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Thank You Jeff!

Good Morning Everyone! I am deeply honored to be nominated by my friend Jeff for the Mystery Blogger Award. I’m equally embarrassed by my slow response time. Spring is a busy time for our farm. I’ve failed to take time to write over the last couple of weeks!

I recently began to follow Jeff at http://www.jeffonamission.wordpress.com. His tagline – “Chef, Writer, Janitor” grabbed my attention right away. I love people who wear the hats of a servant…

What is the Mystery Blogger Award?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.

– Okoto Enigma

Rules:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your post.
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blogging sites. https://jeffonamission.wordpress.com/
  4. Answer their questions.
  5. Mention the creator of this award (Okoto Enigma)
  6. Tell your readers three things about you.
  7. Nominate 10-20 bloggers
  8. Notify nominees by commenting on their blog post.
  9. Ask your nominees five questions of your choice.
  10. Share a link to your best post(s). https://gregoryjoel.com/  

My nominees for inspiring blogs are listed below:

https://peacehacks.com

https://valeriecullers.com/

https://mitchteemley.com/

https://chelseaannowens.com/

https://refarmer.ca/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/

https://gcdiaries.wordpress.com

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/

https://feedingonjesus.com/

https://hegavemeamelody.com

Three Things About Me:

  1. I get to do what I love every day! God asked (He’s always the gentleman) me to be a farmer and I said okay…
  2. I’m “no good at being bad”, as my friend Jim would say. It only took me 48 years to figure that out…
  3. I believe that grace and gratitude are as necessary as food and water.

Questions From Jeff:

  1. What’s your favorite go-to Bible verse? – Geez, talk about a tough one. You don’t mess around do you Jeff? I’m not sure if I can name one. It seems to change on any given day. I guess the most frequent verse that comes up is Philippians 4. 11-13 from The Message version: “Actually I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether I’m full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”
  2. Where did you grow up? – I was born in Fort Worth, TX. My Dad was transferred to Denver, CO when I was nine and I went to high school and university there. I returned to Fort Worth in 1986 and haven’t left since.
  3. How long does it take you to compose a post? – It varies (wildly at times). It depends on whether it’s for a client or personal and how much research I need to do.
  4. Would you consider guest-blogging if asked? – I would be honored to do so if asked.
  5. If someone you love is dying and has yet to know Jesus, what’s your best one-liner to bring them to Christ? (Obviously this would be Spirit led, but just play along) – I sat and thought about this for a very long time. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d say. I’ve tried to imagine various scenarios and I come up empty. This is truly one of those questions I leave to a prompting of the Spirit. I’ve sat with several friends and family through the end of their lives. Each needing Jesus to be shown through different actions. I believe that at times like these, there are few words to say. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach everywhere. If necessary, use words”.

You all are amazing! I’m so happy to be a part of the WordPress community!

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Roll Away the Stone…

Thoughts From the Porch

Happy Easter! The rain passed last night, and brilliant sunshine filled our quiet cul-de-sac. The trees are almost a neon green reflecting the bright light. There’s an unusual silence these days. The birds are still singing but the distant interstate is void of traffic. The ‘stay at home’ order applies to Easter church services so there’s few people going anywhere, particularly on an early Sunday morning. Such is life during the coronavirus…

Today’s Easter service came via Facebook Live. It was typical of most church Easter services – a time of praise and worship followed by a message about the cross. I wondered how we came to see the cross as the symbol of Christianity. I get the sacrifice and atonement ideas, but the cross was absent from the early Church. The cross was an ugly symbol of Rome’s occupation and violence. The persecuted Christian minority didn’t exactly see it as a religious icon.

It wasn’t until 318 C.E. that Christianity became an accepted, and then state, religion. According to legend, Constantine the Great had a vision of a cross and the words in hoc signo vinces (“in this sign you will conquer”). He promised to pledge himself to Christianity if he could defeat his rival, Maxentius, for the throne. Though outnumbered by Maxentius, he won the battle and became Emperor decreeing Christianity to be the state religion. The cross became an icon for the Church.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I often wonder what the early Christians thought about all this. They had every reason to be suspicious of the Emperor’s edict. Previously persecuted and reviled (‘Christian’ was a term of derision) tends to lead to suspicion. Moreover, I wonder how they viewed the new iconography of the cross.

I’m not trying to diminish the power of Jesus’ death on the cross, but I’m wondering if we haven’t concentrated on the wrong symbol. The cross has become so commonplace its lost meaning. It’s just a nice piece of jewelry most of the time. Hey, I’ve worn one…

Maybe I should wear a rock instead. You know, the stone that was rolled away (it’s a bit difficulty to wear an empty tomb…). It reminds me that I met the resurrected Jesus: the one who gives life “abundantly” (John 10.10): or as The Message puts it “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. The resurrected Jesus brought me into a life better than I could ever had imagined. That, my friends, is truly good news. Living life to the full…

Jesus summed it up well in his first recorded public speaking engagement:

“When he stood up to read (at his synagogue), he was handed the scroll of Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place it is written,

God’s Spirit is on me;

He’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act’!”

(Luke 4.17-21)

That sounds like a pretty good life to me…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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A Day of Prophetic Mourning and Action

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on this day in 1968. Over fifty years later we still face the same issues he spoke and acted so passionately about. The time for a radical revolution of our morals and values has never been more needed.

#MLK taught us 50 yrs ago, what #COVID19 teaches us today: living wages, guaranteed health care for all, unemployment & labor rights are issues of right vs. wrong & life vs. death. #PoorPeoplesCampaign‬ 

‪Join us June 20, 2020: june2020.org

You can’t say you support #MLK and not support the policies he fought & died for! #EndRacism #EndPoverty #EndMilitarism #SaveTheEarth 

Join the #PoorPeoplesCampaign on June 20, 2020 for the Digital Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington: june2020.org

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And God Said It Was Good…

Thoughts From the Porch

It was unusually quiet on the porch this morning. The birds were still singing, kept in time by the staccato beat of our neighborhood woodpecker, but there was no city sounds in the background – only a peaceful silence. Some would attribute to the “shelter in place” order we’re presently under. I prefer to believe that God quieted the noise so I could hear the beauty of birdsong and bask in the joy of a new morning.

I’ll exchange online church services for working at the farm this morning. A big rain is predicted for tomorrow and there’s tomatoes to get in before it comes. Besides, farming is its own worship service in so many ways. There are lessons to be learned from the never-ending process of life, death, and rebirth that only a garden can give.

From the very beginning in the Genesis creation story, God thought a garden was a good place for man to start. He planted a garden and gave it over to the care of the human beings He created in His own image:

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, yes, the Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth’.

God created human beings; He created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.

God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.” (Genesis 1.26-28 – The Message- emphasis mine)

Working at the farm is a reminder of God’s instruction to be responsible for the Earth He gave us. I grew up hearing that passage as one of “having dominion over” rather than “taking care of” the gift of creation. I understand the difference today. Working in the soil, watching the crops grow, and seeing the happy faces of the ones who receive our produce is what was intended all along – be responsible and help others…

I take that responsibility serious at Opal’s Farm. That’s why I practice regenerative farming. I want to nourish and replenish the soil and leave it better than I found it. I take care of the gift entrusted to me. That’s what responsibility (and gratitude) is all about. I can’t take care of everything, but I can easily be responsible for my little place in the word. My prayer is that we’ll all do the same.

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Looking For An Out

Thoughts From the Porch

Like most kids, I put a lot of energy into pushing the boundaries imposed by my parents. Being a people-pleaser by nature, I constantly sought ways to do what I wanted to do while keeping the appearance of being the good son. I was always looking for an “out”. I became so good at it that my mom would frequently suggest I become a lawyer when I grew up. After all, lawyers are experts at finding loopholes, at rationalizing behavior. Might as well get paid for it, right…

I’m not unique in this ability. It tends to be a common trait among human beings. Everyone looks for an out: a way to bend societal rules for their benefit, to make unacceptable, self-centered, or somewhat dubious behavior okay. Some are just better at it than others. I know. I have kids…

The whole process is about justification. The dictionary defines justification as “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” For example, I still smoke (cigarettes, not weed. I live in Texas, not Colorado). I am once again in the process of trying to quit. I know they’re bad for me. Everyone knows they’re unhealthy. It’s a nasty habit. They stink, they cost way too much, and constant smoke breaks up my productive time (I don’t smoke in my office so I have to go outside). Everything screams out “stop smoking”!

Knowing all these things I will still try to find my out; the loophole that cosigns my bulls**t. I remember reading an old Rolling Stone interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They were into healthy living – good diet, exercise, good rest. The interviewer asked them why they still smoke if they’re so into health.

Their response always stuck with me – “We’re macrobiotic people”. What in heaven’s name does that mean?

The dictionary defines macrobiotic as “constituting, relating to, or following a diet of whole pure prepared foods that is based on Taoist principles of the balance of yin and yang.” Now I’m not judging, but what does that have to do with the unhealthy habit of smoking?

It’s a prime example of justification, of how we find an “out”. It may be plausible. It sure sounds good, but smoking is unhealthy no matter whether you’re macro or micro-biotic. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve used this excuse (and a myriad of other justifications) on occasion . Hey, I gave up my other bad habits. I’ve got to have one vice, right?

The truth is that I’m unwilling to go through nicotine withdrawal. I’d rather justify my actions than quit. I can ask God to help me quit a multitude of times but, if I’m honest with myself (and you), I’m unwilling to do my part. Justification always tends to center around my unwillingness (or outright refusal) to change or dishonesty with myself.

What’s your “out”?

In Luke 10, a religious scholar comes to Jesus with a question (and questionable motives): what do I need to do to receive eternal life? Jesus responded in His oft-used way of answering a question with a question.

“What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

The religious scholar answered:

“That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself. ‘Good answer’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you will live.’

Here it comes:

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define neighbor?” (from Luke 10. 25-29 The Message Bible

Jesus goes on to tell the story we know as the “Good Samaritan” and the lesson of being a neighbor we usually focus on. Yet, the words “looking for a loophole” jumped out at me the most, because that’s what I do – look for a loophole, an “out” to get my way, a way to justify my actions. It’s been that way for a long time…

Loopholes, and those searching for them, seemed to frustrate Jesus the most. In Luke 11.42, Jesus tells all the religious bigwigs hanging around that:

“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love.”

The takeaway is that Jesus meant what He said – love God with all you’ve got and love other people like you love yourself. If we do this, everything else takes care of itself. We don’t have to look for loopholes (I still do anyway…). My actions speak much louder than my words.

Image credit Study for the Visitation Jacopo Pontormo

I want to be all in on this Jesus thing. I don’t want an “out”. I want to become better simply being me – to be a better husband, father, brother, friend, and to love and serve others, not just as I love myself (I still have days when I’m not so loving to Greg!), but as God loves His kids.

Being all in isn’t easy. Jesus takes “common sense” and turns it upside down. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the “Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ manifesto for living. Things like ‘turning the other cheek’ and thinking of others more highly than one’s self run counter to everything in me. If I really believe Jesus meant what He said though, then I can stop looking for loopholes. After all, I didn’t see any “except when” or “buts” after His statements…

When I became a disciple, a student of “the Rabbi”, I slowly began to face the justifications that cluttered my life. Slowly but surely, they were eliminated one by one. Some I still cling to (like smoking) and try to justify their place in my life. Yet, the deeper I step in to the whole faith thing, the more difficult it becomes to hang onto them. It’s easier to find the willingness to escape them and see life as it really is.

Today I trust the process. Today I want to be all in. Maybe, just maybe, one more layer of justification will be peeled away and I come closer to the man I was always intended to be…

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Seven Years Today!

Thoughts From the Porch

Happy Texas Independence Day y’all! When I was growing up this was a state holiday, a day off from school. March 2nd was as important as July 4th, if not more so. My first memories of school were about Texas history classes. Learning about Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, and the heroes of the Alamo was one of the most important lessons to learn. Now that I’m a grown-up (that’s debatable) I think they should have been called Texas ‘myth’ classes instead. However, I’ll save that discussion for another time…

The real celebration this March 2nd is that Margaret and I have been married for seven years today. I find it difficult to put into words the joy and the love I share with this beautiful woman. Many of you know Margaret. You understand what I mean.

Margaret, I love you more with each passing day. I didn’t think that possible. I’m constantly amazed by your grace and love for others. Your love for God and your quiet strength is probably what the writer of Proverbs 31 had in mind.

“A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds…

She’s quick to assist anyone in need, reaches out to help the poor…

When she speaks, she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly…

Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise: Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all! Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises!” (from Proverbs 31 – The Message)

Happy Anniversary Baby! I love you. It is my honor and privilege to be your husband!

My favorite picture of us!