, not wanting to defile themselves by touching a dead person, or even a wounded person who is a Gentile, pass on by. The Samaritan stops, treats his wounds, and takes him to an inn to be cared for. Then Jesus asks him, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor.”

The lawyer is exposed, not only for his prejudice against non-Jews, but by the fact that he can’t ALWAYS love the Lord God with all his heart and strength, and ALWAYS love his neighbor as himself. No one can. It’s an impossible task. Only Jesus Himself could do that. Eternal Life is a gift, not something to be obtained by trying to live up to some impossible standard. We need God to help us to at least be moving in that direction.

“Our task is to encourage others first to let go, to cease striving, to give over this fevered effort of the self-sufficient religionist trying to please an external deity. Count on God knocking on the doors of time. God is the Seeker, and not we alone … I am persuaded that religious people do not with sufficient seriousness count on God as an active factor in the affairs of the world. “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” but too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clutter of effort to ‘do something for God’ that they don’t hear Him asking that he might do something through them. We may admire the heaven-scaling desires of the tower-builders on the Plain of Shinar, but they would have done better to listen and not drown out the call from heaven with the clang of the mason’s trowel and the creaking of the scaffolding.”

–Thomas R. Kelly

I spent thirty years of my life striving in a religious fellowship as a pastor and missionary, hoping I was “doing enough for God” to be accepted, not just by Him, but sadly, even more so, by my pastor and peers. Although I am grateful for the rich experiences, after leaving that organization I realize God is less concerned by what I’m doing for Him than just allowing Him to love me for who I am. I’m still unlearning all the legalism I thought was pleasing God, and that His love isn’t based on my performance. His salvation and love is a gift, and it’s only cheapened when I think I can earn it.