Thoughts on faith, forgiveness and achievement
It’s nearly mid-October, and, even down here in sweet Georgia, the gardens are pretty well done for the year. Between Susan’s efforts and those of our generous neighbors, we have eaten fresh chard, squash, hot and sweet peppers, and more this year, restocked the rosemary and basil jars, and put up enough tomatoes for several gallons of pasta sauce. It’s hard to imagine this cornucopia of produce came from tiny seeds and little seedlings.
Then there is the other garden we get to plant and do our best to nurture. The gentle reminder comes from one of my favorite Bible quotes. Rather than attempt to explain it myself, I invite you to read the following verse from the book of Hosea about the best kind of harvest. It is beautiful. – jri
“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of
and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
for now is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come
and shower righteous upon you.’
~ Hosea 10:12
Susan loves the garden. She loves preparing it, planting it, watching over it, protecting it from (and sharing it with) marauding rabbits and ground hogs. I sometimes watch her working in it – tying up plants, weeding, checking for rot and other problems. She works methodically, with focus and confidence, and peace. In our own lives, we do our best to plant those seeds of righteousness and till the ground of our hearts. And, ah, every day we harvest a bumper crop of blessings, with grace and joy and friendship showered upon us. Life is a blessings. Amen.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
October 9, 2015
At our men’s small group several weeks ago, a friend was lamenting that he was a hair’s breadth away from quitting his new job because his supervisor was making his life downright miserable. Though he has decades of experience, she criticized everything he did, picked at this, commented negatively on that, and in the probationary review, came to the meeting with pages upon pages of notes with which to censure him.
So, at the end of our men’s meeting, when we go around the table and share prayer concerns, we were all sure our friend would pray for a bolt of lightning to strike the supervisor, or at least for guidance about what to do about his situation. Instead, we were all stunned and then delighted when he surprised us all by praying for this supervisor, by asking God to bless her, and to give him understanding, strength, and guidance.
The point: Well, this one’s pretty simple. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. Our friend did just that. Good advice for all of us. Pray for those who torment us or who we would like to kick so hard in the butt that their teeth flew out. Not only is it what God said we should do, but it will make us feel better and help remove the bitterness inside. –jri
“But I say, love your enemies! Pray
for those who persecute you! In
that way, you will be acting like true
children of your Father in heaven.
For he gives his sunlight to both the evil
and the good, and he sends rain on the
just and the unjust alike.”
- Jesus (Matthew 5:44-45)
P.S. on that story: The supervisor in turn was censured by other members of the staff and backed off. Though there will probably never be any love lost between my friend and the supervisor, he expressed marvel at how the job has turned around, and he is so glad he did not act rashly and quit. Funny how God handles things, eh?
September 22, 2015
In the past, I could have been the poster child for those “stiff-necked people” God referred to in Exodus 32:9 (“’I have seen these people,’ the LORD said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people.’”) Self-reliant to a flaw, I bowed down to no man, woman, or beast. Even when I began to notice this God by my side, I made it clear that He was welcome to come along for the ride, but I was going my way on my terms. If He wanted to help, that was fine, too. Otherwise, He could just keep out of the way. I had things to do.
Eventually, one day, (I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but I think it had much to do with being tired of living with/ignoring that something-missing feeling, that hole in my soul), I bowed my head, dropped to my knees and said, “Lord, I’m tired. If you lead, I’ll follow.” Bam! Burdens lifted! Soul healed! Humbled, yes, but joyful and fulfilled to the point of being giddy. Wow!
My point: God has a better way. His path is one of pure joy and peace. (And, yes, there are adventures and excitement, and seeming setbacks waiting, too, so things are never dull.) The Lord’s way is not enslaving, but awesomely freeing. Oh, and He will never lead us astray … ever. Just trust. – jri
“Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
‘This is the way you should go,’
whether to the right or to the left.”
— Isaiah 30:21
Every morning, Susan and I sit at the kitchen counter and pray together and read the Word of God. We begin by thanking the Lord for our blessings, and often we recall where we have been in our lives (alone, in emotional pain, hunted and haunted by the struggles of the past) and express our gratitude for where we are today: loved, accepted, at peace, surrounded by loving friends and family members, free of anxiety and worry. Then, each morning we commit ourselves anew, freely offering ourselves to follow where He wants to lead us: “Lord, not our way, but yours.” Nice.
September 17, 2015
I used to love swinging the sword of my own dynamic ambition. I had plans; I had goals. I drove myself relentlessly, often working 70 hours a week. Every night I’d fall into bed exhausted, but satisfied. I was master of my destiny, and I was very successful. I accomplished everything I set out to achieve.
Then I found a better way. I gradually came to realize that nothing I had accomplished really mattered. I had not only wasted 25 years climbing a ladder that was leaning against the wrong wall, but it finally dawned on me that there was also an easier way, a much easier way. What I finally figured out was that everything is God’s, not mine, and all I had to do was ask Him what He had in mind for me, and He would give me what I needed … though, no, not always what I wanted.
So, I do not work so hard anymore; nor do I have a list of goals and agendas for achieving them. What I do have is everything I could ever want, need or desire: good things, including accomplishments, love, faith, family, friends, forgiveness, freedom from guilt and anxiety, a gentler spirit (I like me better these days, and I think others do, too), along with a joyful heart and a peaceful soul. In short, I have everything I could possibly need. Oh, and the bills get paid, too.
My point: No matter how much we may want to think otherwise, our life is God’s. We have no power. And the things we accomplish without God’s help are worthless. But we can have everything – everything worth having — if we just ask, and then trust and leave it in God’s hands that everything He has in store for us is good and worthwhile. – jri
“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests
be made known to God. And the peace
of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
- Philippians 4:6-8
I turn 65 in two months. I am already celebrating it as one of the most personally fulfilling birthdays of my life. Why? Well, for one thing, my lifelong desire to write and get published a novel, a decent book of literary fiction, has finally come to fruition. Captain Jolly’s Do Over comes out this month. I am as delighted as a kid on Christmas morning. Second, though supposedly retired, I am teaching three sections of freshman composition/writing at the University of North Georgia. I love teaching, and I have great classes and great students. And this is on top of all my other blessings. How did I get here? I just let go and trusted God, telling Him: “Lord, you lead; I’ll follow.” Nothing could be easier.
September 10, 2015
We have it made! Just think about this tiny list of our everyday, mundane blessings: We flip a switch, and we have light, heat, air conditioning (Oh, thank you, Lord, for the AC in Georgia in Jool-eye.) We turn a faucet, and, as if by magic, water pours out … both hot and cold. Awesome! We open the refrigerator and the pantry and, well, holy cow! Our biggest food decision is not where we will find anything to eat this day, but which foods to eat. (And maybe we should cut back, because we’re getting a bit too chubby.)
But wait! There’s more! We don’t HAVE to walk anywhere. We can get into a car, turn a key and drive. (Sure, that beater of a car may be old, but it runs … well, most of the time.) When out and about, unless we act real stupid, we have no fear of being arrested (yes, even if we’re black). Also, there is little risk of being attacked and harmed. We can curse out the government, even the president, and we cannot be arrested. Freedom! If we do get in trouble, we cannot just be thrown into a cell for months to rot. We have due process through the right to a timely and public trial (no secret trials behind closed doors). These things are unheard of in much of the world!
And there’s more? Really? You bet. When we get sick or injured, we have this incredible healthcare system. Life expectancy in 1900 in America was under 50 years of age. (I recall my grandparents seeming very old in their 60s.) Today, thanks to antibiotics, new drugs, incredible, computer-assisted surgery, and more, life expectancy in the U.S. is around 82 years. That’s a 32-year increase since my grandparents were children!
My point: Holy mackerel! We should be walking around with big freaking grins, ear to ear, all the time! So, the next time you flush the toilet, say, “Thank you, Lord.” Walk into the doctor’s office and say, “Thank you, Lord.” Walk into the grocery store, stroll down the aisles, just shake your head in awe as you look at the amazing choices on the shelves, and say, “Thank you, Lord.” – jri
“Thank God for this gift too wonderful
–2 Corinthians 9:15
Before eating (though I sometimes forget when I am alone), Susan and I try to remember to thank God for the gift of each meal. We do this each time we eat at home. We have also become comfortable doing it in restaurants, as have other friends with us. (If you know Larry Green, imagine him and me holding hands, bowing our heads, and giving thanks.) People sometimes watch and sometimes make positive comments. I guess it is a form of witnessing. But all we intend is to make sure we remember that we appreciate that all we have – all of it, without exception – comes from God. Amen.
July 22, 2015
These are tense times. In the U.S., the dissension and anger today reminds me of the late 1960s and early ‘70s: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, race and anti-war riots, even the shooting of college students at Kent State. In the rest of the world, I can only think of Europe and the Pacific Far East in the late 1930s: the rise of bloodthirsty tyrants like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, along with the brutal, seemingly unstoppable expansion of the Japanese war machine. Every indication today is that we are on the verge of similarly challenging times. And many people I know are either worried or worried and angry.
This is where, as I did last week, I urge followers of Christ to turn to their faith. If ever there was one, this is the time for prayer. No one individual can change the course of history. However, millions and millions of Christians, heads bowed in prayer, can make a difference. Pray for the world, pray for our nation, pray for our children and grandchildren, pray for the mercy and grace of God. Pray.
My point: The answer to the challenges facing the world today is not worry and anger. It is prayer. That is the most powerful weapon in the world, more powerful than rocket-propelled-grenades, AK47s, tanks, and, yes, even nuclear bombs. Pray. – jri
“Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
Or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper –
it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”
– Psalm 37:7-9
Believe it or not, I’ve tended to be a contentious person, always drawn to the challenge. Especially when it comes to politics, I often tended to swing a large sword. Today, I realize that I am not going to change anyone’s mind. Today I try – and I aim to try harder – to remember my own advice: “ Only talk politics with people who agree with you! Pray for the rest.” Life is so much better when I remember that. And it is even better when I remember that I am not in charge. God is. Period.
July 21, 2015
Stop fretting. I know people who are angry and worried sick about what everyone else is doing. They are offended about same-sex marriage; they are upset over Muslim erosion of our culture; they lose sleep over immoral or amoral politicians. On and on it goes. And they are miserable.
As followers of Christ, they seem to forget that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. You see, it’s not our business. We are not in charge of fixing the world … saving it, maybe, but not fixing it. That’s in God’s hands. Let it go and be joyful.
My point: God has a plan. Just let it unfold. Just trust. Be at peace. – jri
“And this is the plan: At the right time
he will bring everything together under
the authority of Christ – everything in
heaven and on earth.”
– St. Paul (Ephesians 1:10)
I’ve searched the Bible for instructions on telling people what to do and how best to boss them around. I came up empty. I did find plenty of references to loving others; to leaving judgment up to God; to pulling the plank from my own eye before attempting to pluck a splinter from someone else’s eye; and to go ahead and cast the first stone at a sinner, but only if I am sin-free myself.
So, it seems to me that Jesus taught us about what WE should do, how WE should behave. He had very little to say (in fact, I think He was silent) on the subject of attempting to whip others into shape. So, just love one another, and that includes loving men and women of different sexual and religious practices and even – oh, my God – politicians and people of other political beliefs. God really does know what he is doing. Trust Him. He’s got it covered. He’ll sort it all out in His own sweet time. Relax. Enjoy. Just trust.
DailyConnections July 16, 2015
We tend to be a sad, frenetic species. This is especially true in America. Even though we are a society overflowing with abundance, prosperity and opportunity, so you’d think we’d be downright joyful, many of us are wretched. We seek ever-stranger sexual thrills, mutilate our flesh with “body art” and piercings, gorge and starve ourselves, mentally and sometimes physically change our gender, drink, smoke, and drug ourselves into oblivion to escape … to escape what?
Want out? Then walk into a church … and by that I mean a Spirit-filled church, a church where the people know they are unconditionally accepted and welcomed, as they are, by a God whose love is unshakeable. And, yes, they are unconditionally accepted and welcomed even if they are sexually oriented differently from others or show up with tattoos, just as they are unconditionally accepted and welcomed if they have committed adultery, harmed others, sinned so badly they believe they can never be forgiven. They can, and they are.
My point: God loves us. He loves all of us, without exception. When we learn that, when we believe that, when we understand that we can trust God totally and in all circumstances, then we will put aside the angst, the anger, the pain, the sadness. – jri
“God loves you, and there is absolutely
nothing you can do about it.”
– Church banner
Susan and I are blessed to be part of The Highlands United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Georgia, a church filled with loving, accepting men and women, and joyous children. Even though I tend to forget how great God is, my heart swells with that wondrous love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit when I am among these other clay-footed believers inside the walls of that modest building. Thank you, Lord, for bringing us home to this place.
June 30, 2015
During a financially devastating time in my life (a business failing and a divorce pending), I had to/was ready to sell my big house on Lake Michigan (aka my monument to me). The deal was going slowly, and I had about a hundred bucks to my name.
The realtor, a gruff fellow named Tony Jeanquart, was handling the deal. He knew I was in a world of hurt. One day, out of the blue, he came by my house and handed me a check for $2,000. I looked at him, and he shrugged. “It’s a loan. It’s a gift. It’s whatever you need it to be.” And he walked away and never mentioned it again. That money got me through the next month until the house was sold. The money was a Godsend. More than that, though, was the out-of-the-blue gift from a man I knew slightly then, a gesture that made me feel a little less alone. (And as my life changed, I sent him a check for $100 every month for the next 20 months.)
Tony is one of the many, many people who have “paid it forward,” who have been there for me during times of need – from my brother, to our church family, to my two wondrous daughters and step-daughter, to several special cousins, and many, many, many more. I couldn’t name you all. But I am grateful to you all.
God has blessed Susan and me with love and incredible peace in recent years, along with the wondrous gift of enough. We lack for nothing. So, as Jesus Christ paid it forward when He died for our sins, I in my small way pay those blessings forward and ask the Lord to bless you with peace and mercy and joy this day and all your days. Amen. – jri
“For God so loved the world that
he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal
– John 3:16
June 9, 2015
Yes, we do tend to reflect our parents’ characters and influence. If Dad couldn’t hold down a job, odds are we too will have a lousy work ethic. If Mom beat us, odds are that we will be violent parents. If our folks were emotionally cold or highly critical, odds are that we will have poor self-esteem and often feel we are worthless, never quite good enough.
It doesn’t have to be like that. God set us free from the bondage of our parents’ sins. We are free to be the person the Lord wants us to be and to reach our full potential as His children. Those chains can be broken.
My point: Do not let your past determine your future. Turn your fears, your doubts, and your anxieties over to God. He has plans for you, and those plans are to not be pulled down by the past. Just ask. Just trust. He cares. – jri
“’What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the
parents’ sins?’ No! For if the child does what
is just and right and keeps my decrees, that
child will surely live. The person who sins is
the one who will die. The child will not be
punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent
will not be punished for the child’s sins.
Righteous people will be rewarded for their
own righteous behavior, and wicked people
will be punished for their own wickedness. But
if wicked people turn away from all their sins
and begin to obey my decrees and do what is
just and right, they will surely live and not die.
All their past sins will be forgotten, and they
will live because of the righteous things they
– Ezekiel 18:19-22
“You’re just like your father/mother!” is a curse (the gravest insult) sometimes spit out by an angry parent or spouse. My father was emotionally cold to the point of cruelty. In a sense, I was raised in the cage with the wire monkey (versus the one with the fur-covered stuffed animal). I grew up shy and totally lacking in self-confidence. So what? I addressed the issues. Through my determination and the help of the Lord, I turned it around. My weaknesses became my strengths. I broke the chains and shed the sins of the father. If I can, you can, too.
May 27, 2015
Dear Jesus: You were very gentle on me … but don’t forget that you didn’t beat me; I let you win! And that’s why I love you.
I am not afraid of God. Never was. I guess I just don’t scare easily (except when it has to do with snakes). Sure, I suspect He could smite me with a terrible case of scoliosis that would bring me crashing to my knees. Or he could lay a mystical staff across my stubbornly stiff neck and push until I fell.
But He never did. Though I realize now that He was always with me, guiding and protecting me, He pretty well let me go my own way and, ultimately, gave me everything for which I asked (and that, ultimately, turned out to be punishment enough).
I now know that the game was rigged: In this wrestling match of wills, God let me win fall after fall … until one day I finally let Him win.
So, today, Jesus and I are friends. We are brothers. And while my prayers these days often include laughter and sometimes playful complaints, I never forget (nor do I want to forget) that He is my Lord and my Savior. I willingly seek and try to follow His will. I give Him what I can. He gives me all I need. – jri
“So the LORD must wait for you
to come to him
so he can show you his love
– Isaiah 30:18
To me, one of God’s most interesting mysteries is that my surrendering to Him and kneeling before Him in total submission has not made me a slave, but free. He released me from the chains of fear, guilt, sorrow and uncertainty. He also blessed me far, far, far beyond what I could ever imagine. Thank you, Lord. You are awesome!
May 5, 2015
The finger pointing has started regarding the Baltimore riots. Who is to blame? Somebody has to be fired or prosecuted or at least publicly humiliated. [My favorite in these situations is when members of one faction demand an apology, and if they get it, they say (A) it isn’t enough or (B) it isn’t sincere.] It’s the same in Washington. Closer to home, it’s also the same in our own lives.
We seem to have a need to judge others. As a species, we pick at, gossip about, find fault with, and tear down others. Or we just sit in smug silence, reveling in our own superiority. We tend to demand perfection from others, although we are completely willing to overlook our own flaws. Most of all, we seem to feel we have to judge, to form an opinion about everything, to weigh in and vote yea or nay on every person or issue, even when we know little or nothing about the facts. Whew! Downright exhausting.
My point: Stop judging. As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love one another, not judge one another. Not only is it what Christ told us to do, but it is so much easier. So, here’s your homework (and mine, too): Today, when you meet people at work, in the grocery store, or driving on the road, don’t judge. Just love. Even if they do something that seems outrageous, just nod and say to yourself, “Lord, bless this person.” That’s called love. – jri
“Most important of all, continue to
show deep love for each other for
love covers a multitude of sins.”
– St. Peter (1 Peter 4:8)
As for the rioters or the police or the politicians in Baltimore and elsewhere this week, just remember that the Lord told us to love our enemies. I know, that can be a tough one, but keep in mind that even that person we judge to be hideous, well, he or she is a child of God, and is loved by God just as much as we are. So, just let it go. Just love each one. Just try.
April 30, 2015
Some people scoff at the idea of prayer. They say people pray to reassure themselves, to calm their own fears, but other than that, it does no good, accomplishes nothing. And then there is the curious fact that there are very few (I’ve seen none) spontaneous cures or burning bushes resulting from people praying. Hmmmm.
So why do we pray? Well, I’m not a biblical scholar. However, I know that prayer changes things. It changes hearts and minds and lives; it gives strength and brings about positive results … often very concrete results. Oh, and BTW, prayers are always answered. However, I have found that they are almost never answered in the way we expect. God has a better way. I’ve seen it time after time after time.
My point (and I think I’ve proven it poorly, but God is beyond proving): Pray! Pray in thanksgiving for all your blessings, if only to say, “Thank you, Lord.” And pray for forgiveness, pray for strength, pray for guidance and enlightenment. But also pray for others (prayers of intercession), not just for yourself: for the spiritual, physical and financial healing of others, for healing of their relationships, pray that the lonely will be surrounded by family and friendship and love, that nonbelievers may be gifted with faith, that the lost will be given hope. Why pray? Because prayer works. Prayers are answered. (And in case you have questions, ask me: God has granted me every request I’ve ever made, though never – I repeat: NEVER — in the way I asked.) So, these days, I just say, “Thank you, Lord; whatever you have in mind for me, that’s fine with me.” Amen. – jri
“Therefore confess your sins to each
other and pray for each other so that
you may be healed. The prayer of a
righteous person is powerful and effective.”
– James 5:16
For Susan and me, one of the favorite times of each day is our daily prayer time together. First thing in the morning, we sit down and read the Bible and prayer. We devote maybe 30 minutes to offering prayers of thanksgiving, reading of the daily Bible selections (We use Forward Day by Day and Jesus Calling), sprinkled with lots of personal comment, laughter and special petitions and thanksgiving as Susan and Jesus and I come together to talk each morning. And, yes, we have a special intentions prayer list of people who are in need of prayers. We even make a point of including the names of some people for whom we believe nobody else prays. And, yes, those prayers are heard and answered. God seems to like us, and He listens to us. Oh, and, yes, we also get a real spiritual rush from this time of devotion.
April 28, 2015
It was a weekly ritual between Angie and me back in the 1980s: “So what did you learn in Sunday school?” I’d ask at dinner each week. (These were the days when the Catholic Church had lost its way and, at least at the local level, had forgotten what it believed. Activities, it turns out, consisted mostly of putting crayons to biblical coloring books.)
Poor Angie, a grade-schooler, would stammer as her older brother and sister hooted and smirked at my request/demand that she stand and deliver. Finally, she’d blurt it out (the same answer each week), the always safe answer: “Uh, uh, Jesus loves me?” (Note the question mark.) I was always disappointed and often irritated.
The point: In truth, she actually got it right every week, a lesson it took me years to learn. Jesus loves us. That’s it. That’s all. If we ever get that, we have it all figured out. — jri
“A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another; just as I
have loved you, you also are to love
one another. By this all people will
know that you are my disciples, if
you have love for one another.”
— John 13:34-35
The good and wondrous news about Angie and me: Though she is passionate and fiery and outspoken (not sure where she gets that), we have always borne a deep love for each other. (Before I had heart surgery several years back, she and I had not been on speaking terms for more than six months. When she heard I was in the hospital, without hesitation, she and her sister, Nicky, flew to Georgia. Spiritually, we have not been apart since.) My greatest joy about Angie is that, in spite of my oft heavy handed efforts to pound the love of God into her head, she and her family are now believers and regular church goers. (And, oh, how things have changed: Her daughters love going to church.) So, for me, maybe this blind pig found an acorn. Or maybe God just did it in His own, sweet way. All we had to do was let the wondrous love of God in. Thank you, Lord.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 22, 2015
The band in church this morning played “Beautiful Things.” It’s one of my favorite Christian songs. (The chorus is below.) It made me think of the tulips that came up in our garden this week. We take a lot for granted, but think about this: Several weeks ago, all we could see was dirt (attractive dirt, but dirt nonetheless). Buried below was a handful of gnarly looking tulip bulbs. Ugly? Sort of. Plain? Most definitely.
And then, KAPOW! As if overnight (it took several days, actually), these absolutely beautiful flowers (not just one, but a flock of eight, and more getting ready) sprang from the ground. Something from nothing. Splendid beauty from plain, ugly dirt! Awesome.
Here’s the point: That’s what God can do with us! That’s what He does with us every day. He takes tired, old, sinful souls and makes them beautiful. No one is too bad, too sinful, too far gone. God is in the miracle business. Turn your pain, your sadness, your tiredness over to God. He will make your old soul radiantly new and beautiful. – jri
“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us.”
— Michael & Lisa Gungor (Beautiful Things)
Susan and I have seen our share of sorrow, loneliness and pain. Today, however, because of the miracles we have let God perform in our lives (correction, our life), we are joyful. God has transformed us. The best part: It’s soooooooooo easy. We just handed our life over to the Lord, trusting that He knows much better than we what we need. (God always gave me everything I asked for. It’s just that for years I didn’t have the sense to ask for things worth having.) Thank you, Lord.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 13, 2015
“Aha, this Bible is full of inconsistencies,” I’ve been told by a few non-believers. “Just look at the gospels. All the stories do not match.” Scrupulous scholars love this. For example, two criminals were crucified beside Christ. In one account (Luke 23:42), one of the criminals repented: “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’” However, in another account (Matthew 27:44), the two men were referred to as insurgents and both of them mocked Jesus: “Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.”
Here’s the problem, at least as I see it (though, keep in mind that I’m no Bible scholar): Approaching the Bible from a purely academic point of view will reveal what appears to be a jumble of disconnected stories, many of which seem primitive, quaint and naive from our modern, sophisticated perspective. The problem is that you cannot approach the Bible from a purely academic point of view.
My point: Follow these three steps: One, open your mind and put aside your preconceptions. Two, open your heart and be prepared to seek what is truth. Three, open your Bible and read. No, you do not have to believe, but to truly understand the Bible, you cannot approach it with a closed mind. Oh, and if you already have faith, the Bible makes complete sense, although it may well take years to truly understand all its beauty, as its Truths become apparent with time and study. – jri
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on you own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.”
~ Proverbs 3:5-6
One of the many great beauties of the Bible is that the men who compiled it were not afraid to include all four gospels, along with their apparent discrepancies and contradictions. The gospels were four different accounts of the same events, recorded by men who had different recollections, perceptions, and reasons for writing their stories. The stories in the Bible would make lousy fiction, but they make awesome Truth.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 7, 2015
What if Jesus had never come into the world? What if God did not exist at all? What if we humans were in truth nothing more than naked apes, just cunning, awkward-looking animals in a world in which morality, if asserted at all, was arbitrary and humanistic, a world in which might made right? What if human life, especially that of females, had almost no value, and dignity were reserved exclusively for conquerors and pompous kings? What if we lived in a world of darkness, of weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Some people might say we already live in that world, that earth is full of greed, brutality, violence, injustice, prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, indifference and cruelty.
Yes, this is actually true, BUT there is a small – though awesomely powerful and stubbornly inextinguishable — glimmer of light that bathes the world in hope. That is because Jesus did come into the world, and right and wrong are not arbitrary, and each individual human being has a special and blessed dignity, uniqueness, and precious value. Best of all, there is the promise that, ultimately, this light will overcome the darkness.
My point: This is Maundy Thursday, during which we celebrate the Last Supper, the washing of feet, the agony of Jesus in the garden, and, in many churches, the stripping of the altar. The next day, Good Friday, Jesus is beaten and killed, and he descends into hell. He is gone. We are alone. Just imagine if He had never come. Imagine if there were no glorious return, no Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Just imagine and give thanks for the cross and the Resurrection. – jri
“For once you were full of darkness,
but now you have light from the Lord.
So live as people of light! For this
light within you produces only what
is good and right and true.”
~ Ephesians 5:8-9
For me, the stripping of the altar at my old Episcopal Church on Maundy Thursday was the most powerful service of the year. I would sit in the pew and watch as, in silence, the candles, linens and all other items were removed from the altar, including the Missal stand and book, all evidence of the presence and existence of Jesus Christ. It was left bare. Then the Paschal candle, which had remained lighted and flickering throughout Lent, would be carried out. The service ended in silence, without benediction or closing hymn. Finally, the lights were lowered. Darkness, emptiness, and silence filled the church and the world. What a reminder of how the world would be if Christ had never come into it.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
April 2, 2015
“As long as there are girls who will giggle,
there will be boys who will make fools of themselves.” — Joth Richards
Do you understand your spouse/partner? I know I don’t. I mean the really understand part. It’s not that we don’t try, but that we have no idea where to start. (For example, Susan likes photo scrap books and carved figurines. I like chain saws and sexy cars.) We know THAT the other likes certain things, but we just don’t understand the WHY of it.
Well, Captain Jolly has it figured out … or at least he has it figured out that he will never figure it out. For an excerpt on relationships from the novel Captain Jolly’s Do Over, due out in July, go to: https://jringrisano.wordpress.com/.
Oh, and please leave a comment, take the poll, feel free to share, and click on “follow” at the end of the blog to get the latest updates.
Thank you – JR Ingrisano
One of the cornerstones of marketing is: WIIFM? That’s how businesses sell products to consumers. This will save/make ME money; make MY teeth brighter or my butt firmer; get ME the girl/boy; give ME power and prestige; make ME the envy of my friends (and enemies; yes, definitely, my enemies); make ME live longer, love longer, look better; or just make ME feel better about myself. ME! ME! ME!
Well, then, this Jesus the Christ comes along and gets it all backwards. He was supposed to be a thundering, roaring emperor of the world on a white stallion (not a donkey!) who commanded unbeatable armies, wreaked revenge on all our enemies, made the naysayers and doubters tremble and repent. Go, God!
But, no, He shows up in some Fourth World outpost of the Roman Empire, talks about forgiveness of one’s enemies (like that’s gonna work, right?), kneels down and washes His followers’ feet (like that’s gonna get you respect and power, JC), and doesn’t do a thing to straighten out the Roman soldiers and local yahoos who spit on Him, beat Him, and nail Him to a tree like He’s some uppity black boy in Louisiana in the 1920s in need of a good lynching.
My point: What if He got it right? Love your neighbor? Love your enemies? Seriously. Give your life for people who are too self-absorbed chasing after the WIIFM things of this world to even notice, let alone say thank you. Maybe that is how you conquer and save the world. Maybe? I think so. – jri
“But God chose the foolish things
of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the
world to shame the strong.”
~ 1 Corinthians 1:27
Years ago I was a devoted, dedicated follower of Ayn Rand, who believed that our first, last, and only loyalty should be to ourselves. I was wrong … and, no, smart alecks, don’t ever expect to hear that from me again. Today, as the sign says outside The Highlands United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Georgia, “Love God, serve people.” I now know I wasn’t put on this earth to amass wealth and power, but to serve those who struggle –spiritually, financially, emotionally. And as a result, I’ve never been wealthier. What a strange God we follow. — jri
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
March 18-19, 2015
Non-believers and neo-believers love the line in the Bible about God granting EVERYTHING and ANYTHING for which we ask. “God, gimme a pony, a Mercedes, a billion zillion bucks and ….”
See the problem here? In truth, few of us have a clue about that which we want or that which is good for us. We ask for stupid stuff, stuff that will do us more harm than good. Ah, but the real problem, it seems to me, is that there is a real neat catch to all this. You see, if we truly believe (and that’s what it really says), we won’t ask for all this worldly, meaningless stuff (I keep wanting to say “crap,” but I won’t). We will ask for spiritual gifts. We’ll ask for things like: “Lord, make me pure. Lord, make me honest and decent. Lord, make me forgiven, saved, blessed, cleansed.”
My point: If we just ask, God gives us everything we need. My question is: Why would we ask for a zillion billion dollars when we can have peace of mind and joy of heart? – jri
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes
in me will do the same works [miracles]
I have done, and even greater works,
because I am going to be with the Father.
You can ask for anything in my name,
and I will do it, so that the Son can bring
glory to the Father. Yes, ask me anything
in my name, and I will do it.”
~ Jesus the Christ (John 14:12-14)
Before I became a reformed heathen (when I was just a heathen), God did grant me everything for which I asked. That was my punishment. These days, I say, “Lord, please give me what You know I need. Thank you.” Oh, and He always does. Awesome!
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
March 4, 2015
“Sleep with dogs and you’ll get fleas,” my mother used to tell me, referring to some of the unsavory companions of my youth. Over the years (yes, Mom, I heard you), I did learn to avoid dishonest, immoral, amoral, and unreliable types.
Well, Susan and I decided that the same goes for what we watch. Last year, we started watching the Mad Men series on Netflix. Though brilliant and well-done, the show’s characters were all morally bankrupt, not the kind of people we’d have over to our house for dinner. We stopped watching. More recently, we started the Dennis Leary series, Rescue Me. Though very creative, every one of the show’s characters lies, cheats, steals, denigrates women, etc. Again, we stopped watching. On a positive note, we began watching the Tom Selleck series, Blue Bloods. Not only were the good guys unwaveringly good, with solid principles, but they had a big Irish family dinner together every Sunday and, gasp, even said grace before the meal. In a sense, the members of this family became part of our family.
My point: No, I’m not a prude, and I will not attempt to tell you what to watch. However, isn’t life too short to waste spending time with trash and hanging out with people who you’d never invite into your house? Choose your television viewing and movies with thought. – jri
“I will refuse to look at
anything vile or vulgar.
I hate all who deal crookedly;
I will have nothing to do with them.”
~ Psalm 101:3
Since I am working on a book about sex trafficking, I cannot help but take the leap from prime time television to pornography. Porn is a biz built on supply and demand, and the demand is high, frighteningly high. Every time someone clicks on a porn site, another young girl or child is kidnapped, lured, or outright sold into this brutal modern-day slavery. (Sex trafficking is a booming multi-billion-dollar business. According to UN statistics, over the last 30 years, an estimated 30 million children have been sexually exploited through human trafficking, some as young as five and six years old.) Who we hang around with, what we watch, and what sites we click on, they do make a difference not just in our lives, but also in the lives of others.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
March 2, 2015
“Joy!” That was the answer I gave the other day when asked to describe the emotion that best describes me. Susan and I are retired and enjoying our wondrous free time together. I have had my first novel accepted for publication, and I am about to finish my second (and I believe, a much better) novel, fulfilling my lifelong desire to be a “real” writer (not just a word hack). Susan and I pray and study scripture together each morning and have pleasant chats with God and each other. We belong to a faith community and, after years of loneliness, have friends who seem to truly love us, or in my case, to at least politely put up with me. (“God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy” – Psalm 68:6) We have health. We have peace. We have wondrous children and grandchildren. Oh, and, yes, we have love and patience and respect and laughter. We have gorgeous sunrises, jigsaw puzzles, and daily visits by cardinals, mourning doves, and other birds that we call friends. We are blessed far, far, far beyond what we deserve.
Best of all, we are grateful. Yes, every morning, we wake up grateful and joyful. It took decades of struggling and suffering and loneliness, and trusting beyond common sense or reason in God’s promise to, as I am wont to say – just trust! – to bring us where we are today. I look back at where I’ve been, and I am in awe. An awesome life.
My point: Again, just trust. If you believe in this God of ours, believe that He is watching over us. Always! Today’s suffering and struggles will become tomorrow’s joy and peace. God does it all in His sweet time … but he does it. He does not abandon us. He is with us. For Susan and me, God made the suffering and tough past times sweet. Were it not for the challenges, we just might not appreciate the blessings today. — jri
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it
again – rejoice! Let everyone see that
you are considerate in all you do. Remember,
the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about
anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell
God what you need, and thank him for all he
has done. Then you will experience God’s
peace, which exceeds anything we can
understand. His peace will guard your hearts
and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
~ St. Paul (Philippians 4:4-7)
I vividly recall the darkest days – one marriage dead, the second beyond life support, my wealth disappearing, and friends few and far between. I’d get up every morning, make the coffee, let out the dog, and open my Bible and pray. I saw no relief, no solution, but I trusted and prayed. And all I know is that God answered my prayer (“God, please give me strength, faith, and guidance”; that was my prayer). Today? Again, I can only use one word: JOY! How? I have no idea. That’s why I say, Trust. Just trust! God has awesome things in store for us. Just believe. Just trust!
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
February 23, 2015
Ever meet the smirkers who look at you like you’re a pathetic dolt and say something like, “Well, good for you if it gives you comfort to believe in a god to get by”? (Sounds like Karl Marx’s brilliant comment: “Religion is the opiate of the people.”)
No, it’s not about needing a god. It’s about whether one exists. But here’s the funny part: You cannot read a book or study science to discover God. He’s not out there somewhere. He’s inside us and all around us, waiting for us not to open a book, but to open our hearts and to discover something so awesome that there is no mistaking the veracity of it. Truth.
My point: Yes, there is a God (and He’s a big capital G God). Oh, and, yes, we need Him, but we do not wish/need Him into existence. He is. If you haven’t found Him yet, keep looking. It’s well worth the search. Just ask anyone who has found Him. – jri
“I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.”
~ King David (Psalm 16:8-11)
During my atheist/agnostic days, there were times when my soul was so bruised that I was desperate for a god. However, I never gave in and invented one based on my need. I’m sure that, in the words of Voltaire, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” That, however, is NOT why I believe in God. I believe in God because He is. I know Him and do not need to prove His existence. Better idea: If you don’t believe in God, you prove to me He does not exist.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
February 18, 2015
Kids say it all the time when they don’t get their way. As adults, we’re not much better. God hands us a curve, a setback, a loss, an affliction. And suddenly God’s not fair! Why? Because He didn’t give us what we want. God is not fair. He’s not. Thank God!
Imagine if God were fair. Imagine if we truly received what we truly deserved. Uh oh. Ever made a promise to God and not kept it? Uh oh. Ever make the same mistake (aka sin) twice (thrice, or more)? Uh oh. Ever gossip, swear, take the Lord’s name in vain? Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh. Ever just screwed up royally? Okay, got it!
My point: If God were fair, we wouldn’t last a day. No, we do not get what we truly deserve. Thank God! In truth, God gives us what we need … and that’s mercy, patience, guidance, and more mercy. No, I do not claim to understand God’s ways: why there is cancer, why people commit suicide, why people hurt and kill other people, why some of us just get real sad sometimes. However, I think we should just let God sort it out. He does know what He is doing. All I know is that we should be careful when we start griping that God is not fair. – jri
“By our very nature we were subject to
God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved
us so much, that even though we were
dead because of our sins, he gave us life
when he raised Christ from the dead. (It
is only by God’s grace that you have been
~ St. Paul (Ephesians 2:3b-5)
I want it easy. I want it my way, and I get really frustrated when I encounter setbacks. However, the older I get, the better I have become at just shutting up and waiting during those times. Sure, what I want may be very nice, but I have learned that what God has in store for me is so much better. Besides, I think Job nailed it when he said: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) The rest is all pretty much small stuff. Amen.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
February 10, 2015
It was going to be a long night. Rascal, our new pup, had a bad case of intestinal upset (aka “da ska-verts,” as my Norwegian-American friends would say back in Wisconsin). Four times that night, I rose from my bed to get Rascal outside. I was tired and feeling anything but joyful. Though a bit chilly, the night was still and clear, not that I noticed at first.
And then I looked up. Caught by awe, I stood there with my mouth open! The silent, black sky was peppered with millions of stars, from horizon to horizon. Without even thinking, I mumbled a brief prayer: “Thank you, Lord.” My heart filled with a vast stillness and overflowed with gratitude for the majesty of what I was witnessing – not just the night sky, but God’s awesome handiwork in having created it.
My point: God’s beauty surrounds us. Even on the darkest of nights (in this case, because it was the darkest of nights), we are blessed by His wondrous majesty. All we have to do is open our hearts and our eyes, and we will experience it when we least expect it. – jri
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout
and their words to all the world.”
~ Psalm 19:1-4
I used to love the big, loud, showy, bodacious miracles. These days, more and more, I have grown to stand in awe, appreciation, and wonder at the little ones. Several days ago, Susan brought home a hyacinth bulb, wrapped in its green leaves, its roots in a glass vase. Over several days, buds began to grow up out of the center. (Imagine that, the buds came from nothing but some water and sunlight.) Then yesterday everything burst open in silent beauty, as dozens of pink, six-petaled flowers appeared on the stem, while the area around the flower was filled with a rich yet delicate aroma. “…yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are” (Luke 12:27). Awesome.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 27, 2015