My grade school friend from the 6th grade, over 30 years ago, called me from California. Shiloh Almendarez and I actually had the same 5th grade teacher, Mr. Swatzky, when my family of origin first moved to California. He reminded me today that in the 6th he had Mr. Olson, and I had Mrs. Raymond who also lived on Bolinger Way. It’s amazing how things change, but that little town called Dinuba went down hill in the past 30 years. I’ll not elaborate on what Shiloh told me about that little town, but let’s just say it’s not a place children can ride their bikes on the neighborhood streets anymore. Drugs and violence are more the norm then kids kicking over trash cans in the alleys. We called it garbage can operation, and if you were really cool with your Diamond Back, Redline or Predator you were able to kick your back tire out to send a garbage can flying.
Shiloh came to know Jesus while we were there, but like me there were desert places in life that drove him to thirst for Jesus again. What do you say in a half-hour conversation 2,000 miles apart when the last time you talked was 30 years ago? Really, you say whatever comes to mind. There’s no way you can rehash 30 years of experience when the last time you talked neither one of you had hair under your armpits. Well maybe Shiloh did. I didn’t ask. “Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent at” any juncture. So we basically spent our time on telling each other how God continues to pursue us in our lives. Shiloh has had diabetes his entire life, and after his first marriage there were things he wants to forget, and my struggle with clinical depression is no stranger to you.
I am so glad Shiloh called me. It’s unleashed a barrage of positive memories that drove me to continue this post. Dinuba, California was our favorite place growing up out of all the places we ever lived. We only lived there for 2 years but the memories and connections we made not only had a lasting impact on my grandparents, but they continue to touch us to this day. My grandparents who drove to California from Nashville because my Ma was afraid to fly received the church bulletin from there till the day they died, and that church family was their church family for the way they were salt and light in their lives. When a person allows God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to infiltrate their heart salt and light become powerful metaphors in the movement of love to others. It ceases being about me, and becomes all about God as He offers hope to a dying world. All we have to do is get out of the way. Thank you California for showing that to me, my family and my grandparents.
I can already tell this is going to be a lengthy post.
Shiloh Almendarez became a Christian while dad pastored in California, yet I’m about to show you that through all of life’s struggles becoming a Christian doesn’t mean we have a nice little walk down the yellow brick road. There are obstacles the same as Dorothy had to face in the infamous movie we know as The Wizard of Oz.
One day at Bolinger Way we were riding bikes in the neighborhood, and someone had an idea to build a ramp in front of that house that we could go airborne off of. It wasn’t the sturdiest of ramps, but several boys went off of it before Shiloh went off it. When Shiloh landed from his ascent his front bike forks stamped into, and he face planted into the street knocked unconscious as I remember it. There was blood every where. His face was covered in it, and I don’t know how he walked into the house, but we somehow got my dear friend into the house. As my mom and I were nursing him by washing off the blood and trying to blot his face with towels all I can remember is Shiloh’s blood curdling screams. That’s been over 30 years ago, so I don’t remember if an ambulance came or not, but I do know he got to the hospital somehow. He knocked out several of his front teeth on the top, and maybe bottom, and he has to wear dentures to this day because they were adult teeth. His wife Tonya is familiar with the story too because it was that epic.
Shiloh was supposed to go with Joel and me to Yosemite Bible Camp several days later, but due to the horrific accident he was not able. You can’t tell me Satan doesn’t have a shoe in when it comes to opportunities like that to delete God experiences with people. I’m not saying Satan caused that accident, but he nonetheless used it to draw a divide between Shiloh and the Father. I don’t know how exactly these things happen, but it’s pretty obvious Satan’s network of evil doers are efficient in using bad things that happen to good people. Who knows what kind of good seed God could have planted in Shiloh’s heart had he been with us at YBC.
God is never foiled by the work of evil because they know their days are numbered, hence the reason for desperation like those times. Multiple situations like that times a billion every day when evil “seems” to have the last laugh. It doesn’t, but Satan and his cronies are good at making it seem that way. I wanna quote something from memory that I think is appropriate here.
So do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
This passage from 2 Corinthians, and let me add a disclaimer here about that. It’s Second Corinthians, not Two Corinthians in case you were wondering. 🙂 As I was writing, this passage from this Pauline letter to the church in Corinth is appropriate even 2,000 years later for those of us who are fighting the same fallen angel Jesus fought in the desert before His earthly ministry. Satan is currently immortal like all other angels, but he is not omnipresent nor omnipotent like God, so there is protection like none other, but he and his army are still free to roam the Earth. That is why we do not let our guard down. We will not bow the knee to Baal, and even though we live in the world we refuse to become like the world. We fall prey to the same things the world falls prey to, but each time we return to the One who knit us together in our mother’s wombs we are embraced every time by a Father who sees us in the distance, sprints toward us and embraces us with a bear hug every single time. There are no exceptions except those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and I have no idea what that means. Maybe you can help me.
And here we are 30 years later 2,000 miles apart, and my friend Shiloh calls me from California. Wow. Wow is all I can really write. Wow describes so many things about being a God follower that sometimes that’s the only word I need. It expresses an adoration of devotion that can repeat itself over and over in gratitude to the One who literally gave us everything. I smile with my daughter at the dinner table when she thanks God for everything, but isn’t that the perfect prayer? He did, so why shouldn’t we too thank God for everything?
My LORD is so good and perfect that even in the sin, failures and rejections He knows what to do. It rains on the righteous and unrighteous, yet even when people choose to reject His love He chooses to love them. I don’t do that. I return evil for evil way more than I love someone who rejects me. I justify it by saying actions have consequences, not realizing that the same goes for me. I guess that’s the checks and balance system God set up for all us so that we don’t end up killing each other. The ultimate penalty of sin is death, yet God continues to give us time to align with His purposes. It’s not always going to be like that. There’s going to come a point in time when we will have to answer for how we chose to live this life, and it’s my aim to hear from His lips, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Shiloh and I will be among those who do hear those words, not because we get it right all the time, but because 2,000 years ago a man named Jesus chose to save us by letting the first century religious leaders, the Roman Empire and the blood thirsty criminals nail Him to a cross. But it didn’t stop there.
As you know we are about to celebrate our risen LORD on Easter, and many ways this is the most wonderful time of the year because all the work is behind us in the resurrection. There’s going to be a day when parents will not lose children, and marriages will not end in divorce. There will be no one taking advantage of women, and the glass ceiling will not even be a memory. Death, sickness, gossip, people who hate their jobs, unemployment, firings and hate will not be a part of the new Earth because not only will the lion lie down with the lamb, but love will have been perfected in an experience without end with an all mighty God.
That’s what grounds me most. You know I grew up in 8 States and 1 U.S. territory, so I’ve been spending my entire adult life trying to see what it looks like to call one place home. A boy learns what he experiences. My identity is in Christ, not whether or not I’m a nomadic preacher’s kid with depression. That is certainly part of my story, but it does not have to control or define me.
As Shiloh and I continued our conversation God was making an impression on me with how He continues to pursue us both. Shiloh quoted Scripture Tonya is fond of telling him about the deserts we face, yet God returns to water them again. He never leaves us in the desert does he? We have seasons of wandering in the wildnerness, and some of us have been close to death, yet God has seen to circumstances that have rescued us from ruin and death. We did nothing to deserve it, for in in fact I deserve death even as I type this sentence, but the reality is that I am given new life every moment of every day because I am a child of God.
You’ve likely heard the new Hillsong tune about the name of Jesus. It’s a gorgeous worship song that has been washing over me, and I heard my friend Melissa lead it at her church in north Nashville. I hear it every day on the radio as I take my daughter to school, home and church, and it moves me every time I hear it. I hope Danny transposes it for our corporate assembly at church. We sing acapella at the Donelson Church.
Jesus is what my life is about. I have a friend who is writing his own obituary, and really when I pause to think about my own obit all I want to be in it is that I was a man who followed Jesus. I’m sure more will be said, and I in fact would like to write my own obit, but if it doesn’t come to fruition I’m content that the length of comment time at my funeral will be that I followed Jesus the Christ.
Have I done it perfectly? No. Do I get better grades if I study harder? No. Do I ever arrive at the level the Son of Man was at when He left this Earth? Never. But I do get to be with Him because of His Spirit that dwells within me.
And because of that I get phone calls from California from people who I only knew for 2 years, yet the time really represents eternity with the One who sees a day as a thousand years.