Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Wrestling With God

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Genesis 32: 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”  But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Almost every morning around 4:30 AM I wake up. I have tried everything I know to stay asleep until dawn at least.  Tylenol PM, even some things that are stronger, but nothing works. Like clockwork, at 4:30 AM I wake up.

I look over at my wife hoping that she is awake.  But she never is. The soft, flannel sheet grace her beautiful freckled shoulders cashiering into my dark world the late moon light luminosity glimmering and dancing through our upstairs bedroom window. For 35 years I have awakened next to this woman and it still takes my breath away. “As winter strips the leaves from around us, so that we may see the distant regions they formerly concealed, so old age takes away our enjoyments only to enlarge the prospect of the coming eternity.” (Jean Paul)

The silence is surreal and disorienting.  This is the silence of a winter country mountain farm. There is no hint of a sound.

Nonetheless, my heart is almost always nearly breaking and I there are screams in my soul that I cannot drown out.

I wistfully reach out and gently touch her shoulder.  I dare now wake her up.  God knows she works so hard.  Loves me so much.  Cares for me.  I know I am a high maintenance husband.  She needs all the sleep she can get.  Especially that deep sleep that I know longer enjoy, that sleep between 2-6 AM, that deep nocturnal slumber that serendipitously visits so very rarely to my soul.

In high school I remember my high school teacher, Mr. Watson, asking, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, is it sound?”  The trees were falling in my forest and the sounds were deafening but I wondered if anyone was around to hear it.  And if no one heard my trees fall, was it really sound?

The darkness spoke only silence to my soul. The shadows of trees moving in the wind were my only companions this early morning.

This is, I assure you, the darkest time of every day.  The time when night is almost over but daylight has not come.

When I was a boy my dad would take us into the Devil Den swamps near Montrose, Arkansas, to ambush unwary green headed Mallard Ducks at daybreak. Like trolling mine sweepers, dragging our red ball hip books along through antediluvian mud, we would push through down tree limbs, avoiding jutting cypress knees.  The swamp had the sweet smell of death.  It was rumored that there was an old escaped slave den nearby, a place where runaway slaves would run and hide from cruel slave owners.  More than once I thought I saw their shiny black bodies run from tree to tree through the swamp. It was so dark.  It was even too dark to look at our compasses that probed into the frenzied quagmire that surrounding us and would have at least told us where North was if we could see it.  But we could not.

“Mallard ducks were worth it, “ I kept telling myself, although truly, I never liked eating wild ducks.  The meat was too rich and dark and perilous for this southern boy who liked anodyne, fried chicken, and domestication, cornbread.

It was so dark in the Devil’s Den.  And on those mornings, most mornings now, when I awaken at 4:30 AM, alone in the silence, I remember the Den. The only light we enjoyed was the North Star on the tail of the Big Dipper full of radiant repartee and iridescent chatter.

Genesis 32: 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”   “Jacob,” he answered.  28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Every morning I struggle.  I struggle with what could have been.  Other friends, in other places, even family members, are awakening in this darkness but their worlds are full of certainty, of jobs, and of pensions.  They are tired, as I am, but not conflicted.  They are at peace with their repertoire. They may not know the drama in which they play a role, but they know their role, and they play it well.

In these early, disquieting mornings, I know my role, but do not know the play in which I perform.  I do not even know my next line. I feel lost.

John Barth, in his novel The Floating Opera compares life to a floating opera.  This opera is being performed on a floating barge that is slowly moving up and down the Hudson River.  Spectators are standing on the bank looking at the drama unfold.  As long as the floating opera is in their sight, they grasp the meaning of the play.  They may even join in a chorus or two.  Life is unambiguous and consequential and full of beans. But then the barge moves on and the spectators are left in quiet uncertainty.

 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

The barge returns again and leaves again and so forth.

To me, the barge is absent at 4:30 A.M.  I am not sure what the story is.  I don’t know what my place is in the drama unfolding.  By 10AM I am regaining some élan. By 2PM I am completely confident; the play is right before me.  By 10 PM I am asleep . . . but again, at 4:30 A. M., the struggle begins again.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

But it is 4:30 A. M.  again.  “James,” in Hebrew, is “Jacob,”  “the deceiver,” “the one who struggles.” It is my Peniel.  It is where I meet God face to face.  It is a time when, again, I decide, “Whom will you serve today? If God is God serve Him! If Baal is God, serve him! (1 Kings 18:21)

4:30 AM lying next to my gray haired campaigner, is my Peniel, my time of struggle, but it is also my Mt. Carmel.  Each day I go up to  Mt. Carmel to challenge the gods of this age.  With my pen, with my prayers, I dare the cacophonic sirens of this discordant land to challenge my God to a duel.

Mt. Moriah each morning and I meet again a God who loves me so, so much, but who has no hyperbole in His portfolio, who literally demands everything from me.  Whether I see all the drama unfolding before me on the river or not, whether I fully understand what the outcome will be, God demands, in great love, in only the way a Savior can, that I give Him my all, my everything again. Especially at 4:30 AM.

It is 6:30 AM and my sugar plum, whose transcendent beautiful will soon belong to Clinique and Origin, but whose raw courage and fortitude is mine, and mine alone, for this new day,  for this moment, for this new Genesis.

I see the wrinkles, the circles under her eyes, but I will not insult the ambiance, the chronicle, the time that I know put them there by pretending they are not.  No there is no histrionics in my Karen and I will have none either.  Not right now.  Not for this moment when we kiss and bask in the dawn again. She is more beautiful than Cleopatra, more exotic Bathsheba, for surely Mark Antony and Solomon would feel cheated if they could have known my exquisite life companion.

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

“Hi, honey. What is for breakfast?”

And I limp again, down the stairs, to my country kitchen for my oatmeal . . . and then I battle the gods of the ages again . . .

PRACTICALLY SPEAKING

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Practically speaking:

  • Find a local church before you go to college. Go to the first service you can.
  • Parents should meet the local pastor and introduce themselves.
  • Participate in a local Christian group—Navigators, Inter-varsity, et al. But that does not substitute for a local church.
  • Purpose to live a Godly life before you face temptation.
  • Set up a study schedule that is a priority only behind your devotional life.
  • Practice courtship.
  • Expect persecution. The main persecution you will receive will be about your profession that Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life.
  • Summer school can be a spiritual and financial opportunity for you. You can participate in mission trips that may count for academic credit and may also help you grow spiritually. Also, summer school may be a cost-effective way to accelerate your college experience and thereby save money for you and your parents.
  • Avoid all appearance of evil.
  • Write from a Christian perspective but do not allow your confessional stand to be an excuse for shoddy work.
  • You will probably not be able to choose your roommate before you first arrive. But you can choose your roommate for your sophomore year. Choose wisely.
  • Pray for your unsaved friends.
  • Know the Truth.
  • Live the Truth.
  • Work hard and be the best follower of Christ that you can be!

PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I am at the Columbus Home School Convention. This is their 25th anniversary–I have been a part of 19 of these conventions. Congratulations to CHEO!

My wife Karen and my son Peter have graciously excused me from my vendor duties so that I can write.

As I write and meditate I look around me. To the right of me a family is spreading its home made paraphernalia on a table. Bologna, whole grain bread, apples, and water are carefully placed on the obviously aged table cloth that graces an otherwise beat up old chipped round wooden table. This family honors the old table and this old veteran with its presence. We both are blessed. The family of six corporately bows its head and gives thanks to our God.

To my left is a child gleefully throwing a red rubber ball with a corner torn out to his father. The child is screaming in joy. The dad is smiling. A little innocent game gives so much joy to its owners. And to this quiet observer who loves both of them for their gift.

Behind me is a mom quietly weeping. Around her table are four children eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don’t know why that mom is weeping. I see she is speaking on an ancient Nokia phone. No I-Phone for this mom! Suddenly she stops and prays. All four children stop and pray too. Obviously they don’t know what their mom is saying or why she is crying but they are neither upset or curious–they grasp the import of the moment and join their mom in this sacred moment. I can’t help feeling like God is answering their prayers.

In the corner is a young child quietly reading one my books–A FIRE THAT BURNS–that my son Peter no doubt sold her.

As I look around me on this sunny morning in the summer of 2009, I can’t help but feel that history is being made. Quietly, unpretentiously, with no cynicism, a people gathers in places all over this nation. Peoria, Columbus, St. Charles, Pottstown, and Boise. Long Beach, Phoenix, Knoxville, and Birmingham. In a hundred places, thousands strong, they are changing history. And they are my people, my community, because I too am a home schooler. I bow my head with them, I eat my peanut butter and jelly, and I dream dreams with them. I see history being made.

Prayer Request

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

There is a moment in the life of Henry Fleming, protagonist in Stephen Crane’s RED BADGE OF COURAGE, when he has to plumb the depths of his world view and decide, once and for all, if he believes in a personal, caring God. As you remember, Fleming is a Union soldier fighting at the Battle of Chancellorsville, May, 1863. His unit is under attack. At first he holds firm. While he is hardly brave, he draws strength from the crowd. But the crowd thins. And as a second attack occurs, he runs. He runs from his friends, from his enemy, from his duty, and from his God. From that moment forward he rejects the transcendent, omniscient, “friendly” Judeo-God. He replaces this God with a naturalistic, uncaring, utilitarian deity who cares nothing about Fleming or the world in general. Fleming ultimately returns to duty a new man. While this new revelation causes Fleming to be “courageous,” the reader knows that Fleming is more “cynical” than courageous.

In Henry Fleming’s world there is no courage because there is no transcendenceBeverything is instinctive. People make decisions out of what is good for themselves, not out of anything noble.

I categorically reject Stephen Crane=s world view. I affirm again that we serve a loving, magnificent God. I want to stand with God’s people no matter what is ahead.

I need your prayers; I welcome your insights. It is my fervent hope, deep desire, and calling I believe, that I devote more time to writing and to speaking at conventions. In order to do that I need help from you: prayer that I will have the courage to do this, and prayer that I can find the financial means to do it too.

To the later end, please pray about hosting an SAT Seminar. For several years I have conducted SAT seminars with great success. These are one day seminars. Here is the typical outline:

SAT Seminar Outline
I. Background
1. History of SAT I
2. Test types: achievement, vocational, TOEFEL, aptitude tests
3. Scoring
4. Taking the test: when, where, how?
5. Special needs
II. Test-taking Skills
1. Overview
2. Short term preparation
3. Long term preparation
4. Test-taking Strategies: Verbal
5. Guessing
III. Practice Test
IV. Specific Test-Taking Strategies
V. Family Living in Scripture Prayer Meeting (Stress Reduction)
VI. College Admission and Financial Aid
1. Transcript
2. References
3. Delayed admission / early admission
4. Financial Aid
VII. Student and Parent Consulting

I normally charge $100/family. Once families pay their $100, they may attend freely a s many seminars as they like around the country. All family members are urged to attend. Each participant family members will receive one free SAT grading (I am a Collegeboard trained grader). Normally the seminars occur from 9-4, on a Friday or Saturday, at a local church or in a local hotel. I offer the host family, private school, or church 10% of the registration fees or free products from my web-site. I need 15-25 families to attend, but will speak to fewer if the seminar location is closer to home.

Again, I ask you to pray about this and, if you have further questions, e-mail me jim@forsuchatimeasthis.com

Henry Fleming, like so many Americans, have lost the sense of transcendence, the belief in a loving God. I haven’t and I hope you haven’t either.

800,000 Lives Saved

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

The WASHINGTON TIMES estimated last week that former President Bush’s pro-life administration limited abortions so much, that perhaps 100,000 lives were saved in every year he served.

That would be about 800,000 lives that President Bush saved.

I don’t care about how you feel about President Bush’s politics, saving 800,000 people is something more important, don’t you agree?

I think so.

Pray for our new president.

MAKING DO

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

My wife Karen often scolds me for avoiding perfection by “making do.” She means it, I know, as a pejorative comment. Of course she is hyper critical (!) (not really); she should learn to compromise more (but alas, she is cursed by her oldest sibling perfectionist syndrome–she is the oldest of 14 children/siblings).

Seriously though, Karen is right (but boy am I glad she rarely reads my blog! Don’t tell her I said this!). Too often I am too lazy, or too busy, to seek perfection in what I do. I compromise too often I fear.

And compromise is not all bad. We compromise about what restaurant we frequent–that is a good compromise.

Here is a bad compromise.

In the 1950s I remember my mother voting for Governor Orville Faubus (a notorious segregationist). “Why?” a friend asked mom, “would you vote for a man who is diametrically opposed to your world view (mom was opposed to Faubus’ racial views)?”

“Because,” mom softly responded, “He is in favor of widening Highway 65 (an important road in our small Arkansas town).”

Do you see what I mean? Mom, a good woman really, principled in her own way, voted against her conscience to advance a laudable, even necessary improvement: expansion of an important roadway. This roadway would bring life and prosperity to our region. No doubt Highway 65 was a good thing.

But Faubus was elected and Faubus tried to stop desegregation at Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas. President Eisenhower had to mobilize the American army. How awful!

But we also got a beautiful new road!

Friends, the present pro-choice administration was elected by a solid majority of Americans. If one examines closely the voting patterns, the administration won support–overwhelming support–from some pro-life evangelical groups. Come by me again? That is right, a ton of us pro-lifers voted for a pro-choice candidate for . . . well, perhaps we needed Highway 65 built. And Highway 65 will bring us prosperity and nothing is wrong with prosperity, is there?

Pray about it.

Two Kinds of People

Monday, December 29th, 2008

“There are two kinds of people,” Mr. Merrill Lynch announced at lunch in the Harvard Club on my last day as a Harvard University Merrill Fellow in 1990, “Those who went to Harvard and those who did not.”
At these words, I nearly choked on my overpriced, overdone filet mignon (that many ordinary Hollsopple beef farmer eat every other day!) and wiped my mouth with my embroidered, starched white linen napkin. I was certainly glad to hear that–especially since I was wearing my best suit–and my worse suit–both at the same time. By mistake I had put on the jacket from one and the pants from another. They looked good to me in the pre-dawn morning. But by lunch the crystal chandeliers in the Harvard Faculty Club painfully accentuated my error! Everything about this place reeked of pretention and I was glad to get my crimson crows feet and to fly home!

Ari Goldman, a New York Times journalist wrote a book called Searching for God at Harvard. What becomes abundantly clear, after reading the book, is that he obviously did not find what he was looking for. One professor, the great Christian writer Fred Buechner resigned from Harvard Divinity School because he felt embarrassed to mention God in his classes. “The mere mention of God–an omniscient God, God as a transcendent being–when I was there . . . would be guaranteed to produce snickers,” Ari Goldman wrote (Atlantic Monthly, Dec., 1990).

It is not he purpose of this newsletter article to bash my old alma mater. No, I thank God that I went to Harvard. I had no trouble finding God there–and I found my wife Karen to boot! But I knew where to look. The problem with Goldman, and with Lynch, and with many of us is that we do not look in the right places. Or, in other words, we do not read our Bible and pray often enough.

The Catholic scholar Sean Caufield says, “I’ve come to know that God is not a ‘thing’. He is not of the things and bits of his own creation, one more objecting thing out there, something amongst other things. he is not even th e supreme thing, the first or best or greatest in a series. He is not relative to anything. He is the altogether Other., the Mystery that cannot be contained or boxed in by any symbol or concept.” I have found that mystery. We must reach beyond ourselves and our troubles and find a God who is in control.

Many of us don’t pray and mean it until we are in anguish. We don’t pray until we are driven to our knees by the circumstances of life. Fair enough. But reach that point soon.