doldrums

Some days, absent the need for
complete inactivity –
as when frenetic events
force a dead calm –
it seems as though I
choose to lull,
bobbing ever so slightly
on the water,
barely breaking the
cohesion of the
surface tension;

I allow the sun to
cook my fair skin and
bleach my already
blond locks,
and I hear the
slow formation of a
spectacular thunderstorm;

Although sometimes deadly,
such a storm will,
without fail,
relieve, for a while,
the heavy, humid heat
that is my life
alone

drifting…

©2017 Steven Barto

 

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One Day – From the Journal of Katie Davis (September 2, 2008)

Until very recently, I had forgotten about God’s unconditional and undying love for mankind. For me specifically, and for every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth in general. I am reading a book I borrowed from an elder at my church called Kisses From Katie, written by a young woman who went from high school to Uganda at age 18 to care for and teach Ugandan children. The conditions in the villages are horrific and deplorable. Her love for the people blinded her to the filth and stench.

Katie Davis is a young woman who, at 18 years old, senior class president, and homecoming queen, left Nashville, Tennessee over Christmas break of her senior year for “a short mission trip” to Uganda. Her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. And so she did after graduating from high school. Her book takes us on a journey that can only come from radical love. Katie chose to sleep on a tiny cot in an orphanage, delivering first aid to children who have lost their parents to HIV Aids, famine, and, too often, war and murder.

Katie stayed in Uganda for more than a year, where she moved off her cot and into a house large enough to start a small school and adopt nine orphaned children. Her ministry has grown into an NGO (non-government organization) that now operates a school program for hundreds of children.

In keeping with a promise she made to her parents, she returned to the United States in 2008 to start college. Almost immediately, she felt like a stranger in a strange land, longing to return to her adopted children and the ministry she started. The following is an entry from her journal, dated September 2, 2008, that brought me to tears and convicted me as to my life and my modicum of service to the Lord. It is a bit long, but well worth your time.

One Day – September 2, 2008

Ordinary people.

He chose Moses. He chose David. He chose Peter and Paul. He chose me. He chose you. Common people. Simple people. People with nothing special about them. Nothing special except they said “yes.” They obeyed. They took the task God assigned them and they did it. They didn’t always do it well, but they said “yes,” and with His help they did it anyway.

Extraordinary tasks.

Moses was a murderer, a shepherd just trying to mind his own business and move on with his life when he watched a bush catch fire and not burn up. God wanted to use him to lead His chosen people people out of Egypt. Moses was human and told God that He had the wrong guy. Moses wasn’t an eloquent speaker, and he was afraid. But he said “yes,” and God used him anyway. The Red Sea parted, bread fell from heaven, and people believed.

Jonah was an ordinary fisherman and God wanted to use him to set Nineveh free of its wicked ways. Jonah was human and quickly ran away, overwhelmed by the task God had given him. From the belly of a fish, he repented, he begged God for forgiveness. He said “yes,” and God used him anyway. The people of Nineveh believed in God, turned from their wicked ways, and were spared from destruction.

David was a shepherd boy, pretty much the runt of the litter, the very last thought in his father’s mind, and despised by his brothers. God wanted to use him to be the next great king of Israel. Though everyone doubted and watched in horror, David said “yes,” and God used him anyway. Little David used a stone to take down the giant Philistine. The Philistines  were defeated, and though David continued to make mistakes, God used him to make Israel a great nation and relay His words to many people.

Mary was a peasant girl, probably a teenager, getting ready to marry a local carpenter. God wanted to use her to carry His Son, hope for all mankind, into the world. She asked the angel, “Why me?” and “How?” Ultimately, though, she surrendered herself to His will. She said “yes,” and God used her anyway. A baby was born who transformed the world then, and still does today.

Paul was a young man who made it his goal to destroy Christianity, dragging believers to prison and even killing them. God wanted to use him to proclaim His name to Gentiles all over the world. Paul  had a violent history and initially other believers were afraid. But he said “yes,” he fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel, and God used him anyway. Paul performed and witnessed miracles, wrote close to half the Bible, and spread the Good News all over the world.

Sometimes, the everyday routine of my life feels so normal to me. At other times the idea of raising all these children seems like quite a daunting task. I realize that since I have chosen an unusual path it is easier for outsiders to look at my life and come to the conclusion that it is something extraordinary. That I am courageous. That I am strong. That I am special. But I am just a plain girl from Tennessee. Broken in many ways, sinful, and inadequate. Common and simple with nothing special about me. Nothing special except I choose to say “yes.” “Yes” to the things God asks of me and “yes” to the people He places in front of me. You can too. I am just an ordinary person. An ordinary person serving an extraordinary God.

If – by Rudyard Kipling

This is one of the most profound poems I’ve read in a long time. I nearly passed it by, thinking it’s language, even it’s message, would be outdated. I was wrong. I hope you enjoy it as much as I.

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

This poem is in the public domain.

Why Do I Feel So Empty?

Why do I feel so empty?
Eyes closed, I see
Only gray.
Not even darkness.

I hear my heart thumping
In my head and
I wonder why
I’m even here.

I clasp my hands together
As if in prayer;
Maybe I’m hoping my
Inherited faith will
Accord me some dimension.

This cold emptiness
Undermines me, and,
To an extent, adds
To my predicament.

Too many things interrupt
My awareness of meaning,
Which feeds my
Uncertainty.

I vacillate, not sure
If it is “I” that believes
Or my ancestors
Believing through me.

If my meaning has been
Stamped on my heart by
Someone else, someone
Who is not me,
Someone who is less than God,
Then it is a phony meaning,
And is, perhaps, why I
Feel so empty.

©2017 Steven Barto

Dave and the Girl (A Not so Attractive Story)

Dave and I caught her.
We were all out of breath
From chasing her down the
Shore of the lake.
It was Dave who put her
Up against a big tree;
He wouldn’t let her go.
I kept hoping Mr. Snyder
Would come out
And start down to the lake
To cast for his lunch.

Sun would be up soon.
Dave was pulling up
The front of her dress
To the point where
He shouldn’t.
He started reaching
Inside her dress
Just as I retched.

I was sweating terribly
And shaking all over.
This is just not right!
Just not right!
I looked around, and
Just before Dave put his
Hands where they don’t belong,
I struck him hard in the
Back of the head with
A large rock.

Dave fell flat on his back,
At the feet of the girl,
Eyes open, not moving.
She was smiling, almost
Sickly glad.
She kicked him in the side
And spat in his face.

She thanked me with a big hug
And a peck on the cheek,
Then ran along the edge
Of the lake,
Heading north,
Disappearing in the fog.

©2017 Steven Barto

Are You a Broke Christian?

I apologize for the forcefulness of the question I presented in the title of today’s blog post. Understand this: It is not something I like to talk about. I had a pastor tell me that finances are my Goliath. What’s interesting is I was not shocked by his comment. Know why? Conviction of the Holy Spirit. Then, as if to truly solidify this truth for me [hopefully so I could deal with it better], he pulled out the tithe ledger, glanced at it, then said, “Hmm. Do you realize you have only given $467 in offerings this year?”

Christians should be able to be free. There is power in the Name of Jesus to Break Every Chain.”¹ Whatever your financial situation, there are numerous faith-based experts just waiting online to help. I took advantage of Dave Ramses’ wonderful free monthly budget²  It’s so cool. It’s malleable. I found it so simple. That was back in July! I haven’t used it since. There are two powerful forces at play in my case that right now I give over to the power of Jesus: (a) procrastination, and (b) a poor sense of self (I don’t deserve success). A man who thinks he’s worthless and has nothing good to offer will typically “let himself go.” This includes finances.

Now certainly none of this may be you, and to that I say Hallelujah! But maybe you struggle with money like I do. Maybe you never seem to have enough to make ends meet. Perhaps, like me, you seem to never have any cash in your wallet. I real low for me was not having a quarter for the parking meter, getting a $10 ticket, and not being able to pay it within 72 hours. That’s the magical period. After that, it’s $20. Because I don’t plan ahead or manage my finances, a 25 cent parking meter fee turned into $20. Whether you have a great deal of money or very little, until you really believe that money in your possession is not your money but God’s money, your finances will likely always be a source of discontentment.

Remember, God owns it all, yet we worry and fret over not having enough. We manipulate to get more, then agonize over losing what we have. How do we get free from this dreadful bondage? Personally, I find it hard to hear statements like, “True financial freedom is being content with what God gives you.” (See Hebrews 13:5) I’m starting to trust God and turn my money over to Him.

Let’s look as some myths and truths about money which I borrowed from June Hunt in her publication Financial Freedom. These major financial myths have led and will continue to lead many astray unless these beliefs are replaced with major financial truths

Myth.
If you live a godly life, Christian life, you will experience financial gain and prosperity.” Unfortunately, this message is shouted from the pulpit and printed in books by the millions, categorized “Christian.”One so-called preacher that I will not name here has a rather similar doctrine. It is difficult for his “fans” to see what he’s doing because he won’t talk about doctrine. He won’t talk about theology. He doesn’t even preach about repentance, the “fall,” or the wrath of God. He quickly back pedals when asked hard questions. He has an estimated worth is $40 million. Why is he well-off and you or I can’t afford to wash our car for Sunday school?

Truth.
According to the word of God, godliness is not a means to financial gain. The Bible calls this “a different doctrine” taught by false teachers.

Myth.
Money is the root of all evil!

Truth.
No! Money can be used for great good. Actually, according to the Bible it is the love of money that is the root of evil. It takes money, for example, to get tens-of-thousands of Bibles into the hands of Muslim and non-Muslim countries. It takes money to build refugees, housing, school, and hospitals in Uganda and other neglected areas in Africa. It takes money to fight AIDS and care for orphaned children.

Myth.
If I ever have enough money, or the right house, or earthly possessions, then I will be happy!”

Truth.
Happiness does not spring froth from your financial situation, nor does it com from possessions or the amount of money you have, but from faithfully and wisely managing what has been entrusted to you. Remember Mattthew 25:23? “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things: I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

[Note: Read the entire parable of the talents in  Matthew 25:14-30.]

Now what might lead to excessive debt? Just watch!

Lifestyles That Lead to Debt

  • Using money to keep up social appearance
  • Using money to feel important
  • Using money to manipulate others
  • Using money to appear “righteous” in the eyes of God and others
  • Spending money to escape personal tensions
  • Spending money to momentarily lift depression
  • Spending money to indulge in an obsession or addiction

Bitterness

When we are discontent with God or others over our finances, our anger spreads a deep root of underlying bitterness, affecting both us and the things around us.

  • Focusing attention and energy on gaining possessions
  • Indifference to the needs of others
  • Resenting the position, prestige, power, and popularity of someone else
  • Outbursts of anger that lead to sharp, cutting comments
  • Nurturing an ungrateful attitude

To sum this up, thousands have gotten themselves into this kind of trouble, me included, but it is never too late to take the reins. Seek advice. Get on your knees and ask the Lord to forgive you of your tendency to squander what God gave you. I will close out with four ideas I found on Crosswalk.com. You can find their basic steps in the financial planning process right  here:  http://www.crosswalk.com/family/finances/financial-planning-from-a-biblical-perspective-1324741.html

1. Goal Setting – Define both short-term and long-term goals (driven by your purpose). These will differ depending on your stage of life, your finances and the size of your family. Make sure you have these in writing and keep them up-to-date.

2. Creating A Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement – This is just a fancy way of saying that you should list all of your assets (property, stocks, bonds, etc.) and liabilities (mortgage, credit card debt, etc.) to get a clear picture of where you stand financially. You should also list all of your regular income sources and expenses for a year.

3. Develop a Budget & Financial Plan – Based on your analysis in step 2, determine how much you should save, invest, and spend. Your goal should be to spend less than you earn over the long haul. Your financial plan defines how you move from where you are in step 2 toward the goals outlined in step 1.

4. Assess and Adjust – Once you have begun implementing your plan, schedule a time to review your progress. Plan to do this on a monthly basis. In addition to regular assessment, make an annual date with your spouse to pray, review your finances, and discuss your goals for the coming year.

Times are tough for sure. But what if time is short? Suppose a major disaster occurs just minutes from your home or your church. With proper money management, you can be solvent, giving you a greater chance to help the injured and the displaced. It is critical to be prepared, because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. To the extent that we let money, property, collectibles, video games, and $75 jeans define us and suck up our funds, we are actually wasting money that really belongs to God. Frankly, he can call upon us at any time to turn some of it over. Our duty is to be ready when that day comes.

  1. Reagan, W. There’s Power in the Name of Jesus. Published April 22, 2014
  2. Dave Ramses can be found at https://www.google.com/search?q=dave+ramses&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
  3. Hunt, J. (2014). Financial Freedom. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing/Aspire Press