Short Pencil

October 11, 2013

“The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing….”

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 8:17 pm

This post is specially dedicated to Sikhu… not because she reminds me of slugs but because she has goaded me out of my sluggish ways to start writing again.


There is a verse in the Bible that haunts me on a regular basis.  It’s one of Solomon’s proverbs, and it goes like this:  “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Proverbs 13:4 KJV

Something about that desiring and not having disturbs me.  It really doesn’t matter what the sluggard desires, whether good or bad; the fact remains that regardless of what he wants, he will never get it because… well… he’s a slug.  He can’t get enough gumption together to up and get it.

Now, I’ve desired a number of good things myself.  The trouble occurs at that junction between desiring and doing; more often than not, I’m left fulfilling Solomon’s initial observation of the fellow who desires but does not have.  This leaves me with the uncomfortable conclusion that rather than being the diligent, hardworking fellow, I’m actually… well… a slug.

This month has been very unusual, and it’s partly because of it that I’m writing about slugs.  I’m currently rotating on the Burns unit, and for the past few weeks our census has been low.   Like, no patients low on some days.   So it’s been something of  an unexpected mini-vacation.  Yet despite this, I find that there’s a number of projects I’ve been wanting to do but just haven’t done them.  Posting this blog is step one in creeping away from the unproductive life of a slug.


April 8, 2012

Taking Aim

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 10:16 pm

Friends are good things to have. If not for them, there’s a very small chance I’d actually be writing something here right now. So, two years and a whole lot of experiences later, a thank you goes out to some special people for inspiring this new edition of Short Pencil.

I’ve been thinking a lot about decisions lately. When I was accepted to medical school, I thought that the rest of life would be smooth sailing. A major decision in life had been reached; I knew that God had opened the way for me to study medicine, and that this was His plan for me. I didn’t have a clue what I would do, but that didn’t matter; I was in.

Now that I’ve been in for 3 years, the question of what do I want to do when I grow up isn’t a funny question anymore. The Match will soon be upon us, and I need to know what I’m going to try and match into. “Success in any line demands a definite aim,” has never been more true than now.

After some thought and prayer, I’ve decided to take definite aim at General Surgery. I know there are challenges ahead, many of them revolving around time, others around academics. The most pressing one is that of maintaining a healthy devotional life.

Brennen told me once that God can only guide a moving ship. I’ve set sail today; stay tuned for future (short) updates.

December 29, 2009

Fearless Daffodils

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 2:00 am

It’s late, but I told David I’d start blogging again.  This is a lot sooner than even I thought I’d get to it.  Sorting through my inbox has made me realize how much I’ve forgotten of the past and how nice it is to have something to look back on.  Even now as I write this, I have fresh reminders of where I’ve regressed.

It’s been an eventful period since I last blogged.  I’ve been to the Philippines and back, preached my first evangelistic series, got beat over the head by my first full quarter of medical school, and have come with fresh revelations that God still answers the prayers of distressed students.  Yet I have nary a milepost to remind me of where I’ve been, no Ebenezers to say, “Hither by Thy help I’ve come.”  I should have much to fear for the future, for I am forgetting the leadings and teachings of the past.

Rummaging through my inbox this evening, I stumbled on a forward JK sent us about daffodils.  “Cheesy.”  A true statement as well.  Yet the message of not waiting for some grand thing to be accomplished before starting to plant one little bulb at a time rang home.  This will be the first bulb planted in what I hope will be many more to come, an awakening of lessons that have lain dormant for some time.  Now, to implement the lessons on sleep….

April 7, 2009

Appraising the Value

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 10:45 pm

So I’m trying to gather my thoughts right now, and the emerging theme for today is appreciating the cost of something.  As undramatic as that sentence is, it is pregnant with thought.  Allow me to illustrate:

Trash: I’ve taken for granted the ability to throw trash away, not really comprehending the valuable service Waste Management has been doing by faithfully receiving my trash week after week after week.  Trying to figure out how to throw away the broken bed frame from the Pipim’s was ridiculous; you no longer value the stuff, no one values the stuff, yet to take it to the dump would cost money, money which we don’t have.  Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this bundle of junk?

It was with tremendous relief that I found out our neighborhood takes all forms of trash and waste, so long as it’s non-toxic and fits in the dumpster.  The relief of this burden, both physical and mental, was incredibly welcome.  I now have a more just conception of the cost of waste disposal.

Furniture:  Today we finished moving all of Cassi’s furniture to the newly cleaned out shed.  I’m not sure how to classify this cost, but the expenditure of manpower was well matched by pitas and a sense of accomplishment.

Speech: For the past year I’ve been trying to meet up with one of the freshmen at UMich, Brother T.  Facebooked him, made several attempts at visiting his dorm, yet still have not met him.  I have, however, met his roommate, Brother A.  (Visitation note: if you ever want to meet someone’s roommate, go visit them; you won’t meet them, but you’ll meet their roommate).

So again, like so many other times, I went to visit Brother T’s dorm with the intent of inviting him out to TWJ.  No luck; just Brother A.  After several pleasantries, I walked away.  Then it struck me; why am I chasing down T when I’ve been meeting A all this time?  Isn’t he also someone who should be invited?

For a few minutes I hemed and hawed over going back to bother A again; the time has passed, he’s probably not interested, and I’ll just make him think we’re weird.  Tough.  Honestly, what did I have to lose?  How could one more knock make the situation any worse?  And if he’s really not interested, so what?  How much different is that from not doing anything at all?

So I go back, knock, and invite A out.  He’s not interested (as I figured), but as he explains what his background is, he suddenly starts stuttering.  At first I’m wondering if this is some kind of elaborate hoax to scare me away or put me off; soon it becomes apparent that he’s for real, that he indeed does have a speech impediment and struggles to loose the words from his tongue.

I can sympathize with him; for nearly a year I lost the ability to speak properly and sing.  I struggled to get words out, squeeze them out, and could hardly croak a melody.  It hurt to sing; it hurt worse not being able to express myself through song or speak confidently for more than a few sentences.  I could not understand why God allowed it, especially since I intended to use my voice for Him.

I still don’t understand what exactly happened to my voice, nor how exactly it came back.  The best I can guess at is I damaged my vocal cords during a really bad cold, and during that year they were slowly being repaired.  I had resigned myself to never singing again or doing public speaking.  If my voice be lost,  then I would fill its place with written works and instrumental music.

Longer story short, I am very blessed and thankful to have my voice completely back again.  To lose something so commonly taken for granted is to reveal its true value.  So much depends upon the right use of the voice, so much good can come from its proper use.

Salvation: Pastor Conway’s message at TWJ summed it up, dealing with how David realized the unfairness of it all when his innocent son died as a result of a wrong decision David had made.  So it is, and so it should be, with Christ.  Although a free gift to all, we make it seem expected and something to be demanded that Christ die for us.  How else could we be saved?  Please, die, ere we die!

Yet today, if one of my family members was to die because I did something wrong, because of something they had no part in, I would hope I’d be man enough to say, “No; it’s my mess.  I’ll take the fall.  Leave them alone.”  How anguished would I feel, however, if they refused and said by some unalterable law my family member must die.  Why?  What evil have they done?

Nothing.  So they die because of a stupid mistake that I did.  It would be wrong, so wrong.  How could you live with yourself and be happy that they died in your place?  It’s not something that you expected, deserved, or even wanted.  Their death cost something very dear.

So it is, and so it should be, with Christ.  An act of mercy, an act of love, yes; but it was an act of injustice for Christ.  That I should make use of His sacrifice, that He wants me to make use of His sacrifice, goes without saying.  That I should accept it expecting that it was just for me without recognizing the total unfairness of it all would be to cheapen salvation’s value, promoting a “cheap grace” of a different sort.  I now comprehend something of the cost of Calvary.  Grace is far from cheap.

April 6, 2009

Cleansing the Sanctuary

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 10:35 pm

The creator must take responsibility for the creation.  From the mundane realm of leftover food to the more significant world of children and family, the creator must take care of what was created; this same rule also applies to trash and other material objects in our life.  I’ve been reminded of the reality of garbage disposal today while cleaning out a shed for storage.  Trash must go somewhere; it just doesn’t disappear.  Even when the garbageman (i.e. “sanitary engineer”) carts it away for us, that trash is going somewhere and will accumulate in some landfill.  Then what?  Theoretically, after enough time has passed the trash will decompose.  The trouble is our trash is made up of stuff that won’t degrade naturally within our lifetime.

I’m honestly not sure what to do about the global trash dilemma aside from living as a Spartan, taking a vow of poverty, and recycling all that comes my way, but it does provide an interesting comparison with how God deals with the sin problem, that hellish trash that is accumulating within the heavenly sanctuary.  To summarize the sanctuary message in a nutshell, it is a visual depiction of the gospel and God’s plan for the final eradication of sin.  Justin said we’d be seeing sanctuary imagery everywhere after this week, and for the most part it’s true.  Even Pastor Conway’s study tonight was on Daniel 8 and the cleansing of the sanctuary.  It’s everywhere!

The final push to clean out the shed and move Cassi’s stuff will happen tomorrow.  Somewhere in all this cleaning I’ll arrange the significance of snowball fights, budgets, CRU Bible studies and cutting straight to the Word, and hanging with people.  For now, sleep.

April 5, 2009

Being and doing

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 10:37 pm

It’s snowing outside right now, and the warm smell of baking granola makes this a perfect time to reflect.  Aside from helping Rob bake granola, most of the day was spent at field school, reading, and getting food.  I got to know one of the brothers from Oakwood better; his testimony is incredible, and I doubt I would have heard it unless I sat next to him during lunch.  There is a reason why Jesus and the early church always had something going on with food.

Beside this, the lack of activity is somewhat disturbing, and I’m trying to see how it fits in with something that struck me from field school a few weeks ago.  Essentially, our testimony both here and in the hereafter is based not on what we do but on who we are.  As Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing puts it, “You must be good before you can do good ” (MB 128).  The anxiety sets in when there is a disconnect between theoretical and actual; if fruitful action is not being manifested, a logical question is raised as to the quality of the source.  If it’s not a quality source, then there is serious need of a transformation, hence the need of “Character Development” vs. “Fruit Production.”

On more tangible news, one of the brothers at EMU is interested in finding a church to visit over the summer.  Aside from Justin’s church, we’re not really sure what church to recommend.  So much interest has been raised this week and over the past semester; though not by the droves, these people are seriously interested in learning more about the Sabbath and the Bible.  The coming days will reveal how these interests are handled.  For now, though, sleep; character transformation, as well as the body, needs it.

April 4, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 11:54 pm

In the Bible, manna was a blessing that had a severely limited shelf life; if not gathered within a few hours and eaten that very day, the manna would vaporize away or spoil horribly.  I’ve come to the conclusion that my experiences this year are much like that; striving to call them back to remembrance without having written them down is like chasing the manna just before it fritters  away or presenting a decomposed mess that does no justice to the original blessing.  Pressing forward, there are twenty-six more opportunities I have to gather experiences, reflect upon them, and post them for the world to see.

For myself, this  Sabbath will go down as one filled with thankfulness over decisions made for Christ, ponderings over how to know God’s voice, discovering a vacuum that really works, and talking with Mark Ndisya.  The manna is drying up now, I need sleep, but this one thing I will say; we share many of the same burdens and experiences, the same pools of ignorance and knowledge, but somehow do not connect in time or do not satisify the questions adequately.  Instead the question is dodged or put off indefinitely, the lesson not really learned, and the snowball of ignorance builds up to a crushing level.

*sigh*  Enough morbidity.  I’m thankful for the people who did come out today, two who would not have come out unless a phone call had been made to them.  They underscore the importance of follow-up and just being friends with people; how this lesson will be applied within the next twenty-six days remains to be seen.

March 23, 2009

Prompted for promptness

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 3:14 pm

Of all the things I could and probably should write about, the thing that’s bugging me the most is the need to get things done.  Not just hope for and desire, but actually sit down and do the thing.  Procrastination and indecision go hand in hand, and while I thought I was getting away from them, recent events have served to convince me otherwise.

It was uncanny.  I would think of doing something, mull over it, and then watch as one of my fellow missionaries would say or do what I had been contemplating all the while.

We just had a conversation about something spiritual and were about to part ways.  Should I ask about praying together, or should I just go to sleep?  “Jonathan, you want to say a quick prayer together?”

The van was silent.  We had just come from church and had been reminded about the need of not letting sermons die on the way out but to actually talk about and reflect on them.   Should I ask, “What did you think of the sermon?”  Seconds later, a voice from the front asks, “So what struck you about the sermon this morning?”

We’re sitting at lunch, and I’m really wondering what this guy thought of church service this morning.  I heard he has a Jewish background, but didn’t directly get that from him.  As I mull over whether to ask or not, a voice is heard next to me saying, “So what did you think of the service this morning?  I know you’re Jewish, and I was just wondering. . . .”

It’s like the Holy Spirit is trying to get something done and finally says, “Alright, whatever, be stubborn.  I’ll find someone else.”  To hem and haw for even a few seconds could potentially result in a lost opportunity, for the hemming and hawing generally lasts longer than a few seconds and builds up until the opportunity has up and died.

There is a need for promptness, a promptness that’s down to the second.  Right now there are two contacts I’ve been meaning to visit for the past week but until now have not because I didn’t promptly carry out my plan.  I have a manuscript that has been freezing in the backburner of my mind because I haven’t sat down to type it.  I have a multitude of stories and experiences that I would love to have a solid record of but do not because I haven’t dedicated a measly 30 minutes every day to jotting them down.

And now I have approximately 5 weeks to redeem the time that has been lost; God help me.   It’s a sobering thought, and I can’t just glaze over it.  Herein lies a prayer request, and here will today’s post end.

February 19, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 12:40 am

“My prayer for you is that you will become a pastor, like your Uncle Dave.”

“Call her soon.  She’s not responsive.”

. . .

“Lola is resting now.”

Approximately 10 minutes ago, in a hospital down in the Southern Philippines, my grandmother passed away.  I was sitting at the dinner table, mulling over the ramifications of Dr. Holme’s article on 1 Tim 2:11-15 and gender roles, when a call comes from home telling me my grandmother is dying.  She had gone unresponsive but might still be able to hear; my parents had just gotten off the phone with her.  A few minutes later I called.  To my surprise, a few minutes made a world of difference; an unresponsive loved one had given way to a sleeping saint.

I can’t say this was unexpected, though the fulfillment certainly was.  I can’t say I’m ripped up emotionally, though I am sad for my mother.  Lola was suffering, and this was certainly a needed end.  We have the hope of the resurrection morning in  1 Thes 4:13-18; earthly existence is not all there is to life.

In many ways, death is helpful for the living.  It’s got a funny way of putting things in perspective, of allowing one to focus on the present by reflecting on the past.  My very presence in the Missionary Training Program is a fulfillment of my grandmother’s desire to see me become a pastor.  Though I’m not pursuing a professional calling as a minister, I am learning what it means to do the work of a minister.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to have a Bible study over gender roles in the Bible.  I’ll meet with a local Lutheran leader about ecumenism.  Last minute preparation for our trip to Arizona State University on Friday will occur.  I’ll wrangle over how I’m going to finish tying up loose ends regarding finances, school, contacts, and a presentation on worldviews.  But for now, I’ll reflect.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. 2 Tim 4:7-8

January 18, 2009

Sound Byte

Filed under: Uncategorized — martopoulos @ 11:05 pm

Sound bytes; short clips that convey a single, often simplistic, message.  The purpose of this blog is to provide space for introspection and thought, to record how God has led and what exactly is happening in the Missionary Training Program.  At this time I’m attempting to strike a compromise between reflection and depth, sleep and purpose.  Hence an indulgence in sound byte transcripts.  I’m hoping it’ll at least serve to remind me of what happened and serve as a springboard for future posts.  If someone else makes sense or is intrigued by the scizophrenic prose, then another point is added.

Sunday:  Post-game night depression syndrome.  I wake up super late with a feeling of ill-being, discover ways of working around water loss, hang with my brethren by going grocery shopping and cooking up potatoes, and ponder the point of being here, really wanting to reflect more on what I’ve actually learned.  I did not feel like being a missionary today.

Despite this, our next door neighbor randomly offered help while I was shoveling snow.  I had been trying to get to know this brother for a while after a rather discouraging encounter while canvassing for the girls’ WiFi connection (another story in itself); took me completely by surprise.  Where the story ends I don’t know.

Sabbath: Dr. Pipim marathon. Game night with  EMU.  Confrontation on convictions or pride?  Lack of backbone or lack of principle?  Heartless vs. Heartfelt Christianity.

Friday: Islam!  Home-like reality of ICD mosque vs. the formal style of ICA.  Friendly Imams; out of place feelings.  Falafels.  Tongues! (Biblical tongues study, that is).  The importance of honestly recognizing you don’t know all the answers and that commentaries can get more in the way of Biblical understanding vs. a plain, verse by verse, personal examination of the unadulterated text.  Blessings of having vespers at EMU.  Contacts!

Thursday: My laptop dies….  What did I do today?

Wednesday:  Decision on ASU for Spring Mission Trip.  Incredible leading of the Lord (must reference Brennen’s story for this).  Abuse of prayer to stall a decision by asking or deciding to pray over something when all the information is assembled?

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