A Ticket To Ride

Gregory Buck Welch

Gregory Buck Welch

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” 

 Desmond Tutu

I always wondered why, at funerals, they preached at you about accepting Jesus. It really irritated me. I didn’t want to hear it. You know, I still don’t want to hear it, but now I understand. And, now, I know why it is important. You see there is one fundamental difference between Christianity and the other major religions in the world, and this one difference is what makes Christianity so important, but it’s an importance that you’re not likely to discover unless you experience the tragedy of losing someone you love.

On Valentine’s Day of 2013, just last week, my 18 year-old nephew was killed in a tragic car accident. And, although I have been a “believer” for many years, the real truth of Christianity – the bottom line, the “Good News” escaped me.  It wasn’t until I lost Greg that the importance of the Christian faith became a reality to me.  I will see him again, he is in a better place and I don’t have to do anything to get there. I don’t have to be anyone I’m not.  I don’t have to do anything in particular. I don’t even have to love God, although we are told we must. He loves us anyway even if we are incapable of returning that love. His love is not conditional and has given me a free gift.  He gave me a “ticket to ride.” And, He has one for you too.

In the other major religions of the world, the afterlife is conditional. In the Hindu and Buddhist faiths you are born into an endless cycle of reincarnation with each new birth position conditional on your performance in the previous life. If you had been a good boy or girl you moved up the ladder with the eventual reward of achieving Nirvana. Yet even that state of being is not Heaven it is merely assimilation into the great “cosmos” of being like being a rain drop in the great ocean of creation. If you do not use your earthly life for good, well…you could end up in some not-so-nice reincarnation like maybe living life as a cockroach or a flea-covered rat.

If you are Muslim or Jewish your position in the afterlife is also conditional on your behavior in this life. You will either end up spending your life in Paradise or in Hell depending on how well you followed the Seven Pillars of Faith or the Ten Commandants (respectively). Only in Christianity is a place in Heaven guaranteed, free of charge, free for the taking.  Jesus came, He died and He rose again and this is what He offers to anyone who wants it. It is free. It has no strings attached is not conditional on behavior or performance, or even your ability to return His great love.

However, this does not mean that you can live your life like Hell on earth and expect to get away with murder in the afterlife. Christians are expected to obey the same Ten Commandments and live up to even higher standards than other faiths in order to draw others to the faith. Unfortunately most do not do this and therein lays a major problem with Christianity. People preach one thing and live another, and people who see this behavior don’t believe the real truth that they are forgiven and free. I mean, how can you live like hell on earth and expect a reward in Heaven? It doesn’t make sense to our limited ways of understanding. But, it doesn’t have to be logical to be truth in God’s world. It just is.  Because God who is love, loves us enough that He sent His son to resolve the problems, to answer for our inherent inability to live good lives; to pay the “ticket’s” price.

Another major problem with the Christian faith that prevents people from believing its message are its missionaries; people who have done much damage to the world and its cultures in the name of Jesus. It is not necessary to live, talk, walk and dress like the “white man” to become a Christian. But history is replete with bad examples of missionaries who have forced their way of life on others without regard or respect for the beliefs and traditions of those they were “ministering” to. I am sorry, this is just wrong, very wrong, and I apologize for all the harm done that can never be undone. Unfortunately, it continues to this day.

For example, my church sponsored some missionaries to Mongolia. We sat at dinner one night as they were visiting and sharing some stories about the native peoples. They were laughing and making fun of their customs and culture. Then the man said, “They only want what we can give them. They don’t want to hear about the Gospel.”  I could only shake my head in disbelief. Of course, the native Mongolians don’t want to hear the Gospel – the Good News – from you. You don’t love them. You don’t respect them. You don’t have anything they really need. They don’t want to hear about “the ticket to ride” because who wants to ride with someone who makes fun of them, who does not respect them and who only wants to change them. Not me, not ever!

You probably have some questions by now. Like why do they do this? Why would they treat others this way? Well, it seems to me that they have lost sight of the true message of the Gospel. They have gotten trapped in the rules instead of the love. God, the Creator, is our Father. By His loving thoughts we were created. He loves us and like any good parent He wants our happiness and doesn’t want to see us hurt. So, like any parent, He laid down some laws. Don’t steal it will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t cheat on your spouse. It will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t kill. It will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t put your hand in the fire. It will hurt.

It is easy to focus on these rules. They are concrete. They have answers. Don’t do this and you will be good, you will have a good life. You will be secure because you are now in control. It is harder to focus on God’s free love. It doesn’t make sense. It is not conditional, cannot be earned. It is out of our control and thus harder to accept and deal with. It is much easier to think that we can control God’s love by our behavior, i.e. if I obey the rules, I will have a good life, I will be blessed. The Gospel – The Good News – is that God loves us regardless of what we do here on earth. Our “ticket to ride” is not based on our actions but on the actions of Jesus on the cross. He paid the price and gave us a free ticket to heaven.

I want to see my loved ones again. I do want to spend eternity living with them in true peace and happiness with no more tears or pain. I want that “ticket to ride.” So I go on believing and accepting my faith as gospel, as the “Good News” of life after death, and I will gently tell anyone who wants to listen about it so that they might also share in the “Good News” of life after death in Heaven with their loved ones for eternity.

If you want to live forever, in freedom, in love with life and all its wonderful mysteries and with all those you love, there is a free ticket waiting for you. The price has been paid and all you have to do is accept it.

“I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon. (his last words)”
― John Newton

(Dedicated to Gregory Buck Welch – 6/30/94 – 2/14/13)

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The Next Big Thing

 “I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.” 

 Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo

 

Photo by: Keven Law

The title of this blog is in no means an indication of how I feel about my work-in-progress. I was invited to participate in this event by my author friend, Pauline Conolly. Therefore,  I will use this time to introduce my work: SHINE!  which is scheduled for release next Spring by Faith and Reason Publishing.

 
That being said, here goes:
 
 
 
 
1.) What is the working title of the book?
                     SHINE!
 
2.) Where did the idea come from:
                     A sincere desire to share with others my life’s journey to find spiritual wellness.
 
3.) What genre does it fit into?
                   I think it most closely resembles spirituality and  personal growth works.
 
4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition of your work?
                    Well, since this is an autobiographical, spiritual development book with no characters except myself, this  really doesn’t apply. 
 
5.) Can we have a one sentence synopsis of the work?
                     To be a spiritually mature you must SHINE and bring light to the darkness wherever it is found.
 
6.)  Will it be self-published, or represented by an agent?
                    It will be published by Faith and Reason Publishing with no agent involved.
 
7.) How long did it take to write the first draft?
                   Not long, just a  few of weeks, but the editing process has been going on for a long, long time.
 
8.)  What other books would you compare it within your genre?
                    Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer and Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, but I am not saying that  SHINE!  is anywhere as near motivating, profound or as well-written.
 
9.) Who or what inspired you to write the book?
                    All my college studies in spirituality and spiritual formation left me with a desire to better myself, and grow in my faith, to really SHINE.
 
10.) What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest?
                    It is a brutally honest look at the pitfalls we all become trapped in and that lead to darkness in the soul. I hold nothing back in the process of exposing my own shortcomings to the Light with the hope that it might help others avoid the same traps.
 
Authors invited to participate include:
 
Jody A. Kessler – www.jodyakessler.com
 

Vincenzo Bilof –  http://vincenzobilof.blogspot.com/

 
 
 

“If you done it, it ain’t bragging.”
Walt Whitman
 
 

All Things In Moderation

 
“Keep high aspirations, moderate expectations and small needs.”
― H. Stein
 
Part of my recent journey into wellness has been the pursuit of healthiness.  I stumbled onto this path in mid-January of 2012, and have been stumbling along ever since. I am happy to announce that I have now lost close to 65 pounds, and for the first time in nearly 10 years, weigh less than 200 pounds. I have had some ups and downs on this journey, a few steps forward and a few steps back, but overall I have taken it one step at a time keeping my eyes on the long-term goal, while accepting the short-term progress that I make.
 
I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned and practiced to make this happen. First find a plan and stick to it. There are no magic tricks, pills or diets, they all require work and they all will work if you work them. For me, counting calories is the easiest.  With the Internet this has never been easier. Just plug the name of the food into a search engine and the calorie count for just about everything is at your fingertips. I have tried every diet that’s ever been developed, and counting calories is the simplest. No food plans, no points to look up, no carb calculators, no fasts, no cleanses, you get the idea. Just plain old-fashioned calories.
 
I like to eat, so I add low-calorie foods that have a lot of bulk like salads with lots of different veggies for crunch and flavor. I like sweets and sodas so I eat a lot of fruit and drink diet soda. I love ice cream so I have sugar-free fruit juice pops. I like snacks so I have low-fat popcorn and pretzels and pickles. I do keep a food journal as this helps me keep track of what I eat so I don’t go over my daily calorie quota and I also record my weight loss there. I don’t exercise much, as I hate it. Simply hate it. However, I am more active around the house and I do go Wally-walking a couple of times a week, making it a point to walk from one end of the store to the other. In other words, I try to incoporate being active into my daily lifestyle rather than making exercise my lifestyle.
 
Unlike the man in the photo, I do not drink to excess, no longer smoke and only occasionally indulge in French fries. However, diets get old and boring and our tastes buds crave new experiences and our bodies need certain levels of fats. An occassional, by occasional I mean once a month or so, high-calorie dinner complete with fried foods and sickly sweet deserts are not only acceptable but recommended because they will relieve the feeling of being deprived of something you really want. If you are not feeling deprived your diet will be easier to stick with.  The important thing to remember is that it you don’t have to repeat this habit, you did not fail as perfect adherence to your diet is simply another addiction, and having a night off is not a reward for good behavior. This last attitude will simply lead to more indulgences and then you are once again traveling down the wrong road.
 
The bottom line is that any diet will work if you stick to it. The trick is to find one that is the easiest for you to swallow, to set realistic expectations, and to be gentle with yourself. No extremes are needed for success.
 
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
– Oscar Wilde

There and Back Again

 “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.”  – Confucius
 
There have been many roads that I have taken in my life. Some have been dead ends, some have been wrong turns, and some few might have been in the right direction but my ignorance and/or wrong-headedness led me astray. However, as I look back on the roads I have traveled, I do not so much regret that I strayed from the “straight and narrow” as much as I am grateful for what I have learned.
 
In my youth, I made decisions that led me on a difficulty journey. It was a rocky path that led to the desert where I wandered for many years. However, this desert helped to create my character and mold me in ways my early training could not do.  I often felt lost and alone, and wanted to escape the desert that I had created. Yet, it was not my time.
 
J.R.R. Tolkien said,  “Not all those who wander are lost.”  In one of the great paradoxes of  my life, I was indeed lost, wandering, searching after goals that I had set for myself. I was supremely confident and convinced that my path  was clear, straight and narrow. Like the Hebrew children who wandered the desert for forty years, they had a destination but they simply did not know how to get there. I also wandered for many years, and  like the followers of Moses,  I was certain I knew how to get to where I wanted to go. If I only worked hard enough, studied enough, learned enough, prayed enough, worshiped enough, always urging myself to do more and work  harder, then I would get to where I wanted to go. However, after many years of struggling down the wrong path, I finally realized that not only was I on the wrong path but I also had the wrong destination in mind. My goals were not only inaccurate and misguided, they were flat-out wrong. 
 
I have been blessed with family, friends, talents and other gifts, which I have not always appreciated and/or put to good use.  I cannot say that I am doing so now, but I am trying to do better by setting better goals, exercising self-discipline and trying to control the OCD part of me that seems to take over at times.  Jesus said, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matt 7:14 KJV  He always seemed to talk in paradoxes or teach in parables which lend themselves to various interpretations and frequently more questions than answers. Like what is this gate and narrow path and how am I to find it? How do I avoid making wrong turns and choosing the wrong road?
 
For me, what I have discovered, is that there is one simple commandment, one road to take that will lead you in the right direction without fail, and that is to, ” ….Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matt 22:37-39 KJV If this is my goal and my destination then there is no stress, no striving after more, no confusion, no wrong turns. However, even good intentions can become twisted, and if in serving others and in loving God, I place more emphasis on results and programs and progress and less on love, then I am once again striving after things instead of serving and loving others. I am once again headed down the wrong path, and now that I am writing again, I pray that I can enter by the right gate and stay on the narrow path.
 
So, it seems, I have come full circle, down many wrong paths and then back to one that I knew in my heart was right all along.  I focused my thoughts and actions on the destination and missed the joys of the journey set before me. I have learned from this wilderness experience, learned from my mistakes. I have learned to pace myself, to have fun, to put people first and these are the lessons that I am taking with me. I want to do it right this time, and am packing my bags for a joyful experience.
 
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” 
– Ralph Waldon Emerson

There and Back Again

 “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.”  – Confucius
 
There have been many roads that I have taken in my life. Some have been dead ends, some have been wrong turns, and some few might have been in the right direction but my ignorance and/or wrong-headedness led me astray. However, as I look back on the roads I have traveled, I do not so much regret that I strayed from the “straight and narrow” as much as I am grateful for what I have learned.
 
In my youth, I made decisions that led me on a difficulty journey. It was a rocky path that led to the desert where I wandered for many years. However, this desert helped to create my character and mold me in ways my early training could not do.  I often felt lost and alone, and wanted to escape the desert that I had created. Yet, it was not my time.
 
J.R.R. Tolkien said,  “Not all those who wander are lost.”  In one of the great paradoxes of  my life, I was indeed lost, wandering, searching after goals that I had set for myself. I was supremely confident and convinced that my path  was clear, straight and narrow. Like the Hebrew children who wandered the desert for forty years, they had a destination but they simply did not know how to get there. I also wandered for many years, and  like the followers of Moses,  I was certain I knew how to get to where I wanted to go. If I only worked hard enough, studied enough, learned enough, prayed enough, worshiped enough, always urging myself to do more and work  harder, then I would get to where I wanted to go. However, after many years of struggling down the wrong path, I finally realized that not only was I on the wrong path but I also had the wrong destination in mind. My goals were not only inaccurate and misguided, they were flat-out wrong. 
 
I have been blessed with family, friends, talents and other gifts, which I have not always appreciated and/or put to good use.  I cannot say that I am doing so now, but I am trying to do better by setting better goals, exercising self-discipline and trying to control the OCD part of me that seems to take over at times.  Jesus said, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matt 7:14 KJV  He always seemed to talk in paradoxes or teach in parables which lend themselves to various interpretations and frequently more questions than answers. Like what is this gate and narrow path and how am I to find it? How do I avoid making wrong turns and choosing the wrong road?
 
For me, what I have discovered, is that there is one simple commandment, one road to take that will lead you in the right direction without fail, and that is to, ” ….Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matt 22:37-39 KJV If this is my goal and my destination then there is no stress, no striving after more, no confusion, no wrong turns. However, even good intentions can become twisted, and if in serving others and in loving God, I place more emphasis on results and programs and progress and less on love, then I am once again striving after things instead of serving and loving others. I am once again headed down the wrong path, and now that I am writing again, I pray that I can enter by the right gate and stay on the narrow path.
 
So, it seems, I have come full circle, down many wrong paths and then back to one that I knew in my heart was right all along.  I focused my thoughts and actions on the destination and missed the joys of the journey set before me. I have learned from this wilderness experience, learned from my mistakes. I have learned to pace myself, to have fun, to put people first and these are the lessons that I am taking with me. I want to do it right this time, and am packing my bags for a joyful experience.
 
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” 
– Ralph Waldon Emerson

It’s Going To Be Okay

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
― Corrie Ten Boom

 
 
Sometimes, most of the time,  I have to relearn the same lessons over and over again.  I am extremely stubborn and hard-headed, and simply just don’t “get it”  right away. This is partly due to ignorance, but mostly due to a lack of trust in God. This, in turn, appears to be the by-product of my inability to grasp exactly how much God loves me.
 
I have read many accounts of people who have directly experienced the complete awareness of God’s love for them. In each case, it was a life-altering experience. Where once they thought of themselves as worthless and useless, they suddenly found self-acceptance and purpose. Brennan Manning in the Ragamuffin Gospel writes, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”  This awareness of His love not only changes the individual but changes his/her perception of reality. Where once the world seemed hostile, unmanageable and hopeless, their lives now appear guided and protected with a vision for the future.
 
Unfortunately, I have never experienced this love. I have heard and read about it, and I have yearned for it. However, except for one brief touch, I have never felt it. This makes it difficult to cope when challenges arise that threaten my daily existence. Instead of finding comfort in the knowledge that God cares and will do what is best because He loves me so much, I instead try to apply my own limited skills and experience to resolve them.  I pray continually for God’s intervention, yet instead of relying on and trusting His will for my life, I demand that He do things my way.  Without the full experience of His love, trusting Him is difficult at best and impossible at times. However, I am learning and growing in this area and realize that there are a few things I can do. Like,  Henri Nouwen, I can make a daily decision to believe that God loves me, and then act on that decision.
 
Last night, as I lay worrying about a pressing problem, I kept thinking, “What am I going to do?”  “I will never make it through this?” “I am so afraid.” It progressed from that negative self-talk to pleading prayers to God to fix things my way. I asked Him to answer my prayers with a specified response, to not just handle the problem but to do it my way. Somehow, in the middle of this mess, it occurred to me to pray for grace to accept things the way they are.  At that moment, I began to act on the decision to believe God loves me, and in that moment I began to experience peace. I was able to think more clearly and to realize that it will be “okay.” That no matter what happens God is in control, He loves me and He will take care of me. I felt strengthened, revived and at peace.
 
I remembered then, my favorite  Bible verse and it once again reassured me that He will see me through.  Even if He does not give me the exact answers that I think are best, He will always do what is best. He promises, ” But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isa 40:31 KJV So, I will wait on Him to take care of things, and choose to believe that “It will be okay” because He loves me.
 
I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man. 
 Dwight L. Moody