Faux Dat!

I’m thinking about completing, with an exclamation point, my fan-hood for all things Saintly in the next few days. Yep, I’m going to take it over the top and buy myself one of those personalized, official NFL jerseys that go for a couple of hundred bucks or so. You know the ones, the real deal. The ones that people go crazy over and must be taken into account for in crime statistics as they relate to the inner cities – in a very real way those jerseys have become a form of currency, if you honestly think about it. (You may have to whirl that around in your mind for a minute or two, but I’m trying to be honest here.)

The first step will be to decide which team member I want to personify as I wear my new purchase. I like Drew Brees, but I also like Lance Moore because he’s a little guy like me. Darren Sharper is another one of my favorites. Jeremy Shockey could be the most popular Saint, but I don’t know…

I saw on TV where you could get a random number and put your own name on the back should you choose to do so, and that just might be the route for me to take. A double-zero and ‘Johnson’ on the title bar would be really hip. Or a lineman number since I’m shorter and stockier than I used to be. If I pull it off, I might possibly be mistaken for a real Saint’s player. Maybe I could even fool my own self into believing that I am a Saints star on his day off, going to Wal-Mart or eating at Wow’s. Me signing autographs, saying things like “Um, yeah, I’m Shannon Johnson, number 00 in your programs but number one in your heart. I’m only on the practice squad this year, but just wait till next year!”

I probably couldn't pull that one off – too many Saints jerseys floating around in public these days, and besides, what’s the point? I could never fool myself. I’m too old and not stout enough for the big leagues. I was never actually drafted or signed to a contract, and I never attended training camp. I can’t be a Saints player by merely wearing an official jersey I purchased off the Internet. I’d be a fraud, a fake, and in the end I’d still just be plain ole me.

I was chewing on these thoughts the other day when I came across a flyer stuck in the window of a store at a shopping center. A quick perusal of my surroundings confirmed that most of the cars in the parking lot had that self-same flyer stuck on their windshield. (I hate those things!) The flyer advertised a baptismal service at a well-known, local church, if you can call it that. The bill acknowledged that if you had children that needed to be baptized, then it was hunky-dory to bring them by the church on that particular day and they’d be dunked along with all of the others in attendance. I got the distinct impression there would be no questions asked; it was merely an opportunity to mark a milestone off the list of things to do in one’s spiritual life.

Naturally I was appalled, but not too much so considering the spiritual condition of our world these days. And if I am going to judge here, then it is best for me to give them lots of room. This is in no way schadenfreude on my part. (Look that one up) Maybe they have read the scriptures and do not quite understand them. As a result, salvation for them has possibly morphed into a gift of grace that does not require things like repentance or acceptance, and instead has become nothing more than a simple ceremony; like joining the Beta Club or being accepted into the Jaycees.

Philip met a man with a similar mindset in the book of Acts. He was an Ethiopian eunuch, and Philip found him parked by the side of the road that ran between Jerusalem and Gaza. He was in a chariot (high-dollar vehicle of the time) and was actively reading the scriptures, but was having a difficult time comprehending them. Philip asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” and the Ethiopian replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” The Bible tells us that taking that cue, Philip ‘opened his mouth and preached unto him Jesus’.

Later as they travelled together, they came to a body of water. Excited about the Gospel Phillip had shared with him along the way, the eunuch asked Phillip what was left to do before he could be baptized. Phillip responded by telling him that he had to believe with all of his heart. The eunuch replied that he believed Jesus Christ to be the Son of G_d, and thus Phillip baptized him. The writer goes on to say that when they came up out of the water, the eunuch went away from that place rejoicing. He was a changed man.

There is much more to salvation than a mere ceremony performed in a tank of water. Baptism alone is not going to get anyone to heaven, or even right with G_d for that matter. Indeed, baptism is a symbol of the work that has been performed in someone’s heart once they accept the gift readily provided to/for them by the amazing work of grace Jesus provided on the cross. A baptismal certificate will make a person no more a Christian than a high-dollar Saints jersey will transform me into an NFL superstar. And I realize those are very strong words coming from me this morning. After all, I’ve been a Baptist since my birth.

The Computer Guy

It was the last thing I needed on an unusually hectic morning…

I logged onto my PC at work in my office as I normally do, coffee in hand, (caffeinated, no sterile stuff for me) and opened the software package I use to track the tasks my department attends to on a daily basis. Let me re-phrase that: I attempted to open my well-used, critically germane software package. Unfortunately an error had occurred, its cruel grey window box popping up from out of nowhere to inform me that the database was corrupted and the software was unavailable at this time. As a subtle suggestion, it notified me I would be best served by contacting my network administrator for further assistance. Further assistance, huh? Indeed.

I was dead in the water, lights out, and unable to check on the items that are most pivotal to my job. I had no way of uncovering the deeds performed by the evening and night shifts the day before, no option on tasks scheduled for today, and no clue as to what was current and pending for tomorrow. It’s not a good position find yourself in, and although I could regress and ‘wing it’ by using notepads in the meantime, it still meant eventually I’d have to re-enter the accrued data once the software became ‘available’ once again.

I placed the obligatory call to my network administrator, and I am lucky we are on such good terms with each other. I do not refer to him as ‘my network administrator’ because that is much too sterile and callous; at least it seems that way to me. I proudly call him ‘THE computer guy’ and he is adept at solving all of my software or email issues regardless of the severity encountered. I probably should not mention this publicly, but he’s even provided a method of selectively bypassing the SPAM filter so I can receive emails from my brother in Iraq. The dude is very good at his job, and as a result, within minutes my software was up and running in a proper manner that allowed me to return to my routine schedule. It’s good to have him on the team for instances such as the one I encountered this morning, because you never know when you will need him.

I am aware of the other things he does as well, although those skills may not be quite so obvious to others. He guards our network against unwanted emails (SPAM) and protects us from the ever-elusive viruses and threats that are prone to stalk the world of office computing. He provides assistance and quick fixes to my computer when it is not performing as fast as it used to. He is good with advice on issues that may or may not affect me when it comes to ordering new equipment for my department. Basically, he watches over my computer from the background of the office, protecting my data, and thus freeing me from the caustic threat of data corruption while preventing a total failure to my job description. In the very essence of the term, he is the computer guy.

In my spiritual life, I have someone much like the computer guy watching over me. He guides me down the correct paths and warns me through my conscious when I am overstepping my bounds. Through Him I have access to G_d’s will, because He is there for me as a Helper and a Comforter. When I get burdened down or too depressed to even call out my sorrows in prayer, he interprets my feelings and carries them to the Throne of Grace for me, making my unspoken requests known to a G_d that can never fail.

G_d we know, and His existence is a no-brainer. We have a built-in by design knowledge of Him and are told that even the devils believe in Him and tremble. He is the Creator of the universe and our Holy Father. He is Holy, Magnificent, and The Almighty.

Jesus, the Son of G_d is also well known and through Him we are made right with G_d. He is “G_d with us” in human form. We have been offered salvation through His blood by His work on the cross and in His resurrection three days later.

But G_d is three in one and one in three, a hard concept to grasp and one we won’t fully understand until we get to heaven. There is a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and though I do not have all of the answers in this area, I believe in the triune (3) nature of G_d as recorded in the Bible. It is this Holy Ghost I am referring to as the one who comforts me and helps me in my life, although He is readily misunderstood and a lot of times may get left completely out of casual spiritual conversations. Yet He is there, prodding me to do the right things in this life, and coercing me to walk in the paths that I should as a faithful follower of Christ.

Jesus Himself said, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

This Comforter made His appearance in my life on the day I was born again. Through this promise made by Jesus, he will abide with me forever. He teaches my heart the things it should know, and calls into remembrance all of the things G_d has taught me through His Word. I’ve noticed that much like my fabled computer guy, He works in the background. Jesus went on to explain, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” He testifies not of Himself, but points all of the honor and glory to Jesus. I think He does so as an example for me to follow; another way of teaching me the way that I should go.

Living a Christian life is no easy feat in this day and age. Temptations abound while sin is ever prevalent and waiting eagerly at the doorway to my heart. It is so good to know that there, working in the spiritual realm, is a constantly abiding Holy Spirit. He is guiding my paths by comforting me and protecting me whenever I may happen to find myself becoming corrupted spiritually. And most importantly, He is always there - because you never know when you’ll need Him.

The Computer Guy And Me

On The Road To Emmaus

It’s a mathematically-proved constant of life: Things don’t always work out the way you planned and seldom in a manner you would prefer. Murphy’s Law is alive and well in our world today and the exceptions to the rule are few and far between. In fact, it has reached a point where in the realm of engineering, we are advised to always plan our projects with built-in variables to prevent a worst-case situation in the areas of safety and environmental impact. This axiom is best expressed in the words of Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

How many times have I used the expression ‘if only’ or ‘I should have’ when pondering the winsome episodes of my past? Many times in my life I have planned things, covering bases and researching possibilities with care and concern, only to discover later a minute detail I had overlooked. And those details seem to always find their way to the surface and return to haunt me. What can I do in those situations - a situation in which what I thought I knew turns out to be what I didn’t account for?

I can pack it in. Give up and move on to something else. Shake my head and wash my hands of the whole goal or plan I had conceived a few days, hours, or even minutes earlier. That’s human nature. We hate failure by others, but abhor it even more so when we unmask it in our own life.

Luke tells the story of two men a couple of thousand years ago who felt the same as I have on many occasions today. They were followers of Christ, but after his crucifixion they had packed it in and were heading home. I’ll let them speak for themselves here: “But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel:” They thought He was the Messiah, in fact, they were certain of it. They had watched Him feed the multitude, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even raise the dead. But now He was gone; executed by the authorities and buried in a borrowed tomb. The faith they had placed in a Nazarene carpenter had seemed so sure, so perfect during the time He had walked with them. Now they only felt empty inside, scared, and did not know where to turn. So they left the other disciples in Jerusalem and started walking back home – seven miles away down a proverbial boulevard of broken dreams to a small town called Emmaus.

I’ve been on that road many times in my spiritual life. I’ve been in church services that were dead, empty, and left me wondering why I bothered attending them in the first place. It is during those times I find myself wanting to pack it in and head for home. Give it up and spend my Sunday mornings playing golf, or at least catching the pre-game or pre-race shows on television. I could save my tithe money and put it towards a new vehicle or into a hedge fund for retirement. What’s the point? My spiritual life started out well and good, but things change. We mature and in the process outgrow what we used to love – it’s only natural, right? And after all, I’m only human and can only do so much…

So I find myself walking to Emmaus. Like the two disciples of Luke’s day found themselves.

Then HE shows up. The unknown stranger. The one who seems to be out of the loop to all of the turmoil that is going on in my spiritual life, and He is asking me a lot of very pointed questions. What’s more, He offers me nothing new, no exciting revelations of cosmic events I’ve yet to ponder on my own. Instead He uses the same Scriptures I’ve studied all of my life to point out things to me that I thought I already knew; things I thought I understood. But I was wrong. Somehow despite the study of those scriptures and the earnest way I have tried to live my spiritual life, I’ve obviously missed quite a few things along the way.

My spiritual life is not about the message the pastor provides on Sunday mornings. That message is to help me and feed me as a Christian, but a pastor is human. Some messages will always be better than others. My spiritual life is not about how well I lead the singing, or choosing the most spiritual songs at the appropriate time to go along with the message during the worship service. My spiritual life is not about my Sunday School class and the amount of students that are blessed by me and the knowledge I share with them due to the fact I am such a marvelous teacher. I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to do the best I can in both areas, but I am limited by the flesh and just like my pastor, I am also human.

The truth is, my spiritual walk is about never walking alone. Not just on the road to Emmaus, but on any path I happen to find myself trodding. It’s all about my daily relationship with Him, and having Him near me on the trip as not only my best friend but also as my guide. It’s having fellowship with Him as He teaches me the things I should know in my heart, breaking spiritual bread with me as I pray, and allowing my soul to understand its place within the Kingdom of Heaven. Much like the two disciples after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, my heart begins to burn within me as He shares the truths recorded in His Word.

Walking with Him gives me a much needed and longed for perspective on the things that are the most important in this life. That perspective is much harder to find when I find myself out there on the dusty road to Emmaus. Without a trusted guide, you can get lost out there.

Joy In The Morning: A Katrina Tale

The weather outside is thankfully dreadful this morning, and I use the term thankfully because it revolves around some much needed rain for our area. The past few months have been hopelessly dry, and my rose bushes have been displaying their chagrin over the situation. Maybe this newfound abundance of water will provide a change in their attitude, and once again their varied hues and fragrances will fill my yard – at least for a few more weeks before winter makes her appointed appearance.

Etched in my mind when it rains like this are vivid memories of the morning hurricane Katrina made her landfall a few years back. (Warning: Katrina Story!) A dreary morning that quickly escalated to cataclysmic was not the worst part of the storm for me, or for most of the people in our area. The real damage was on the coast. For us, the worst memories remain attached to the days and weeks that followed the storm. The loss of electricity, the shortages of gasoline, the endless task of clearing and cleaning the fallen trees made life hard during those hectic days of an Indian summer. The oppressive South Mississippi heat and humidity, faced without benefit of air conditioning while biased with rationed water, makes me shudder when I think back upon it even today - five years later.

We moved from inside our house to a tent set up in the yard due to that heat, and although the night temperatures were milder, the actions of some of the more sordid members of our society made it a time to reflect with consternation on the precarious safety of the situation. With minimal law enforcement available in the aftermath of the storm, stealing things like gasoline and generators became almost acceptable by a county that found itself ripped apart in the sudden disaster. Eventually, my wife and smaller children moved back into the house; leaving my oldest son and me to abide in the tent and keep the watch over what was left of our meager possessions. Even our dog abandoned us and moved into the house, leaving us to whatever fate awaited us during the ominous nights we spent outside in the thin-walled tent.

You forget how dark the night becomes with no artificial street lights to illuminate the things that are unknown, at least until you’ve lived the part. With no human-made noises, the night becomes a symphony of nature, and your ears regress in an uncivilized manner to a time when protection was so much more than a refined instinct hushed from our psyche by centuries of law and order. Every sound becomes a threat; the breaking of twigs in the grass, leaves crunching underfoot, and the pounding of your own heartbeat resonating in your ears. A faithful shot gun or rifle cradled against your breast is of little comfort on nights where light evades the things that are ‘out there’ and you know those things are quite possibly coming for your belongings or even the ones you love.

Many nights were spent in that manner, sleeplessly awaiting a dawn that seemed far away and impossible to obtain; hoping against hope to cheat disaster and merely make it through just one more night. We always did, and though it seems far away and ethereal today when I look back upon it from the viewpoint of a safer time and place, I earned those memories and keep them with me today should chance provide me with a return appointment.

One particular night stands out more so than others, as they sometimes do. I had been awakened by one of those aforementioned noises, and swiftly alerted by instinct I checked my watch. The time was precisely 4:54 AM, although the calendar date eludes my memory. Dates and days of the week had lost their meaning by then, but time itself remained a viable function of survival in our post-disaster scenario. Peering from the tent with my rifle, I gazed through the pre-dawn stillness across the yard to the road, daring not to use what was left of the batteries in my flashlight for what may or may not have been a false alarm. A highly likely human form was out there, moving silently down the country road that fronts my house. He was using a low wattage penlight to find his way through the murky darkness, and due to the early hour as well as his mannerism it was easy enough to ascertain he was up to no good. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I tried to decide what to do next, and all that came to mind was to yell loudly - an option I could not perform as it would alarm my reposing son as well as my wife and younger children slumbering fitfully in the tepid house nearby. In the end I clutched the rifle in a firing position and walked purposely toward the stalker, making sure I made enough noise where he would know that not only was someone alert at the Johnson House, but they were coming for him. While I was still a good distance away from my dark visitor, he turned his insipid pen light on me, illuminating my aimed rifle, which caused him to swiftly retreat back up the road in the direction from which he had arrived. As he made good his absence, I heard a clashing of tin from my back yard, and turned back to investigate in that location. I found nothing, (but the next day I would discover a five-gallon can of gas/oil chain saw fuel mixture missing) and more than likely it had been a team effort.

I made a reconnaissance around the house to no avail; nothing human or animal was to be found in my transit of the area, and so I made my way back to the tent. In the dark hour that followed, my stress level remained at a decidedly less than heroic quotient and I was reminded of how the sailors on Paul’s doomed ship had ‘wished for the day’. Eventually, a glow in the east began snaking tendrils of vibrant oranges and reds into the obsidian sky as dawn heralded the much-longed-for arrival of another day. The hopelessness of the night before along with its chaotic fears faded with the beginning of what turned out to be a beautiful morning, also reminding me of the truth penned by Psalmist when he wrote “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Veteran's Day

It’s Veteran’s Day again, yet I seem to feel the ceremoniousness of this particular day a little more deeply than I possibly have in years past. Maybe it is because my little brother is in Iraq and in harm’s way; I worry about him and miss him at the same time. I could say with an honest and forthright sincerity that a part of me is with him over there, because he is my brother, but that may not be understandable to someone who does not know us. We are so much alike and so different at the same time, still the bond between us transcends the miles we’ve spent apart throughout his career.

I have others in the military, young men and women who served and are serving still. Mere children to me when I reflect back on the time they spent in my Sunday School classes many years ago. They have grown and matured; obviously nowhere close in semblance to the same innocuous teenagers they were when I first met them. I worry about them as well, and I miss them in a way only a teacher can ever fully comprehend.

They are out there now, at this very moment, on the front lines serving our country and protecting a lifestyle back home in America which far too often remains taken for granted by their jaded beneficiaries. I’m as guilty as any other - living my life from day to day with little retention of how much I am blessed to be Living in the USA. They serve despite being told by our leaders that we are not exceptional as a country or a people. They serve despite being assured by those same leaders that we are arrogant, bigoted to other cultures, and no longer a Christian nation. They serve despite media pundits propagating the myth that their service is not a viable solution to the world’s problems, and instead has become the root cause of many of those problems.

Still they serve.

From the rugged deserts of Iraq to the bleak slopes of Afghanistan. In the steaming jungles of exotic locales like Guam and the Philippines. Aboard our ships in the rough waters in the North Atlantic, and under our flag in frigid wastelands above the Arctic circle. In countries like Germany and South Korea, Kuwait and Diego Garcia. Thousands of others serve with no less importance on bases in the continental U.S. as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

Usually far from home and the families they love, they perform a job that requires sacrifices unknown and perils we will never fully understand. It’s not the money or the fame, because there is very little of either to be found in their job description. It is far more than that. Watch a grizzled Vietnam veteran at a ball game when the National Anthem is played. Observe an ancient World War II veteran at a museum or monument, his eyes brimming with tears as he remembers places like Normandy or Guadalcanal. Those hardships unknown to us are encountered and withstood because of a love for their country and a reverence for the flag they represent. Our world could use a few more like them, reminding us of what we should stand for not only as a culture, but as a nation.

This year, On Veteran’s Day, it behooves us to give them their due. Be proud of our veterans, thank them publicly when you encounter one, and support groups like the USO and American Legion if and when you have the opportunity to do so. When I served, I have fond memories of people who did just that, even if all they had to offer at the time was a kind word or two.

To all our veterans, whether you serve in a far away land or at a supply depot in Charleston, thank you for your service. Thank you for keeping America safe.

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

Beneath The Rosy Tinted West

I met you on a bleak October day now so many years ago. A storm was brewing in the Gulf, and your formal interview was thus delayed for a few weeks, although you had arrived on-time and prepared for your appointment that Sunday morning. I noticed immediately your firm handshake, a grip of steel coming from a very big man, but the softness of your heart was readily apparent nonetheless. When the appointment became official the following month, you warmed our hearts and invited yourself into our lives by the power of your words. His Words.

Those first few months were hard on me, as I became accustomed to the leadership of someone who knew his way around the Bible and had little incentive to tread cautiously in that capacity. You taught me so many things during those early days, and I’ll admit a lot of it was accepted only grudgingly from my own heart. But it was hard to argue with your logic as well as your reasoning on the various Biblical topics we covered, because you always backed it up with a referenced chapter and verse to fit the occasion. As music director, I learned the importance of choosing hymns for services that were not just melodically but also scripturally accurate - whereas in the past I had given it minimal thought. If they had made it into the hymnbook, I figured, somewhere down the line someone had already covered those bases. From you I learned that angels didn’t sing to the shepherds in Bethlehem, there is no scriptural reference to the wise men performing as a trio, and 'Canaan-land across the river' does not compare to the Christian’s final, eternal resting place.

You shared in my joy when my children were born again, yet refused to take any credit for the messages you preached that pricked their hearts and gave them the conviction to do so. One by one you took them into the baptistery, towering over them as you immersed them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And of course, that wasn’t merely the end of the road or a ‘mission accomplished’ for you. You made sure you continued to teach them, exhorting them during each and every service to live their life and walk their paths according to His Word which you consistently shared from the pulpit: “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.”

Beyond the church, you showed me your talents when you took the time to help me restore one of my antique tractors. What began as a day of sandblasting took an amazing turn as you repaired worn bushings on clutch levers and fabricated fillers for damaged seat pans. You wanted the old tractor to be perfect, as you had allowed yourself to become part of the restoration process. Most of the true artists of our time are like that; a double threat of being able to express yourself with your hands as well as with words. I remember the morning I took a vacation day to help you wire your shed, all the while wondering why you needed so much electricity out there. It was only later when I witnessed the various creations that began flowing from those hands - the metal engravings, the custom woodwork, and most of all the special gifts you generously gave to my family over the years that followed.

In the time I was blessed to know you, I never saw you shy away from speaking the truth, although I know there were times when it must have been difficult for you to do so. Popularity is never bestowed on those who continuously keep their hands to the plow. I’ll admit there were a few times when I wondered in my mind why you kept preaching on keeping our church unblemished by the things of this world. You were firmly set against the items that are prone to infect the worldly churches of our day, and through your leadership and spiritual guidance we were never pulled into those dark voids. Your legacy will be a constant reminder to us if/when those sins become attractive to us in our future.

Across the road from my house and on my brother’s land there stands a wrought-iron gate. It’s a statement for the importance of keeping things safe and secure, a testament designed, fabricated, and put together by strong hands fit for the purpose. Each seam is welded to perfection, the hinges swing flawlessly, and the hasp forms a perfect latch. The beautiful gate you designed and built for my brother will stand as a vibrant testimony of the importance of safekeeping, very much akin to the manner in which you held our church securely against the wiles of the devil for so many years.

I sang a very special, scriptural song that you had passed on to me many years ago, as a tribute to you during your funeral. It was a difficult task to perform from a soul weighed down by sadness. Yet I was comforted in my heart, warmed in the knowledge that we’ll meet again over in a land of perfect day.

Some day, when fades the golden sun
Beneath the rosy tinted west,
My bless├Ęd Lord will say, “Well done!”
And I shall enter into rest.