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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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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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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Christmas Traditions

Long gone are the Christmas traditions I grew up with during childhood. I’m not sure I can remember any from that part of my life. Not unless you count having to hang each icicle on the tree individually!

Seriously, my wife, Kathleen, and I have established our own Christmas traditions. Christmas Eve starts with a candle lighting service at church. If we don’t eat before going, we have a quick meal when we get home and then head to the table we keep the little tree and the presents on.

I’m not sure why we started doing our opening of presents on Christmas Eve, but it makes Christmas morning easier. (While I was growing up, my mother’s health situation required her to eat breakfast before we could do presents; obviously not a kid-friendly necessity.)

After that, we put the DVD of Celtic Woman’s  Christmas special on and thoroughly enjoy the music and the costumes. And we always express our amazement at the way the CW violinist dances and prances around on stage while playing so beautifully!

Breakfast on Christmas morning is apt to be one of the favorites we usually only have on weekends–waffles or pancakes. This year we’re getting bacon bits to put in the waffles.

Although we always eat out for Thanksgiving dinner, I doubt there are any restaurants open on Christmas day. Sometimes we splurge and buy crab for me to make crab cakes. Or a leg of lamb. But this year Kathleen is going to fix pizza and a sugar-free apple pie. Yum!

This year will be the beginning of a new tradition. We saw the animated movie The Star when it came out last year and then bought the DVD to watch on Christmas Day. As much as we enjoyed it last year, it’s been tough to hold off watching it ever since the DVD arrived.

Most important of all traditions, however, is making a point of remembering that Christmas isn’t really about any of those things. It’s the celebration of the birth of our Savior and Lord. How God could impregnate Mary supernaturally is something we’ll never be able to comprehend, but the fact that Jesus was both God and man is an essential element of the Christian faith.

That makes His the most worthwhile birthday of any to celebrate year in and year out.

Thanks to my good friend Tammy Van Gils for her recent blog post about Christmas traditions; that’s what inspired me to write about Kathleen’s and my traditions.

Do you have any special traditions? How about sharing 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

Now available on Kindle!

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Little Aids for an Older Me

I’ve never been the world’s most coordinated person. Even a slow dance with my daughter at her wedding in 2011 (yes, I can remember the date–9/10/11) required my constant attention, but at least I didn’t fall or knock her or anyone else down.

Nonetheless, it’s not a wonder I started using one of my many homemade walking sticks some years ago when walking for exercise . I’ve always been fond of telling people it’s because I can trip over a line in the floor. Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but if there’s a slick or ever so slightly uneven spot where I’m walking, one of my feet is sure to find it.

I have to admit I occasionally use a walking stick when shopping or just going somewhere where having something to lean on is useful.

When will I really need to use it all the time? No idea. But at least I’m prepared.

But walking isn’t the only activity aging affects. Getting in and out of the shower–and remaining upright while showering–and in and out of the car are things younger people probably take for granted.

But not me.

Although my mother-in-law doesn’t have a shower handle, she’s the person who made me realize how much I needed one. After spilling some shampoo in the bottom of the tub one day, I needed something I didn’t have to keep from sliding and falling down.  (No, I didn’t fall, but I was on pins and needles about the possibility.)

Even on a normal daily basis, simply leaning against the wall while raising each leg in turn to wash my feet didn’t make me feel safe. Rinsing my hair (with eyes closed, of course) tended to make me feel less steady. And totally drying one leg and foot and setting it out on the bath mat while the other remained in the tub felt especially dangerous.

So I found a shower bar online and managed to install it without doing too much damage to the bathroom.

The other two gadgets I’ve found useful are for the car; we have one of each in both cars. A car cane–I learned about that from my mother-in-law who does use one–and a swivel cushion make sitting down and getting out of the car far easier.

Two gotchas about the car cane. Some have all kinds of extra stuff–flashlight, window breaker, seat belt cutter–you get the idea. That’s not one of the gotchas. I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention.

The rubber handle of some car canes comes off. Imagine that you’ve just lowered yourself into your seat and dutifully removed the cane from the hook it attaches to. And then you close the door and hear (and feel) a loud clunk.

Whoops! The handle is still in your hand, but the rest of the cane is still in the door, blocking it from closing.

The other gotcha has to do with the user’s remembering to unhook the cane before attempting to close the door. Those canes are pretty strong, but both of ours have a few nicks from my failure to unhook the cane first.

The swivel cushion is a whole different story; it won’t get caught in the door unless it falls out when you get out–highly unlikely. It’s important to get a cushion that fits within the depressed part of the car seat. And it’s more of a challenge to use if the seat is so far forward that you must watch your knees while using it.

Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful gadget to keep from having to slide into a car seat.

Not to mention the fact that swiveling is fun if you have the kind of sense of humor I have.

That’s all, folks. If you’re older, or if some of the needs I’ve described apply to you, Amazon has a good variety of car canes, swivel cushions, and shower bars. And, by all means, if you care about some older person who might benefit from one or all of these things, they make great–albeit strange–gifts.

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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Living in the Past, Present, or Future?

We older folks are often accused of living in the past and thinking everything back then was so much better than now. I’m not one of them.

As a few of you may recall from a former blog post, I don’t seem to have nearly as many memories of my childhood and teen years as adults typically have. I attribute that, whether correctly or not, to the acute viral encephalitis that could have killed me or left me in a vegetative state, but from which God restored me to a reasonable normal condition. But one that was somewhat fuzzy about the past.

That was in the eighth grade. I wouldn’t want to relive that part of my past.

College years were fine, but not exciting. Neither was my teaching career or my years at the Maryland State Job Service as a counselor/interviewer.

Life grew more meaningful when I took some computer programming courses and went to work at the International Mission Board. Working behind the scenes of something important gave me a feeling of significance I’d never experienced before. I had some wonderful successes before I started having problems with a new job assignment.

And then I got downsized after almost nineteen years.

Those memories aren’t things to dwell on. Despite the many good moments, I’ll never think of those years as “the good old days.”

 

What about the future?

As a Christian, I’m not afraid of death, although I would love to have the assurance that the process of dying would be quick and painless…and that my wife, Kathleen, and I would die at the same time so neither of us would have to face life without the other.

But the future–at least the part where I’m still alive on earth–isn’t knowable.

I don’t have many dreams about what I’d like the future to hold. Yes, of course I’d like for my novels–some of them, anyhow–to suddenly take off and start selling. Not because I care about the income, but because I want to know they’re blessing and entertaining readers.

I can’t help wishing and hoping (yes, and praying, too) that at least one of my songs will end up in a collection of praise and worship songs. Maybe even in a hymn book!

I hate to admit it, but when I’m expecting a shipment of some tiny something-or-other from Amazon, you’d almost think I was a little kid waiting for his parents to wake up on Christmas morning so he can start opening presents.

That’s a bit weird, maybe, but that’s how I am. My future on earth doesn’t promise to be the best time of my life. Especially as my body falls apart a little more year by year. I hope and pray my mind doesn’t do the same thing.

And the present?

That leaves the present. I’ve ended up with two skills–two things I love using–I’m not able to use the way I’d like to. Yes, I’ll keep working on developing them even more, but knowing I may be doing it only for my own benefit is discouraging.

Until yesterday–or was it this morning?–I was super-frustrated at what I perceived as my lack of usefulness. I couldn’t see myself accomplishing anything, and that thought was more depressing than I’d like to think about.

It’s no wonder. Many–maybe most–of the authors I know have more book ideas running through their heads than they can use in a lifetime. I don’t.

I’d started working on a sequel to one of my teen books. I’d even designed a cover for it and written a few chapters.

But I just couldn’t get excited about it and haven’t been able to proceed. It’s not a matter of writer’s block, but of questioning whether this was what I should be doing.

You can better understand now why I was feeling useless and insignificant, at least in the areas of my life that are so important.

But I prayed, and I kept praying, and God led me back to an idea I had begun considering in January of this year. Why I set it aside then, I couldn’t tell you.

But I’ve fallen in love with it. Working on it won’t restore my losses in other areas, but I feel good again. Great!

Living in the present seems to work best, as long as I don’t totally forget the past or fail to consider the future. And when today’s present becomes the past, I’ll find something in that future time to make that present time the best.

Where do you live–past, present, or future? 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

P.S. Here’s the new cover and title for what was previously published as PROJECT MUFFINTOP.

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