My UFO Close Encounter – A True Story

I think that since I started my mind thinking about supernatural things and cryptids last week, I would continue with that thought today. Why not, right?

We moved several times when I was in Jr. High and High school. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the names of the roads we lived on during that time, except for one, Middlesex Drive. I remember it not because of the odd name, but because of a strange event that happened to me while we were there. Frankly, it changed me forever.

The house was brand new as were all the others in the neighborhood. Lexington was a fast growing city in the seventies and new houses were going up everywhere. Most of these new homes were split levels and split foyers. Ours was a split level. On the ground level were a single car garage, the kitchen, dining room and living room. Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bath. Below ground were a family room, an extra bedroom and the utility room that also contained a bath. My bedroom was below ground. Probably every teenage boy in the neighborhood had a below ground bedroom in those days, because we were not civilized. Our rooms smelled bad. Probably mostly to do with unwashed socks hiding under our beds. I know it didn’t have anything to do with unwashed bodies, because I took at least two showers every day. One before school in the morning and one in the evening. At least three days a week I took one in the afternoon at school after gym class as well. I hated the thought of smelling bad. I was terrified of smelling bad in front of, you know, girls.

We also played our music too loud. Apparently, 20th century parents weren’t keen of Black Oak Arkansas, The Edgar Winter Group, or even Elvis. They kept spinning in my room along with Elton John, the Bee Gees and a wide range of Southern Gospel Quartet music. I had a nice collection of Motown favorites like Marvin Gaye, and the Stylistics for variety. Man, my hair is growing back just thinking about it.

One of the features about downstairs living I liked best was the fact that I had my own entrance to the house. There was a door from my bedroom to the backyard. That was great because I had a white German Shepherd, Rajah. I could easily sneak him into the room, not that I would ever do a thing like that! Anyway, after we were done playing, I could open the door and let Rajah out. He would stare in the back door for a while, then lay down and sleep right outside. It was comforting for me to know my big dog was right outside.

One summer evening, August, to be precise, I was listening to the radio late on a Tuesday night. I kept it low enough not to disturb my parents or sisters upstairs. Rajah lay outside my door. The radio was tuned to WKYT radio as it pretty much always was.

The time was ticking away, well past midnight. It was dark out. Because there were no houses behind us, just a corn field, the back of our neighborhood was always particularly dark. There were lots of stars lighting the sky, but no moon that night. Whenever there was no moon, the darkness of the cornfield was particularly creepy. I was glad Rajah was out there. I was thinking about letting him inside when it all happened.

First, the radio stopped. It just shut off mid song. So did the clock. At first I assumed it was a breaker. Then I saw Rajah. He was sitting up just outside the door with his eyes fixed on the sky. He was frozen like a statue. I called to him. He didn’t move a muscle.

I got up and looked out at the sky. All I saw were stars. Then one star began to move, but instead of moving across the sky, it moved towards me. It began like a white pin prick and grew larger as it moved closer. In just a few seconds it was as big as a full moon and lit up the back field. But it wasn’t done. It kept coming closer until it was in our back yard. Technically, it was in the corn field, but very close to the yard. It was very large and very bright. The thing just sat there pulsating and watching me.

I did what any 16 year old would do. I jumped back in bed and hid under the covers. There was a hum coming from the orb, but that was the only sound in the night. There were no dogs barking. There weren’t even any insects or frogs doing their usual serenading of the darkness. It was terrifying.

I don’t know how long I stayed under the covers. Probably around 10 minutes. By that time it was getting pretty hot under there and the oxygen was pretty stale. I was trying to decide what to do when I sensed a slight change in the brightness, so I pulled my head out from under the blanket.  The craft was now moving off. It flashed once, then slowly but steadily retreated the way it came until is was just a tiny pin prick, then disappeared.

The moment it was gone, the radio came back on. Rajah shook and turned to face me. I got up and let him in. He whined and lay down by the bed. I let him sleep there the rest of the night. I didn’t sleep much. I kept watching the sky, afraid the thing would return.

The next morning I said nothing to my sisters. Neither of them have ever said they saw anything. Eventually, like a year later, I told my parents. They never saw anything. My dad poo pooed it.  My mom stayed quiet. She was open to anything.

On the school bus, and at school, nobody saw or heard a thing. It was like I was the only witness to the event. And that made no sense to me.

In order for you to fully understand my discomfort, you should be aware that even back then I was a Christian, and did not believe in men from outer space. I was convinced we were the only inhabited planet in the universe. There were no grays or lizard people. But what I had experienced was real. And it shook me to my core.

Those were days before the internet so Google wasn’t an option. I was forced to go to the library and go through the card catalogue with a fine tooth comb. I did that at my school library and at the public one, checking out everything I could find on UFOs, encounters, the Bible, and anything else I could find.

Eventually, I found a book written in 1972 by an Australian Christian Writer, Clifford Wilson, called, Crash Go The Chariots. It was a response to Erich Von Daniken’s, “Chariots of the Gods”. I don’t remember much about the text of the book, but Wilson seemed to answer most of my doubts. He set me on a path that I still walk. These days, I call UFOs, and most other supernatural events. Demonic Practical Jokes. They are designed to trick us and to cause us to take our eyes off of God and His message to us.

For example; the teaching that every single person has brought back from a kidnapping encounter with ‘aliens’ is a denial of the Gospel’s core teaching. What’s also true is the message is almost exactly the same as from those who have near death experiences. What a coincidence.

Now this episode is getting a bit long in the tooth, but as I unfold these stories to you, I’ll also unpack what I think is happening. For now just let this thought sink in. I believe that UFOs, The Loch Ness Monster, Dogmen, and even ghosts, are ‘real’. I believe they are trans dimensional and enter our dimension with evil intent. I believe that’s why they can do things that seem so odd to us. Because we are used to our 3 dimensions.

Yes, there are loads of hoaxes. But there are too many serious stories that cannot be discounted or disproved. We must take them seriously.

For now, think on those things. I’ll be back soon with more.

 

Five Surprising Things Farming Has Taught Me About God’s Relationship With Us

old-stone-barnFarming is one of the great joys in my life. I never ceased to be amazed at how much can be done, or how much work there is to do, even on just the few acres we have. Often, it is not the idyllic life I once imagined in my farm fantasies, but I still love it.

For example; vacations are things other people take. It’s very rare that my wife and I can go anywhere exotic or romantic together for more than a day.  Someone has to be there for the garden and animals.

Also, the myth of the rich farmer is just that, a myth. Money is always tight, except when it’s not there at all. Yes, we have many things money can’t ever buy, like beautiful sunsets over our front pastures where Brittan and I can sit side by side in our rocking chairs, sipping iced tea, enjoying the animals romping together in the fading light as the sun slips over the horizon. Those stuck in commuter traffic rarely get to take time for such pleasures. Still, gorgeous views don’t pay the electric bill.

Did you know that it’s possible to get sick of zucchini? Are you aware that a human can only eat fresh chicken or lettuce or green beans so many days in a row before we begin to crave something really unnatural, like Krispy Kreme donuts or Dairy Queen?

When I used to dream about having a farm, and imagine the infinite joy it would bring, I never once considered weeds, or how stubborn and prolific they could be. I only saw rows of corn and bushels of strawberries.

Yes, farming is sometimes just plain hard. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. How could I ever measure the joy of listening to roosters singing their morning songs as I wander out to begin my day? How could I describe how much better it is to watch a flock of geese on their seasonal commutes than to watch the cars and trucks on I-75 in theirs? How could I ever compare sitting on our deck staring agape at the multitude of stars in the Milky Way lighting up the night sky to the street lights and headlamps of city living?

I think, though, that some of the things I love best about farm life are the lessons I’ve learned about God and His incredible relationship with us. There are far too many to count, but with your indulgence, I want to share five of them

  1. It’s Messy. If farming is anything, it’s messy. For one thing, there is poop everywhere. Cows poop.  Chickens poop. Pigs poop. Rabbits, turkeys, quail, goats and donkeys all poop. Everything that hath breath goes number 2. It smells bad and, like Visa, it’s everywhere you want to be.

Where there’s not manure, there’s mud. At certain times of the year mud is a fashion style and a food group. Then, just when you think things are starting to dry out, a water line bursts somewhere and you’re up to your waste in mud again, trying to mend the pipe.

I suspect that’s how God must feel about us, sometimes. We make messes everywhere, all the time. The stink must be awful and He must have one heck of a set of chest waders. Yet His love for us looks past our stench and our stains and He wallows in the sheer joy of fellowship with us.

Each morning, when I head out back to feed the pigs, they surround me. There are four of them. Each one has done their best to out mud the other three. As I pour some soaked feed into their trough, they take turns rubbing their snouts all over my legs. It’s their way of saying good morning. By the time I’ve finished with them, my entire lower body is covered in Georgia clay and snot. But I am still compelled to take time with each pig, scratching behind their ears and along their backs. They wiggle with delight and smile up at me, hog jowls dripping with swill.

I can’t help but think how God delights in our special moments with Him, despite the sheer volume of grime we get on Him.

  1. It’s Emotionally Draining. There is great joy in seeing a pantry filled with freshly canned produce, a freezer filled with meat for the winter, or a garden ripe and ready for harvest. There is also enormous satisfaction in watching a pasture full of baby goats or calves suckling on their mothers or chasing each other around the farm at sunset. Yes, those are pleasure that silence the pain, but I assure you there are many hard days and tearful nights leading up to those happy endings.

It is extremely frustrating to walk out to feed your chickens only to find thirty carcasses scattered around the field, having been tortured and mauled by neighborhood pets, a weasel or some other ambassador of terror. You can almost feel the fear in the survivors, and even emanating from the corpses of the dead.

After waiting anxiously for a doe goat to get through her pregnancy, it is draining to sit with her as she struggles for hours with babies turned wrong or underdeveloped only to have three born dead. Your heart breaks for her, and for the money you will not be getting from the sale of those kids that was going to pay for seed for the garden.

It is almost impossible to describe the anguish of coming home from Church to discover your future milk or beef cow, down in the pasture unable to rise because of some disease or attack.

There is a real sense of shock and awe in stepping out of your house only to discover that in the night, something has gotten into the garden you’ve tended to for months and have devastated it. Seeing the tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans and squash all eaten to the ground can truly create a sense of loss and hopelessness.

Birth and death, disease and health, Joy and heartache, abundance and famine are all a part of the farmer’s life. And it can be exhausting. I just can’t help but think about how emotionally draining we can be for our Heavenly Father. We read in the Bible about God ‘inhabiting’ the praises of His People. In Luke 15 we read all about the joy of lost sheep found, lost coins discovered, and lost sons coming home. The same Bible tells us how human sin caused our loving God to ‘repent’ of ever making the Human race. During the Israeli’s 40 years in the wilderness there were times God told Moses to stand aside so He could wipe out the people. We are an exhausting species.

  1. No Matter How Much He Gives, We’re Never Satisfied. When I go out in the mornings to feed, usually just before 7, the chickens and rabbits are already at the gate awaiting their breakfast. Sometimes they risk life and limb by jumping into the yard to escort me to be barn. We have two collies in the yard that have a real taste for fresh chicken and rabbit, but the thought of food drives all fear from the hearts of my birds. That, and the fact they have brains the size of salted in the shell peanuts.

By the time I’ve gotten to the barn, the pigs are climbing on the gate, and each other, unable to wait 4 more minutes for their grub.  Even the cows will come running straight for me if they catch sight of a bucket in my hands.

When I return an hour or so later to top up their water, all the animals are begging for more food. This is despite the fact that I have never missed a day of feeding them, or that they have an entire farm full of edible pasture available to them 24/7. The simple fact is, they are never satisfied. They always want more.

Aren’t we that way with God? Regardless of how much or how frequently He provides for and blesses me, I always want more. I cry and whine and complain like a hungry boar hog. If he gives me shoes, I want boots. If he gives me a shirt, I complain that I wanted a suit. If He gives me potatoes, I whine that I have no gravy.  I have so very much, but greed drives my appetite, begging for more, more, more. Dear God, have mercy on me.

  1. When We Run To Him, It Gives Him Pleasure. This morning, after giving some hay to the cows and filling their water tank, as I turned to head in for some coffee, two things caught my eye. First, the sun had risen over the house creating a magical scene as its light sparkled in reflection off the dewy pasture. My heart leapt inside my chest. At that very instant, the second sight stopped me in my tracks as Lady, one of our two collies, came flying through the gate running across the field towards me as fast as her legs would carry her. She ran to me, jumped up on me and showered me with kisses before dropping like a stone to the ground so I could rub her belly. Needless to say, I was grinning from ear to ear as I gladly obliged her and fulfilled her wishes.

Anytime I step into the back pastures where the chickens hang out, they come running to me as fast as their little legs will carry them. They waddle and wiggle all at the same time. I have seen this same sight multiple times a day for 6 years, and it makes me smile every time.

God wants to be in a relationship with us, and when we run, or waddle, towards Him, it makes Him smile. He is no absentee Father, He is among us, enjoying our adoration and our company. We make him Happy. Our fellowship gives Him Joy.

  1. Our Needs Are More Important Than His Pain. Farming is not for the faint of heart or self-centered soul. My wife and I have crawled out of bed with fevers, injuries, colds, flus, headaches that would drop a bull moose in his tracks, and more, for no other reason that there are things that MUST be done.

Last week, I injured my foot and it resulted in the agony of Turf Toe. I could not begin to describe the pain associated with Turf Toe (tearing of the ligaments in the knuckle of the Big Toe.  It feels just like gout and lasts two to three weeks with proper care. There is no proper care in farming. Period. I’ve had fever, body aches and much pain from the injury. I would gladly cut off the toe to stop the pain, but I do the chores regardless, because they need to be done. I’ve known farmers who go to work despite crushed discs, pulled muscles, pneumonia, broken limbs, or even cancer, for no other reason that it needs to be done.

Yesterday, I stepped in a hole, twisting my ankle on the already swollen, aching foot, adding insult to injury. With each step the pain grew in intensity and walking became more and more difficult. I wanted to sit down and have a good cry, then take the rest of the day off. But I didn’t. I am not particularly noble, or brave or strong. The simple reality is, the animals and garden need cared for regardless of my comfort. Their needs are far more important than my pan.

Today, as I grunted and hobbled through throbbing toe and ankle during my chores, it dawned on me that in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, God truly demonstrated that our need for a savior was more important to Him than His own pain. God’s very Son took beatings, endured scorn, carried a cross and bore the agony of the nails all because our need was greater that His pain. By comparison, I have endured nothing.

I love farming. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth whatever I’ve sacrificed. It gives me more back than I ever put in; but more than anything, what I love about farming is how it’s revealed to me just how much the Great God of the Universe loves me. By the way, He loves you, too.

 

Buying Real Estate In Mordor – Hard Passages Of The Bible Part 1.

mordorJer 29:4  “The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia:

Jer 29:5  ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them.

Jer 29:6  Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease.

Jer 29:7  Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too.

Jer 29:8  I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to their dreams.

Jer 29:9  They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken.’

Jer 29:10  “The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home.

Jer 29:11  I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.

Jer 29:12  Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you.

Jer 29:13  You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.

 

Jeremiah 29:11 is a very famous passage among Jesus Followers. “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.”

The verse is (mis)quoted by health and wealth hucksters to help fleece the flock, and it’s quite frequently shared by good hearted Believers to encourage those going through rough patches. Unfortunately, as I see it, even those good hearted people are only partly right in the way they use the verse.

When you read the passage in its entirety, we see the people of God listening to false prosperity teachers telling them to resist their exile. Now God is telling them that these so called prophets are only leading them farther away from redemption.

God tells them first, that the exile is from Him. That He is calling them to repentance and obedience. He tells them to not only accept the exile, but to trust Him and prosper where they’re planted. He even lets them know that the exile is not going to be short lived. It will last for generations.

Then it gets even tougher. God tells the people to work for the good of their oppressors and to pray for them. What? You heard right. Go back and read verse 7 again.

It’s only AFTER God sets the expectations that there will be no quick fix for the hardships the Israelis are facing, that he gives them the good news that their exile is finite. He has set a time of liberation. He promises more than freedom, He intends to prosper them. And He wants them to hang on to that promise through the long years they are facing.

I find that to be a hard lesson in an age of instant gratification. Our computers don’t move fast enough, our microwaves cook too slowly, even instant pudding takes 5 minutes so we buy little tubs of it already made and filled with highly questionable ingredients, but at least we don’t have to wait the 5 minutes.

The fact is, sometimes our valleys are going to be long and deep. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want 70 year exiles; I can barely take three days, before I expect my resurrection. I am not good at waiting. Patience is not the most evident aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) in my life.

Not content with the warning, God tells the people to make lemonade out of their lemons. He assures them, that even in this place they don’t want to be, He is willing to bless them if they do their part.

Then adding what we would think is insult to injury, He tells them to work for the prosperity of their oppressors and pray for them. My American Nature cries out, “No Way, Jose! They’re godless Democrats, Republicans, Atheists, Muslims, evil people.”

The simple truth is, God’s people are supposed to handle adversity differently than the rest of the world. Our example comes from the One who pleaded for forgiveness for the soldiers who drove the thorns into his brow and the nails through His hands and feet, as well as for the crowds who mocked Him as He hung suspended between the heaven and earth He created, seemingly a part of neither (‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ Luke 23:34).

These things are much easier said than done. Jeremiah’s message to the Israeli exiles was hard to hear and hard for the people to implement. Similarly, it can be very difficult for us to trust when the path in front of us is shrouded in darkness and fog. Faith is not an easy thing, but sometimes it is the only thing.

The One who conquered the cross and ruptured the grave, has promised to return and make all things new. Let’s hold on to that promise. Let’s hold on to the Promise Keeper. And let’s hold on to each other. There’s strength in numbers. We’re in this together.

 

The Most Secular Cities And States In the USA. Will Number 1 Shock You?

USAWhile flipping through radio stations this morning, I heard someone mention ‘the most secular/non-religious cities in the country.’ Frankly, I kept flipping. As the morning progressed, however, that statement kept haunting me, so about 11:00 I stopped what I was doing and headed for Google.

My search for ‘most secular cities in the United States’ turned up quite a few results, some of which were quite recent, but many were several years old, so I’m sure certain data points have changed. The most recent list comes from April of this year and it’s the one I’m going to share in a moment.

In an obvious follow up, I searched for the most secular States. I found some convoluted pages of fairly recent information, but they were not really easy to make sense of, so I settled for a list from 2009 published on “The Friendly Atheist” page on Patheos.

The lists didn’t surprise me much, but they did hurt my heart. I am committing starting today, to pray each day, for one of the cities and one of the States in a 10 day rotation for 30 days. Essentially then, each of them will be prayed for 3 times during the month. I would love it very much if you would consider joining me. I’m also going to pray for my State, Georgia, and our County, Bartow. I encourage you to pray for your State and County, too.

I’m going Pray for God’s blessing. I will pray for the Leaders, The Churches, The economy, and the people. I will pray that God will send a revival among the Churches and will draw unbelievers to Him. I will pray for peace and wisdom.

Every great revival in history has been preceded by and accompanied by, prayer.  It is time, no past time, for the Church to rise up and stop seeking answers in the voting booth, but in the prayer closet. Vote, yes, but remember that real change can’t be regulated or legislated, because it comes from the inside out.

Please use the comment section to let me know if you choose to join the ‘knee party’.

Top 10 most secular cities (Source: Christian Century, April, 2015)

10: Detroit, MI, 9: Columbus, OH, 8: Boston, MA, 7: Los Angeles, CA, 6: Tampa/St Petersburg, FL, 5: Phoenix, AZ, 4: Denver, CO, 3: San Francisco, CA, 2: Seattle, WA, 1: Portland, OR.

Top 10 most Secular States (Source: The Friendly Atheist 2009)

10: Connecticut, 9: Nevada, 8: Rhode Island, 7: Oregon, 6: Washington, 5: Alaska, 4: Massachusetts, 3: Maine, 2: New Hampshire, 1: Vermont.

 

Today we pray for Detroit and Connecticut. Ask, Seek, Knock.

Sometimes We Have To Retreat To Win

Reflection on my reflection
Reflection on my reflection

I retreated to the Georgia mountains yesterday for a time of reflection, introspection, redirection, prayer and focus. In fact, I’m writing this entry from my secret hideaway. My exact location is known only by God, my wife, and of course, the NSA (but that’s a discussion for another day).

I’ve been through a tough 15 months, floundering ‘in the wilderness’, as they say, and I was beginning to despair. I’ve made some bad decisions (financial and career, not moral), chased some rabbit trails and ‘wild geese’, and found myself at the end of my wits, my cash flow, and I feared, my sanity. Despair was giving way to long term depression.

“Open doors” turned into dead ends and “answered prayers” were nothing more than cruel hoaxes. I pursued career possibilities that weren’t and ministry opportunities that led nowhere. Friends and family, including our Church family, have been supportive and encouraging, but have been as baffled as I about my ongoing exile.

As I have walked through ‘the valley of the shadow’, I have never doubted the existence of God, or the truth of the Gospel. I have, though, at times wondered what kind of God He is. He has seemed cruel, distant and too busy blessing other people to be bothered with me. There seemed to be no ‘rod and staff’ to comfort me. I could not experience the victory of the resurrection, only the constant pain of crucifixion. The only Scripture I could recall is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me.”

I swear if I’d heard one more well-meaning person say, “We don’t know why this is happening, but we know God has something special planned for you”, I was going to run out into traffic. It was hollow in my ears and a dagger to my heart, rather than comfort for my soul.

My poor, wonderful, amazing wife has walked with me every dark step of the way. She has wept and prayed for and with me. If it was not for her support I might very well have broken. An old song says, “You were wind beneath my wings”. She has been so much more than that. She has been the eagle to my Frodo, carrying my broken soul to safety from the flames of Mordor.

Today, a hat trick of events has come together and rendered a miniscule crack in the darkness, allowing in enough light to provide the hint of a path forward.

  1. A post on Facebook led me to 2Chronicles 20 as part of my Bible reading for today. In that story, the Kingdom of Judah is being invaded by a three nation alliance and the future looks bleak. Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, calls the nation together to pray. In his prayer, the King openly admits, “we don’t know what to do. We are relying on you.” (Verse 12). You’ll have to read the chapter for yourself to see what happens.
  2. Someone I have known for many years, and whose family has been more than dear to me, has rejected the notion of Faith and the existence of God. My heart burns like fire and acid and I would single handedly storm the very gates of Hell, to change his mind. I cannot bear the agony of knowing anyone, especially those I care about, making such a choice.
  3. I saw myself in the mirror and realized that time is slipping away. Tic Toc. The years have not been kind to me. I look old and weary. I can see clearly that I have more miles behind me than in front of me, so I must make the most of the days I have. Time marches on. It takes its toll on us all. We must seize the day as if it’s our very last, fight as if the battle depends on us, pray as if it depends on God and repeat the process with each new dawn we are given.

From the time I was three years old, all I have ever wanted to do was preach the Gospel. While other kids dreamed about NFL careers, or wanted to practice law, or hit a baseball for money, I fantasized about standing in front of multitudes of people, introducing them to Jesus. To this day, my greatest joy comes from sharing Christ’s message of hope.

That life was stolen from me just as I entered my prime. The details are inconsequential; it happened. Period. Now it’s time to reclaim my calling, my destiny. I don’t know how just yet, but I know the what.

Along with preaching, my other great passions are writing and teaching people how to grow food to feed themselves. Everything else is just a distraction.

Now comes the hard part; figuring out how to do those three things in a way that glorifies God and supports my family at the same time. Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, while “We don’t know what to do. We’re relying on You”.

God Promised Milk And Honey, How Come All I See Is Manna?

DesertRemember those “Grandma went to _______ (fill in the blank), and all I got was this stupid T-Shirt” shirts that were all the rage back in the day? The implication was, other people get good stuff and I get ripped off.

If anyone ever actually made a comment like that, he/she would be crushed by the weight of all the voices crying, ‘You spoiled brat,’ but the truth is, most of us have a difficult time when good things happen to other people, while we struggle.

You can multiply those feelings exponentially, when we perceive, that God is the one who let us down. We read all about His promises, and when we don’t seem to experience them, we get disappointed, frustrated, angry, and bitter.

Consider the Israeli nation during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. You can read all about it in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Bible. Their adventure began with God, through Moses and Aaron, promising to take them from slavery to live free in a land that flowed with milk and honey. The offer was just too good to pass up, especially when God backed it up with things like protecting them from the plagues and parting the Red Sea. Those eager people must have felt like they were walking on air.

The euphoria didn’t last, though, as the days, turned into weeks, then months, then years. It took 40 years, in fact, before the Israeli’s were at last able to enter the land they had been promised. Along the way, they experienced rebellions, encountered hostile nations, faced poisonous snakes, endured drought, and much more. Sometimes the going was really tough. Each day, though, well 6 days a week, anyway, when the people rose in the morning, there was a mysterious edible substance awaiting them. They called it, “Manna”, which means, ‘what is it?’

God explained that He provided this manna for their nourishment along the road. They were to collect enough for the day, and no more, except for the day before the Sabbath, when they should pick up enough for two days. The greedy found that if they gathered too much, it rotted overnight. The faithless and selfish discovered that if they didn’t gather on Friday, they went hungry on Saturday.

For 40 years, the manna never failed, though the land of milk and honey continued to elude them.

The people complained, they fumed, they wept, they pouted, they groveled, “Where is this glorious land God promised us? All we see is sand; sand and rocks and heat and, and, and, all this stinking manna. We can’t take another day of this gosh awful stuff. At least give us meat.”

If you know the story, you know that by this time, God had had enough of their faithless belly aching and disobedience. He sent flocks and flocks of quail into the camp. The people grabbed them up and started to wolf them down, without even a hint of gratitude. In His anger and frustration, God killed thousands of them before they could even swallow.

Eventually, as the people gathered on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the Promised Land, God had a heart to heart to heart with them and pointed out that the trip took forty years because of THEIR lack of faith and their disobedience. It wasn’t His wish or doing. Yet, despite their constant grumbling, he had provided the manna every single day for the forty years. Their animals thrived (for the record, I’ve always wondered why they complained to God about no meat, when they had thousands of head of cattle, sheep and goats they could have eaten, but we’ll save that for another day.), and even their shoes held up. Not a hole in a sole could be found. God had been there all along.

As I write this post, it’s my turn to wander. It is no secret to those who know me, that I am in a financial wilderness, and I can’t see the Promised Land. I’m exhausted and hurting. I shake my fist at heaven in dismay.

I can’t help but see myself in Israel’s story. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve cried out in despair over the seeming absence of the fulfillment of God’s promises. I’ve fallen on my face and wept over the wilderness through which I stumble. Where are your promises, God? Why hast thou forsaken me? You promised me milk and honey and all I see is manna.

If only I had a grateful, faithful heart, I might see that the ‘manna’ in my life is a gift to sustain me, to demonstrate His love, and to give me faith. He gives enough manna for one day, today. I must learn, then, to trust Him for tomorrow.

I should rejoice that my wife and I are debt free, that we planned ahead for times like this and have plenty of food and basic necessities. We have not missed paying a utility bill, or been unable to put gas in the truck, but all I see is the bottom of the emergency fund and a big stack of rejection letters from companies and Churches.

If I could only recognize how many times the delay of realizing God’s promises has been because of my own poor decisions, inaction or lack of faith, rather than what He has or hasn’t done, then I might get through this wilderness in much shorter time.

His provision is with me, on a daily basis, but I’m looking somewhere else. Perhaps my manna is in my garden that grows, or the customers who show up out of the blue to buy eggs or soap. Maybe it’s that big bowl full of a Church who needed a preacher for the weekend, and asked for someone who then got sick and who called me to fill in for him, so I got to meet some amazing people and received check in the exact amount to cover a financial need we didn’t know we were going to have. Perhaps manna is having a neighbor who is a mechanic and is available when our only working vehicle is on the fritz.

The Bible says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” That’s who I want to be. That’s who I WILL be.

I’m guessing there are quite a few, who might come across this little essay and find yourselves in a wilderness of your own. It might be financial, like mine. It might be relational, or physical, or spiritual. I urge you to look for the manna in your own life. Take heart in it. God is there, and He is not silent.

“Pastor” and “Stress” Don’t Have To Be Synonyms

StressThe more I read about the crazy lives of men and women in full time Christian ministry, the more I believe most of us need an intervention. Anecdotal interviews and statistical research have convinced me that someone needs to step in, call a time out, and help these giving, overworked, stressed out, discouraged, loving, out of control souls find a way to regain balance in their lives and their callings.

So…ok, I’ll start.

Statistically, Pastors say they work 55 to 75 hours weekly. That’s a lot. 80% say ministry is negatively impacting their marriages. 72% say the only time they read the Bible is for Sermon preparation. 70% say they have no personal friends. 70% say their stress and discouragement levels are so high they regularly consider leaving the ministry. In fact, 1700 each month DO leave the ministry, half with no job to go to.

While I believe there are steps congregations, denominations and even colleges and seminaries can take to assist Pastors, it is first of all OUR responsibility to take care of ourselves (and our families). I’d like to offer a few suggestions to help you take back control of your life and find joy in ministry again, or, if you leave, you’ll do so with a plan rather than in flames.

I did a Google search for time management tips for ministers, and frankly most of it was cliché claptrap. It sounded academic and impersonal, so I’m not going to link to any of it. Instead, I’m going to imagine we’re on the phone or you’ve come to my office for a coaching session and I’ll share the basics of what we’d talk about then.

First, Jesus actually WANTS you to be happy and fulfilled rather than stressed and discouraged. Consider this: Jesus said in Matthew (11:28), “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Hmm. Weary and burdened; sound like anyone you know? Rest? Does that sound like a foreign concept?

John quotes Jesus as saying, “I came that you might have life to the full” (John 10:10). Wow, would you look at that. Oh, BTW, there’s a big difference between a full schedule and a full life.

Ok, one more for emphasis. Again, John quotes the Lord, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). Free? I can almost hear you say, “Yes, please, I’ll have a big heaping plate full of Free, thank you very much.”

Let’s review. Here’s where we are so far; Jesus has declared He wants to give you rest, freedom and a maximum life. How in the world is a Pastor, stretched gossamer thin, supposed to get in on that?

To begin with; STOP. You absolutely must break the cycle. You’re going to have to go cold turkey and detox. It will be uncomfortable for a while, but no pain, no gain. If you have to take a couple days off, or a week, do it. Break the cycle and start over.

The next step is to re-prioritize. Or, perhaps prioritize your life and work for the very first time. I use the word FREE from Jesus lips in John’s Gospel as an anagram for the 4 BIG areas of our life we need to get a grip on first, if we’re ever going to be free the way Jesus wants us to be.

F – faith. Our relationship with God is, and has always been, supposed to be our TOP priority. It’s not our families, our congregations, our sermons or the number of seekers we reach out to; it’s Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Time alone with Him to deepen and strengthen our relationship is mission critical. Physically, if we don’t eat and drink, we wither up and die. If we don’t feed our spirits, they die, too. Sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, but it’s inevitable. My recommendation is to read Scripture and pray either when you first get up, or when you first get to the office. In my case, it’s a little of both. I take just a few minutes to pray while I’m sucking down my first cup of coffee. I do my personal reading as soon as I sit down at my desk. No meetings or calls before Jesus. Period. Ever. I have chosen the office because I use colored pencils to mark and highlight passages and topics, so I need a space to work. Otherwise, I would do my reading before the office. You will have to figure your best time, but make it a non-negotiable part of your day.

Also, read books, magazines and websites that feed and uplift your soul. Listen to podcasts or great music. Sing. Take intentional steps to make growing your faith your number 1 priority.

R – relationships. This is a big one. After God, your spouse, if your have one is next. Listen to me. This one is hard for most Pastors. I like to say we have a tendency to act like polygamists and feel torn between two lovers. One is the bride we married, the other is the Bride of Christ. But it shouldn’t be that hard. Your wife is more important than your congregation. If she is not, you need to reevaluate. Marriage was God’s very first institution. Adam’s first responsibility was to the flesh of his flesh. Things haven’t changed.

Spend time together. Silence your cellphone, or ignore it. One of the things my wife knows, is there are times, like meals or watching movies together, or whatever, when I’m just not answering the phone. I have voicemail for a reason. Some of my favorite times each week are going places in the car with Brittan. It’s just the two of us. No dogs, chickens, rabbits, goats, family, neighbors or clients. We can just talk and laugh and love each other.

After your spouse, then it’s children, if you have them. I promise you, you WANT to go to parent/teacher conferences, read bedtime stories, play catch, have ‘tea parties’, go to recitals, shoot hoops, slow dance in the living room, or a thousand other opportunities that will be gone before you even know you missed them. Pray for your children and pray WITH your children. It takes time, but it’s one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Your congregation will understand. If they don’t, give them my number.

You have other relationships, like parents, siblings, etc. that also need cultivating and will require some delicate balancing with your ministry duties. Sometimes it’s hard, but you can do it.

E – emotions. Pastors absolutely need some emotional stability if we have any hope at all of being strong for struggling individuals and families in our congregations.

Here are some ideas for making sure your emotions stay healthy.

You need a friend; probably more than one. But at least one. Someone to talk to, laugh with, cry with, play racquetball with, be accountable to and to hold accountable. I don’t buy this crap that it can’t be someone in your congregation. You just have to make sure that you don’t play favorites.

Oh, while I’m at it, your friend absolutely, positively, without reservation, cannot, under any circumstances be a member of the opposite sex. EVER. Don’t make me repeat myself.

Get a hobby. Join a gym. Go fishing. Take up hunting, bicycling, skiing or gardening. Do something to take your mind off of ‘work’ and allow your brain and spirit to refresh and recharge. I ran sleddogs for decades. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it was for me to hit the trail on a weeknight or a Saturday morning and leave everything and every care behind.   For a few hours and miles it was just God’s creation, a team of eager huskies and me. It was absolute nutrition for my emotional well-being.

Find a mentor or pay for some sessions with a life and career coach who understands the unique challenges of ministry. It’s worth every moment and every penny.

Make sure you take your day off and your vacations. I know a preacher once who hadn’t gone on vacation in over 20 years. It showed. He was wound as tight as a new bow string, and not a happy man. His wife was miserable and his children both left the faith. Coincidence?

Prioritize your emotional well being.

E- economics. Yes, money. Money, or the lack of it, or the management of it, is at the root of more than 80% of marriage issues. And, it’s the primary cause of suicide in men.

It wears us down. It wears us OUT. So, get a handle on it. Create a budget and live by it. I’ve done this right, and I’ve screwed it up. Doing it right is better. There are boat loads of money management tools out there. Get your hands on some and get to work.

Jesus was clear when He reminded us we can’t serve both God and money. Money agrees and will do everything it can, both good and evil, to steal your heart.

There you have it. I consider these the four horses of life and work balance: Faith, Relationships, Emotions and Economics. Once you get these areas prioritized as they should be, you are well on your way, not just to freedom, but to joy.

This post is getting way long, so I’m going to stop here and will pick up next week with some additional tips to help you manage your time, life and ministry.

I love feedback. Please use the comments to join the discussion. What are you doing to manage your priorities in your ministry? What is hardest for you? Alternatively, you can email your questions and ideas to samburtononline@gmail.com. Remember, If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.