It is a free gift….God’s Grace

“What time is it?” I called out to the bartender, who was leaning against the beer cooler at the other end of the bar. He struggled to take his eyes off the TV that was attached to the wall near him. Looking at his watch, he said, “It’s 12:30.” Then as he turned back to the game that was on he grumbled, “Buy a watch, why don’t ya!” I shook my head and picked up my drink and stopped in mid air thinking, “I wish I could afford to buy another watch or get my good one out of hock.” But I knew that wouldn’t be happening any time soon. Shrugging my shoulders, I brought the drink to my lips and took a long pull. Life in the fast lane was not all it was cracked up to be.

I drank for another half hour, then decided to hoof it home. My car had been repossessed so I didn’t have a lot of choice. Just as I was getting up from the bar, I spied a dealer I knew coming in. We had done business before and as he walked past me he nodded but did not stop to chat. I could see he was heading toward the bartender. I thought, “Maybe a few free lines could be had!” I ambled over and stood next to the dealer. He didn’t look at me but could see me in the mirror behind the bar and said, “What you doin’? I ain’t here to talk to you.” I nodded and said, “Just thought I would say hello. Being friendly, you know.” He looked at me then and said, “I heard about you, man, so broke you don’t even have a ride anymore. So again, what you doin’ comin’ over here?” I shrugged and said, “Thought maybe I could get a taste, you know, nothing special, just friendly.” He drew close enough so I could smell his breath and said, “You got no friends, get it? No money, no friends. Do I look like a charity to you? Like they say nothing is free, now hit the bricks or I will ask Lou over there to toss you!” As I turned to leave I heard him laughing.

Nothing is free. I have heard that all my life. In fact, I grew up in a home that was based on the adage: “There is no free ride.” Everyone of my brothers and sister contributed to the household or at least got a job to support whatever needs we had. There was little money to go around. But also, as I grew up I was taught that there was no free ride with God either. It seemed like He too required that you earn your way with Him. Kind of a tit for tat thing. If I was a good kid and kept all rules I would get a free pass to heaven. But if I was bad and broke the law, it was hell for me, literally.

It was no better when I was on my own and as addictions took over more and more of my life, I knew there was no longer anyway to play by the rules I had learned. I had become a lawbreaker and the God I knew had no use for me. So, in return, I came to believe I had no use for Him. I could no longer work my way to heaven, so why even try.

Results were a bitter and broken man. Yeah, a lot of it was that I was ingesting poisons into my body daily. But there was more to it then that. I had no moral center. Yet the crazy thing was that with all of it, I would tell myself that I was still a good guy.

If I had to do someone wrong in a drug deal, that was only because I was protecting my dealer’s product. If I had to lie and cheat at a business deal that was ok too because that was the way business was done or that is what I was hired to do. If I ran from my son because I chose drugs over him. It was all ok. Everyone is doing it. Just the way of the world. I have my own truth and so do you. So easy to get lost.

Problem is there really only one truth and His name is Jesus Christ. It took me a long time to be able to say that. I really did not want to accept or believe even as the evidence in God’s Word confirmed it. The real proof was how the more I input that Word into my life, how that life began to change. Not all at once, but slowly, I found swearing, cheating, lying and even drinking no longer could exist. And I also realized the only good and righteousness one was Him who died for my sin.

The other cool thing I found was that it wasn’t tit for tat. I could not do a thing to change any of it, not one work I did affected anything. It started to happen when I believed that: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And not through your own doing, it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) That is when the miracles occurred. I had found the one free thing, the grace of God. Nothing has ever been the same. Bitterness became joy. Brokenness was made whole.

Today, I find myself wanting more. Yes, this world still tugs at me. So, each day, I look to the cross and say, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) I can’t earn something Jesus already did, but I can surrender daily and as I do he continues to do the work in me. Awesome.

Years ago, I left that bar defeated, humiliated and cursing my life. It was a low point and if some one then would have showed me the love of God, my life might have been different, but no one did. I offer it to you today. It is a free gift. Grace, forgiveness, and hope. You see Jesus already paid the bill. What you got to lose?

Blessings John,

1/23/19

Who am I?

The rain had been steady since we had come on shift. Now 6 hours later I was soaked to the bone. Sure, I was wearing the company supplied rain suit, boots and rubber gloves but these had little impact on a winter downpour while working in the state of Washington. It did not help that the nuke plant I was working on was centered in the Olympic National Forest, one of the wettest places in the state and in my opinion, in the whole country.

It was what I had signed on to do when accepting a referral slip at the union hall in Tacoma. The business agent warned me as I turned over my ‘boomers’ card, “Listen, son, this ain’t like the Midwest. I know you guys draw a 3’ circle on the ground and if ten drops of rain hit it, your off to the bar. Here we work rain or shine and seeing it rains most days, we just work. You are either ok with that or don’t waste my time!” I had shrugged and gave him my best defiant look. He just shook his head in disgust and mumbled something like, “Another smart_ _ _ boomer, ok sign here and be onsite this afternoon at 4:00 PM. And make sure you are sober! You will be wet soon enough!”

Now 6 months later I had rarely seen a night when the rain did not fall. Even Mt. St. Helen’s eruption had not slowed the rain down. And as I peered up into it, trying to shade my eyes to see the load of rebar that was coming up via crane from the ground 30’ below us, I was despondent. Signaling the operator to bring the load down I could feel chilling water run down my extended arm, down my back and into my already soaked pants. There had to be a better way to make money! But as soon as I thought this, I knew no matter how much it rained I would keep working. I always had. Neither rain, sleet nor snow or drink, drug or both had kept me from being on the job. I had little in life I was proud of any longer, but I showed up and did the work!

At some point in my life, my job took center stage of who l was and how I judged myself when I looked in the mirror. When I would introduce myself, it would always be with the caveat, Ironworker. I may not even tell you my name, that wasn’t really important, but what I did for a living was all you needed to know.

I guess this stemmed from how my addictions stripped away most of the rest of my ‘self’. Once I had been a husband and a father. Those titles and the life that came with it were who I was for 8 years. Then through a messy divorce and the even messier lifestyle I assumed within two years all of that seemed to be washed away. In its place other titles, druggie, drunk, womanizer, loser, addict. I could not abide with any of these, true or not. I did not want to think they defined me. Feeling stripped of all except my profession I clung to it with desperate passion.

Sure, I tried marriage again and sought to be a father, yet these were haunted by my continuing addictions and seemed doomed to fail. But once on the job drunk or sober, high or not, I felt at home and safe. In fact, my addictions seemed to be honored more than despised it all went into the image of the hard working, hard drinking and hard brawling Ironworker. That was me. Take it or leave it was my motto. Most chose to leave it alone. I took what solace I could in it.

It wasn’t until 2009 when a moniker foreign to me was mentioned in the same sentence as my name that I began to see things could be different. Someone had called me a Christian. I scoffed at it! No way! Just because I have been listening to the Bible or because I read a few books about Jesus. I was still an Ironworker first and foremost, I would never be a Christian. Famous last words! I did not understand, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Without me really knowing God’s Word was penetrating me and providing me with an attitude adjustment so deep that I would soon cherish the title, “Christian”!

In fact, it was so transforming that all of the pride and strength I once drew from my job was being drained away. I began to see that my dependency on alcohol and my profession were linked together. It would lead in 2016 to the biggest decision I would ever make, to leave my life as an Ironworker and claim my life as a Christian. To turn my life over to Christ and let Him now be my center.

I cannot say it was easy nor can I tell everyone of you it is what you need to do to be a true follower of Jesus. But for me it was the only way. A clean break. A new beginning. With the support of my loving wife RuthAnn the decision was made and today I can truly call myself by no other name except Christian.

I no longer deal with being soaked to the bone or frozen to the core. I no longer drink, drug and brawl and here is the reason, here is my new motto, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) This is my life now, you may not know me or my name but it is ok with me just refer to me as Christian. For Christ is the one who saved me!

Blessings,
John
1/21/19

A Saturday reminder of Sabbath

It was almost midnight. Soon it would be Saturday. Looking down at my drink I thought, “Big deal! In about 6 hours I need to be heading back to the job. There is no rest for the wicked!” At that thought I shook my head. One more and I better head to the house. 6:00 AM comes early. Downing the dregs of my drink, I held up my glass and Tommy the bartender brought the bottle. “Straight whiskey, good for what ails ya!” He said pouring me a double. I threw a ten on the bar and said, “Yeah, right! It doesn’t cure working seven 10’s.” He shrugged and took my money.

My crew had been working seven days a week, ten hours a day for over three weeks now and there were two more to go. Working a ‘shut down’ was like that. The big steel making plants of the Pennsylvania region would close down one of the blast furnaces and the local Ironworkers, Boilermakers and Carpenters had contracts to come in and overhaul and or repair whatever. We were erecting four new work platforms. The old ones had been built when the plant was new back in the early 1900’s. Ten hours a day cutting and welding. The work was dirty and hot, but the money was good. And, of course, money was what it was all about.

Leaving the bar around 12:30 I knew it would be a tricky drive home. The cops were out and about on Friday nights looking for guys like me. That was my main worry, as always. Not that I was getting behind the wheel after consuming close to a fifth of Canadian whiskey. I knew my ‘luck’ had been with me and one day again it would run out, but not tonight or this morning. As I drove, I thought how nice it would be to have a Saturday off. To kick back. To stay in bed until eight or nine. A day off! Man, I could sure use one of those.

I was raised out of my reverie by flashing lights a couple hundred yards ahead of me. Was it a roadblock checking for drunk drivers? If so, I was a dead duck. As I approached driving as carefully as possible, I saw it was an accident. I was relieved. Some poor sap had hit the curb and drove into a pole. A cop waved me around and I waved back like I was in total control. In truth I was shaking in my boots. Once past the scene all I could think was better that guy than me. I knew it was a mean thought. The guy could be dead, but I couldn’t afford another DWI. Saturday morning, drunk and driving, something like a prayer came into my mind, “thank you Lord and help who ever was in that accident.”

Where did that come from? I had no idea. And as I pulled into the motel parking lot, I felt a moment of unease. It was like I had forgotten something and just couldn’t remember. But as quickly as it had come it was gone. I had no time for this kind of stuff, I needed to hit the sack. It is a work day and there is money to be made. My luck was holding! I headed to my room.

I have thought of that Saturday morning more than once since I have surrendered my life to the Lord. Most of the times I think of it is on or right before the Sabbath begins. I remember the guy I was then. I guess I could be termed a God hater and a money worshipper. I strived to find jobs that worked 6 or 7 days a week. Yet on that Saturday morning, if only briefly, I believe I had a moment of clarity. I call them ‘Jesus interruptions’. If you have ever had one you know what I am talking about. It is like Jesus taps you on the shoulder or knocks you off your horse and says like He did with the apostle Paul, “…why are you persecuting me? Why are you fighting against my will?’ (Acts 26:14 NLT) I believe it that moment of relieve and also guilt, celebrating over someone’s misery, Jesus reached out to me and for a moment I responded.

Saturday’s have become very special to me. I have been convicted that it is and always has been the Lord’s Day. A time where He calls us to rest and to lay down our burdens. Since the creation of the world it has been so, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2) And He I think taps us on the shoulder to remind us in the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” (Exodus 20: 8-10). On that Saturday long ago was He trying to remind me of more than my lack of love for others? I feel today He was, and I missed an opportunity to know HIS rest and HIS love, sadly for many more years to come.

But the wonder of our God, is that through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, He never gives up. As I look back, I know there were other time when Jesus sought to interrupt my life. Including meeting a Seventh Day Adventist bartender in Glendale, California. Even then it took years, but He called to her and reminded her of the Sabbath and with all blessings to me my wife Dianne responded. Until her death in 2014 she kept his day holy. For the rest of my life and into eternity I will do the same. Thank you, Lord.

I spent so many years wasting my Saturday’s earning an extra buck or two. These days I look forward to them with special glee. No money can replace the joy and rest He provides. I am blessed He reminds me of that Saturday morning often to show me the road I have been on and how far He has led me. This Sabbath I will lay down my burdens and thank Him again! Join me and find true rest and peace!

Happy Sabbath and Blessings,
John
1/18/19

Decisions….

I tossed from one side to another. The bed felt like I was sleeping on a rock. Raising up for what seemed the 100th time, I looked at the alarm clock and it was 20 minutes later than the last time I had looked, 11:40 PM. In less than 5 hours I would have to be up and on my way into the office and today there would be no avoiding it, decisions had to be made.

Climbing out of bed as quietly as possible, I crept into the kitchen. The light from the street lamp across the way lit the room well enough for me to see the cabinet above the refrigerator. Standing there for a moment staring at the it, I was trying to decide if a stiff drink from the bottle of scotch whiskey behind those doors would help to quiet my mind and make a decision. Shrugging my shoulders, I gave into the idea mumbling, “It couldn’t hurt.”

Once the drink was in hand, I moved to the living room and settled into the recliner which I considered to be ‘my’ chair. Pulling the handle to lean it back and extend the foot rest, I sat contemplating between sips of the amber liquid. Who was it going to be? Which three guys from my department would I recommend for pink slips, layoffs?

The problem had been with me for the last three weeks. Early in the month all department heads were called into the branch manager’s office and given the dictate, cut your staff by 30%. For me that meant 3 pretty good guys would have to go down the road. It was a true dilemma. Most of them were hand-picked during the good years. Back when the department had been dumped on me as the de-facto boss, no official title or pay raise at first. But I had stepped in and did the job. Hiring good people and forming a tight unit. Now it was going to be blown apart and I had to do that also.

Time ticked by and I found I had refilled my glass and I was not getting tired just drunk. I thought to myself, yeah this is going to be great, you can go into that meeting tomorrow drunker than a skunk, that will show ‘em! But the truth was right now I had no where else to turn. As it had been during so many other times of pressure and decision, I was once again turning to booze for help. Problem was, it never helped before and I was sure it was not going to help now. I wanted to cry out, “Help me!” But the room was empty, and I knew the truth, I was alone in this world. No one could help me. Not my wife, not my boss and well, just no one. I took a long drink off my glass and put my head back, closing my eyes.

Are you this alone today? Are there decisions in your life that keep you from sleeping and causing you to turn to an unhealthy habit or addiction. Boy, have I been there? I cannot tell you how many of my life decisions, I mean life changing decisions, have been made while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both. During those years I truly felt alone. And the alcohol/drugs would only isolate me even more. It was a miserable existence. I can admit that now. But getting beyond that place has been a journey. That journey began when I opened God’s Word, the Bible.

Some one reading this may ask, “How can a book do that? How can a man who believed in nothing become a true believer?” I can’t say I have an answer to that except that once I made the commitment to be in the Word daily things in my life started to change. I found I did not swear like I once had. I noticed things I had never seen in years, the beauty of a sunrise, the wonder of a quiet forest. Simple things. But mostly the feeling of isolation was slowly melting. I read promises like: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) And I tested them. When I was in a time of decision instead of reaching for a bottle, I searched the Word to find a promise I could claim. At first, I would say the same thing as I once did holding a drink, “It couldn’t hurt!” As I saw answers to some tough question come and they were not always as I sought but I knew they were right, I started feeling peace in a way that surpasses anything I had known.

You may ask, “Can it be that simple?” To that I can answer yes and no. It is that simple, but it is not effortless. God’s promise is if we are willing, He is able. If we desire His presence, He will be with us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) As I grew to trust in Him, He opened the door more and more. How cool is that!

The day of that tough decision I had none of these blessings. I arrived at work still drunk enough not to care and pick the guys to layoff by drawing straws. I do not know how this affected their lives, except for one, who I later hired as an outside detailer. I never found peace with my decision and my drinking increased to be problematic with the company. I stayed employed but was at odds with everyone. Isolated and bitter. Today, I know that I have a Savior. I know what He desires for me. Decisions are still tough but in prayer and faith I make them. It sure beats my old system! Be in His Word daily, He will be there for you!

Blessings John
1/16/19

Revenge is not mine, thank you, Lord!

“Home sweet home!” I said sarcastically upon entering the motel room in which I was now residing. The place was old. Most of the furniture was straight out of the 1930’s. The bed might have been older. A mattress that had horse hair or feathers for padding and a creaky box spring that moaned under any weight. Musty smells of age-old carpets and wall paper whose flowered patterned now look wilted. There was nothing to recommend this motel except its cheap week to week price and the fact that a few months ago it had been a location shoot in the movie “Fletch” with Chevy Chase. The thing about that is we the paying residents had been evicted for 2 days and only allowed in after the shooting had wrapped around 9:00 PM each of those nights. And we certainly didn’t get a rebate on the rent or even autographed photos of the movie’s star, but the owners did. Chevy’s photo now hung proudly in the drab office where most of the scene’s were shot. And to add insult to injury, they were about to raise our rent because of this newly found star quality for this dump. Can you believe it?

I sure couldn’t. Sitting in the rickety chair near the door I knew there was no way I would be able to pay the extra ten bucks a week that was now about to be demanded of my ever-dwindling bank roll. I had not worked in a month. Ever since my so-called partner had fired me over an argument we had. I had cut back on my expenses. One meal of carrots a day for the last week, along with only one pack of cigarettes until yesterday now it was digging around for old butts to smoke. No bar time and stretching out a fifth of booze, now it was gone. My resources were tapped. If I could only get fronted an 8 ball of speed to sell, I could live on that. But there were no friends for a guy who was down and out. I was sure next week I would be living in my car. I thought, its not so bad I had done it before. Some panhandling and I would be fine. A fleeting thought, maybe I should pray. But with a shrug I shook it off.

As I sat contemplating, there was a knock on my door. Peeking through the ancient curtains I saw my partner, he was looking around as if he were afraid of being mugged. What did he want? Last thing I needed was for him to rub it in. Look how the mighty have fallen or something like that. Maybe I should just not answer it. Either way I opened the door and he came into the dank room. Sitting on the chair I had just vacated, he didn’t smile or have his usual smug attitude. In fact, he seemed…. What is the word? Humble. What the…?

All I could say was, “What’s up, Dave? What brings you to the Mormon capital of the world? Too boring up in Ogden?” He stuttered and said, “Listen, partner….” He must have seen the dark look on my face at the word partner. “John, man, I made a bad mistake.” Then silence. I knew what was coming and I wanted to gloat. Oh man, I wanted my revenge. He had come here hat in hand to ask me to come back to work. My mind went to all the things I could demand from him. Make him pay. Revenge was going to be sweet.

Revenge. I lived in a constant state of it most of my life. You just did not want to wrong me! If it was real or imagined on my part if you did something I perceived as a wrong, you went on my list. If it took hours, days or even years I would pay it back and hopefully double fold. I seemed to live for it. I remember the evil joy I would get making someone’s life miserable. So many hours wasted planning and scheming how it could be done. When I came to the Lord, he rooted out so many things, but this remained for more years than I would like to admit. I could not seem to surrender my need for revenge.

But our God is gracious. He is long suffering and forbears even with hard-hearted men like me. He knew I needed to be humbled in a way that was complete for me to see that there was nothing I could do to change events around me. The final months of illness of my wife did that.

There was a doctor who had been my wife’s physician for years. In the last year of her life, time after time he misdiagnosed her condition. Within three months of her death he just threw up his hands and made the unbelievable statement to my wife’s face, “You will probably not live to see Christmas and there is little anyone can do about that.” After he had blundered and bullied his way taking care of her. Now he added this insult to injury. I wanted to hurt him, I wanted revenge.

It was my dying wife who had been a partner in vengeance so many times in our marriage, who now born again in Jesus said, “I see the hate in your heart, John. You need to surrender that. If you do not, it will eat you alive.” Her acceptance and peace amazed me and over the months of being her caregiver, I found my heart changing also. God used this terrible trial to be one of saving grace for both of us.
The apostle Paul says this, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:19)

It took years for these verses to be real to me. To understand loving my enemy, real or perceived, will do more to change their lives than any torment I could imagine. Sharing the love of God with all is the results of a truly surrendered life. I am not there in total yet, but I know the path and pray it every day.
My partner was not so blessed. He did come to ask me to return and run a project in which the man he had taken on in my place had abandoned. I made him pay. I look back in embarrassment now. And unfortunately, it was not the last time. But by God’s grace I now seek to love and let God worry about His revenge. The heat of vengeance still flares in my heart but now I know I can surrender it to Him. I pray the same for you.

Blessings
John
1/14/19

Jesus: …My Peace I give you..

I was in the middle of the chaos, that was an excuse for an outdoor rock concert. I had been asked by a friend of mine to go with him. He had an extra ticket and I had no objection to freebies. But now I was thinking it was not the best idea.

The band on stage was playing loudly but I heard little of it over the din of noise and shouting going on around me. My best solution to the problem was to get higher than I already was and make the best of it. Leaning into my friend I shouted, “Hey, man, they are selling beer back by where we came into this jungle. I am in need of a brew. You want to come?” He shook his head no. I shrugged and was sure I would never find him again in this mess, so I said, “Ok, then I will probably meet you at the car when this thing is over.” It was his turn to shrug.

As I pushed through the sea of people. It was like a salmon swimming upstream, the crowd seemed to be ever surging in the direction of the stage. I was heading away, and the effort was wearing me out and ticking me off. Within 100 yards of the concession stand everything came to a complete stop. Being taller than most I could see a knot of people about half way. It did not look good. I was sure a fight had broken out and it was spreading in my direction. Trying to back pedal. I felt my foot come down a what I assumed was either something on the ground or another person’s foot. There was no surprise when I heard a screech and was shoved. Then a woman’s shrill voice, “Hey (expletive), are you trying to break my ankle?” Quickly lifting my foot but still moving backward, I came even with my victim. She was short, redheaded and had balled up fists. Throwing up my hands I said, “I am sorry but if you want to hit me do it now because if not there are some real fists being thrown about 20 feet from us. If we don’t get out of here it is going to hurt.”

It was like she had not noticed the whirlwind of people not heading our way. And standing on her tip toes strained to see. I made a decision and grabbed her by the arm, risking her wrath and weighing it against the mob’s. She didn’t resist as much as I thought she would and soon we were making a retreat heading not toward the stage but laterally away from the approaching brawl.

Within a minute or so both of us, with effort found ourselves near the hurricane fence that was at the perimeter of the crowd. There was breathing room at last. Letting go of her arm, I apologized, “I am sorry, but I didn’t really think I had much of a choice. You can hit me now if you feel like it.” I saw fleeting anger flash into her eyes then they softened. She turned to look and from our vantage point could see the area we had just vacated was now engulfed in chaos as security guards rushed in to break up the mob. She turned back to me with a smile, “How could I hit you, my hero!” Her words dripped with sarcasm but there was also a note of relief. As we looked out on the spectacle that was this thing called a rock concert, I so wanted just to be somewhere peaceful. But as the music blared from speakers and the crowd noise swelled, I realized this was my world. There was no peace unless I found it in my drug of choice, alcohol. I bent down and asked the girl if she wanted to get out of here. I knew a place that served a mean drink and man, was it quiet. She nodded ok.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus spoke these words to reassure his frightened disciples that his imminent departure was a good thing and necessary. To me these words have been part of my transformation, they spoke to me about the life I came from. His words, “I do not give it to you as the world gives…” are so true. For me the world never offered me true peace only a false or manufactured version of it. In fact, the only peace and solace I could find involved escape from the world I knew with alcohol and drugs.

But the peace offered by Jesus is so different. In a troubled and fear mongering world only He can and does bring real and sustained peace. The thing is the world has not changed. Or if it has, it is only for the worse. Yet in the midst of it I now find I have what the apostle Paul describes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and it will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) No drug of any kind can offer it and no human hand can deliver it. True peace of God comes through surrender at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. That is where I found it and I am still amazed by it.

But back in that world and on that crazy day, I left my friend behind and with a girl I didn’t even know, ran to find ‘peace’ in a dark bar and copious amount of alcohol and lines of drugs. Somewhere during that night before I left the bar she slipped away. I never saw her again. Just two people lost and seeking peace but finding loneliness and turmoil. When I remember and write about any one from back in the day, I pray for them. I do so today, and I pray for all to find the peace that only comes from the true source. May it be yours today!

Happy Sabbath and Blessings,
John
1/11/19

Freedom…

“Run for your life!” June had entered the living room shouting and more excited than I had seen her before. There was the normal crowd in the room gathered around the water pipe that sat on the coffee table. We were smoking hash and most of us were pretty wasted. Being so June’s announcement took awhile to register. But way too late it became apparent that the cops were on the premises and we were about to be raided. For sure it was way too late.

No more than a minute, it seemed, after June entered, three men with weapons drawn entered the room. Pushing June aside they were barking orders for everyone to sit still and keep our hands where they could be seen. Being on the sofa facing the door I was looking directly at the action but because of the drugs had little concern or comprehension what it all meant.

One of the cops moved quickly to grab the water pipe and the bag of hash that was laying on the table. The other two were yanking those across from me to their feet and binding their hands with plastic ties then lining them up against the wall, after reading each their rights. Quickly they got to me and I was processed like the others. And with confusion still reigning we were finally marched down the apartment house stairs and herded into waiting vans, vehicles we used to call ‘paddy wagons’

My head was beginning to clear and I could see most in this van were starting to get the picture also. We were under arrest and this was not going to be good for anyone in the crowd. Looking from face to face I could see just about everyone with me were in the drug business in one way or the other. At best we had a night of questions and night court ahead of us. And at worse, right now cops were tearing apart each of our apartments looking for enough evidence to put us all away for a while.

One thing I knew for sure was each one of us was trying to figure out the best ‘angle’ to get ourselves out of this. How much did the cops really know? Maybe I would have to sell someone down the river to buy my freedom. Was I going to be willing to do that? ‘Rat’ on someone. As the van pulled to a stop, I knew the answer. I would be willing to sell my own mother or maybe even my soul to get out of doing time. Honor among thieves. Huh, that may be true, but I didn’t think it worked so well with drug dealers.

I was thinking about this arrest, it just came out of the blue. I believe it is the Holy Spirit. The great thing is I don’t find anything about memories like this to be good or bad anymore. What they do always is to bring to mind a verse or two from God’s Word that apply or should apply to my life now. This morning was no different: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

I guess you could ask, “How does that work? You remember a time in your past when you were morally bankrupt, and it brings a verse to mind?” Strangely enough, yes. The great thing about having the Word of God in my life is that it can take all the garbage that is still stored up in my head and turn it into a reminder of what my life can be now. I don’t have to be that man who spent years running, hiding and ready to sell my own soul for self-gratification. I can be the man who now seeks the truth, the noble, righteousness, purity, loveliness and one of admirable thoughts and actions. But also know it has absolutely nothing to do with me. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) Me, the drug dealer. The one low enough to sell his mother or his soul to save himself, was saved by the one who would have died just to save me. Can you believe it? I do!

But years ago, as I was herded into a holding cell filled to the max, I could smell fear all around me. In that moment I knew I could trust no one and it was every man or woman for themselves. Eventually, I was called into a drab interview room and there two cops proceeded to grill me about everything and everyone I knew at the time. To my relief they did not ask me to throw anyone under the bus. It turned out I was not the one they were after and they didn’t seem to think I was valuable enough to worry about. I was soon in night court where I pled guilty to misdemeanors but seeing it was not my apartment or my drugs, I was set free. But free to do what? Return to my life now warier and even less trusting than the world around me. It would be over 20 years before I found true freedom in these words: “…If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (from John 8: 31-32) Today I am free indeed. How about you?

Blessings John
1/9/19

The Wind of God

The hot wind blew sand as if I was standing in front of a sand blasting machine. The bandana that covered my face just below my eyes was saturated with sweat and covered in the fine sand blowing out of the Borrego desert. The goggles covering my eyes had become pitted over the last two weeks of never-ending Santa Ana winds. Yeah, it was just another day working on the Borrego Springs Water Treatment Plant project that my partner and I had taken on.

We as a company had never landed such a large project and now, we were finding that our bid had been lowered than the costs we were incurring. So, it was necessary that he and I do a majority of the work while employing a few of our crew members from San Diego. No one ever said owning a company was going to be fun, but this was a little ridiculous!

It was just about 4:00 and as I came down from the rebar wall curtain we had just erected I called to Dave, my partner, “Let’s call it for today! I need to shake and clean the sand out then find me a cold beer.” I could see Dave had no problem with this and confirmed it with an affirmative shake of his shaggy head. I gave the crane operator the hand signal to ‘dog it off’, shut his rig down and face it into the wind for the night. With that I headed to the camp we had set up near the project parking lot. Being low on money meant living accommodations were four sleeping tents and a large one for cooking grub, eating and also served as our bar. The Water Treatment Plant had shower facilities for their employees and had allowed us usage and that is where I headed. I would be ten pounds of sand lighter after a nice long shower.

After showering I entered the large tent and headed to the cooler which served as our refrigerator and grabbed a cold Rainer beer. In one motion I yanked off the pull tab and tilted the can, so I could drink it down in a few large gulps. As with everything I could feel the grit of sand on my teeth and down my throat as I drank. As I lit the camp stove and opened a can of pork and beans, I wondered how much sand I had swallowed in the last two weeks, I was sure I would never be rid of the stuff. It was in my sleeping bag and had crept into my duffle mixing with my clothes. There was no respite from it. How long would the Santa Ana’s blow?

As I stirred the beans, I heard the tent zipper being opened. Another gust of hot sand drifted in and seemed to increase the already stifling heat in the tent. Dave grabbed a beer and dropped his bulky body down on the bench of the camp table. He said in a low voice, “John, I think I am heading back to San Diego tonight. I just called Petey and he will be here in the morning to take my place. I need to get some book work done and see how things are going in the city.” Already sweaty and gritty I was in no mood for this conversation. I knew the reason he was heading home, and it had nothing to do with business. The wind and the sand were driving all of us crazy but why him instead of me. As I shook my head and did not look at him, I knew the reason, he had owned this company before me and still considered me a junior partner. In the end he would head back to the city and I would stay and do the job, Santa Ana winds or not. I just reached for another beer and said nothing. I would be drinking myself to sleep tonight so I did not have to listen to that moaning wind.

Have you ever thought about the amazing power of the wind? I know living here in hurricane and tornado country most folks understand it. Working outdoors for over 40 years throughout this country I have experienced its power in so many different ways. Facing hot blown terrors of the Santa Ana’s, in the mouth of the fierce canyon winds of northern Utah and the howling blizzard winds of the Great Plains. There is nothing quite so awe inspiring and powerful as being in the midst of the winds on this planet.

So why all the hoopla about wind this morning? It was inspired and that is the only word I can use by my morning devotional, a compilation of the writings of Ellen G. White about the Holy Spirit: “Ye Shall Receive Power”. And though I don’t normally do this I am going to place this entire devotion for today at the end of this blog.

Before I do, for those who are curious. I did remain in the Borrego desert for two more weeks of intense Santa Ana winds. Eventually they receded, and we finished the project. But I will never forget the fierceness of that wind. Nor will I ever forget the gentleness of God’s ‘wind’ as He brought me to Jesus, so well said in the following. Enjoy this devotion.

January 7- The Unseen Wind (Ye Shall Receive Power)

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. John 3:8, RSV.

The wind is heard among the branches of the trees, rustling the leaves and flowers; yet it is invisible, and no man knows whence it comes or whither it goes. So, with the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. [The Spirit] can no more be explained than can the movements of the wind. A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or to trace all the circumstances in the process of conversion; but this does not prove him to be unconverted.

By an agency as unseen as the wind, Christ is constantly working upon the heart. Little by little, perhaps unconsciously to the receiver, impressions are made that tend to draw the soul to Christ. These may be received through meditating upon Him, through reading the Scriptures, or through hearing the Word from the living preacher. Suddenly, as the Spirit comes with more direct appeal, the soul gladly surrenders itself to Jesus. By many this is called sudden conversion; but it is the result of long wooing by the Spirit of God—a patient, protracted process. While the wind is itself invisible, it produces effects that are seen and felt. So, the work of the Spirit upon the soul will reveal itself in every act of him who has felt its saving power. When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife. Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the light of heaven. No one sees the hand that lifts the burden, or beholds the light descend from the courts above. The blessing comes when by faith the soul surrenders itself to God. Then that power which no human eye can see creates a new being in the image of God. It is impossible for finite minds to comprehend the work of redemption. Its mystery exceeds human knowledge; yet he who passes from death to life realizes that it is a divine reality. The beginning of redemption we may know here through a personal experience. Its results reach through the eternal ages. —The Desire of Ages, 172, 173.

Blessings John,
1/7/19

A Lesson in Judging others….

He was with his shopping cart outside the 7/11 convenience store as I pulled up. It seemed I saw him any time I had a project in this part of the city. Sometimes I would see him pushing his cart along Sunset or Hollywood Boulevards or other times he would somehow show up miles away in North Hollywood. We had never spoke, but our eyes had met. We knew each other.

This day I was at the store early. It had been a long night and even though I didn’t normally drink coffee, it sounded good now, as long as I could put a couple of shots of whiskey in it. I had been able to park in the spot immediately in front of the doors and as I came out with my coffee it was a short walk balancing coffee in one hand and a donut in the other. As I set my coffee on the roof of the truck’s cab, I heard a voice behind me, “Sir, hey mister. Sir, do you have any change you can spare? I could really use one of them cups of coffee this morning and maybe a good-looking donut like that also!” I knew for sure it must be the ‘cart’ guy and as I turned, he was coming toward me slowly, dragging his left leg. Something I had not noticed about him before. As he drew closer, I could see his right eye was swollen and there was blood coming out of one of his ears.

Without thinking I blurted out, “What happened to you, man? It looks like someone whooped on you pretty good!” He shook his head as he drew nearer, and with what I took for a laugh said, “Yeah, brother! But you should see the other guy!” I found myself chuckling with him and said, “I don’t have any change but you can have this coffee and donut. I will go back in and get another. I only have plastic on me.” Referring to my credit card. He tried to protest but as I handed them to him, he accepted as I headed back into the store.

When I returned, he was back by his cart. As I climbed in my truck, I reached under my seat to grab the bottle hidden there. I was about to pour a generous dollop into my cup when I heard him once again, “You know sir, that there looks pretty good too!” He had made his way back to my truck and was now standing near my rearview mirror. Shaking my head, I said, “Climb in the other side and I will give you a taste.” I could see his reluctance and said, “You ain’t going to mess this old truck up anymore than it is. Come on.”

As he hobbled over to the passenger door, I didn’t know why I had asked him. I had to be onsite in less than a half hour and really wasn’t needing any conversation. I shrugged, thinking I will give him the bottle and he will be happy. I was about to do just that when he said, “Thank you for your kindness, it has been a rough night. A guy over on Highland tried to get my buggy while I was resting, and it was quite a tussle. As you can see, I kept what was mine, but it was not easy.” For a moment I sat conflicted. What had I gotten myself into? He continued, “I have seen you around. You and your crew building them parking garages in the neighborhood. I could tell you were an alright guy.” With that he held out his cup and I filled it. I wanted to know more about this guy. A man I thought of as a street bum now had a face and a life. I might be late this morning, but I was going to share my drink with him for a while.

Have you ever judged a book by it’s cover? Saw a person on the street or in a store and immediately made a judgement about that person. If you can say no than you are a better man or woman than me. So many times, I have rushed to judge someone without the least knowledge of them besides the clothes they are wearing or the car they are driving. Could you imagine what would have happened if Jesus would have done the same. Would he have picked the disciples he did? Would he see me today and think that guy is a mess, I have no time for him?

I am sure you are saying to yourself, “Jesus wouldn’t do that!” And, of course, you would be right. Jesus would not do that and that is the point. If He wouldn’t, why do I? Why do you? The fact is Jesus had a lot to say about judging others. Probably the most known is this from Matthew’s gospel, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7: 1-3) I think we should meditate on this verse every day before we go out into the world. Our judgements matter. They matter to others but more importantly they matter to God. If I could hold on to this maybe I would not be so hasty in my judgements. What do you think?

In that 7/11 parking lot, I came to know the ‘cart’ guy was actually James Thomas. A Vietnam vet. A father of two. A real person with a real life. For months I had seen him and judged him to be just another street low life. But as I sat drinking coffee and whiskey with him, I began to see we were not that different. We parted after about a half hour. James would not allow me to go into the ATM and get him any cash. I shook his hand and we went our ways. I would see him now and again after that and we talked. But within months I noticed he was not around. I don’t know what happened to him, but I pray he found some peace. I am glad I got to know him. Today I seek to see others through the eyes of Jesus. What a world it would be if we all could do just that.

Happy Sabbath and Blessings,
John
1/4/19

New Year’s Resolutions or not…

As the new year begins it is, as always, a time of reflection. Most of us begin each year with high hopes and new resolutions. Maybe it is exercise, diet, or defying an addiction such as smoking. Another year another promise and for many another promise broken. Our resolve seems to melt as the snow before warmth of spring.

I do recall my own resolutions from many different years in the past. Smoking and drinking were always at the top of my lists. There was one year where I actually quit smoking for about 2 months. Well, I really didn’t quit completely. Still sneaking a cigarette once or twice a day but I reasoned that my habit was at about two packs a day at the time so that was as much quitting as I could muster!

Other years were not much better. Resolving to cut back on booze or greasy foods. To exercise more and drink more water. So many good intentions without much to show for results. None of it worked. Yet today I am booze and smoke free. I am a confirmed vegetarian. A much healthier man than I was at thirty, even with terminal cancer. None the result of a New Year’s resolution. All the result of knowing God’s will and His resolve for my life.

The truth is all the changes in my life had little to do with my resolution, period, be it New Years or otherwise. I found like most of us who have tried to change ourselves that the results are beyond disappointing. They can be discouraging and, in some cases, cause utter despair. It is only in and through God’s Word that I have found the transforming power that has truly made a difference.

One of my favorite books of the New Testament says this, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Do you see it? God’s word is alive! It is active! It can cut through all our inabilities to deal with our addictions and problems. The things our most determined resolves melt in front of. The things that affects us right down to the joints and marrow. I sure know drinking was like that for me. It was part of everything I did. It seemed an insurmountable thing. Yet in God’s love for me it was not.

No, it did not happen overnight. No ‘poof’ and the urge to drink was gone, it was more like a realization. Knowing and trusting that God had more planned for me than to spend my life inside a bottle. His Word assured me this, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) I believed Him. And I think that was and is the first step. Not resolving to stop through my own will power, but to trust in His plan for my life. In which he assured me that it did not include drugs or alcohol. If I trusted Him day by day, I would have victory!

Some people have told me, “You make it all sound so simple! Well, it is not that way for me!” To them I have said, “It is not simple or is it easy. God does not promise ‘easy’ or simple. But he does promise this, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) If we are willing and can take that first step, He will be with us every step of the way and I have assured those who have questioned and those who read this today it is true. I am living proof.

So, what does all this mean? Am I telling you not to start the year with ‘New Year’s Resolutions’? No, I do not mean to discourage anyone who wants or desires to change their life for the better. But as the year begins let’s try it God’s way. I am starting this year with a prayer, “Lord, this year I resolve to trust and surrender all to you. I know I am powerless over the worldly things that still draw me far from you. I seek the power of our Savior who said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) May His power through the Holy Spirit strengthen me and power my resolves throughout the coming year and beyond. Amen!”

Jesus is my resolve this year. May he be yours also. For whatever you are struggling with, you can be assured, He has overcome the world.

Blessings John
1/2/19