Pearly Gates & Streets of Gold (part one)

Let me begin by sharing a short passage from my novel The Devil and Pastor Gus, which I consider to be the most important novel I’ve ever written, even if its readership has been more limited than for some of the others. This comes from page 269 of the print edition. Gus is having a conversation with Peter about what Heaven is really like. Peter is speaking first:

 

“But God tells me you’re a bit skeptical about the ‘pearly gates’ and ‘streets of gold’ the Bible talks about.” As if anticipating Gus’s defensiveness, he added, “That doesn’t bother Him, though.”

“That’s good. I’ve always believed Heaven is too wonderful to picture, so its exact appearance is beyond my imagination.”

Peter patted Gus on the shoulder. “It’s beyond everyone’s imagination.”

Readers often ask the authors they admire whether their stories are autobiographical. I willingly admit there’s probably some of me in every character I create, even the women. But that’s especially true of Pastor Gus himself. Both of us suffered a midlife crisis for what seemed like years, and each of us wanted to leave a significant spiritual legacy through our writing–novels, specifically.

There are a number of less significant similarities, like Gus’s desire to speak with a genuine Australian accent after returning from a mission trip there. I’ve been to Australia six or seven times, and most of my trips were mission trips.

But what I want to focus on today has to do with the passage of The Devil and Pastor Gus quoted above. I was hesitant to write those paragraphs for fear I would be accused of not taking the Bible literally.

I do take the Bible literally, but with these (go ahead and call me liberal if you must) thoughts in mind:

  • Ancient Hebrew didn’t originally have vowels, and many words had multiple meanings. Without having the constant guidance of someone who lived during biblical times, many passages that would’ve been perfectly clear then are confusing to modern readers. It’s even possible that the original meanings have sometimes been “lost in translation”–or at least unintentionally mangled.
  • Furthermore, some things were applicable to the Jews of yesteryear and were never meant for modern-day Christians. Remember that the next time you’re, uh, pigging out on bacon or sausage.
  • Ancient Hebrew didn’t have uppercase letters. So the contemporary tendency to uppercase pronouns designating God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is–in one sense–an enhancement to the Bible. That may be correctly done in most instances. But are all of the correct?

Are you accusing me yet of being too liberal? I hope not. I could give you more ammunition that’s not relevant to this blog post. For example, I don’t really care whether the seven days of creation were twenty-four hour days or periods of time. I’ve heard both from people I highly respect.

My, but I’m straying from the original purpose of this post. Tell you what. Let’s call today’s post “Part One.” I’ll finish next Sunday.

Any comments on Part One? Please share.

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Best regards,
Roger

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A Prayer for Old Age

Dearest Heavenly Father–Papa–my life is just as much in Your hands as it’s always been, and I have many things to be thankful for and nothing of a particularly selfish nature to ask You for. Sure, I can think of a few things that would be nice to have, but they’re not the least necessary at this stage of my life. If they were, I feel confident You would provide them.

No, this prayer isn’t about things.

I do have concerns about my future, however. Not my eternal future, of course. I know I’ll be living with You among millions–probably billions–of other Christians when it’s my turn to “move” to Heaven.

At seventy-one, I’m not really very old. Even so, I’m conscious of the fact I’m getting older. I sense it daily. My body is no longer capable of doing things that used to be so simple, and my mind struggles all too frequently trying to remember a familiar word or the name of someone I know well. Those limitations are frightening.

But they’re are all part of aging, and it would be foolish to pray to avoid them. Instead I ask Your help in accepting and living with those limitations.

Lord, You know my greatest desire is to use the talents You’ve given me to serve You and to share the Good News of salvation with other people. You understand my frustrations at not being good at using the spoken word to do that. I’m thankful for the writing skills and musical abilities You’ve blessed me with and the spiritual truths You’ve given me to share with other people.

And the opportunities You’ve given me to share.

I’m thankful I can still participate in the nursing home ministry and share audio and video recordings of some of my songs on my website–and through YouTube. I take great pleasure in having many of my Christian novels published–and in hoping they will bless and entertain numerous readers.

Even so, the time may come when I can no longer sing or play my guitar, and the time may come when I’m no longer able to write. A time may even come when I don’t know who or where I am.

Papa God, I can’t pray “against” aging, but I beg You to keep me spiritually active to the very end. And to keep me so close to You that nothing else matters.

Please use me any way You choose…to the very end. Amen.

Do you have a prayer for old age? 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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The Mouse that Roared

Funny thing. I don’t remember a whole lot about high school. Not the extra curricular activities, anyhow. Yes, I did used to enjoy attending the band concerts, and I recall going out to eat one Sunday with the members of the Spanish club–at a Mexican restaurant, of course.

Football or basketball games? Nope. I wasn’t interested in sports and–I hate to admit–I only had a limited amount of school spirit.

But one event made a humongous impression on me–a presentation of the play “The Mouse that Roared.” Amazon describes the book this way:

In Leonard Wibberley’s classic political satire, a tiny backwards country decides the only way to survive a sudden economic downturn is to declare war on the United States and lose to get foreign aid – but things don’t go according to plan.

I’m not sure I’d been thoroughly introduced to the concept of satire yet, but that didn’t matter. The idea of a tiny country going to war with America, intending to lose so it could get support from the United States, only to somehow win, seemed SO very clever.

I don’t recall details about the play–and I have yet to read the book–but I often think about it. And for what may be the strangest of reasons.

Seldom does a day pass that we don’t hear something on the news about North Korea’s apparently-insane leader and the threats he makes against the United States. As if trying to provoke us into war.

In that sense, he makes North Korea sound like a mouse roaring.

But what a difference between the book/play and North Korea. To be sure, the people of North Korea are horribly poor. But the leader–forgive me for not even wanting to learn his name–is wealthy beyond my ability to understand. And if he should declare war against us, it wouldn’t be with the intention of losing.

Not unless he’s even crazier than I think.

Nonetheless, when a country as small as North Korea holds the kind of power it appears to hold, it seems to be roaring all tooloudly.

What do you think? 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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My Way…or His Way?

Some of you may be old enough to remember singer Frank Sinatra and the song “My Way.” I wasn’t a Sinatra fan, and that’s probably the only song of his I paid any attention to. Although he didn’t write the lyrics, they clearly represent his attitude and were apparently written specifically for him.

I can’t legally quote the lyrics–you can read them here–but he lived his life the way he chose. Yes, he had a few regrets, and he had his ups and downs. He didn’t claim that his life had been trouble-free, but he was proud of doing things his way and saying what he considered genuine and “not the words of one who kneels.”

I don’t know if Mr. Sinatra was a Christian, but I take his scoffing at “the words of one who kneels” as a suggestion that he was so self-dependent he didn’t feel the need to pray. Or to depend on God.

God gave each of us strengths to do as much as we can on our own, but He also allowed each of us to have enough weaknesses to keep us humble. Christians recognize their need for God’s help. Day in and day out. Moment by moment. We know where our strength comes from.

I have a few regrets, too, and most of them have resulted from doing–or attempting to do–things “my way” rather than “God’s Way.” Regrets like those could easily result in guilt.

But they don’t have to.

God is merciful and forgiving when we turn to Him in repentance.  How thankful I am that my regrets don’t bog me down unnecessarily. I can’t change the past, but I can certainly learn from it and continually strive to do better as I attempt to follow God’s Way more closely each and every day.

Frank Sinatra may be remembered as someone who did things his way. I’d rather be remembered as someone who at least tried to live his life God’s Way.

Whose way do you live your life? 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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A Thought-Provoking Incident

One day this past week I went to the mall a little before 8:30 a.m. for my usual morning walk. But what happened when I got there wasn’t anything I could ever have anticiated.

I saw a crowd of other walkers going inside–they don’t unlock the doors until 8:30–but when I reached the door, it was locked. I checked the other doors. All locked.

One of the walkers inside saw me and pushed the door open for me, and I held it open for two ladies who were coming behind me. Why were the doors still locked when someone–presumably the security guard–had obviously let everyone else in?

I was immediately informed that the security guard had fallen–or at least she was lying immobile–on the floor just fifteen or twenty feet inside the Food Court entrance. Somebody was frantically requesting that someone with a phone call 911. Apparently someone did.

I don’t know what I expected, but the walkers–there must’ve been fifteen or twenty of us–were all standing around at a respectful distance. I don’t think anyone was talking, and I don’t believe anyone bypassed the crowd to walk. One lady was rubbing the female security guard’s back…as if to sooth her. I couldn’t see any indication that the guard was even conscious, however. (See the P.S. below.)

At 8:38 one of the custodians came in from outside and announced that we would all need to leave. The management couldn’t allow us to walk without having a security guard on duty. As we filed out–I didn’t hear anyone complaining–the ambulance arrived.

I don’t know if the security guard is okay now or even alive. But I’d be willing to bet I wasn’t the only person in the crowd who was praying silently for her. And continuing to pray for her now–several days later.

Earlier this morning I was looking for the song I wanted to post on my “As I Come Singing” blog this coming Wednesday, and I decided to use one whose lyrics, based on Isaiah 40: 6-8, say:

The grass will soon wither,
And the flowers will soon fade;
So the strongest of men will soon weaken and die.

Only the Word of the Lord lasts forever;
And one Word from Him gives us eternal life.
One Word from Him gives us eternal life.

I started thinking about the security guard again. I hate to keep referring to her that way, but even though I always spoke to her, I didn’t really know her…not even her name. She didn’t appear to be anywhere close to middle age. I knew and still know nothing about her but her function at the mall.

And now I don’t know whether she’s still alive. Or whether she’s become a withered blade of grass or a faded flower.

Something to ponder as I thank God for my hope of eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Your comments are welcome.

 P.S.  I saw the young lady several days after writing the rest of this blog post. She’s twenty-five, pregnant with her first child, and doing all right medically, although she does have another doctor’s appointment this week. The problem she’d experienced was a combination of low blood pressure and low blood sugar–with no explanation of why.  Although I still didn’t learn her name, I was thankful for the opportunity not simply to get the update, but to express my concern for her.

 

    

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

Best regards,
Roger

If I Didn’t Live in America…

If I didn’t live in America, I would definitely want to live in Australia.

And why not? In spite of the fact that much of the country is desert and the majority of the population lives within a couple of hundred miles of the coast–since it’s surrounded by water, it has a lot of coast–it’s a beautiful country. And I’m not just talking about the outback,  the mountains, Uluru (Ayers Rock), or the Great Barrier Reef. Or man-made beauties like the Sydney opera house. Australia is beautiful.

Hmm. Like America. We  just have different beautiful things. And Australia hasn’t had as many hundreds of years to damage or destroy some of them.

I’ll never lose my fascination with Australia’s unique wildlife–kangaroos, koalas (koalas  are NOT bears!), wallabies, and so many other species. I never tired of seeing them in zoos and looking for them in the wild. And let’s not forget the birds–wild parrots that will come down and sit on your shoulders in the Bunya Mountains and kookaburras that will swoop down on a picnic and steal a sandwich.

Sure, Oz has some pretty dangerous snakes and spiders–not to mention crocodiles–but I’ve never seen one in person or worried about meeting one.

Uh, okay. America has some pretty nifty wildlife, too. And dangerous species as well.

The people–the Aussies, pronounced Ozzies–are really gracious and likeable. They’re almost as laid back as I am. Except when cheering  their favorite team on. They’re almost rabid about sports–even the kids-and they have some sports we in America don’t have.

But aren’t a number of Americans gracious and likeable and crazy about their favorite teams, too?

Some of the differences between them and us are really conspicuous. Like the way Aussies talk–quite a different English from ours. Most of the words mean the same thing there and here, but there are important exceptions…words that aren’t vulgar to us, but be careful not to use there. (I’ll never forget visiting a teen youth group using a book by an American author; they took turns reading aloud, and one poor kid got so embarrassed at having to say the word “piddle”–in its innocent use as “to piddle around.”)

Then again, I’ve met a couple of people from West Virginia whose speech was almost as hard to understand as even the strongest Aussie accent I ever heard.

I’m not doing a very good job of explaining why I think of Australia as my second home, am I?

Maybe it’s not just those things I’ve mentioned. Maybe it’s not even any of them.

Perhaps it’s Bruce and Merilyn Young and their girls; Keith and Maggie Long and their kids; George and Margaret Stubbs; Arthur and Lillian Case; and all of the other wonderful Christian families who’ve hosted me on my various mission trips to Australia. They’re the ones who’ve made me feel so much at home there.

And why wouldn’t they? A Christian should always feel at home among other Christians, no matter where in the world he goes.

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. The Altered Hearts novel series is now complete with the print and Kindle releases of The Flowers of His Field.

    

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Why Do I Live Here…Now?

Have you ever wondered why you born to the parents who conceived you or why you were born at this point in time? And why you were born and reared in the country–or perhaps even the countries–you grew up in.

I do, and I also wonder about my birth parents–who they were and where they were from. And why they were in the right place and time for my adoptive parents to take me home from the hospital.

As a Christian, I believe God knew all about who and where I was going to be, even before He created the world. So it’s no accident–nor is it fate or luck–that made me an American in the perilous, yet very exciting times we live in.

God could’ve targeted me for Old Testament times. In fact, if He’d wanted, He could’ve made me Jewish. He could even have made me one of the twelve brothers the tribes of Judaism originated with. Interesting thought. I hope I wouldn’t have been one of the brothers who was so jealous of Joseph. Or what if God had made me Joseph?

Too much to think about!

Living in the Holy Land during Jesus’s earthly life would’ve been great. Surely I would’ve been one of His disciples. Uh, or would I have been one of the scribes and Pharisees He spoke so harshly of? Would I have been one of the men crucified on either side of Jesus? Oh, no! What if I’d been Judas?

I’m not a history buff, but I’ve studied enough to believe there’s never been a perfect time in all of recorded history. (Not since the Garden of Eden, that is.) Every era has had its dangers, its villains and its heroes, and one or more nations wanting to be in control…or to wipe everyone else out.

I’m not sorry to be living in America in 2017 in spite of threats from North Korea…and from liberals who don’t appreciate what America stands for…and from the elected officials who don’t give a rip about about what “We the People” want. As long as I look at the numerous advantages I have, how can I dare to complain?

For whatever reason–He’s not required to tell me what it is–God chose to put me here at this point in time. Who knows? Maybe He even intended for me to make a difference, no matter how small. What a wonderful reason to be alive now!

Your comments are always welcome.

In the graphic below, please note that I need advance review copy readers for the final book in the Altered Hearts series. Even if you don’t have time to read and review THE FLOWERS OF HIS FIELD by the time it comes out next month, I’ll still be happy to send you an e-copy. Although you’re not committing to writing a review–I’m not permitted to require that–an honest review would be helpful. New books rise or fall because of good reviews…or the lack of reviews.

 

I’ll be back again on 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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Me and Social Media

 


When it comes to me and the use of social media, some people might actually accuse me of being anti-social. I don’t believe that’s accurate, however. Not only have I made a number of new friends on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve also renewed old friendships that way.

I couldn’t tell you the number of former English students I’ve enjoyed catching up with on Facebook. I know some of them feel strange addressing me by my first name now–one fellow is so respectful I’ve just about given up on convincing him I really want him to–but at this age (I turned seventy-one yesterday) my old students and I aren’t that far apart in age. One of my most interesting former student reconnections is with Tom, who now lives and operates his own restaurant in Colombia.

I’ve also become friends again with an old friend from high school. Who would’ve thought she’d end up living in Richmond when we’d been in high school together in Norfolk? Or that she’d become one of the most enthusiastic supporters of both my writing and my music? My wife and I enjoy getting together with her periodically for a meal out.

And who would’ve thought I’d find another old friend–this young lady from one of my previous work places–who was at that time living in Brazil and had written her first novel? When I asked her to email a copy of it, my wife and I both love it so much I connected her with my original publisher; she ended up with a three-book contract. Yes, the original book was long enough to cut into three shorter books!

Probably most of my Facebook friends are fellow authors I’ve met at conferences. But I have been blessed to meet some of my readers on Facebook, too. Truthfully, those are the people I’d most like to get to know better.

One real failure on my part is not always staying up-to-date with my wonderful daughter and her terrific family. It’s certainly not lack of interest. I just can’t seem to make myself get on Facebook to see what’s going on in other people’s lives. If people post on my timeline or send me a message, I always respond. But doing Facebook just to do it isn’t my thing.

Twitter is more of an enigma to me. I honestly don’t get it. Maybe if I were a teen…

I occasionally tweet blurbs about an author friend’s books and occasionally about my own. But authors are cautioned to not do too much tweeting (or Facebook posting, for that matter) about their books. So I don’t. And the easiest way to avoid that is to rarely tweet at all.

I’ve met a couple of interesting people on Twitter, however. My favorite is Meggie Jenny, a Christian actress/screen writer/director/producer/you name it-er. Interestingly, she followed me first. I have no idea why. I admire her tremendously, so I’m careful not to bug her. And with that kind of relationship, I can count on her to tweet back.

I have Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest accounts. I rarely pay attention to Pinterest, although it’s amazing how many times people have re-posted some of my pictures from a tour my wife and I took of the Martin Guitar factory a few years ago.

Although my blog posts automatically go to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I’ve never figured out what to do with LinkedIn and I don’t need one more app on my phone to really take advantage of Instagram.

The thing is, I really do like people. Even though I enjoyed the solitude of computer programing for a number of years, now that I’m retired and spending all day at home writing while my wife is out making a living, I find that I do miss people. Walking at the mall in the early morning gives me some vital human contact, but–no matter how it might pain me to say so–so does my limited participation on social media.

But social media is far from being an addiction for me, and that’s a good thing, too.

What about you? Are you a media addict or do you use it reasonably…or not at all? Your comments are welcome.

 

    

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

Best regards,
Roger

Being the Best I Can Be

All too frequently I wake up to find I have a new ache or pain. Sometimes it goes away. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Why should that surprise me? I’m seventy now. I’ll turn seventy-one this coming Saturday. While I’m not nearly as old as I hope God will permit me to become before I die, I have no choice but to either accept the fact that my body has been deteriorating since birth or hold a pity party I won’t invite anyone else to because I know nobody wants or needs to listen to me complain.

Fortunately, my mind still seems to be in reasonably good condition. I say “reasonably” because, like many of my younger peers, I catch myself forgetting more and more of those everyday words none of us can live without. So far I only forget familiar people’s names when I’m not with them, but I anticipate the day that will change.

Being the best I can be? That sounds like a real challenge since the best possible seems to be shrinking beyond my ability to control.

What does “being the best I can be” really mean, anyhw?

I’ve come to a definite conclusion. Whatever I may be good at, being the best I can be doesn’t involve comparing myself with other people. It has to do with using what I am and what I have in a way that pleases God. The fact that I’m not the best guitarist or bass guitar player in the world isn’t important.

Or the best novelist. I haven’t made it to the New York Times best seller list yet and don’t expect to.

What matters is my willingness–my desire–to use my talents in a godly way. If I’m able to do my best playing bass for the worship services and Christmas musical, if I’m willing to do my best providing a guitar accompaniment and doing a weekly solo at the nursing home ministry, I should be pleased.

Neither do I need to become a best-selling author. If I write the books God inspires me to write, if He helps me to publish the ones He wants published, if the people He wants to buy and read them and get from them what He wants them to get, I should be thrilled.

Perhaps it’s time to measure “the best I can be” in a different way. Not from the limited way I view my own talents and abilities, but from knowing God gave them to me for a reason. He wants me to use them for Him.

I treasure the sayings, “I’m a work in progress” and “God’s not finished with me yet.” I’ll never be the very best I can be in any area of my life  until He has finished with me. And that won’t happen until I come home to Heaven.

Better to hope for His “Well done, good and faithful servant” than to fret about my shortcomings and inconsistencies here on earth. As long as I’m honestly trying to let Him make me a better person–the best person I can be–He’ll use whatever talents I have in whatever way He desires. What more can I ask for than that?

Your comments are always 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 Price of Greed

[NOTE: I wrote this prior to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Currently in Richmond–at least at the gas stations closest to us–prices have already risen to $2.49 and may easily go higher because of the hurricanes’ effect on oil production and processing.]

 

     

 

If you’re ever on Interstate 95 going through Richmond, Virginia, and looking for gas, you can take exit 86A towards Atlee and find a reasonably priced Sheets station a mile or two up the road.  Or take exit 86B towards Elmont for an equally reasonable Wawa station that’s probably a little closer. The right-hand picture above shows Wawa’s sign; the station itself is much more visible. Almost within spitting distance is a little BP station–you’ll recognize it as a former 7/Eleven store–that’s usually just a penny or so more expensive than Wawa and Sheets.

But heaven help you if you are on Rt. 295 getting off at the Rt. 1 exit going north towards Ashland. You’ll eventually come to the Shell station pictured on the left above. Even though it appears to be the only one in that neighborhood, the Wawa and BP stations are actually only a couple of miles further. But if you’re like us, you probably don’t want to drive additional miles to gas up when traveling, even if you know other choices exist further up the road. You want to get back on the road.

If you haven’t clicked yet to look at larger versions of those two pictures, you might want to do so now.

Did you notice the difference in gas prices? $2.11.9 for regular at the Wawa and $2.79.9 at the Shell! That’s a sixty-eight cent difference.

I doubt seriously whether the Shell station gets much business from us locals. And no wonder. If I waited to get gas until the fuel gauge told me I really needed to, I would spend at least $6.80 more than I would at Wawa, Sheets, or even the little BP station.

My wife and I periodically take road trips, and I’m always thrilled that my Honda Civic that only gets 25-28 mpg in city driving makes it up to 45 mpg on the highway. Even so, I don’t want to pay more for gas than I have to. I could be wrong, but I doubt seriously that I’ve ever been charged unreasonably at a highway-accessible gas station.

Hmm. Maybe because of competition?

And the Shell station doesn’t really have any competition. Or at least it appears not to.

I feel so sorry for travelers who stop at the Shell station. Not just because paying that much more for gas than they should might be hard on peoples’ budgets, but because I hate the thought that their only memory of Richmond might be the way they got fleeced by somebody’s greed.

I’d be embarrassed to be that greedy. And to know I’d angered and frustrated numerous other people because of it.

What do you think? How about leaving a comment?

 

    

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

Best regards,
Roger