A View of Catholicism Today

This I believe. I believe in heaven.  I believe in God.  I believe each of us has a soul that after death resides with God and angels and the souls of countless others in eternity.  I believe that angels exist, reside in eternity and are God’s messengers to we dwelling on Earth.  I believe that any creature capable of loving, caring and having feelings for others has a soul that too, after death, resides in heaven.  That goes especially for animals.

I am also a Catholic

I am a mightily disturbed Catholic over the public outing of those miscreants who call themselves priests.

 

I have countless times over my adult years said “I’m a Catholic in spite of the Church.”

 

I identify as a Catholic mainly from communal, social, and family reasons.  I’m from a half Italian, half Sicilian family.  The distinction is verification that I know the difference.  I went to Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school and a Jesuit college (the distinction is intentional as many within the church cast a skeptical eye towards Jesuits, even calling the head of the order “the Black Pope”.)  My relatives are Catholic.  For the most part, my friends and classmates are Catholic.  I attend Catholic Sunday services. Quite unintentionally I’m a founding Grand Knight of my parish counsel in Maryland.  I consider myself part of my new Texas Catholic parish community.

 

Being Catholic is part of my identity.  I would not feel comfortable or honest to say otherwise.

 

The Catholic religion is based on faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s a legitimate part of what followers call Christianity. We don’t worship statutes as some think.  We don’t worship angels.  We don’t worship Saints.  We worship one God and it doesn’t, to me at least, matter what anyone calls the Supreme Being, even using the Hebraic phrase that acknowledges God but refuses to use a name to that effect.

 

I also need to be very clear that I really bridle at being asked if I’m a Christian.  If you can’t tell what I believe from the way I act then I don’t deserve to use that description anyway.

 

Another reason I don’t subscribe to the “have you accepted Christ” club is that I find it a tad insulting and just as offensive as Muslims demanding fealty to Mohammad’s cult of belief.  I say cult because any group that believes “others” who, for whatever reason, refuse to join that group deserve death is no fellowship that worships the true God.

 

If, as many claim, Mohammed was an impressive and quite successful plagiarist of world religions his epic work’s most despicable admonishment that non-believers must be slain can be traced to an equally disgusting era of intolerance of those from whom he borrowed ideas including the Catholic Church.  The Inquisition was one.  Oliver Cromwell and his Roundhead Generals genocidal slaughter of Irish Catholics as compelled by “the wrath of God” is another.  Witch trials were part of that horrid mindset.

 

The idea of any one religion claiming exclusivity to (pick a name) heaven, paradise, nirvana, or whatever the name du jour for eternal happiness might be is utter, egotistical bull.

 

My attitude is simply that what I practice as a form of worship is none of your business. As I said, my life is my membership card and if that’s not good enough for you…that’s your problem, not mine.

 

That said I have a very real problem with the historical and present Catholic Church, the regal structure of the clergy and the offenses against God and mankind that follow.

 

I can’t stand anything that walks like, talks like or has pretensions of royalty.  I’m sure it’s due to equal parts of my Sicilian/Italian genetic disdain for overbearing authority and the intrinsic importance of independence to being American.  Bow to a King or Queen or kiss a Cardinal’s ring…thank you no.  I’ve shaken a few Presidents’ hands but taking a knee to anyone or any group is out of the question.  We are all the “Chosen.”  Why else would we be here?  We all deserve equal respect until we prove otherwise.  And, we are all servants no matter if others call us by any exalted title.

 

In my seven decades as a Catholic I’ve encountered priests who understand their role as servants of God and their fellow humans, and I’ve known many who posture as divine arbiters of human behavior.  I’ve found Irish Catholic priests more often than not tend to act like petty tyrants who demand the faithful follow their every idiotic command as coming directly from the mouth of God.

 

The recent, but by no means new, revelations of the wholesale sexual depravity of some Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania and elsewhere were not shocking.  They didn’t shake my faith or cause me to jettison my identity as a Catholic.  The horrific sexual predator practices among scores of priests in Pennsylvania is but one of the most recent in a long-standing history of that abomination.  Not that such damnable behavior is restricted only to the Catholic clergy.

 

Catholicism to me is not an exclusive club, nor the only community whose membership enjoys favor with the Divine although church figures throughout history would beg to differ. I do not hold the Catholic clergy or their hierarchy of pretentious titles – monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, even the Pope – in any particular awe.  They are just men doing a job who tend to wear funny outfits.  Respect I give for the individual on a sliding scale depending on their dedication to service to all of us, humans and animals alike.

 

There is but one God. To me, it does not matter the flavor of believe espoused: Christianity, Islam, Protestant faith etc. with which one identifies.  (Islam is mentioned here with a figurative cautionary asterisk attached.)

 

A great lesson was taught me when my wife and I sought a cleric to preside over our marriage ceremony.  We made inquiries of a wide range of religions.  The local, Maryland Catholic priest declined.  He said our previous, less than successful forays into domestic disfunction, required the past unions to be annulled.  The idea that children even those from the worst parental pairings would be, in theory, the offspring of a newly deemed non-existent union was pretty offensive and insulting.  Even a minister whose website proclaimed theirs was a community of progressive thinking, acceptance, and quite “universal” that met in a glorified tree house said “no.”  One man, whose initials begin with “Kenn,” stepped forward. I believe his background was Baptist…and definitely former Marine.

Rev Kenn Blanchard at Duke University

Attending the event were many Catholics including two nuns.  One of the nuns approached me once the vows were made and documents signed and said that the Reverend’s service was the single most spiritual she’d ever seen.  No robes, no altars, no organs accompanying vocalists singing hymnal or Hollywood songs.  It was a spiritual event orchestrated by a true clergyman saying true words in honor of the true God.

 

So,in spite of the church and too many predators in priest clothing, I remain a Catholic but my form of worship is grounded in how I live my life, embrace others, open my heart to the companionship of those who passed before me and accept the many gifts, both positive and painful, the Divine One allows me to experience during my journey here.

Peeking into Paradise – God’s Plan Pt II

Tony Aquilino

One of the most troubling reasons people give to deny the existence of God is “why does God let bad things happen to good people?” Why war? Why the Holocaust? Why cancer? Why abusive parents, teachers, preachers, cops, national leaders, and spouses? Why babies with massive birth defects?

My starting point to answer that question is the idea that God is not the kind of parent who believes in spoiling the child. Nor does God punish. God lets each of us work through the perils, pitfalls and blessings of our own life. God is an equal opportunity deity. The rich, beautiful, talented, athletic, well-born and perfect in every physical way among us have as many problems as the rest of us who are not rich, beautiful, endowed with genius intelligent quotients and maybe have a physical problem or two.

The reason the opportunities God provides everyone are misinterpreted, overlooked or ignored by most is simple. Each, whether benign or harsh, is an opportunity or option left for us to decide how to respond in order to become a good and decent person.
john aquilino and friends
The idea behind the above interpretation of God’s relation to human life isn’t new or unique. In fact, it begins with conception and birth. Life, every aspect from the time the fastest swimming sperm cell enters the egg to life’s last breath, is a crap shoot. We don’t know from one moment or one day to the next what’s in store for us to encounter and decide how to respond whether it will be something to be enjoyed, feared or conquered. There are no guarantees. No set of instructions on how to deal with each: birth, disease, the journey to adulthood, or death. What happens and how we deal with it is the measure of whom we are.

A gift from my son, Tommy, provides a decent starting point or background against what I’m about to try and say. It’s a very simple, short, clearly written and thought-provoking book by Sebastian Junger called “Tribe.”

Towards the latter third, Junger explains the difference between people who correctly understand the way we best fit into the universe and those who wander about in a state of self-absorbed idiocy. Somewhat counterintuitively, Junger uses the bonds formed by civilians and military enduring the real dangers of being in the midst of combat to illustrate the finer qualities of life.

He describes life during the London Blitz of World War II and the more recent genocidal Bosnian War. The daily reality of random death from a bomb or sniper’s bullet, the lack of safe shelter, sufficient food and water did not lead to cultural chaos. Depression and suicide were not the n norm for individuals. Looting, raping and thievery did not characterize societal behavior. Quite the opposite. The awful burden of war brought people together. They helped each other and shared what little they had. War, as horrific as it is, brought the values of tribe to the fore.
When peace and prosperity returned, society descended to the depths of depravity. People forgot the bond of the tribe and became self-absorbed, greed driven individuals. Depression and suicide rates rose. Those who lived through the war years yearned for the time when they laughed more and were their happiest.

Once done with his wartime examples, Junger’s prose slides onto the subject of “litter.” Those who toss a cigarette butt or candy wrapper or plastic water bottle to the ground are clueless about why we inhabit the earth. They think only of themselves. They have no connection with others, with humanity, with nature. Those who don’t ignore others or community or nature, who pick up the trash strewn about by others do connect. They understand that we are part of a “tribe” in the broadest sense of the term. They strive, without seeking honor or praise, to live as decent, caring humans…as God hoped we would.

Peeking into Paradise: Why I believe in Angels

Thomas Aquilino

Three times my late son, Johnny, changed my life.

The first time was when he was born. That was the experience only parents who care and are aware of what it means to be parents understand.  It was the instant when why we are here on earth became un-mistakeably clear.

Tony Aquilino

The second time was when he died March 10, 2010 ten days before his twentieth birthday.  He wasn’t supposed to live many days after his birth.  He was born with his heart’s left ventricle, the major chamber that pumps oxygenated blood from his heart to his body and brain, missing.  It’s called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a fairly common birth disorder.

PeTA, the ever so kind and enlightened community of animal rights activists, said of him in a note to me that his life was not worth that of a single lab rat sacrificed by medical research to find a correction or cure for the problem.  You might have guessed it, I don’t take kindly to PeTA or their intolerant tribe.  The fallacy of their fanaticism became apparent when, at a meeting of the Humane Society of the United States (a multi-million dollar group that runs no…repeat no…animal shelters and whose staff ranks are replete with PeTA-philes) I asked “so is medical research on animals that benefits animals also wrong?”  They were not terribly responsive or happy with my presence.

The third was many years later after a Tai Chi class at a gym in Rockport, Texas.  A wonderful instructor, a street tough and gentle lady with multiple “black belts” each being high up the skill achievement totem pole and whose martial arts skills rival most Navy SEALS, beckoned me over.  Victoria is her name.

She began by saying “I hope you don’t think I’m crazy but…” What followed the word “but” both rocked my consciousness and brought me great joy.

“For the past few days I’ve been visited by a young boy surrounded by bright light. I had no idea who he was or what he wanted but he was very persistent.  The second you walked into the room he rushed to your side.  He’s here now.”

I listened with more than my usual skeptical demeanor, but also with a non-judging look to my face.  I wanted to hear what she had to say.  With my diminished hearing capacity thanks to a day at the national high-power rifle competition without hearing protectors, I strained to capture her every word.

“He says to ‘tell Dad’ I’m tall and can dance.  Tell him not to worry, everything’s going to be all right.  Tell him I love him and that I’m happy.”  She went on to describe Johnny perfectly.  I had never met her before, nor had I told her or anyone she knew anything about or even the fact that I had two sons, Johnny and Tommy, and that Johnny had passed.

Johnny, thanks to his biological mother’s omission of a single rule of CPR – to clear the airway, spent the last six or so years of his life as a non-verbal quadriplegic.  Watching a television comedy, he had a seizure and passed out.  During her attempt to revive him, he aspirated the late-night cereal he was eating into his lungs and halted the passage of oxygen to his brain.  It took two years before, she said my blame for the EMTs who first administered to him was misplaced.

She called one day and said Johnny gave up and quit eating, that he had died.  My sorrow almost overcame the simultaneous question of how was that possible?  He was fed via a machine and a tube leading to his stomach.  To say I was enraged would be quite accurate, however my loss and natural instinct to display no public emotion other than a stoic stare at horrific incidents took control.  Don’t ask why.  It’s not an act.  It’s just how I react, with a dead silent poker expression searching mentally for any and all facts of the incident.

Victoria keeps me posted on all of Johnny’s antics.  Before Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas as I attended her class on ancient Chinese defensive movements.  The class after Christmas she told me Arthur Meru was having a great time with Johnny.  Arthur was a new Rockport/Corpus Christi friend.  He was one of the most intense, gentle, and spiritual persons I’d ever met.  He was Hispanic, a former Vietnam-veteran U.S. Marine.  He was a private investigator and a member of a 900-year-old Japanese Ninja family.  For a man my age, 70 at the time, a pat on his back was identical to hitting a solid oak board, he was that tough.  Arthur came to one of Victoria’s classes.  He dressed in Samuria armor.

Arthur died in his sleep Christmas night.  Now, Victoria tells me, Arthur hangs out with my son Johnny and a passel of angels.  Yep…angels.  Some are little…cherubic faces with wings.  Others are pretty impressive in stature.  Angels are one of God’s creations.  They guard us and upon occasion are his messengers.

The angels are described as almost a background chorus while Johnny and Arthur try to make Victoria laugh by dancing.  They too were smiling and laughing…a sign of God’s good humor. One day Johnny and Arthur showed up in grass skirts doing a version of the hula. Two little angels sat on their shoulders. Nothing like a martial arts instructor cracking up silently while angels sing and my son and Arthur dance.

 

A Visit to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte

Billy Graham Library

It’s supposedly the #1 attraction in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, the Billy Graham Library. That means it’s more popular than NASCAR. Although I had seen the billboards advertising the Billy Graham Library and I routinely visit Charlotte and the surrounding area, I hadn’t visited until … my parents joined me in Charlotte for a family wedding. I grew up watching Billy Graham’s amazing crusades on our black and white TV, back in the ’60s. As a teen, I went forward to answer the call at a crusade in my hometown of Sioux Falls. And now, it seemed fitting, right, to go to the library and to visit the resting place of Rev. Graham and his wife, Ruth, at the library in Charlotte with my parents, the wonderful people who not only brought me into the world, but also, who started me on my journey of being a Christian.

Billy Graham library

These are my lovely parents, who are standing in front of the Billy Graham Library on a wet and chilly April day in Charlotte. The grounds are gorgeous.

Billy Graham Library barnInside the Billy Graham Library

Although the building looks “barnish,” it houses valuable documents and artifacts that chronicle Graham’s mission in life — to preach the gospel of Christ. Rev. Graham preached for almost 80 years, and you can follow, chronologically, his own journey. The Library is hosting special displays this year:

  • June-August: “New Frontiers” – 1980s & 1990s
  • September-October: “Looking to the Future” – 2000s & 2010s
  • November-December: “Then and Now” – Today

I especially liked the display that featured the time that Rev. Graham went to Berlin. It features live footage of the occasion, and the magnitude of the crowds is really, rather overwhelming. There is a hunger in the world to hear the word.

displayVisitors to the library will follow the life and journey of Billy Graham, and also learn about his #1 helpmate, his soulmate, Ruth Bell Graham — whose parents were missionaries in China. Find out more about this lovely lady and about how her plans, of eventually returning to China as a missionary, were changed and melded into an even greater plan.

Billy Graham's preaching bibleThis is a super interesting display — the preaching Bible that Billy Graham used on his crusades across the world.

Billy GrahamThroughout the library, you will be exposed to videos and photographs of the world and the times and how Rev. Graham effected change.

guns on display Billy Graham LibraryHow can I even improve on this little piece of information. Life changing. You’ll find nuggets of wisdom and pearls of knowledge throughout the journey in the museum, which will take at least 2 hours. Make sure to visit the gift shop, where you may find Rev. Graham and his team’s books, as well as several devotional books and lovely mementos of your visit.

Billy Graham farm homeRev. Graham had his family home moved to this site, keeping 80% of the original materials. He lived in this house from the age of 9 until he left for college. The interior is similar to how the Graham family lived, with original appliances and furniture, along with fascinating photographs.

billy Graham gravesiteRev. Graham passed away in February 2018, at the age of 99, and his grave is located on the site near his wife’s grave.

No admission charge, but a donation is accepted.

Visit the Billy Graham Library.

 

Julie Golob is Wild at Heart

Julie Glob is Wild at Heart

This is the first design in a promotional tee shirt design called Wild at Heart with the superstar pro shooter, mother, veteran known as Julie Glob.  In this first rendition I chose someone I just know that is both a child of God and a multi-time world, a national shooting champion, an experienced shooting instructor, woman of the outdoors, proud US Army veteran, published author, wife and mom.

Here is how you can get one of these as a shirt or something else cool from our shop.

I got this idea to create action tee shirts based on the spirit of this ministry.  The Speak Life Church ministers to everyone seeking an honest relationship with God but we are focused on ones that live life to fullest.  For too many, churches today are reserved for the elderly or have become stagnant in dogma.  Religion is how we are comfortable in worshipping a Holy God.

I am looking forward to worshipping our Creator and the lover of our souls with others like me on the range, on the water, on two wheels and online.

Wild at Heart

I remember getting persecuted for being pro-gun in church too often as I grew in ministry.  At the same time, I know many gun owners, competition shooters, and hunters that love the Lord Jesus but don’t regularly attend church for more than one familiar reason.  I have been called to minister to God’s people regardless of what the brick and mortar churches are saying to them.

So true to form, I am back in the wilderness, where I am comfortable, using the internet to teach, preach and reach people for Christ.  I’m not alone.  God is with me.  He was in the wilderness a lot if you think about it.  He was with the Israelites, the prophets, Jesus, and John the Baptist in the wilderness.

If you would like to be considered for a tee shirt to made of you representing a follower of Jesus that is wild at heart, send me a high definition photo of you in action.

Collect all of them.  Inspire a design.  Join us.  Follow Christ.

Get Yours Here

 

10 Things to Do When You Blow Out Your Knee

blown knee bandage smurf

One day I felt super excited about life, getting ready to embark on an outdoor writers’ event that promised driving fast trucks on off-road trails, shooting at a world class clays range, fishing with bass pro anglers and more fishing with fly-rods in a pristine world-class stream. The next day, I found myself back at home, sitting in a chair with crutches by my side and ice wrapped around my knee. A torn meniscus did me in, while at the reception at the aforementioned event, and waylaid me so that I couldn’t hobble around in the outdoors with a throbbing knee and frankly, now sour attitude. So, what can I do while I’m out of commission – along with deadlines and work that I’m committed to doing? Here’s my list and 10 suggestions to do when you blow out your knee, or something else.

10 Things to Do When You Blow Out Your Knee

  1. Order a fresh devotional book or find one that you like to read in your own library, and put your Bible on the table next to you. You know what to do next. I’m re-reading this one: God Always has a Plan B.  Seems appropriate. Cross reference the devotions to Bible passages.
  2. Read a book, or 5. I’m currently working through Band of Brothers ( a book I’ve always wanted to read), Among the Reeds (how a Polish family survived the Holocaust), Portraits of Courage (George W. Bush’s paintings of wounded warriors) and Meditation for Beginners.
  3. Pick up your laptop and sort through email inboxes, create files, discard, delete.
  4. Do the same to your photos on your phone and computer. Time for new files and deletions. Get everything backed up into the cloud or on a separate hard drive.
  5. Call people you haven’t chatted with for a while. Touch base with older family members. Concentrate on their lives, not your current, laid-up position.
  6. Drink a lot of water. Now is the time to start eating clean. You don’t need any extra empty calories.
  7. Clean out drawers. And organize. Read The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō. She stresses touching everything you will organize. This helps you to associate with each item and to decide whether it really has meaning in your life.
  8. Do you meditate? This is a great time to start or improve.
  9. Listen to podcasts. Catch up on your favorites. Of course, one of my favs is the “Speak Life” podcast.
  10. Take a class. Craftsy and Skillshare are 2 websites I love for this reason — opportunities to learn something new, under the tutelage of pros and people who know. Just ask my family about my chicken fried rice from a previous class with Grace Young, the “Stir-Fry Guru”; it’s amazing.

blow out your knee exercise womanIf you have more suggestions, please share them here.

Five Rookie Podcast Mistakes You Can Fix Today

Gardner Douglas is the host of the Oyster Ninja Podcast

As a content creator and editor of podcast, I have seen shows come and go. I have created over a dozen myself that have faded away into the ether. A friend of mine started a podcast based on his niche of being a professional oyster shucker. Before I met him, I didn’t even know that was a thing. I want to share some things Gardner Douglas also known as the Oyster Ninja has done right and identify some things you can do to fix or avoid the rookie mistakes all new podcasters make.

Let me share a little about Gardner.

He is a married US Army veteran and a devoted family man.  Gardner has been shucking oysters for ten years and can be found in the DC metropolitan area. Gardner learned the art of shucking from his father, and fellow oyster champion, Samuel “Sam Sam” Fisher. Gardner has shucked at the best raw bars in DC including Whaleys, Rappahannock River Oysters, The Local Oyster, and The Walrus & Ale Oyster bar. He has also shucked at DC’s most premier events include Chef for Equality, the DC oyster Festival, The St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival, Shuck-n-Suck, and The Oyster Riot at Dc’s Historical restaurant, Old Ebbits Grill. As a business owner, running his own oyster catering service and mobile raw bar, Gardner has shucked for some of DC’s most elite.

He is also a champion oyster shucker.

• Ranking 6th place in the 2016 National Oyster Shucking Championship.
• 2017’s Best Shucker in Philly,
• Ranked 2nd place at the 2016 Best Shucker in Baltimore and Baltimore Rotary Competition
• Ranked 5th place in the Boston Seafood Expo Shucking Competition.

Currently, Gardner can be heard sharing his knowledge about oysters and shucking skills with the world via his podcast The Oyster Ninja, which centers around oysters, oyster shuckers, farmers and other oyster related things. The Oyster Ninja can also be spotted in the Eating Oysters: Chesapeake Style a Maryland PBS documentary.

Whether on camera or behind an oyster bar, Gardner Douglas’ personality is infectious. He draws you into the art of oyster shucking as if you were watching a performance. Gardner Douglas’ shucking skills are a work of art. There is no wonder that they call him the Oyster Ninja, as his techniques make shucking oysters look as easy as eating them. The art of oyster shucking is lost on most until you decide to try opening an oyster yourself.  Gardner is a sought after expert that works with caterers, bars, parties, and special event to provide the seafood delicacies.

Oyster Ninja Podcast

How do you not screw up?

Here are are things to help you avoid making rookie mistakes in podcast. Everybody is selling something.  so you have to specialize in this crowded world in order to survive. Gardner’s niche is in the seafood industry. He prepares and presents oysters for bars, cocktail parties and high end events. He was born almost with a oyster knife in his hand. He learned from his father who passed an Eastern Shore tradition to him. Gardner is also concerned about the environment. His niche is as deep as the ocean. He has a lot of things to pull from, he just didn’t know it at first.

The first goal for a successful podcaster is preparation. You have to know where you want to go. You don’t have to have all the answers but you have to know that you are providing a service, or a reason for us to listen. How long is your show going to be? What persona are you going to portray? What does your album art look like? These are just a handful of questions that will frame your show before you even find a microphone you want to buy in Amazon. I suggested Gardner get a notebook and write his vision down. Something happens when you put it on paper. For me, its more concrete and fluid than coming from a keyboard. I am very proud of my brother Gardner. He actually listened to me on more than one occasion and is doing well.

The second goal is to figure out who wants what you are selling. In other words, you have to identify your target audience. This one takes a little time. Everybody does;t want what you have. Everybody won’t like your voice, your delivery, your accent, your graphics, or something. The good news is those that do, will love you to pieces. They might not look like you or live near you but the good news is, they are somewhere on this big blue marble. Your job is to find them, connect with them and deliver.

The third goal we all must take after we get going is to actually take action. It is easy to get a paralysis of analysis. There is always something else to buy. There is always something just not quite right. One of the great things about social media and tech today is that you fix it on the go. Gardner did that and has made connections already that he will use when the time is right. Yoda said it best, “Do or Do Not, There is No Try.”

The fourth thing you should be working on is to solve certain problems for specific people. When someone invest their time with you, do something for them. Teach them. Inspire them. Make them laugh, think, moan or cry. Whatever you do, just don’t be boring.

The fifth and final goal of this blogpost is to do what Gardner is doing well. Create a “tribe” and tap into a more loyal and highly engaged audience. Even though he isn’t creating a podcast episode every week he is still working on building his base. He is working social media and good old fashion networking to share what his show will be. He has enough episodes for newcomers to listen to and a lot of upcoming shucking events where he meets potential clients, guest and listeners. He is not resting even though you don’t hear him.

oyster ninja podcast knife gardner douglas Five Rookie Mistakes You Can Fix Today About Your Podcast
oyster ninja podcast knife by gardner douglas

The Oyster Ninja podcast is going to be successful. Right now, Gardner is being a good Christian father and husband so the podcast creation has not been as regular as maybe required to grow exponentially but he knows it. He chooses to do the right things, and I am positive that when the time is right, you’ll see and hear a lot more about and from the Oyster Ninja.  This is his new knife he created to get a buzz going.

If you can’t wait, you’ll find him on social media:

instagram: oysterninjapc
Facebook: The Oyster Ninja Podcast
Email: oysterninjapc@gmail.com

Remember there are five things you can do to avoid the rookie mistakes I made. Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance. (plan) Figure out who your audience is going to be. After you get and idea of what your show is going to be — do it. To be successful, solve a problem. Have a reason for your show that is of more interest than you just being cute. Create a tribe from your identified audience and change the world; or why else do this?

The world is your oyster, shuck it! – Kenn Blanchard

The Surprisingly Simple Remedy for My Lukewarm Christian Life

Here’s an example of a podcaster using what is available in social media to reignite his passion for the Lord.  The tale of a project called Miracles & Atheists.  The surprisingly simple remedy for my lukewarm Christian life.

What do you mean, “when was I born again?”

I grew up in a church, I’ve always believed…it’s awesome that you found Jesus right before you were about to take your life, that God spoke to you as you opened the door to cheat on your wife, that you were delivered from your 10-year addiction, but I don’t have a story.

The Dilemma

I prayed for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior when I was a kid I guess, but I don’t remember being saved. What I do remember is praying that same prayer several times throughout my childhood, on 5 or 10 occasions maybe. I suppose I just wanted to make sure I was saved, but nothing happened.

The point is, I don’t have a story so don’t ask me about it, I get uncomfortable.

I don’t like being uncomfortable.

The truth is, not having a dramatic story makes me wonder whether I truly am saved. I believe, sure. At least I think I do.

But what does it really mean to believe anyway? I’m supposed to know that I know that I know I’m saved, right? That’s what the pastor says. Ok then, but how do I know for sure?

Faith is being convinced about things we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that; but am I convinced? The whole concept sort of stresses me out. Jesus tells us those who believe will cast out demons in His name, they will speak in tongues…wait tongues? What’s that all about anyway? I grew up United Methodist man, I don’t know what all this means.

Those who believe will pick up snakes with their hands and drink deadly poison without getting hurt. They’ll place hands on the sick and the sick will be healed…seriously? (Ref: Mark 16:17-18)

I certainly haven’t experienced any of that. Maybe I don’t believe then. But why not? What am I doing wrong? If I’m not saved, why am I wasting my time with church?

These are the things I struggled with during the first 38 years of my life as a lukewarm Christian.

People always used to tell me about the freedom they found in Jesus, but all I felt was condemnation. Paul says there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) so I felt confused all the time. What’s the point of it all?

My lukewarm Christian friends used to tell me not to worry about it…that I was bearing fruit, I was fine. Even so, I had a potty mouth, an adulterous heart and an empty feeling inside….continuously searching for fulfillment, for something more.

Far from freedom, I know.
The truth is I was doing something wrong. I was going through the motions: seeking after the Lord with one hand but holding onto the world with the other. I’ve learned it doesn’t work that way.

About 18 months ago I started an unexpected journey in search of making sense out of it all. It was a Sunday afternoon, where despite having three energetic kids running around the house, I found myself scrolling through a mind-numbing playlist of movies on Netflix, most of which were full of sex, violence, and self-centered living. I’d been watching too many of those lately and I needed something kid-friendly, but not a kid’s movie, I couldn’t stomach anymore of those.

I selected a documentary called “The Finger of God.” I thought to myself, “hey that’s different.” The premise of the film was to investigate why some churches were on fire for the Lord, while others were well, lukewarm, perhaps? The film’s producer, Darren Wilson, sought after churches that were seeing real-life miracles, with the goal of capturing them on film.

Before watching this movie I knew absolutely nothing about miracles. I never even thought about signs and wonders before, or that any of the miraculous things Jesus talked about still happen in the 21st century. The Holy Spirit was basically an afterthought to me.

I figured miracles were a conceptual thing, not literally something us humans here on this planet could actually partake in. But I tell you, this documentary got the wheels turning for me. I was fascinated by some of the things I was seeing: deaf people’s ears opening up, knees being healed on the spot, manna showing up in people’s Bibles. It was weird…was this the same Jesus I thought I knew?

The idea of seeing miracles stayed in the back of my mind for the next six months. I wanted to know more, but I didn’t do anything about it.

Doing something would make me uncomfortable, and I don’t like being uncomfortable.

It’s funny though, the Lord doesn’t seem to be concerned about my comfort. It’s like He has other plans for me or something…

So I figured the best thing would be to start getting into the Bible; to see what God’s Word says about miracles. Didn’t they go away? The problem was I found the Bible boring and confusing. I was going through the motions when I read the Bible and felt guilty about it. It shouldn’t be that way, having guilt didn’t feel right.

God knew I would get frustrated and blow off my Bible reading, and I did. So He put someone in my path who was well-versed in miracles, signs and wonders. I met Cale Nelson at a conference for podcasters in early 2017. We had only talked for five minutes or so, but I could see this guy was on fire for Jesus. I admired that, all the while wondering why I wasn’t on fire like he was…what was I missing, seriously?

At this point my finances were a mess and my marriage was about to fail. I was full of pride and selfish intentions. Yet, I put up a really good front. By God’s grace Cale and I kept in touch online, and after a few weeks I asked him whether he’d be interested in talking about Jesus with me more regularly.

Through Cale’s example, I learned how truly different real followers of Jesus were from the rest of the world. That scared me.
I was comfortable in my lukewarm world; I wanted to blend in.

Even so, I recognized in my search for fulfillment that I needed to make some sort of change. We all know the definition of insanity. So one of the first things I did was pray the Lord give me a hunger for His Word. If His Word truly brings life, I want to understand how.

Miracles and Atheist project

It took a few months, but the hunger I prayed for did eventually come, gradually. I made a commitment that the first thing I would do after waking up is get into the Word of God before I did anything else, even if just for five minutes. To my surprise, I actually started enjoying my time reading! For understanding, I started devouring any Christian media I could get my hands on related to miracles: audiobooks, YouTube videos, podcasts, and more documentaries.

It opened up a whole new world for me! I couldn’t believe I’d been missing out on such life in the here and now. For my whole life I’d just been concerned about not going to hell, but for the first time I realized Christ is actually inside me in the form of the Holy Spirit, I just needed to learn how to access Him.

I was sitting in church alone one Sunday morning and the pastor gave a sermon about taking risks for the Lord. He said faith had to involve some sort of risk, that without risk, it wouldn’t be faith. The message resonated with me.

I realized I had developed a fear of man. If I were to talk about my faith, to move outside my comfortable, lukewarm world it would be awkward. Talking to Cale every week was fine, but getting out into the world and being that weird Christian well, that was different.

Yet Jesus said “so everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 ESV

Acknowledging Jesus would mean I’d have to take a risk, probably more than one, and I didn’t like that very much. On the other hand, I didn’t like going through the motions anymore either.

It was time.

A lot of Christians love to learn, but far fewer take action on what they learn. I wanted to take action.

The Lord gave me a vision of bringing atheists and believers together to talk about miracles, signs and wonders. The problem was that atheists intimidated me. They thought Christians were stupid, they talked with big vocabulary and I didn’t want them to challenge me on my beliefs. My theology wasn’t all that strong and I didn’t want to jeopardize my faith, so I stayed clear of any religious talk when I found myself in a conversation with an atheist. Nevertheless, I respected them. They weren’t like me, in that they made a decision. They didn’t question their beliefs, they just didn’t believe and moved on.

There’s something to be said for being decisive, yet I couldn’t understand why they would be willing to jeopardize their salvation. It was a fascinating worldview, and I realized I had a heart for the atheist.

So I took my first risk, I took action.
I needed to find atheists and Christians willing to have a conversation. So I put out a polarizing post on Facebook about the folly of the aggressive, Bible-thumping, “you’re gonna burn” Christian. I mentioned that I would be working on a project to address the issue. I put out the post at around midnight on an early Wednesday morning and within 24-hours, I had nearly 300 comments and 20 private messages asking me what I was doing.

My post took people by surprise, it was out of character. And it also struck a chord. The next day I found myself filled with what could be none other than the Holy Spirit. I felt like I was high! Nothing else mattered, not my finances, not my frail marriage, not the kids, nothing…just God.

It was one of the most fulfilling experiences I can remember; that day I was baptized of the Holy Spirit. I took my first risk for the Lord, and I got my first taste of real faith. Shortly thereafter I found myself laying hands on the sick, rebuking illnesses and starting to see people healed. It’s been nothing short of amazing (and a little crazy).

One week later I launched a four-hour livestream on Facebook – I call it Miracles & Atheists. The premise of the show is to facilitate a healthy dialog between atheists and believers about the supernatural. It hasn’t been easy, but incredibly fulfilling.
Piece by piece, brick by brick my faith strengthened.

Nowadays, I see my wife and kids growing in their faith. My marriage is stronger than it’s ever been and God’s handling our finances. My six-year-old is even laying hands and praying for the sick! It’s been an amazing roller coaster of a ride.

I don’t care about being the weird Christian anymore, I just want to help the lost and heal the sick.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 NIV

I had read that verse for years, but I never knew how to truly apply it in the fray of life, until I took my first risk for the Lord. Seeking God’s kingdom first means to truly die to yourself, every day. It’s means listening to the Lord when He calls you to do something, whether you know for sure that it’s Him or not. If it’s aligned with the Word of God, you go for it.

For me, I’d already lived the first 38 years of life for myself, so I’ll go ahead and live the rest out for Jesus.

If you’re like me, you may be afraid of going all in for Jesus. You probably don’t like being uncomfortable – believe me, I don’t either! Just know that your fear isn’t from God, it’s from the enemy. Push through and take that risk! When the dust settles, don’t be surprised when that mountain moves.

Are You Spiritual or Religious?

are you spiritual or religious

Titles

How many times have you heard someone describing their faith status as being spiritual but not religious?  What do you identify as in your Christian walk?

As Christians we struggle with titles and identifying words for what we do and what we are.  Words have always been important.  They define us.  In a time where identity is topical.  What do you call yourself as related to Christianity?  Not only do we have goo- gobs of denominations but even more differences internally.

If you think about it, I bet it is because of the shortcomings you have witnessed, lived and survived as a Christian.  Have you heard the podcast?

Are you religious? Religion is our attempt at worshipping God in the manner of our preference. To be spiritual is to recognize the existence of God, angels and demons. That is not saying much, actually. Demons recognize God, they just don’t worship Him.

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. James 2:19 (KJV)

It is not secret that the concept of organized religion has come short for most people. If the truth be told we have come short of what God wants for us.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23

Our churches are imperfect because we are in it. There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people.

Are You Spiritual or Religious?

One thing about deciding if we are religious or spiritual is from our failing as a religious community is forgetting who the real enemy is. We fight each other. We fight the pastor. We fight the deacons. We fight non-Christians. We fight people that show us our shortcomings. We fight a lot for people trying to be like Jesus. The real enemy is spiritual. It is the unseen forces that inhabit our dwellings, and people in our lives. Being demon possessed sounds horrible but lets move away from the Exorcist type movies and think about what happens to us daily.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

Have you ever had a family event go south (go to hell) after it started off great? There was love and peace in the home and then without warning someone ignites a firestorm of mean spirited conversation that destroys the joy. It is often the family member that doesn’t go to church. Or how about after a guest comes over. It is not the guest necessarily but as if a presence came in with them that changed the dynamic of the event.

This event influences more people than presenting the Gospel. It is why it happens. It is demonic.

How about a home that goes from warm to cold. A day that goes from great to horrible as if a virus of evil passes through it. I submit that this is exactly what happened.
How about the church business meeting? Those are often the worse. Meetings held were we talk about everything but evangelizing, saving people from eternal death or helping someone. They are ripe for evil influences. Meetings were we are more concerned with parliamentary procedure than prayer. Prayer is more important than we realize.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have enemies in the spiritual realms. Satan and his minions hate you. They seek to stop your growth, delay your progress, kill your joy. What’s worse is you accept it on a daily basis as normal. You blame everything and everyone else.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.  John 10:10

It doesn’t just happen in church or in the movies.   It happens so often we miss it. Think about family times that turn out to make you NOT want to be around those who love you unconditionally. Think about all the times we have allowed ourselves to be angered, frustrated, or whatever is the opposite of what God would prefer.

You ever had family dinner time destroyed? The family is enjoying themselves and feeling the love and thankful to God about their blessings and then it hits.

How about in the home with a child that all of a sudden disrespects you, hits a hot button of yours.

It happens in church. It splits the church. It undoes the fabric of a church congregation which is actually another family.

Let’s talk about demons in the movies. They often say snarky stuff at first. It’s funny sometimes. It is a diversion. The next level is often hurtful truths. They are not all knowing but having been around longer than we have and able to confer with other demons on stuff about us and our families that appear impressive. They use that information to push your buttons. It came shame us, or fill us up with false pride. And it is always subtle. There is no being in red with horns and a pointed tail to scare us. The monster comes only after your confront it and try to cast it out. Then you get the ugly thing that spits, fights, curses God and blasphemes.

Casting out demons is no joke. It is not for the weak in faith. Not many of us are strong enough to do it. Look at what happened to the posers that tried it in Acts 19:13-16

Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

I don’t want you running out of the house naked and wounded.

Reading Scripture the Holy Spirit cautions us that to do it successfully it must be done by someone strong in their faith, cleaned and prepared by fasting and prayer.

In the movies, The Exorcist (spoiler alert) both priest died. Prayer is still crucial for us on a day to day activity before we deal with anyone.

Suggestions:
Before your next conversation with your spouse pray.
Before your next meeting pray.
Before your next event pray.

You want to pray to rid your home of indwelling or wandering evil.
You want to pray to protect your family while home. Think of evil as a roach in your home or church. You need to fumigate it with prayer.

Call the Holy Spirit to replace what is there. That is done through prayer and praise.

Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

I want to give you a title if you must have one. Instead of being religious or spiritual, how about being a follower or disciple of Jesus the Christ. There is no ambiguity or gray area there. But I must warn you there is no middle of the road answer. You are either His or you are not…

Matthew 10:33 says “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Amen?

Make Good Choices a sign pointing to choices
Make Good Choices

 

 

Crank up the Christian Tunes When Working Out

woman music christian music

About 30 pounds ago, I was a fitness instructor – jumping around on the fault line in Southern California, leading people through step aerobics and high impact workouts. See, I’ve dated myself already. So now, 30 years and 30 pounds later, I’m back in the gym and one of the first things I changed about my workout? The music. I decided to add Christian tunes to my workout regime.

Cranking up the Christian Tunes

Instead of listening to metallic rock, hard-driving and fast-packed thumping music with nasty words, I’ve switched the sound system over to Christian Rock. I’m revisiting the songs from 15 years ago, when I played in a Christian band at a big Baptist church in Missouri, and I’m starting with this CD, Integrity’s iWorship, “No Boundaries. It is a 2 CD collection of 33 worship songs, including these artists – Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Israel & New Breed and more. I look forward to exploring more modern Christian music as I practice this new choice of music in the gym.

I reference Ecclesiastes 3:3: A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.

christian tunesI like to think of it this way. As I tear down muscle fibers, to rebuild themselves, I am also tearing myself down again and listening to the words through these songs, and rebuilding myself. I am able to hear the words, think through them and leave after a workout with a stronger purpose in living the life that God wants me to live.

What are some Christian artists and songs that you do or would listen to when you work out?

Barb BairdOur friend, Barbara Baird, has been a Sunday School teacher, a concert choir accompanist at a Baptist college, a singer in church choirs and a keyboardist with Christian rock bands. She’s also a travel writer, a gun writer, a wife, mom and granny who lives in the Ozarks. She’ll contribute tips on lifestyle topics – such as travel, exercise, safety and who knows what else? Find her at Ozarkian.com and Womensoutdoornews.com.