You never know…

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You never know…

          Shoppers of many varieties entered the bookstore where I once worked. And they came for many reasons. To use the bathroom, get some coffee, look at the art upstairs, and some even came in to buy books. Many of those who sat at the coffee shop were students wanting a nice place to study and of course to use our Wi-Fi. I always got a kick out of those who were obviously meeting for the first time for a date at a “safe place”.

          The book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was a popular college age book sold. I’d always say to the purchaser, “Don’t confuse this book with the little known Mirror Christianity about self-absorbed Christians. Or when they bought the popular devotion Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, I’d tell them about my book idea: Jesus Texting. The last chapter would be BRB.

          One evening a large group of College students passing through town came in to check out the store. As usual I tried to engage the customers and make them laugh. However, I noticed one young lady appeared distressed about something. She hung back from the others and stood by the stairway to the art gallery. She didn’t look like she wanted to be there.

          After coffee, some greeting card and book purchases they all left laughing and having a great time. Later that evening, I noticed someone had drawn a mustache on the picture of Joel Olsteen on the cover of his new book.

          Then things went back to “normal”.

          Weeks later my boss received an email. I will share it below. Who would’ve thought…

“Dear Jon,

          You probably don’t remember me, but I just want to thank you for the impact you’ve had on my life.

          I was in your store on March 18th I believe. I’m a part of the Navigators at Miami University in Ohio and we were stopping through Lawrence as a stop on our way to Colorado Springs for our spring break trip. At the time I was a part of a bible study through the navigators but I only knew a few people on the trip and ended up going kind of last minute, to be completely honest I’m not exactly sure why.

          Just a quick backstory, before the trip I was having a lot of questions on what it meant to trust God completely with my life and I didn’t really understand how I could let go of the control and give it to God and practically what it looked like in my life. I had been talking to a girl I just met in the car on the way to Colorado about it earlier that day and she helped answer some questions I had but I still had not made the decision to fully surrender everything and trust God, but I knew it was something I wanted to be able to do.

          So that night I was in the signs of life book store kinda wandering around by myself and you approached me and asked me if I could be anywhere right then where would I be and I said I didn’t know and you kept asking and I kept saying I didn’t know. In my head I wanted to be at a place in my heart where I could be content and at peace with fully trusting God with my life and surrendering everything to him, but I was too nervous to share that with you. I remember our conversation ended when you said I know you are thinking of somewhere and don’t want to tell me, but I hope you get there tonight.

          Those words had such a large impact on my entire spring break trip. I continued exploring the idea of trusting God and your words were always in the back of my head. Halfway through the week I made the decision to trust God fully and surrender everything to him and I’m just incredibly grateful for how you’ve impacted me. I told the girl I was talking to in the car about what happened in the bookstore and she was telling me how sometimes God works through other people and I’m certain God was working through you.

          Thank you!!! Sorry for the long email. Thanks for impacting me like I’m sure you’ve impacted so many others.”

A Humbled Chicken

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A Humbled Chicken…

A man once introduced me as “the most humble man he knows.” It made me feel uncomfortable and only brought to mind all my sins just before I was about to preach.

I remembered the time I was the Youth Pastor where the Pastor decided to have an attendance contest. The Youth Department verses the adults. The loser would be honey and feathered. I lost.

Placed forcefully in the bed of a truck they poured honey, molasses, and syrup over me. Then came the feathers. Everyone laughed. I laughed, pretending it was fun. When I thought it was over, the truck started, and I was driven throughout the town while the driver of the truck honked the horn.

In the book, Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender says, “No one is humble by nature…. Humility comes from humiliation, not from the choice to be self-effacing or a strong urge to give others the credit. Humility that has not come from suffering due to one’s own arrogance is either a pragmatic strategy to get along with others or a natural predilection that seems to befit only a few rare individuals. For most leaders, humility comes only by wounds suffered from foolish falls.” (p69-70)

That man who introduced me never saw my failures that still—to this day—haunt me.

Today, I am writing a scene where a man is reminded of his sins, yet still has to be responsible for someone else’s irresponsible behavior.  He fears the future actions of another while regretting his own actions of the past. In other words, he tries to control a lighted keg of dynamite when he wants to explode. How does a man respond to that kind of stress? One man is humbled, shaped by the failures of his past; the other is prideful and oblivious to his sin.

In my day to day humiliations I wonder, which man am I?

Last Year at this time

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This is a poem I wrote last year at this time. Praise God He has brought me through it and has blessed me with so many things this year.

“A New Year’s Introspection”

I cannot stand outside my own house and look in my window.

When gazing inward there is no mirror to reflect what is real.

Phantoms of pains past haunt me.

Resolutions fall lifeless to the floor.

When I take the next step into darkness, what will I bring with me?

Scars. Memories. Consequences. Fears.

Moments I cling to like handfuls of smoke.

And grieves too heavy to bear.

Lord, speak to my heart and remind me of goodness.

Map out where you kept pace with me on the path.

Show me what could have been worse.

And where I strayed from you.

Help me walk away from the echo of my own regrets.

Weave meaning into memories on my guilt eaten soul.

Motivate my heart toward good today.

And give me the strength to venture on.

 

 

Overcoming Fear

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I love to write deeply. By doing so I learn about myself.

Yesterday, I was writing when I chanced upon things that I had written down from my inner searching to discover motives and characterization for my novel. I ran across a question I had asked of myself, but I have yet to answer. I wrote, “by that time dad was gone… there was no more putting cans up at that point… so I wonder at what point did I stop being afraid in my life?”

Someone told me they didn’t understand my post. Some background story was necessary. Basically, my father was an alcoholic. We feared his coming home so much that we would stack food cans in front of the door to alarm us. He is gone now. I should no longer be afraid. At times, I still am.

I have worked with teens who have been through the horrible trauma of abuse and even though the threat was gone, they still feared Dad would come home at any moment, or that he was around the next corner waiting to harm them. At what point does someone like that give up those fears, and by giving them up, do they become more vulnerable? I asked myself if there will be a time when my book’s character no longer fears. How do I show that? How do I show it in my own life?

There are actual fears such as the fear of my dad when I was younger. The terror I would have when he would come into the room and the threat of danger immobilized me. But not only that, I also had of the fear of pleasing others. It is basically a fear of rejection, the fear of what life, or others, may do to me.

Fear distorts our thinking. We fear what we cannot overcome or what we cannot control. We fear that what is in front of us is far beyond our abilities to conquer. We feel powerless. We feel impotent. The enemies seem all powerful. We fear death. We even fear our own happiness and success. We are uncertain that our own resources—our own strengths—are not good enough to overcome the problem.  We want to escape. Fear produces flight. Anger attacks, but fear escapes.

Fear is not wrong. The question we must ask is which way does fear move us? Yes, fear produces flight, but what is the direction of our flight? In the book, “The Princes of Albion,” the young twin boys, Jachin and Boaz, play in a Wheatfield. They call it their “sanctuary.” That is because it’s the place they escape to hide from their father and his drunken rages. While they are in the field, a bird suddenly flies into Jachin’s tunic. (his shirt) His brother doesn’t believe him at first. They hear the cry of a hawk up above and realize that the bird is trying to escape danger.

When we try to protect ourselves, what we should do is fly to the protector. Fly to something that is greater than us. In our life, we either fear the world or we fear God. God is not impotent as we are, God is omnipotent.

It is okay to feel fear. Big fears make small ones go away. For instance, my daily fears of doing my work well to please my boss, or whether my bills are going to be paid are real fears. Will I say something that will make someone not like me? Those fears go away if someone in my family is in a car accident and I fear for their life. Big fears make small ones go away. I guarantee that when my mother was in an accident I wasn’t thinking whether my bills were going to be paid. Fearing God is a big fear.

We are terrified of love. We even fear God’s love. Love is a scary thing and a lot of times we don’t believe that God loves us enough to take care of our little problems. The Bible says that love casts out fear. It’s God’s love toward us and his willingness to be concerned about our lives that we forget and focus on our small fears instead. We forget that It is His power that can take care of our problems and give us peace over our fears. When we trust in him, we are no longer helpless. We are no longer powerless. Fear is a flight away from harm to a safe place without hurt just like the little bird in Jachin’s shirt.

When you fear, submit to God instead of demanding control or success to overcome the thing you fear. Acknowledge it it’s real. There’s something to be afraid of. Acknowledging it tells us something about ourselves. We should then struggle with why we do not trust God in this matter. Is God all of a sudden not powerful? Are we looking to ourselves and our own lack of ability?

We need to remember God’s acts and the things that He has done in the past. Such as those miracles in the Old Testament and in our lives. Remember the testimony of friends of the things that God has done for them. Let God’s love remove our fear.

What do I mean by fearing God? I don’t mean a “reverential awe.” I mean be afraid of Him. God has the ability to do whatever he pleases. He has the ability to cast us in hell. It is the great fear of separation from God for eternity that moves us. He loved us so much he sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins (The things that separate us from God). He desires a loving caring relationship with us as our protector and our provider. You will either fear the world or you fear God. Fear Him.

I certainly don’t negate the fact that fears linger and are triggered when least expected. Some may do things to overcome them. Take Karate, do meditation, push it aside, years of therapy. But when something big happens, that is beyond your control, such as your wife dying or someone you love being diagnosed with cancer, where do you fly to then?

So, the question was… at what point do you give up your fears? The answer is… the moment that you trust God with the circumstance. You fly into his tunic with the feeling that the thing that you are afraid of, can be overcome by Him. By giving those fears up would you become vulnerable? You already are. Recognize that. By giving up your fears to Him, you give it to the One who is all powerful and can handle any problem. Let His love conquer your fears.

Jon Hopkins

6/15/2017

The Formula: Part Two

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I arrived to the cabin in the middle of nowhere on a Thursday evening, settled in, and started praying. When I grew tired, I read in my bible.  My empty tummy was constantly on my mind.

I don’t remember what I read. But I didn’t do like a friend of mine in Bible college who opened the Scripture and placed his finger on the page and read this: “Judas went out and hung himself.” He said, “That’s not what God wants me to do.” He opened it again, finger down on a verse that this time said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might;” Uh… that wasn’t it either. One more time: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” He closed his Bible and said, “I think I’ll ask someone else.” Nope, I just read some in the Old Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs to start off.

I told God that I didn’t understand what was happening in my life. I needed answers. What was I doing wrong?

I slept well that night and began again early the next morning. When I was not praying or reading, or thinking about food, I would go on a walk in the woods and cry out to God.

Friday evening it came. A migraine. One of the worst. I had brought no meds. No shots. Not even an aspirin.

I knelt by my bed and held my head while I called out to God. “Take these away from me!”

Nothing.

“God, please remove this pain!”

Silence.

“Lord, will you take this migraine?”

“No.” It was almost audible. No?

“Why not?” I wailed.

A long pause then very softly, “ I want you to give them to me.”

Ah, yes, there is a difference between taking and giving. I prayed harder giving the migraines, the pain, my health to Him. I didn’t stop there. I gave Him everything I could think of. My family, each by name. Even extended family, in-laws and outlaws. I listed all I owned even the socks and shoes I had on my feet. “God I give you my ministry. And…. My life.”

Kneeling quietly, still in pain, I passed out there beside the bed.

When I woke up I was still on the floor. Cold and cramped, but my head didn’t hurt anymore. I went straight to my routine. No food- only water – and Bible and prayer as if nothing had really happened. My headache was gone, but I didn’t deserve it.

That afternoon as I walked, I told God I was tired of trying to do everything. All I did in life was by my own strength and I couldn’t do it anymore. I did not please others, the pastor, my wife, or the teens I worked with. I was a failure. I talked it through until a formula began to form in my mind. “All I’ve done was of my own power, by the pastor’s direction, to the teens.” I knew that wasn’t right. I tried again. “All I do can’t be like that. It can’t be of my pastor, through my talents, to the teens.” And again, “Of God, through my own strength, to God’s glory.” After going through the many combinations, I realized that no, it had to be this and only this: “Of Him, Through Him, and To Him.” I was satisfied. This was the only formula that was correct. And I had been doing it all wrong. On the walk back, I asked God for forgiveness and told Him I would follow this formula from now on.

A peace came over me when I reached the cabin again. I wasn’t even hungry anymore. That was what I needed. Not food. Not a cure. I needed a formula to hang my life on.

That night I slept well. No migraine. I returned home that day. I wondered if God had really let me give them to Him.

That week I met with my pastor. I told him of my weekend getting alone to talk with God. And about the miracle of the life-changing formula He gave me.

He sat back in his chair. Rubbed his chin and grabbed for his Bible. “Do you know that is in the Bible?”

“No.” I thought it was original because I had to work through and eliminate so many things to come to that conclusion. “I have never heard or read it before.” I told him.

He turned to Romans 11:36 and read, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

“Let me see that!” I thought he made it up and was kidding me. Yet, there it was on the page in black and white, right above the verse that says we are to give our lives as a living sacrifice. I noted it said “give” and not “Lord, take my life as a living sacrifice.” There is a difference. I was shocked. I had no idea.

A week went by and no migraines. Two weeks. A month, and I began to look at what I was doing differently. Different food? Medicine? No, nothing. Two months, three, then six months went by with no headaches.

That was around twenty years ago. I have not had a migraine since that Friday I prayed by the bedside in the cabin.

And… the formula still rings true. It changed my life. Everything is “Of Him, through Him, and to Him.” Whether it is my writing. My Job. Ministry. Or even how I treat my own children.

You know, we look for God in the little things. The inches, the minutes. The things that didn’t happen that could’ve. I found Him in a great thing. How do you measure a changed life?

And oh, yeah, some advice: don’t eat a big meal after fasting for three days. Good idea, bad idea.

 

Blue Tennis shoes

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Writing the second book in my series The Long-aimed Blow, coauthored with my twin brother, is harder than I thought it would be. The first book talks about trauma. Book two is how the characters responded and deal with the trauma. It has brought back many memories and has thrown me into a deep depression. Let me explain. No, let me summarize….

As an identical twin, it is always difficult to get individual attention.

One day as a child, I was sick—and my brother wasn’t. He went on to school and I got to stay home. Mom brought me soup and put a cool rag on my forehead. I felt loved. It was not long before I had learned to fake being sick and would be sent home from school for more individual attention.

One day, waiting in the nurse’s office for mom to pick me up, I overheard the principal tell my mother, “He’s not really sick. We know that. But what can we do? It is such a shame, he has so much potential. If only he’d just stay in school.” I felt so ashamed. I thought that was the last day I would equate sickness with love.

I looked for the attention in other ways. I found that I could get praise for drawing and art and was kinda good at it. (so was my brother) I could sing and wanted the solo in the Christmas program, but some girl got the part. I failed at a spelling bee when I couldn’t spell the word “dirt.”

Much of the trauma from my fifth grade is seen in the Princes of Albion. I won’t take the time to tell that story now. I walked away with only the clothes on my back and a pair of blue Converse tennis shoes.

I was never good enough. Never as good as the other guys. Never strong enough. I once cried because I had little arms. In sixth grade, the other boys knocked me down on the playground, took my shoes off and my white socks, then lifted me up and paraded me around the school yard waving my socks like flags.

I intently watched the other boys and saw that they got attention from girls by saying something funny. I had been using my sense of humor to escape bad feelings for a long time and I started being a wise guy/clown in class. People laughed when I told a joke or a good pun. But the laughter never felt like love.

In high school they dumped my blue tennis shoes in the boys’ toilet, put a jock strap over my head, and a punctured can of Right Guard down my gym shorts. At the church youth group, I nominated myself for the Spiritual Council. I got one vote—mine. (They read the results out loud). I did art for the youth department and tried my best. I was in the ninth grade play… but forgot my lines.

But, I didn’t feel loved. I would look at myself in the mirror at home and tell myself how much I hated who I was—until I blacked out. My brother had a girlfriend, but I was too shy. No one loved me. Oh, mom did. But she was mom. I began to seek ways to commit suicide.

That summer the youth group was going to Old Mexico for a missionary trip. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay home and die. But my brother was going, so I reluctantly went. I remember stepping on the bus. I looked down at my worn out tennis shoes and said, “God, I’m so tired.” That trip we built a building from the foundation to the finished roof. It was hard work. We handed out Bibles in the afternoon. In the evenings we would hold meetings. I was asked to give my testimony. I made one up.

I met an old Mexican who spoke a little English. He asked my name and I told him.  He called me “Jaunisito.” I asked what that meant and he said, “Little Jon with love.” I gave a scoffing laugh and gave him a Bible.

By Thursday of that week I was exhausted. That evening–very late–the Youth Pastor gave a Mission’s message on God’s love for all mankind. I heard him say, “God loves you.” And I broke down. I did not believe him. He was very wrong. I walked to the back and fell to my knees and sobbed.

Then, in my despair, I somehow felt God’s arms enfold me and He whispered in my ear, “It is true. I do love you, Jon.”

…to be continued…

Writing in the Dark!

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Yesterday, I listened to an old Don Francisco song, “Balaam.” The lyrics include the line: “So when the Lord starts usin’ you don’t you pay it any mind. He ‘could have used the dog next door if He’d been so inclined.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbTAaBWmqsM

This year marks my forty-second year serving in various ministries always involving teens. I have been a Psychological Youth counselor, Youth minister, and school teacher. Now I call myself an “author.” I am surprised God has used me at all.

Last year, I made a spiritual goal to use my writing AS ministry. As part of that I gave a speech to a monthly meeting of the Heart of America Christians Writers Network. (HACWN) My topic? “Writing in the Dark.”

I shared that all of my published works came from deeply dark times in my life. I encouraged the attendees to also embrace the darkness—find God there—and share that with others.

I opened my heart and bled profusely before the crowded room. I talked about the time I forgave my alcoholic father, where the idea for my novel came from, how my wife died, and other tragedies that have been turned into stories in print. Only God knows how those things were used to comfort or encourage others in their dark times.

Then, I was asked to repeat the speech at HACWN’s yearly writer’s conference. And again at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s monthly writer’s meeting in Kansas City. I gave it my all hoping that it would affect writer’s lives for God. I felt like Balaam’s—uh—dog.

Surprisingly, I am privileged to repeat the talk at this year’s HACWN conference. Apparently they like to watch me bleed.

Unfortunately, we experience darkness in our own lives, in the lives of family, and friends and wonder how we even survive.  Each unexpected turn of events has a profound effect on our writing lives and our faith. We have asked the same question, “Where is God in the dark?”

Yet, as writers, we somewhere find the courage to pick up a pen or our computer and write stories of conflict, loss, and love with a hope of shedding God’s light in a dark world. It is in the storms, hardships, trials, and losses that we find our stories and tell others where God is.

Come hear a message of testimony, encouragement, and writing tips for “Writing in the Dark” from someone who uses his pen as a flashlight in the darkness. Information and registration is found on their website for the HACWN 2016 Conference. Embrace the Call October 20-22, 2016  http://www.hacwn.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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