Choosing to walk in the light

It was dark! Where was I? It took me several minutes for my mind to clear enough and recognize that I was in my car, but where was it parked? I squinted my eyes trying to filter any light that may be found. One thing was for sure it was very cold. My teeth chattered as I sought the keys. As I lifted my hand to search pain shot up my arm. What had happened? The pain seemed to jolt my mind into action. Memories or what I assumed were memories began to filter in.

A fight. Yes, there had been a brawl in that bar where I had been drinking. Getting off swing shift I had headed into Elma Washington for a few quick drinks before driving home to Olympia. How the fight started was still a blur but I soon remembered the pool table and a game of ‘8 ball’. Yeah, that was it. An argument over a final shot. Soon a swing of my pool cue, then blackness. But how did I get here and where was ‘here’ anyways?

I rolled my window down a bit, more pain but it didn’t seem like anything was broken. The air was brisk and damp, it seemed to clear my head more. I could see I was parked on the shoulder of a road. I searched again for my keys. Feeling around the passenger seat, ah, there they were. Starting the car, cold air blew out of the heater vent, sending another chill through me but soon heat and warmth.

I switched on the headlights and they lit up the road  ahead of me. As I did this I saw flashing blue and red lights in my mirror. I thought, “This can’t be good.” And, of course, it wasn’t. It turned out that I had been in a bar fight and I had hit a man with a pool cue, in return I had gotten pretty beat up myself and thrown out of the bar. How I got to my car and ended up on a logging road off the highway, I will probably never know. But the man I had beaten had gone to the hospital and then to the cop shop to press charges, leading to those flashing lights behind my car and my arrest. Violence had once again led to pain and turmoil in my life and those around me.

I spent most of my addicted life angry. That anger showed up in so many ways. It was like a darkness that never was far from me ready to engulf and spread and hurt. The part that pains me most now is that I chose it. When you choose to live in darkness there can be no light. Jesus said it this way: “But anyone who walks in the night stumbles because there is not light within him.” (John 11:10)

Over the years I went through many programs either by choice or enforced. Yeah, doctors and shrinks; AA and rehab. None of it worked. Don’t get me wrong there are some great programs out there and they have helped lots of folks overcome addictions. But to me no program can totally heal unless it is based on the healer and finisher of all faith, Jesus Christ.

The reason I say this is that, yes, following the 12 step program of AA would have help me quit drinking, like it has for so many. But would it have gotten to the core of what was really wrong with my life? I don’t think so. It was not until I was able to turn away from the life of addictions and surrender all of it to Jesus that the anger, the violence left me. And folks that is called grace and because of it I came to believe what the apostle Peter tells us was true even for me: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1Peter 2:9) See, if I chose Him, He would let even a sinner like me become part of His royal priesthood, His holy nation. I could choose light.

And you know over the last eight years, without me knowing, I have been transformed. To a point now where I no longer want to walk where it is dark. I never have to experience again awakening in the cold darkness of my car, totally confused and lost, defeated. Because I now walk with the one who is …” the way, the truth and the life…” I like where I am going. It is sunny on this side of the street. All I can say is thank you, Lord!

Blessings John

Originally posted 5/22/17

The poor you will have with you always…

“The poor you will always have with you….” (Mark 14:7) Jesus spoke these words and since the first time I read them they have haunted me. I was raised in a middle-class family in the suburbs of Chicago. And even if we struggled now and again. My father and mother worked hard to make sure we never went hungry. With four children all pretty close together in age, hand-me-down clothes was a way of life, along with shopping at the ‘seconds’ store where clothes and shoes that didn’t pass inspection ended up. One sleeve on a tee shirt might be longer than the other, but my mother always said, “Unless you take your school shirt off, who is going to know?” Like I said we struggled but we’re always able to make ends meet, somehow.

As a kid, I knew there were people better off than us, but I also knew that there were those who were in worse circumstances. I never really saw ‘poor’ people unless while we were downtown and saw some of the homeless walking the street. And with them I could not understand why they did not have a home. I had read and was told about things like the Great Depression, but that had been years ago. Why didn’t these folks have a home? No one I knew had a good answer and I was to busy living in my little world to care enough to find out.

Because of this ignorance and prejudicial things I grew up hearing, I gained a fear of the unknown about becoming ‘poor’ myself and also found myself looking down on those I considered poor. Why didn’t they just go out and get a job? In my heady 20’s I thought these things and felt pretty self-righteous about it. Addictions to drugs and alcohol changed all of that.

I guess if you could say there was an upside of my addictions, it would be the humility that was brought on through wreckage of my and other lives around me by substance abuse. It is a great equalizer. In ways I would have never guessed as a kid, I found myself, for a while, one of those homeless people. And as I associated with others who were in like circumstances, I began to see that there was a myriad of reasons why people became homeless. But I also came to see that poorness was not something people chose. It also was a complex social issue that entailed understanding what Jesus understood and emphasized with, there will be those who have advantages and those that do not. It might be a matter of where and to whom you are born. It might be a matter of the color of your skin. It might be a matter that you served your country and came out of it with more pain than shows through physical wounds. In my short time living on the streets, I was shown that the saying, “There for the grace of God goes I.” Was not only true then it is still true today. So, I come back to what Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you…” I am haunted by this because I know His heart was weighed down by the truth of this and if that is true so should mine be.

RuthAnn and I have been given the great blessing to lead a ministry that can and should be on the front line trying to alleviate the consequences of poorness in one of the richest countries on earth. And in the few months we have been at this, I can say I am overwhelmed with the need that is out there. And I have come to rely on the small victories we have had as a refuge from the storm.

Over the last three weeks our school’s yearly food drive has been one of those. Being out with the kids walking the neighborhoods around the church distributing over 2000 empty bags with a note asking our neighbors to fill them with cans foods and dry food stuff that will help those in need have a better Thanksgiving has lifted my spirits. Gathering over 260 generously filled bags, sorting through the 1000’s of items we received and finally distributing food to 58 families, so far, again shows what we can do when our hearts as a community are in the right place.

But seeing this is not a seasonal problem then there are no seasonal solutions. The need is all around us, all the time. Jesus knew that it would be true and also as it was His mission to alleviate it, our very salvation depended on it: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40) In the verses to follow Jesus warns those who do not care for those in need will end up in eternal death.

I do not share this morning with intention to frighten us into action. Just to remind all of us that if it is our intention to ‘be like Jesus’ a good place to start is with making sure our neighbors are fed, warm, and safe whenever we can. The mission seems daunting to me but if you join me there will be one, maybe two, one hundred or unlimited numbers ready to serve. Jesus is coming soon, and I want to be doing His work when he does.

Blessings and Happy Sabbath,
John
11/16/18

Something else to say about fear

I have to say that I have not had a lot of lasting friends. I would guess traveling like I have and living in more states than I can recall does not lead to lasting relationships. Nor would the fact that most of the people I called friends were as deeply involved in addictive habits as I was for many years. But even taking all of that into consideration. I have another problem that prevents me from staying in touch with those few who call themselves my ‘friends’, I hate telephones.

I don’t know what it is, but when I have to call someone on the phone, I break out in a cold sweat. It does not matter if it is friend, business, or stranger. I start to tap out the ten-digit number and I am a mess. I don’t know how this all started but I do know that it has been a problem from the time when phones actually had a dial and there were still party lines.

I recall an incident when I was living in Upper Michigan way back in the stone age of the early 1970’s. I had just bought my first house. It was what we call a ‘fixer-upper’. An old hand dug well in the backyard, no real plumbing in the house except a toilet and a kitchen sink with an outdoor spicket. No hot water, the old couple who had lived there took saunas in a little shed also in the backyard. Needless to say, there was a lot of work to be done before we could even move in.

I can tell you I was a proud guy when we finally did! Showing off all the work that had been done: new shower and hot water heater. Kitchen with a stainless-steel sink and hot and cold running water. And so much more. We had a real home! So, when the Bell Telephone man showed up to install our phone, that too was a momentous occasion. That is until he told me we would be sharing a line with four other households. The city boy now living in the country was introduced to a party line and it struck real fear in his heart!

Every time I would want to make a call fear overcame me. “What if someone is on the line? Do I ask them to get off? Do I listen in? What in the world should I do?” Now the incident I spoke of happened in maybe the second week after we moved in. I had just gotten home from work and as usual the house was empty. My wife and baby must once again be at my mother-in laws house. She was supposed to do some shopping, so I could cook up a batch of spaghetti and meatballs, my favorite meal at the time, but the cupboards were bare. I really needed to know if my wife had done the shopping or if I would need to go out and get what was needed. That meant using the telephone. It came down to fear or famish. I wanted dinner but risking talking on the party line, well…

Telling myself to quit being foolish I picked up the line and yeah, no one was on, or so it seemed. But as I started to dial, I heard a woman’s voice thunder, “Who’s on this line? Can’t you tell we are talking here?” Again, she said, “Who is this?” I slammed down the phone in terror. “Would they be able to tell it was me? Would someone come to the house and penalize me in some way?” So many other foolish thoughts. I did not make that call, just sat in fear until my wife got home an hour later. I did not use our phone again for months. That is what fear does!

I guess you could say it is pretty weird or foolish to be afraid of talking on the phone. I think so myself. But it is there and so far, I have not been able to rid myself of it completely, yet I have hope. I know human fears and phobias know no boundaries. I know that psychiatrists have all kinds of treatments and even claim cures for human fear but, I also know that none of them would ever work for me. Like with my addictions I knew that the core of those were deeper than what ‘cures’ humans could offer. I believe that is the same with our fears and with our phobias.

God says this to us through the prophet Isaiah, “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) And I believe that this means for us to turn even the silly and sometimes embarrassing fears over to Him too. He knows them already and is just waiting for me to humble myself and say, “Lord, you know my weaknesses and know even the hairs on my head, today I need to talk on the phone, be with me that I may do your will.” I pray that prayer when that unreasonable fear comes over me and you know what? He always washes it away.

And even as Satan keeps trying to remind me how weak I am, it does just that opposite it shows me I am strong in He who created me and defeated the ultimate fear, death, for me. Pretty awesome stuff.

Even as fearful as I was about that party line, I eventually got used to it and even got to know a few of my neighbors because of it. When my house caught fire and burned to the walls. It was one of them who knew me by that time who called the fire department and did everything to console us. Even as we became friends, I still took a gulp every time I picked up that phone and sometimes still do. But when I do, I have an answer, His name is Jesus Christ. Even in the wacky fears He is my Savior!

Blessings John,
11/14/18

Accidents happen but need not be….

“When you are on the job you need to rely on the guys you are working with. There are tons of situations where if the person you are counting on does not do their job you will end up in the hospital or even worse six feet under.”

That is a quote, as I remember it, from the safety trainer in my union apprenticeship classes. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I remember he was always harping on things that I knew were the truth but a lot of time the rules were not being obeyed. Some of the problem stemmed from the fact that many of us were under the influence during working hours. The use of alcohol and drugs on most jobsites was taken for granted. Then there was ‘showboating’. Guys who would do dangerous stuff just to prove they could do it. And there was the fact that some people did not know how to work safely, either they did not pay attention during safety training or just did not care.

There were several accidents that happened during my forty plus year career. And to be honest, I think about 80% of them were human error. A few of those led to deaths, four friends of mine died while onsite. Three of those could have been prevented if human error was not involved. I think today the construction trades are much safer. New and more effective equipment, written safety plans, and stricter control of substances are among some of the reasons. But even with all the new stuff in place construction is a dangerous business.

For me, if the truth be known, it is one of the main reasons I was attracted to the business. I have written blogs about my perchance for dangerous stuff when I was younger. Hobbies like rock and shear face free climbing and hang gliding to name a few. I liked to take risks or maybe I was just so out of control that I had a death wish but could not take my life the conventional way. Either way for most of my addicted years I put myself in situations where death was an option.

But amazingly when on the job I did take safety seriously. Yes, I drank and did drugs while performing dangerous tasks and I was, every now and again, a ‘showboater’, still I had an almost spotless safety record. The key word here is almost. There was one incident where I put guys in danger because I was not paying attention to ALL the circumstances going on, I was not protecting all of my crew members.

Here is briefly what happened. I was working on a nuclear power plant in Elma, Washington for a concrete reinforcing company. It was our job to erect all the reinforcing for the Auxiliary Building blast walls. Most of these walls were up to five feet thick and had a lot of rebar in them. My job at the time was swing shift ‘curtain’ crew foreman. Each wall had four pretied ‘curtains’ of rebar approximately 30’ tall and 70’ long. They would come up to us on a flat-bed truck and we would rig them and set them in place. Lots of technical stuff in what I just described but the main idea was there were many things that needed to be done right and it was my job to make sure that happened.

I had been on a ‘bender’ for several days, drinking after work, sleeping a few hours then drinking some more before heading off to work. That night I was not as sharp as I should have been and did not notice that one of the vertical bars on the curtain had been cut loose. I was on the truck and did a final examination then told the crane operator to pick up the load. As he got it about 10’ in the air, the loose vertical came plunging down like a 30’ spear. It missed one of my crew members by mere feet. Not knowing if there were any more loose bars, I signaled to bring the load down quick and this made more of my crew scatter because I had not warned them what I was doing. No one was hurt, by the grace of God, but from that point I lost a lot of trust of my crew. It took months to get it back, if I ever did.

Why do I tell this story? I guess it is a good example of what can happen if you work when under the influence. But that is not all I want to share. The bigger picture that this incident reminded me of, is that when I relied solely on myself lots of bad things were bound to happen. Here is what I mean.

I have come to know and trust that God is in control. Does that mean accidents will not happen? No, but I believe if more of us rose in the morning and surrendered our day into His care we would find that many of the ‘accidents’ I just described would not occur because of several reasons, starting with a sober clear mind. Not all of us get up in the morning and distort our brains with alcohol or drugs. But how many of us are plagued by stress and pressure of our day to day life. Driving to work, texting or talking on the phone. An accident waiting to happen.

We can convince ourselves we are just multi-tasking but really, we are just about as out of control as I was that night long ago. It is really simple. Turn it over to Him. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Today, as I recall that night long ago, I see that I was trying to control the world around me by being conformed to that world. I have accepted Jesus transforming power and I now seek to live within God’s will. I can say I do not start a day anymore with asking God’s will be done. But there are those days where I allow this world to creep back in and like that accident waiting to happen, I need to trust and obey. I pray this day I can, how about you

Blessings John,
11/12/18

Peace in the face of hatred

Joe Jackson was not really a friend. Like so many people I knew at the time, he was a drinking buddy. Which generally meant that he drank in the same bar as I did and was there most of the times I was. We normally talked about the weather, sports, or some gossip going around the bar, Joe knew all the gossip. But after he had four or five good, stiff, whiskey and ginger-ale’s in him, talk always turned to the seminal moment in Joe’s life, it happened near a bridge on a Sunday in 1965, in Selma, Alabama.

Joe was a black man, who grew up in Selma during the civil rights movement. And as we sat in that bar in Glendale, California over twenty years later he would tell stories of the life he lived and the things he experienced. But when he talked about the bridge, he would often say to anyone who would listen, “You don’t know nothin’! Unless you were there and saw what I saw. You, just don’t know nothin’!” Joe Jackson had been a young boy who was watching as 600 peaceful protestors led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis tried to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge on March 7, 1965.

He had not been among the protestors but was on his bicycle delivering newspapers, so his story went. Of course, he had heard of plans for a march. There had been a lot of talk since the shooting death of a young African American man during a demonstration in February. But his family was not involved. His mother worked two jobs and his father was away most of the time working on several farms in the area. This left Joe and his brother to earn all the extra money they could.

Joe would always get emotional at this point in his story. He would describe how he had seen the protestors as they came out of a local church and as they marched two by two heading toward the bridge. And even though he had papers to deliver he could not help himself, he wanted to follow along. He remembered there were others who were doing the same following but not part of the march. As they approached the bridge Joe decided he needed to get back to delivering his papers but within minutes he heard such a ‘clatter of noise’, those were his words, that he turned back around and rode again toward the bridge. A man who knew his father stopped him from going anywhere near the carnage that was happening, but he saw the results, people running and bloody. Almost at every telling it would be about here he would say again, “Unless you were there, you don’t know nothin’!” Then Joe would be silent and so would I, just two people staring into our drinks. But soon talk would return to the mundane, sports, the weather, and gossip. Joe knew all the gossip.

I had forgotten about Joe until I moved to Georgia, a few years ago. Driving from Oregon to our home here we made a point of crossing over that iconic bridge. But the funny thing was, that I did not think of Joe as we were doing it. It was not until quite a few months later when I was listening to an interview with Congressman John Lewis that he came to mind. As Lewis was describing that Bloody Sunday, as he had innumerable times before, I could hear Joe telling the story as he remembered it. A good feeling came over me. Congressman Lewis, Joe, and so many others had been affected by what happened that day back in 1965, when peaceful people came face to face with evil hate and in the end peace won. It was a time of true overcoming.

I don’t know why I thought of Joe this morning. Maybe it is how I see that even as our world, our country has made progress through peaceful means that is no longer our rhetoric or our way. Ugly words and even uglier actions seem to now dominate every aspect of our interactions, even as a portion of us call ourselves Christians. I am sure one reason Joe came to mind because he was right, we do not ‘know nothin’’ and we did not learn anything from our past or history, hatred still seems to rule. But the real reason the Holy Spirit brought Joe back from the cobwebbed recesses of my memory is to remind me that I need myself to be a person of ‘peace’, through Jesus Christ, in the face of hatred.

Jesus assured us of this: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do, I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14: 27) It is His peace in this time of trouble that will allow me and you, if you seek it, to see that we are nearer than ever to His soon return. I do not need to be sucked into the rhetoric of hatred but move forward, as Jesus did, in the face of it.

Joe witnessed the results of peace in the face of hatred. He never forgot it. We are in a time when all of us who truly believe will be tested in ways as bad or worse. Today the Holy Spirit is asking me, “Are you ready? Will you stand?” I pray my answer is yes. But I can only know that for sure if all my trust and really all my life is in the one who faced death to save me. That is my only hope and even I ‘know nothin’ else, in that I am sure and at peace!

Blessings and Happy Sabbath,
John
11/9/18

Mammon or working for the Lord

It has been a whirlwind since we returned from Oregon. School as the last quarter ended, report cards needed to be done and recorded and a new quarter with all its challenges begins. Community Service, it is time for our fall food drive. This meant spending a lot of time with the school kids and parents delivering bags to over 2150 houses, walking and sometimes running from door to door. Then comes riding through those same neighborhoods and collecting bags set out by those who generously donated. Over 250 bags, as of this writing, with literally thousands of items that have already been sorted (last night) and now ready to fill 75 food bags tonight that will be distributed this Saturday. Lots of work. On top of that over the last few days we began reassembling the recently bought playground equipment, a project all on to itself. It has been a busy two weeks. But you know what. It is a different kind of busy when you work for a Boss who gives you all the strength and assistance you need to get done as He and His Holy Spirit leads and guides. That was not always the truth for me.

I will say this much. I have always been a hard-working guy. But most of the time my hard work was all about what I could get out of it. Money, of course, that was always at the top of the list of why I told myself and others I worked so hard. But that was not really the truth. I also liked the praise and the pats on the back I would get. I prided myself that even in the depth of alcohol and drug addictions I was at work everyday and did my job, in my mind, better than the other guy. What I never understood is how much better I could have done if I had slept more, drank less, and not spent a fortune on booze and drugs. The fact was, I always looked at those as rewards. Part of being successful. “Man, I deserve this drink! I worked hard today.” Or. “Brother, pass that mirror over here! I deserve another line of that speed. I worked my butt off today!” When I look back at it now, I see how foolish that really was. And here is why.

Yes, I made it to work every day. And I did work hard. But when you burn the candle at both ends, so to speak, something has got to give. With me that was always my relationships, be it with a woman or with my family or even friends. They always took a back seat. Jesus said it best, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24)

In the narrow sense Jesus is talking about money, especially in more modern translations of the Bible. But I like the word used in the King James version and others: mammon. This old English word has a much deeper meaning. It is something like, wealth or self-gain regarded through and with an evil influence or as an object of worship of devotion. That is where I was at. I did not worship the money, no I did not work hard to sock away a fortune. I worshipped what self-indulgent stuff I could buy with the money. In every way it was the mammon Jesus spoke of. And as long as I worshipped it, the Savior was so right, I had no room for God or even other humans. It was all about me.

That is the difference, my friends, when you and I work for the Lord. I am not saying that everyone needs to run into your office or job wherever it might be and tell the boss, “I quit, I am off to serve God!” No, I truly believe that we can work and need to work to pay our way in this world. But while you are reading this, think of what that job you have means to you. Is it all encompassing or is it drawing you farther from God? Or is it an opportunity to serve God and man. That is where you need to be prayerfully making decisions.

I made the decision almost two years ago to walk away from the most lucrative job I ever had. Plenty of money and working from home. Most people thought I was crazy to walk away. And if I am truthful some days, I still doubt my decision. But I knew no matter what I did, that job would always demand something I could no longer give. It would demand dishonesty and loyalty to a worldly code I could no longer follow. With the support of RuthAnn and with prayerful consideration I walked away.

And it is weeks like these last couple that show me, the Holy Spirit led me in His path. Yes, there is much work to do and it is not praise-filled and most of it might even go unnoticed. That does not matter anymore. I know the Master I serve, and I know He will provide all we need because, “The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2) Mammon is no longer in my heart or in my mind. And you know what, I cannot wait to get back out there today and see in what ways I can be of service to Him. It is a great day!

Blessings John,
11/7/18

Thoughts from Oregon: Family

As you might tell by the last few blogs that I was affected much by my visit to Oregon. There were many moments and experiences that led to reflect how my life has changed over the years. But how in some ways no matter how far you are from loved ones or how infrequently you see them, the moments shared together are full and fulfilling. I have mentioned more than once that I was not able to spend enough time with family because of several circumstances but I would be neglect if I did not write about what my family means to me and how our short time together had profound and lasting effects on my heart.

Many of you who have followed this blog know that my natural son and I are estranged. I always emphasis that it is not his fault, he was very young when I messed with his life and abandoned him to a world without me as a father to help him. This is my eternal burden and even though I have surrendered my pain and sin of this to the Lord. I still pray that the burden my boy carries will be lightened.

To my great blessing and for reasons only the Lord knows, I was provided a chance to be a father and grandfather to Dianne’s children. And in this I have to say I made a bad start of it. Again, through my addictions I was not the example of a man that I should have been for many years. But even as I was not, they accepted, nourished, and loved me. And I was able to watch my two beautiful granddaughters grow from babies into married young adult women who I adore. I also have to young grandsons in the Portland area that I wish I could get to know better. And if that is not enough, I have four great-grandkids that are growing so fast I cannot keep up with them. There are so many things I could share but it is my granddaughters who have over the years helped me see the wonder of God’s design and love for us.

You see my daughter and son-in law were not able to have children yet wanted so much to share their lives with them. Then two miracles happened. First Katelyn, then Alexander. Both adopted as babies, both more precious than you could ever imagine, and both so much of us that they even displayed traits that resembled both their parents and even more amazing, of their grandparents.

Katie is so talented and graceful. Like her grandmother, she showed early on a perchance for dance and by the time she was in high school was performing at a professional level. Blonde and beautiful, she even resembled her grandmother. Ali was an imp from birth. Funny and rugged she turned to gymnastics and later track where she succeeded at the highest competitive levels. Darker and with exotic beauty she was my equal for a good joke and laugh. In many ways she was like her papa John. But both were the love of their parents and grandparents’ lives. As adults they have both gone on to be responsible and loving people.

Katie married with two boys from a previous marriage and two of her own has proven to be a mother that loves her family with a Godly heart. It has not been easy. This world is not kind. She and her husband Dustin have struggled starting and working hard with their own business. But on this last trip home I saw the fruits of their labors are paying off. Katie has grown into a woman I am so proud of. And she showed that by surprising us, bringing the great-grandkids to the church fellowship meal on Sabbath just to give us extra time to spend with them. It touched both RuthAnn and I more than I can say.

Ali has been an inspiration to me. With a track scholarship ahead of her in high school, she was struck with a mysterious virus that left her with thyroid problems and neuropathy so severe that she could no longer compete at the level needed. For most that experience would have crushed them, but not my girl. She along with her husband Blake went to university and graduated with honors. I was blessed to be in the crowd the day they graduated! From that point her health has been a roller coaster and life has landed more punches, but she rises everyday and lives! I was only able to spend one brief night with her but the joy it brought lightens my heart even now as I write this.

I miss my family! There are problems that are occurring that I wish I could be there to comfort and assist in. But I was assured during this last trip that they are strong and will be ok. I believe more than anything my best assist for them all is to be here for them even if I am a continent away and to pray. Like all parents, that have total faith in Jesus, more than anything, I want my family to be together where it counts, in God’s kingdom to come. So today I pray, like every day: “Father, thank you for each one of my precious children. Lord, you know their hearts. You know their strengths, their weaknesses and every tiny detail about them. God, I pray that You draw them closer to You. Show them who You are. Let them see their need for you, Lord. Capture their hearts and fill them with Your Spirit. Lord, I pray that they would seek You above all else. That as they wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, You would be on their minds and hearts. That everywhere they go and in everything they do, they would see You. In Jesus’ name, Amen

I miss and love my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids but this life is short, and as much as I would like being with them every day, I know we have a prayer answering God and I look forward to be with them forever! How about you and yours!

Blessings John, I love you kids and hope to see you soon,

11/5/18

Thoughts from Oregon: a man who changed my life

One of the things about being back in Oregon was how much I miss my family and friends. You know it is really hard in a week to get together with everyone and have the time to catch up on being so far distant from one another. Like most I find this hard with my ever changing and growing adult grandkids and the great-grandkids that seem to have been born yesterday but are now in school, from kindergarten through high school. How did that happen so quickly? How little time I had with them!

Then there are friends and beyond that spiritual brothers and sisters that have been with me every step of the way from drunken God hater to a sober, joyful, believer in God through Jesus Christ. Some now approaching the end of this life but assured of the world to come. I want to share the story of one.

His name is Henry Martin. I probably do not know the history of this man as well as some. But I have known him for as long as I have had a relationship with the town of Grants Pass, Oregon and shorter but more important from the day I stepped a foot into the Grants Pass SDA Church. You see he was the first man to greet me that day. Today I cannot tell you his whole story, but I suggest you seek to know more about this Godly man. Today I want to tell you OUR story.

In 1987 I met a woman in a bar in Glendale, California. She was my bartender and soon enough became my wife. Not that unusual, I dated and was in relationships with a number of bartenders but what made this different was that this lady was a fallen away Seventh Day Adventist who never stopped believing in Jesus Christ as her Savior. Yes, she like me spent years struggling with addictions. But had the added nightmares of sexual abuse that kept her bound and afraid. Still she told me often of her prayers for release and struggles to return to her believes. I shrugged it all off, I had no desire to understand her relationship with a God I did not believe in.

On our first trip to her home in Grants Pass, I met a lot of family, some who were church goers and others who were not. I also heard of a family of friends who were a lot like her own family, who had grown up and been part of my wife’s life from its beginning. It was the Martin clan and even though I did not meet any of them on that trip, the stories of their work for the Lord pervaded our marriage from then on.

In subsequent years our marriage struggled, failed, and came back together. And as I have described on these pages many times after returning to Grants Pass to live, in 2010 I reluctantly walked through the doors of the church I now call my spiritual home. Yes, the man who was there to greet me was Henry Martin and his wife Robin. They, of course, greeted Dianne as a long-lost relative who had finally reached home after a long journey, hugs all around and many tears. But they did the same with me. Suddenly these people who I had heard about for years were a reality and even as they warmly hugged me, I feared them because at that moment I was not ready to give up this world. In a way to me they represented the enemy of my supposed freedom.

The thing is Henry seemed to understand this. As we began to attend church regularly he never pushed or preached. He simply loved and showed me so much what a man of God looked like. I watched him when we would attend church functions, there he was a quiet leader. I would listen to him when he spoke, no wasted words, just reflections on God’s Word. And best of all, as I drew closer to him he helped me see that a prayerful life, saturated with the Word was not a suppression of my freedom but a fulfillment. Through his example, his solid faith, and his ministration to me and so many others, I found a person I always knew I could count on during my rocky transformation. That was and is Henry Martin to me.

As I have said there is so much more to his and Robin’s story. Health ministry at the Weimar Institute and around the world. His own transformation from hippy to man of God. Speaker, television host, pillar of the church. All these things and so much more, but to me he is and always will be my mentor and my friend. I can truly say, I love and miss this man!

These days Henry’s health is failing. When I was attending Sabbath services in Grants Pass a few weeks ago he was there with Robin supporting him and I saw that he is weakened by the fall he took a few years ago and by pneumonia yet the glow of Jesus love still was bright in his eyes. And as I bent down to talk to him he still had words of encouragement for me, no complaints for himself. He told me, “We will soon meet in heaven!” and I replied, “For me a lot of that is because I have known you!” With that we both teared up.

Once a few years ago, I was struggling during Dianne’s demise. My daughter was staying with her mother, so I could attend church. As I was approaching the church lobby, Henry came out from within, worried about me and wondering on Dianne’s condition. I told him that her time was short and that I was struggling to find my place in faith knowing I would soon be without her support. He gave the half smile I had seen so many times and shared this verse, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10) He actually shared just verse 9 and I have added 10 because it was after that encounter with Henry that these verses became my strong hold. It was just like him to know just what God needed and intended for me at that moment. Thanks Henry! I wish I had shared these verses with you last time we met. But I know you already are assured of them. I am looking forward to having the mansion next to yours in God’s kingdom to come! I love you, man!

Blessings and Happy Sabbath,
John
11/2/18

Thoughts from Oregon: An Answered Prayer

As I said in my last blog, my time in Oregon gave me a chance to reflect but also to see that the Lord truly answers prayers. Today I want to share one of the amazing answers. During our discussions about marriage RuthAnn and I had to decide where we were going to live. She was and still is the head teacher and active 4th thru 8th grade teacher at the Wimbish Adventist School, in Macon Georgia. It is a vital ministry that continues to effect children and parents’ lives. That was on one side. I had decided to retire from being a construction Project Manager and work full time for the Lord. It seemed I could do that best in the churches where I was already established. Cave Junction church had even asked if I would be willing to be a lay minister in their church. Along with that I had a growing Soup Kitchen ministry and was seeking to join my best friend Larry in growing the Dorcas Community Service ministry at the Grants Pass Church. I also loved being Youth Sabbath School leader and heading the Fellowship Meal ministry. This all led to a lot of prayer and a hard decision.

In the end living in Georgia was both the ministerial and practical place for us to live. Of course, this meant the ministries I was working and leading in Grants Pass would need new leadership to move forward. Most of them I knew would have smooth transitions, leaders could and would be found. But the Soup Kitchen had been a tough ministry from the start. Maybe a little background will help you understand.

In a way it’s beginning was an answer to prayer. The man I mentioned earlier who is the Dorcas/Community Service leader at the Grants Pass Church, Larry, was looking for another way to connect with the public. And with much determination and effort Soup Kitchen was born. At the same time my wife Dianne and myself were seeking information on how to start a soup kitchen not knowing Larry was doing the same thing. But once we learned his was in operation we both volunteered immediately.

At the time it was being held on Thursday night and attendance was not good. In fact, it was so discouraging that it was decided to shut it down for the winter months or maybe forever. On the last night we all prayed and asked the Lord if this ministry was His will, if so send, I think it was six people.

If that happened, we would start back up in the spring. It did, and we shut down determined to do better next year.
But that did not happen. We did re-open in the spring. By this time, I was more or less leading the ministry just because I was a good cook and prepared most of the food. I tried many gimmicks, but nothing worked, we were to far away from downtown to attract homeless folks and so few showed up. So, discouraged once again in the fall we shutdown not knowing if it would be for good.

It was a burden on my heart. I knew God loved this ministry but I could not see how to make it work, so I prayed. During the next year’s 10 days of prayer, He answered. It was simple, hold soup kitchen on the day and at the time those in need would already be on the church grounds, Dorcas Tuesday, the day when food and clothes were given away. I told Larry and he got church board to agree, Soup Kitchen would now be every Tuesday from 11:00AM till noon. And when we did it God’s way it worked, people started to come. Ten and twenty at first. Then we averaged thirty to forty, sixty to eighty and into the hundreds. It was working but now I had to leave the ministry I nurtured and loved. Who would take over leadership?

At first it seemed no one was willing. It was a big commitment. But finally, a good woman who had worked with me during my time as leader came forward and took over as I was leaving. The ministry flourished even more under Rinann, she was a good cook and a good leader. With help from the Grants Pass SDA school volunteers it looked as if the ministry was solid. But life happens. Tragedies and hard times hit Rinann but she struggled on until recently when she informed Larry she had to step down. Again, it looked as if the Soup Kitchen was in trouble. Then another answer to prayer, Hector showed up.

He was the most unlikely of men. One Tuesday coming to Dorcas seeking help for his family, food just to help them get by. Hector himself had just come to the Lord, but he wondered how he could be of help to those willing to help him. Volunteering to work in the kitchen, it was soon found that he was a cook with much experience and amazingly could step right into the vacuum Rinann’s leaving would create and he has.

He and his hard-working family now run Soup Kitchen with efficiency and to record numbers showing up every week to share in Hector’s feasts that he creates. When I was there last Tuesday I saw the long line of answered prayers that had led to where the ministry is now, and I was overjoyed and humbled.
Jesus promised, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9) For me the Grants Pass, Oregon- Dorcas/Community Service Soup Kitchen lives on as proof that anything we seek in God’s will, the answers will come, and they will be better than anything we imagined. Seek the Lord today in prayer, He is waiting for your knock!

Blessings John
10/31/18

Thoughts from Oregon- “Miracle”

We just returned from a week in my spiritual home, Grants Pass, Oregon. It was here that I had my final struggles with living in my addictions. Here where I came to know Jesus Christ as my Savior. On a more personal note. Here where I shared the last years of joy and sorrow with my deceased wife, Dianne. And here where most of my family still lives. So, upon returning there were times of joy and times of sadness.

I guess one of the mixed blessings about our time there was that we stayed at a place where no internet was available and even our cell service was limited. This meant we had to go back to basics when it came to communication and also meant I was not able to publish this blog more than once while we were gone. The blessing was that it gave me more time to reflect. For a week, I did not touch the keys of my computer and seek to share thoughts. I think it made me more contemplative and maybe more appreciative of certain aspects of my life I take for granted.

One thing is for sure the last week away from the keyboard and in my old stomping grounds filled me with enough thought and emotions to recharge my writing batteries and hopefully share some things that will lift up Jesus and maybe give a moment pause from your busy day. So, till I run out of juice I am titling the next blogs, “Thoughts from Oregon”, starting today with, “Miracle”.

We were able because of how our trip was set up attend both Grants Pass and Cave Junction SDA churches on the two Sabbaths we were in the area. Some of you know that Grants Pass is my spiritual birth place. I came in its doors still lost in addiction and filled with pain and rage and left there a transformed man. Cave Junction is my ‘recovering’ home. It was to this wonderful church and family that the Lord led me to and work with helping others struggling with life problems that kept them from a full relationship with God, sharing in the Celebrating Life in Recovery Program. I came there to share my testimony but stayed to join the program as both one in need of recovery and lead in recovery. It was in this church I believe this blog was born.

In Grants Pass the Lord led me to minister in Soup Kitchen, Fellowship Meal and Youth Sabbath School leadership. In Cave Junction I spoke for the first time from the pulpit and was blessed to be the speaker during a 21-day evangelistic series, “Unlock Revelation”. Both churches nurtured me as I grew from heathen to heaven-bound. And as we attended each church I was humbled and blessed to see that the fruits of labor that I shared in has blossomed. I will share some of those in future blogs, but today I want to share the most amazing, hence the title ‘miracle’. The subject of this does not know I am writing about him. But I am sure he will not mind, because I am sharing his transformation to inspire anyone who reads this.

His name is David. When I was the speaker of the Unlock Revelation series, I noticed him right away. He was sitting toward the back of the church with a woman I recognized and later would come to know as his mother. His hair was long, and his eyes were glassy. I knew he had been drinking without even talking to him. After each night’s session as I stood at the back of the church thanking those who had attended, he would shake my hand with a ‘shaky’ hand of his own. Thanking me and letting me know in unspoken words that he shared my addiction and wanted release.

We soon spent time together as each Sabbath during the series I led a Sabbath School class. I was amazed by his grasp of God’s Word and saw the struggle that went on inside him. As the series came to an end, during an appeal he came forward to declare he wanted to be baptized. I stood with my arm around him as he shook and cried, so did I. David even attended the baptismal classes I held for those who had come forward, but when the baptism day came he was not there. My heart was broken, but my prayers lifted him every day.

Last year we spent a few days in Oregon also. I spoke at the Cave Junction Church and sat with David at the Fellowship Meal afterward. He looked better, yet I knew, and he admitted that his struggles with alcohol were not ended. As I hugged him before we left the church I told him to keep praying and stay in the Word and to know he was always in my prayers. And as the last year has passed I never missed a day where I did not lift him to the Lord because I knew the good work that was being done, someday victory would come to David.

This year as we attended the Grants Pass Church, there he was. Dressed in a nice fitting suit, hair cut and eyes so clear and bright, they shone. As we hugged both of us were once again shaking and tearful but this time with joy and thanksgiving. David is not only sober, he is in a relationship with a wonderful, Godly woman and he is living for the Lord. Can I have an Amen. David is another miracle and I was allowed to be part of it. Nothing will ever humble me and bless me as much.

As we wiped our eyes and shook hands the thoughts of all the struggles and prayers washed over me and I knew that, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This was now true for both of us. We had been saved by the only power that can save completely, Jesus Christ. Miracles happen, my friends. Yours is only a prayer away!

Blessings John.
10/29/18