Testimonial, The Written Version

*this is the written version of the speech I gave Saturday June 21st at the men’s breakfast. It is written in that perspective, as if I were addressing that group. The video and this version will differ for several reasons. This is the unedited version that, if I spoke flawlessly and with absolute confidence, would perfectly match the video. For the actual speech, many parts of this were left out. Truth is they don’t match, but I am SO glad I chose to speak. I loved doing it, I would do it again. Maybe I will do it enough that someday my writings and my speaking WILL match. Sharing this blog entry is not something I do lightly or easily. Thank you for reading, and God bless you.*

  • Intro

 I’m Dustin, my family has been coming to cedar creek for a little over 3 years. If you don’t know me, you probably know my daughters. They’re the red heads running a muck in the entrance area all the time.

 

  • Why I’m here.

It was 3 years ago that my wife and I were baptized, so we’ve been on this walk for a little while now. I’ve been a sponge for 3 years, soaking up everything around me. Whether it be taking in the message from the sermons, studying my bible in my own time, or simply having coffee with a friend and taking in some great advice from someone wiser than myself. I’m really just trying to keep walking the narrow path, and watching where God takes me, and see what he can use me for. I’ve prayed about what I should do to give back a little, and this is where events have led me. I’m grateful to have people all around me who’s lives shine brightly for God. That light has helped guide me and my family through good times and tough times. I’d like to be a light like that for someone else who may be where I once was. That’s the point and the goal of me speaking today.

 It’s ironic that I have felt God pushing me in this direction, because this is not a comfortable place for me to be. I’m a bit out of my element, but I’m working on faith here. Typically, I’m use to sharing things and trying to reach out to people by writing. Speaking is new to me. In fact, today will be a vast assortment of firsts for me. Some of the things I’d like to share, I’ve never spoken out loud to someone before. I may need you to bear with me a bit.

 

 what I want to share is a bit about who I am, where I came from, how I got to be where  I am today, what you guys have to do with it, and how God worked on me and continues to work in my life. And in the process I think I can provide another example of how awesome our God really is. I’ve got so much to be thankful for, and the direction my life has gone in is one that I never ever would have thought possible. I’m a bit like a shelter dog. I’ve been rescued. Not necessarily from neglectful and mistreating owners, but from my own choices. I’ll just start at the beginning.

  • The story

 I grew up with 2 hardworking parents. We kids were taught to believe in God, but we didn’t talk about it much. As a young boy I knew church as a place where I didn’t want to be. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and while there I just wanted to go home. I dreaded going, and eventually drove my mother to quit taking me. She did what she could, but church just didn’t stick for us. I don’t think my mom found one she liked enough to make a home church out of. Work schedules and life events were just a few of the obstacles that got between our family and church, and eventually going to church was pushed back on the priority list.

Once when I was around 11 or 12 I went to church with a friend whose father was a preacher, and had a terribly embarrassing experience. I wrote about that experience in further detail in a blog title Monsters and Men. Before the service started he told me that on his cue, I was to go up and claim I wanted to be saved. I missed the cue, and he was furious. I can remember him now standing up there just yelling, red in the face, calling for anyone who wishes to be saved to come on up. I didn’t go up there. Neither did anyone else. In fact, I didn’t go near a church for 15 years.

 

  • Finding drugs

 I discovered a few things when I was 13. I discovered cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, all at about the same time. Now I asked ahead of time if 630 in the morning was too early to talk about substance abuse. I was told to just be honest because you have heard honesty before and that it was certainly something you could handle. So I’ll just be honest. The truth is that drugs and substance abuse are the theme for a large portion of my life. And it started at 13. That’s 7th grade. In fifth grade, we had DARE class. DARE to keep kids off drugs. I recall having to write a letter at the end of the class describing all the reasons why I would never use drugs. I remember feeling pretty strongly about it then too.” Drugs are horrible” I thought. “Why would anyone want to use drugs?” I went home that very day and gave my dad a piece of my mind about smoking cigarettes! Also, it was around that time that I was addicted to the hokey pokey, but I turned myself around. *yes I actually said that! It didn’t land well.*

  • Whats wrong with kids?/gateway drug

It’s ironic looking back as an adult. I hear myself now echoing everything teachers and my parents ever told me about drugs. But there’s something wrong with kids, it borders the definition of insanity that we can be told how something turns out, but somehow think it will be different for us. Kids act as if you have never been 13 before.  Not all kids do this I’m sure, but I sure did, and I knew several others who did as well. Everything I was told about drugs by adults who truly cared about me as a kid, I’ve learned was absolutely true. So kudos to all you older folks, I speak for all the teenagers when I say, we can be real idiots. Although I also had so called adults, mostly friends’ parents, encouraging drug and alcohol use in my life and the lives of my friends. By the time I was freshman in high school I had experimented with several drugs. Most were supplied by friends’ parents.

There’s something else about drugs that caring adults tell kids that kids don’t believe. I heard a dozen times that Marijuana is a gateway drug. As a kid who smoked marijuana I laughed at that. I didn’t believe that was true at all. I thought maybe that’s how it works for some people but not for me.  But, when I look back I can see each step I took to get further and further down the road of substance abuse. I know I’ll get some flak for this, but I sincerely believe marijuana IS a gateway drug—for any young impressionable mind. Okay, 30 year old adults may be able to use marijuana and avoid climbing that drug latter. But in all honesty, any 30 year old adult that I know, that uses marijuana has been using it since they were young teens, and have experimented with other drugs already. I know 30 year old adults who would argue that marijuana is NOT a gateway drug, and can explain several of the beneficial properties of marijuana, but they themselves have a past very similar to mine, so take that however you will.

  • The Lie

As I said, by age 13 I had broken all of my DARE promises. A DARE promise today is rather trivial, but at age 13 that was only 2 years prior. It still rang in my head. I always had some semi- delusional, falsely encouraging line I could tell myself to validate what I was doing. The first I gave myself was a full out lie. “I can be different.” It goes along with the idea I explained about kids ignoring advice. I told myself that I could control my own fate, I knew what was best for me,” I can be my own god” is basically what I was saying. Of course, that failed, and when it did fail, I began to judge myself on a curve. I began telling myself new falsely encouraging lines to justify my actions. I’d compare myself to someone worse than myself, and suddenly what I was doing wasn’t so bad. I never realized how common of a practice this was until I was much older. Now I can look around and see people comparing themselves to others quite often to justify their own actions. Now I see how futile it is, how it is shrugging off the responsibility to improve yourself, and that it means absolutely nothing. It is a poor excuse to remain stagnant. The first line I gave myself…

  • It’s not like I smoke a LOT of pot.

 “Well it’s not like I smoke a lot of pot.” It wasn’t long afterwards that I became a heavier user. At 15 I’d say “it makes me a more creative writer, and allows me to be more artistic.”  I went from smoking a little by myself a couple days a week to smoking with friends every time we’d get together. My mother knew I was up to something and tried help me, but I just rebelled hard against her and most other forms of authority. Line number 2…

  • It’s not like I do REAL drugs or drink a lot.

I remember saying to myself,” Well it’s not like I do real drugs, or drink a lot. Marijuana is natural. It grows right out of the ground. It’s not even a real drug.” I told myself that. Well, the devil is natural too isn’t he? The desensitization process had started. I got my first job when I was 17. I worked at a pizza place. While working there, I found more friends who had their own apartments and who had get togethers often which opened up avenues for me to drink more heavily, and I was also introduced to other drugs. I began experimenting with new substances including hallucinogenic drugs, barbiturates, benzodiazepines (basically anything prescription that we found lying around), and a few others.

  • My high school

This night life of partying that I had left little time for school. I basically just slept through the first year and a half of high school and when I was awake I was just mouthy and rebellious. That behavior earned me a referral to an alternative high school. For the last 2 years of my high school I attended what they called a high school, but really it was just a place for kids to go in the morning to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Every one of the 50 some kids who attended had flunked out or had been expelled for drugs, or some kind of crime, or just got out of juvenile lock up, or something similar. I don’t know that anyone attended that school as long as I did. I saw so many people come and go, some got arrested, and never came back, some got expelled which was hard to do, some just disappeared, some were killed in gang related violent crimes.

I recall a particular young girl who was murdered. She was 17. She was dating someone who was affiliated with a gang. Some people came to kill her boyfriend and it was total coincidence that she was with him, but they didn’t let her live. Moving on to line number 3…

  • At least I’ve never been to jail

At my alternative high school, I saw many young people who had been arrested and gone to jail. I thought to myself, “geez, I could be worse off… at least I’ve never been to jail.” Well, it didn’t take long. Shortly after turning 18 a friend and I were arrested for spray painting our band name all over the city. We had also been drinking. I was given a sentence of 60 days in jail. If that sounds excessive for criminal mischief and minor consumption, it’s because it is. I would have gotten off much easier if I would have kept my mouth shut in court, but I didn’t. “60 days in Allen County jail… have fun.” The judges last words to me. He won that argument.

I got out of jail, early in fact. Less than a year later I was arrested again, this time picked up in a car. I was 19, so any amount of alcohol was too much. I actually thought I was doing a good deed by driving this time. the girl whose car I was driving was absolutely drunk. I had 2 beers. The beer was from an opened case a friend found behind a convenient store. We thought they were free, but they cost me quite a bit actually. Once the drugs were found in the car, and given that I was still on probation from the previous arrest, I was facing a possible 4 years in prison. I had to hire a lawyer. Each gross warm beer I drank cost me over 1100 dollars. Next line….

  • Atleast I can hold down a job.

 But at least I’m responsible enough to hold down a job. And I was! From age 17 to now, I’ve had few gaps in my employment history. How’s that for judging on a curve? I convinced myself that as long as I could make it in to a job on time, everything I did on my time off was okay. I was proud enough that I possessed the ability to wake up to an alarm and show up somewhere with clothes on, that I figured I deserved a little party time on my days off. Well, sure enough, by the time I was 19 I pointed out of a job because I took too many barbiturates and slept for about 18 hours. It wasn’t the days of work I missed due to legitimate illness or good reason that cost me a job. It was just that last one. I heard them say that a dozen times at that job. “It’s the last one that gets ya.”

 I just continued down this path of self-destruction, never learning from my mistakes, or the consequences, I just kept going. My life was going nowhere, I was accomplishing nothing. Once I turned 21, it all just got uglier. I drank more heavily. I didn’t care about life, and now looking back, I can almost see a flight of stairs going downward that I was basically tripping down head over heel with every new decision I made to keep using drugs, and being reckless and self-destructive. *if you’ve made it this far, keep reading! It gets better I promise!*

  • Amazing God

But ya know, our God really is amazing and this story isn’t all ugly truth about my habits of substance abuse. I can remember all the mistakes I made early in my life, but I can also remember just about every step of the way, there was someone God put around me to try and talk some sense into me. I took me years to eventually start listening to them, but still, I was drawn to those people, and I had huge amounts of respect for them.  

As someone who came to know Christ later in life, I have gotten to witness first-hand in myself how faith is spread. I don’t know anyone who has decided to become a Christian just through one conversation with one individual. It typically happens through many encounters with several people. That’s part of what being “the church” is all about. A church is a building, but “THE” church is not a building. It is people that make up the body of Christ who do God’s work. Through those people is how faith is spread. It happens by someone planting a seed. It can happen in a conversation or it can just be something you hear someone say, or even just by observing how someone lives. The people doing it may not even realize it. That’s how God works. I can recall the people who were placed in my life who had a huge impact on me that I never knew until years later. I’ll share them.

  • tim

While working at the pizza store, there was one delivery guy that had tried to tell me about Jesus. He was a little older than me, but not by much. He told me about his lifestyle and what he believed. It was hard for me to imagine someone being in their early 20’s and not drinking or partying or using drugs. He was very kind and sincere, and he just spoke to me exactly how he felt. He didn’t care how anyone looked at him for the things he felt, he wore his heart on his sleeve. He invited me to church with him on a couple of occasions and I would agree. When he would come to my house to get me Sunday morning I’d pretend to be asleep. I felt so ridiculous for doing that, but honestly I was terrified to go to church, I just couldn’t tell him. Shortly after I was baptized, I dug on the interent to look this guy up and thanked him over and over again for being in my life. I’d count him as the beginning of the seed sewing in my life, and I’m so grateful for him.

  • Officer Blake

Of all the people coming and going at my school there was one constant. He was a former police officer who we called officer Blake. He had bad knees and had to quit the force, but he went on to teach at this school because he wanted to continue to serve the community. He tried so hard to get us kids to turn our lives around, he was so patient with us even though most of the kids just tore him down and expressed hate toward him. Kids would just cuss him out and he would just smile at them and continue trying to teach them that they could be more if they would just apply themselves and learn something. Probably 80 percent of the time it was futile, but he saw a need and went to work on it. He just wouldn’t quit. He and I had several one on ones, and today he is someone I truly admire. He was caring but tough. He still had to have kids arrested when they’d get caught with guns or drugs in class, but he never lost his cool. We were just punk kids who weren’t allowed in public school. I could never figure out why anyone would stay at that school and deal with those kids if they didn’t have to, but he did and I admire him greatly for what he did for me. Of course it took years to get through my skull.

 

 

  • The drunken preacher

I remember one night in jail, a guy was thrown into our cell. He was picked up for a public intoxication. Those guys are usually thrown in at night and gone again before you wake up. He told us he was a preacher. I don’t know if you guys know this, but you preacher types aren’t allowed to mess up as far as non-church people are concerned. Especially non-believers who love to criticize the church. They see preachers mess up and BAM! There’s proof that God isn’t real. Well, anyway this guy laid in his cot and just cried and begged for God to forgive him for what he had done. He prayed over and over again and just sobbed. I had never witnessed another person pray out loud before, and it was rather profound to see how upset this guy was because he felt like he had failed God. A lot of the other inmates heckled and threatened this guy, but I just sat in wonder and amazement. I thought, “wow, this guy takes this God stuff serious.”

  • A.A.

After being arrested the second time I was court ordered to attend A.A. meetings for a few months. There again I witnessed God at work without having known it at the time. A.A. is like a mini-version, or a glimpse maybe is a better descriptor, of what it looks like when church works. A.A. works for people. You know why? Because a group of people consistently support each other and hold each other accountable to maintaining principles in their lives that are not easy to maintain alone. It involves temptation—huge and horrible temptation, that can only be avoided with help from others, and most of the regulars where I attended A.A. were also believers. They gave God credit for helping them stay sober and for helping each other stay sober. I took a lot away from A.A. classes but never realized it until later.

God never stopped working on me.  He never quit putting people in my life to soften my heart. Every poor decision I made in my life, there was God in one form or another standing there saying, “are you sure this is what you want?” there’s one story I heard while attending an A.A. meeting one night. It goes like this,

                Picture yourself sitting in front of two doors. Above one there’s a sign that says, “this is the good door.” Above the other, there hangs just a question mark. Out of curiosity you open the door with the question mark. What happens? A guy immediately steps in the way, clubs you in the head with a mallet, and slams the door shut. You sit back down. You know the one door is the “good” door, but you can help but to wonder what is really behind the other door. So you open it again, and again a man steps in your way and clubs you with the mallet and slams the door shut. You sit down and ponder long and hard. You KNOW you should go through the good door, and you almost do, but you decide to give the question mark door one more shot. You open the door… and nothing. Where’s the guy with the mallet? He’s not standing there. You know what you do now? You go in and LOOK FOR THE GUY WITH THE MALLET! That, my friends, is substance abuse.

 

 

  • At least I don’t use cocaine

It gets worse before it gets better. Age 22 was when my life of substance abuse peaked. I remember telling myself once as a teenager “at least I don’t use cocaine.” Cocaine is a very horrible drug. It can make you believe that you can’t do anything without, but all the while you can watch it just destroy you. You can absolutely hate it, watch it wreck your life, destroy relationships, ruin opportunities, and still want it. I believe marijuana is a gateway drug. There is a desensitization that occurs with drugs when someone starts using them. They usually start with marijuana, which is why it’s called the gateway drug. But once a person has used marijuana for a long enough period of time, whatever thoughts they had toward other drugs prior to using marijuana become lessened. This might not happen right away, but eventually it does.  People become more prone to experimenting with different drugs.

I’ve seen people eat a handful of pills and then ask what they were.  I’ve watched people go from smoking a little pot to getting absolutely strung out on hallucinogenics, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, home pressed pills containing who knows what, abusing robitussin, methamphetamines, crystal meth, steroids, heroine, and cocaine.  Once a people start climbing the drug latter, the drugs don’t seem as bad as we were told they were in DARE class anymore. Its’ a painful shameful irony to be arrested as an adult by the same police officer you wrote a letter to in 5th grade about how you plan to never be arrested. Some disagree that marijuana is a gateway drug, some people choose to use marijuana as an adult. You make your choices, but I’ve seen it happen dozens of times.

  • The worst moments

I went on using cocaine for a little while. You know those moments in your life that you really aren’t proud of? When you really wish you could take back something you did? They are our lowest moments. Every low moment I can recall in my life occurred while using cocaine, and often was mixed with a lot of alcohol. This isn’t an observation I make now looking back, I knew these were the worst moments of my life in the heat of the moment.

 While under the influence of cocaine, a person can drink much higher volumes of alcohol before going unconscious. That doesn’t mean that a person can handle the alcohol better, really the only difference is he doesn’t fall down. While in this condition, a person has to use cocaine every half hour or so, or the effects of all the alcohol will begin to take hold. The hope is then, after a long night of doing this, one can pass out eventually before dying or suffering the terrible, terrible effects of the drug wearing off. And for some reason, that process doesn’t sound as awful and unwise as it really is to someone who is self-destructive and just doesn’t care about their own life.

I’ve got what seems like dozens of memories that I’ve wanted to just forget for quite some time now. But since I’ve been living this new life, and since I’ve been learning about Jesus and trying to live like him, I’ve learned that maybe forgetting my past isn’t the thing to do. I hear people say’ “I’ve been blessed more than I could imagine.” I’ve heard people say that all my life whether it be relatives or moms friends, or just a guy at the grocery store, and I never knew what that really even meant. I mean according to what the bible says we are all blessed beyond what we deserve, but some people get really excited about it. Well I figured out what they were so excited about. My entire life changed in the snap of a finger one day, and I want to tell you about it.

  • The turn around

This is where it gets good. Well, not at first, but stay with me. I was 22 years old and I was at work. I got a phone call. I hate getting phone calls while I’m at work, because it usually means there’s an emergency, and emergencies mean emergency personnel, that means there might be cops and I didn’t want to see any cops. There’s the paranoia of someone who abuses drugs right there. The phone rings and we go “ahhh it’s the cops!” it wasn’t the cops. It was some girl I’d been kind of dating. It wasn’t really dating, it was like a month and a half of drinking all night and her staying at my apartment. So she calls me, she has this kind of grave tone as she’s speaking to me. And I knew right away what that meant, but I let her speak the words. She’s pregnant.

She was never really upset and crying and mad at me or any of those things, but she was scared and who wouldn’t be? She had plans. She planned on going to an art school in the fall, and she had a life and she was happy and had a lot of things going for her. I’ll tell you now, I was terrified. I wasn’t terrified about the idea of possibly having a new responsibility, I was fearful, and absolutely hated myself. I thought to myself, I’ve been on like a 2 month long cocaine and whiskey binge lately. I’m shocked that this could even physically be happening right now.

One of the many misconceptions I had about church before I really ever knew what church was like is that I thought people were all the same. I thought there was one way to live by the bible and everyone lived that way, and if you didn’t fit into that mold, then you either had to change or you weren’t supposed to be there. One of the most glorious awesome things that I love about God is that he knows us all, better than we know ourselves. He knows how to reach us, he knows our strengths, he knows our weaknesses. And he uses us all differently.  If he didn’t than the body of Christ would have all feet then wouldn’t it? God reached me in the only way that would work. God knew it would work because He’s God.

  • My fear

In the flash of an instant when this girl told me she was expecting a child, I felt as low as mud. I wasn’t scared about the changes that may take place in my life because of this new life, I wasn’t even thinking about that. All I could think was that I just ruined this girl’s life… and probably this baby’s life. The part that I was most shameful about was this girl didn’t even know what she got herself into. She didn’t know I was using drugs. I learned a few girlfriends previous that substance abuse really isn’t all that attractive, so I quit letting girls know what I did. She was clueless. And as far as I was concerned I just ruined two lives, one hadn’t started yet, and that was different than destroying my own life. I didn’t care about what I was doing to myself, but now I got someone else wrapped up in my mess, and it crushed me. I was fine throwing my own life away, but I couldn’t handle pulling someone else into my mess, and God knew how this would affect me. That’s how He reached me.

In that moment I hated drugs and could never touch them again. I quit them all in that instant. It wasn’t a great accomplishment to me, it wasn’t something I celebrated, I just hung my head low and walked away from them forever. I stuck with that girl for 9 months, which was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Looking back, it’s more like she let me stick around for 9 months. She had that baby, and when Nikki gave birth to our oldest daughter Lilly, and she had all her fingers and toes, and she was crying, and she looked normal and the nurses were just doing their routine thing and people were smiling…. I just remember for the first time in my life, I folded my hands and I looked up and I just whispered the words, “thank you GOD! Thank you God.”

 I didn’t know who I was talking to, but this was a miracle, it was a gift. And today I look at the birth of my first daughter as God saying to me, “Here. Change your life and take care of this.” By His grace, I put the drugs down and began taking care of my family. Nikki and I knew nothing but we knew we could work as a family, we could overcome the obstacles, we could make it work if we were willing to put the effort into it. We did. Later we were married. We did things backwards. That’s pretty much how we roll. Our family grew. Rosie came next, and she was just as big of a blessing as the first.  

  • My realization

Shortly after, Nikki had begun attending Cedar Creek with a friend, and kept asking me to come. I didn’t want to. I think I didn’t want to because I was afraid of what I might find out, and how I might feel. I was feeling convicted before I ever even came here. Of course, I eventually did come. I came with much skepticism, and guards up. Once I relaxed and just started listening to the preaching, I realized that God has been working on me for a long time. I heard preaching about a God that loves us all, and warns us of the outcome of trying to live in the world without him. With each new subject, and each new preaching, I realized that I didn’t need convinced that this is all true. I’ve been living it all my life, I’ve just never given it a name. I describe myself like this; I was a pound puppy, who tried to be my own master which led to nothing more than putting myself into a cage that I built with the choices I made and couldn’t get myself out of. The real master came and adopted me. On June 11th 2011 my wife and I walked to the front of our church and we baptized into Christ. Some would say that I live life now in a metaphoric cage constructed of do’s and don’ts, and thou shalt not’s. Some may say that I deny myself freedom to live as I please. I’d say to them, the cage door is always open. I stay here because it’s better. I see guys all the time that try to be their own god and wonder why their lives are in shambles. They wonder why their marriage fell apart, they have problems staying sober, all of that ugly stuff. I’d say to them, you don’t make a very good god because you aren’t God. People were made to worship. You may call it something else, but all people worship something. You may say you “live for…” That’s worship. It’s usually money, yourself, or both. People who worship something besides God and think their lives are flawless are the worst off. Your life is missing something and you just don’t see it. We were made to worship God. Now I’m the guy at the grocery store saying, “I’m blessed far more than I could ever imagine.” This is a cage? Fine, I’ll take the cage.

  • Thanks to God

I have a dearly devoted wife, and 3 children with one more coming, a roof over my head, and a means to take care of it all by the grace of God. I couldn’t have gotten this right on my own with all the time in the world. If I had none of the possessions I have now, like my house, my car, my job—I’d still have my family, people who love me, my God, and my church. Even if I wanted to stop using drugs, which I didn’t, I never would have gotten where I am now without God and this church, his people. Honestly it’s the great feeling of acceptance that kept me coming back here. I said before, I had the misconception that church people were all cookie cut outs of each other. I learned that that is completely false, and in fact the body of Christ would completely fail if we all were all the same. God knows us, he knows how to use our strengths, and he has plans for us all, which are all different. I’m not a preacher, or a musician or counselor, which use to bum me out. But now I know that I’m meant for something. There’s something that I’m great at that I can do to glorify God, and I’m just trying to figure out what it is and go! That’s what led me to be up here talking to you.

  • The bottom line

There’s a woman that is a great friend of my family, and of all yours too probably. She’s HAS to be the most positive influence on people I’ve ever seen. She truly is a light in this dark world. She sends me book suggestions and videos and lots of resources whenever she thinks I could use them. I don’t know if sometimes I have a look about me that she can read, and knows what I need or how she does it. But she sent me a video of a guy preaching, and if she hadn’t I probably wouldn’t be speaking here today. This guy was preaching at a women’s gathering none the less. At first I was like, “what am I watching? Why did she send me this?” I kept watching and at the end he said, “Whatever you’ve got to give, you got give it away. Even if all you have to give is to tell someone I know how that road ends, its ugly, turn away. If that’s what you have to give, then By God give it.” I’ve got a job in this world, and I’m making sure I don’t miss it.

To be completely real, everybody in this room is someone that I look up to. I’m not talking to kids that I can offer advice to, and keep you away from a terrible path that you’ll later regret going down. Speaking here today is more for me than for anyone else. I’m just trying to follow where I’m being led. I’m trying to figure out where I’m supposed to be, and what I’m supposed to be doing. But if nothing else, if you take away anything from me speaking today, I’d hope that you remember just how awesome God is, and just maybe I can serve as a reminder of what exactly we are saved from on this earth. Miracles are what God does. I want to thank you for your time and the opportunity to speak, and everything else you folks have done for me and my family that you’ll probably never know. thanks, and God Bless you.

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The Bible Challenge +

 Hello everybody! My semester is finally over and I don’t have to get up at 1 am to do homework before my 6 o’clock 12 hour work shift anymore! Exciting right? As much of a time crunch as it is, I really enjoy college. This semester I took C++ programming language and a system security class that focused on managing security for an intranet using a server operating system. Very cool stuff. It was very demanding, very time consuming, and I didn’t sleep much during this semester. Alas, it’s over with, and I can let my brain cool for a few months.

 I’ve seen this Bible challenge going around on Facebook, and I’ve been tagged to participate. Usually, I don’t give much thought to chain style statuses and all that, but I figured a Bible challenge thing I can handle. However, I can write on for days about what verses I revisit, what verses are particularly special to me and why, so I thought, hey! Now is a good time to get back to blogging since the semester is over, and here’s a good subject to start off on.

Of course all of the bible is great and can help people deal with life in one way or another, but there are particular books and verses that I return to for specific purposes. I’ve started one of those “read the bible in a year” plans not very long ago. The one I’m reading is on the bible app You version which is an awesome application. It is a canonical reading plan, which means from beginning to end. So it starts in Genesis, and ends in Revelation. I also use the resources at blueletterbible.org to help me understand what I’m reading. BLB is another awesome resource for absolutely EVERYTHING bible related that a friend suggested to me, and I highly recommend that you check it out. It has loads of resources. Anyway, enough advertising. Onward you say! Get to the point!

 I love to read the bible when I’m feeling great and happy, and I just feel like reading something I haven’t read much or maybe never before at all. But I’d like to share where I go when things aren’t going so well for me. I have three particular struggles that the bible helps me with. I have more struggles than that, but these are the ones I’m willing to tell you about for free.

First, I often feel that I’m not doing something that I should be doing. It took me a long time to grow up. If I’m not careful, I get into these ruts where I feel like I need to rush to catch up to where I believe I should be at in this stage of my life. I compare myself to other people, I feel that I am behind them, and I get mad at myself. I feel like I’ve failed at something. When I actually stop and think about it, and think about God’s plan, I know that I’m wrong for feeling this way. I know that I’m right where I’m suppose to be as long as I try my best to keep doing what the bible is telling me to do, and I just pray for assistance in staying on the right path.

During these low periods of my life though, I find myself reading the book of Joshua a lot. What I get from Joshua is courage. It empowers me and reminds me not to pay attention to the negative influences around me that I come in contact with daily. It is usually listening to those influences that put me in this rut after all. I get strength and determination to keep doing what I know is right. Joshua’s determination to press on, his courage to face enemies and struggles when he was vastly outnumbered and out gunned, his unwavering faith that God had his back and there was nothing he couldn’t do if it were for the Lord– these are all things about Joshua that give me confidence and encouragement. The book of Joshua really helps me out when I’m feeling low and like I’ve failed.

There is one prayer from the bible that I have repeated far more times, often multiple times a day, than any other prayer, or verse. It comes form Psalm 19:14. It is scribbled all over notepads, school notes, my planner, and several journals, and many other places. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your eyes, Lord, my rock, my redeemer. This one comes in handy while in traffic. If I ever just lose it and snap, it will probably be because someone left their high beams on too long while driving towards me at night. This prayer has kept my head cool, and has kept me from screaming out the window what I REALLY feel like saying, on multiple occasions.

 The 19:14 prayer helps me keep my mind and my mouth in the right places. Speaking is a struggle for me regardless. I’ve gotten better I think, but I don’t really have a middle level. I’ve either got diarrhea of the mouth and I spit out words before I give them much thought, or I’m timid and shy, and avoid conversation with people because I don’t know what to say. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere that I’m hoping to find someday. The bible teaches that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. I get frustrated easily with other people, particularly in the workplace. That is where I need this prayer the most. This prayer works like a vitamin for me. I have to use it everyday for it to work. Once I stop using it, all the great help it provides me with withers away. That’s just the way it has been for me. It takes constant daily effort to keep my mouth and heart clean. Thats why its a struggle.

The last struggle I’ll describe takes the biggest toll on me. It would only make sense that I save the biggest one for last right? The subject seems to be an ever prevalent theme in my writing, in my everyday life. I didn’t always hold the bible or Jesus for that matter in such high regard. I wasn’t always a believer, a Christian. I don’t like saying that “I wasn’t always and Christian.” I don’t like how vague the word “Christian” has become (or maybe always has been for that matter) I don’t like using a word that anyone can plug their own definition into. I don’t like how saying “I wasn’t always a Christian, but now I am” almost implies that I’m saying “once I was bad, but now I’m good.” That’s not what I’m saying at all, and I know I’m not “good”. “Good” is relative to whose standards our behavior is be measured by. What being a follower of Jesus means to me, is throwing the other standards of behavior out the window, and looking to the bible to see what God wants from us. I won’t recite the whole bible to you, but trust me, the answers are in there. Believe me… I’m not “good” but I’m trying.

 Okay, I’m getting to the point. The biggest thing I struggle with is my past. I know what the bible says about being forgiven, and being made new, but as a human being, it’s still hard for me to turn around and see where I’ve been, and not feel a little shame. I know I shouldn’t feel that way. Thats why its a struggle. When I first became what I’m calling a follower of Jesus I was so excited about the fact that I could start putting distance between myself and the guy I once was. In fact, I thought that If I tried hard enough, I could rub that guy out of existence. All I had to do was forget about him, don’t talk about him, pretend he never happened, and he’d go away. It’d be great! Give it a good decade or so and no one would ever have to know that I wasn’t always just a perfect happy church goer, and I wouldn’t have to remember how bad things were before. That plan didn’t last long.

One reason that plan failed is because there are some people who love to remind me of who I once was. Another reason it failed is because as I forget what I was saved from, I could forget how grateful I am for salvation. You can’t out run the past. I’m sure that line is in some old cheesy movie somewhere but wow it’s true. Also, reading the bible helps me realize that forgetting the past isn’t the right thing to do anyway.

There really isn’t one single verse or book of the bible that helps me in this area. This struggle goes deeper than having to convince myself that I’m living a different life now. It’s more just reading the bible regularly that keeps me focused on moving forward instead of falling backward toward where I once was. It’s similar to warriors training for battle. If warriors don’t practice, and work on skills and train, mentally and physically, then they will be defeated easily by formidable enemies. Regularly reading God’s word sharpens our minds and strengthens our spirit against our enemy, and our enemy is stronger than us alone.

 To deal with this struggle, I’m trying to find a way to use my life for good. One of my favorite things about God is his awesome ability to take terrible things and use them to show great things. I think that’s what I’m trying to do. I just want God to take the things that bring me shame and use them to show how awesome he is.

I’ve been taken steps lately to take this from an idea and putting it into action. I don’t have all the kinks worked out but I am feeling like I’m being led to do some things. This is going to be my focus in days to come. Being “the light on a hill” is not all that easy. I see other people do it so effortlessly. I want to do it too. So thats the direction I’m trying to head in. I’m not moving quickly, these are not steps taken lightly or easily. In fact they are kind of a big deal to me, they require facing some fears that I have happily avoided for quite sometime. But what can I say? I’ve been enjoying the light shared by other people for a while now, and I think it’s time that I turn on my own light as well, maybe I can be light that points someone else to God like so many other people have done for me.

Thanks for reading.

                                                                           forever onward  

Monsters and Men/Wounded Hearts

When I was a young boy, I played on a baseball team. I must have been around 11 or 12. Our coach was a preacher. He had a son my age that was also on the team. His son and I were friends who ran around the neighborhood together. I knew his family a little. His father was very energetic, very charismatic, and had a sense of humor that made him fun to be around. My friend’s mother was a kind hearted lovely lady. I liked them.

                A night came when my friend and I made plans for me to spend the night at his house. We were 12, of course we made plans. I consulted my assistant, he looked over my appointments, we compared them to my friends’ appointments. We each had nothing going on Saturday, so we decided that was the best day for the occasion.

                There was one dynamic to spending the night at a preacher’s house on Saturday that I did not take into consideration. Preachers get up early on Sunday morning to go to work. If I’m there on Sunday morning, I’m probably going with them. I always found it ironic that the one day most people had off of work, was the one day that preachers DID work… I’m kidding people. That’s a non-Christian kid joke. Laugh. 

                At this point in the story, I’ll point out that while my mother had taken me to church several times, kicking and screaming of course, I did not consider myself a Christian. I didn’t really know anything about Jesus, I had never cracked open a Bible by my own free will, church was nothing more than an obstacle between me and watching cartoons.

                I don’t remember anything about that night. I imagine we had fun and played too long, and stayed up too late like kids do. There was an awkward, brief instruction that my friend’s father gave me. He said something along the lines of “during church service, when I say ‘is there anyone that needs to meet the lord today,’ you come up front.” There was more to it, but that was the gist. As a young boy who wanted nothing to do with church, all I heard was “there is going to be a point in this service that will become very, very awkward for you, you will be dreading it the whole time.” As an adult, I look back and can clearly hear him say “this is a perfect opportunity for me to try and improve my reputation. My entire service will see God working in me to save a young boy, but really, we’ll just rig the show before it begins. It will have devastating effects on you for the rest of your life and would constitute child abuse today, but the greater need for me to impress my church service out-weighs all consequences.”

                I probably don’t have to tell you that this church service didn’t go well. It was a small church. I don’t remember there being more than twenty to thirty people there, probably. It was in a small building. While there, this preacher and I did pray for my grandma because her health was fading. Shortly after this her health improved for a while. My friend and I sat with his mother. We mostly whispered back and forth, and played around, and did whatever we could to kill time. I don’t remember anything else about the service. I remember the preacher’s voice getting louder. He could plainly see that his son and I weren’t paying any attention. I was missing my cue. I had no idea what was going on. I remember not a single word of what the preacher said, but I remember his voice getting louder and louder. Eventually he began yelling, and his face turned red. At one point his wife tried to help me out. She signaled that I was supposed to be going up to the front. At this point, I was afraid to go. The preacher was yelling. He was very intimidating. People were looking all around as if something was supposed to happen. Something WAS supposed to happen. I, a young boy, was supposed to be playing my role in this show, and going up before the entire service, and repent of my sins, admit that Jesus is my savior—even though I had no idea what any of that meant at the time. I was frozen. I sat firmly in my seat and looked at the floor. I was scared. Eventually the preacher moved on. It was over. I missed my cue, but I felt relief.

                We use this practice at Cedar Creek, where my family and I currently attend. At the end of the service, the preacher offers the opportunity for anyone who feels compelled to offer themselves to the lord, or just talk to the preacher or whatever else they intend to do. Typically, this is when people who want to be saved, walk up and confess that they believe in Jesus, and go to be baptized. You do not use this as an avenue to win the favor of your church members, to improve your reputation, to impress people, through basically abusing a child. That’s what I believe he was doing. Perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps he was really interested in saving a young boy’s soul and trying to give him a better future, and help direct him down the right path. I doubt it. That doesn’t happen through extreme pressure, behind the backs of a child’s parents, and it typically doesn’t happen in a day. As a preacher, he knew all that. No, I believe he saw me as a freebie, a sure thing, instant ego boost, a desperate attempt at expanding his church. It failed. He was angry.

                Want to know how to give a kid social anxiety, mess his head up a little bit, and contribute to making him socially dysfunctional and broken? Make a lot of friends in your community, become well liked, put yourself in a position where kids are meant to look up to you and see you as a role model, and then tell a young boy that he is going to hell. That’ll do it.

                Baseball wasn’t the same anymore. My friend and I didn’t play much anymore. I don’t think he was allowed to associate with me after that. We didn’t compare schedules ever again. I was the pitcher on our team. The last time I remember ever hearing my coach talk to me was during a game. I was pitching. I wasn’t doing that great. I threw a few wild balls, and I missed a catch which led to a kid running home and scoring a point. My coach came out to the mound. Parents, you know that funny voice you speak in when you are trying to quietly scream at someone? You know… where you clinch your jaw shut and whisper-scream through your teeth? In that voice, with that scrunched up face, he kept repeating “I’m doing this for YOU! I’m doing you a favor!” and moved me to third base. I bawled my eyes out in front of everyone. In my mind, he was a monster after that. That was my last year in baseball. Shortly after that he and his family moved away.

 

                Now if you are someone who is not a Christian, don’t take this story and use it to say “see? Christians are all hypocrites. They’re bad people!” No, Christian people are still people. The bible says several times in different places, the nature of man is to be wicked and evil, the heart is deceitful. Yes, it applies to us Christians as well. We know it, but thanks for the reminder. We don’t instantly become perfect after rising up out of the water of baptism. Maybe this man felt bad after all this. Maybe he was sorry. Maybe he prayed for forgiveness. I don’t know. I hope he eventually realized that it was wrong.

I know I wasn’t the only kid to be mistreated by an adult. Maybe some of you had a similar experience or even worse, but handled it better. I don’t know why this had such a profound effect on me. Maybe it’s partially because he was someone I trusted and looked up to. If he were just some guy I didn’t know I may have just thrown toilet paper all over his yard and called it a day. Whatever the case, it has never been very far from my mind.  If you’ve ever read any of my blogs before, I have referenced this experience several times. I never really thought I’d write about it, but recent events made it inevitable. I wish I could wrap this up with a warm encouraging message right here, but it only gets worse.

The day my wife and I were baptized, I excitedly rattled this story off to my preacher. I was so happy. You see, it is absolutely amazing that even given this experience to struggle with I was able to come to know Jesus. For well over a decade, the typical preacher to me was represented by this guy from my childhood. Preachers were wicked people as far as I was concerned. I simply did not believe that they actually cared about other people. I felt that there had to be something under the surface that normal people didn’t see, something to gain from what they were doing. They didn’t do it out of love. I just didn’t buy that.

 It is with every fiber of my being, that I believe Jesus wants me to know him. It is with every fiber of my being that I believe Jesus can reach a heart, even behind a rough, hateful, distrusting exterior. I sincerely believe that He placed me before the preacher that God had every intention of using to reach me. God knew I would trust this guy. God made him trustworthy. I learned that this guy was honest, and sincere. He never tried to “sell” God to me. He’s my friend. God new it would take a miracle to get me to trust a preacher, and what does God deal in? Oh right, miracles. If I would have gone to any other church, and listened to any other preacher talk about God, I don’t think I’d be a Christian today. It was such a fragile, sensitive, and delicate time for me. It had to be God’s way.

My preacher doesn’t need me to butter his biscuit, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. Although, in the process I learned that there are people on God’s team that are really doing God’s work out of love, as it is meant to be done. My point though, is that God can take what people do out of evil, and use it for good. God does. Not people. My preacher had no idea what he was dealing with when I came to his service, he just did his thing. God knew. God performs miracles people.

There’s more story.  Remember I said it gets worse? So here I am. I’m a Christian now. I’m supposed to love people right? I felt compelled to reach out to my old childhood friend, maybe even see what his dad was doing these days. I didn’t know what I expected to accomplish, but I’d dip my feet in the water. This is the most haunting, troubling experience of my life so far, and I’m taking a huge step here. So what do you do when you want to find someone you haven’t spoken to in fifteen years? That’s right, Facebook. I looked for my old friend on Facebook. I couldn’t find him. I poked around a bit more and stumbled across my old coach’s Facebook account. After digging around a little bit, I learned something disturbing. Well first, I didn’t see much that indicated that he was a preacher anymore. Secondly, I couldn’t find my old friend because he died. Several years ago, while I was absolutely hating this guy for treating me like he did when I was a kid, his oldest son was dying. I felt as if someone with a giant foot kicked me in the chest.

A little bit about myself, this is my blog and I can talk about myself all I want. I have a mind that never stops running away. It’s like having my foot on the gas, all of the time.  It’s never calm. Maybe it’s an attention issue.  I don’t know. Is it A.D.D.? Do I have a condition? I know, I need medication! (kidding again) My mind is like a helium balloon. If I’m not holding on to the string, that is focusing on something, it floats away. I’m typically quiet, not always, but usually not very assertive.  I’m great at being open and social with a very small group of people, like two. Any more than that, and I go totally internal. However, my mind is always going a million miles an hour. I internalize everything. Behind my eyes there is a machine, pistons constantly moving, gears constantly turning, blasting, hydraulics pumping, noise booming, friction, steam, hot oil squirting, parts slamming, heat rising, no off switch, no buttons, just perpetual, loud, motion. Okay, maybe it’s a bit more like a little wheel, spinning and squeaking without a hamster. It’s the same idea. I think this is one of the reasons I can’t sit and watch a television show. Maybe it’s part of the reason I like to write so much. Focusing for me is like turning your ceiling fan on hi and staring at one blade while the whole thing turns.

                Learning about my friend’s death was upsetting. I didn’t handle it well. I had regrets. I was absolutely torn about how to feel. I thought about it constantly. For days, I thought about my friend, and how his father felt. His father… That’s what I got hung up on. You see, I made this guy a monster in my own mind. I spent years, seriously, years, angry. I hated how he used me, how angry he became when things didn’t go as planned. For years, I have hated how much this one experience has affected me, how I’ve carried it with me all this time. I have put so much effort, and time, and energy, into being so angry, and in an instant, a decade and a half of hate turned into remorse. Now I’m mad about being mad. My childhood monster became a man again. He became a sad suffering man who I instantly felt sorry for. The vision in my mind of a cruel beast screaming and snarling at a frightened little boy in a baseball uniform was replaced by a man. A man surrounded by loved ones in black dress attire, crying in front of a casket.

                If you spend so much time thinking about something, and with a mind like mine, it is quite easy to find a way to blame yourself for something. Lord knows I have. Where once there was a mountain of anger, there is now a crater being filled with remorse, regret, wonder, and doubt. As well as shame for having been so angry all these years in the first place. Looking back on the experience as a kid I now wonder, why didn’t I just stand up? I’ve been so self-righteous all these years, what if I was wrong? If I would have stood up, would my friend still be alive? Would his dad still be a preacher? Was he punished for something? Did I have something to do with it? Why is this affecting me all over again? Sometimes I can’t help but to just wish I never went there that morning. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I could have done something fifteen years ago to prevent all this. All I had to do was stand up. I know that makes no sense to you. It haunted me for years and it’s haunting me again.

                Learning all this a few months ago made me go internal. I just went inside for a couple months. All through the Thanksgiving season, through Christmas, it took a little while to be able to come back out again. But I did a lot of thinking. My friend died almost eleven years ago now. I didn’t lose a close family member in this situation, but I have friends who are dealing with loss now. Some friends are dealing with other hardships. The absolute truth is that we all struggle with something. Anyone who thinks they have it all together is lying to themselves. You’ve got something you are fighting with inside. All of us, at church, at work, where ever you go, we all shake hands, and smile, and say “I’m great!” I wonder how often that’s done out of habit. I hope you have a close friend you can go to, or someone willing to listen. I wish I wasn’t too stubborn to talk to a friend. I wish I knew how to start. I guess this is me talking to a friend now. Believe me it’s a sense of relief. Therapeutic even. But even if you have no one, or think you have no one, you can always go to God. I know some believers feel like they’ve heard that a thousand times. It can feel like the default response to a problem. I know not everyone believes it’s the truth, but try it. Really try it. You can pray, you can read the bible, you can go to people who are long time bible believing, Jesus loving followers. He’s there. Sometimes, all you can do is focus on the blessings you have. Just know that you are loved. It’s okay to suffer, we are meant to suffer, but do it in the loving arms of God and his people.  

The honest truth is that it still saddens me to think about my old friend. In the big picture, I know it’s not my fault that he lost his life. God works in mysterious ways that we are not capable of always understanding. I’m sad for my friend, and I’m sad that this man that I made a monster in my mind lost his oldest son. I’m shameful that I never took the time in the past decade to look my friend up. I just sat here hating some poor guy that I should have been loving. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to just love people. Hopefully we all will. Thanks for reading. Forever onward. 

                A friend offered me these words. They helped and encouraged me to write again.   You write like you are everyone’s best friend – so easy to relate to and laugh with. My own daughter, at the ripe age of barely 20,said I, too, overfocus on my past history. It is helping to, every time I get troubled (sometimes five times in ten minutes, it seems), to not say I love you, God, but to focus on God loving me, the way I am, the circumstances be damned! You, too, are a valuable child of God, Dustin, and you are precious with whatever baggage you may have on your mind.

Input Output and Choice

When I was about 9, someone took me and about 10 other kids and stuck us all in a dingy little trailer in a parking lot. It smelled funny, and it was cramped. I didn’t know what they wanted with us. I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted them to let me out so I could go home. I was terrified, and it was of course, the bible study trailer! I went to a public school, which means they weren’t permitted to teach about Jesus. To allow someone to talk about Jesus to kids is just downright intolerant and closed minded, so they made sure to stay open-minded and tolerant, and so that kind of talk was forbidden. Instead, these people went around with trailers and put them in parking lots of elementary schools where they WERE permitted to teach about Jesus. My mom signed me up. I had no idea that she did, and when they came to pull me out of class for the bible study trailer, I pleaded that they let me stay in class. It was an exercise in futility. They had all they needed, which was my mom’s signature. It was uncomfortable and I felt goofy for being there. I didn’t want to be one of “those kids”. I felt like the other kids were laughing at us, and I didn’t like it. I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescent years trying hard to fit in.  I don’t think it worked, and frankly I think it backfired on me in my adult years. All I wanted to do was fit in, now I feel like I can’t relate to anyone. Anyway, I’m babbling… onward!

Sometimes when I reflect on memories like this, I just laugh at myself. It is so ironic. I don’t know how many weeks this bible study trailer thing went on for, but I took practically nothing from it. I did take this gooey sticky stuff they used to stick posters to walls. It was sort of like playdoh, and I sat next to a poster. I was 9, I really liked playdoh, and it was delicious. The absolute ONLY other thing I remember from this trailer is a song we sang. I remember it vividly. I wish I knew who taught that class because I would call them and thank them.  The song went like this, “input, output, what goes in is what comes out. Input output, which daily we must choose.” I have held on to this song for 21 years. I cannot imagine what else I may have learned if I actually paid any attention what so ever to the bible study trailer lady. But this song is true! And I have actually applied the message in it to things in my life, even before I was saved. I LOVE this song. I sing it to my daughters. Bible study trailer lady, where ever you are, whoever you are, thank you so much.

Here’s the idea. Whatever you surround yourself with, whatever you give your attention to, whatever you dwell on, whatever you meditate on, whatever you study, these are things that you keep close to, or in your heart. Do you think that sounds goofy? “Just because I like certain TV shows and bands doesn’t mean they are in my heart.” Yes it does. At your core, the heart of you, you keep and protect the things you care about, and give your attention to. You may even get offended if someone else has something negative to say about them. These things influence you. You may even say that you “love” those things. They are in your heart. The things that fill your heart are “input.”

If you aren’t a Christian and don’t believe any of the Jesus stuff, then recall the saying, “you are what you eat.” The bible says it this way in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” In Mathew 12:34, “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I learned it this way at 9, in a little trailer, in a parking lot, “what goes in is what comes out.” It’s your output. It’s a product of your input. I think this is a part that some folks have trouble with. I’m not sure why. I don’t think they have trouble believing it as much as they do admitting it. Maybe some folks are just prideful and don’t want to admit that something, other than themselves, has control over who they are. I am familiar with that feeling. It is why I was so angry when I failed every time I tried to quit smoking. Cigarettes had that much control over me, and I hated it. I beat tobacco with lots of help. I didn’t do it on my own, because I wasn’t able to. That pride is worthless. If you don’t believe that then just keep reading and heckle me for being wrong. I’ll give you something to think about before the end, and I’ll try to make this more applicable for you.

If you are hanging with me on the idea of input and output, and this makes just a little sense to you, let me offer you this now. You really do get to choose what you put in to your heart. You don’t always get to choose your situation, but you can choose what you listen to, what you read, and what you think about. Logically, this means that you also get to choose what NOT to listen to, read or think about. That’s the last part of the song, “which daily we must choose.” Even at 9 years old people were trying to teach me that I get to choose what I put into my heart.

   The easiest way to see this is by observing how people watch TV. What channels do you watch on TV? You get to hold a little box in your hand that changes the channels. You can flip through them until you find something you CHOOSE to watch. Believe it or not, you hold a little metaphoric black box for every part of your life that you use to choose your input. Friends, you can flip through them, places you go, you can flip through them, what you do on a Saturday night, all kinds of channels, books you read, tons of stations, the list goes on and on. You have a lot of control over what is in your heart. When you turn on a radio station, when you turn on a TV you are choosing your input.

If your output is a product of your input, then by choosing your input, you can affect your output. This is the point I’ve been dying to get to. You have a choice. There is a myth today that is so destructive, and so dangerous, and yet it is so lucrative and it is used to control people. It is a myth that is used to take away your ability to choose your input, and thereby affect your output. You are controlled. If you agree with nothing else you have read to this point, please believe this… The myth of today is that if something is available, it cannot be bad for. Everything that the world has to offer you, as long as it is legal, cannot be wrong. Tell me you don’t buy this. If something is sitting on a shelf at the store, then you can assume that the creators of that product definitely have your best interests in mind, right? It sounds pretty ridiculous when explained that way doesn’t it?

When I was very young, I went to the grocery store with my mom. I wondered down the candy aisle and found something I wanted. It was a tube of gel-like candy that was supposed to be a candy version of toothpaste. It came with a little colorful toy-like toothbrush. It didn’t have real bristles, but it had big bumps where bristles would be. Moms, does this not make you cringe? Have you ever had to pay for a stainless steel cap on a 4 year old? This was a candy/toy that was used to actually brush candy down into your teeth. All those little crevices and don’t forget to get way in the back behind the molars. If my mom bought the lie that everything available was good for you she would have said “oh, well gee, that can’t be bad. I mean, this candy company surely cares about the dental hygiene and health of my children, I’ll just get that for you.” My mother isn’t that naïve thank the Lord.  The company that made that candy didn’t care about my teeth, they didn’t care how much money my mom spent on dental work. There is a stronger argument that the toy was created by dentists that wanted more clients! Their only concern was marketing something to get kids to want it, and then beg and plead with their parents to get it for them until they drive their parents crazy. That is also why it was a foot and a half off the ground (just at my level), and right near the checkout lane (my mom was already exhausted from shopping and was more vulnerable to me begging her for something). 

Availability does not make something healthy or safe. This is not exclusive to things that are tangible. It goes for things you put in your mind as well. This is more to the point that I’m going for. The things that you watch on TV or listen to on the radio are input. You fill your mind which will also fill your heart. That’s input.

What are two things that can really drive up sales at the box office for a movie? They really seem to excite people and get their attention on TV. Popular musicians love to sing about them, authors make a real killing writing about them. I’ll tell ya! It is of course, sex and violence. The bible calls them murder and adultery/sexual immorality. Most people understand that committing murder is a terrible thing, but not everyone believes or knows that Jesus equated hating someone to murder. There are ways we commit murder in our hearts. Hate is equal to murder in the eyes of God. Chew on that. I won’t beat you over the head with that. I think adultery and sexual immorality are larger problems today. I think that what makes them problematic is that they are no longer profound subjects. They are considered very casual. They are in your face everywhere you look, and our culture doesn’t take them as serious as it should.

 Adultery is actually too strong of a word for most of the world today, so we have come up with a word that is less offensive. When people who are married go outside of their marriage to meet a need that should only be met by their spouse, they don’t say “I’m committing adultery,” they water it down and say, “I’m having an affair.” No, it is committing adultery, but those words sound kind of ugly, and might make someone feel convicted. No one wants to stand in court and say “I have been committing adultery.” It means that you’ve done something you should not have done. It is far easier to justify, and explain your way out of an “affair.” You can even blame an “affair” on your spouse. “She neglected me, she didn’t give me any attention, I wasn’t getting what I wanted from her, she forced me to have an affair to fill my needs.” No, you committed adultery. I know that sounds more profound, but it is meant to. It is a profound thing.

Sexual immorality refers to a whole slew of things that will probably offend just about everyone. Going out on the weekends looking for different girls to pick up, different dudes to pick up, very cool and celebrated when guys do it, hurtful despicable titles reserved for girls when they do, both are sexual immorality. I think you get the point, and I won’t club you over the head with this one either. The bible is very clear on what constitutes sexual immorality. Check it out, it’s in there.

You can say, “Well I don’t believe in the bible and I don’t believe that those things are really bad. Violence is on TV and sex is on the Internet. Deal with it.” First, you are a real trooper to read this blog post this far and not be a bible believing Christian, so thank you for sticking with me. Secondly, I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard that. It doesn’t take being a Christian to believe that sexual immorality and murder are terrible things for a person to commit. You know they are. Do you know how I know that you know they are? Because you don’t want your kids to commit them. If you have a very young son or daughter, when you look at their adorable little face, you don’t hope that they grow up to be violent and promiscuous. Don’t you hope that they become respectable, and dedicated? I pray to God that my kids become respectable and dedicated, dedicated to what they do with their lives, their career, their spouse, I hope great things for them. I pray that they make wise choices. I don’t want to ever have to go bail my kids out of jail. They will mess up. I hope they don’t mess up as much as I did. They will mess up all on their own. They don’t need encouragement from TV, or the radio, or friends, or anywhere else to help them mess up. That is why, it is important to fill them with good input, because you want positive output from them, right? Back to my myth…

Availability is not a gauge for acceptability. Often times, it is quite the opposite, especially in terms of input for your mind, but the majority of people accept what is available as a standard. That is why society today embraces things like promiscuous sex, and pokes fun at “40 year old virgins.” We can’t even fathom someone staying a virgin for that long without making fun of them. This fact is also the reason why there are 7 year old little kids cursing me out when I play online video games. Think I’m exaggerating? Get on there and check it out. It’s ugly. Find me a TV show about how faithful a married couple is, and I’d be willing to bet you that it’s a comedy. If a show’s characters are not being sexually promiscuous, then the theme of the show has nothing to do with that aspect of their lives. Otherwise, I bet it isn’t popular. Popular TV is not about faithful spouses, it is about sex and violence, because sex and violence sells, and people have bought the myth that it does nothing to harm you.

You may be offended if you think that I’m trying to teach you how to raise your kids. I’m not, I think you love your kids and you want the best for them. I’m speaking to adults. To you who seriously doubt what I’m saying, I ask you this. If my claim is false, then why can I, right now, go on the Internet and buy a zombie apocalypse survival kit for over 20k dollars? Because people are out of their minds, that’s why. It’s out there. I won’t advertise for them, but you can go google it. You’ll find it rather quickly. There is a slew of them. There is a market for it. It is what happens when a whole country becomes obsessed with how cool a zombie apocalypse would be. These are adults. Some say, “it’s just  TV!” I know! But people are taking it seriously. It’s spilling over into aspects of life where it doesn’t need to be. We don’t need anti zombie apocalypse kits. You know why? Because zombies aren’t coming. There’s also a Christian’s (and I use the term loosely) swingers dating site that has in their slogan “the bible says judge not lest ye be judge, and there’s also that verse about casting the first stone”. Never in ALL my life have I seen a verse plucked from scripture and made to mean something it was NEVER meant to mean, in order to fit someone’s lifestyle in a more clear way than that. It is appalling. Input to output, people.

But you can choose what you fill your head with. Change the channel on your remote. You don’t have to participate in what is popular. What’s popular is sex and violence. There’s more out there than that. Am I saying you shouldn’t listen to anything but worship music, and you shouldn’t watch any TV, and you shouldn’t drink, and you shouldn’t hang out with anyone who does? It wouldn’t hurt you any, but absolutely not.  I watch zombie movies too. I’m saying, remember that it IS profound! Don’t make sex and violence into something casual. I just want to share what the bible says; “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Monitor what you put into your heart. There’s garbage out there, they shovel it at us with a promise and a smile, and we really do get to choose whether or not to accept it. Anyone who knew me ten years ago would say that I have no right to tell people how to spend their time. I’d tell you, you’re right. But I’d like to share with you what happened to me anyway. I quit believing the myth, and I changed my input. I realized how profound life is, and how precious it is, and I wanted to know what made it so precious, and where it came from. I found it. It’s in the Bible. I found out how to love and how to respect, and I found out about marriage, and I found out about Jesus. It was extraordinary, and it changed my life. I don’t think it’s just a good book, or just good for business, I think its truth and I believe it is from God. “For faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God”. I’ll leave ya with this last little bit. If in your heart, you feel that you aren’t completely satisfied with your output, examine your input. Why do you screen yourself around certain people? Why is something okay for you but not for your kids? Is it really okay for you, or is it just something you crave that has a negative effect on you, and you know it? You get to choose your input.