Taxes and Kings

I really dislike paying taxes. Even though I realize they are a necessary evil in the type of economy that we live in, I really, really don’t like having to pay. I’d sure like to at least pay less taxes and whenever someone talks about making me pay more, it kind of ruffles my feathers, which is kind of hard to do considering I’m not a bird and don’t have feathers.

But even as bad as taxes are here in this country and as much as they are wasted and spent foolishly and even thought some of the things they are spent on are inherently wrong, I realize that I am not taxed like some other places on the planet. I guess I am grudgingly thankful for my current tax situation.

In the time of Jesus’ birth, the self-glorifying Herod loved to build shrines to himself and in order to pay for them, he simply taxes the daylights out of the Jews. He made no pretense of doing things for the good of Jerusalem. He was totally in the king business to exalt himself above others.

One thing I have noticed is that when I chose to do something wrong, I justified it in my mind. After a while, it quit seeming so wrong and I justified it even more irrationally. Eventually, my mind could make-believe that others that were not doing wrong were doing wrong and I could justify doing even more wrong.

I can see that in Herod’s lifestyle. He took and took and spent and spent, all for himself and not worrying about how it hurt others. And when others didn’t like it, he killed or imprisoned them and took all they had.

Now, I could tell myself that I’ve never been a thief and look at Herod and point and say, “That guy is just awful. I’m sure glad I am not like that!”

But the truth is that throughout most of my life, my relationships, even my relationship with God, has been all about me and how I can look better than the lowly remainder of the world that isn’t me. It took a long time to see this. I did it so long that my brain kept insisting that I wasn’t like that. The hardest lies to crack are the ones I tell myself.

Matthew 2:7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

Herod lied to others about his intentions. He was worried what the new king, a rightful kind born of the people, would do to his exalted position. He tried to use others to further his selfish plan and put down any notion of a true king.

Lying to myself helped me become great at lying to others. I’m not sure just how much others believed me, I only know that I believed that they believed me. That’s another lie I may have been telling myself. Lying gets pretty complicated after a while.

I do know that a lot of the things I said and did seemed noble and righteous at times but my true intentions were all about me. A lot of times they still are. It is important to sit down and face truth for a while now and then. Let truth walk all over the things I think I need and the things I think and feel. It gives me an attitude adjustment and kicks Herod out of my brain for a while.

The Puzzle

One year, for Christmas, my aunt got us some puzzles. The weren’t the usual jigsaw puzzles and they weren’t puzzle books. They were three plastic geometric shaped puzzles. They each had several pieces and came apart and then you put them back together.

I mastered two of them easily. I’m a pretty good puzzle person. Even as a kid I could figure out some pretty tough stuff. So, I moved on to the third one.

It was kind of in the shape of a three dimensional star. I pushed and pulled on the pieces and none of them moved for a while. I was almost stumped but then I methodically went around each point of the star until one shifted in its position.

I moved it all the way out of the star and was getting it situated to examine it further when it all crumbled into six pieces.

I tried and tried to figure that thing out. Everyone tried to figure it out. There were only six pieces but no one could crack the code to reassemble it.

For a while, it was forgotten and the pieces just sat in my room. Then, one day I figured out which piece was the last one to go in. I began to make the other pieces go together in such a way as to leave an area just right for the last piece to fit in.

It all came together. Suddenly, the mess was again a star and the puzzle was solved. In fact, I could now do it in just a few seconds.

There was one piece that locked everything together. Without it, it just fell apart. I couldn’t solve the problem until I found the key.

I had once removed the key from my life and watched it all fall apart. Pieces were in disarray and I tried until I gave up to put it all back together again.

Eventually, I gave up and let it all sit in shambles. I figured it was just not meant to go back together again. Once in a while I’d take a look at the mess and remember all the frustration of not being able to get it back together again, then take a deep breath and let it lie.

Then one day I picked up one piece that I had discarded and realized it was the key. Instead of trying to build myself a star, I started to build a place the key fit into.

Sure, I fall and things come apart. But I will never again forget what the key is. No matter how screwed up I get things, God will always be the answer. I just have to start building a place for him to be. It doesn’t matter how badly I crumble, how scattered my troubles are, how incomplete I feel, he is always the key.

Once I begin to build a place for the key to go, I have something suddenly and wonderfully crafted, a dwelling place for God, the rebuilder of my soul.

That’s Not How It Works

This commercial cracks me up. That’s not how it works!

She makes posts to her wall and unfriends her friend face to face. It seems like a pretty good system to me but when it comes to social media, that isn’t how it works.

Yesterday, I heard a friend of mine talking about his conversations with teenagers about sexual purity.

He said that a common theme in these conversations was, “How far can I go?”

How far can I go before it is wrong? Where is the line between right and wrong?

His answer was a question.

“How pure can I stay?”

It is a simple thing, perception and perspective. But, when I wonder how far I can go to satisfy myself, I am trying to get justify distancing myself from God?

How far can I wander? How long can I forget about him? Can I make myself god of this part of my life and let him handle just the more God-type stuff that I don’t care so much about?

That’s not how it works!

I tried the old two master routine. I recall times when I was the master of a lot and a little. Either way, I couldn’t master enough. I wanted to master more and the more I mastered the bigger my mess got because, frankly, I am a lousy master. My ego doesn’t like to admit that but the truth doesn’t give a hoot about my ego and what it likes.

If God let me sit in the driver’s seat of my own life and ducked out for a cup of coffee by the time he got back, he’d be shaking his head wondering how he could have ever created such a knucklehead.

Thankfully, that’s not how it works.

God is there, all the time through everything. I don’t know why sometimes I think if I don’t acknowledge him he is off at Starbucks not paying attention to anything but the caramel macchiato with almond milk and ignoring what I am up to.

God is in my life every second of every day, no breaks, no vacations and no lapses in consciousness.

How far can I go?

Well, not very. See, God doesn’t want me close to keep from having fun. Nope. If your God is against fun, that’s not how it works, either.

No, he holds me close because if I stray I get hurt.

I have done a lot of straying. I’ve got the scars and achy joints to prove it. Inevitably, at the end of every stray adventure is a near-death experience that leave some pretty ugly marks.

For some reason, God’s riches in glory aren’t enough for me. I am on a journey to the ultimate prize but I keep wanting to jump out of the car chasing garbage trucks and risk losing the chance to have everything.

Think about it. God has all the good things that exist. Why do I want to dig in his garbage? The things I am trying to get close to are the things he chooses to discard, not the great things he is stocking the shelves of heaven with.

How far can I go? That’s not how it works. It doesn’t work. It erodes my faith in God and makes me trust myself more than I trust him. I become god and eventually don’t care how far I’ve gone.

How close can I stay? How deep can I plunge into his grace and his love? How much greater can my life be totally immersed in Christ?

That’s how it works. That’s makes it work. No matter who you are, these question will leave you with some work to do. I can see I have a lot of work to do.

But that’s how it works.

All I Want for Christmas

There was once a song about a kid’s desire to have nothing more than his two front teeth for Christmas. I can recall wanting two straight front teeth. I guess they were straight, actually. One stuck straight back into my mouth and the other stuck straight out.

Well, the one that stuck straight out was broken off when Donnie Overton’s foot struck it while we played tackle football without helmets, pads or anything else that could be deemed safety gear.

Where was I? Oh, I was telling about wanting my teeth for Christmas. I don’t have a good memory of losing my baby teeth. I only remember wiggling loose tooths (not a typo, just felt like typing tooths) around in my mouth till they finally let go and I got to put them under my pillow in hopes the tooth fairy really was the real deal.

Turns out the tooth fairy was mom but she showed up every time and took my nasty old chompers and left change.

When I got older and my big teeth came in, they sort of went in random directions and I got to the point I was very self-conscious about them. A few people called me “snaggle-tooth” which I’m still not convinced is a term of endearment.

I don’t know if there was ever a happier guy to go see the orthodontist, and I didn’t care what kinds of hardware they had to put in my mouth. The insides of my mouth could look like a bicycle factory as long as my front teeth began to reside in a normal manner.

To this day, I am really glad that I wore the metal brackets and wires and got my teeth to look almost normal. At least people don’t remember me as the guy with the weird teeth.

I kind of remember saying that all I wanted for Christmas that year was my two front teeth fixed.

I remember saying that, and maybe I even meant it, for a while. But, as Christmas neared, of course, I wanted more.

Why? Because I was getting the most important thing, eventually. It was time to move on to wanting more.

I was a fortunate kid. We weren’t rich but we weren’t poor. Christmas was always a big deal for me. We’d open our gifts on Christmas Eve and I’d try to act like I hadn’t already found everything and I knew what it was before I opened it.

No matter how big the haul of Christmas presents was, how many things got checked off my Christmas list, I could still sit down with the Sears catalog and wish for things I didn’t get.

I’ve never, not one single Christmas, got so many things I could not think of anything else I wanted.

I guess I’m like Adam and Eve who had it all but still wanted to taste that fruit dangling on the tree they were supposed to stay away from. I’ve always wanted more, so much so that I have often failed to be grateful for having enough.

Honestly, if I go through the day without running the risk of gaining weight, it is a pretty rare occasion. Generally speaking, every day I have too much.

Think about that. I actually have to make myself stop at enough.

But, I will continue to want more.

Which makes me sit here and wonder, if excess weren’t so readily available, what would I really be asking for? What do I need that would truly make an impact on my life and not just make me feel better?

I’m going to have to think on that for a while. My mind doesn’t tend to work that way all by itself. My mind tends to want to waste more time by flipping through the big, Sears catalog or Amazon’s website seeking out things I don’t know I want yet. It doesn’t spend enough time seeking out things that meet others’ needs.

I haven’t written much this week but I have done a lot of thinking. All that thinking has made me realize that my thinking isn’t all that perfect yet. I can look at things I have and imagine that I need to replace them with better things and yet, that isn’t true at all. Very few of the things I have are at the end of their useful life. I just like shiny new things.

And maybe, just maybe, I don’t need a lot of those things at all and I’d be better off to just get rid of them entirely. Yikes! That scares me a little. Am I still who I am if I part with some stuff? I know I am, I think probably.

All I want for Christmas, not as easy to define as I expected. I think I’ll have to think some more about that and I’ll have to make sure my thinker is thinking clear.

It is Almost Thanks-getting!

Well, I am back. I got sick this week, just the usual garbage I normally get after the first of the new year. Hopefully, I won’t get any of this crud again later in the winter.

Last night we went to church for a Thanksgiving celebration. If you don’t already, work an event into your Thanksgiving season where you actually do a little thanksgiving.

There’s nothing like a little gratitude to adjust the attitude, especially entering into the season where we are encouraged to spend more than we have on more than we can afford to give to those that may not need any of it.

Before you spend your retirement buying that grand-kid the best Christmas ever, ask them what they got for Christmas last year or the year before that when they got the best Christmas ever.

Then, ask them the most fun they ever had with you. I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t when they opened all those forgettable gifts that you broke the bank buying.

I’m fairly certain that the best gift I can give my grandson is getting down on that hard floor and playing with Legos or blocks or cars. Sure, he loves getting new toys but he forgets getting them. He seems to remember every stupid game I have made up for us to play, though.

When he was little, I would turn him upside down and his legs would be antennas. He’d rather spend twenty minutes inverted flailing his legs around than play with any of his Christmas presents from last year.

The problem is, he is a stout little guy and holding him up is getting harder and harder to do. Seems like playing antennas is never completed before my arms give out.

My grandparents gave me gifts every Christmas and so did mom and dad. But very few of them really stand out in my mind. Of those few, only a couple stand out because they lived up to the hype I had in my mind as I dreamed of in anticipation of receiving them.

I think that if my parents and grandparents could do it all over again, there’d be a few more fly rods and a lot less of whatever the TV commercials were pushing.

It seems my most memorable gifts had to do with the outdoors and music. Both are things that I treasure to this day.

None of the stuff I got just because everyone else had to have it meant much a month after Christmas was over.

So here I sit, Thanksgiving isn’t even here yet and Christmas has inevitably crept into the very fabric of it already. People will be sitting at the table this Thanksgiving itching to get out the door and spend their money on Christmas. Some won’t even stop long enough to doze off in front of the football game on television before they fire up their cars and head off the Black Friday on Thursday.

I intend to take my grateful behind over to the sofa and doze off watching football.

But, I also intend to take some more moments as I did last night, stopping to give God one of the greatest gifts he would ever desire, my gratitude.

See, I’m pretty sure he remembers fondly the first time I was truly grateful for him and not so wrapped up in what he has for me. The day I endeavored to give more than I received when it came to my relationship with him surely stands out among all the empty promises I have made and failed to keep.

I guess I’ve ended my ramble through my vocabulary this morning. I guess it all boils down to giving thanks more than things and giving things that last longer than the next new thing.

Thanks for reading and I hope you keep coming back!

Bad Feelings

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

I woke up today, less thankful that I woke up than usual and more aware of some unknown cloud hanging over my day like the sword of Damocles.

I crawled out of bed and went about going through my morning routine and the cloud has grown even though I have done my best to shake it off. It seems as if it is tied to me and will follow me wherever I go today.

I hate these days, days where I have a bad feeling for no good reason other than that bad cloud is hanging over me, shielding me from good things, blocking out the sun.

It feels like my brain has sent signals to the tears, telling them to stand ready to fall and that the least little thing will send me into despair.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

About what?

This. This day. This place. This brain full of thoughts that make no sense. This weather. This situation. This problem and this problem and this problem.

There isn’t a good feeling to be found anywhere.

Bad feelings are plentiful and abundant. They are overstocked, overcrowding my mind and springing up in every good thing I bring to mind.

I’m not feeling anything except this tightness in my chest that comes with the presence of something awful waiting for me just ahead. But I don’t know what it is, where it could be or even if it exists at all.

Where is God? I don’t feel him. I don’t feel his love pouring all over this mess. Where did that go wandering off to?

I don’t feel him near, watching, guarding, protecting me.

I don’t feel that he has it all under control, his plan for my life or his magic touch that makes all things succumb to his will.

I just have a bad feeling about this, all of this.

OK, I think this is the point where I have to stop giving my feelings more credit than they deserve.

I have not done one step of my recovery through the power of my feelings. In fact, if I had let feelings run the show, I would not be in recovery at all. Depression would be my ruler and addiction would be my shackles.

This isn’t even the place where I suck it up and hope my faith is enough. Heck, my faith doesn’t move mountains. God does that. I can faith it up from now till eternity and my faith wouldn’t move an anthill.

When I started recovery for my addictions and mental illnesses, I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t have a speck of faith.

My faith is good but it is limited to what I can believe.

I’ve felt these bad feelings before and I’ll feel them again. Having a bad feeling is just that, feelings. Feelings do not change anything unless I let them dictate my actions.

But the fact is, I can continue to do what is right even though I don’t feel like it right at this moment. I can’t drop all the good things that have happened over the last several years and run off chasing happy. Happy is faster than I am.

I need to just go on ahead and keep doing what I’ve been doing, maybe even with a little more vigor. Happy will be back.

A bad feeling loves it when I stop everything and let it stop me in my tracks. It loves it when I go off the rails and become a train wreck.

No matter how I feel, God’s faithfulness is unwavering. I’ve had feelings that could take these puny ones and toss them in the trash without flinching. I’ve had feelings that seemed as if they would keep me from taking the next breath.

Those feelings have passed. Yet God remained. Strong and consistent, faithful and true, he didn’t need my feelings to be there in order to keep his promises to me.

He is there when I feel him there. He is there when I don’t. He has my heart in his hands and my life in his plan. Whatever I feel can never change any of that…EVER!

He is stronger than anything I can conjure up in my emotions. His love is far more than anything I just feel. It is omnipresent, omniscient and meets every need.

I think it is time to kick this bad feeling aside and get on with this day.

Poor Rich Man

If you made a list of people in this country that are rich, you probably wouldn’t include me on that list. But plunk me down in Haiti and I’d look like something quite different from the average working middle-class guy living paycheck to paycheck.

I think that here in the United States, we have included among the poverty stricken those that can’t afford a brand new car, a big house with more bathrooms than people and brand name tennis shoes.

I, for example, could live a pretty good life with far less. Here’s the rub, I don’t want less.

In fact, I want more.

Everyone wants more.

At least, I have yet to meet a person that doesn’t want more.

Everyone from the guy living in a cardboard box to the guy trying to decide which mansion to live in on this day wants more.

I guess we want more because we were designed for more. But it seems that the more I get, the more I keep and the more I spend.

I have a grandson. He has more stuff than he could ever use, far beyond what he needs. Yet, I’ll probably buy him something this week.

I’m afraid it has gotten to the point where I am buying something wondering if it will make him forget about something else he has long enough to play with it.

I guess, I am rich. It is just that when it comes to money and things I focus on what I don’t have and ignore what I do have.

I can look around at any given moment and see others that want what I have. I lock my doors to make sure they don’t take it.

I’m not just talking about money here. I think a lot of the time we give away money because that’s the easiest thing to do, write a check, use the plastic and away we go feeling like the good deed for the day is done.

1 Timothy 6:17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

I guess I have a responsibility to use my stuff, my money and my time to do good, not just make my standing in this world a little higher than the next guys’.

That’s why I like to share my stuff. I love for others to attach their good memories to things I call my own.

Not everything I do with my stuff and my money has to be Mother Theresa stuff. It can be used to simply love other people, making them an important part of life and giving them some moments filled with a good experience in the middle of all their chaos and confusion.

I think maybe we should all just try to do a little more good every day. I’ve seen people with little do much good while I can spend all my time and effort on trying to do myself good.

Perhaps they are richer than I will ever be unless I learn from them.

Two-Foot-Itis

I used to own a boat. Boats are dangerous habits to get into for some people. They become infected with two-foot-itis.

I remember owning a seventeen foot boat that I used almost exclusively for fishing. It was really nice and it was easy to maintain. But, as I cruised around on the lakes and rivers, I noticed bigger boats cutting smoothly through rough water where I was taking a beating in my little boat.

So, two-foot-itis set in. I began to focus on all the advantages of a boat just two feet longer. It was wider, heavier, more powerful, smoother riding, seated people for joy riding on the water.

I forgot that I rarely cared about any of that. I fished and my current boat was absolutely perfect for that.

But, I bought a bigger boat and it wasn’t long after that I went to a boat show at the convention center in St. Louis. I found myself with severely inflamed two-foot-itis and was coveting a bigger boat that, unlike Captain Quint, I wasn’t going to actually need.

Fortunately, before I bought the boat, the inflammation of my disease subsided and I realized the reason I really didn’t like the boat I had was because it was no good for what I really wanted it for, fishing.

A bigger boat would have been even worse for fishing.

So, I sold the boat and decided if I ever bought one again, it would be a simple fishing boat that would get used a lot rather than a payment that sat in storage most of the time.

I currently only have a couple of kayaks. They are perfect but I’m not going to be shopping for anything in the near future.

I’ve got nothing against owning a boat. It is just that, for me, the return on my investment was minimal while the percentage of my income I could have used to actually be doing something sat idle draining my wallet most of the time.

In fact, boats don’t really have a lot to do with why I am writing this today. I’m writing about living life with two-foot-itis when it comes to life in general.

I see a lot of people, myself included, cruising through life on a gorgeous lake with the sun shining and the wind in their hair and they are not noticing. They are looking at the big boats around them and wanting their lives to be like those.

From their small boats it appears it is all smooth sailing and champagne and caviar. They are willing to put their whole world into a mess to have it like that other guy on that bigger boat.

Some folks make the leap into the larger pleasure cruiser.

But, they struggle hard to maintain ownership and are soon working for this unloving, inanimate object.

Somewhere along the way, they have lost something they loved, something they had so easily before they succumbed to their desires for more than they needed.

All while the man with all he needs forgets to do what he loves because he covets something he’ll never have.

Oh, I have pointed at others and thought, “I need what he has, to be what he is, to live the life he lives.”

I may as well have prayed that God curse me. Why should I presume to be so much more knowledgeable than God that I can design a better purpose for my life than God has done?

I think I spent a great many years wanting to be some fantasy I made up in my mind rather than growing into what I was meant to be. I believe I have wasted a lot of time with a sickness that sucked away my energy making me believe my strength was found somewhere in a man I’ll never be.

I think a lot of people are doing this, giving up on what they need to be doing in order to lust after what can never happen.

Ambition and dreams are good for people but they have to include who we are and what we should be in them, not some dreamed up character we wish we were.

I struggle with anger, a lot. For the longest time, I just wanted God to take away my anger. It took a lot of hard knocks for me to figure out that God made me a passionate and caring man and I have to learn to deal with being that guy and not simply kill off my emotions.

I have to learn to be me, not pray for divine intervention to transform me into some robot that feels nothing and therefore does not sin at all.

My advice, be happy in your boat. As long as it isn’t leaking and is sea-worthy it’ll keep you on the right side of the surface where the sunrises and sunsets look the best as the reflection bounces off the ripples.

Enjoy the place you are right now. Even if it isn’t all that great, look for something great. And if you can’t find what you need today, look for something within reach, not in someone else’s boat. Chances are, God has something that will somehow bring you joy right where you are sitting at this moment.

Eight Degrees of Cold

Saturday it was a beautiful sixty-five degrees here in Missouri-ville. People were out doing yard-work in their shorts and t-shirts. Yesterday was one of those days where the high was at midnight and the temps plunged from there.

This morning, it is eight big, honking degrees.

It is winter…for now.

As crazy as the weather here gets, life is crazier. One minute I’m wearing my flip-flops on a perfect sunny day and the next I am plunged into the icy depths of winter.

The smile that once graced my lips turns into the tight gates holding back the cries of anguish that come from deep inside me.

Other times the heat of all that weighs on me becomes too much and it just keeps getting hotter until my own breath feels as if it will consume me from the inside out.

But the deep freeze always thaws and the heat always subsides.

I’ve been around on this planet for a while now and I have learned a couple of things. One of them: This too shall pass.

Just like the good days are overtaken by not so good days, the bad days always pass.

When I stepped outside this morning, my brain immediately began launching a barrage of everything that is wrong with this picture, ice, snow, cold…blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, Bob Ross wasn’t painting any happy, little clouds anywhere in my sky.

I could really whine about the weather. This is prime whine weather. But I am sitting in the warmth and shelter of a place that is seldom affected by the weather.

I don’t have to even venture outdoors for more than a few minutes all day long.

Maybe if I was going home to sleep under a bridge, I would have something to whine about but a couple seconds of the wind stinging my face is pretty minimal.

So, when my life gets wintry and I am living in the deep freeze, I need to remember that my spirit is fickle and the weather changes abruptly and quickly. The cold snap can end any moment and the warmth can come back to my soul in an instant.

It will happen. I need to accept the fact that during these times, I need to bundle up in a few more layers of God’s word, his love and his hope.