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Revisiting A Testament Of Devotion

In this my “Year of Review”, I have utterly enjoyed revisiting some readings which have been the most influential on me. There are a few not-so-long books that I have read, digested, and absorbed which are so very pithy that I chose not to even take the cap off my highlighter, for every single word is such gold and worthy of highlighting, that there was no point to do so. One such book which I am re-reading right now is A Testament Of Devotion by the 20th century Quaker Thomas Kelly, published in 1941.

I think I had somewhat forgotten just how much this little work has shaped me. Spending time in it again after several years away from it has gloriously reminded me of the deep resonance I originally felt with it, as well as the beautiful language therein which I adopted as wonderfully accurate descriptions of the Christ life.

Some books come along which present a bare-bones distillation of the Gospel, give the core truth of Christ, and the foundation of our faith so well and with no fluff, that you feel as if you could simply lodge there for many years and be absolutely content and better off for it. A central and repeated message of this particular book is the vital importance of listening to the living, speaking Spirit every moment in all circumstances.

So of course I need to give you an example, and I shall give a somewhat lengthy excerpt which I read last week and have been marinating in. This is from the chapter entitled “The Eternal Now and Social Concern”. For context sake, Kelly has been writing about how our sense of time is shifted after we truly discover that God is present in each moment, how right now holds eternity. Oh how poignantly lovely!

But now let us examine the ordinary experience of time, unrevised by this great discovery of the Eternal Life springing up within it. The ordinary man, busy earning a living, exercises care, caution, foresight. He calculates probabilities. He studies the past in order to predict and control the future. Then when he has weighed all his factors and plotted the outcome, with energy and industry he wills himself into persistent activity along the lines of calculated wisdom.

And much religious work is carried on in just this same way. With shrewd and canny foresight religious people study the past, examine all the factors in the situation which they can foresee, and then decide what is wisest to undertake, or what is most congruous with the Christian life described in the Gospels. Then they breathe a prayer to God to reinforce their wills and keep them strong in executing their resolve.

In this process, time spreads itself out like a ribbon, stretching away from the now into the past, and forward from the now into the future, at the far end of which stands the New Jerusalem. In this ribbon of time we live, anxiously surveying the past in order to learn how to manage the most important part of the ribbon, the future. The now is merely an incidental dividing point, unstable, non-important, except as by its unstaying migration we move ahead into the richer meadows and the greener pastures of the future. This, I fear, is the all-too-familiar world of all too many religious men and women, when a deeper and a richer experience is possible.

The experience of Divine Presence changes all this familiar picture. There come times when the Presence steals upon us, all unexpected, not the product of agonized effort, and we live in a new dimension of life. You who have experienced such plateaus of glory know what I mean….The sense of Presence!

In the immediate experience of the Presence, the Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself. No longer is the ribbon spread out with equal vividness before one, for the past matters less and the future matters less, for the Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings. Why want, and yearn, and struggle, when the Now contains all one could ever wish for, and more? The present Now is not something from which we hurriedly escape, toward what is hoped will be a better future. Instead of anxiety lest the future never yield all we have hoped, lest we fail to contribute our full stint before the shadows of the evening fall upon our lives, we only breathe a quiet prayer to the Now and say, “Stay, thou art so sweet.” Instead of anxiety lest our past, our past defects, our long-standing deficiencies blight our well-intentioned future efforts, all our past sense of weakness falls away and we stand erect, in this holy Now, joyous, serene, assured, unafraid. Between the relinquished past and the untrodden future stands this holy Now, whose bulk has swelled to cosmic size, for within the Now is the dwelling place of God Himself. In the Now we are at home at last….

Instead of being the active, hurrying church worker and the anxious, careful planner of shrewd moves toward the good life, we become pliant creatures, less brittle, less obstinately rational. The energizing, dynamic center is not in us but in the Divine Presence in which we share. Religion is not our concern; it is God’s concern. The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the Aggressor, the Invader, the Initiator, so much the sooner do we discover that our task is to call men to be still and know, listen, hearken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine. Our task is to encourage others first to let go, to cease striving, to give over this fevered effort of the self-sufficient religionist trying to please an external deity. Count on God knocking on the doors of time. God is the seeker, and not we alone; He is anxious to swell out our time-nows into an Eternal Now by filling them with a sense of Presence. I am persuaded that religious people do not with sufficient seriousness count on God as an active factor in the affairs of the world. “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” but too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something for God that they don’t hear Him asking that He might do something through them. We may admire the heaven-scaling desires of the tower-builders on the Plain of Shinar, but they would have done better to listen and not drown out the call from heaven with the clang of the mason’s trowel and the creaking of the scaffolding.

Point of No Return?

For once people have been enlightened–when they’ve tasted the heavenly gift and have had a share in the holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age–it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance if they fall away, since they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and holding him up to contempt. ~HEBREWS 6:4-6

Thankfully, this is not a controversial or particularly complex passage of Scripture in the least bit…

Ok, ok, so it’s one of the most difficult ever. Let’s dive in.

The first point to note is who these verses are specifically written to. This is for those who have tasted of the goodness of Life with God. It’s not for those who have merely dabbled, but those who have fully experienced the abundant life God offers and then turned away from it. The 4-syllable word for this is apostasy.

Instead of getting all controversial and attempting to define precisely what the unpardonable sin is, or just exactly who’s in and who’s out, it seems to me that we can use this passage more effectively for it’s likely intent: to spur us on to keep growing in our relationship with Christ and advance onward into the richer experience of the Spirit-drenched life.

Here, in my observation, is the basic take-away from Luke Timothy Johnson, one of my favorite scholarly commentators [Schommentalor?]:

Not moving forward is the same as falling backward. Failure to grow is tantamount to regression.

That, to me, is our poignant warning.

The old Interpreter’s Bible puts it flatly: “The danger is acute. If they will not advance, they are in danger of apostasy. Once over that cliff, nothing remains but death.” Similarly, Andrew Murray wrote that “Anything like sloth, and resting content in our beginnings, is unspeakably dangerous.”

Are you maturing?

Are you deeper in intimate relationship with God than you were ten years ago?

Are you a more loving person today than when you were a new Christ-follower?

Andrew Murray offers a succinct self-test: “The only sure mark of our being true Christians, of our really loving Christ, is the deep longing and the steady effort to know more of Him.”

Here’s more from schommentalor LTJ to give some deeper context:

The effect of apostasy is so devastating because of the extraordinary character of the gift received and the cost to Christ of its giving…The main point is perfectly straightforward: the enormity of apostasy is measured by the greatness of the experience of God it abandons. That is why it is impossible to “renew to repentance” people who have proven capable of turning away from their own most powerful and transforming experience.

Sitting in extended silence with this passage, here is what rose to the surface, which I trust and hope is from the Holy Spirit, the Great Wind of God:

What is the most offensive offense to Jesus? Not enjoying Him, or His gifts, Presence, life with Him, being Spirit-led. That is the greatest mockery. Behind every sin, every evil act, is the ignoring of Abundant Life offered. You think of what God has done to show us His unfathomable love and care for us: Becoming one of us–human! Serving, learning, dying cruelly, all for breaking down every possible barrier to enjoy being together. You taste of that beautiful life of Spirit-intimacy, and then turn away from it? Pursue other “gods”? It will be most difficult to turn back. Darn near impossible. Literally impossible? As it seems to imply here in Hebrews 6? Oh God, I pray not!

Jesus Learned Obedience Through Suffering [part 3]

Once more, let’s travel just a little further down this staircase of mystical truth. I say “once more” because we will keep in Trinitarian Spirit and close this meditation out with three parts. (Otherwise this will turn into one of those 17 month sermon series on Lamentations like I sat through growing up :D)

In continuing to reflect upon what we talked about last time, with regard to that aspect of suffering which results from the learning of new ideas that necessarily causes the death of old ones, my thoughts were drawn to Jesus’s famous “Sermon on the Mount”. Specifically, I pondered Jesus’s refrain, “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…” How long did it take Jesus to develop these thoughts? To formulate these ideas and make them presentable in this memorable manner? How much searching and pondering he must have done!

In his incomprehensibly loving incarnation, Jesus went through the process of internalizing the Scriptures, and also spent time observing how they were playing out externally in real life. It’s interesting to note that his public ministry did not begin when he was 10, or even 20. Why is this interesting? Well, if he had held on to his omniscience as a human on earth, he very well could have begun his brilliant teachings when he was, say, 5 years old. Heck, he could have started as soon as he was able to talk I guess, at 2-ish, right?

But he had to learn. He had to learn because he really took on human form and mind and heart and limitations, identifying with us at the quantum level. At 12 years old he was listening and asking questions of the religious leaders, not instructing them (Luke 2:42). Afterward he went home with his parents and was obedient to them (v.51). This is the one childhood example we have of him learning what it means to obey. He learned what was involved with obedience the way any of us do–by the experiences of life.

Here is a provocative word from a Bible reference book called Hard Sayings of the Bible that kind of took me aback:

there are some things that even God can experience only by becoming a human being with all of our human limitations. Obedience in the face of suffering is one of them.

Jesus memorized, studied, and prayed the Hebrew Scriptures, always seeking his Father and His will in them. He then took note of how the religious people were interpreting them and living them. That was not always pretty, as we know.

So when the time was right, he delivered his big sermon, showing the people of his day, and us, what we’ve all heard before, and in contrast, what God’s heart truly is. He showed us where we have strayed from the agape of God and missed the point of it all.

There had to be some suffering involved with this process. The ancient Greeks had a saying–Mathein Pathein–Learning is suffering. Suffering is learning. Surely it broke Jesus’s heart to see the holy teachings being misused; to witness poor, oppressed, and broken-hearted people not being cared for properly. Then there was the volatile opposition from the synagogue leaders who claimed to be on his Father’s side! Stressful indeed.

Jesus saw how we humans desperately try to define the undefinable, to tame it, and box it up; how we tend to attach ourselves to systems more than God. We systematize the mystery out of religion, out of GOD. Adopting systems of theology, abiding in them, leads us away from intimacy with our Lord. Jesus said, “Abide in ME.” How quickly do systems replace personal interaction with the Divine. Dogma swallows up prayer. Letting go of techniques is tough. You may have to sacrifice familiar and comfortable teachings for….the Voice–the Spirit speaking now. We of course have boundaries, and follow the teachings of Jesus and Holy Scripture, but we must fight the urge to define it all in the neatest little package that is never again opened. When did Jesus ever say the narrow gate would be a conveniently systematized, easily defined formula? If anything, he taught the opposite with his parables showing just how undefinable, and awesome, the Kingdom of God really is (see Mt.13).

It’s no wonder so many people these days say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” With so much institutionalizing of the mystery, joy, and care for people, animals, and earth out of everything, can you blame them?

Alrighty then, let’s try to bring this back around full circle. Matthew Henry said in his commentary on Hebrews 5:8 that “We need affliction, to teach us submission.” And William Barclay, in his commentary on our verse, wrote, “God speaks to [us] in many experiences of life, and not least in those which try [our] hearts and souls. But we can hear his voice only when we accept in reverence what comes to us. If we accept it with resentment, the rebellious cries of our heart make us deaf to the voice of God.”

We follow the living Presence of God, brought to us by Jesus, and available now in the Spirit. Mathein pathein. We learn through suffering–when we submit to the Voice. Submission is the soul’s silence, giving it the ability to hear. Resistance is the soul’s screaming and yelling, drowning out the voices of Pneuma (Spirit) and Sophia (wisdom).

Afraid of Silence?

My view as I type this….

I’m sitting here this morning on day 6 of our paradisaical vacation on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. In case you’re not familiar, it’s about 400 miles southeast of The Bahamas, and 100 miles or so north of Haiti/Dominican Republic. It’s absolutely Edenic gorgeous, and not overly crowded to boot–pretty dreamy. In fact, Grace Bay Beach here is consistently, and currently, ranked as “Best Beach in the World” by Tripadvisor.

This particular morning I sit in silence with Papa Yahweh, doing some lectio divina in John 14, then simply sitting still as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean sweetly serenade me into holy tranquility….perhaps my favorite song. As I enjoy so vividly our good God’s wonderfully excellent handiwork in this richly uninhibited atmosphere, in which it is so conducive to calm and for hearing the whispers of Pneuma, these thoughts come to mind:

Coming to a place such as this is much like entering the Divine Presence of Jesus in reverential silence. Who in their right mind would not jump on this if given the opportunity??

Being afraid of, averse to, or avoidant of silence, is kind of like being averse to going on a paid vacation to paradise. What you find there is too good not to go. It’s worth overcoming whatever obstacles may be blocking your way. Maybe you’re nervous about flying, or being away from your family or work, or getting sick while you’re there…

But if you do indeed push thru and make it to the island, you realize that no sacrifice was too small to get there. The beauty, the air, the sound of the ocean; it’s all magnificent, and extremely favorable to regaining perspective which may have been lost, and clearing your mind of accumulated clutter.

Now this doesn’t mean that everything is smooth as glass to get there. You may have to wake up super early for that morning flight. then there’s the layover, going thru customs, finding your luggage and a ride to your abode for the week. But again, once you get to that house on the beach, you realize just how worth it all of the hassle was, just how small those obstacles look in the rear view mirror now, with the ocean right in front of you.

I think this metaphor illuminates nicely the rich experience of silence with our Maker, Father, Friend.

It might take a minute to get there, but once you settle in with Jesus alone, with the gaze of your heart transfixed on Him, open to what His Spirit would like to say to you or give you, it is then that you realize and experience what we’re made for–communion with our Creator.

I know I hammer this silence thing a lot, but I can’t help but notice what a lack we suffer from, and how much I believe God desires to share with us. Talking with a close friend on this trip, he was telling me how he’ll sometimes try to start a small group time with just five minutes of silence, asking everyone to be still and wait to talk or write until the full five minutes is up; inevitably, someone will start writing something down only two or three minutes in, which gives some sort of unspoken permission for everybody else to start talking, and they’ve barely made it halfway thru 5 minutes of silence. At the other end of the spectrum, another friend on this same trip shared with me his monumentally transformative experience years ago at The Great Banquet, a retreat in which pretty much all outside noise is quelled so that you’re actually able to hear God and tangibly feel His love.

I’m telling you, we’re missing so much of what the Holy Spirit would love to give us. It’s like going to the airport and getting a coffee at the food court, but not getting on the plane. You just go back home and think, “Oh what a nice little getaway that was!”

Really?

You had tickets to literally the best beach in the world, but you settled for airport Starbucks.

Take the time, go thru the hassles, and break away to the island where Jesus wants to meet with you alone. It’s always worth it.

Turks & Caicos Sunrise Sermon

Looking out over the North Atlantic Ocean at Extreme Point in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.

PROVERBS 4:18 [NLT]

Hello there! It’s been a while….like 9 months. I pray this reflection finds you at peace in your heart.

We just returned Sunday from a most fabulous week in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands. What I observed there from Papa Yahweh was so meaningful to me, that I could not not share some of it. Our first morning on the island I woke up before dawn in order to see the sun rise over the ocean. It was so mesmerizing and exhilarating, that I got up early for the next six days, no matter how late we were up socializing the nite before, to witness this cosmic event of divine artistry from our infinitely talented Creator.

There really is something to intentionally absorbing the glory of God’s creative wonder–especially a wonder as magnificent as a T & C sunrise. An epiphany hit me some years ago that “in the beginning” God made everything to reflect Him, His nature, the spiritual journey, and the nature of life. (As opposed to it being we clever beings coming up with ingenious comparisons all on our own.) Some of these are fairly obvious, and some are even spelled out in Scripture for us, i.e. Vine and branch, the Spirit being like wind, trees planted by rivers, etc. And some reflections require a bit of work, observation, pondering, seeking…. I have found that the more time and narrowed focus spent in this holy excavation, the more memorable and long lasting is the truth which is revealed and implanted.

One of the first aspects I noticed  from this sunrise sermon was how difficult it was to actually grasp a sense of the change occurring before my very eyes. So I began staring at just one part of one cloud to try to capture even the tiniest difference being made above me, but after about ninety seconds I could not tell what had changed, even though the sky had grown a bit brighter and more beautiful. My eyes would then be drawn away from my focus spot and over to a new streak of pink and salmon that had pierced a dark cloud like a flame thrower shooting through the middle of the nite. “Oooohhh,” I exclaimed aloud, even though I was sitting by myself. And the Wind (Pneuma) whispered to me, “This is how it is with your journey toward Christ. As you inch ever closer, and it is quite important that you progress in this daily, you will typically not see the transformation in real time, but one day you may suddenly notice a wonderful shift in you or even those around you where you were not even looking.” As the wisdom goes, it is better to practice something everyday for fifteen minutes than for an hour and a half once every two weeks. The sun simply keeps peeking over the horizon, rising without stopping, and before you know it, it’s daytime. “Just keep swimming.” How important it is to draw closer to God every single day, putting forth concerted effort to grow in Christ likeness by placing ourselves in the direct rays of the Spirit’s divine energy.

Another aspect I saw in these mornings was that obviously everything got brighter–all around me became illuminated. The closer we draw near Jesus, the clearer the path becomes; we’re not groping around in the dark wondering what the right thing to do is. Also, our reflected light will fall upon more and more people around us, as we “rise”. But what I had not really thought of before was what became more difficult, and eventually impossible, to see. The stars–those things farthest away from me. Pneuma whispered into me again: That which is farthest from your center, your divinely appointed purpose, will fade away as you journey down the path of righteousness. And those closest to you, which you have overlooked due to your self-focus, will be illuminated, and their needs easier than ever to see. If you keep maturing, becoming a little holier than you were yesterday, eventually selfish desires will dissipate into near nothingness. The beauty of Jesus, absorbed more and more, overtakes and swallows up the allure of pleasing yourself, just as the sunrise overtakes the nite sky. Like abstaining from the processed sugar of say, Mountain Dew, you will gradually lose a hankering for it, and it may even become quite nasty to you. (But you must always be on guard against temptation!)

A really cool sidenote is that on about the fifth day after listening to Yahweh through His sunrises, I was reading one of the Tozer books I brought with me, and saw in it the verse above, Proverbs 4:18. It was so ridiculously fitting, that it was like Jesus Himself was giving me the most affirming hug of my life. “I’m here with you, enjoying this too! I’m so glad you’re seeing this.”

The vivid awesomeness that is the sunrise over the ocean is simultaneously energizing and calming. It starts your day most appropriately, and can even sustain you throughout the day, though you may need to take a moment or two in the afternoon to reflect in your heart upon the tranquility of that morning experience. How easy it would be to sleep in one day and miss this incredible gift, then another, until we start to forget the beauty that was once so deeply inspiring to us. Whether through laziness, or the anesthesia of the world’s stupid ways, we can find ourselves having missed the greatest part of the day, and then recognize we are merely laboring under that Sun which desired to be with us in peace and quiet a few hours ago. Oh how vital it truly is to return to our First Love, to the beauty of the most perfect love shown on the cross, every day.

JESUS in Grand Teton–10 Year Anniversary

Ten years ago today was an extremely unique and life-redirecting day for me. There have been very few days since that nite in which I have not thought about this experience. Sometimes, on the anniversary, I like to share it in this medium to hopefully encourage, uplift, or assure others through what I was privileged to see, hear, and feel. And being a full decade now, how could I not?! Never do I share this lightly. Also, I just love that this took place on what is traditionally Inauguration Day, for it inaugurated in my life something more grand than any human leader could ever dream of accomplishing. I sincerely hope, in some respect, this is comforting and inspiring for you.

Coming off the very difficult year of 2010 in which my dear dad passed away, one of my Outreach kids was sentenced to 35 years in prison, my close high school friend Jeff passed away from leukemia at barely 40 years old, and Ana and I were, let’s just say, not at the high point of our marriage, I entered 2011 depressed, and at my lowest point. And then this happened.

It was January 20th, 11:45 pm. I was waiting for my very close friend Miguel to arrive at my house from Michigan for a weekend visit. I decided to lie down and rest before he got there because we inevitably stay up late catching up and laughing at all things profoundly ridiculous. I didn’t want to sleep, just rest my eyes and mind for a few minutes. And in this moment I wanted God. I wanted Him more than I’ve ever wanted Him before in my life. I felt my need for Him more than ever in my extremely low state. I knew in my soul that He was the only possible real answer to my depression from the past year. I knew nothing else would work, that there is no plan B. There is God. And so I called out to Him, this nite, in a sincerer way than ever before. Not having much capacity, I kept it simple and started praying the ancient Jesus Prayer over and over to put all my focus and yearning on Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I cried out to Him in earnest for comfort, for help, pleading for Him alone.

And He answered.

Suddenly, I found myself in Grand Teton National Park, sitting on a rock at a lake which was at the base of a mountain. And sitting across from me on another rock, was Jesus Himself. He looked up at the mountains around us and said, “I remember when I made this, thinking we’d be having this conversation one day.” I was reverentially awestruck, unable to speak. Mouth open, it took every ounce of my available energy to slightly nod. Then He began to speak the simplest and most affirming words to me. “Rob, I love you so much.” He spoke my name. “I’ve known you for so long.” At this, the Scripture stating that “Before you were in the womb I knew you” came to mind, as if it were downloaded into me as He spoke. “I only want what’s best for you.” There was so much affirmation going on with so few words, it was unreal. Actually, it was very real. The most real. Like experiencing real for the very first time. Then He admonished me, with penetrating love: “You never would have put Me first had you kept going down that path.” Wanting to put to rest any doubt about His complete care I still may have, He simply said, “You know I’m in control.” He then smiled at me and held up His hand. A rock flew from the ground into His hand. He was playing with me. In an instant, I felt being totally known. I felt Him knowing my sense of humor, even, I kid you not, my love of Star Wars, and He embraced it. He embraced all of it. He embraced all of me. Everything that is me, He embraced and loved in a moment. I’ve never experienced being so known and so accepted. It was the most healing experience I’d never imagined. To be fully known and be fully accepted is the height and depth of love I believe. And that is what I felt from the Person responsible for my very existence.

Continuing His play, He threw the rock into the lake and it skipped many times side to side, defying laws of physics. He was having fun with me. Finally I was able to unlock my voice enough to actually speak, and all I could get out was, “How do you do that?!?” Seems like a ridiculous question looking back, but then came His answer which was the most penetrating takeaway of my life. He stopped, looked me in the eyes, held up His right index finger, and said, “Because, I and the Father are one,” then slowly, He pointed His finger at me, “as should you be.” It was the greatest sermon I’d ever heard. Again, a slow nod took all the strength I could muster while in the presence of the Master of the universe. I skipped some rocks. It was awesome. Suddenly, He and I were walking together to “go back” and I did ask, “What about dad and Jeff?” out of utter curiosity, wondering where they were and what they were doing, I guess. “Another time,” He said gently, yet firmly, letting me know that it would be too much for me right now. I got what I needed at this point and any more would overload my circuits. Next thing I know, I was back in bed next to sleeping Ana. I sat up, completely sobered by the experience, then Miguel arrived. I let him in and told him what just happened. “Whoooa, duuuuude!” he said in his classic Cuban tone. We both felt and shared the gravity of what had just occurred.

I didn’t realize it until some time later, but this experience sent me on a trajectory to pursuing God like never before, which involved a reading and meditation frenzy. About three weeks after, I finally picked up The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, and that book started a new phase of intense study for me. I so wanted to know God. To pursue Him. To serve Him. A couple weeks later I met Dave, who would become my spiritual partner, and the next year the ministries of The Ripple Effect and IRON MEN of Oaks were birthed. And along the way, Ana and I have grown closer together through Him.

Everything good of the last ten years has been born out of that nite of calling out to Jesus from the depths of my heart and experiencing His profound, soul-shifting, Life-giving answer to my call.

Jesus heals. This I know.

Thank you, YHWH. Thank you, Ruach. Thank you, Yeshua. Thank you so much.

CHRISTMAS LETTER 2020

Looking at a calendar a couple months ago I noticed that it was the year 2020, and that if my calculations are correct (and they pretty much always are), it is the 15th anniversary of our first Christmas letter we sent out. So we thought between that and all the insanity of this year, how fitting it would be to bring back our penned year review and update manuscript.

A crap ton of craziness has transpired this year, and it can be quite challenging to wade through the information overload and navigate these choppy waters. What can be especially maddening is running into those who want to talk about it nonstop, analyze it, study it, yell about it until my eyes are glazed over, my shirt’s drenched in drool, and I forget my own name for about six minutes. Sometimes worse than the 2020 tensions themselves is the constant notch-above-pointless reminding, rehashing, and debating that goes absolutely nowhere positive. So we Pallikans thought we would do you a solid and give a few helpful hints for maneuvering through this obstacle course of confusion we call 2020.

For sake of time and space, we’re gonna have to skip over what are probably the two biggest and hottest topics, and save them for another day. Those would be, obviously, Kanye’s conversion to Christ, and two astronauts being launched into space from American soil for the first time since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011 in the first ever commercially built and operated spacecraft. Sorry, we know you want to read our wisdom-filled musings on these historic happenings, but there’s just too much to say about them, and not enough ink in the printer.

On to less popular yet vitally important matters. So how to charge through some tricky situations, especially for us introverts (in my case recovering extrovert), when you’re about to get pulled in to a time-wasting, soul-sucking debate over some current issue.

Let’s say you’re out and about, maybe at the store, the laundromat, lunch, or even a dinner party, and someone asks you the terrifyingly divisive question,”How do you feel about the election?” Uhhgg. Don’t panic, all you have to do is go with the old classic of pretending you misheard the question, and answer immediately, “Oh I think erections feel really good, I’m a big fan, but that’s an extremely personal question don’t you think? I’m not very comfortable talking about this.” Even if they correct you and come back with, “No, I said ELECTION”, you just keep plowing forward with, “Yeah I’m really uncomfortable.” There should be enough ambiguity and, hopefully, discomfort on their part by now that they’ll probably let you off. Or you can storm off pretending to be upset.

What if someone tries to dive into the mask controversy? They work, they don’t work, they’re a violation of freedom, they show you care, blah blah blah. What I do in this precarious situation is respond with something along the lines of, “Well I’m glad these masks finally got mandated because my doctor has been after me for years to wear one, worried I’m gonna spread something awful ever since a little incident I had in a wildlife preserve five years ago. With everybody wearing one, I don’t feel so alone, you know?” This is usually enough to not only quiet people down, but help them forget what they even asked in the first place. If for some reason the person is annoyingly persistent, and the debate comes back around, just keep going on about how lonely you’ve been feeling for the past several years–people can’t handle that! Most want to blather on about things they can’t or won’t ever do anything about. Now they will be looking for a reason to get away from you.

Hope this is helpful!

In other news, Zayra is in her 10th and final year at The Oaks Academy. She’s been accepted to Cathedral HS class of 2025. I’m happy because it has the word CAT in it. Gaby is racing through her curriculum at her own pace in her first year at Purdue Polytechnic HS just three blocks down the street from our house. At this rate she might graduate before she turns sixteen. Next month will mark ten years for Ana working at Allison Transmission. She’s very much enjoyed working from home most of this year, being able to spend a lot more time with the girlies. And me, well, I set a personal record by going to the gym 53 days in a row, from Ukrainian Independence Day (August 24) through October 15. I was sore. On November 12 I wept joyously when our cat of six years, Dr. Bucko von Spankenfloppy, was returned to us after he’d been missing for seven months and nine days. We gave him a new birth/baptismal name of Denarius because he was our little coin who was lost but has been found (Luke 15:8-10).

I’m excitedly preparing for my 2021 “Year of Silence” which, I could say more about, but that would kind of defeat the purpose.

If you’ve received this letter, there is a very high probability that we love you and pray blessings all over you.

Always endeavoring to stay knowingly ignorant and wisely uneducated,
Rob…on behalf of Ana, Gabriela, & Zayra

Where’s That Draft Coming From?

"Wind" by Gabriela Pallikan
“Wind” by Gabriela Pallikan

Do not give the devil a way to defeat you, a foothold, an opportunity, a loophole. ~Ephesians 4:27 [various translations combined]

One early crisp morning I was walking downstairs to perform my daily coffee making ritual, and as I made my way to the kitchen in the pre-dawn darkness, I was halted by what felt like a frozen, icy vortex hitting me in the face. “Why is it so cold down here??” I thought as I raced to the thermostat to see if the heat was off or, heaven forbid, the furnace was on the fritz. The heat was indeed on, and all seemed to be running well. My next immediate thought was that someone must have left the front door wide open last nite, judging by the steady breeze still hitting my chilled body. Front door shut tightly and locked. That’s not it. This is weird. There is definitely a steady stream of cold air blowing in the living room and no obvious reason for it. Finally, I decided to just stand still and feel and look around the room slowly. Calmly, I felt the air, scanned—And there it was! An open window! As I quickly closed it, I remembered that the previous day saw an unusually warm afternoon, so I had opened a window about 10 inches so that our doggy Atticus could enjoy the smells of the outdoors for a few minutes. And I obviously forgot to close it.

Pretty much immediately the Holy Ghost impressed upon me the spiritual metaphor: Do not leave any openings for evil influences to corrupt you; these are not always obvious and easy to detect. Now, sometimes we do leave the front door open. I think of wide open doors as the easy-to-see ajar portals allowing in a hurricane of dark forces. For instance, if you’re sleeping with your next door neighbor’s spouse, it doesn’t require a rocket surgeon to figure out that there’s probably gonna be some trouble up ahead for you. Or if you punch people right in the mouth whenever they don’t agree with you, or sell meth to children on playgrounds, you’re probably at least halfway aware that you’re doing something wrong and that there’s gonna be some hell to pay. But again, these are those big gaping wide open doors that are easy to notice and understand how the toxic draft is getting in.

What about open windows–those more subtle openings which can equally allow in so much poison and give the devil a foothold? I think open windows can represent habits of thought that are far from healthy, as well as far from detection. One of these habits of thought can be the toxicity of comparison, tempting you to see how your life measures up against the lifestyles of others, giving much energy to how you appear, or perhaps prodding you to look down your nose at those who are “clearly beneath you” socially, intellectually, physically, or even spiritually. Another open window may be harbored resentment or held-onto anger. This dangerous venom can course through your veins, distorting how you see everybody and everything, if allowed to steep long enough. Like the old saying about unforgiveness goes: It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. And then there’s gossip, that not often preached about but clearly ruinous evil in the Scriptures. If you want to give ample opportunity for spiritual cancer to spread–this is it!

I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other “open windows” through some healthy examination. Hopefully this is a helpful springboard toward taking a critical look at how you might unknowingly be giving evil influences a handle to grab onto and steer you in the wrong direction.

Also, kinda cool, the Holy Spirit, as has happened so many times before, affirmed this experience the very next day–through this sentence I read by Henry Scougal in his book The Life of God in the Soul of Man:

There are still some worldly desires lurking in my heart, and those vanities that I have shut out of the doors are always getting in by the windows.

Advent 2020

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent simply means “arrival.” It is the season to celebrate and reflect on God’s breaking into His creation in the form of a human life approximately 2,020 years ago.

This is the first season of the Christian Church year, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

It’s beautiful.

During Advent, we reflect upon, meditate upon, even work at what it means to be watchful. To be hopeful and watchful. To be ready for Christ’s coming, His advent, the most important and significant event in our human history.

It is also quite important for us to keep in mind being ready for Christ’s little advents everyday throughout each day. Christ’s coming like a thief in the night, or even His standing at the door knocking are His unexpected anytime moments of calling on us for service, worship, listening, or changing. The more attuned we become to the Shepherd’s voice, the more often we will open the door to God’s messengers, no matter what they may look like or sound like.

I have come to believe that God is pretty much always speaking through everything and everyone around me. But am I always listening for the Spirit’s voice? Or am I shallowly tuned in to only the surface of what is before me?

We Christians do believe Christ will return as King, but the meaning has been cheapened over the years to the provocation of a response by some with the bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming, hide the bong.” That’s what it sadly turns into. But (hopefully) it’s much deeper than that. It is to always be at the ready for Christ’s calling upon you. He may very well tell you to put the bong away, I don’t know. But I do know, and have experienced, many times the beautiful call to His work of listening to someone, to sending a message of encouragement, to stop reading and just be with Him, to stop staring, or whatever.

There is such a beauty I now appreciate greatly of the Christian calendar. We are not of this world, we are of God’s kingdom. Therefore, isn’t it good and right to base our seasons upon the true Center of the universe Jesus Christ, and not on ourselves?

Election Reflection

Can Donald Trump separate us from the love of God?

Can Joe Biden separate us from the love of God?

My goodness, some of us Christians sure act like they can, don’t we?

I am convinced that no president shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

How does the president of the United States change your relationship with God?

How does the president affect your personal interactions with the risen Christ?

How does political leadership prevent you from doing good to your neighbor who is right in front of you?

How does congress make you pray less?

Does the senate block the Holy Spirit from being the great Comforter?

No matter who our leaders are, I keep praying everyday. I continue to interact with Jesus about everything throughout each day. I keep loving the person the Holy Spirit places in front of me. Leaders may be able to change some of our outer circumstances, but they will never be able to take our inner freedom to experience the love of God. No leader can affect our personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, or prevent us from loving our neighbor.