Knowing and Being Known


My wife and I drove to Staunton, Virginia, Friday a week ago to watch The Taming of the Shrew at the Blackfriars Playhouse, part of the American Shakespeare Center. It was hilarious and extremely well acted.

As an English major many years earlier, I’d taken a Shakespeare class and been to Washington, D.C., to see a live performance of Macbeth–a tragedy. But I’d never seen a Shakespearean comedy. Nor had my wife ever seen a Shakespearean play in person at all.

We laughed almost continually, or so it seemed. The physical aspects of the comedy were clever and as well coordinated as the speaking of the lines. A total delight, and quite a reminder of the huge difference between reading a play silently as a homework assignment and seeing it come to life on the stage.

Afterwards, we saw that the actors playing Katherina and Petruchio (the shrew and her suitor) were talking with people in the lobby. We waited for our turn.

Annabelle Rollison and Ronald Roman-Melendez couldn’t have been more gracious. She said–quite sincerely and enthusiastically–that learning that this had been my wife’s first Shakespearean play (and the fact it had made such a good impression on her) had made her day. And they were more than willing to let one of the theater volunteers take a picture of us with them. (The two closeups are my work.)

       

It was really nice to get to know these two actors, no matter how casually, and–for just a few moments–to be the center of their attention. We wouldn’t expect them to remember us if we ever met again, but at least for the duration of our brief visit, we mattered to one another.

Some years ago I read a statement from someone who claimed that God couldn’t be real. How could anyone possibly know everyone in the world in intimate detail? And how could anyone pay attention to multiple prayers that might be going on at the same time?

I strongly disagreed, of course. My first thought was of the little book Your God Is too Small. That perfectly described the person who’d offered such a limited view of God.

Many times over the years, I’ve praised God for being so much bigger, more powerful, more righteous, more merciful, more of everything good than I could possibly understand. My God is awesome–the only One worthy of that word. He’s beyond my ability to comprehend, and I’m glad.

How could anyone possibly love, worship, follow, and depend on a god that human beings could describe adequately in human terms and put in a box that way?

We didn’t establish an ongoing relationship with the actors we met, no matter how pleasant our short time together was. But our relationship with God is eternal. Knowing and being known by Him is infinitely more important than any of our human relationships.

Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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Something I Miss Being Able to Do


Age certainly takes its toll on various kinds of activities. Even at seventy-one, I feel more limited than I did at seventy. I can’t walk as fast as I used to, and my wife says I sometimes lean when I’m walking.  Not a good thing, although the doctor didn’t offer an opinion about it; I assume he considers it par for the course of an aging individual.

Ever since my bout with acute viral encephalitis in the eighth grade–my survival wasn’t guaranteed, and I could’ve ended up a human vegetable–I haven’t been very energetic. If you question that, just keep in mind that co-workers at a summer job years ago called me Flash because of the speed at which I didn’t work.

When I was a kid–even a young adult–I prayed for God not to call me to be a pastor or a missionary. He honored that prayer, quite possibly because He knew I already had physical limitations that would’ve affected my ability to work in anything as stressful as full-time Christian ministry.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in missions, however. Especially overseas. That’s why getting a job at the International Mission Board (it was still called the Foreign Mission Board then) after going back to school for some computer training was so important to me. I wouldn’t be working in the field, but I would be supporting the people who did.

In 1991, when I was forty-five, I had the opportunity to go on a short-term volunteer mission trip to Australia, a place I–like many Americans–had always wanted to go. On being assured I didn’t need theological training to be qualified, I went. I loved the country, I loved the people, and I fell in love with that type of short-term mission trips.

Not surprisingly, the ensuing years saw me return to Australia a number of times, Romania twice, and Wales, England, and Nicaragua once each.

The Nicaragua trip was doubly important. Not only was I there to help in whatever way I could, I was also doing research for the third book in my Altered Hearts series, Overshadowed.

I was by far the oldest person on our team, and the other five people were very thoughtful in trying to meet my needs. Nonetheless, I came to realize that I probably wasn’t holding up my corner of the blanket, so-to-speak, and I felt at times that I might have been more of a hindrance than a help, even though no one would ever have said so.

I would love to go back to Nicaragua…or Australia…or wherever else God might permit me to go. But at this stage of my life, going on another mission trip seems very impractical, and that’s frustrating. I hate feeling that physically limited.

Some years ago I wrote a song called “My Comfort Zone.” The lyrics say in part, “Why should I go when I can send?” and “Why should I preach when I can pray?”

Thankfully, the realization that I can still pray and help to send those who’re able to go gives me a great deal of peace.

Do you have problems that affect your ability to do some of the things you used to enjoy doing? How about leaving a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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When Is a Book a Success?


My first two novels, Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams, both came out in 2011. They were Barbour Publishing’s first venture into Young Adult literature, and I’m sure the  advance I received for each of them reflected their confidence in my books’ success.

Although I didn’t have a contract for a third book, I was already 30,000 words into writing one when Barbour informed me that they were doing away with their young adult line. Consequently my books would be going out-of-print and they had no need for the third book.

What had happened? 5,000 copies of the 10,000 print copies of Found in Translation had sold, and 2,500 of the 5,000 print copies of Lost in Dreams. Not enough, apparently.

Although I hadn’t gotten much feedback from teens, what I’d received was encouraging. An upper teen I met in a restaurant said, “You wrote Found in Translation? Wow! I loved it!” Even better, however, was an email from one young lady who said she’d been inspired to start reading her Bible and going to church again.

A number of adults loved those two books as well. Even just a year-and-a-half ago, my surgeon’s nurse emailed me, asking if I was the author of the Altered Hearts books. A reading group she was in had just read them, and she wanted to know when would the next book would be coming out. I hated to tell her it wouldn’t be.

The Devil and Pastor Gus came out in 2015. Although its fifty-four Amazon reviews have a 4.1 star average, Pastor Gus hasn’t sold large numbers.

I revised Rosa No-Name, which has always been my wife’s favorite, paid for editing and a professional cover, and self-published it. Despite its fourteen Amazon reviews and 4.9 star average, it’s not a best seller, either.

I finished writing the third Altered Hearts book, Overshadowed, uncertain what to do with it. But then Barbour gave me the rights to the first two books, and small publisher Winged Publications was happy to release all three. (We changed the name of Lost in Dreams to A Season of Pebbles.) Winged Publications has also published three of my quirky romantic novels. We’re struggling to boost sales.

Going from a big-name publisher like Barbour and reaching so many readers initially and then going to a small publisher and a questionable sales record might make the average person say, “You’re not a very successful author, are you?”

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that way, too. I never hoped to become a New York Times bestselling author, but I’ve never given up the hope of being “successful.”

After all, God gave me whatever writing ability I have, and He’s inspired all of those novels. I don’t mean to say He dictated them to me, but He’s certainly helped me to write each book to the best of my ability, always striving to do better than the one before.

I consider Him my most critical reader…and my biggest fan. If I’m pleasing Him with my writing, what greater success could I ask for?

Still, I do want my books to sell. Not because I care about making money from them–I would like for my publisher to earn something, though–but because I believe they have something important to say and they say it in an entertaining way. That’s why I like to sign books, “May this both bless and entertain you.”

I’m learning. Too slowly at times, it seems. The success of a book–one of mine, anyhow–won’t be determined by the numbers sold, but by the souls touched. And I will probably never know the extent to which a book has done that until I arrive in Heaven.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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Victory in Jesus — Really an Easter Song


Churches have a variety of different traditions, even within the same denomination. At my church we sing the refrain from the old hymn “Victory in Jesus” at the end of almost every worship service. Even though the words are projected on the screen, very few people need to see them. The lyrics are deeply ingrained in most of our memories. Even in the minds of many of the children.

The funny thing is, most people still follow the words on the screen as if they can’t remember them. I can’t be too critical of that, however. I thought I knew them well until I got ready to write the refrain down below. Alas! I had to dig out a hymnal to be sure I had it right.

O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever,
He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew him,
And all my love is due him.
He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

I have an unfortunate disadvantage about things like that. Playing bass guitar on the praise team, I’m usually focusing on the music of every hymn we do, not the words. Would I dare to get sidetracked from my playing by thinking about the words?

Sometimes I wonder if any of the other congregants actually think about the words while singing them. It’s far too easy to sing them by rote after all these years–even when reading them off the screen when that shouldn’t be needed.

How shameful for any of us to take the victory we have through Jesus for granted…

When God created the world and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He gave them free will. He wanted them to love Him. For that to happen, he had to make them free to reject Him. And so they did, and the world has been going downhill ever since.

But God never intended for mankind to continue living in hopelessness. Jesus came to earth to live, die, and be resurrected as both God and man to make things right with everyone who accepts His gift–not just eternal life in Heaven, but the most meaningful earthly life possible…with a sense of purpose unlike any other.

Hmm. Victory in Jesus? We may sing it every Sunday, but what an especially appropriate hymn to sing and to think about–to really think about–this Easter season. Maybe even to think about as if we’ve never really thought about it before.

What’s your favorite Easter hymn? Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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Tale of a Snowy Spring Day

Although the calendar moved from winter to spring this past week, the weather couldn’t keep up with it. On Wednesday we had snow that started early and kept falling for hours. Schools were closed, but my wife was able to get to work without any problems.

My usual Wednesday morning nursing home ministry was cancelled, however. That meant I could still get two walks in at the mall. Clearing the car off didn’t take much; the snow was so soft it brushed off easily. The roads were mostly just wet, and the parking lot at the mall was slushy in places, but not dangerous to drive on.

 I always go in through the entrance at Penney’s salon. My wife and I have been doing that for a long time because the nice salon employees are generous are letting us hang our coats in their little customer closet, even though we get our haircuts elsewhere.

Although I hadn’t been taking advantage of that closet recently because the mall hasn’t been well heated this year, it was a real necessity that day. I was wearing boots–definitely not what I wanted to wear for a thirty-minute walk–but I’d brought my walking shoes in a plastic bag.

The salon was empty–no employees, no lights–but I changed into walking shoes and put my boots in the closet. Walking through the store, I admired some electronic gear that was on sale and cute tee-shirts displaying a rabbit head with part of an ear broken off (labeled “Oh, snap!”). Then I headed into the mall and had a good walk.

Several hours later, I decided to get my second walk out of the way. So I returned to Penney’s and went through the same routine about my shoes and boots. But I hung my coat in the closet that time. And why not? I was wearing a heavy sweater.

I’d seen only a few walkers that morning, but now–this was a little after 1:00–nobody else was walking. In fact, I marveled at the number of stores that had closed early. Considering the number that had never opened, things looked rather ghostly.

I’d been walking about ten minutes when one of the security guards stopped me and said the mall had just closed. He was nice enough to let me go the short distance to my turning spot, but I didn’t think I should take advantage of his kindness by attempting to do my second loop as well.

As I watched the rest of the mall stores closing right before my eyes, I couldn’t keep from thinking, “What if Penney’s closes its mall entrance before I can get there?” I started moving faster…and praying.

Sure enough, as I rounded the final corner, there Penney’s sat, its gate closed and no one who might have been able to let me in visible inside. When I saw another security guard, a very pregnant lady I’d gotten to know better since she passed out one morning many months ago, I told her my problem.

She couldn’t get me into Penney’s, but she did lead me down a corridor I’d never noticed before, one that led to an exit probably a hundred yards or so from my car. And an equal distance from where I was to Penney’s salon entrance.

I felt so blessed that the snow had practically stopped; I wouldn’t get very wet. But the temperature was barely above freezing. No matter how warm my sweater was, I moved as fast as I could towards the salon entrance. I nearly burst into a song of praise when someone exited through that door. He must have been store personnel since he questioned why I wanted to come in. He believed me, fortunately.

I changed back into boots, put on my coat, and headed to my car.

I was tempted to leave you in suspense about whether I got into Penney’s or not, but I was already concerned about whether anyone was still reading this post, and the conclusion of the story would not have been worthy of a sequel next week.

Have you ever had an unusual experience–maybe something that could have been either disastrous or, as in my case, simply a huge nuisance–that turned out okay? Or maybe not okay. How about leaving a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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A Curse or a Blessing?

I’m not like my adoptive father in very many ways, but he sure hit that old cliched nail on the head about not liking telephones.

No wonder. As a minister, he was always being interrupted by otherwise well-intended church members who didn’t realize how much time and concentration it took to prepare two sermons a week–he rarely reused a sermon–and an in-depth Bible study for the Wednesday night prayer service.

No matter whether he was at church or at home, he couldn’t very well refuse to talk to a caller. But he sure didn’t have to like it.

I’m not sure whether he ever said this, but I’ll always associate this with him. “If I get to Heaven and find telephones there, I’m asking for a transfer to the other place.” A bit of an exaggeration, but that makes the point quite well.

I’m not a minister, and I’m not subject to the number and variety of calls he couldn’t get away from. But I still hate telephones, and it’s not just because of my father’s dislike of them.

When I graduated from college and got out on my own, I probably wouldn’t have had a phone except for not being able to call in sick without one. I didn’t get sick very often,however, so I rarely needed it for that purpose. And I don’t recall using it for very much of anything else.

I’d promised to write my parents once a week. Honestly, I often struggled to find something to say. If long distance had been free, maybe I would’ve called instead and let them do most of the talking. Oh, well…

After marrying my first wife, the phone got used a lot. Especially with the in-laws living far away. Unfortunately, long distance still wasn’t free.

Cell phones came along far enough that we finally felt we could afford one, and I thought we needed one for emergencies. Even though the cost of extra minutes added up to more than the cost of the phone itself, my wife saw it as useful for everyday calling.

When she and I parted ways, I decided to buy a cell phone–mostly for emergencies away from home. But I still had a house phone, too.

I don’t know if I rarely use the cell phone because I’ve never gotten over my lifelong dislike of phones. Even so, I wouldn’t think of going out without it. My wife and I have turned the ringer off on the house phone. We’d give it up, but our Internet access is cheaper by being bundled with the home landline. Incidentally, we periodically check it for messages, but very few nuisance callers leave them, thank goodness.

I’m a horrible text-er. Very, VERY slow. But if I need to get a message to someone while (for example) I’m at the doctor’s office, I will text.

I’m tempted leave the ringer volume up at church since rarely does anyone call me. But the thought of “Sunshine of Your Love” starting up at top volume during a worship service makes me silence it. Sometimes I forget to turn the volume up again for a couple of days.

I’m the first person to admit phones can be useful. Even so, I can’t understand people’s addictions to them. And doing all that talking and texting? Not my idea of fun.

Ah, but the apps for smart phones are something else. It’s great to have a Bible on my phone and a GPS app to locate an unfamiliar place. Not to mention the ability to monitor the flight a loved one is on.

So are phones a curse or a blessing? I guess it depends in part on whether you’re like me and my father or like a typical teen.

Do you hate or love phones? Are you addicted to yours or is it simply another useful gadget? Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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The Right Age (a guest post by Cecil Murphey)


Cecil Murphey, known to his many friends as Cec, is an amazing eighty-five-year-old. I’ve lost count of the number of books he’s authored, co-authored, or ghost-written, but the one most of you are familiar with–at least by name–is Ninety Minutes in Heaven, which he wrote with Don Piper, who experienced the astounding visit to Heaven the book and the movie are about.

Cec isn’t selfish about sharing his talents. Years ago I had a private meeting with him at a Christian writers conference (when we were both a tad younger and I was a lot bigger), and I’m still attempting to apply his gracious advice. When I asked for his permission to share the following article, this was his response. “Roger, I’d be delighted and feel honored… ”

He meant it, too.

Enough from me. Here goes…
The Right Age

“I’m too old for that,” my 53-year-old friend said.

I regularly hear such comments from those who have hit the big zero years (50, 60, 70). Once-attractive women complain, “When women reach a certain age, men ignore them.” When I hear that, I think, So what? Do you need approving stares to be happy?

I’m tired of hearing friends cringe at the mention of aging. I have no desire to be 30 or 60 again and am grateful for the years behind me.

Just because we reach “a certain age” doesn’t mean we stop living or enjoying life. Instead, we have an opportunity to add to our lives, to explore new ideas, and take pleasurable risks.

This year I turned 85, and I’m delighted to admit it. Here are a few things I say about my age:

  • “I’ve earned every wrinkle and creak in my body.”
  • “This is the cost of living longer.”
  • “I’m happy being who I am right now.”
  • “This is exactly the right age for me.”

Getting older isn’t only a downhill slide; we can always find positives. No matter how dismal life seems, we can choose to stay positive.

For example, my faith has grown stronger and my attachment to others is deeper. I’m free to say no. The older I get, the more I know the relationships I want to maintain and those I want to let go.

Regardless of the number of my years, I’m exactly the right age to increase my joy and appreciate all the goodness of life. I relish the freedom and the joy of life instead of thinking how terrible it is to get old. I regularly say to myself, “This is the life I’ve been preparing to live. Now I’ll enjoy it.”

What about you and your age? Can you say these words below?

 

Cecil Murphey

 

Thanks to Cec for permitting me to publish this article from his most recent monthly newsletter. He has said what I so often think (or realize I should think), but he’s done it much more eloquently.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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