Jesus’s Toughest Commandment

Jesus’s Toughest Commandment

Some years ago I wrote a song called “(If Christ Had Not Been) Born a Baby.” The first stanza goes like this:

If Christ had not been born a baby,
Fully human and yet still fully God;
Had He not lived and died as a man,
Then how would God know what we feel?

Whenever I sing that at our church’s weekly nursing home ministry, I invariably introduce it by saying that Jesus isn’t just my Savior, but my role model. Since He was the only perfect person ever to live on earth, that makes sense, doesn’t it? If I pattern my life after Jesus’s–if I say and do the kinds of things He said and did–how can I go wrong?

Forgive me for breaking out laughing. Please. It’s just that I’m all too aware of my shortcomings and the many ways I fail to live as godly a life as I want to live. The apostle Paul knew what he was talking about when he said something to this effect:

I do the things I mean to keep from doing, and I fail to do the things I intend to do.

That describes me to at T at times, and–if I’m not being too presumptuous–it probably describes all Christians. No wonder people often describe us as hypocrites. They look at the way Christ lived and see how far each of us misses the mark by comparison.

Christianity isn’t a religion. It doesn’t have a strict set of rules and regulations. It’s a relationship with God through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And there’s really only one two-part rule:

Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus even gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the fact that everyone we have contact with is our neighbor. But He took it a step further by telling us to love our enemies.

Love our enemies? How impossible does that sound!

I don’t really have any personal enemies. Or, if I do, they simply avoid me rather than demonstrating their hostility. As a true conservative, however, I look at the far left and cringe at the things those people stand for. Not to mention the things they’re doing to try to destroy this country.

If I have enemies, it’s those people. Shouldn’t I have the right to hate them?

Hmm. Not if I pay close enough attention to Jesus’s words on the cross when He prayed for the Romans who were crucifying him:

Forgive them, Father, for they don’t  know what they’re doing.

Whoops! If Jesus could do that, what’s my excuse?

But, Lord, Jesus was still God even though He was also human.

Then a still small voice whispers in my ear. “What about Stephen, who was martyred for his faith and for preaching the Gospel? He was only human and he prayed the same prayer Jesus did while being stoned to death.”

Okay, Lord, Jesus really does want us to love our enemies as well as our friends. But it’s tough! The very people I know I’m not supposed to hate really anger me at times–most of the time, in fact. How can I love them when I don’t even know them, anyhow? I just know I keep seeing them do the very things I disapprove of so much.

That same still small voice whispers back, “Start with the one who angers you the most. Pray for him or her on a regular basis. Seek to understand that person and pray for me to accomplish good in and through that person’s life.”

I chose someone–who it is is between me and God–and started praying. Praying sincerely on that person’s behalf is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as Christian. But I believe it’s also going to be one of the most fulfilling.

Do you have someone you consider an enemy? Perhaps someone who’s extra-hard to get along with, but who you must see and perhaps work with on a regular basis. Try praying for that person.

Jesus did it. Stephen did it. And I’m doing my best to do it. Give it a try.

Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t change the person you’re praying for, however. But don’t be too shocked if it changes YOU.

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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When  It’s Time to Go, It’s Time

When It’s Time to Go, It’s Time

We sometimes hear about people who are determined to stay alive a little longer, despite circumstances that threaten their health and well being. And we also hear about people who feel so hopeless about their current situation that they would welcome death. Some of them consider committing suicide, and some actually do it.

Please relax. This blog post isn’t about the life and death of human beings. Or of animals, either.

In fact, it probably won’t disturb you at all, no matter how sympathetic you might be.

1.
Almost three years ago, I posted an article about my favorite houseplant, a ZZ plant. It looked gorgeous then.

If you’ve been with me that long, perhaps you recognize the picture.

Some months ago, that pot-bound beauty was starting to lose leaves right and left. But only on certain stems. So Kathleen and I decided to get rid of the nasty parts and re-pot the rest. We divided it and put it in two separate pots.

We put the fuller one in the bathroom. Uh, the outer part of the bathroom–on the ledge surrounding the appropriately labeled garden tub. It’s still looking great, as you can see here.

The other ZZ plant looks pretty lonely in that big pot; I question whether we shouldn’t have used a smaller one. Nonetheless, after a month or two, one stem began losing leaves. We eventually cut that stem off. What remains of that plant seems healthy enough, but I keep a close watch on it.

Laugh if you must, but it’s difficult keeping myself from praying for its survival.

2.
Not long after buying our mobile home, I planted a small pyracantha bush. “Bush” is actually a bit of a misnomer; over the last seventeen years it has grown taller than our home (the picture below doesn’t do its size justice). Keeping it from taking over the front porch has been a challenge, but watching robins and mockingbirds use it for their nests has been wonderful. Despite a less-than-pleasant odor, the blooms are pretty, too. So are the berries.

    

This tree has meant a lot to me because it’s been in the yard almost as long as I’ve lived here.

As much as I love snow, it’s no respecter of pyracantha. Especially when coupled with ice. Our most recent snow storm left the pyracantha hopelessly split in a couple of places. Even if I could successfully trim it to get rid of the nearly-detached branches, it would never look the same again. (Only the part leaning to the right would be left.)

My wife has complained (mostly nicely) from time to time about the way the pyracantha has taken over the porch and blocked the way to the shed; this morning she pointed out that I should’ve planted it a foot or two further from the porch. Hindsight is wonderful. isn’t it?

We’ve pretty much decided to make the sacrifice and get rid of the pyracantha. A crape myrtle should be much more satisfactory.

Conclusion:
How do I feel about the probable loss of the pyracantha and the possible eventual loss of a ZZ plant?

Yes, I feel a little sad. But I suppose plants and trees are like human beings. They have a limited life span. And when it’s time for them to go, they go.

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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My Favorite Local Hero

My daughter graduated from Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Virginia. My wife and I go to the Patrick Henry Y to exercise.

Patrick Henry’s home is almost within spitting distance of Ashland. His father helped to defend several of our church’s pastors, who’d been arrested for preaching in a non-Anglican church.

(Winn’s Baptist Church was founded on July 4, 1776, although that had nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence; because of limited communication, Winn’s founders wouldn’t have known that day about the signing of the Declaration. But they declared their independence against the law forbidding any but Anglican churches to exist in Virginia.)

You might say people in this area almost have Patrick Henry in their blood. And of course everyone knows the famous words Patrick Henry spoke more than two hundred years ago in a church in Richmond.

“I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

But those aren’t the only important words he spoke.

Although we may not be facing another bloody American Revolution, there’s little question that today’s ultra-liberal forces are putting all of their effort into taking away our liberties and making us dependent on them for everything.

Our founding fathers would be horrified at America’s current state of affairs, and Patrick Henry would undoubtedly be ready to give his “liberty or death” speech once again. And to say a lot more than that.

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

Whoops! That’s becoming less and less the case in America with every passing day.

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

Oh, my! That’s not the case nowadays.

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”

Does he mean we should be ready to fight if necessary to remain free–even from our own government?

No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

Hmm. When’s the last time we thought of our government as being just, moderate, temperate, frugal, or virtuous?

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!”

And there’s the problem. We’ve allowed America to slip away from Christian values. And to no longer be a primarily Christian nation.

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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Can You Judge a Book by its Cover?

What do you think? Can you–or anyone else–actually judge a book fairly by its cover?

I think a more reasonable question is whether any of us can fail to let a book cover affect our decision to at least look at the back cover copy and possibly open the book and read the first few paragraphs.

Yes, there are exceptions. A hideously covered book may have been recommended to us by someone whose opinion we find to usually be in line with our own. Or the cover on the new book by our favorite author may be what we consider awful. In cases like those, our eyes may not see the front cover as a stop sign. And I don’t recall seeing Bibles with covers that would draw readers in; those covers tend to be pretty plain.

I doubt that any publisher fails to at least ask an author for recommendations about the cover. Sometimes the author’s contract specifically prevents the publisher from using a cover he or she disapproves of.

I’ve learned a lot about book covers during the years I’ve been writing, seeing my novels published, and now publishing novels myself. Gone is my opinion that a good cover must show at least a hint of one of the scenes from the book. And gone is my naive opinion that what looks good to my wife and me will automatically be equally attractive to other people.

At a marketing class for fiction writers some years ago, one of the teachers, a well-known literary agent, told the tale of a book by popular young adult novelist Jenny B. Jones. The cover depicted a cow–a black and white cow, if I recall correctly–with a tiara on her head. Hilarious, right? Adults, the agent/teacher said, thought it was hilarious. And wonderful.

Unfortunately, teens–the intended buyers and readers of Jenny’s book–thought the cover was horrible.

Ah, so teens and adults have different tastes? Why should that be so surprising!

When I self-published the quirky teen romance, Project Muffintop, I thought this cover would be perfect.

I spent the better part of a day taking pictures. At first my wife and I tried baking muffins in the tight jeans muffin mold I’d ordered from China, but we couldn’t get a muffin top to form quite correctly, and I ended up cutting the top off a store-bought muffin and sticking it on top of the muffin mold.

I published the book with that cover, but apparently nobody gave it a second glance. Ultimately, I had to admit it just wasn’t appropriate or professional looking.

So I found a stock photo I could use part of on top of what I’d used originally. It looked like this, and I thought it looked more appealing. Fun. Surely it would at least make a potential teen buyer take a second look.

I made the fortunate mistake–that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?–of asking the opinion of an online group of readers. By and large, they didn’t care for either that cover OR the original. Not only that, they objected to the title. Strenuously.

Hmm. Back to the drawing board. But first I unpublished Project Muffintop. I didn’t want anyone else to see and be turned off by the original cover. (Fortunately, I never used the intended replacement cover.)

The relationship between the male and female protagonists was more important in the story than her diet, and I believe God inspired me to re-title Project Muffintop as Just Friends?–yes, the question mark is part of the title.

After numerous revisions, this is the current–and, I hope and pray, the final–version of the cover. It doesn’t portray a scene from the book or necessarily portray the protagonists accurately, but it gives the potential reader something to connect to emotionally and hints at the fact that there’s a question about the relationship between the two teens.

 

What’s your experience with book covers?  What’s your opinion about their importance? A comment would be welcome–and quite possibly helpful.

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

P.S. Do you recall the original cover for The Devil and Pastor Gus, the one with a stereotypical devil at the upper right-hand cover? Or its replacement, the one with the church? When I got the rights to Pastor Gus back, I wanted something totally different, and this is it below.

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The First Rain and the First Rainbow

Okay. I admit it. Writing about rain on a nasty snowy/winter mix day is a little strange, but it’s what came to mind this morning.

I’ve always been told that the forty-day rain–the rain that caused the “Great Flood” that Noah and his family (and two of all living creatures) were the only survivors of–was the first time earth had ever received rain. While I didn’t question that “fact,” I couldn’t keep from marveling at it. How could I be sure that was correct?

If you read the Creation story in the Bible, you won’t see any references to rain. Certainly the Garden of Eden had to have had a source of water to maintain its unimaginable lushness. But I’ve always pictured Eden as the world’s first rain forest–perhaps huge terrarium would be a more accurate description since it was a perfectly maintained ecosystem.

Situated between four major rivers, it undoubtedly had access to all the water it needed. Irrigated by underground springs? I couldn’t say.

But we still haven’t established whether rain fell on the earth before Noah’s day, although I can easily imagine his neighbors questioning why he was building a humongous boat in his backyard. Even if he planned to use it as a houseboat (which, of course, he ultimately did), how would he ever get it to the nearest body of water that was large enough to hold it?

(Picture the pond in the movie Second-Hand Lions after the two brothers bought a humongous yacht that took up almost the whole pond.)

The following picture is a life-size reproduction of the ark at the Ark Encounter.

I think the answer to my question about whether the flood rain was earth’s first rain can be found at the end of Noah’s story.

While Noah was standing there on a dry mountaintop, possibly watching the water down below receding, God created a rainbow and announced that it symbolized His promise never to destroy the earth again with water. So that must have been the first rainbow; how would “just another pretty rainbow” have been sufficiently special to be worthy of symbolizing God’s promise?

Although not every rain results in a visible rainbow, rainbows always exist when the circumstances are right–even if no one is in the right place to see them. So God’s rainbow must truly have been the first one, and the first rainbow would logically result from the earth’s first rain.

Whether or not you believe the biblical story of creation and the story of Noah’s flood–I believe both–I hope you’ll remember God’s promise the next time you see a rainbow. It’s a promise He’s made to all of us. 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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On Color Blindness

You know what one of my pet peeves is? When I tell people I’m color blind and they ask, “What color is THIS?”

Although I’ve always been color blind, I didn’t know I was for a number of years. I do recall marveling at my sixth grade school picture, in which I was wearing a red sweater–I KNEW it was red–but it appeared green in that picture. In the years since then, I’ve concluded that the picture was printed in just the right shade of red for me to see it as green. Who knows?

Once as a high school senior I was visiting in the home of a friend. His father was an eye doctor of some sort. I don’t recall what brought this up, but he got out a book of charts used to determine color blindness and tested me. Yep. Color blind. A red-green deficiency. Uh, okay.

That didn’t exactly wreck my life, but it did lead to a couple of interesting events several years later.

Before I tell you about those, however, let me explain that color blindness doesn’t mean someone sees only in black and white. I see everything in color. Well, except things that really ARE black and white. The problem is I don’t see them the same way people with normal color vision do. And in my case at least, learning of my color blindness made me distrustful of my ability to correctly distinguish the colors I don’t have problems with. For example, blue and purple.

After graduating from junior college, my parents and I failed to notify the Selective Service that I would be enrolling in a four-year college to finish my degree. That was during the Vietnam War, and I had to go for a physical to see if I was fit for the military. Although my flat feet  and the fact I had to avoid contact sports because of acute viral encephalitis in the eighth grade both should have been enough to fail me, surely color blindness would be a serious factor in making me unfit for service.

Don’t ask me how or why, but when they tested my color vision at the draft physical, they apparently thought I was faking. How I wish! I passed the physical! Thank goodness we got things straight when I got back home, but passing a physical I should have failed was scary.

The other interesting tale has to do with my learning to drive. I have NO problems telling the colors of a traffic light, but when I went to take my test–I’ll tell you some other time about what I went through learning to drive–the machine told the tester that I was too color blind to get a license.

But bless the State of Maryland DMV’s heart. I must not have been the first person the machine had falsely rejected. The tester got out a strip of wood with three colored reflectors fastened to it. I correctly identified the colors without any problem and received my license without any further problems.

 

TrafficLights

 

I’ll admit it. Being color blind is a nuisance at times. Like clothes shopping. And getting dressed.

But I know what color my clothes are, whether they look like those colors or not, and I know what goes together.

What about you? Are you color blind? More guys than gals are, but not all of us. Do you have anything to share regarding color blindness? We’d love to see it in 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

P.S. I’ve gotten the rights to The Devil and Pastor Gus back, and I’ve just re-released it with this brand-new, more intriguing cover.

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Bartenders, Shrinks, Dentists, Spouses, & God

I used to have another blog–IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND. This is something I posted on July 27, 2011.

From what I’ve seen on television, the listener of choice for many people appears to be the local bartender. Of course, that’s a toughie for those of us who don’t drink or want to hang out in bars.

Hopefully, most people with serious emotional problems get professional help. I doubt that I’m the only one who’s thankful for that kind of listener.  Professionals like those may be paid to listen, but at least they’d supposed to be objective.

But what about those of us who just like to talk or want to unwind verbally?

My six-month dental checkups are a lot more pleasant–even fun at times–because my dentist and his hygienist have both gotten to know me so well that I can talk to them about a number of subjects I wouldn’t talk with the nice fellow at the 7-Eleven down the street about. They listen, they feel free to ask questions, and they really seem interested in more than just the health of my teeth.

But you know what? I’d much rather share items of interest with my wife. She’s an even better listener than the folks at my dentist’s office, and she knows me well enough to put things in the proper perspective. She can usually say the right things in response, and I couldn’t ask for a more receptive person to talk to. And let’s not overlook the fact that I can talk to her about  things I wouldn’t mention to my dentist or his hygienist.

Things I wouldn’t mention even to a some other friend. After all, she’s my best friend. Best earthly friend, that is. So why settle for less than the best?

But what about those secret–or at least those private–thoughts a person doesn’t feel comfortable talking with any other human being about? (If you don’t have them, too, I’m in serious trouble.) Most of mine are too silly to talk about. Or maybe I’ve talked about similar things so much I hesitate to revisit a path that I’ve already worn bare. Maybe I’m just being irrational because it’s the middle of the night, and my thoughts aren’t worth waking my wife over.

God, however, is still in the listening business–not His primary one, of course–and I’m thankful for that. Nothing is too silly, repetitious, or inconveniently timed to call to His watchful attention.

Of course, I do have a little problem talking to someone I can’t see. Someone whose parts of the conversation are not audible. I often have to remind myself that prayer doesn’t mean talking to myself.

God is real. He’s not only “out there,” but inside me, and He’s always listening. I don’t even have to verbalize my thoughts. Sometimes I can’t. But I always make sense to Him.

Even when I don’t make sense to myself.

I can’t explain how God can be in tune with all of His children at the same time–there are millions of us–but I believe He is. And He’s the most perfect listener of them all. He has answers–perfect answers–even though the answer is often “no” or “wait.”

And for those prayers not requesting an answer? The ones where I just want to talk with Him because He is my heavenly Father and He loves me? And He wants me to talk to Him because I love Him, too?

I imagine Him saying, “I hear you, son!” and giving a big grin of approval.

What greater blessing could this talker ask for?

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

P.S. I’ve just republished PROJECT MUFFINTOP as JUST FRIENDS? (Yes, the question mark is part of the title.) Friends at the Facebook group Avid Readers of Christian Fiction had convinced me that my original title and cover weren’t teen friendly. I hope they–and teens, too–will find this more appealing.

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