Calm or Calamity-Where’s Your Focus?

Since the onset of the recent pandemic we decided to take advantage of discounted AIRBNB homes and spent our weekends traveling.  Instead of sitting home with little to do, we hiked through Sedona, rented a cabin in Zion, toured Bryce Canyon and lounged around a pool in Lake Havasu.  On a recent flight I experienced a phenomenon that was a first for me.  It appears our flight path was right on the leading edge of a storm front.  Looking out one side of the plane, all I could see were dark storm clouds.  However if I looked out the opposite side of the plane, I saw clear blue sunny skies, not a cloud anywhere.  Of course my immediate thought was new blog material.  But seriously, a lesson on focus and perspective was being played out right before my eyes.  It was either a beautiful sunny day, or a dismal stormy day, solely dependent on which way I chose to look. Life is comprised of this very same focus each day.

So far the year 2020 has been one for the books, and it’s only half over.  The coronavirus pandemic has impacted so many lives and many have tragically lost their battle against this disease.  Many small businesses may never open again, family budgets have been stretched beyond the level of income lost due to unemployment.  And while loss of life is an undeniable tragedy, there is good to focus on.  We have become a much more sanitary society capable of fighting off future waves or mutations of this virus.  We have been forced to do things as families.  We have used our resources to feed those who couldn’t feed themselves.  We have witnessed our neighbors stepping up to care for each other.  We will be better prepared with hospital staffing and necessary medical equipment to battle any future outbreaks.  We have learned to do church outside the walls of any traditional building.

More recently, we have witnessed first hand the inequality once again of certain policing agencies resulting in trial by cop on the streets of Minnesota.  We have watched in awe and anger as peaceful protests were hijacked by anti-establishment factions bent on causing division by looting, burning down businesses, attacks against innocent bystanders and even fatalities in response to these heinous acts being filmed now with more frequency.  And as with the pandemic, any loss of life is tragic, however there is good to be found depending on your focus.  Blacks and whites in many communities are coming together in prayer and support and solidarity to create change.  Legislation is being discussed at high official levels in an effort to curtail rogue policing and overhaul outdated law enforcement procedures which lead to the inequality of application we see on our streets. Foundations are being formed to encourage voter enrollment to bring change through balloting.  The tragic death of a black man over $20 has lead to a worldwide acknowledgement that existing racial biases need to be admitted to and addressed once and for all.

In every dire situation there is a choice to be made.  Do we look out the window where only storm clouds exist, or do we focus on the window with blue skies and a sunny outlook?  The suggestion here is not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the world around us, but rather to find the positive in any situation, no matter how grave it may appear to others.  Do we see a pandemic that cost many lives or do we see aa cleaner, healthier way of living for our children in the future?  Do we see another black man lose his life at the hands of rogue cops or do we see for once a real opportunity to engage in dialogue that evens the playing field going forward so that all people feel equal in the sight of law enforcement?  Do we look at lost income and mounting bills due to being out of work or do we focus on the time we got to spend with family that may never happen with our usual daily work schedules?  Do we look at the decrease in our stock portfolios or do we see the opportunity to buy high-end stocks at discount prices and ride the surge when they come back up to previous levels?  Do we bemoan the doctor reports that tell us our lives and health are about to change or do we appreciate the fact that we will still be able to live out our lives and see our children and grandchildren?

It is a lesson I continually have to learn.  Perspective is everything!  It really is true what is said, that life is 5% of those things that happen to you and 95% of how you respond to them.  We are living in an ever-changing world.  We all have a choice of seeing clear skies or storm clouds.  It’s all a matter of your focus.  If you are one who can’t see sunny skies, then at least try to find a way to appreciate the shade storm clouds provide!

Who Pushed the Pause Button?

Life as we know it along with our daily routines have been placed on hold indefinitely due to an unseen enemy known infamously as the coronavirus. Virtually every aspect of our lives have been impacted.  Schools around the globe are closed as students complete classes online.  Proms and graduations cancelled. Weddings and even funerals cancelled. Non-essential businesses have closed up shop as millions apply for unemployment.  State Parks, beaches and recreational facilities are closed until further notice. Places of worship sit empty and quiet as dust settles on seats and pews normally filled with parishioners gathering to worship.  Most of us in this generation have never experienced anything like this before and for some, the anxiety level is off the charts.

As of this post there are nearly 1.3 million cases of coronavirus worldwide, resulting so far in over 70,000 deaths, and the Surgeon General of the US released a statement that this will be the deadliest week yet in number of fatalities to the virus. With daily updates dominating all the major news networks, it is difficult to escape the magnitude short of unplugging from all outside media sources. It’s like trying to flee the incoming and overwhelming fog in the classic movie.  There’s nowhere to hide.

In addition to the severity of the disease, there are the numerous voices or opinions over how to deal with this pandemic.  Some saying to shelter in place and others saying to be about but keep your distance; some saying to cover your face while others say masks are of no value to catching or spreading the disease. Some voices blaming eastern countries while others using the tragedy as an election year smoke screen.  Some voices exhorting us to obey government regulations as others are defiant claiming their rights are being violated and restrictions are unconstitutional. Several online personalities using the situation to politicize their own agendas and yes, even ministers blaming an indiscriminate virus on the current Whitehouse administration.  The reaction is as bad as the disease.  With all these voices coming at us from all sides, who do we listen to-who can we trust?  Which voice speaks truth?

In Biblical days it was common for shepherds to bring their flocks to a city during certain holidays or feasts and corral them in common pens along with numerous other flocks as there was no way to accommodate each flock individually.  And when the feasts were over each shepherd would call out their own flock.  Shepherds developed unique calls that only his flock of sheep would recognize and respond to.  At their call his flock and only those sheep in his flock would come out to him from the other sheep to return home.  In the same manner each shepherd would call out his flock with his own call until each flock was back under the safety and protection of their shepherd.

In John 10:27 Jesus says the following: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.”  Numerous time throughout scripture Christ is referred to as the Good Shepherd.  The duties of the shepherd included leading the flock to water and pasture, or provision, keeping the flock together without losing any, preservation, and sleeping at the gate to protect the flock from predators or harm, protection.  As believers and followers of Christ we can count on provision, preservation and protection during times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. With all the voices surrounding us daily, the one voice we should respond to is that of our Good Shepherd.  It is the one true voice that doesn’t change even when our situations do.

We are assuredly in this together, it’s not just a cliché.  If we have been fortunate enough to escape this virus, we probably know those who didn’t.  If we haven’t lost our jobs, our income or hours have certainly been decreased.  Parents have a much deeper appreciation now for teachers and couples are finding out how much they really like each other.  And everyone’s faith is being tested by fire as impurities are painfully burned away.  None know for sure when we will get back to living but most agree it won’t ever be the same normal we knew before the outbreak.  And all this happening now as we enter Holy Week for most.  Easter pageants have been cancelled and choir rehearsals done away with.  Church picnics, festivities for the children, Easter outfit shopping, all a distant memory until we can convene again.  We will actually be serving each other communion in our homes on Good Friday and not together as a church congregation.  It will be a much different celebration, but a celebration nonetheless.  The Easter message is not cancelled.  The accomplished mission  is not infected.  The purpose of the death and resurrection and the resulting reconciliation is not on hold until further notice and there is no social distancing between us and our Father who continues to make his residence within his children, who know his voice.

Our heartfelt prayers go up to the Father for all those who have perished from Coronavirus and the families who mourn their loss, as with all those who are still fighting for their lives in hopes of an eventual recovery.  Our prayers go up for all on the front lines, the doctors, nurses, medical staff, first responders and all who willingly expose themselves daily to the virus in performing their duties.  Our prayers go up for families around the world who have lost their means of support who find themselves in food pantry lines hoping for enough food to feed their families for a couple more days, and for all the rest of us who are just dealing with the uncertainty of how our lives will be impacted by he time this runs its course.  But let us all consider the message of Easter, the new life after death, hope after utter despair, joy after tremendous times of sorrow and companionship after perceived abandonment. If indeed, as some have suggested, God is allowing this to remove those things that have distracted us from him, then let us focus on him during these times and consider that this is merely a prelude as to what could happen once he sets into motion those events that will usher in the end of this age, a time that should be glorious for those who know his voice, and equally horrible for those who have chosen false shepherds.  God will surely lead us through the valley, guarding his flock, leaving the ninety-nine for the one lost until we reach the promised green pastures of eternity with him. God bless you this Easter.

Fear, Faith and Foreboding; a Pandemic

Where does one begin in light of the current worldwide pandemic of this little virus COVID-19?  I, like many of you, am holed up in our condo, partly out of caution of the unknown and partly because there are few places left to go.  As I write this, all schools in my city are closed indefinitely; Major casinos are closing their doors tonight at midnight.  Gyms, bars, many restaurants are dark and gatherings of more than 50 are discouraged.  We are in a time unprecedented for most of us.  Store shelves are empty and fights are shown on video over a package of everyday toilet paper. Last night my grocery store had armed police force at the entrance. Many workers have been laid off suddenly and without notice.  Every industry sector shows signs of an uncertain future and stocks are plummeting after the Feds dropped the prime interest rate to zero!  We are living in a strange time and fear has gripped a nation with a strangle hold reminiscent of an old sleeper hold by a brutal professional wrestler.  The panic is more pandemic than the virus.

I am no expert in this or any other topic on which I write.  Many of my readers don’t always agree with my words, which is ok.  These are just my observations and contributions, as I face the same uncertainty we all do.  Fear and overreactions are nothing new, even if the causes of those fears are.  And fear strikes the hearts of even the most faithful people.  I am reminded of an old song our band performed back in the 70’s by both Dolly Parton and Don Francisco, called He’s Alive. The very first verse paints a picture of sheer terror:

The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down                                        I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound                                                           Half in hopeless sorrow, half in fear the day                                                                                    Would find the soldiers breaking through to drag us all away

This is a description of the fear experienced by, of all people, the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus.  Some of them had just witnessed the horrible death by crucifixion of Christ and reported back to the brothers who had gathered in hiding.  Fear left them feeling orphaned.  Think about it for a moment.  These eleven men had ministered with Jesus for three years.  They did life together, sitting under his direct and intimate teachings, witnessing first-hand his miracles, from water to wine to life from death.  Moreover, they had performed similar miracles themselves by the authority Christ had imparted to them in their ministry missions.  We read in awe the words of Christ when he says “I am the Life”, “I and my Father are one”, “if you have seen me you have seen the father”.  But these men had heard with their own ears these words coming from the lips of the Messiah.  No one on earth knew Jesus more intimately than his own disciples.  And yet when the shepherd was struck, the flock panicked. And even when Peter and John ran into the empty tomb, they had forgotten the words of the Master when he said he would rise again from the dead and they returned to their hideout and to their fears.  It was only after Jesus appeared to them in the flesh that they remembered His words and believed once again.  If the disciples of the Savior upon whom the foundations of the early church were laid struggled with fear and doubt, it is no small wonder that fear and panic are so rampant today, even within the body of Christ.

I get it, this is new and unfamiliar territory.  Pensions and retirement funds are losing value daily; parents forced to decide whether to work or stay home with their children because of school closures; the faithful torn between attending local churches or being responsible and bowing instead to science and health experts.  And what makes these situations even worse is the divisions caused when one group condemns another over their chosen response to this new outbreak.  And yet from a merely scientific and medically proven research, the stress and anxiety caused by fear has more of an impact and deadly potential on the body through elevated blood pressure and coronary stress than the bug itself, and could potentially kill more when said and done than any virus.

It is vital in times of uncertainty when we are tempted to react emotionally that we rather respond with what we know to be true.  God’s Word has never let me down even in the darkest of times. The words “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” are listed 365 times throughout scripture, a true sign God wanted us to be reminded daily of his faithfulness.

John 14, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled and don’t be afraid”

Joshua 1, “Be strong and courageous, and not afraid”

Matthew 6, “Don’t worry about tomorrow”

Psalm 23, “I will fear no evil for you are with me”

Psalm 34, “I sought the Lord and he delivered me from my fears”

1 Peter 5, “Lay your fears on Him because He cares for you”

2 Timothy 1, “We are not given a spirit of fear but of power”

Isaiah 41, “Don’t fear, I am with you, don’t be dismayed for I am (still) your God.  I will strengthen you and hold you up with my strong, mighty and righteous right hand”

Romans 8, “If our God is for us, who can possibly come against us”

God imparts to all who ask, a measure of wisdom and discretion to be used in such matters.  We don’t test God or go against sound and conventional wisdom.  We don’t smoke because we know it can lead to respiratory illness or death; we don’t eat fried foods everyday because science has shown us what fats do to our heart and arteries; we adhere to the medical advice given by experts.  But in these cases our decisions and responses must be dictated by sound advice and precautions, not fear.  Fear is often a liar.  Fear says you can’t accomplish something, faith says I can do all things through Christ; fear says the medical prognosis is bad, faith says I am the Lord who can heal you; fear says the situation is hopeless but faith says all things are possible through Christ; fear says isolate and hide out but faith says let your light shine to a darkened world who needs to see your hope in Christ.

With my current health condition I would be considered at risk if I were to contract COVID-19, so I will be taking the necessary precautions to avoid exposure whenever possible.  And to be honest, like the disciples, I am concerned with what may be next, how much worse things could get, what impact this will have on my family and friends.  But I will not be driven by fear or guided by panic.  If this is an extended visit to the valley, I will enjoy the shade and quiet time.  But fear will not be welcomed here.  Love, faith and fear are strange bed fellows; love casts out all fear.  Over the next few weeks I would highly encourage you to turn off FOX, CNN, and all other news outlets who profit highly off sensationalism driven by fear, and pick up a good book or take a hike instead.  Use this time to reconnect with friends and family and look for ways where you can be a positive influence on a world who doesn’t need us hiding in fear right now.  God bless you and your families now and as we pass through this fire, remembering that there’s another in the fire with us and we will not be burned!  Peace.

 

 

 

Where is This Jesus I Keep Hearing About?

It is now 2020.  I’m 58 years old.  I was raised in the church and have heard all my life that Jesus is coming back soon.  When is “soon”?  Prophets, preachers, televangelists have been proclaiming a glorious day of the return of Christ for well over two thousand years now, but nothing has changed, everyday the same.  The world spins, the days pass, life as we know it continues on as it has from the beginning of time.  What gives?

This line of questioning is nothing new.  Naysayers even in the days of the early church offered up the same sentiments as many today.  Peter addressed this in his second letter, Chapter 3.  It reads:

“In the last days, mockers are going to have a heyday.  Reducing everything to the level of their puny feelings, they’ll mock “So what’s happened to the promise of his coming?  Our ancestors are dead and buried, and everything’s going on just as it has from the very first day of creation.  Nothing’s changed” (Message)

Two thousand plus years later and we are still asking pretty much the same question.  Where is He?  Has He forgotten about us?  Is it real? From the book of Daniel to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 to John’s visions in Revelation, we are told to watch for certain signs of the end of days.  Many of these signs have taken place or are taking place.  Earthquakes in diverse locations, never-ending wars, famines, false teachers, false doctrines, families turning on each other, a complete decay of our moral compass, the elimination of all things God oriented-it’s all around us every day and has been for decades.  As believers, it can become an easy trap to ask the same questions, even if you don’t dare verbalize them, is Jesus really coming back and if so, how close are we?

I want to be very careful in how I state this so as not to be confused; as followers of Christ our blessed hope is eternal life with Him upon his eventual return to take us to that place being prepared for us.  However, our daily lives should not be lived entirely for the sake of that return, as in living to survive.  We are promised a life of abundance while we are waiting.  There is much benefit in awakening every day just to enjoy what we have been blessed with and to be ready and willing to be an encouragement and extension of our hope to others, while we are here on this big planet.  We are given His peace, His joy, His strength, so that our lives can be lived to the fullest while we await a day that may or may not come in our earthly lifetime.  And while it is sometimes easy to look at all the strife in the world or even in our own lives and hope that Jesus returns soon to take us all away, it is not the way we are compelled to live.

Peter continues on in his letter with words of encouragement:

“With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day.  God isn’t late with His promise as some measure lateness.  He is restraining Himself on account of you, holding back the end because He doesn’t want anyone to be lost.  He’s giving everyone space and time to change”.

In his final words in the letter Peter exhorts us to be found “living at your best in purity and peace”. Scoffers will continue to scoff, the intellects will continue to ridicule the faithful for believing in fairy tales.  That’s ok, we were told it would be this way.  Scripture tells us that in the end, all will be forced to acknowledge the reality of Christ.  In Matthew 24 we are told that when the Son of man appears in the skies, and the whole world will see him at once, unbelievers will mourn and lament at the realization that it wasn’t a hoax after all.  His coming will usher in an acute knowledge of His deity, even to those who had not previously believed.  It will be the first hell. I can’t imagine the horror of suddenly knowing I was wrong and it’s too late.

We may have another hundred blood moons or whatever other various signs some look to as true indications of the timing before this eminent return takes place.  But whether we are here to witness it from earth’s perspective, or are with Christ when He comes back because we left this life earlier, we will see that day as it happens.  It’s real, it’s promised and it will be glorious when it finally occurs.  Be watchful but live today.

New Year-the Old, the New and the Unchanged

It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has past as we prepare to say goodbye to 2019 and usher in 2020.  It may or may not be the last day of the decade but it is certainly the last day of the 2010’s.  We can enjoy many things that did not exist in 2010.  GPS is now a common app on most phones with a female voice telling you how to get from point A to point B.  And if you don’t care to drive, we now have pick-up services by Uber and Lyft.  Social media has grown up to include a feature where callers can see each other on Facetime.  Tesla developed a driverless car while major auto manufacturers introduced auto-self parking for those who are parallel parking challenged.  There is now a doorbell that allows you to see on your phone who is ringing your bell even if you aren’t at home. And how about that refrigerator that allows you to see what’s inside without opening the door!  Going on a trip but want some privacy that you can’t get in a hotel, rent a house with Airbnb. There are so many more advances in the world of medicine, science and technology to begin to list.

However, not all changes since 2010 have been positive.  Today more than any time I can recall America has become a more divided country.  It seems we’ve taken a step backward in race relations and tolerance.  We’ve fallen for the ploys of Washington to become hotly divided politically with no room for middle ground thinking.  Social media has brought many old friends together after years of separation but ended just as many long-time friendships of those who hold different ideals-The simple push of an Unfriend button eradicates years of friendship.  The recent vaping trends are already proving to be anything but a healthy alternative to smoking while the legalization of recreational marijuana, perhaps long overdue, along with CBD oils which I myself take, has no less left the country with a green haze that is becoming inescapable.

In any era there will always be good and bad, even at personal levels.  You may have lost that good paying job but ended up with one more enjoyable and less stressful.  Some may have been diagnosed with diseases that if not caught, might have been fatal.  Many may have suffered the pain of long-term relationships ending only to discover new love and second chances.  Each period of time brings with it contrasting emotions.  As recorded in Ecclesiastes, there is a “time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”.

So for good or bad, change is inevitable.  But, for those who believe in Christ, there is a hope and a faith in things unseen that we are told will never change!  We have the assurance that God remains in charge of the Universe and is directly involved with the every day affairs of our lives! Yes, it’s a matter of faith and choosing to believe in something unexplainable and yet it is an anchor that holds true whatever years it is.  Consider the following passages from the Bible that serve to remind us of this truth;

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”, Hebrews 13:8

“The grass may wither and the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever”, Isaiah 40:8

“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, to all generations”, Psalm 33:11

“Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful-he can’t deny himself”, 2 Timothy 15:29

“I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end:”, Revelation 22:13

As we enter into anew year and season, there is a profound comfort in knowing the more some things may change, there is an eternal consistency and familiarity in knowing and relying on God and his numerous promises to help us navigate the unknown future, because “from everlasting to everlasting” He is God and He is eternally good!

Thank you for reading Papswords these past many years.  I wish you all a safe, fulfilled and blessed 2020!

The Lost Tradition of Caroling

When it comes to Christmas I am very much a traditionalist; I love everything and anything that takes me back to precious memories of simpler times before the Yule tide season became a commercialized profit center for which annual retail budgets are formulated.  Don’t take me wrong, I appreciate many of today’s attempts to recreate something reminiscent of Christmases past, but for me, you can keep your modern TV specials and recycled Hallmark movies and give me Rudolph, Frosty and Andy Williams Holiday specials.  Perhaps my middle age is showing.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is that of Christmas caroling.  I recall in my younger years going out with the youth group and caroling for others, or going to events just to watch and listen to other carolers.  I have fond memories of Christmas Eve services that were less professional production and simple children in homemade costumes recreating the nativity followed by a heartfelt carol sing of all the timeless songs going back hundreds of years.  I even performed once in a Madrigal dinner and may or may not have been seen caroling in medieval tights!  Sadly, the tradition of caroling at Christmas seems to be fading away, and in certain places, banned altogether.  It is for me, a tradition that can’t be replaced by more current popular trends.

There is no clear origins as to the history of caroling, although there are several theories. Some will say Christians hijacked the tradition from Pagans and their Winter Solstice celebration.  Some date songs about the birth of Christ back to the 4th century while others credit Saint Francis of Assisi of incorporating them into his liturgies.  Some link carols to the holiday practice of wassailing, when poorer people sang for food and were given hot wassail, a thick spiced drink to keep them warm.  whatever the case, carols have traditionally been songs of joyful worship sung in churches and public places  reflecting on a very Holy Night that started it all.

Carols were penned during a time most of us could never understand.  There was a certain purity and a level of depth from which all spiritual songs flowed that has never been replicated. These Christian standards were relished every bit as our National Anthem, perhaps more so.  The very first carol dates back to 129 A.D although little else is known about it or how it sounded.  But the ones most of us are more familiar with came from the 1700s and 1800s.  O Holy Night was written in 1847 and was the very first song ever played over radio waves. Silent Night was written in German in 1818. The carol we know as O Come All Ye Faithful was composed in 1861. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem was written in 1871. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear goes back to 1874.Away in a manger, 1837. One of the older classics, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen goes way back to 1760! So you can see that when we sing these songs, we are singing the same joyful worship songs that were sung by our great-great grandparents, a timeless tradition that is becoming extinct.

There is a time and a season for everything.  However, the intensity of Heaven coming down to Earth some two thousand years ago being portrayed through timeless lyrics and melodies still moves me in 2019.  I live and write from Las Vegas, NV, the capitol of high energy entertainment and top rank productions.  But when it comes to Christmas, give me a gathering of faithful believers holding lit candles and singing off key to a piano-that’s a tradition that will live forever in my past and my fondest recollections. Merry Christmas.

In Everything (not for everything) Give Thanks

Many people are already in Christmas mode anticipating another joyous celebration with friends and family and checking their grocery and shopping lists twice.  It seems each year with the nature of competitive retail marketing, Christmas seems to start earlier than the previous year.  In the hustle to be first, a very timeless and traditional holiday gets overshadowed, the day of Thanksgiving.  A week before Thanksgiving actually arrives, what few items you can find to decorate the family gathering are already marked down to 50% or more as they take up precious shelf space from more profitable Christmas items.  In a world driven by profit, tradition is often sacrificed.

Nonetheless, Thanksgiving is upon us, and it truly remains a time to pause and reflect on those things for which we should be ever grateful that we may overlook throughout the year.  I know personally, I have much to be thankful for this year.  I’m thankful for victory over cancer, I’m grateful for new love in the form of a heaven-sent angel, I’m thankful for the many adventures we’ve taken in a few short months.  I’ve seen more of the country this year than in 57 previous years!  I’m thankful for healthy kids and grandchildren.  I’m thankful for Unfollow options!  I could go on and on.

As is the case each year many will approach this season with anything but a spirit of thanksgiving.  It’s hard to have a grateful heart if you are a single parent raising your children and working two jobs just to get by.  It’s hard to be thankful in a job where your patience may be tested on a daily basis.  It’s hard to give thanks for that medical report that came back and caught you off guard.  It’s difficult to be grateful for a relationship that is not what you were expecting.  It will be hard to give thanks this year for those who will find empty chairs at the table once filled by their now departed loved ones.  We live in a world full of challenging situations where it is so easy to focus on the situations at hand and completely lose perspective on the balance of an otherwise beautiful life.  I know because I was once guilty as well.

As believers in Christ we are encouraged to embrace life with an attitude of thanksgiving. But many have been made to feel guilty because of poor teaching or a misunderstanding of those verses calling us to be grateful.  A popular passage found in 1 Thessalonians 5 reads:

“Rejoice always, and pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. “

That tiny overlooked preposition, “in”, makes all the difference when considering this verse.  Some may have inserted “for” here, which is inaccurate and not the intended meaning.  Consider these examples.  There was no way I was thankful “for” cancer.  But I was thankful “in” that I knew God was in control and I would be learning to rely on his strength, not mine.  You may not be grateful “for” losing that job, but you can be thankful “in” the process of knowing God will provide you anew one.  You may not be thankful “for” a failed relationship, but you can rest “in” the knowledge that God sees your brokenness and is already lining up something new for you.  Paul and Silas were most likely not thankful “for” being chained in the lower prison with wet floors and desert creatures, but “in” their situation, they praised God.  Job, poor guy, was not thankful “for” his great losses and suffering, but “in” the midst of the absolute worst loss and pain imaginable, he is quoted as saying, “even if God takes my life, I will praise him”.  That is the essence of this and similar passages encouraging us to be grateful in less than ideal circumstances, knowing that God is doing a greater work in us than we may realize if we focus only on the pain.

That being said, there are still an infinite number of things in life to be thankful “for”. Be grateful to wake up in a warm home with a stocked kitchen pantry and a choice of clothing.  Be thankful to just wake up to a new day!  Be grateful for that demanding job that pays your living expenses.  Be thankful for aches and pains of a body that still has mobility.  Be thankful for that less than perfect church where you can still worship freely each week.  Let your grateful heart show through in your social circles.  Stay away from social media bandwagons overflowing with chronic complainers about all that is wrong in our country or churches.  They will cause you to lose focus on things more certain and meaningful than current trends or affairs.  There really is something to be said of those whose positivity outshines their current situations because they are deliberate in focusing on the good, not the bad or the ugly.  Have a blessed and grateful Thanksgiving!

 

 

My Weakness; His Strength

My sincere apologies to my followers for the length of time from my last post in August.  I needed to take some time off to deal with a little curve ball called cancer thrown my way unexpectedly.  I am grateful to report that through modern medical technology, more love from friends and family than I deserve, and a host of prayers sent on my behalf, I am cancer free and on the mend.  It has been quite the journey.

I learned, or was at least reminded of some things through the process that proved invaluable to me, and I wanted to share them with you.  First I learned that disease does not discriminate. You can be doing everything right and get that dreaded medical report or you can be doing everything harmful and live forever.  We have no vote on who suffers certain diseases or who escapes them.  God alone knows in advance who will become sick, and I’m convinced He always has a purpose for who he allows to go through these dark journeys, and He equips them well beforehand.

I learned that when you are going through illness, there is nothing on earth as important as your circle of support.  They are there to hold your hand, to lift you up, to help keep your spirit positive, to simply be that source of strength when you may be at your weakest.  God knew I was about to encounter this journey and He loaned me one of His angels to be at my side before, through and after the walk through the valley of shadows.  She spent the night with me in the hospital, kept me strong and positive, would not allow me to entertain the negative what-ifs that are commonly associated with illness.  She and my son were at my side from beginning through recovery. She was also the prize that awaited me that kept me moving forward and I could not have gone down this path with the success I had without her and my family.

I was reminded that I serve and follow a Bigger-than God!  He proved himself to be bigger than cancer, bigger than the initial diagnosis and so far, bigger than the anticipated recovery time for the radical procedure I had.  What was said to take up to one year to achieve I have achieved in a matter of weeks!  My God is bigger than cancer!  There is nothing impossible with God.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament, His strength in made perfect in my weakness.  God and faith are just my crutch, you’re damn straight!  He tells us numerous times that he wants us to lean on Him, to put our full weight on Him and to trust Him for anything, to test Him if you will and see just how great He can show off for us!

I learned already that He uses our success over trials to help others who may be about to embark on the same or similar journeys.  Just this week I was called on by an old school friend who was just diagnosed with the same cancer, and I was able to briefly share my experience with his wife so that they would know this isn’t a death sentence, just a hurdle.  I have some unsightly scars remaining from my ordeal, but those scars testify to my survival and are a sign of hope to anyone on the same journey, and an opening to share of God’s grace and goodness.

I am so humbled and grateful for this journey.  No, I would never have chosen it on my own, and I would never wish it on anyone else.  But God works all things out for our good and for His purpose.  If I’m to be an instrument by example of going through the fire and coming out unharmed, then I am among all men blessed!  There are always positives in any situation if you look for them.  Here’s an example; while some will be scrambling for that perfect Halloween costume in a couple weeks, I will simply take off my shirt!  No fake scars or glued-on wounds for this boy; no, mine are real!

God bless you all.

Is the 1 as Important as the 99?

There is a popular worship song sung in many churches today about the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God, that he would leave the ninety-nine to search for the one, based on an example Jesus uses in Matthew 18.  From that story, is very easy to draw a correlation to grieving the loss of the one.  According to another passage in 2nd. Peter, it’s not God’s plan that any person should perish, mortally or eternally.

This has been yet another violent week of senseless homicides.  Three more mass shootings, bringing the year-to-date total of such shootings to nearly 250, depending on your definition of “mass”.  And as is usually the case after senseless and unexplainable tragedies like this, social media begins to buzz about all the culprits, bad guns, bad video games, bad drugs, bad parenting, etc., etc..  Gun control advocates bang the drum for tighter gun laws while gun owners defend their rights to possess anti-aircraft weaponry.  Left-wing vs. right wing, race against race, all claiming a stake at the expense of the yet-to-be-buried victims.  It is an unfortunate scene that plays out continually with no solution, just a lot of divisional blame.

These mass shooting victims are given much publicity, perhaps rightly so.  Seems like in each case we are given the names of all involved, their photos so we can put a face with a name, and even their background stories.  I know this to be true as I reside in Las Vegas and I visited the numerous memorials after the mass shooting here on 1 October that claimed 58 lives at a music festival. Anytime multiple deaths occur in a violent or tragic act,  media is quick to cover the story and sensationalize it for ratings or for certain social or political agendas.  But what about the everyday homicides that go largely unreported nationally whose names and images are never shown?  Are they any less important because they died alone and not with many?

In 2018 there were in the U.S. approximate 40,000 deaths due to guns.  Nearly two thirds were victims of suicide while about 15,000 were victims of homicide.  A drug deal gone bad, a home invasion, a road rage incident.  The same year about 350 people were victims of mass shootings, defined as three or  more victims of one incident.   For that year mass murder victims represented only a little over 2% of all murder victims by gunfire.  The more recent shootings are being described as Hate crimes.  But in essence, aren’t all murders considered hate crimes?  Why else would a person be so compelled to snuff out the life of another for any reason other than hate?  I’m quite certain that my assessment will be misinterpreted unfairly, but each and every victim of violence is a mother or a father, a spouse, a child, a relative who leaves behind a grieving family whose hearts have been ripped out by senseless cowardice, hate and evil.  It matters little whether they lost their loved ones in a lone act or a mass shooting.  The pain is the same, the loss is immeasurable and the tears, though not seen on a national platform are just as real.

Jesus gave us a glimpse into his humanity as he stood at the grave of his good friend Lazarus.  In the shortest recorded verse in the Bible, we are told Jesus Wept.  He knew that through his Father he had the power of life and death in his hands and at his command, and he delayed his visit just so he could put that power on display when he raised Lazarus from days of death.  And yet he wept.  It is recorded that many were there at the grave mourning, including his friends Mary and Martha.  Jesus saw their tears and was deeply moved with sorrow and compassion for them.  In my days working for a mortuary in Indiana I can tell you that when you are with people who are grieving, it is very easy to feel moved yourself, even though you never knew their loved one, simply because you can feel their pain.  Jesus, in his humanity, must have felt the same.  If then, we believe that he never changes, surely he is just as moved at the death of a sole teen in Chicago as he is with the 23 in in a Walmart.  In our bickering, our blame throwing and our side-taking after such events, we must not lose sight of that fact.  Surely God mourns the one as much as he does the ninety-nine.

We live in a world where hate exists.  It can’t be denied or ignored.  Whether that hate is motivated by race or theology or ideology or social status, innocent bystanders on all sides are going to be lumped into subgroups, being deemed guilty by association, having their individual uniqueness totally disregarded.  There is a heavy spirit of unrest in our country as factions always present before, become more agitated and aggressive.  It is in these times that we in the faith must be careful not to get caught up in this era of hate, but instead put into practice love, peace, and inclusiveness.  If the body of Christ becomes divided or splintered over differences to the point that individual character is no longer considered or defended, then the great falling away described in scripture will be a much easier tack for the dark spiritual forces playing us like grand puppeteers.  We must cut the strings of hate that control us and allow God’s love, hope and peace to be forefront in our lives, our communities and yes, even our churches.  Don’t get so caught up arguing over 2% and totally disregard the 98% unmentioned but who bring the same tears to our Heavenly Father.  It’s not his will that even one should die.

Getting Rid of the Clutter

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  To those who missed it, I apologize.  I’ve been in the process of selling a home I owned and lived in for nearly twenty years and it was a bit of a chore.  It’s amazing to me just how much stuff one person can accumulate over the course of many years.  I don’t enjoy the task of moving.  I am one who will do anything to make it easier.  Since I was moving to a smaller place, I found it necessary to get rid of things as I went through them, mainly because I would not have anywhere in my new place to store them, and paying to store something you don’t need or use makes little sense to me.  I think what I found most curious was the number of items I possessed that I had completely forgotten about, things I hadn’t seen, needed or used in many years.  And while I acquired them at some point for some purpose or desire, they had outlived their usefulness, or I had outgrown my need of them.  So as you might imagine, it was very easy for me to donate these things either to a worthy charity, or to the closest hungry dumpster I could find.  Getting rid of all the useless clutter made my moving forward so mush easier and even enjoyable.

Lesson learned.  Clutter is often defined as a disorderly array of unwanted or useless items that just take up space.  When it comes to life applications, clutter that most of us have may be defined by many intangible things.  Your clutter may be lingering guilt over bad decisions you made years ago that you should be long past by now. Your clutter may be feelings of inadequacies due to certain failures in business ventures or your career choices.  Your clutter may be anger or bitterness over being betrayed in a relationship or marriage.   Granted, not all clutter is necessarily bad or painful, but clutter in a life takes up precious space that could be designated for things more enjoyable and meaningful.  When a computer begins to slow down in its processing speed it is often necessary to go into the Settings and eliminate the cache, or digital clutter if you will, that is taking up memory and storage, so that the computer can perform more efficiently and that precious memory space can be cleared up to download more relevant and current items.

A life is not much different.  A popular television show was one called Hoarders, about real life people who had homes so filled with clutter that they could not easily move from one room to the next.  In many of the situations the city would have to step in and take temporary possession of the home to clean it out as the conditions resulting from the mass of clutter was deemed a health hazard to its occupant, even though the homeowner didn’t recognize it as a problem.  It just isn’t healthy to be surrounded with so much stuff that your existence  and mobility are so severely impeded, whether your clutter is like mine, a house full of items no longer useful, or a mind full of memories, guilt, resentment, disappointment, bitterness or anything else taking up valuable space that could be used for things more enjoyable.

There are some key scriptures that deal directly with putting away things of the past, or getting rid of the clutter:

“Forgetting what is behind me, I strain for what is before me”…Philippians 3:13

“Forget the things of the past”…Isaiah 43:18

“Anyone who is in Christ has been made new; the old you is gone and the new you is here”…2Corinthinas 5:17

“A time to keep things, and a time to throw things away”…Ecclesiastes 3:6

“Throw off everything that hinders and entangles you”…Hebrews 12:1

“Get rid of (the clutter) of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and all malice”…Ephesians 4:31

When I was able to move everything I needed into such a small area at the age of 57, I can’t describe the freedom I had of knowing I had everything I wanted and needed and nothing more.  I now have plenty of room to add things I am more into now and would be more likely to enjoy because I rid myself of things I may have bought twenty years ago that were just taking up space in a closet, unseen, unneeded and unused.  There is much more room for peace and joy in a life that has been decluttered to make room for them.  I also learned in the process to not wait so long to get rid of the clutter next time.  It will make my life much easier, more joyful and full of peace and contentment, things for which one can never have enough of!

 

 

Words for the Class of 2019

Last night I had the privilege of watching my grandson graduate from High School with High Honors.  I felt a tremendous sense of pride, although I had little to do with his efforts, but I also was overwhelmed at how quickly time passes by, or, in the words of an old Steve Miller song, how “Time Keeps on Slippin’ into the future”!  I could write volumes just on how quickly times flies and never returns. But instead I want to offer some words of encouragement to the Seniors who have graduated from High School and College this year who are about to embark upon the big, sometimes unfriendly world of adulthood. Fear serves a purpose in life when it is used as a tool to slice through the dense woods of the unknown. But fear can also be crippling when misunderstood or left unchallenged. Fear can rob you of life’s greatest pleasures if you allow it to control you instead of you becoming its master. So I want to list ten areas of common fear that this year’s class can identify, recognize and utilize to their advantage in a proactive manner in their first steps after High School.

Don’t be afraid of dying-rather, be afraid of not living! Young people tend to approach life with reckless abandon, feeling immortal, but for some, the opposite is true. They are so worried about what might happen that they deny themselves of life’s greatest thrills. Tackle that monster roller coaster-plunge off the high dive-take precautions but go for it-no regrets.

Don’t be afraid to fail-be afraid of not trying. Some of the greatest achievements in science, in technology and so forth came only on the heels of many failures. Failure at anything only serves to eliminate an incorrect methodology! If there are ten possibilities, failure will narrow down the options until you discover the correct one. In the same manner, you will never discover success without the aid of failure. Michael Jordan was cut from his grade school basketball team-I’m just saying!!

Don’t be afraid to dance! I’m a 6’4″ white boy who dances like one. I would never be caught on a dance floor when I was younger except for the slow couples types dances. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun but I was too cool to be fool, more worried about what I looked like to others than how much fun I could be having. To quote a song, you can’t dance “with your back up on the wall”! Dancing doesn’t have to be suggestive-it can just be an expression of freedom and joy-go for it!

Don’t be afraid of disappointment. Sure, none of us want to experience disappointing situations or events, but understanding how we respond to disappointment gives us a more clear perspective on how others feel at those times when perhaps we are the source of their disappointment. Feel it, understand it, accept it and try with all your might not to cause it.

Don’t fear trying new things! I put peanut butter on my waffles. People who see it are grossed out at first, UNTIL they try it! So perhaps peanut butter is a little underwhelming as an adventure but the moral is the same-again, going back to my old days and quoting a TV commercial, Try it-You might like it!

Don’t fear the opinions of others. The world is full of haters. They may be jealous, they may be self-righteous, they may be judgmental. Rise above the status quo of mediocrity. Much of the world’s criticism is designed to keep us meek and inconspicuous so that we don’t steal any of their spotlight. Learn to discern the constructive criticism of close friends and family vs. the negative binds of naysayers who only want to keep you down. Be your own person-be individual-dress however makes you feel good-vote your conscious-have that wine, live your life regardless of the opinions of others!

Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are the cleansing solution for the heart and the conditioning substance for the soul. The flow of tears displayed at the sound of an old sentimental song, the ending of that romantic tearjerker movie or the tragic loss of someone close is only evidence that the natural God-given emotions are in good health and working order. Tears are not a sign of weakness but rather the ultimate sign of strength and compassion. Whether tears of happiness or of sorrow they only serve as evidence that you are alive and engaged! Let them out-big boys do cry!

Don’t be afraid to stand alone. Some of life’s greatest challenges will involve solitude in the midst of popularity. Standing firm on principles, on ideals, on beliefs takes courage. The 12 men who birthed the New Testament church after the death and resurrection of Christ stood, and died alone against the popular religion of their day. Those who abstain from addictive substances at social gatherings often stand out in the crowd. Those who dare to wear purity rings are definitely alone among their peers. Don’t be afraid to stand alone when you are right. Be more afraid of blending in with the crowd when your spirit tells you they are wrong!

Just two more but they are biggies. Please, don’t fear love. Don’t be afraid to receive it or to dish it our freely. Those who know you best will do things for you just because they love you-don’t look for attached strings-many times there are none. Don’t let the tainted or misguided love you see in others cause you to withdraw from expressing love to those in your world. Love is always pure and fresh and not always defined by what you witness in the lives of others. And when it is time for you to enter into God’s perfect eros love with someone else, don’t allow failed relationships, divorce trends or horror stories from others create fear in your relationship as it will only fester and become a cancerous tumor you can’t remove or see around. Love recklessly without abandon, with passion, with forgiveness and with your eyes closed! True love is a beautiful thing. Perfect loves casts out all fear, and wounds of the heart caused by love are only healed by love!

And lastly, Fear God, but don’t be afraid of Him. Know God. Have a relationship with Jesus. Desire to be counted among the friends of God and the Bride of Christ. Christianity is not a Sunday thing, not a parental thing, not a trendy or fashionable thing-it is a commitment and a lifestyle. We in our sinfulness deserve nothing less than death, but God in His love has offered instead forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation to Him through His Son Jesus who has already taken our sentence in the ultimate display of unselfish love. Every challenge, every obstacle, every disappointment, every tear, every new adventure, every failure-every broken heart-they will all be more easily endured as you hold onto the Hand of the One who loves you more than anyone on this earth ever could. A healthy fear of God’s majesty and sovereignty will serve you well through life’s most joyous moments and it’s darkest nights. He will be your light, your guide, your strength and your calm.
Congratulations to this years Class of 2019. May God richly bless and keep you as you enter the world of the unknown without fear.

“Fan Into a Flame the Gift Within You”

I love to write.  It is something I have enjoyed going back well into my High School years and my creative writing classes.  The verdict is still out as to whether I am any good at it, at least as far as commercial success might indicate, but I continue to write and have been blogging now well over five years.  I also have two published books to my credit that receive high marks from those who have read them.  If I could be anything I wanted to be when I grow up, it would be to have a lucrative and successful career as an author and blogger.

I’m convinced that each of us are gifted with unique talents that can be determined very early in life if we pay close attention.  The most happy and successful of us are those who recognize their gifts, practice and perfect them and pursue them as a career or vocation.  Not all gifts are associated with the Arts.  You may be an excellent communicator or orator; your gift may be in leadership or organization.  Perhaps you excel in your knowledge of travel and destinations, or you are most comfortable behind the stove in a kitchen.  Most of us miss the boat in that we consider these things we love to do as mere hobbies and not potential vocations.  So we work behind a desk all day in jobs less than fulfilling but can’t wait to practice our grilling techniques on the weekend.  The luckiest people in the world are the ones who get to do what they love to do every day, and get paid for doing it!

There is a verse in scripture that reads to “fan into a flame the gift God has placed within you”.  When you fan a flame, you are feeding it with oxygen and causing that flame through your deliberate actions to increase and grow into a raging fire.  That gift doesn’t have to be central or limited to ministry as the context may indicate.  But sometimes we need to take a leap of faith in order to realize the potential of our gift.  And if we linger too long before taking the plunge, and if God has ordained this gift within us, he may help us along with a little push off the edge.  No one likes to experience unemployment, but many are the stories of those who found their dream jobs only after being laid off a job they weren’t really supposed to be doing.

Some dreams may be a bit more challenging to realize than others.  Not everyone who can sing will be a successful recording artist, not everyone who can paint will have their art work hanging in galleries.  As a want-to-be writer, I am but one of millions of bloggers and millions of self-publishers, and if my home city of Las Vegas were to place odds on me succeeding, they would be astronomically against it, perhaps 50,000 to 1 or higher. And to be honest, there are many times when I thought of just quitting and doing something else as I don’t receive many accolades or reviews on material I put out for public consumption.  And yet whenever I begin to feel like giving it up, God seems to give me a new source of material to write about.  Granted this material is often times a new set of challenges in life that I would not choose or prefer, the writing becomes my way of getting through difficult situations, such as the one I’m in  now, and in a way that encourages others who may be experiencing similar challenges.  It is apparently the gift God has given me, and if you will, the vocation, albeit low paying, that he has chosen for me.

What is your gift?  Can you write, sing, coach, teach, build, analyze, decipher, speak numerous languages, motivate, etc.?  What is your passion?  What drives you? The older I get the more I become aware of just how quickly time passes.  When your grandchildren are beginning to graduate from High School and attend college, you are smacked in the face with the speed of time and the inability to recapture precious moments lost or wasted.  Don’t wait for “some day” to pursue your life’s dreams.  Fan into a roaring flame that gift that is hidden within you while there is yet time to realize it.  God bless you on your journey.

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Me

It’s 1976.  I’m competing in the Jr. High School District Track Meet at Northwest High school in Indianapolis.  The event is the 660 yard dash, my strength.  I’m crossing the finish line in First place as second place is just coming off the last turn.  It’s just what I did.

It’s now 1977 and I’m on the Varsity Track and Field team, as a Freshman, setting school records for Freshman in both running events and field events.  The distance I was throwing the discus that year would have won the City Championship, had my coach not lost my entry.  I went on to get the first of several Varsity Letters as just a Freshman.  It’s just what I did.

I have always been the Athletic one, the healthy one.  I never smoked cigarettes, I never drank alcohol until well into my adult years, I ate right and with sons in athletics, always had an excuse to get out on the basketball court and remain active and fit.  I was going to live to be 100!  When I found out I had inherited kidney disease and would require a transplant, I accepted the changes I would need to make and the drug therapy required for the balance of my life, a temporary set back, no biggie, just inconvenient.

Then came last Friday, one week ago today.  I knew as I grew older, my prostate was enlarged-normal for men in their 50s. When the physical exam revealed hardness and the subsequent PSA test came back twice acceptable levels, requiring a biopsy, I suspected that may be a biggie.  Still I prayed that everything would come back negative and that I would go on with my healthy life-It’s just what I did.   That was not to be the case.

I’ve spent the week processing the fact that I have cancer, words that don’t sound right in my mouth, words I never ever expected to hear or own-it wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Suddenly I have a keen awareness of the horror of those who have battled this disease, some victoriously on earth and others victorious through death and promotion.  It’s a reality that few desire, one that even fewer anticipate.  I think even as a believer in Christ, a person of faith, these are words that simply knock you off your game until such time as you can regain your balance and head straight into the battle.  As I left the Urologist’s office last Friday, still somewhat in shock, I could almost hear God’s voice asking me, “Okay Son, let’s see if you have learned anything in your 50 plus years of following me”. As I sat in the parking lot, contemplating my next moves, there seemed to be a slight calming assurance as I uttered the words, “Okay God, we got this”.

I’ve been a blogger now for several years with hundreds of blogs being read in dozens of countries, and the theme for most of them, so many that my first book is a compilation of them, is that life knocks us down, sometimes knocking the wind out of us, but that in the end, God always rescues us just in time.  It’s a lesson David knew well as he penned many of the Psalms.  David was honest in venting his frustrations and doubts to God.  As you read through them you will hear him asking, “where are you God” or “why have you abandoned me” or “why don’t you answer when I call or rescue me from my enemies”.  I believe David was like many of us today, having full knowledge and confidence in God’s ability to do the impossible, but not seeing it happen in his darkest hours.  Even our Savior experienced this as he hung on the cross but could not sense the presence of his own Father, who could not be with him as he carried so much sin in his sacrifice.  For many, it seems like God is the farthest from us when we need him the most and cry out the loudest.  But I have heard it said and found it to be true, that the teacher is always silent during a test.

What I love and have tried to learn from David is that in his honest expressions to God, he always came back to what he knew to be true, even if he didn’t feel them or see the evidence right away.  Life’s toughest challenges often result in a disconnect between our heart or emotions, and our mind or intellect.  When we don’t see something or feel something, we tend to believe it no longer exists. We pray urgently for answers but “feel” God has abandoned us.  Since we feel some sort of way, we completely disregard every promise recorded in scripture for our benefit, because our emotions pervert the reality of the truth.  It’s a normal human response.  Consider the Apostles who did life with Jesus, who sat under intimate instruction from the Master, who witnessed miracle after miracle and were even sent out with His authority to perpetrate miracles in His name, and even witnessed just a few days before, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  But when life got difficult and they watched Jesus die, they all hid in sorrow and fear, forgetting what they knew,  because they couldn’t get past what they saw.  We are much the same.

God graciously and generously equips us with all we need to fight these battles.  Sometimes it’s just a word from a good friend, some sign or scriptural passage, the right song at the right time.  For me, He provided an amazing and beautiful angel, who feels somehow I rescued her when all along she was sent to rescue me.  God sees the road we don’t, knows our weaknesses and compensates ahead of time if we only trust him.  As I endure these life altering challenges, I’m reminded of the passage from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, which reads:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in ALL our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”.

I often gest that when things come my way, that it’s just more blogging material. But the truth is that experiencing and surviving the pain of disasters like fire or the hopelessness of unemployment or the ruin of financial security or the sting of divorce, and now the horror of cancer, gives me a very empathetic view of others who have or will suffer the same.  It’s is through a David-like transparency that I write about these things, partially as it’s therapeutic. but more so because I want to offer others hope, to help them refocus on the truth, to repair the disconnect between what they may be feeling at the time and what they still know to be true, that God loves us, that he’s on our side, not against us, that he has our back  in times of distress and that he sees what we don’t, so that we are left with nothing but total trust and reliance on him to face the storms.  I hope to give out comfort as I receive it so that in all things Christ receives glory and we receive life in abundance.  No, I don’t want to be the one chosen as the poster child for survival, but if that’s the plan, let me do it well!

So through much personal prayer, the prayers of countless others around the country and the love and support of my family and a just-in-time heaven-sent angel whose love is more precious than a writer can describe, I have resolved to make cancer my biatch in a very public way so others can go on this journey with me and rejoice with me when I kick its ass!  It may not be contextually accurate, but I really can do all things through Christ, just watch me!  I’m already amending my life’s resume to add “cancer survivor” to it and to pay forward the comfort I receive in the process.  He’s a good, good Father!

And a very Happy and blessed Mother’s Day to all moms.  What priceless gems you are!

 

An Interview With Christ-The Passion

Forgive me Lord if I seem nervous. I don’t even know for sure how to address you sir.

Relax child, it’s ok. I have over 200 names, including some you’ve never heard. Lord will be just fine.

Ok Lord, thank you. I’m not sure where to begin. I really want to know about that week leading up to your death, what we refer to as your Passion. I have so many questions. When you rode into Jerusalem that last week you had to know what was going to happen to you because as God, you know all things. What was going through your mind? How could you so willingly enter the city where you knew you were going to die?

It was a dark moment for sure, having the knowledge that these same people who were hailing me as a king, shouting “Hosanna” would soon turn on me and be crying “Crucify him”, calling for my death. Being fully man I felt the tinge of betrayal-it stung. And yet it was for these very people that I needed to complete my mission. These were the sick ones, and the only way they could be healed spiritually was through my sacrifice. There was no other option from the beginning. While they were advocating for my death, I was loving them. I loved them too much to turn back.

So Lord, you must have known that when you called Judas to follow you, he too would turn on you. And yet your word says he was sent out as one of the twelve to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons along with the other eleven. How could he operate with that authority if he wasn’t really one of yours and would eventually hand you over to be put to death?

Child, this is where many people confuse sovereign knowledge with predestiny. Just because I knew what Judas would eventually do and how his actions would play into prophecy concerning those last days does not mean he never had control over his thoughts or actions. Judas was sent out with the twelve because there was work to be done in spreading the good news. As an appointee of my spirit he indeed could perform the necessary miracles as my agent. Even today many good things happen in my name through servants whose hearts and ways are not pure. Those who are truly seeking truth should not be deprived just because the messenger is untrue. This was the case with Judas. He alone allowed Satan to enter into his heart, and cause him to turn on me. There are many in your world even now who are guilty of no less. It’s just that when Judas betrayed me it had a history changing impact. Knowing those who will accept and follow me and those who will reject my message does not mean they were unfairly selected against their will. All men have the option of receiving me. Judas eventually opted not to.

Here’s something that confuses me; we read that at times you were fully God, in that you could suddenly slip through a crowd unseen, walk on water, raise the dead, but at other times, like when you were tempted in the wilderness or when you were in the garden praying, you showed you were human and fearful of what was to come. How could you be both? In Gesthemane you prayed for your very life and was tormented to the point of sweating blood droplets. I don’t get it.

I never stopped being the Son of God, and yet the only way my sacrifice could be acceptable for its purpose, was for me to be fully human. I had to become a human high priest so I could enter into the Holy of Holies and offer one final sacrifice, for humans, as a human. I can see how this is confusing to you. If I were to truly be able to relate to my creation, it was necessary that I experience all the emotions associated with mankind. I needed to feel fear, I needed to face mortality, I needed to know the abandonment and the silence of a Father. It is only because I allowed myself to feel these human emotions that I am fully aware and equipped to provide the strength and comfort needed for my children when they face their own doubts and fears. So yes, I never left behind my Godship, and in fact I used it to give me the strength needed to fully experience your “humanship”.

Lord, if it were only necessary that you shed blood and experience death in order to complete your plan, why did you choose to endure such tremendous and tortuous pain instead of a quick easy death? The Romans nearly killed you when they flogged you before you ever got to the cross. I’ve read about how gruesome a punishment this was, and the damage done to the flesh, the muscles and nerves. Why Was this necessary?

The simple answer to that can be found in my book of Isaiah, where it reads that I was to be wounded and bruised for the transgressions or sins of all people before my time on earth and after. I bore the punishment for every lie, every theft, every murder, every heinous act committed by anybody in history. That’s quite a lot of iniquity, I must say. I took those lashes for every Jew killed in Germany, every Christian martyred in history, every child put to death before being born, every lie spoken under oath, every lynching, every act of hatred, every thought of malice, every single act that goes against the holy life I request. When you take on the sins of the whole world for all history, the punishment must fit the crime. With each lash, I forgave, with each drop of blood, I cleansed sin, with each open wound, I provided healing, even to those holding the whips. I received lashes so all could be healed from diseases like cancer, so deaf could hear and so blind could see. I understand that this may be beyond your ability to comprehend, which is all right-you simply need to accept it. It is only through bloodshed that sacrifices are received. I gave mankind every last drop I had once and for all-it was never intended to be an easy process.

Lord you tell us that we should be willing to take up our own crosses and follow you. I read somewhere that the cross beam weighed between 80-100 lbs. and that you were expected to carry it over 600 yards uphill while it tore into your open wounds with each step. The pain must have been unbearable! Why would you want us to do the same thing? Do you really expect us to suffer in the same way and to the extent you did?

It’s true that carrying your own cross is a tough assignment, but some have misconstrued what I am asking. In Roman times, when I was sentenced to death, the cross was always seen and understood to be their symbol of death. When I suggest you take up your cross, I am not asking you to bear the weight of suffering as I did, but rather to be willing to die to yourself so that you may become alive to me. Remember my words, “whoever wants to save their life must lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”. In every way my followers must be willing to die to themselves, and in many cases, die a physical death, but the eternal rewards are priceless compared to the temporary joys of living to themselves. Following me means putting to death all ways and desires that go against my teachings. It is only when you die to yourselves that you can live through me.

Can I ask about the cross? We have all seen images or paintings of you hanging on the cross. Sometimes you are made to look very peaceful as if you weren’t feeling anything or were in some type of altered state, while others and even movies show you were in great torment and agony. What was it really like? Could we aver fully understand what you were going through?

Child, there was nothing peaceful about my death on the cross. It was the most gruesome form of capital punishment known and perfected by Romans for ultimate suffering and cruelty. I knew how horrific it was going to be when I am quoted in the Psalms, “I am poured out like water and my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax within me and has melted away. My strength is dried up and gone and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, evil men circle me; they pierced my hands and feet. I can see and count all my bones. People stare and mock me. They gamble for my garments”. And in Isaiah it is said that I am so severely tortured I no longer resemble a human form. There is nothing peaceful or divine in the way I suffered on the cross for you. I could not breathe due to the way I was suspended by the nails with all my weight hanging there, and when I tried to push myself up using my feet, just so I could catch a breath, the pain and pressure on the numerous nerves in my feet that were destroyed by the nails was excruciating. And yet even with all the pain that was almost rendering me unconscious, the most painful part were the hours that my Father and I were separated because of the filth of the sin I bore-I had never been abandoned by Him before that and it tore at my heart to not feel His love and companionship. I truly experienced Hell during those hours of our separation. It hurt me and caused a much deeper pain than the wounds from my flogging and nails mercilessly driven into my hands and feet.

My Lord, you’re right, I can’t begin to imagine what that was like for you. I’m so sorry. My heart breaks even now, but I still have questions, if it’s ok. Your last words on the cross were “it is accomplished”. What did you mean? What did your torture and death accomplish?

You may want to sit down for this one-it will take some explaining. Of all the verses I left for you, those three words changed everything forever. When I said “It is accomplished”, it carried much weight and meant so much in both Earthly and Heavenly realms. First, it sealed and completed the perfect plan, the will of my Father set from the beginning of time. He sent me for one purpose only, to suffer and be crucified, the perfect sacrificial lamb for the remission of all sin. I accomplished my Father’s will. Secondly, the word used for this was often used in those days to indicate a debt had been satisfied or paid in full. If the wages of sin are indeed death, someone had to die to pay the punishment or penalty for those sins. With my death, I paid the full price for the rest of history so that all peoples could accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life without themselves having to die to pay that price. I accomplished and paid that debt. Third, that same word is sometimes used to indicate the end of a period and the beginning of another one. My death and sacrifice ended the age once and for all when blood sacrifices were required to atone for sins, and it began the age when my grace which I purchased for you with my own sacrificial blood would now be the only way and only requirement to be restored to my Father. I and I alone fulfilled and completed the Old covenant so that the New covenant of my blood would once and for all time cover your sins. I accomplished the will of my Father, I accomplished paying the debt in full for sin and I accomplished fulfilling the law and instituting grace. So you see child, when I cried out “it is accomplished” I changed the world forever!

I see now what you mean. Those were indeed three very weighted words. And after you said them, all kinds of strange events occurred. The one I wonder about is the dead people already in their tombs coming back to life and walking the earth. Why did that happen?

I guess in my own way I wanted to remind them just who I was and what I was capable of. You see, many of those who had shouted for my death were present when I raised my good friend Lazarus from the dead. How quickly you people forget things even when you see them with your own eyes. I knew that I would conquer death and come back to life in three days so that many would see and believe, but I wanted to display to them first, that they did not take away my life as they suspected and celebrated, but that in fact I willingly laid it down for them knowing I could take it back up at any time. But I also wanted them to know that I alone had the power over death and resurrection so I showed them this by bringing back those who were known to be dead, some buried and entombed by the very people watching me die on the cross. Only after I breathed my last breath did many of those present understand who I truly was. The dead lived again, the decayed were restored. This is the best meaning of your Easter-new life found only through me.

Lord, there is a lot of confusion on where you went when you were in the tomb. Some say you went to hell to stole away the keys of death from Satan and some say you went elsewhere. Where were you while your body was in the tomb?

I left several clues and indications for you in my words. To the repentant thief who died with me that day, I said he would be with me in Paradise, not hell. Paradise in my Word means Heaven. And when I died you recorded my words, “Father, into your hands do I commit my spirit”. Do you suppose my Father was in hell? Of course not. At that moment I and my Father were once again united. My Father can not dwell in the presence of sin. So Heaven is implied here as well. And my servant Paul also recorded the words that to be absent in the body, for believers, is to be present with the Lord. You will find no passage in my Word that indicates my enemy was ever given the keys of death. I alone posses those. And ministering to those fallen angels and those who were dead as in the times of Noah, I see that you are puzzled by this. It is only confusing to you in that you have placed a very short time on this passage and have neglected that I was alive in the days of Noah and was preaching to them through him. I have always preached to the dead in the spiritual eternal realm of existence. It is not limited to a three day period of being in the tomb. I was spared from decay. I did not descend into hell as punishment. I did not wrestle away something I already possessed and displayed when the dead came back to life when I died on the cross. I hope this clears it up a bit for you.

Lord when you did come back to life and appear to people, some, even your own disciples, refused to believe even though they could see you. Why did even your own followers not believe you would rise again from the grave?

Yes this troubled me greatly. I once rebuked them for not believing I would rise again. Man tends to have short memories. They had just witnessed my ability to restore life after death and decay, but they didn’t remember. Some of them thought that as the Messiah I would be a mighty conquering type of a Jewish King who would deliver them, but after they witnessed how I endured such severe punishment and torture with no defense, I believe they simply lost their faith in me, as if my power and authority had somehow been removed, rendering me helpless. They never understood that I allowed every bit of it to happen. I even reminded them one last time in the garden when the Jewish leaders and their guard came to arrest me. At my words, they all fell backwards. I gave them many hints and special insight as my followers that I was the Son of God, but when tragedy struck, they were overcome by fear. Fear sometimes leads to doubt and memory loss. I did exactly what I had told them I would do, but they did not remember my words when faced with their own fear and mortality. Even my enemies who put me to death remembered I had declared I would rise again after three days, and they requested my tomb be guarded.  The enemy knows my words even when my followers sometimes forget. My servant Thomas is sometimes called the Doubter, but the truth is at first they all doubted. It was only after they could see me and touch me that their faith returned. I blessed them for it, but suggested that those who would follow me later even though they would never physically see me, would be even more blessed than they. To their credit, when their faith was restored, with my help they changed the world.

My Lord, thank you for all you did for us. We will never be able to measure the depth of love you must have for us to endure things that we can’t even imagine. I never want your Passion to become just a story to me. I still want to know so much more, but I’d like to give you the final words for this interview. Please feel free to share your heart for us as we enter into our Easter reflections.

Bless you child. You pretty much already have all my heart recorded in my Word. Remember, I am the author. You are right when you say you will never understand the immeasurable love I have for you. Much has changed since my sacrifice, but much remains the same. There are still many today who profess to be my followers but have cold hearts. You could never know they were my disciples by their actions or their words. I warned people that at some point men would become lovers of themselves and their own words, and that they would lead many others away from the truth with false misrepresentations of my words and character. I still weep over cities when I see the evil that takes place on their streets. I still feel the tinge of betrayal when one of my own sheep leaves the pen and refuses to return. I am saddened when I hear one brother cut down another over insignificant differences or ideas. And I am angered when my people pervert my words to make them into a more non-offensive version that looks nothing like my original intent and meaning. And yet my arms remain open to receive all who admit their need of me. It is my desire that all people would come to the reality of my truth, my sacrifice, the high price paid for their redemption and the eternal joy and reward of following me and living a full and abundant life according to my ways. I would that everyone who remembers me when you recall my sacrifice would be in awe of who I am and who they have now become through my blood, my death and my resurrection. You are in a world full of darkness. It is important now more than ever before that each of you be a light in your dark corners so that I may be glorified through your lives and that they may be drawn to me through my spirit alive in you. Don’t quickly forget my words as you live out your faith. Your fruit will bear witness to my love and reality. As it is written, I loved the world so much that I gave my own life so that anyone who believes in me can be saved and restored to an everlasting life with me in my Father’s house. Don’t lose heart, I really am coming back for those who are mine. I love you with a never-ending infinite love. I have since the beginning of time.

Can Salt Really Lose Its Effectiveness?

Last week I wrote about being lights in the world.  In the same passage from Matthew, Christ refers to us as being the salt of the earth.  He goes on to ask how salt can be made salty again if it loses its flavor.  Many will read this passage and move on without much thought, but inquisitive minds want to know-why salt?  Of all the spices used in ancient times, why not use cinnamon or sage or any one of a host of other commonly used aromatic and flavorful spices- why plain old salt?  So, I did some research.

Salt played an immensely important role in Biblical times. It was highly valued, highly guarded and even ferociously fought over.  In Rome there were roads built and designated for the sole purpose of transporting salt from the mines or beds to the city under heavy Roman guard.  These were called Salt roads.  In a time before electricity or refrigeration was available, salt was used as a primary food preservative.  While it definitely changed the taste of foods, it allowed them to be stored for days without spoiling.  Salt was also used as a cleansing agent, or disinfectant, if you will.  In Biblical times when sacrifices were offered, no sacrifice could be made that did not include salt.  It was forbidden to not include salt and the sacrifice would not be honored or accepted without it.  It was that important!  Salt was also traded as a commodity and even used as currency, which is why Rome kept it under such heavy guard.  It played a crucial role in everyday ancient times.  Of all the spices used, Christ knew that salt carried more value, just as long as it always remained salty, or possessed it’s preserving benefits.

So then back to the question and the statement Jesus made-can salt become less salty or lose its flavor?  The chemical compound for salt is sodium chloride.  As such, it is highly stable.  In other words, salt doesn’t chemically break down or become something else unless something is introduced which would change its chemical makeup.  However, salt does have one nemesis-Moisture, humidity, water.  In highly arid climates with lower humidity levels, salt can last for thousands of years.  But once introduced to moisture, salt can be dissolved, or in essence, lose its effectiveness.  It may still exist in a solid or crystal state, but lose much of its preservative qualities.

How does this apply in the lesson Christ was teaching us?  If you are in tuned to current social trends, especially within many of our churches, you will see exactly what Jesus was referring to.  In an effort to become more tasteful to the unchurched, or seeker friendly, the whole of the Gospel has evolved into a feel-good approach of inspirational clichés, non-judgmental mission statements and a come-as-you-are-anything-goes approach to worship.  In other words, we have Watered Down the salt of Biblical truth, making it less salty and good for little more than a temporary good feeling, with no discipline, no accountability and virtually no challenge.  While most of us will admit that old school fire and brimstone preachers are not our cup of tea, the fact remains that too many have attempted to alter the Gospel to make it more friendly, more pleasing and much more tolerant lest it become offensive to some or exclusionary in nature.  We attempt to make scripture relative to today’s society and times as if the Bible is to be a living and evolving document subject to 21st century interpretation and application, much in the same way our Constitution can be amended.  This is unacceptable and goes against the very warnings we were given in the last few verses of the Bible.

The words of Jesus himself recorded in Revelation 22:18-19 are a stark warning against the practice of altering scripture:

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: if anyone adds anything (even a single word) to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the Holy City that are described in this book”.  Italics mine.

This is not about worship styles, cultural approaches or proper church behavior.  I am all for both traditional and progressive services, and am of the opinion that God designed us all uniquely with different responses to Him.  Some dance, some kneel, some dress up, some come in shorts, some like hymns and some want to rock His house-some drink, some abstain-some observe holy days, some see every day as holy-ALL GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE!  No, this is about taking something intended as absolute and unchangeable, The Word, and watering it down to a point that it becomes unrecognizable and ineffective. This is about salt losing its saltiness.  Just as Jesus stated that a light under a basket offers no benefits in the darkness, so does salt become useless when it no longer has the ability to protect, to preserve, to add flavor and credibility to Christianity.  It is then that it becomes good for nothing but lining a trail or path to be walked on.

More than ever before in history, I believe the world is watching us.  Some are looking to see if we are legit in our faith, some looking to see if we are walking what we’re talking, and others looking for real answers by witnessing what a God-life looks like.  Believers should never feel like they live in a vacuum.  God wants us “In the world”, a city on a hill, a small candle in an otherwise darkened room.  Don’t discount your effectiveness to add seasoning and illumination by the way you live out your life.  Act as true preservatives of all we know to be the Truth!

Are You a Light or a Snuffer?

 

You are the light of the world, like a city on a hill which can not be hidden”.

I’m sure most of us, whether we were raised in church or not, have either heard or sung that old song, This Little Light of Mine. As I recall, the song seemed to have an unlimited number of verses to it so that it could be sung continually for hours on end.  I’m quite certain that many of the verses were made up along the way-“let it shine ’til Jesus comes”…”light it when I first wake up.”…”wonder what’s for lunch today”…you get the picture.  One of the hundreds of verses was, “won’t let Satan blow it out“, substituting the word “blow” with an actual blowing sound for effect.  Sadly, some Christians have taken up that job themselves, snuffing out the lights of others.

Social media has invaded our lives.  It’s hard to imagine a time when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social platforms didn’t exist.  There are many positive aspects of being able to connect with old friends and keep in touch with distant relatives or even face-timing or video chatting with someone a thousand miles away.  But social media has also become a vehicle for bashing each other, tearing others down and sowing discord.  Being able to post uncensored thoughts in real time has given some a bold and brazen approach to being over critical and judgmental beyond our authority.  Instead of being lights in the world, some have made it their mission, or dare I suggest, their ministry, to snuff or blow out the lights of others.  We don’t need to worry about Satan blowing out lights when the snuffers are our own Christian siblings.

A person enjoys a nice glass of wine, a beer or even an occasional cocktail while out with friends.  A holy roller sees this and determines that true Christians should never be seen drinking, so they blow out their light.  The lady who has a shapely figure comes to church in a nice modest dress, but a church mother thinks it is too form fitting and a distraction-a Christian lady would never wear that to church, so puff, out goes her light.  A man exercises his right to vote in the election, but some pious saints know he voted for the “wrong” candidate.  How could any true believer call themselves a Christian but support that person and their platform.  There goes another light.  Satan is taking a long overdue vacation while we do his work for him.  Instead of exhorting each other on to greater things, as scripture compels us to do, we have become volunteer firefighters, looking for the next flame to extinguish.

A couple years ago I had the unique privilege of attending an Easter service in the Greek Orthodox tradition.  I can’t tell you what a reverent experience it was.  Unlike the traditional Easter Sunday service most of us are accustomed to, their service begins on the Saturday night before and extends into the morning hours of Easter Sunday.  One of the most beautiful aspect of this service happens at midnight.  At precisely 12:00 AM all of the lights of the church are turned off and all candles on the altar are extinguished.  This is done to signify the dark hours of Christ being in the tomb.  For a few minutes there is nothing but silence and total darkness.  And then, the priest lights one small candle, signifying Christ’s resurrection!  He then lights the candles of the assistant priests, who pass it on to the assistants, who then take it into the congregation where each parishioner is holding their own candle.  They light the candle of the first person in each row, who then light the person next to them, going row by row until everyone’s candle is burning.  It is quite an extraordinary event that is hard to put into words.

There were two observations that stood out to me while participating in this beautiful depiction of Christ’s resurrection.  First, was just the impact and significance of life bursting forth from the darkness and emptiness of a lifeless tomb.  It drove home the miracle of the resurrection.  But the second thing that impressed me was just how quickly a dark church cathedral could be lit up when each person’s little light was joined with others to drive out darkness and illuminate an entire structure!  One little candle can light up a small place, and many such candles can chase away any darkness.  It is no coincidence that the large floodlights illuminating effects are measured in candle-power.

Our faith has always been and will continue to be under attack by those forces who don’t understand, don’t agree with or find folly in our beliefs.  Jesus warned us that the world would hate us because it hated him.  It’s difficult enough to protect our lights from the secular forces wanting to snuff it out.  We shouldn’t also be concerned with other believers seeking ways to snuff us out.  If you proudly wave the banner of your faith, but your social media posts are always negative, condemning or divisive, perhaps you should spend some time trimming your own candle and take inventory of how you are being viewed, or more importantly, how your posts reflect the heart of Christianity.  I observe a particular Christian holiday, you see it as pagan-I eat and drink or dress or vote a certain way, you don’t.  Let it go, protect my flame as I protect yours.  Concentrate on being a light, not a snuffer.  Let true brotherly love be your illumination, not bitterness, envy, strife, jealousy or cultural/social difference.  We are told in scripture that the world would know we follow Christ when they witness the love we have for each other, not the discord or divisions.  Together we should be that city on a hill whose light can’t be hidden or put out.  One little light can make a difference in a dark world, especially when joined with so many others!

Side Chicks and Loyalty

I have always struggled with the concept of side chicks.  The Urban dictionary defines a side chick as someone who is not the wife or girlfriend, but in some sort of a relationship with someone who is in a relationship with someone else-a mistress, to simplify things.  It seems to be an acceptable and common practice in some circles.  As I research the subject I am floored by how much information is available on being a side chick.  Wikihow even has an article listing fourteen ways to become a better side chick! Some links describe what a side chick should expect or ways to keep expectations limited to avoid getting hurt.  Some even go as far to question if having a side chick makes a husband better!  What am I missing?

There are at least two glaring issues with this concept.  The first and most obvious is the issue of loyalty or fidelity.  Before I go there, yes, I know that adultery goes back to Biblical days.  I am fully aware of the stories of King David, Solomon’s concubines and polygamous relationships.  But one must be very careful to use Old Testament stories to justify modern day trends-it can become a treacherous and slippery slope as it opens up all kinds of behavior that has since been deemed unacceptable.  The ideal of a monogamous relationship should be protected as sacred.  It is impossible for two to become one if one of them is already one with someone else.  When scripture speaks of the strength of three cords, it isn’t condoning polygamy.  Speaking from the perspective of a Christian man, the wife God gives you should be cherished and honored as the only possession greater than your life.  There is no just cause to seek pleasure, whether sexual or emotional, outside of the marriage.  There is no over riding man code that compels us to hunt and gather to the point of defending infidelity and unfaithfulness.  To say it’s just what a man does is total bull and a copout.  Let’s at least be honest in calling it what it is.  If you are in a relationship with someone other than your spouse, it is adultery.  Jesus had very strong words regarding this subject.

The second issue deals with the actual side chick.  I am always puzzled as to why women or anyone would settle for anything less than a loving, committed relationship.  I struggle with understanding why someone would find it acceptable to be the number two option, the secret lover, the one who gets his body but will never have his heart or the benefits of his devotion.  Have self-esteems been lowered to a point that any affection is better than no affection, or that physical intimacy can serve as a reasonable facsimile to the real thing?  God created women to be the equal partner and helper to the man, not a subservient asset who is to respond to his beckoning needs.  She is deserving and should expect the same level of love, of praise, of adoration as her male counterpart.  Why on earth would any woman, outside of maybe rock groupies, ever settle for such a shallow, demeaning situation that will only serve to leave her wanting from the shadows-always hungry but never full, wanting love but settling for sex.  I just don’t get it.

In my book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, I attempt to describe the beauty of the marital relationship as intended by our Creator.  I describe it as an equal partnership between two people fully, lovingly and exclusively committed to each other and the mutual benefits that result from doing it the right way. I messed it up more than once in my two marriages, but I can honestly state I never had a side chick or any affair.  Honesty and integrity should not be foreign concepts.  There is no real justification for unfaithfulness.  The best relationships, and the ones that last, understand this.  Relationships are hard enough for two committed people without the distractions of adding extra people into the equation.

This leads me to my last point.  Can you have spiritual side chicks?  That is to say are there things that cause infidelity in our relationship with God?  We read that one of the first commands given was to have no other gods or idols.  Idols are not always tangible items such as statues or other hand-made images.  An idol, or if you will, a side chick, can be anything that takes away from your loyalty and commitment to the relationship God wants with each of us.  We, the body of believers, or the church, are described as the bride of Christ.  As such there is an implied exclusive devotion to him and no other.  The New Testament lists several “side chicks” that lead to idolatry with warnings of the potential outcome if we continue on with these spiritual polygamous affairs before God. What is even more dangerous is when these distractions become so dominating that they replace God in such a way that God becomes the side chick.

We are imperfect, broken people.  We can’t live perfectly holy lives.  If we could there would have been no need for Christ.   However we are called to be loyal servants.  In marriage, in relationships and in our faith there should exist within us a desire to be wholly faithful, needing and seeking nothing more outside of our relationships with each other and with God.  He always takes us back when we stray.  Our mates deserve the same level of commitment.  There should be nothing on the side except the fries you order with your Big Mac.  Blessings!

PRAISE-Our Weapon of Mass Destruction!

“At midnight Paul and Silas began to praise God. Suddenly there cam a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, opening all the locked doors and shaking loose the chains of every prisoner!”. Acts 16

If you follow this blog you will know that I often write from the eye of the storm in a very transparent perspective.  This is intentional for a couple reasons-one, to identify with those who are going through similar trials and challenges, and two, so that in our struggles, together we can cling to the hope and promises left for our benefit, our life-savers, if you will.  Through each of the challenges I’ve encountered over the past several years, I have always tried to find a way to continue to offer up praise, even if faint, and even if less than totally sincere.  I have always known it is the best and often last weapon I have if I was to overcome the latest challenge.  I am simply amazed at how effective a weapon praise can be!

There is a story in the Old Testament about a King of Judah named Jehoshaphat.  Our 70’s band Resurrection, did a song about his story.  A vast army was about to attack Judah and understandably, the people of the city were terrified.  So King Jehoshaphat didn’t gather all his fighting men, horses and chariots to plan out a defense.  Instead, he declared a mandatory fast and all the people gathered together to seek an answer from God. Entire families, including children, waited before the Lord.  Then God gave them a message through a man named Jahaziel.  The message, so powerful and complete, was this;

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the size of this army.  For this battle isn’t yours to fight, but God’s!”

You don’t know how many times I have relied on this verse over the years!  The story continues that King Jehoshaphat mounted up the next day and did something unexpected-he had the Worship Team lead the army out, his weapon of mass destruction!  Instead of beating their swords against their shields, they sang out;

“Give praise to the Lord for his love and mercies endure forever!”

As the King’s men sang their praises the Ammonites and Moabites became so confused they began to attack each other until not a single soldier was left standing.  The army of Judah won the battle and annihilated the enemy without drawing a single sword or firing a single arrow!  Praise is a powerful and effective weapon.  I am still learning how devastating it can be against unseen attacks! The victory experienced by the army of Judah was so devastating and complete that news traveled far and wide that God was their protector and they enjoyed peace for many years because anyone who heard the story was too fearful to challenge their God!

It is so easy in life to be intimidated by the size of the enemy waging war against us.  We see through human eyes that we are surrounded by a vast army getting ready to attack us on every front and we see no way out.  I believe that sometimes we forget that the armies surrounding us that we too easily see, are themselves surrounded by an even greater, heavenly, unseen Army of fiery chariots of heavens angels who are saying to us, “don’t be afraid-this battle isn’t yours but God’s!” What we envision as being a battle to big to win, is in fact, just another day of deliverance at the hands of a heavenly host, ready to go to war for us, and just waiting for the command, our release through the most difficult of circumstances of the praise from our hearts and lips-our weapon of mass destruction!  When we praise and worship God we are in essence giving the command and permission for heaven’s armies to unleash its power against all other weapons formed against us in such a way that the enemy is left defenseless and in ruins!

Paul and Silas were chained and sent to prison by the very people they were trying to save.  After being stripped and severely beaten and flogged, they were chained by their feet in the inner prison.  At midnight when it’s the darkest, in chains, bloodied and suffering pain from the open wounds from their flogging, they lifted up their praise and sang hymns to God, so openly that all the prisoners who were jailed with them could hear their praises.  Surely they must have thought that Paul and Silas had lost their freaking minds-how could anyone under such dire circumstances possibly worship God?  What they didn’t realize is that Paul and Silas knew the power of praise in tearing down strongholds and breaking chains!  As their praise ascended God sent an earthquake so violent that even the chains of those who heard the worship were shaken off and fell to the jail floor.  The jailer, seeing and feeling this phenomenal event was so moved he and his entire family accepted their message and were saved.  When God moves and responds, people are changed and set free!

There are so many promises of complete victory for those who follow Christ;

“All thanks to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”

“In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us”

“Thanks to God who in Christ, always leads us in triumphal procession…”

“For the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies and to assure you receive victory”

“What else is there to say-if God is for us, WHO can come against us!”

So far 2019 has been an amazing year of victories and turn around for me.  I am seeing prayers answered so dramatically that I know it is nothing but a God thing.  And I can’t claim any glory except to say that in my weakest moments, I found a way to still worship Christ even when there were no words left to offer up.  I am simply in awe of his goodness in my life and his faithfulness in responding, not on my time but in his.  I am humbled and speechless before Him.  Can I offer some heartfelt advice?

I have heard it said that the worship time of a church service is intended to allow stragglers to get to their seats before the sermon or homily.  I’ve even heard some say they just come for the message and not the worship time.  I can’t emphasize enough how wrong that approach is!  To me, that’s like going to a fine restaurant just to pay the bill without enjoying the food.  When believers come together in one voice or concerted effort to praise a holy God together as one church family, there is a power, a restoration, a healing, a battle cry that gives you more deliverance and strength than the greatest of sermons.  Scripture tells us that God inhabits, or simply put, takes his residence in the praises of his children.  That corporate time when we gather simply to worship and revere our Father and his holiness-that’s where our power comes from-that’s our secret weapon against the attacks against us, not the ear-tickling sermon.  I win when I worship-I receive when I praise-I feel closest to God when I am reaching out to him in song and I stand no taller than when I’m on my face before His throne.  He is my weapon of mass destruction, my salvation, my victory.  “Praise be to God-His mercies endure forever”.

Make America Hate Again?

A recent article published in USA Today states that active hate groups are at the highest level in the last twenty years. Organizations that have been identified as Hate Groups have climbed from 784 in 2014 to over 1,000 in 2018, and is up over 7% just in the last year.  This number is not limited to white groups but includes among others, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, black nationalists and neo-confederate groups.  What is particularly sad, however, is that many religious organizations have been labeled among these hate groups right along side of the Ku Klux Klan or American Nazis.  This label may be misleading as for most civil activist police, any group that shows any intolerance toward another group is deemed a hate group.  The unanswered question is this; have these identified hate groups actually increased in number over the past few years, or has a season and atmosphere of hatred and bigotry simply empowered already existing groups to become more vocal and public?  Why the sudden uproar in exposure and boldness?

Even as I write these observations I know how critical it is that I choose my words carefully lest I too be labeled a hater.  We have evolved into a society where anything and everything goes, and anyone who questions current trends from any conservative or traditional perspective is caught up in the widely cast net of intolerant haters.  Our world is changing, morality is evolving, standards are being broken and liberal progression is leaving many behind in its wake.  There seems to be little common ground for those who wish to remain neutral as more and more people are falling into one of two categories, extremist right wing or socialist left liberal, sharply divided like the partisan leadership we have flippantly elected to oversee our affairs and tell us how we ought to live, albeit not by exemplary lifestyles they live out.

The targets of hateful aggression is growing longer each year. You don’t have to search very hard to find a hate group to fit into.  We are currently hating on blacks, whites, Jews, Muslims, gays, transgenders, Republicans, Democrats, Trump, Pelosi, the church, the atheists, Catholics, Baptists, Hannity, Farrakhan-the list is exhaustive.  It doesn’t really matter if you are from the confederate south or the Yankee regions of the north, the Bible belt Midwest of the socialist state of California-there is something for everyone, a plethora of hate groups to call your own.  What a sad and horrible state of affairs!

Those who choose to harbor hatred or intolerance may never be eradicated from society-it’s been over two hundred years and America still accommodates hate.  That being the case, it is imperative that those of us who practice love and charity become as vocal and empowered in spreading light as those who prefer darkness.  We are each presented each day with opportunities to display and express love, good will and blessings over those who are beaten down by societal and generational hatred.  With everything that has changed over the past decades, we possess a truth that remains a constant, a plumb line and a guide for loving on others.  We have the Bible, the written Word, and even though many of today’s haters attempt to point to the Bible as a source of hatred, the fact is irrefutable that it remains a standard of unconditional love and sacrifice.  However it remains useless and ineffective unless we live out its principles in every day life as a weapon against the evils of hatred, bigotry and intolerance we face in our world.  And unlike the mixed messages from even some religious groups, the Bible is black and white on the subject of love and hate:

1 John 4; “If you say “I love God” but you hate your neighbor, you are a liar!”

1 John 3; “Anyone who hates their brother or sister is guilty of murder”

1 John 2: “Anyone who claims to walk in light but has hatred is actually walking in darkness”

1 John 4; “Anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, who is love”

John 13; “A new commandment-love one another, just as I have loved you”

Colossians 3; “Above all else, put on love which brings everything together in harmony”

Ephesians 4; “With humility and gentleness, accompanied by patience, love each other’

Luke 6; “Love your enemies, expecting nothing in return”

Romans 13; “Be in debt to  no one, except for the unpayable debt of love, fulfilling the commands”

We who claim to walk in the light of the Word can not blindly ignore what has been written and left on our behalf. Believers are quick to get caught up in controversial issues like immigration, partisan politics, senseless arguments and debates over things that have no real eternal consequences in our lives, as if we take leave of the fact that our citizenship is not Earthly but Heavenly, and that our welfare is dependent upon God’s provisions, not current administration policy.  Hatred is a byproduct of fear, and believers should have nothing to fear from anyone or anything in this life.  and when we lose sight of this, we become just another lamb being led with the flock by the current trends, losing our light and identity in Christ.  Each time I hear of  more hate crimes, or read posts on social media touting the latest hate du jour of the day, my stomach turns as we can and should be so much better than this.  Our only hope is to be points of light in the dark confines in which we may find ourselves so that through our love and genuine concerns we can refocus the light away from hatred and toward Christ, who is forever the ultimate definition of love.

 

 

Greatest Speech of All Time?

 

I am told and have indeed read that I missed perhaps one of the greatest speeches ever given by an American President last night as the latest State of the Union Address was delivered.  I have also heard or read many of the speeches delivered by some of the world’s greatest orators, so I started pondering the question, what was the greatest speech ever given?

There are several that quickly come to mind.  Based on their content and the climate of their times, it would be difficult to select just one.  Would it be Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech, of maybe Winston Churchill promising to “fight them on the beaches”? How could one not consider the great Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, still quoted today, or Nelson Mandela’s numerous anti-apartheid speeches?  There’s Patrick Henry declaring “Give me liberty or give me death” and Abe Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address.  And in stark contrast to the current Build a Wall rhetoric, there is the ever memorable “Tear down this wall” speech by my favorite President, Ronald Reagan.  And even more impressive than these is the oration delivered by history’s first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen, a Christian apologetic speech delivered to the Sanhedrin recorded in Acts Chapter 7 just before he is stoned to death for Christ.  So with so many great speeches to choose from, who gets the nod as Numero Uno?

In my most humble of opinions, I don’t believe there has ever been a more meaningful, impactful, history-changing speech ever given than that which Christ gave and first recorded in Matthew 5-7, now commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount. In it is contained the essence of all good and proper living.  One does not even need to be of the Christian faith in order to appreciate the heart of what is being taught, but as a believer it may be the most concise delivery of the Christian tenets of faith ever composed in one sitting.  Much has been written throughout history pertaining to the sheer content of this incredible sermon.  In his Fifth Century book Saint Augustine says;

“If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as w read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards to the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian Life“.

The great sermon can be broken down into several sub-sections, each worthy  themselves of being considered great speeches. The oration starts with the Beatitudes, or as some refer to them, The Blessings, or even more literal, the Happy sayings.  “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom; Happy are those who mourn for they will receive comfort; Happy are the meek for they will inherit the earth, and so forth.  These were not new revelations necessarily as many came from previous Old Testament writings, but Jesus shed new light into the heart of each blessing that focused on the ideals of living a life of love, service and humility, a lesson not confined to political or religious views alone.

Then Jesus begins to speak of salt and light, metaphors rich in context as to how believers should live their lives of faith openly and unashamedly.  Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the world.  As believers, we are each imparted with that same light so that we may be lights in the world.  He also uses the terminology of being salt, and how ineffective we become if we lose our faith, or saltiness, good for nothing more than filling in holes on a walking trail.

Then He goes into a discussion where He gives teeth to Old Testament Law with such phrasing as “you have heard it said…but I tell you…”.  Christ doesn’t abolish the law but fulfills it to the “nth” degree with things like, “you say don’t murder but I say don’t even call someone an idiot” or you say don’t commit adultery but I say if you even look at a woman and think about having sex with her you are just as guilty-harsh and difficult teachings for sure.  He goes on with exchanging the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy with instead praying for your enemies and those who wish you evil.  His statements turn their thinking and beliefs upside down!

Form there Jesus teaches his disciples and ultimately the world how we are to pray.  Whether you consider The Lord’s Prayer as a literal and perfect daily prayer or you use it as a model to fashion your own prayers after, it may be the single most cited, recorded and printed piece of literature of all time!  And he immediately follows it up by giving us the key to unlocking the beauty and promise of the prayer, that being the importance of forgiveness, by reminding us that “if we do not forgive others their sins against us, our Father will  not forgive us our sins either“. The prayer has five components, acknowledgement of God’s deity, submission to his will, Petitions for our provisions, forgiveness of our sins and triumphant living over temptation; all we need, any day, every day!

Jesus then reminds us of the folly of worrying with the familiar verse reminding us that if he sees even the tiniest of birds and takes care to feed them, how much more is he concerned with the affairs of the lives of his children.  And as for possessions, if even King Solomon was not as adorned as the flowers in any wild field, how much more God wants to clothe us with all good things.  There is simply too much good stuff to chew on here, basic, sound biblical rules of conduct and promises of God’s provision and sufficiency for our daily lives.

This sermon goes on to deliver so much more than we can take in.  From warnings about being judgmental when we should be more aware of our own faults, to the famous “ask and receive, seek and find, knock and come in” teachings about approaching God in prayer.  And on it goes, the wide and narrow gates, true and false teachers, Smart and stupid builders, Mind Blown!  He left the crowds who had gathered to hear him in shock and amazement as they had never been taught by anyone with such insight and vision or with overwhelming authority.  And it hasn’t changed up to this day, over two thousand years later!

Greatest speech of all time?  I confidently contend that you can’t find one better than the Sermon Christ delivered in Matthew, but what, you may ask, is the differentiator for this speech compared to any of the other worthy candidates?  It’s easy actually, Credibility.  If you were just to read the speech in Matthew 5-7, it would be impressive on its own merit, but what happens immediately after, recorded in Matthew Chapter 8, seals the deal. As Jesus comes down from this famous speech on the mountain, large crowds still followed him.  Among them was a leper, an outcast due to his condition.  The leper humbly bows before Jesus and asks in all good faith for Jesus to heal him.  With the simple words “Be Clean” the leper’s skin condition immediately disappears and his skin is renewed and pure again.  For thousands of witnesses, this elevates Christ from just a good speaker to the Divine Son of God with all power and authority to back up his previous words.  All other speeches that deal with the heart of decent living from that time forward are directly connected in every decent and moral way to the words Christ delivered to us and to the world on the mountain that day, the greatest speech of all time!

Just to Feel the Sun Again

This week much of the United States will be experiencing dangerously cold temperatures, with some forecasts of wind chills near 50 degrees below zero!  Most will not be able to see any sign of the sun, let alone bask in its heat.  Depending on which part of the country some reside, these Winters can last from one month to six months.  Some may wonder if the cold will ever end or if they will ever see the sun or feel its warmth on their skin.  I live in Las Vegas and it was sunny and warm enough here yesterday that I sat on my patio sans shirt and simply relished the heat as it hit my face after a few chilly months of being indoors.  Whether it’s the first day after a long Winter or those first steps onto your favorite beach, there is something very healing in being exposed to warmth after a prolonged period of being kept in the cold and the dark of a Winter season.

For many, life can seem like a bitter cold and extended Winter season void of sunlight, leaving them desperate and begging for some relief in the way of sunbeams and a warming heat.  It’s been so long since they basked in the glow of the sun that they may wonder if they will ever feel or see it again.  I know this all too well.  There is an agonizing cry out to God for any relief, any comfort, any sign that he is aware of your situation and is listening to prayers you feel are bouncing off the ceiling.  Many of the world’s most successful leaders endured seasons of cold and darkness that left them questioning everything, including their own faith.  As recent as yesterday I read the horrific stories of two prominent pastors of megachurches committing suicide because they were in such a dark place that even their faith in God was overwhelmed by the severity and chill of their circumstances.  A verse in Matthew chapter six says that if the light within you has turned to darkness, how great and massive that darkness can be.  If the cold temperatures and the dead of Life’s Winter months are so great that even studied church leaders can not escape its cold grip, we must all be on alert to protect the light and heat placed within each of us as God’s children.

One of my favorite places to be, my happy place, if you will, is on the beach.  Besides just being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and majesty of a mighty ocean being reduced to gentle waves kissing the sandy shore where I’m laying, there is also a physical relaxation of soaking up the sun and being warmed from the inside out by its heat.  In that small period of restoration there is such a healing peace and natural euphoria that is hard to put into words.  All life’s stress and issues seem to melt away, at least for the duration of my time in the sun, and the long Winter months become a distant memory.  Perhaps your Winter is one of a serious illness or a less than adequate employment situation.  Maybe its a strained relationship with certain family members or friends.  Or if like me, it is just the pain of being alone when your best life would be one shared with a special someone.  Whatever the source of your sunless days, they can and often do seem like an eternity as you beg God for his mercy in your situation while you seek any comfort or shelter from the elements, like being left out in the cold with no source of heat to warm your face.

But….there is good news!  God may take us places we would never choose to go on our own, but He will never leave us there too long.  When Job was exposed to the harshness of a cold Winter that left him with nothing but frostbite in the form of death, destruction and even physical disease, he begged God to take his life and put him out of his misery.  But God in his never-ending mercy and compassion restored Job to a level even higher than the one from which he was removed, and reimbursed him many times over for his losses.  I can share with you from recent experience that when God looks down and says “Ok child, I guess you’ve had enough.  Sit back and watch what I’m about to do for you!”, and you once again feel the warmth of the sun and the Son on your face as it warms your entire being, the healing restorative power is indescribable. In a very real sense, it is the bitter chill of sunless days that cause you to fully appreciate the restoration of the Son’s rays!  And you find in that warming heat love, joy, peace, fullness and rest from life’s challenging seasons.  There is simply nothing in all the world like being brought back to life by the warmth of God’s compassion and love. Malachi 4:2 read like this;

“For those of you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings”.  And Ecclesiastes says that it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So today I pray that my readers, whatever part of the world they may live in or however cold it may be there, can hold on until they can once again experience the heatwave they seek and can shake the chills of life’s bitter cold temps as they anticipate the end of their Winter season.  Blessings to each of you.

 

Never Give Up

According to recent polls and research, today, January 17th, is the day that most of us who made New Year resolutions to better ourselves, give up on them.  Not even three weeks into the year, our haughty aspirations to become the next Mr. Universe or Bill Gates have become a distant memory.  After all, it’s hardly fair; for most people January is one of the coldest months of the year and going outdoors or to the gym is much less favorable than just curling up in a blanket with hot cocoa  a good movie than working up a sweat in the dead of Winter.  And then there is the national fitness conspiracy that is the Girl Scout Cookie campaign, which begins the second week of January and runs until virtually all resolve to improve our individual diets has been all but obliterated.  Add to that the football parties ranging from the college Bowl Games to the NFL playoffs and eventual Super Bowl-good hosts can’t serve lettuce wraps with tonic water for rowdy sports fans-it’s wings, nachos, pizza, soda, craft beers-impossible!  Perhaps we should defer our New Year resolutions to July!

It can be easy to make up excuses to give up on resolutions, on dreams, on vows.  Life gets hard, throws us an unexpected curve, knocks us off our feet and robs us of any remaining intestinal fortitude.  For many it becomes easier to just stay down than to get back up and risk being knocked down again.  We convince ourselves we aren’t good enough anyway, or we aren’t really deserving of that which we are striving for. We listen to the voices of fear and doubt and fall for lies without much of a challenge.  It’s hard to swim against the current or to run in the face of oncoming wind.  I know and can speak of this from experience.

Scripture is full of stories about men who faced incredible challenges and odds but persevered and achieved what they were after.  David was anointed to be King of Israel but spent most of the next decade in the wilderness running for his life before eventually taking the thrown promised to him.  Sarah was in her nineties before God finally granted her request for a child!  Jacob fell in love with Rachel and worked seven years for her father in order to be given her as his bride, only to be tricked into marrying her sister, so he had to work another seven years, a total of fourteen, just to be with the woman of his dreams. These saints of old had a vision and a promise and never gave up, even though it appeared from all human perspective that these dreams may not be realized.

Life truly is short.  If you wish upon a dream, to borrow a lyric, and do all you can to keep that dream alive, ESPECIALLY if that dream is from God, giving up is not an option.  Maybe your dream is to be the lead singer of a band or perhaps a best-selling author; maybe you just want to earn a degree or switch to some exciting career like law enforcement or maybe flight attendant. Maybe you would be content to simply lose ten pounds before Summer so you aren’t embarrassed to be seen at the pool or beach, like me.  Perhaps you are seeking that special someone to be your person this year. Whatever it is, you are never too old and it’s never too late to be a dream chaser.  The person who fails to dream about what might be, or to continually take measures to make it happen-that person will lose sight of the potential reward, and once the vision is gone, so is the hope and determination.

Ask God to help you define your vision in light of what he wants for you, and to give you all the necessary tools to stick to it and see it to fruition. You can never be sorry you did, only regretful that you gave up too soon!  Blessings to you.

New Year Resolutions-Over/Under Odds

We are just a few days away from the start of another New Year, a time of new beginnings, reflection and a renewed resolve to make one’s self over in a more pleasing and acceptable way.  I reside in Las Vegas, NV, where you can place a wager on virtually anything.  I have yet to find any oddsmakers willing to tackle New Year Resolution Success rates.  It’s a shame-the books would make a fortune!

According to a study out of the University of Bristol, nearly 88% of all seemingly genuine and motivated individuals who make annual NY resolutions, fail miserably!  Not only do they fail, but they most often do so in the first month to six weeks!  Seems our resolve to resolve is weak at best.  Intentional change takes discipline and a strong willpower.  Some resolutions involving certain addictions even require outside medical support and additional costs.  It is simply more easy to  just continue on with your current status than to make real changes.  As one who buys new workout clothes for the gym and wears them once, I know and can attest that the struggle is real.  And yet each year most of us set ourselves up for failure and disappointment by making promises to ourselves we know we just won’t keep.  And so it goes.

According to an article on patch.com, the following is a list of this year’s most popular New Year Resolutions:

  • Eat better — 37 percent
  • Exercise more — 37 percent
  • Spend less money — 37 percent
  • Self-care (e.g. getting more sleep) — 24 percent
  • Read more books —18 percent
  • Learn a new skill — 15 percent
  • Get a new job — 14 percent
  • Make new friends — 13 percent
  • New hobby — 13 percent
  • Focus more on appearance — 12 percent
  • Focus on relationship — 12 percent
  • Cut down on cigarettes/alcohol — 9 percent
  • Go on more dates — 7 percent
  • Focus less on appearance — 3 percent

Do any of these look familiar?  I love to eat, so eating better is always a tough one for me.  I’m frugal, and single, so spending less money is easy enough. Who reads books anymore? Do Facebook friends count as new? Only 12% are concerned with relationships?  That would explain my low book sales. And in 2018 I went out on ZERO dates, so that bar is limbo low.

I compared this to other Top Ten NY Resolution lists available online and discovered something oddly common.  Very few, if any, list spiritual growth or enrichment as a top concern.  No mention of increased prayer or study time, church attendance or even benevolent involvement.  Virtually very resolution is self-centered or for self-improvement, with very little being outward focused, let alone spiritually motivated.  Now don’t get me wrong-I am on an extended stretch of trials and challenges that have all but zapped me of any religious fervor, and I understand how easily it might be to blow off any faith based approach to the future when it seems like you’ve been left to your own devices anyway.  But all of us, whether we admit it, whether we accept it, whether we believe it, are spiritual beings.  Good or bad, right or wrong, we are spirit-driven.  That spirit is oft times malnourished, be it by too much junk food, or mere starvation, and its state of health affects every other aspect of our life.

The end of one year and the immediate beginning of the next is celebrated with parties, revelry, music, dancing, and if you are one of the fortunate ones, a kiss for good luck from someone special.  I’m all for the traditional festivities of New Year’s Eve and am not suggesting you forego the parties and find a quiet church, although in many cultures that too is traditional.  After all, the parties are for the night while the resolutions are for the next twelve months.  That said, the New Year does provide the perfect opportunity to take inventory of your life and to see if you are still on course or if your GPS needs to be reset or updated.  In doing so don’t forget that your spiritual compass settings and updated processes will be your best friend when those challenges arise, and they always do, that require more than that which is in your ability.  So resolve to drop those few extra pounds, again, renew the gym membership for another six weeks, by your Chantix, and learn a new language, but don’t neglect your spiritual welfare-it always needs improvement!

On a personal note, I want to thank you for following In My Own Words at papaswords.com.  I receive reports that show me where the blog is being read.  The latest report listed over 90 different countries!  I am humbled at the thought of this blog being so global.  I hope to continue to write for you as I have done now for five years going back to 12/26/2013.  I want to wish you all a very healthy, blessed and prosperous 2019!  May God keep you and your families safe for another year!  Happy New Year…Joe Hill

Christmas Means Nothing if Not True

o-holy-night

It’s that time of year again when the whole world will cease from their labors to ponder and celebrate this thing we refer to as Christmas.  It is of all days of the year, a most honored and sacred tradition, especially for those who still consider the wonder of the first Christmas and the significant history changing impact it had on a world, and individually to all who choose to believe.  Sadly, however, there are still those who refute the story and indeed the entirety of Scripture as wholly fictitious, a collection of handed down fables and legends, if you will, with no credible evidence or factual basis.  While each of us are guaranteed the right to our beliefs, or lack thereof, it is sad to consider how many are missing out on something so wonderful and life changing simply because they refuse to accept the preponderance of evidence that exists to the contrary.

This week I was privy to such opinions as expressed on social media.  The overwhelming number of original copies of Scripture and many archeological finds show sound support for many of the stories recorded in the Bible, too many to blindly disregard if one is truly being objective.  First, let’s measure the accuracy and legitimacy of the Bible based solely on literary standards accepted by scholars who define historic credibility.  Homer’s Iliad, long recognized as an accurate and accepted historic document, can only produce a little over 600 original copies, with the amount of time between the original writing and the first known copy being well over 1,000 years.  Much of the original Iliad is filled in because of missing original texts.  In contrast, there exists today over 6,300 original copies of the Bible, with the amount of time between the original writing and the first known copy being not 1,000 years, but a mere 60!  In addition, out of 31,103 original verses that make up the Bible, all but 11 are accounted for!  This then  makes the Bible 99.965% complete! So by any literary standard, secular or otherwise, the credibility of the Bible and it’s stories can not be challenged.

In addition to the staggering number of copies available, there are also non-biblical references made to the stories by early and recognized historians.  From Tacitus in the first century:

Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. .

From Pliny the Younger in 112 AD:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.

From Josephus’s writings, Jewish Antiquities:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.

So you can see just from these three examples that Jesus and his life and movement have nonbiblical documentation by accepted historians.  There are many more such nonbiblical recordings available for review and accepted as accurate. But let’s go further and examine some key archeological finds that support Biblical stories.

In 1968 in Jerusalem contractors discovered an ossuary (bone box) containing the remains of a man aged between 24-28. A spike was discovered driven through his left heel with  piece of the olive wood cross still attached.  To date this is the only evidence found that supports the Roman crucifixion as described in the New Testament, and proof that criminals were not left to rot on the cross but buried, just as scripture indicates took place with Jesus.

In 1986 a severe drought caused the Sea of Galilee to drop to record lows, revealing the remains of a well-preserved 27′ fishing boat buried in the mud, dating back to the days of Jesus. It was discovered near Migdal, or Magdaline in ancient times, from where mary Magdaline was from. Pots and pans found next to the boat, along with radiocarbon dating confirm its age.  The boat easily holds 15 grown men, which would be enough for Jesus and his 12 disciples.

In 2004 near Hezekiah’s water tunnel near Jerusalem archeologists discovered the lost Pool of Siloam mentioned in the recording of one of the many miracles of Jesus. Coins found intact within the pool walls date the pool to years immediately before and after Christ.

In 2009 archeologists found the first and only known housing structure from the ancient city of Nazareth, a city some suggest never existed because there is so little mention of it in historic documents outside of the Christmas story.

In 2012 the Israeli Antiquities Society announced the find of a 2700 year old bulla in the city of Jerusalem.  A bulla was a clay stamp used to seal a document or container.  On this bulla was stamped the insignia for the town of Bethlehem, the first known discovery from the city of Jesus’s birth, again significant because so little is known or recorded in history about Bethlehem outside of the Bible story.

Biblical archeology is fascinating and there are many finds, too many to list here, that support stories, cities, and people described within the Bible.  So, we have discussed accepted literary standards supporting scripture, nonbiblical records of its stories and tangible, hold-in-your-hands archeological finds-all evidence of the credibility of scripture and the Christmas story.  But is there more?  Only if you choose to believe.

It is hard for a believer to adequately explain to an unbeliever that undeniable sensation that wells up within the heart and soul when we see the miracles of love, of restoration, of release from the guilt of a sinful life-the joy and tears of singing a song of worship with other believers.  It’s hard to describe the peace when going through life’s most difficult moments or the true hope of all Christians of being reunited with beloved family members who have passed on.  These things require faith in things not seen, not recorded, not found in digs.  And yet, this is the magic and wonder of Christmas!  It remains a time when all the world,  regardless of religion, race, creed or nationality, feels at the same time, the charitable expressions of love, peace and goodwill, a day, if you please, when God opens up heaven to remind us all, believers or not, that he and all he stands for and represents, is real, that his Son existed and exists, and that the hope of the message of God With Us, Emmanuel, is wrapped up in this one very special, very sacred and holy day we celebrate, Christmas!

I want to wish each of my followers a very Merry and Blessed Christmas this year.  It has and will always be a pleasure writing for you and I am truly honored and humbled that you choose to follow me from literally across the globe.  My books, My Soul Cries Out and Sex Begins in the Kitchen are available on Amazon.  Christmas love to you all!

 

Recapturing the Lost Wonder of Christmas

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The tree and its collection of unique ornaments that would rival a Macy’s window creation remains packed away in boxes.  The lights and animated reindeer that was part of a Griswold-esque lawn display is hibernating in storage. Except for a Hallmark movie or a rerun of an old holiday classic on TV, there is little evidence that Christmas is just a couple weeks away.

There is an unexplainable magic and wonder that ushers in the Christmas holiday. It takes us back in time to when things were simpler, more genuine-where Peace on Earth seemed attainable and the very best of human nature surfaced ever so briefly so that all the world was better because of it.  For many this annual euphoria still exists and is eagerly anticipated and welcomed like an old friend you only see once each year. But sadly for others the season is anything but joyful.  Silent Night becomes just that, silent. Old carols become seasonal haunts leftover from Halloween like the Ghost of Christmas Past except unlike the Dickens story there is little hope of redemption given to its chosen victims. While there is no real evidence that the rate of suicides is elevated during the holidays, it can’t be denied that depression is all the more apparent and intense when you are alone or coming off a particularly cruel year of trials. The hope is that like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life we can find our way through the muck and mire of mental games just in time to celebrate but many will carry their depression on into the new year. Just like the Grinch, someone snuck in during the night and stole our Christmas.

Christmas is the ultimate time for sharing-a dance to a familiar carol, a gift to someone not expecting it, your love with that special someone, memories of past years with old friends, the celebration of an Incarnate baby savior. However when those opportunities to share are removed due to loss of income, loss of health, the death of a spouse or loved one, divorce or separation, the vehicle used to share the holiday is rendered useless, out of order, incapacitated, leaving one feeling lonely and nothing resembling Merry. It is during these times that we as believers in Christ, the Christmas miracle, have to rely on the true focus of the Christmas celebration and recreate our own miracles. It is only through our ability to see and recall the Babe in the manger that we have a chance of recapturing the wonder we so long for at this special and holy time of year.

I have always believed in my heart that the reason Christmas is so wondrous is that God opens up Heaven and releases just a little bit of the holy residue that covered the earth those two thousand years ago on that special night when Christ the Son became flesh and stepped into the world He Himself created. It was the ultimate gift, the epitome of love that the Son of the Most High would enter this world through extraordinary means on a journey He knew would end on a cross. He didn’t come here to turn water to wine, to feed thousands with a few fish or to leave behind quotes that make for good wall plaques. Christ the Christmas miracle came with the objective and divine plan to willingly lay down His life as a once and for all sacrifice that afforded us redemption, reconciliation to the Father and a blessed hope of eternal Christmases in an everlasting Kingdom where sadness, loneliness and depression are forever banished. It is a kingdom according to Revelation where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for these things will have passed away-forever!”  It is a miracle beyond our human comprehension or explanation. It is the truest essence of Christmas! It remains the wonder of Christmas, if we can but set our sights above the trials and despair of this troubled world.

It would be a bit cruel to identify the problem without offering suggestions on where to go from here.  Lest I be like the TV commercial where I just monitor a problem (“there’s a problem”) here are some things that work for me. I love holiday lights.  There is something about colored lights glowing in the dark that just make you feel good inside.  I recall as kids my brother and I counting light displays on our way to church-a great memory. So now, I go out of my way to take in light displays.  And instead of the same old TV fare I switch over to an old Christmas show or a Hallmark Movie.  Yes, I still watch Frosty, Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It takes me back 50 years to an innocence I cherish, even if there are those days when I resemble Bergermeister or the Grinch. And who doesn’t enjoy the classic holiday songs that accompany Christmas.  Whether it is taking in a concert by Trans Siberian or a local church production, you can’t possibly walk away without at least a tinge of Christmas spirit. One more great remedy for holiday blues is to find a cause, a charity, a need you can adopt to help bring a little Christmas wonder to others who may be feeling just as left out.  It is amazing the healing properties of adopting a family at Christmas or providing a tree or a dinner or a few unexpected toys.  Their joy is infectious and you can’t help but catch the bug if anywhere near. But perhaps the greatest therapy of all is to seek out Church services billed as Christmas celebrations so that the heart, the meaning and the purpose of our celebration is driven home into our depleted spirit so our focus can be redirected to the source of all wonder, the Christ Child, The Prince of our Peace, God with us, the perfect gift for all occasions that like the Jelly of the Month Club from Christmas Vacation, just keeps on giving.  Let the peace of God, which according to Philippians 4 “transcends all understanding”, all hurt, all depression, all loneliness, guard your hearts and minds in the Christ Child.

If you are hurting and not looking forward to the holidays this year, I encourage you with these words and the sincerest of prayers to kneel before the manger and ask for the peace, the comfort, the healing from the source of all celebration and the subject of our reverence, Jesus. Christmas this year may look a little different than in years past but our Father Who is the same yesterday, today and for all Christmases to come will rekindle the holiday flame that may be extinguished so that you can once again warm up to that lost wonder that is Christmas.

 

 

 

 

The Apostles Creed Controversy

This week some old and tired arguments surrounding the Apostles Creed were resurrected as it was cited at the reverent and honorable funeral of #41 George H.W. Bush.  I am continually perplexed at how a statement of sound biblical beliefs is so quickly and easily dismissed by my Protestant brothers and sisters because they can’t get past the misinterpreted use of the word “catholic”, a descriptive inserted acknowledging the universal fellowship under one faith.  I have even read some comment that the Creed isn’t biblical, or isn’t recorded in its current form in the Bible and is thus irrelevant or even a heterodoxy. Those opposed to its acceptance as a statement of faith are guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater simply because they incorrectly assume “catholic” refers to the Roman Catholic Church exclusively, and since they find fault with Catholicism, the Creed must too be in error.  Sadly, those who hold this opinion are simply echoing bad teaching without any due diligence or exegesis on their own part.

So, I thought I would go through the Creed line by line, showing scriptural foundation for each tenet so the reader can decide.  First, certain elements of the Creed are recorded in many nonbiblical sources from early church fathers, including Irenaeus and Eusebius, and in a somewhat formatted form as early as 390 A.D. It is given the name Apostles Creed as it is originally based on writings and teachings recorded by the original apostles of Christ, and adopted by the provinces of the original Orthodox Church, of which Rome was a part of before 1054. The Creed continues to be cited in more liturgical Christian churches today, including but not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church.  Here is the Creed broken down by line and verse:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord,

John 3:16: God loved us so much he sent us his only begotten son.

born of the virgin Mary,

Luke 1:34-35: “How can this be”, Mary asked, “as I am still a virgin”. The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you…”.

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried.

Matthew 27: 26, 31, 50, 59, 60: Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified; then they led him away to be crucified; and Jesus cried in a loud voice and gave up his spirit; Joseph took and wrapped the body in a clean cloth and placed it in a new tomb.

He descended into hell.

Ephesians 4:9; What could “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower regions of earth?

On the third day he rose from the dead:

Luke 24:5-6: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

Mark 16:19; After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

from there he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.

2 Timothy 4:1; In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead,

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

John 14:16; I will ask the Father and he will give you and advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirt of Truth

the holy catholic church,

1 Corinthians 12;12-13; Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. for we are all baptized by one spirit so as to form one body, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, and given one spirit to drink.

the communion of saints,

Psalm 133; How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity

the forgiveness of sins,

John 1:9; If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

and the resurrection of the body (earlier forms say “flesh”)

1 Corinthians 15:52; in a flash, the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will all be changed

and the life everlasting.

John 3:16; that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

I should do so well as to live my life every day by this creed.  I could have selected from dozens of passages to support any of these holy tenets of faith.  There is nothing here that is in any way discriminatory toward any faith except those who do not believe in the triune God.  The Creed of the Apostles is a beautiful expression of sound biblical doctrine.  While I would agree that it is always best to live out your beliefs in deed and action, I see nothing wrong or in error by quoting this beautiful statement if you so choose.  I do find fault, however,  with anyone who condemns anyone else who chooses to quote it.

We in the Protestant church often times get too wrapped up in traditions we don’t practice or understand.  We are quick to condemn as idolatry any practice that varies from our own denominations.  We laugh at the reverent parade of the holy Book before readings but think dancing a two step in the “spirit” is normal.  We fault people who pray The Lord’s Prayer but hold parishioners in contempt for not tithing by teaching them they won’t be blessed.  We treat the Word of God like we do some politicians-it’s mostly good if you overlook those parts you don’t understand or agree with.  And we are simply to eager to ostracize anyone who doesn’t worship like we do.  We are guilty of the same exclusion we condemn others for who cite this Creed.  It is hypocritical at the very least.

Perhaps,  having attended a Catholic high school and having a brother who is a priest in the Greek Orthodox church, I am a bit more objective through my exposure.  But we are living in an age when we should be finding ways to “commune with the saints” in a show of love, compassion and unity in reaching out to a world who needs to hear one voice of truth.  We should be very concerned with allowing the body of Christ to go the way of politics by finding partisanship due to worship styles and traditions.  We are to test all teaching to confirms its alliance with scripture, but we are not to create false heresy by misinterpretation or sloppy research.  We can do better than that.  Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Gratitude at Thanksgiving

In just a couple of days we will once again be gathering with friends and family to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, an annual tradition.  For many this is merely the first official day of the Christmas season, but for more traditionalists, it is its own unique and timeless holiday.  It should be a time when we reflect on all we have, and to be grateful for our provisions and blessings.  But we live in a culture of hurt, brokenness and loneliness, and even with the most gracious of attitudes, can find it difficult to count the positives in our lives when weighed against the negatives.  For those who have lost loved ones though the year, this may be the first holiday without their presence and they may be revisited by the grief they thought had been fully processed.  Some may find themselves alone after failed relationships.  Many will have difficulty preparing enough food or the family due to loss of income or jobs.  The weight we place on the hardships in our lives will often overwhelm the positive in ways that make it challenging to recognize our blessings.

As I grow older I have developed an appreciation for the older hymns we sang in church and the timeless integrity of sound doctrine they contain.  One of those hymns is appropriate for Thanksgiving as it addresses the state of the human condition some of us deal with, but yet gives encouragement that there is always good and hope to be found in every situation.  The hymn is Count Your Blessings and the lyrics follow:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. (Refrain)

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. (Refrain)

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

It’s easy to fall for the mind games our adversary likes to use against us, because unless you are narcissistic you always question your worth.  I know this well.  But if you really want to, you can turn this game into a tennis match where the last volley wins, something like this:

I wish I had more money/I’m grateful I can buy those things I need when I need them.

I wish I owned a home/I’m grateful for shelter, a warm bed and a controlled climate.

I wish I weren’t so heavy/I’m grateful to live where there is plenty of food and I never go to bed hungry.

I wish my car was newer/I’m grateful for transportation to come and go as I please.

I wish I wasn’t in pain all the time/I’m grateful for mobility and agility and that I’m not confined to a wheel chair.

I wish I had a companion/I’m grateful to have known love and that I have good friends who watch out for me.

I’m sure you get the idea here.  None of us have perfect lives, and few of us have the lives we thought we would in our advanced age.  Life is full of detours, road closures and washed out bridges.  When the easy paved road we were on disappears, we need to learn how to four-wheel our way through the rough until we find the road again.  This can only happen with a determination to remain grateful and find blessings among the trials.  If you are reading this blog, then things could always be worse!  There is always hope within despair.  Count your blessings even in the rain.

If you find my writing encouraging and would like to read more, please consider buying my book, My Soul Cries Out, available on Amazon and Kindle.  You will find many very transparent articles about holding fast to hope and faith in the midst of life’s darkest hours.  And if you do buy my book, reviews on Amazon are always appreciated!  Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Politics and Believers

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I suspect that many of my blog’s followers may take issue with today’s post as it addresses what has become a hot button or sensitive area for some.  I apologize in advance if it is not as well received as my usual post, but I do not apologize for my observations and subsequent response.  It is something that continues to leave a black mark on our faith and we are all guilty to some extent from parishioner to clergy.

With each passing election I am finding that I am becoming more and more apolitical.  For any who have known me long that may come as a bit of a shock.  I was once a grand-stander for all things conservative and a graduate of the Rush Limbaugh school of The Way Things Ought To Be.  I, like many others truly believed that political activism was a Christian duty and obligation to the point of casting shadows on those who refused to vote.  I believed that “true” Christians could only vote one way, and if they didn’t, their faith should be scrutinized.  I could not have been more wrong.

Social media seems to have given many people a voice and platform, and a select few would have you think they have a Master’s Degree in Political Science.  Seems everyone is an expert with a false sense of boldness that comes from the safety and protection of sitting behind a computer screen.  But what troubles me so deeply isn’t necessarily the blind allegiance believers have to a party or the unsubstantiated political memes they share on their timelines without any due diligence; it’s the level of disdain they so easily display with anyone who votes differently than they do.  I’ve posted on it before, I’ve observed it repeatedly, and it only seems to be getting worse.  There is a division in the church that goes right down political party lines.  It is always the elephant in the room, even after an election is over and the results are tallied. It is shameful, hurtful and an embarrassment to the body of Christ that nothing stirs up more heated public exchanges than a good old-fashioned debate about politics.

And yet with each election a new level of boldness is displayed for the unchurched to behold.  And this is perhaps what is most disheartening and so hard to swallow-there is a clear and distinct correlation between political party alliances and the racial division in our country in that the more politically divided we become, the more racially divided we become.  There is wholly nothing Christian about our response and approach to politics, and I am calling out our Christian leaders above all.  Through my social media connections I am privy to many clergy timelines and their postings.  Both sides are equal contributors to the walls of partisanship we see today, left and right, black and white.  I see white leaders using hurtful labels to describe those who vote differently, and even a few supporting or at least tolerating the notion of supremacy or nationalism through their implications or silence.  I see black leaders who allow heavily biased responses on their threads against anyone or anything white.  I even saw just this week that one of my famous black leader friends suggested that blacks should be preparing for a civil war.  What was once at least closely held and private biases have now become bold fodder for the world to witness as we cast stones back and forth over walls we created that have become increasingly higher and thicker.  I hate what politics has become and what it has made us.

And since I am on a roll I’ll take it all the way.  Shame on you on both sides of the aisle who have the balls to suggest that God is in your political camp!  Trump was elected because he was God’s choice; the Dems took back the house because God was displeased so he turned the tables-PLEASE STOP!  How little of us to humanize God to the degree of assigning God the label of Republican or Democrat!  The true glory of God, which no human could ever fully be exposed to, is not nor will ever be subjected to partisanship among his children.  My God is not red or blue. If your god is, you need to step back and reexamine your god.  The visceral, the labels, the allegations we throw back and forth over politics is man-made, not God ordained.  Any Christian leader who uses God to implore parishioners to vote a certain way, or uses God as some holy endorser of the current administration, is guilty of blasphemy in my opinion.

Last week Jewish worshippers were gunned down in their own temple by someone filled with hate.  Just this week 12 very young people lost their lives at the hand of someone equally hateful and bitter.  This week in Las Vegas three youths beat down a 78 year-old man just to take his car.  Everyday in America people are gunned down because of the evil of out-of-control hatred, and we who are “mature” have the gall to ask what has become of today’s youth, while at the same time holding in our hands a stone to throw at the next person who differs from us.  We have become hypocrites by using God to invoke hate and division in a partisan system we created that has nothing to do with God or anything he would deem holy.  Our enemy and the enemies of God are on vacation because we are fulfilling their agendas without them, and any allegiance I had to any party has been squashed by my refusal to be party to a system of division that is anything but civil.

My God is on both sides of any border wall; my God reigns over both halls of congress; my God has mercy on both the innocent lives snuffed out before birth and those sitting in prison for murder; my God is not defined by race or nationalism; my God has compassion on all, even those who refuse to believe in his existence.  Christianity is guilty of humanizing God and decreasing him to fit neatly into boxes we store at our convenience.  The humanity of God has been greatly perverted while his omnipotence has been diminished to fit our molds of what we think he should be. And this is never more evident than in Christian political circles.  God is every color-he is every race- he is neither party-he doesn’t sow discord but promotes harmony, not fear or hate but love and acceptance.  He hurts over the senseless loss of life, over the racially charged environment we created, over the walls of separation in his church over who should be our civil governors as if they wield somehow more power and authority than our true supreme and eternal leader who can never be voted in or out of office.  Once I understood that through ten presidencies and administrations going back to Kennedy God always took care of me, that my life didn’t change because of which side held control of the House or Senate, that Christ died for both sides and all those in countries who don’t know the privilege of electing their own representation, I dropped my colors and my allegiances.  Yes, I still maintain certain convictions, but I take it as a personal challenge to do what I can in my circle without holding disdain for those who feel and vote differently.

Scripture compels us to reason together. Scripture tells us a house divided will not stand. Scripture tells us to test all teaching, views, opinions, against his Word.  Scripture tells us to love and pray for those who hate us.  Scripture warns us of the penalties for sowing discord among believers.  Scripture tells us as believers our true and eternal citizenship  is not of this world or its systems.  I am by nature a man full of issues and by no means perfect, even in my faith.  But I see well enough to recognize the role I played for so many years in contributing to the numerous walls that divide us.  In as much as it’s in my power to do so, I prefer to spend what little influence I have in promoting healing and unity.  If that requires being apolitical for the sake of harmony, I’m all in.

The Real Haunts of Halloween

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October 31st, Halloween; a season of scary ghost stories, freakish costume parties, timeless horror movie classics, culminated with the annual tradition of trick-or-treating with our kids or grandchildren.  Whether you are a willing participant and victim of the many haunts waiting for you at local Haunted houses or you are more likely to turn off the lights and refrain from the chaos, it is a holiday hard to escape from.  But after tonight the costumes will be put away for another year, the houses of horrors will close their doors and the candy will be devoured to assure job security for all dieticians for another year.  Halloween will go back to its resting place only to be reincarnated next October.

However, for many people Halloween is nothing compared to the constant haunting from the ghosts, the memories, the regrets, the voices inside each head that are inescapable.  Unlike costumes which can be put on and taken off at our whim, the real haunts inside us never give us any relief and they are much more real than any Hollywood production with all their special effects.  The night terrors that come in our sleep, the monsters under our bed or hiding in the closet don’t go away simply by turning the lights on.  In a twist of irony, these haunts become the real person hiding behind our everyday masks or costumes of normalcy. They can be entirely overwhelming.

Each year we hear of successful, intelligent, enlightened  and even spiritual people who are driven to the unspeakable act of ending their own lives.  We scratch our heads as from all appearances the person had everything going for them that we deem stable-wealth, power, fame, success.  But we were never allowed into their world of haunts and torment and are shocked to learn only after the fact that they faced severe bouts of depression, addictions and suicidal tendencies. Their silent tears and painted on smiles hide the most authentic of haunted houses, the prison of the brain victimized by false voices of condemnation, self-worth and inadequacies.  It can be more gory than any Halloween tradition.

Just last night I viewed a movie on Russ Taff, a Christian Music legend.  His credits are unmatched-18 Dove Music awards, 6 Grammys, a three-time inductee into Christian Music’s Hall of Fame and beloved by anyone who has ever heard him or had the privilege of performing with him on stage.  And yet at the pinnacle of his success, he was haunted by the voices in his head telling him the awards meant nothing, that he was a phony, that he deserved the physical abuse he suffered as a child, that he would never be good enough to merit his father’ approval.  He would leave the Grammys and fall immediately back into the haunted house of his mind even while clutching his latest award in his hand.  The voices drove him to drink because only when intoxicated did he find silence from the voices in his head.  It was a downward spiral that nearly cost him his marriage, his family, his career and his life.  He hid it well until he lost all control and appeared on a Christian music show completely and obviously intoxicated.  He hit the bottom.

Truth be told, many of us are confronted by similar haunts or voices.  In fact, I would suggest that the stronger you think you are the more vicious the attacks and schemes of our internal warfare.  And the attacks are relentless! You are where you are because of your own inadequacy.  You are broke because you are a poor employee and no one values your contributions.  You are unhealthy because you are lazy and a slob.  You lost your business because you didn’t have the business savvy it took to succeed.  You failed at marriage because the real you wasn’t worth loving.  You are single because you are not attractive to anyone and no one sees any value in a relationship with you.  You never hear from your kids because they still think you were a lousy parent and you can’t ever change that.  You are so flawed that even God can’t look upon you without disgust and contempt.  Night and day the voices inside your head terrify you.  There is no secret door to escape the room, no safe passage or panic switch to stop the ride-you are powerless to the suggestions of failure, of worthlessness, of insignificance that abuse you mentally without relief.

Sometimes the severity of these mental disorders require professional treatment.  Surrendering to seeking help is not a sign of weakness but in fact the first step to recovery.  For others, it may be a matter of reprogramming your brain, or resetting it to the original default spiritual setting through a therapy of scriptural reminders, of which there are plenty.  Christ was no stranger to the tricks and schemes of the enemy of the mind.  He was taunted in every way and we should expect no less.  However he fought back with the knowledge of scripture as his weapon.  It seems too simplistic to assert that quoting Bible verses can reprogram a haunted mind, but it remains our most effective defense.

Romans 12-be transformed by renewing our minds;

Philippians 4-think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable;

2 Timothy 1-the Spirit gives us power and a sound mind;

Proverbs 4-guard your heart and mind;

Ephesians 4-be made new in your mental attitude;

2 Corinthians 10-take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ;

Colossians 3-set your mind on things above, not earthly things;

Psalm 46-be still and remember that I am God.

Hauntings can be fun when we know the blood is fake and the chainsaw is just a prop, or that we can clearly see the escape doors for the faint of heart.  But the haunts of the mind play for keeps and the prize is our soul, our very lives.  There is not a single person walking this planet who has nothing of worth to offer another. Even a recovering alcoholic who has lost everything to the battle of the bottle can be a sponsor to another addict upon their own recovery and sobriety.  Regardless of what the voices in your head want you to believe, we all have value in God’s eyes-we can all contribute something to someone-we can all find love, purpose, meaning to our existence.  We don’t have to succumb to the numbing through intoxication, the escape that a high offers, the relief that suicides seduces us with.  Through prayer, through grace and through retaking control of our thought processes we can expose these mental haunts for what they really are-a fake scary costume that we can take off and put away like any other Halloween costume.  The only thing more relentless than the haunts of the enemy is the relentless love of Christ which chases us down the darkest of alleys and surrounds us in protective layers of his mercy and compassion. When that happens and we can put on the cloak of Christ, we become the haunts to the dark forces who now run from us.

Understanding the Black Response to American History

This morning began with another white person apologizing for comments deemed insensitive to the black community.  On yesterday’s show, Megan Kelly and her guests were discussing how ridiculously politically correct we have become when it even reflects on the choices for our children’s Halloween costumes.  She rattled off a list of costume limitations published by a liberal university that were judged as insensitive.  I won’t even address the folly of that particular list.  However, in response to the list, Megan stated that if a white child wanted to dress, say as Diana Ross or Michael Jackson, to the point of darkening their skin, it should not be viewed as insensitive.  Upon receiving much corrective criticism and outrage from viewers as to why attire like this would be insensitive,  she quickly learned why this was such an emotional issue among black Americans.

This morning she offered a very heartfelt and sincere apology, stating in essence, she really had no idea as to the history of whites portraying themselves as blacks and how demeaning it was received even in 2018.  Her defense of ignorance is very common among otherwise well-meaning whites. Megan simply had no idea of the historical roots of methodical bias or the pain it still stirs today.  How could she or any white American have the capacity to fully understand the black response to our history if they are not engaged with them in intimate ways?  We as a white society are overall a loving people, and especially among believers, we think we go out of our way to be loving, but will a loving attitude alone be enough to come to an understanding of the things that continue to separate us?

I, like most, have a Facebook profile.  With all the evils of social media, there is some good that can come from its use.  I have over eighty black FB Friends, most of whom I have never met in person, and a few I feel I’ve known all my life.  I made a conscious effort to add many of them and form connections, not so that I could boast of some false sense of diversity, but to engage them in posts covering a host of trending issues, including racism and bigotry.  I was raised in a mixed neighborhood and went to school with a very racially mixed student body, so being exposed to blacks is nothing new to me.  That said, I still wasn’t given full disclosure into the life of being a black American.  I have learned a great deal just by being involved in (or sometimes tricked, trapped or baited) discussion threads by my FB Friends and their responses to such things as Driving while black, police shootings, corporate discrimination, etc.. Sometimes I jumped right into the heated exchanges, often times being targeted since I was one of few whites they could unleash their anxieties on, while at other times I followed the discussions without saying a word, and without their knowledge, just to read and to learn.  My initial thoughts were, “wow, you all are an angry bunch”.  But as I remained exposed to their discussions, I learned more about why there is still such a deep seated hostility toward certain aspects of the white vs. black culture in America.  If you drop your defenses and remain open, you can hear why images like certain flags or statues arouse such anger; you will see how discrimination still plays out from the local school or church setting all the way to Hollywood or the music industry.  And yes, you might even understand why certain Halloween costumes should be avoided as being insensitive.

Last night on one of the country’s leading TV shows, This Is Us, there was an incident where one of the lead white characters who is dating a lovely black character, was in a convenient store and the white clerk snubbed the black female, and the white man she was with didn’t even notice because, we just aren’t tuned into the everyday attitudes some whites harbor toward blacks, even when it happens right under our noses.  What makes these situations worse is that blacks expect us to be aware of these attitudes, yet when we aren’t, we are deemed part of the problem through tolerance, when in fact the problem is simply ignorance.  If the whites in America continue to posture, with all good intentions, of “accepting” or “loving” blacks when they cross paths, but do not make a deliberate attempt to really get to know them and understand their plight through daily and constant interaction with them, our ignorance will continue and will almost always be viewed as being sympathetic towards racism.  Like Megan Kelly, we need to listen, engage and learn whenever given the opportunity so that we can fully grasp the core of the anger of our fellow black Americans.

Scripture tells us that we are to love others as Christ loved us.  How does He love us?  He has an intimate knowledge of us!  Jeremiah says He knew us before we were born.  Perhaps we can’t be expected to display a knowledge of others that only comes through a supernatural ability, but we can will ourselves to engage in developing such an intimacy through deliberate and intentional socializing and interaction, even if only on social media.  If left only to what comes natural to us, most would remain segregated, that is whites generally socialize with other whites, blacks with blacks, Asians with Asians, Latinos with Latinos-there is safety and comfort when “sticking to our own kind”.  We are called to more than that.  As long as “our kind” continues to be defined by ethnicity and preferred over intermingling, we will continue to apologize for things we have no idea are offensive or insensitive.  It takes more than love alone or some feel-good meme-it takes a determination to pursue intimacy that isn’t limited by skin tones.  We may never fully eradicate all barriers between us but we can most certainly do better by each other simply by desiring the knowledge that explains the responses so that we can become brothers-in-arms against all who would continue to perpetrate and exploit  anything that causes any one of us pain.  God Bless all who choose to engage.

You Should Be Dancing

At 6’4″ and 225 lbs. I am quite conspicuous on any dance floor, even more so back in the day when platform shoes were in-I had quite the collection!  Should I mention I’m also white?  From what I have observed on any weekend in Vegas that alone should keep me hidden in the corner while everyone else has fun.  I can recall all the way back to my grade school days at Indianapolis Public School #90 that I was popular during any dance party simply because I wasn’t afraid to get out there and dance while my soul brothers were on the sidelines because they were too cool to groove.  That changed when their girlfriends started dancing with the tall white dude.

But at some point along the way I became too concerned with what others thought of me getting jiggy with it, and stopped dancing.  After all, I was an adult now and had an image to maintain, and I couldn’t do anything that might make me look foolish.  I went from being the guy all the girls wanted to dance with to being the one everyone wondered about because I refused so many invites to dance.  I was more concerned with what others thought than what I wanted and I let my response dictate my level of involvement.  I really wanted to be out there having a blast with my friends, but I was paralyzed by intimidation that I created.

This blog isn’t really about dancing, and then again it is.  The thing about dancing is that it requires total release of all inhibitions.  You hear the beat, you respond to the music and you express unashamedly your joy in the moment.  I visit lounges on the weekends just to watch people dance, and have made a few observations.  One is that you can quickly and easily spot those who are intimidated and confined by their own fears.  They are barely moving and there is no expression on their faces.  It’s as if they are burdened with heavy chains that limit their movement and instead of freeing themselves, they merely keep their movements within the confines of their restraints.  It’s not so much that they don’t know how to dance as it is that they are walled in by their own fears.  And then there are those, usually much older, whose dancing is so liberated you can’t help but laugh at them.  I am even guilty of at times making fun of them because their actions aren’t at all rhythmic or even closely synchronized with the music, but they are having the time of their lives.  They feel no shame, no fear, no intimidation and no regrets.  AND…they will dance to anything!  It is strangely amusing to see some out-of-shape old guy busting a move and these beautiful young women compelled to join them-free dancing is contagious when enjoyed without restraints!

Life is a dance.  Sometimes it calls for precision dancing like a couple on a ballroom floor; sometimes it’s a slow romantic sentimental affair that allows for being close to your dance partner.  Sometimes it is downright funky and so compelling it takes more courage to refuse than to surrender.  Whatever the case or style of music, it demands response.  But many of us (I have been there) have become so burdened and downcast by the affairs of this life that we have lost our joy in dancing through life and find ourselves on the sidelines as lonely spectators.  The response mechanisms and receptors in our individual lives have been deadened by challenges we may have survived but challenges that robbed us of all feeling and response.  We become envious of those who we know who seem to dance through the fires with no fear while we are intimidated just by the heat of the flames.  Unemployment, unrealized dreams, broken hearts, challenging illness, lonely nights-all thieves of joy; for each bit of happiness they steal they leave behind a chain that eventually hinders us like an old Dickens novel, rendering us immobile and apathetic.

A popular worship song in churches today is called Chain Breaker.  The lyrics reflect much of what I am describing here;

“If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles, if you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies; if you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside, there’s a better life…”

Life surely rains on both the just and the unjust, the deserving and the least deserving.  One of the greatest musicals of all time is Dancing in the Rain.  The elements outside which we can’t control should not be allowed to dictate the desires inside that compel us to move freely without fear, without intimidation, with little regard to what others may think of us or our response-simply, to dance. We Should Be Dancing! We should be Getting Jiggy With it.  We should be Dancing in the Dark; we should be Staying Alive we should all Get Down On It.  And if we feel awkward, there is always the Humpty Hump, which can’t be done incorrectly.  The point is just to dance, like no one is watching, like there is no tomorrow, like you are Travolta, the master of the floor.  Again, this isn’t about dancing, or is it?

The 1 October Shooting; One Year Later

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The human mind has the uncanny, and truth be told, sometimes unwanted ability to recall the dates of tragic moments like permanent tattoos that can never be washed off.  Ask any American and depending on their age, they can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the assassinations of JFK or MLK, or the untimely deaths of Elvis, Michael, Whitney or Lady Diana, or that day in September, 9/11. Today marks the one-year anniversary of what we refer to as 1 October here in Las Vegas,  a day in which evil was unleashed on our city resulting in fifty-eight deaths, over five hundred injuries and scores of people permanently disfigured or paralyzed. It is a day when all of us can tell you where we were when we saw the first Breaking News reports.

A sea of thousands had descended on Las Vegas for the Route 91 Music Festival.  Jason Aldeen was performing on stage when the first series of “pops” were heard.  Many at first believed them to be firecrackers set off by rowdy concert-goers.  But when some noticed that their friends who were standing next to them just a second before were now laying at their feet in a pool of blood, the reality of the situation became evident as panic set in.  A sniper was unleashing a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock on them from some unknown position, and the throngs of fans had nowhere to take cover.  Ordinary people became unsuspecting heroes, giving their lives that day to protect others from the gunfire.  Some were wounded because they simply chose to stay by the sides of people they didn’t know so they wouldn’t die alone.  As a parent my first thought was dear God, where are my kids?  My youngest son was employed at the time at the same hotel property where the sniper was perched.  I could not rest easy until I had made contact with all my boys and was assured they were not in harm’s way.  Many parents could not and would not be able to make such confirmation.  Our city was forever changed on 1 October.

As the popular song lyrics remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  This tragedy affected everyone here.  It seems we all had some connection to people who were in attendance.  And those who didn’t still grieved deeply and sympathized with those who had suffered such tremendous loss.  Those who died that evening were young, in their prime, full of hopes and dreams never to be realized.  The outpouring of support, of aid, of “what can I do” attitudes was infectious and on display for the world to witness.  Local blood banks had to eventually turn people away as lines formed blocks long to donate blood for the victims.  Those not donating took time off to provide food and water for those in line as many would spend 8-10 hours to donate their blood.  Las Vegas became #vegasstrong when tragedy came calling.  For us, 1 October will be forever etched in our memories.

All of us, if we have lived at all, will have dates from our past that we pause and commemorate, the birth of a child or grandchild, the day we married our forever life partner, the year we received our diplomas or degrees-dates we celebrate fondly and with festivity.  However, we will also have those more solemn infamous dates that we may try to forget to no avail. The pain we manage to keep controlled 364 days of thee year becomes fresh wounds on that one day we can’t escape.  It might be the day when you had to say goodbye to your parent as they were laid to rest or a spouse who died before their time.  It might be the day your family became torn apart when the parents decided to go their separate ways.  It might be a day when you were a victim of some horrible crime against you or your family.  For many, it could be the day when you lost your best friend and companion through divorce.  What was once celebrated birthdays and anniversaries  are now reminders of an empty chair at the dining room table; a day filled with joy as two people come together in marriage is now a day when you hide after the relationship is over.  We all have similar stories, dates we wish would never be brought to memory that instead hunt us down like movie haunts, constantly tormenting us with no mercy. We may rid ourselves of videos, photos-anything that brings to memory events that we no longer celebrate, in some vain attempt for a sense of peace over tragedies for which there is never any real closure.

How do we cope with such tragic events as survivors of events we never wanted or saw coming? Where do we find hope to continue on a journey when every fiber of our being finds it easier to just give up and give in?  A Prophet in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, was in anguish as he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city.  His sentiments are recorded for us in the seldom read-from book of Lamentations.  He inquired of God many of the same questions we ask in the midst of trials and suffering.  And yet, his knowledge of God’s character would override his fear of his circumstances.  Listen to his words in Lamentations 3 from the Message Translation:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh how well I remember-the feeling of hitting bottom.  But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.  How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.  – I called out your name, O God, from the bottom of the pit.  You listened when I called out “don’t shut your ears, get me out of here-save me”. You came close when I called out.  You said, “Its going to be alright!”

I am no stranger to unsolicited tragedy.  I am perhaps overly transparent in my anguish over events in my personal life over the past few years.  Some have advised that I be less open and more discreet in my writings or my social media posts.  Some of my closer friends and even family have disconnected from me over my overt disclosures as I wrestle with change.  But these types of writings are not employed as sympathy-seeking compositions, but rather glimpses into struggles endured through hope like that of Jeremiah.  I write so that others may know that they are not alone in their tears and that there is light and recovery attainable through a supernatural peace given to us by God even when we can’t sense his presence or determine his twisted ways of teaching.  I’ve said many times before that I would never in a million years volunteer to be God’s toy of illustration-I’d rather have been overlooked-I would have been perfectly okay entering my reward with no more than a kindergarten education in spiritual maturity.  But that wasn’t the plan.  I am instead chosen to be a virtual learning device for others and an encouragement to anyone watching.  The lesson being taught on this 1 October anniversary is that there is hope after loss, there is life after all but physical death, there is restoration after mass destruction, and there is beauty to be formed in the ashes.

Today, how I wish I could personally hug every person who suffered such tragic losses one year ago, but it’s logistically impossible.  I would want them to know they are not alone, their losses are a part of our forever history, and our love for them and that of our heavenly Father knows no bounds.  We will all remember and cope with today in our own way, through memorial services, through watching recaps of that tragic night, through prayer for healing and comfort for all involved.  My personal prayer for my family, my kids, and all who have been touched by days they wish were not a part of their history, is that the God who preserves would keep their hearts and minds in perfect peace, a peace that can only come from a relationship with Him, and a peace that surpasses all our understanding.  I pray that the lingering fear resulting from tragic events that seek to paralyze us and hold us hostage would be overcome with love, as God’s perfect love casts down all fear.  I pray that hearts destroyed and void of hope will find a renewed sense of courage and purpose in moving forward so that all may see that there is life abundantly after passing through the valley of shadows and death.  And I pray that as I write in detail about my personal struggles with doubt, with faith, with hopelessness and hurt, that others will be encouraged to fight, to endure, to press on through the pain knowing that the story never ends as long as we have breath, and that we have the ability to dictate the words that form the chapters of our biographies.  Today we remember, and we move forward.  #vegasstrong, #vegasstronger.  God bless each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Place After Falling From the List

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A local Las Vegas magazine publishes each year The List.  The List identifies celebrities, entertainers and other influencers whose contributions to the city or to charitable works made an impact for the previous year-it is quite the honor to be selected.  In 2013, as an up and coming business owner who donated much free print to charitable causes, I was one of the year’s honorees.  As shown in the image, I was listed just above the likes of Carrie Underwood and further down on the list, Eddie Griffin.  Admittedly it was quite a shock.  And of course the cover and the list are framed and hang proudly in my office as a reminder of something and someone I used to be, past tense. Perhaps if I had been a bit less charitable, my business would still be in existence, who knows.

There is an old cliché, and hit song, “What Have You Done for me Lately”.  We tend to be defined not so much by past achievements or contribution as much as what we did last week.  While The List or any other designation recognizes deeds, it also implies status, and sadly status is relative and ever changing.  Many people who were once touted now find themselves in obscurity, having gone through challenges that most certainly knocked them off the mountain, but more importantly, left them lost and struggling to find their place when everything familiar has been removed.  It is a tough place to be.

Those of us who are a bit older will recall road trips when a paper map or Atlas was needed to navigate the course.  We didn’t have google maps or GPS, and if we didn’t know how to navigate a map, or if the map was outdated, it would be easy to get lost and end up way off course.  There is nothing more frustrating than being miles from anywhere at night, low on gas, hungry from the trip and having no idea where you are at or where you are going.  It is a lonely isolating feeling to not know your surroundings or recognize and markers. Such is life for those who fall from status through their own bad choices or as innocent bystanders who are blindsided by life.

When jobs change, relationships end, family ties are unexpectedly severed, the fall from status is hard and impactful.  Those who suffer from depression face each day trying to find their place, their role, their purpose.  The current number of suicides each year by celebrities, business moguls and even clergy illustrate this fact.  It doesn’t matter sometimes how the world sees you-if you feel you have lost your way you are in a vacuum of despair trying to fit in like a game of musical chairs in the dark.  And even we as believers can lose our way or sense of purpose or worth when faced with some of life’s toughest challenges, especially when God leaves us to our own devices as an unwelcomed test.  No one welcomes this kind of testing.

Truth be known, each of us have our own version of The List, a group of people who are held in high esteem in our lives because of their genuine love, concern and guidance.  A list of celebrities may be framed and forgotten but a list comprised in the heart is a living document that endures.  And while each of us have such a list, each of us would also be found on someone else’s list.  We all matter to someone, even on days when we don’t believe it.  Our lives are always under a microscope, especially when you profess a Christian faith.  Our sphere of influence may not be obvious to us during darker times but is exists all the same.  The approach we take to hardship, our response to loss or change, are always being reviewed, and those reviews determine whose lists we end up on, and our consistency determines if we stay on those lists or are easily blocked or removed like social media connections as in Unfriended, Unfollowed or Unlisted.  Our goal should be to constantly have positive influence on someone daily, even if it is as simple as mentioning someone in prayer. A published list distributed by the world may be a cool honor, but a heart-created list of influence by friends and family is enduring.  My prayer would be that each of us find our place, our purpose, our worth in our circle of friends and family, and our name on their list.

 

What Will Be Said About Me?

This morning I watched one of the memorial services for one of our great Patriots and Sons.  One by one dignitaries stepped up to the podium to deliver heartfelt sentiments and recollections of a man they loved and served with.  The tributes were moving to say the least.  As I often do when watching this type of service, my imagination began to spin as I contemplated my own eventual mortality.  It is a reality that no one escapes from.  Young or old, rich or poor famous or obscure, we will all face death.  And the question has once again come back to me like a distant relative, exactly what will be said over me and my life when I reach the end?

I recently attended the service of a friend and neighbor, who also happened to be a war veteran.  There was no minister to deliver a eulogy, no family cared to share any thoughts, no friends reminiscing old stories.  When asked if anyone had anything to share, not a single person stepped forward.  There was such an overwhelming sense of sadness that no one had anything to offer in celebration and remembrance of this life.  I have attended similar services where ten or twelve people bothered to show up, and mostly family, and wondered how this long life could have impacted so few.  The mere thought that it might be the same for me someday is sobering.

How did I live my life?  Did I leave any signs behind that  I was there?  How many lives did I affect or impact?  Was such impact more positive or negative?  Was I a good friend to anyone who needed one?  Was I a good neighbor?  Will I be fondly remembered and revered as a good father or could I have done more to teach and influence my children?  Did I make being a grandparent look like the joy that it is?  Do all my grandchildren realize I would without hesitation give my life to save theirs?  Will I be recalled for having a pleasant demeanor or for being a bit of a drag?  Did I do my best to have fun in life or did I let life steal from me my joy?  Will I be known for having fought courageously through every trial I faced in a way that encouraged others and gave them hope, or was my pain and resentment too obvious to ignore?  Did I truly love others as commanded or was it a façade? Did I go out of my way to touch the lives of people put in my path or did I sidestep them and leave them for someone else to minister to?  Did I give when I could? Did I leave anything behind in spoken or written words that will continue to encourage others?  Did I instill enough of my beliefs and values into my kids that they can navigate their lives with more hope and confidence or did I let them down by not walking what I was talking?  And perhaps more important than anything else, did I leave behind enough evidence of my convictions in Christ?

These are tough questions because I’m not sure I can answer them the way I want to, nor am I sure how others would answer the same on my behalf when my time comes to leave.  In a very real sense, it goes back the age old question, how would your life change if you knew you had but one week left to live.  It is so easy to get bogged down with the affairs, the circumstances, the unsolicited challenges we all face in life.  Some are capable of easily rising above anything that intrudes their comfort while others take on water and sink quickly into oblivion.  A wise man once wrote that a life is comprised of 10% of life events and 90% of how you respond to them. It should cause the most influential of men to pause and take inventory on a regular basis.  Another writer said that it isn’t the dates on a tombstone that are vital but rather it’s the dash between them; what does the dash signify?  How was the dash spent or exploited? Is the dash indicative of a life well lived or simply a flatline with no significance?

When the turbulence in the water comes to be still, the ripples it created roll on indefinitely.  God how I pray that my life creates ripples, how my words immortalize hope and love and how my eventual death inspires others to fully live. It’s been a rough few years but it’s never to late to make a ripple.  I don’t want to leave anything on the table when I go.  I want to be able to say I went all-in on every hand and that I won a few along the way.  My greatest fear is that few will step up to the podium when asked to share; My greatest desire when looking down on my own memorial is that I will be able to hear, he laughed loudly, he danced unashamedly, he loved deeply, he gave generously, he lived fully and he inspired continuously.  Guess I still have some work to do.  Peace.

Why Wasn’t the Queen of Soul Healed?

This morning the world awoke to news that Aretha Franklin, The Diva, The Queen of Soul had succumbed to her illness with her family at her side. This is in spite of the numerous prayer vigils and intercessions on her behalf for a miraculous healing by leaders many would consider righteous.  The resulting question common when a loved one dies from any illness is this-why didn’t God heal them, or more specifically, why does God heal some in ways that leave doctors scratching their heads but allows others to pass into an eternal life removed from our presence?

As I research this common question my stomach turns at the answers given by some who claim expertise in this area.  They tout numerous reasons, all having to do with the person who is sick or those praying on their behalf.  Those reasons would be a lack of faith, some unconfessed sin in their life, not getting along with their spouse and therefore unqualified, and on and on.  However, there is only one answer to this age old question, and it’s not a popular one-WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW!

It seems like a grand copout to assert this thing called Sovereignty when trying in vain to explain how or why God chooses to respond to certain prayerful petitions and not others.  It’s difficult to tell a parent that God is in control when their child is slowly fading away from cancer, or to tell a grieving widow that her husband isn’t suffering anymore because he died prematurely.  But the truth, as hard as it is to accept, is that God has a plan, a purpose and a number of days for each life, and that while he may not dictate every illness, everything is ultimately under his custody and control, and at his will.

The Apostle Paul is an often cited example of God’s sovereignty.  He was miraculously healed of a poisonous snake bite that should have claimed his life in one chapter, but denied healing from a vision condition, or a thorn in his flesh in another chapter.  God’s answer was simply that his grace was sufficient for Paul to endure without healing. In another event Paul’s closest helper Timothy was afflicted with a stomach issue.  Paul didn’t lay hands on him to heal him but instead recommended some wine to ease the symptoms.  Paul was a man of faith who didn’t always heal and wasn’t always healed!

I am inspired by two stories of uncanny faith and endurance in the midst of terminal illnesses.  The first is that of Tommy Paino III, a third generation pastor from a family in the Midwest many regard as evangelistic royalty.  Tommy was diagnosed with ALS not long into his Sr. Pastor status of a church in Indiana.  This Pentecostal-influenced family believed and practice healing and witnessed many miracles in their ministry.  But all prayers for Tommy’s healing went unanswered, as we define earthly healing.  Tommy continued to minister even after he was confined to a wheel chair.  He wanted his congregation to see that healed or not, God’s grace allowed him to function, but not before he wrestled with his own questions, anxiety, anger, fear and even faith.  When he could no longer speak his wife kept a journal on his behalf.  You can read his story in a book entitled Welcome Home Tommy by Marilyn Ryerson.  Tommy went on to be with the Lord in 1999 without receiving his earthly healing but many lives were changed as a result of them seeing what God’s grace looks like in the darkest of times.

There is another story a little closer to home.  Stephanie was the daughter and granddaughter of dear friends of mine. She had recently married, was an elementary school teacher and was excited at the prospect of her new life when the news came that no one ever wants to hear.  Cancer.  It was at first limited to her ovaries but over time it seemed elusive and would eventually ravage most of her young body, spreading to her brain and eventually her stomach .  We prayed, we fasted, we interceded on her behalf, anointed her, confessed deliverance, all the faith things we are taught to do at such a time, but those prayers went unanswered.  Like Tommy Paino, Steph kept a journal of her ordeal as well, and it was every bit as inspiring. The following is one of her last journal entries:

“Good morning! First I’d like to thank God for giving me this opportunity to share the

beautiful love story he is writing through my life. Words can not express my complete

wonder of the unconditional love he has for me.”

That doesn’t sound like someone facing the reality of her own pending mortality.  This sounds like Paul or Peter, full of boldness and grace, fighting the fight of faith against the worst of odds. But wait, there’s more.  She sent the following text to some ladies in her church, again displaying unimaginable grace considering her circumstances:

“Hi ladies! Believe it or not my life is coming to an end. Could be end of this

week, next, who knows, Ry knows more. I’m in i.c.u. and was unable to get

the tube yesterday because my abdomen is full of cancer. We are calling

home hospice in. I have a will and power of attorney. I’ve decided to not do

the Palm thing, but be cremated and do a celebration of life at Hope and

then spread my ashes near the Hotel Del in San Diego. Can only have family

at i.c.u., but will see you when I get home. God has a plan, and it’s a good

plan! I love you!”

She went on to her reward about a week later.  She never received her healing even though thousands were interceding on her behalf.  Could God have healed her-of course, with God all things are possible.  Did he? No. Why? We simply don’t know, but we do know lives were changed as they witnessed her fearless and triumphant entry into eternity.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to this challenging question is the evidence you witness personally.  We had an extended family member who was given the devastating news that she didn’t have long due to a terminal illness.  I did what we are instructed to do, that is lay hands on her and pray for her healing.  Miraculously one week later she attended my birthday party and went on to live a couple more years.  When you experience God’s healing power first-hand and then see other times when that power is withheld for reasons only known to God, it does cause you to question aspects of faith.  We can quote every healing scripture recorded and still not witness earthly miracles.  It can be crippling if you choose to engage in the mental torment for any extended period of time. But, God’s grace is truly sufficient.  Tommy and Stephanie would both say the same if they could.

One thing we do know for sure; in Heaven there will be no pain, no tears, no heartache, no sickness, no cancer no ALS, no premature death!  We will be ultimately and eternally healed from all earthly afflictions.  It is our eternal hope and the reason we press forward when nothing else makes sense.  I am facing my own physical challenge and the future for me is anything but certain. But God…  Rest in the knowledge of His unlimited grace and mercy-rejoice in the hope of eternal reunions, continue to believe in a God of miracles but don’t lose heart when those miracles aren’t clear to us in this life.

 

 

Asking God Questions Doesn’t Make You Weak

My last blog dealt with the hard truth about God’s occasional silence and apparent disengagement in some of the darkest times of life.  While many replied with their appreciation for letting them know they were not alone in their frustration in some vain attempt to discern the mysterious ways in which God operates, some voiced concerns that I had lost my religion or was turning from the faith.  This is one of the problems I have with the modern evangelical approach, the raised-brow responses because some don’t walk around humming Oceans all day long.

If you are a serious student of the Bible, digging deeper than just jotting down notes from the weekend sermon, you should be able to name a few men we consider Biblical heroes who, at some time in their journey, questioned God.  For those who get their religion from television, let me name them for you.  You will see that when I ask God questions to which I know I will not receive answers, I am in good company.

We all know about Job, described as the most holy man on earth in his time.  Job never neglected God and offered sacrifices for his family so that God would favor and forgive them.  And yet God allowed every one of his children to perish as a test of faith.  Job had questions in the midst of his trials.  His ultimate response to God, “It would have been better if I had not been born“.  I don’t hear him singing Good Good Father in that moment.

David, described as a man after God’s own heart, was forced to flee for his life and live in desert caves.  He had been told he was the anointed one to succeed Saul, but wondered if he would live long enough to see it come to pass.  His response, “Why have you abandoned me?  Why have you hidden your face from me?”  Of course God was with him, but David didn’t sense it-he could only respond to the reality of the eminent danger he was facing at the moment.  No Relentless Love playing in the background of this scene.

Jonah ran from God because he didn’t want to be the prophet to tell Nineveh they were going to die for their wicked ways.  After coming to his senses and being regurgitated onto a beach along with the entire stomach contents he had lived in for three days, he obeyed and prophesied to Nineveh, only to see God have compassion and change his mind.  Jonah felt he had been tricked and used and that his credibility as a prophet was now tarnished.  His response, “I’m so angry I wish I were dead“.

Elijah was chased into the desert by Jezebel who wanted him dead.  Elijah, who would live to see God do amazing things through him ended up in the desert under a tree, wondering why he was being so severely tested after he had been nothing but obedient.  His response, “I’ve had enough-I give up God, just take my life.”  I don’t think he was sensing the double portion in the desert.

Joseph, my namesake, was sold into slavery by his own brothers.  He ended up a servant in Potiphar’s estate.  When Potiphar’s adulterous wife threw herself at Joseph and begged him to give it to her good, Joseph literally fled the devil and ran from temptation only to be falsely accused of rape and ended up in prison.  A prisoner for 13 years when he had done nothing wrong.  I’m sure Chain Breaker was not the first song on his lips.

And then there is Jesus, God’s only Son, perfect and blameless, sent to fulfill a mission no one else would ever be qualified to fulfill.  And yet, He sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane asking God to relieve him from his duties.  His ultimate response, hanging from the cross, our Lord and Savior, our eternal hope, our namesake, asked his Father, “Where are you?  Why have you forgotten about me and left me alone?” 

Like I stated, I am in good company!

While it’s true that believers should be role models for faithful living, the life of living from mountaintop to mountaintop that is portrayed by several leaders, with anything less being a sign of something in our spiritual lives that has gone awry, is quite simply a mischaracterization and gross misinterpretation of the Christian life.  In many ways being and remaining Christian is a much tougher road than that of a nonbeliever. We are promised that if we want God’s best, we will have troubles, we will be sorely tested and challenged, we will be refined by fire itself and some will have their lives turned upside down.  Who in their sanity would ever truly welcome that kind of a life?  The beloved 23rd Psalm states that we will walk through, not over and not around, the valley of shadows and death.  It also makes no mention of how many times we will find ourselves there or how long we will be forced to journey through it each time.  If someone in their raw transparency asks the tough questions of God when they are in their own valley, they should not be looked down upon as being weak-they should not have people sending them the latest videos of salvation sermons du jour or be added to the local prayer chains over their backslidden status.

God designed us all as free moral agents so that we would choose to love and worship him.  That comes with the compulsion to ask God questions we want answered, even knowing we may never ever see the purpose or the good that results from being allowed to face difficult life-changing situations.  Sometimes when we look back we can connect the dots, sometimes their is no clear connection or pattern and we just have to carry on.  That doesn’t make us bad or weak or even ineffective-it makes us wholly real!  I have already resigned myself to the fact that I won’t know the answers to my questions until the day comes when the answers will no longer be important.  Until then, I hope to let people know it’s okay to have serious questions.  And yes, lest someone beat me to it, all the examples of men I cited above eventually came to their spiritual senses and were restored, but not before their words and doubts were recorded for us.  Now if they were all such bold men, why do you think the scribes of the Bible were inspired to include their times of questioning?  Something to ponder.

When God Simply Doesn’t Answer…

It’s 2:00 AM any day of the week.  I should be strolling the streets of Dreamsville like most normal people, but I am wide awake.  Sleep eludes me once again like the betrayal of a good friend, leaving me with nothing but night haunts-questions with no answers, situations with no solutions.  I should be accustomed to it by now-it’s been going on so long, but each night brings new frustrations of its own as the only peace to be found is within sleep that won’t come.

I have always attempted to write from a transparent perspective, the emotions and feelings still raw from the latest battle.  But with each post I strive to leave the reader with hope, with words of empowerment and encouragement so they can use my experiences as added weapons against the forces that seek to destroy or at least cripple the believer.  My writings aren’t flowery clichés suitable for inspirational greeting cards.  They are honest, because regardless of the façade we put on for the world to see, God knows the heart and sees the fears and doubt.  I want my readers to know it’s natural and okay to have questions in the midst of fierce battles.  Anyone who would question our faith when we are being sorely tested, is not being honest and true to the process and workings that are allowed for our growth.  But that said, there are those times, those long dry seasons which seem like an eternity, when our prayers go unanswered, our cries fall silent and our petitions are denied.  Every Christian has or will go through these agonizing seasons-mine is going into its fifth year.

There seems to be an unending string of Biblical promises that encourage us to boldly approach God with our needs-“ask and it shall be give, seek and you will find“, or “ask anything in my name and it will be done“, or ” seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will also be added“, or “if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can command mountains to be moved into seas“, and on and on.  As believers, we are compelled to accept God’s words as Gospel, sealed promises available to all who ask, and for the most part we do believe.  What other recourse would we have accept to believe.  And yet all too often, we seek God in desperate situations and plead for his involvement only to be met with the silence of the universe.  It’s not as if we are only petitioning God for material things like more income, bigger homes, favorable investment returns.  No, many of us seek God for much more important and often intangible answers.  We ask that he help save a failing business and the jobs of our employees but receive no response and watch the business be ripped from our grasp.  We beg God in earnest to help heal broken marriages and prevent families from being torn apart, only to end up in family court filing for a divorce we didn’t want because God seemed deaf to our cries.  We plead and fast in hopes that he will come to the rescue of seriously sick family members, knowing from stories left for us in scripture of his miraculous power to heal, only to say our earthly goodbyes to departed loved ones who left us seemingly prematurely.  We agonize over the eternal salvation of family members who never attend church services with us because they just can’t believe.  And many of us travel this life alone, scarred from the wounds of past relationships, but willing to expose ourselves to the vulnerability required to love again, but finding it to be as elusive as the sleep we chase.  Sometimes, God simply doesn’t answer us.

How I wish I could tell people how to navigate these dark roads of life in a way that gives more confidence, but I don’t have those neatly packed 3 step solutions.  Oh, many others will tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We don’t have “enough” faith.  Or we aren’t using the right combination of religious words or phrasing to get God’s attention.  Or, we must have some secret sin hidden in our life that makes our prayers ineffective-didn’t sow some financial seed offering to assure our blessings like the days of old before Martin Luther, or, we didn’t use the exact phrase “In Jesus name”.  As silly as these suggestions may appear on the surface, we can’t help but search for some validity in them as we compare our life situations to those in our circle who breeze through life on a spiritual high seemingly untouched by the challenges that are our closest friends.  Surely, we are doing something wrong, aren’t we?

The danger of human intellectual honesty is that it opens the door that leads from the room of doubt into the halls of unbelief, the opening our enemy is waiting for.  Maybe God doesn’t really love us all the same and wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine just to save the one. Maybe we don’t deserve the promises recorded in scripture because God knows all the sins of our past better than anyone.  Or worse, maybe none of it is real.  Just typing those words causes my heart to skip a beat.  God forgive me.  As difficult and trying as life’s trials and as discouraging to feel our cries fall short of his ears, the one thing worse is the thought that there is no God, no Son, no Spirit and that it’s a two-thousand year old hoax.  As Paul wrote, if there is no real eternity or hope, what a miserable existence we have.  We can’t allow the validity of the Gospel to be hijacked by the unreliability of our feelings and skewed perspectives when we are in storms that never end and which limit our spiritual vision to earthly and human limitations.  We are not the first to question God’s silence when we need him the most-David felt it-Joseph went through it, we all know Job’s story, even Jesus experienced God’s deafening silence.  It doesn’t make me feel better about these past few years-if anything, knowing and believing in God’s sovereignty only adds to the frustration during his non-responsive seasons.  But our only hope is in him and the persuasion of his spirit to prod us forward and guide us when we can’t see the road ahead.  If and when we give up that hope, we give validity to the questions and doubts, something that is simply not an option.

I hope you understand that you have much company in these seasons. This may not have been a post that leaves you feeling fuzzy and cozy, but it’s our feelings and our attention to them that gets us to these low points.  It’s our knowledge of God and his ways that will ultimately pull us through.  Let it be so, and soon.

Politics-“Be Not Entangled…”

2 Timothy 2:4; “a good soldier of Jesus Christ does not get entangled in the affairs of this life or he would fail to please his commander (Christ)”.

A good friend asked me earlier why I don’t get as worked up over politics as some of my other friends do.  I took it as outward evidence of my maturing, at least in this area.  I’ve posted about it many times before, the ugly partisan nature of the binary political war that so many are so passionate about.  The name-calling, the stone casting, the Unfriending sometimes necessary for peace-all a juvenile embarrassment when observed from the outside, and yet without it, there would be virtually no cable or internet news stations, and only about half of the daily social media posts or tweets .  And, dare I suggest it, far too many professed Christ believers have become “entangled” and ensnared in all the ugly behind the scenes drama that is American politics.

Let me clarify, lest I too be on the receiving end of a few cast stones-I am all for political activism as it pertains to our voting privileges and supporting candidates in elections who mirror your feelings on certain issues.  I am grateful to live in a country where we have the right to be ugly over politics-it could be much worse.  Many good men, women, blacks, whites, Americans and foreigners, paid a high price so that we might be a part of a representative form of government wherein we can choose who we want to represent us.  One can never be faulted for exercising their individual right to vote, and neither can, or should, anyone be faulted for abstaining from voting, regardless of the ridiculous arguments zealous activists will use to guilt you for abstaining.  But from the beginning until now, polling has been a highly personal and discreet process.  Hell, even on Survivor, the ballots are kept secret.  It is a sacred process that should be carried out according to true personal conviction and not popular social pressure.  But we have turned that process into a post-election feud worthy of Hatfield-McCoy status.  Why?

This is just one reason why I no longer get worked up over political banter.  In the past two thousand years of recorded history, has anything really changed?  Are people still murdered in the U.S.?  Have burglaries and theft been halted?  Do certain people still discriminate because of ethnical differences?  Are people still hungry and homeless? Is the quality of education the same for all or equal to income brackets?  With all the elevated blood pressures, nothing has really changed in 2000 years.  If you were obese and unhealthy under Clinton or Reagan, you are probably still the same under Obama or Trump.  If you were financially successful under Carter or Nixon, you are probably still successful under Bush or Ford.  The truth is, if we are to be honest, our individual lives are never really impacted due to who or what is in office.  If one relies on the government to be their only source and recourse for everything good in life, they will never be adequately cared for, and if one is self or God sufficient regardless of political affiliation, they will always be okay.  Does that make any sense?

“Oh, Papajoe, but Romans 13 says God ordains all government!  And moreover, God puts all people in power according to his will.”  Uh, no, that’s just bad religion.  It’s funny that so many are convinced God puts US Presidents in place, but not Hitlers or Hussains or Castros, as if America is now the chosen nation.  God, because of our lack of total trust in him, instituted a human form of oversight for civil protection.  However, God would never have endorsed all the deal-making, finger-crossing, back-stabbing  entanglements that are the very nature of the political machine we have now.  In almost every aspect, this slaps in the face of everything the Gospel is all about, as do many of the current policies.  We are to obey the laws of the land as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God.  But if you are a good political soldier, you can only love your neighbor if they are not aliens.  You can demand that the government take care of the poor and hungry so you can feel you fed them vicariously through the system of taxation and no more. We can deny basic humanitarian medical aid to someone if they can’t pay or have no state-sponsored insurance.  We can profess our faith, but not in a way that would make it in any way superior to any other religion-tolerate all views as equal.  Everyone gets a participation trophy when your time comes. What we have done to religion, we have done to politics, by touting bad religion as justification.

To be blunt, whether the person at the top is black, white or orange, the importance doesn’t resonate with someone fighting through a terminal disease.  Red or Blue means little to someone who goes through life feeling like an invisible vapor due to loneliness.  Left or right, liberal, moderate or conservative, is the last thing on the mind of someone dealing with a spouse or child with addictions or that person who just can’t find a decent job, or worse, the one who has lost all hope and is having one last drink before they down a bottle of sleeping pills to put their misery to a final rest. This, my good friend, is why I am no longer a political standard bearer who loses sleep over social policy or world affairs.  Yes, I want peace, but “in as much as it is within you, live at peace with your neighbor” is my God-standard, not world summits. Yes, I want to end hunger, but “when you give to the least of these my brothers” is my policy, not entitlements.  Yes, I want to see an eventual end to hatred and bigotry, but “love they neighbor as thyself” is a God thing, not a social media thing.  It matters not to me who is in office, my daily mandates come from a much higher commander-in-chief than one who is mistakenly elevated as the appointed one we may or may not have voted for.  But when we begin to see each other and moreover, formulate unjust opinions about their character, just because of who they support politically, we have become the blind leading the blind, discarding the truth for a bit of an increase in personal mammon. There is a reason you can’t serve both!

This cruel life has way too many existing webs to navigate without getting entangled in civilian affairs we may never change.  My political apathy is a personal choice.  Your opinion of that choice is your choice.  I don’t have nightmares over childish tweets or the latest missteps of a polarizing POTUS.  I don’t dread tomorrow because of which “side” has control of Congress.  I have many issues right now with God-he knows, but regardless of how I vote or whose in charge down here, God is my constant, my boss, my CO.  I’ll do well to continue to take my direction from him and avoid the entanglements of the political arena.  That, is why I no longer get caught up in the façade of political policy.

Why Racism Will Never Die

Two years ago I created a Facebook page that would promote racial harmony, one that encouraged open and honest dialogue between blacks and whites for the purpose of hearing each other and seeking a solution in our little circles to stop the cancer of hatred and biases due solely to skin color.  This morning I took the page down.

It seems no one was really interested in such dialogue, and the few who posted to the page used it only as a platform to justify the feelings they embraced, and not as a tool to discuss root causes, seek resolution or promote in any way anything resembling harmony, love or at the least tolerance.  It was hijacked and used to further divide. If social media has done anything over the past few years it has opened up my eyes as  to how wide-spread the epidemic of racial tensions are.  Had my page been devoted to white supremacy or black restitution, it would have reached the 5000 person limit quickly.  Everyone is quick to vent, quick to point out examples of racist attitudes, quick to post controversial comments with no intention except than to stir up the saints. Post a video of a black cop dancing with white kids on his beat and get a few thousand views; post a white cop turning a traffic stop into a take-down and it goes viral with millions of views.  We have become so overly exposed to sensationalism that we view the first scene as extraordinary and the latter scene the norm.  We have all become pawns in a black and white chess game played by much higher forces whose security and wealth depend on the continual propagation of dividing the races. And with the hope that each next generation will end the hatred, it only proves to become worse.  Yes, we’ve made strides, but even at the highest level, a black President did not use the historic accomplishment to promote healing but instead drove us farther apart, and the orange President we have now did nothing to separate himself for legions of white nationalists who endorsed him and has overseen even worsening racial division.

But I think what breaks my heart most is that even among those who publicly profess to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ and his teachings, there exists obvious biases and resentments held toward their Christian siblings of different colors.  Because of the circles I run in, the majority of my social media friends are Christian, so I get to observe these attitudes up close and personal on a daily basis.  Many Black Christians and yes, even clergy, hold a view that the white man is the source of everything evil in their world and deep down still  hold them in contempt for the sins of their great-great grandparents, refusing to acknowledge that generational hatred can be healed and eradicated through the love of God.  In a very real sense, they only believe “won’t he do it” up to the point of reconciling the races.  And in response, the backlash from Christian whites weary of having to defend themselves against those they sincerely view as brothers and sisters in the faith morphs from sadness to resentment to antagonistic as they in ignorance try to address things they know not of.  And so it plays out as an eternal feud for the world to witness, mock and mimic.  After all, if we Christians who tout love can’t even get it right, then the world should feel much more comfortable in embracing their racist views and attitudes like an old friend.  It should be wrong to harass or discriminate against a black person simply due to the color of their skin; it should be equally wrong to view a white brother as part of the problem or the eternal oppressor likewise simply because he happens to be white.  When will it ever stop?

I am convinced it won’t and this is why. We, in our steadfastness to be unmoved in our respective defense of our response to racism, have completely ignored the most demanding, absolute standard left for us, the Word of God.  There is nothing in scripture that would even slightly promote our current approach to racism in the world and the church.  How many scripture must I quote where we are commanded to love each other?

“Hate what is evil, love what is good; Be devoted to one another in love. Honor each other above yourselves”-Romans 12

“Forgive one another as you have been forgiven, and add to this Love which binds all tings together in perfect unity”-Colossians 3

“Love keeps no records of past wrongs-it delights not in evil but rejoices in truth”

-I Corinthians 13

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins”-I Peter 4

“The entire law is fulfilled in one command-Love your neighbor as yourself”-Galatians 5

Bear with one another in love-love your enemies-do good to them-pray for them-if you don’t love, you don’t know God-and on and on and on.  Love is the central theme of the entire New Testament, but this is why racism will continue to exist, and many won’t like this.  LOVE AND OBEDIENCE ARE INSEPERABLE IN SCRIPTURE AND IN CHRISTIAN LIVING!  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments“.  But if we in our hatred and biases are so strong in our convictions that even this undeniable, non-negotiable, absolute mandate for our Savior is so easily disregarded as believers, then the world has no hope of ever seeing the demise of racism. We are become as blind people leading the blind because the truth we profess is not really in us. We are no better than the Pharisees Jesus called whitewashed-having some appearance of Godliness on the outside but being full of corruption, evil and death on the inside, sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.

This is most painful to me because I have dear black friends who I feel see me as part of the problem, the privileged.  And I have close white friends whose responses to the issue are downright hateful, shameful and embarrassing. My personal page has become more of a social view into the reality of race relations between those who are supposed to have a share in the inheritance of hope, and for that I am beyond dismayed and becoming angry.  Don’t go to church on Sunday and do your thing but get on Facebook first thing Monday and shame Christ.  I’m done with it and will call you out.  If I can’t do something positive to change it, then I will go to great lengths to expose it, so be ready. Don’t put on Christ but sow discord just to get a few Likes-don’t pretend to empathize but harbor generational bigotry in your heart.  Don’t pretend to want reconciliation when the hatred and dissent is the only thing you thrive on.  Don’t Friend me just so you can observe and look for some sign that I’m just another one of “my people”.  Don’t reach out just to show you have numerous black Friends just for  chance to spew your vile on their pages.  God can’t be impressed, and I’m sure as hell not.

So does anyone out there really want to fix this or all we all just posers?

Dads Need to Feel the Love Too!

If you were to believe most Father’s Day ads, you might think that we dads are quite different than our parental counterparts. Ads for Mom’s Day imply family gatherings and surrounding mom with her favorite people, while ads for Dads suggest giving him the day off, the space he needs to go fishing or camping alone or some new toy he can play with in the garage.  Maybe I’m the odd one out, but the perfect day for me is not a motorcycle ride alone on a country road.  It’s being surrounded by children and grandchildren who make you feel wanted and loved, even if they are grown.  It’s not something we ever outgrow.

The other night I was watching one of the popular talent competitions on television.  A young thirteen-year old girl astonished the crowd with an old throwback song that she killed.  Upon the applause and accolades of the audience she broke into tears and went running into the arms of her dad like a five or six year old might do.  I broke, because I remember that feeling!  When your child wants nothing more than your love and approval, and is content to just be on your lap or close by, there is no higher achievement or sense of pride one can have than at that very moment of being Dad. Sadly, for most anyway, those moments tend to decrease with age.  It’s not that the love and appreciation isn’t still there, it’s just the misconception that we fathers no longer need or want that display of affection.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was struggling to make my business a success.  It remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.  But no matter how bad a day I might have been having, when my grandson came running into my office and jumped into my lap, followed by his older sister, everything bad in my life faded away like a puff of smoke. Their love and presence put everything back into perspective at least for a short time.  These are moments and memories that will remain precious to me.  It is then that I have some sense of what our Heavenly Father must feel when we approach him in the same way, wanting nothing more than to be in his presence, to crawl up into his lap and embrace being loved just for who we are.

My children are grown and the grandkids are getting older every year, but I will never outgrow the need to feel their love.  This is the point I hope to get across with his post.  Don’t buy into the media or marketing suggestions otherwise.  Dads need to feel they are still loved.  They need to know they are still needed, even if just for wisdom and encouragement.  We need to know we aren’t forgotten or left behind by our children who now have their own families and children.  We need to know we made some small difference or impact, either in our approach to parenthood or in the lessons we learned by our mistakes, so that we can take some small credit in the good and successes of our children.  If married, dads need to know their wives admire and love them for their roles as the father of her children.  That respect is priceless-wives will never truly know!  But above all, I think most dads just want that feeling when that young son or daughter runs and jumps into their arms, just because he’s their dad and they love him that much.  When that stops happening for whatever reason, then yes, we may as well go on that weekend fishing trip alone because nothing will ever truly fill the void of a child who no longer needs their parent.  It’s an empty that is hard to fully describe.  Divorced fathers feel the pain of this rejection even when they have done little to deserve it.  It’s a pain I’m familiar with.

I have so many friends my age who will not be able to spend Father’s Day with their dads or grandfathers because they are no longer living. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was ten years old.   There will be fathers in convalescent centers who will not be acknowledged by their families again this year.  There will be fathers who are widowed and will spend the day alone.  God Bless the moms for all they do-they deserve every accolade showered upon them for the roles they play in our lives.  But don’t be deceived into thinking we dads don’t want a little love as well. If you really want to make his day, crawl up in his lap and just squeeze him for a moment.  I guarantee that no matter how old you are or how big you may be, he will still see you as that little one from long ago and will relish the gesture for all it’s worth.  He, I, we still need to feel we are that larger-than-life hero in the eyes of our kids.  There is little more important.

Have a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day.

Fighting the Urge to Just Sink

In better (younger) days I was quite the swimmer.  It would be nothing for me to try to swim across a small pond or river.  I can remember even being in great shape, there was always the point at which your muscles started to quiver a bit and exhaustion would set in while you were in the deepest part of the water and you had to stop for a moment to catch your breath and regain your strength.  You knew what you had to do, and how to do it-you needed to put your head back in the water and start stroking again.  You had no other options except to stop swimming and drown. But your body was so tired of the challenge and its weight conspired with gravity to work against your will and stamina.

I would guess in life we have all been there at some point-faced with yet another trial or challenge, you keep doing what you know to do because there are no other options and the choice is either sink or swim.  None of us are guaranteed to breeze by without certain life-altering situations that require stamina and resolve, but some of us tend to get safely across the river only to find it opens up into another large body of water, and the swim seems daunting and endless.  I often refer to this as the Job effect.  The character from the Old Testament lost everything he had through a series of catastrophes, one after the other, although in his mind he had done nothing to “deserve” such cruel and unusual punishment.  While according to the story, he was restored to great wealth and position, it came at the price of his own children, and his life was never the same.

I’m certain that Job must have asked himself how he was chosen to be challenged to the point of death-why was he the lucky candidate. If honest, all of us who go through similar experiences will ask God why he allows such painful, and seemingly never-ending life lessons.  Have we not yet proven our mettle or faith?  Are we being punished for something, and if so, why just us and not everyone else?  Do some escape life’s trials because they are better people or more deserving servants?  Does God’s grace and mercy apply to everyone in unlimited measure—–except us? These are honest responses from those who live large portions of their life in the “valley of the shadows of death”. We are swimming to that spot of land in the distance but we never seem to get any closer to it no matter how long or hard we swim.

And if I had to be brutally honest, even Holy Scriptures sometimes feel more like clichés. And yet for a believer, they are the only reasonable facsimile to a life preserver that we can cling to while we catch our next breath. Verses that assure us that God is always with us-that he is an ever-present helper in tumultuous times, that if he sees the tiniest of sparrows, he surely is tuned into our plight and that nothing escapes his glance.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out his ways as they pertain to my life.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will simply never know!  I can’t tell you why some believers and followers have a life that goes from blessing to blessing while others like myself watch with envy while treading the next body of water.  All I know is that we have to keep swimming even when every muscle in our body is screaming obscenities at us because sinking, while easier, is no real option.

 God, who can guess your ways or challenge you methods of testing or who escapes your sovereignty.  I ask you today on behalf of all who are reading this and swimming for their lives, that you would grant mercy and strength to continue the fight in anticipation of eventually reaching dry ground, so that your Son can be glorified in our triumphs. Encourage us today by your Holy Spirit to consider all that is waiting for us when we endure and conquer these challenges so that we can rely upon a supernatural reserve of energy and resolve to keep fighting when it would be so easy to just sink.

In Search of That Fairy Tale Ending

This past weekend the world paused its activities to witness the much anticipated wedding of Lady Diana’s son, Prince Harry to Meghan Markle.  It was a wedding truly fit for royalty and worthy of all the pomp and circumstance associated with any royal wedding.  Many in the West stayed up all night to catch the early morning live broadcast while others opted for the later reruns.  I confess that I’ve now watched it twice!  It was truly the stuff that Hollywood fairy tale movies are made of.

What is our fascination with an event like this, one which brings out only the A-List celebrities, and one most of us will never experience, that keeps us glued to our monitors so we don’t miss a second of it?  Why do we become emotional when a Prince gets married?  Granted, this was no usual royal event; the groom was the son of one of the most beloved figures of all time, Lady Diana. She was there in every element.  A seat was left vacant for her; the flowers in the wedding bouquet were hand-picked from her garden, and the jewels in the bride’s wedding ring came from Diana’s rings.  Yet even putting all of that aside, there was and always is an enormous interest in royal weddings.  And this one was no exception.

I believe there exists within all of us the dream of finding that someone we never thought we might end up with, that person we feel completely unworthy of, the commoner weds the prince or princess.  This past weekend’s event was not about England-it wasn’t about royalty-it wasn’t even about the breakaway from tradition that was in full display for all to see.  It was about one thing-LOVE!  It represented all that is good about love-redemption, hope, restoration, and above all, second chances.  It was the embodiment of the Cinderella story-the girl with no royal blood line or lineage, the girl who has already been married and divorced, the single mother of the bride, a black woman, sitting directly across from the Queen herself, watching her tainted daughter become the Princess of Sussex!  All that was not supposed to happen, happened-all of the baggage that would have normally discredited her as a fit bride for a prince was disregarded and the world watched as she literally married her Prince Charming and became the daughter-in-law of the late Lady Diana!  Talk about fairy tale endings!  That’s what captivated us.

Those who have found their perfect partner and managed to successfully maintain lasting relationships are truly blessed and understand the significance of love united.  Those who have never been so fortunate continue to dream and aspire to find their own royal ending and perfect romance.   And those of us who have tasted of it and lost it, desire it even more, like chasing that euphoric high once again.  Even people who have been severely wounded by love gone bad who have scars from past failures, are willing to risk emotional pain after a broken heart and become vulnerable enough to allow love back into their lives and continue the search for their own fairy tale ending.  It is a search that never ends-the lucky and blessed are the ones who eventually find it-the most pitiful people on earth are the ones for whom love eludes them and they die alone.

We are driven by love!  The most popular movies are love stories; the greatest songs of all time are love songs.  Even the hymns of old evolve around the central theme of amazing and unexplainable love.  “Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my King, would die for me?”  The heart has an amazing capacity for love, and we all want in on it, even vicariously by witnessing a royal wedding.  It’s a story that dates back to Old Testament times to Ruth, the commoner, finding Boaz, the Prince.  There should be little surprise that the story continues to fascinate us-we in our imaginations insert ourselves into the roles of the prince and princess, longing for the time when, at some level, we too feel like unworthy and yet newly crowned royalty, just because of the restorative power of love.  We long for the day when that certain someone looks upon us, sees all of our past mistakes, our trails of destruction, our faults and failures, and yet deems us worthy of their love for a lifetime. And even when it comes for many of us, we will still be fascinated and captivated in seeing it played out in others as they too find love’s royalty.  This is the kind of love by which God accepts us!  It is a love that is unconditional-it is immeasurable-it is unlimited and it has no expiration date!

It’s real, it’s out there and we are all worthy of it!  Never discount your fascination with watching something so surreal as a royal wedding.  You may not leave the church in a horse drawn carriage with a royal escort, but your happily-ever after ending can come true.  If we all didn’t really believe that, what a miserable existence it would be!

A Mother Speaks From Heaven

My dearest child, I want to try to reach out to you from my new home, and I hope somehow you will be able to understand.  I know that this time each year on your Earthly calendar you pause to remember me and all the other motherly figures in your life.  I see how you recall fond memories of times we spent together like viewing old movies over and over again.  I too still remember all those beautiful moments.  The memories we made together are indeed eternal and still very real. You will understand this someday.  However, I also see that this day is bittersweet for you and that you have a sense of sadness that I am no longer with you to continue making memories.  I wish you could know that nothing could be farther from the truth! You may not see me, but I am still there in more ways than you could ever imagine.  You were taught from an early age that God gives his angels the charge of watching over his children.  Well my child, I was assigned to watch over you! It’s one of the percs of my new situation! I see your every move.

How I wish I could tell you that I didn’t become a mother on the day you were born; I was a mom the minute I knew I had conceived you!  I started loving you months before I ever saw your beautiful face for the first time.  I cradled you the first time I felt you moving inside me. I sang lullabies to you every night before I went to sleep.  I began to pray over your life, that God would bless you and keep you from all pain long before I ever experienced the pain of introducing you to the world and your new family. There is a bond that forms between a mother and her child that only moms fully appreciate, and I can assure you that the bond is never severed, even after death!  In fact it is only now that I truly understand the unconditional love between a parent and a child since I am with my true Father and can see things more clearly from my new vantage point. You are even now more precious to me than ever before.  I never thought that possible, but I can assure you it’s true!

You have become the embodiment of every good thing I tried to teach you all those years.  I know there are times when you wonder if I would be proud of the person you’ve become.  I wish you knew the pride I still feel as I watch over you.  I see a bit of me in you with every act of loving kindness you show others.  I observe how you courageously respond to earthly challenges; I feel the emotions you have when you worry about others.  I see the full intent of a heart much bigger than I ever imagined while on Earth, one full of goodness and love that is an uncommon virtue in your world.  And each and every time I see you doing things out of the love you learned from me, I thank my Father that he blessed me of all people with the privilege of being your mother.  Nothing I ever achieved or accomplished in my old home means more to me now than being selected to be your mom. How I wish I could accurately relay that to you now.

I know there are supposedly no egos up here, but moms still get together and share stories of their children and stake claims to bragging rights.  You child, have given me so many stories since I left that it never seems like a fair fight with the other moms!  God in his mercy has actually given us all the privilege of being the guardian angels of our earthly children. It is perhaps our greatest reward!  So while we await the appointed time when we will be reunited, I want to assure you of my presence.  There are little ways I can still interact with you-I just hope you know it’s me.  When you are walking and you feel that soft breeze on your face or see that tiny butterfly land near you and sense a calming spirit, that’s me!  When you experience the pride of watching your children grow, you got that from me! And when you face the challenges that life will throw at you but sense a peace about it, that’s God channeling through me to you! I will be in the laughter you can’t explain, the songs that bring you to tears, the worship that flows freely from you heart and even in the love you feel for that special someone God gave you.  I’m there in all of it, still loving, still caring, still so full of pride I can’t speak.  You will never be alone and you and I will never be separated by time or distance because I am no longer bound by those things!  So on this special day when you remember me, I hope you know that I am celebrating you my dear child. My greatest badge of honor was, and still is, that of being your mom!  I am still learning all the ways I can touch you, but I have plenty of time and a great teacher!  You are forever in my heart and I will forever be in yours.  I will ask God to reveal that to you every day until we are together again.

Love, Mom.

An Epidemic of Loneliness

Social Media with it’s new and ever emerging platforms has presented an opportunity for endless virtual connections.  Through Facebook and others, we can now reconnect with old school friends, people from the old neighborhood and many others that we lost contact with and may never have looked up if not given virtual technology.  While at the same time, these “friendship” connections many times are very superficial and give a façade of relationships that don’t truly exist.  It may be true and quite rare that new friendships have been made through initial social media connections, the truth is, however, that your connections know very little about you, and you about them-there is no life-sharing taking place, just an exchange of ideas, jokes, memes and an occasional Check-in.

The same platforms that allow so many of us to connect also aid in the onset of real loneliness.  We can easily get caught up in comparisons.  We see our Friends who have 3000-4000 followers and compare that number to our list of a relative few (thanks to all 350 of mine!). We wonder why we aren’t as popular as others we know.  We become envious when others find that perfect someone and post loving images of the new discovery while we are still seeking love.  We are reminded through shared photos of better times and family ties that ended when the marriage failed and the families parted to opposite sides.  We become jealous when one of our friends post something trivial and receives several hundred comments or Likes, while we pour our heart out over an issue important to us and get crickets and a few emojis.

Beyond social media, the lonely attempt to fill their days with activities and surround themselves with the few friends they do have hoping that staying busy will keep their minds from the reality of living in solitude.  But no matter how busy one stays or how many drinks they have with friends, at the end of the day, literally, they each go home to empty homes of large rooms void of life or activity.  They go to bed alone and wake up the same way.  No number of virtual friends can replace the existence of just a single mate or close human bond that so many miss and long for.  And these lonely people are everywhere-on public transit, in restaurants, in the work place, at bars and yes, even in our churches. They may never let you in on their facade, but they are all around us.

When God created the first man, He was immediately aware that it was not a good idea for man to exist alone.  He understood the need for closeness, for companionship, for relationship.  Granted, there are many who prefer a life of freedom from the responsibility and accountability required to be in a relationship.  The Apostle Paul was one who preferred the life of bachelorhood because for him, a relationship would have been too much to tend to given his vocation of ministry.  He asserts that a select few are given the “gift” of living a single life.  While I am not one to challenge sound Biblical teaching, this one is a head-scratcher for me.  I would call living life without a significant partner to share it with, anything but a gift.  Those who lose spouses to death or seperation do not feel gifted.  Children who grow up not knowing a parent that turned their back on them do not feel gifted.  Orphans or those in nursing homes waiting for visitors do not feel gifted.

So where do we turn when the feelings of emotional isolation become overwhelming?  I can only offer some things I have learned or tried to incorporate.  The most important thing to convince yourself is that your situation does not define your value!  This is of great impact for believers.  Being called children of God hardly implies worthlessness!  The fact that God has our name tattooed in his palm should give us a sense of eternal value.  Another trick I’ve employed is to find activities wherein you can give something of yourself to those who need what you have to offer, e.g. volunteering with under-privileged youth or donating time to organizations who feed the hungry or homeless-things that are vitally needed that can give you a sense or accomplishment and purpose. Making efforts to spend time with your adult children or just hanging with those with whom you share things in common serves to soften the reality of loneliness.  Another tool is to use social media to find groups who share common interests so that you virtual activity is not limited to I.Q reducing banter with no purpose or substance.  There are groups for just about any interest imagineable. And if your loneliness centers around not being in a relationship, continue to be out there, willing to be vulnerable, bold enough to risk being hurt, and by all means not judging would-be suitors based on past experiences of which they played no part.

God does not desire that any of us should feel worthless due to loneliness.  We need to look for ways to reduce the pain of isolation and increase our sense or purpose and value.  We can’t sell something we don’t buy into!  If we don’t believe it, no one else will either.  Ask God to open up your heart and mind to all opportinities and possibilities as you work your way out of the epidemic of loneliness.

Don’t Let Your Left hand Know What Your Right Hand is Doing

I have learned from experience and unwelcomed life changes recently that discouragement is a portal into a false realm of the twisted perception of self-worth and purpose, even causing one to ask the meaning of their existence.  When life as you knew it suddenly seems to have left you behind, stranded on the side of the road of life, it takes a supernatural resolve to pull yourself up and get back on the road.  Only those who have a grasp of the eternal picture can successfully resume the journey.

All of us want to feel as if our lives matter, that our existence counts for something, that our mere presence means something to someone.  But like an illusionist making a plane disappear, discouragement and depression act as a magician’s cloak rendering us invisible.  It’s a sad place to be and a horrible place to stay.  Activities you once enjoyed with others bring little joy now; people who played such big roles in your life have left you behind like an old photo of something from times past.  And your mind becomes your worst enemy as it replays over and over memories going back decades of things that will never be again, tricking you into accepting a false narrative of your significance and contribution to your realm of influence.

Some will attempt to get involved in causes, take up social activism, donate time to local nonprofit groups, all while wondering if anyone is watching, if anyone notices.  Our motivation is one less about making a difference and more about being praised so that we can reclaim some self-worth.  The irony in this is that the only one who sees all, the only one we truly need to serve, is the one who already has the highest opinion of us.  We give, we donate, we help out-all to be seen and accepted in an attempt at our own self-redemption, completely disregarding the fact that God in his love and mercy already redeemed us, already sees us, already has our names tattooed in the palm of his hand.

There is a passage in scripture where the just are receiving their reward for deeds done on earth. The master tells them to enter into their rest because they clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the sick and imprisoned, all the while unaware that these unseen things they did for the least, were done and received by a God who valued them highly even at what felt like the lowest times. Another passage in Matthew 6 says that we should not blow a horn to announce the good deeds we are doing for the praise of others, but that instead we should not allow our left hand know what our right hand is up to.  Things done seemingly in secret are never hidden from God and he will reward us in grand fashion.  Our deeds and the motives behind them, good or bad, are never hidden from an all-knowing God.

Let’s be real-sometimes life stinks. Some make mistakes but seem to get a pass while others make bad decisions or lead less than perfect lives and pay heavily for it.  There appears to be  a very inequitable sense of fairness when we compare our lives to others. We work hard but still lose our jobs; we eat right and exercise but still receive that negative medical report; we love well but end up alone.  The eternal question with no answer is why bad things happen to good people, and why bad people get all the breaks in life.  We wonder what atrocities we committed to be punished so; if this were true, if we were beat up for every mistake, who among us would survive God’s wrath. As Job discovered in the Old Testament story, some questions will never be answered on Earth.  We will never be able to get everyone’s approval and unlike the movie, we don’t have any magical remote control that allows us to go back in time and change things for better outcomes. All any of us have is today.  Today will soon be yesterday.  Will you be okay with what you did yesterday?  Can you make today better? There is a profound sense of worth in living externally, seeing others and their needs, finding purpose in being a solution, even when no one is watching.  Living everyday discouraged, pining for things to be the way they were, knowing they never will be, is a tragic existence.  The heart will forever hold precious the memories of things that were, but has an enormous and unlimited capacity to receive and store new treasures going forward. If you must, hold onto the good of the past with your left hand while reaching for new opportunities with your right.  Healing and purpose will come only when you rise up from the ashes.  Those who know you best will be witnesses to how your handle life’s critical moments.  There are always people watching!

The Death of a King, the Birth of a Dream; MLK’s Legacy Fifty Years Later

MLKDay

April 4th, 1968, approximately 6 PM, fifty years ago today; I was six years old.  On the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, just down from his room #306 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is bending over the railing discussing dinner plans with Jesse Jackson and others, unaware they would never make it. In a boarding house across from the motel a prison escapee, a man who represented everything wrong with the generation of hate, stood in a bathtub using the bathroom window ledge to rest his Remington .30-06 rifle, and took his one shot at infamy.  The round struck Dr. King in his right cheek, traveled through his vertebrae and spinal cord, severing King’s jugular and a major artery.  The man who just one night before predicted his own death, now lay motionless in a pool of his own blood in prophetic manifestation.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pronounced deceased at 7:05 PM.

James Earl Ray may be the lone man behind the trigger that ended Dr. King’s earthly life, but King’s blood was on the hands of an entire community of white bigots that led to the highest offices in the land.  Dr. King’s legacy is that of a Civil Rights leader, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize at the relative young age of just 34 years old. He was in Memphis organnizing a peaceful protest in support of fair wages for sanitation workers. Dr. King acknowledged that obtaining a seat at the lunch counter was easy compared to the guarantee of a fair annual income.  He was the voice for the common black wage earner who simply wanted an equal opportunity at the American dream of propserity that was afforded to all others.  In his “I Have a Dream” Speech Dr. King references the notion of all men being created equally with unalienable rights guaranteed by their creator.  He went on to say that Black Americans instead had received a bad check marked Insufficient Funds.  Dr. King fought for nothing more than for all Americans to receive fair and equal treatment and opportunity.  However many, including politicians, attempted to drown out his voice.  The likes of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, an outspoken KKK leader, the segregation verbiage and policies of Democratic Governor George Wallace and the hidden agenda of Lyndon Johnson all worked in unison to assure that the right white of traditional American society would continue on, keeping black Americans “in their place”.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew exactly what and who he was up against.

 However, in it’s truest form, Dr. King was an evangelist of the Gospel.  He spoke out about love, about equality as humans, a slap in the face of so-called Christians who inaccurately used God’s Word to justify an atmosphere of hatred and segregation in those times.  Jesus said, “you are the light of the world, but if you hate your brother, you walk in darkness”.  MLK said “only light can drive out darkness”.  Jesus said “whoever doesn’t love his brother or sister who he can see, can’t possibly love God, who they can’t see”. There was nothing in Dr. King’s speeches that was not rooted in the Gospel.  There was most certainly those who used the protests as an opportunity to invoke aggression, resulting in many deaths and injuries, and that troubled Dr. King as he insisted that turning the other cheek was the righteous way to demand respect and be heard.  The riots in Chicago, a seemingly Liberal Northern city, shook Dr. King and gave him pause.  He had expected as much in his marches through Alabama, but not in the Northern states.  And yet his resolve remained-his mission was at the core, noble and righteous, and he would not be stopped or allow his cause to be hijacked by those used him to incite violence.

Dr. King was fully aware that he was exposing himself to great danger and possibly death.  He had been nearly fatally stabbed before as well as hit in the head with a brick during a march. He cowered each time he heard a loud noise, expecting the worse, and yet he marched on, all the way to his premature death.  If Dr. King were still alive today, would he be pleased with the progress made as a result of his activism?  When you look around you can see the black influence and progress in every spectrum, in athletics, in entertainment, in rising wages and corporate promotion and even in politics, including the highest office of the land.  We have come a long way.  Dr. King would be pleased with progress. Would he be satisfied?  I think I can safely say no.  There are still unlevel playing fields in many sectors, including housing and education.  It is no secret that the profits of a privatized prison system come at the expense of an overcrowded penal society made up largely of black males. And no one with open eyes can deny that in many cities racial profiling still exists among rogue officers who shoot first and search for a weapon second. No man alive includig the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will ever irradicate the evil of bigotry or the cancer of hate that has existed since Cain and Abel.  As long as there remains fringes of American societies that hold to supremist ideology, people receiving different treatment and opportunity based solely on skin color, Dr. King would not be satisfied. Those who knew him best and were splattered with his blood fifty years ago today would agree-we have come a long way, but many have still not reached the Promised Land.

Today many will gather across our nation to remember the legacy and the death of Dr. King, and rightly so.  When a person is so convicted and dedicated to a just cause that he is willing to die in order to achieve its birth, that person should be honored and hailed with all due fanfare.  But to truly pay homage to his legacy, we as an American people need to dedicate ourselves only to that which Dr. King preached-to love our neighbors, to extend the right hand of fellowship to all men regardless of color or creed, and to stand up against all perceived racial injustices in a joint effort to see all men obtain the dream of freedom and equality, two ideals that go beyond legislation that can only be enforced with hearts of Christ-like love. No man is “free at last” if any one of them remains bound by the chains of hatred. No man can feel good about being “on the mountain top” if his fellow brothers are still trapped in the valleys below.  No man can bear the cross of Christ in one hand and the torch of bigotry in the other.  We can claim to walk in the spirit of light, but God sees any hidden darkness we keep secret from others.  There remains much work to be done in order to usher in the true Kingdom of Christ.  The civil equality Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for was conceived in the blood he spilled on that balcony fifty years ago today.  It is on us as Christians first and Americans second, to carry on the fight Dr. King started in our words, in our actions and in our ideals.  “In this way the world will know that you are truly my disciples, when they see the love you have for each other”. Well done Dr. King.

Easter, the Pagan Holiday-NOT!

Christian believers around the world will gather this weekend or next, depending on which calendar they use, to commemorate Easter.  The story surrounding the historic events of the unjust trial of Jesus, his crucifixion and eventual glorious resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith and the hope of our eternity.  And yet every year we are subjected to those religious zealots who come out of hiding to allege that our Easter celebration is leftover from former pagan holidays, and that “True” Christians would never take part if they only knew.  What’s more sad is that their readers blindly adopt their misinformation as the Gospel, pun intended.  So today I’d like to counter and preempt their arguments with some factual truth.

The most common allegation is that Easter is a derived name from the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar.  In the early  nineteenth century there was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland named Alexander Hilsop.  Hilsop was vehemently opposed to the Catholic Church and created and propagated a notion that the Roman Catholic Church was in fact a secret pagan society dating back to Constantine. Hilsop claims since Constantine was never really Christian, he brought pagan words into the Christian vernacular, making Ishtar in essence, Easter.  In the English language we don’t substitute two words simply because they sound similar.  His writings, specifically his book titled A Tale of Two Babylons, and teachings have been soundly rejected by scholars due to their unsubstantiated factual evidence.  You can read much more of his life and the fallacy of his teahings online.

This brings us to the second alleged notion that Easter is named after an Anglo-Saxon goddes named Eostre.  First, we now know that Anglo-Saxons did not name their months after gods or goddesses but rather after seasons of agriculture.  In addition, there is no evidence that a goddess named Eostre ever existed.  The only reference to that name in all history is found in a line of a writing by Venerable Bede, an old historian. There are simply no other listings of that name, no left behind carvings or statues, no lisitng among known gods or goddesses, NOTHING!  The existence of Eostre is simply unproven and thereefore, can not be the source of any known pagan ritual.

So then, where do we get the term Easter?  In the original Greek, the word Pascha was used for both Easter and Passover.  That carried over as well into the Latin translation. However, in the 1500s William Tyndale did not want to use the same word for both the Jewish observance and a Christian observance. He chose Pask, a dervitive of Pascha, for the Jewish holiday, leaving by default, Easter for the Christian observance.  King James followed suit in his translation as he recorded the passover in the book of Acts as Easter.  In the Orthodox tradition, the original term Pascha is still used in it’s original beauty and significance.

So why address such a misinformed allegation at all, if it has no merit?  Simply because there will be many people who believe that if something is posted on any social media platform, especially if it comes from a shared post by one of their friends, then it must be true.  We have become so virtually programmed that we absorb all we read on social media like a dry sponge dropped into a swimming pool.  There are few fact checkers that will investigate before blindly passing it along or even worse, condemn us who celebrate Easter as being brainwashed by pagan historians, when in fact quite the opposite is more true.  To discount the magnificance of Easter to a mere handed down pagan ritual by a discredited Scottish minister is to deny the events on which our entire faith is solely built, and a huge disservice to those foolish enough to believe it rather than the truth of the Gospels.

The historic recording of the Bible manuscripts still in existence, along with other notable historic non-Biblical writings such as those by Josephus, are universally accepted and measured under the criteria of historical accuracy as proof enough that Jesus existed and that the stories left for us are accurate and confirmed by other writings.  However, Jesus and his teachings will remain a mystery for those who can’t or won’t accepth him through faith alone.  It’s sad, and yet understandable.  Jesus’ own disciples, who lived with him and shared in his ministry as witnesses to his miracles and teachings, had a hard time accepting that he was who he claimed to be, even up to his death on the cross.  They scattered and hid-only John was recorded to be at the scene of the crucifixion.  And even when Jesus miraculously reappears before them, Thomas demands to see his hands as proof, so our doubts are understandable.  And yet the truth remains absolute and infallible.

I choose to believe in a God who set forth a plan of reconciliation for all mankind by becoming one of us, fully man and yet at all times retaining all power, who yielded himself and his body to the most horrific suffering imaginable to atone for all sin, was placed in a borrowed tomb and rose from the state of being dead so that we too may share in his resurrection.  Don’t be led astray by those who find folly in our faith.  Put on your Easter best-commemorate his death on good Friday, and rejoice in his victory over the grave on Easter Sunday with no shame or guilt of pagan worship, and pray for those who miss out on this blessed event because of their own inability to verify false allegations.  Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus will come again to receive all who have received him!  Happy Easter!

 

The Fallacy of a Defenseless Jesus

Each year as I prepare for Easter I seek to explore some nuance in the story that perhaps I have previously overlooked, so that both the significance and the magnificence of God’s plan remains fresh and renewed for my optimal appreciation.  I’m convinced that when you ask for enlightenment, you always find something in scriptures you glossed over before without little thought.  This week in our study on the Gospel of John, I saw it.  It was simply stated, and yet profound.  In fact the whole of the Easter Passion hinges on this often overlooked recording left for us by John.

When you study the Book of John you will see that he strives to portray the importance of the Divinity of Christ.  From the very first verse John makes clear that Jesus was in the beginning, that He is the Word, and continues to point out through Jesus’ own quotes that Jesus and God His Father are one.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, he says. Throughout his ministry he drops constant signs and hints that he is indeed sent by the Father with all power to heal, deliver, and even raise the dead to life.  Even his critics among the Pharisees could not deny his miracles.  They simply overlooked them because they valued their position as religious leaders above reverence and aknowledgment for what was going on right before their eyes.  All this leads to this profound nugget recorded in John chapter 13.  We are all aware of the story.  It happens at the Last Supper as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in an act of true exempalry servantude.  Just before this act, John records for us what Jesus was thinking, thus my previously overlooked passage too profound to ignore, in verse 3:

          “Jesus knew that the Father had put ALL Things under His Power…”

We know and are taught that Jesus was a willing servant.  Isaiah describes him as a lamb being led away for slaughter, yet without protest.  We sing songs about how he could have called down Heaven, but I for one, failed to entirely grasp the internal struggle taking place betwen God of the universe and God the flesh.  It is indeed dificult for us to reconcile that the creator of all things could be so easily taken captive for a cruel punishment and crucifixion.  But throughout the whole process, Jesus, God incarnate, retained ALL his power, and at any time could have simply stopped the process, the abuse, the humiliation, with a single word or thought. In his sovereignty Jesus knew the planned hour had come.  Jesus knew Judas was about to betray him.  Jesus knew the disciples would scatter in fear.  Jesus knew Peter would deny him on three occasions.  Jesus never stopped being all-knowing, all-powerful God.

Would you like further proof?  Back in Exodus when Moses appears before God to learn that he has been chosen to rescue the children of Israel from the hands of Pharoh, Moses asks God, “Whom shall I say has sent me (that they will believe me)?”.  God responds, “tell them I Am sends you”, the I Am of the burning bush, the I Am off the Red Sea, the I Am of the Ten Commandments.  Observe what happens when the temple guard comes to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemanie-John, in attempting to point our the divinity of Christ, is the only Gospel writer who records this event, found in chapter 18.  When the arresting officers ask if he is the Jesus of Nazareth they are seeking, Jesus replies, “I Am“. At those two uttered words, I Am, the Old Testament name of the most high God, all who were present fell to the ground! In that moment, it is God reminding us that He is in complete control of everything going on, that he is not defensseless, that at any time he could have slain them all.  We know this in part because they ask him again, once they regain their senses, if he is Jesus, and Jesus replies again, I Am, but as Jesus the Lamb, and no one is knocked off their feet after the second revelation.

Earlier in John 10, Jesus, referring to his life and sacrifice, says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have the authority (all power) to lay it down and take it back up again”.  Again, in his sovereignty, in his knowledge of human anatomy which he designed along with all pain and neurological receptors, he knew what he was about to endure on our behalf, and still he willingly went to the cross, not as a defenseless servant with no recourse, but as the omnipotent God of the Universe, with all power and authority.  That, for me, is the Easter story in a nutshell.

 

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“The Storms Beat Against the House But it Did Not Fall…”

I reside in North Las Vegas, a region not foreign to crime.  In fact the Insurance rates for my zip code are among the highest in the Nation due to theft and burglary. We purchased this house in 1999 as I began to receive custody of my boys and our growing blended family required more space.  The house had already been vandalized before we moved in, so I had my brother, an ordained Greek Orthodox Priest, drive up to do a traditional House Blessing of Protection on the structure and it’s occupants.

This house is located on a cul-de-sac along with ten other homes.  In speaking with neighbors over the years I can safely state that every home in our cul-de-sac has been burglarized at least once since we moved in, and most of them, twice!  The house directly across from me was hit in broad daylight even though the owner kept two large and loud Rottweilers in his yard.  Every home has been breached…that is, every home except mine!  No, I didn’t install the latest home security system or upgrade my doors and windows.  Oh, but they have tried!  I can walk around my home and point out where they tried to jimmy the lock on the front door, where they attempted to pry open the garage door, where they damaged the back sliding door-all in failed attempts to enter this house.  Amateurs? I doubt it.  So what?  I’m convinced it’s because a hedge of unseen protection remains on this dwelling because before we set up residence we dedicated it to God and covered it with His hand of security so that nothing could come against it as long as we remained in it.

Those who know me and know a little about my story over the past two years will tell you that I have suffered my share of storms and would-be intruders.  The enemy who would come to invade and steal has come at me from every angle, and every point of access.  I have been hit with storms against relationships, against my finances, against my health and against my very soul.  I am no saint.  When the winds blew I wanted to give in.  I had little energy or will to fight back, and like my house, I have scars and evidence of the attempted intrusions that I will carry forever. But, also like my house, I was dedicated to God when I entered into this life, and those two Godly parents who dedicated me continued to pray as I weathered the storms of these past few years and as a result, I did not come crashing down in total calamity.

In Matthew 7 Jesus makes a comprison between those who hear his teachings and put them into life practice and those who hear but ignore the lessons;

Therefore anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rains came, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against the house , and yet it did not fall because it’s foundation was rock solid. But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house over sand.  The rains came, the steams rose and the winds blew against that house and it fell in a total collapse”.

None of us can skate through this life untouched by storms of change, of trials, of severe testing.  And if you profess Christ, you are guaranteed times of suffering.  I know, it’s not popular and doesn’t preach well on Sunday mornings, but it is scriptural.  “In this life you will have trials”, Jesus warned us.  Not if, but when. It is in these trials that the mettle of your foundation, your faith, your genuine status of Christ follower, will be exposed for all to see.  Will you be left standing after the enemy comes against you with high winds and driving rain, or will you crash into rubble and be swept away with the flood? There is no sin or shame in suffering.  There is glory in surviving it! The witness is in the mercy and grace of God when we need it most.

How is it with you?  Rock or sand?

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Has the Salt of the Earth Lost its Taste?

Today marks one week from the tragic shooting in Parkland, FL that claimed another seventeen lives as the country’s latest mass murder.  While my heart aches for all those involved as I mourn with those who mourn, my spirit is heavy as I read the predictable responses of insensitivity to the blood soaked bodies of young, innocent martyrs who will never get their opportunity at Life, Liberty or the Pursuit of Happiness because they were quite literally caught in the crossfire of binary opposition and bipartisan loyalty valued more precious than their lives. My God, what have we as a free nation become?

I am quite certain that there will be those who read my blog today who will attempt to paint me as a “leftard” or “libtard” or any one of other convenient labels used to defuse any rational dialogue; while I am not a leftist, I’m also not concerned with the labels applied to this or to me.  I am deeply troubled that the lives of these children who are precious in the eyes of God, will be swept under the rug of personal liberties by the broom of Second Amendment demagoguery in the hands of wealthy profiteers whose collective voices and financial influence speak volumes over the cries of those not even old enough to cast a vote yet or otherwise defend themselves. More disgusting to me is that many of these will be my Christian siblings in the faith, touting self-defense against a non-existent tyrannical government, citing Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union as reason enough to possess weapons that to date have only been effectively used in perpetrating heinous evil against children we have failed to adequately protect.  Things ought not to be this way in America!

So I am forced to look inward as I struggle for answers.  Have I aided in these tragedies by my silence or inactivity?  Am I fulfilling the laws of scripture in loving my neighbors as much as or more than I love myself?  In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth; if we lose our saltiness, we become worthless and are good for nothing but ground cover.  How do we maintain our taste? In the same manner we are called light, but we shed no light if we keep our light dimmed or hidden under a lamp shade.  The answer to this is found in another passage that reads that the world will know we are believers and followers of Christ and his teaching when they witness how we love and support each other.  This is not a love that is exclusive to believers; in fact Christ said to love our enemies and any who pose a threat to us.  He said how easy it is to love someone who loves you in return, but true religion is loving on the unlovable.  But when these arguments arise over the social ills of humanity and how to Biblically address them, we can’t even adequately love or respect each other-we in essence lose our saltiness and worse we shed what little light we have left poorly on authentic Christianity.  I fear if things don’t change we are going to have so much to answer for some day and will have nothing of merit to offer as a defense except an amendment to a Bill of Rights for a bordered plot of land that no longer exists.  Have we become that earthly minded that we have completely disregarded Kingdom obedience?

An influential young leader once asked Jesus how he might obtain Heaven, and Jesus responded with the parable we have all heard about the Good Samaritan.  It is so widely adopted that the term “good Samaritan” is almost a generic term now.  At the heart of the parable was the question, just who exactly, is my neighbor.  I can’t begin to address the disdain Jews held against those of Samaria.  But the lesson for us is that in his time of great need and distress, it wasn’t the church who came to his aid, nor the local government, but it was he who was viewed as an enemy who took up the cause of attending to the man’s wounds and paying for his care.  The neighbor was the person who showed kindness, compassion and mercy to the victim of the crime.  He paid from his own pockets for the care needed and held back no expense in restoring the victim in a show of true faith and Godly love.  That should be the response of all believers when faced with defending the defenseless; our personal rights and welfare, if we bear the title of Christian, must become secondary to meeting the needs of those who befall tragedy.  I realize how unpopular a statement this is and that it will not be well received because, after all, we are Americans and we have rights.  To that I must reply, at what age do those rights become applicable?  Do we have rights upon birth?  Do we have rights only if we vote in elections?  Do we have rights only after we reach the legal age to purchase a weapon?  And if so, then upon whom does the care and custody of those with no rights befall? What reasonable explanation can be offered to the parents of a child who did not come home from school as to why there were no controls in place to secure the safety of their children?  Why has the love of Christ and its manifestation been stifled by the “me first” self-preservationist attitudes of those more fearful of intrusion than reliant on God’s sovereign hand of protection?

The whole of the gospel is love, pure, untainted, unsoiled, non-partisan, unselfish Christ-like love. The old song says “What the world needs now is love, sweet love-it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of”.  Those lyrics are just as true today as they were back when.  But that love can’t be regulated or legislated.  And it can’t be manufactured as Biblically mandated except through the supernatural transformation of a relationship with Jesus, the Christ.  But if we who have access to this supernatural gift are too fearful to express it when needed the most because of divisive labels and hateful rhetoric within our own family ranks, then God have mercy on a society that will never get better, and forgive us for looking the other way when our children pay the ultimate price as we cling to our automatic weapons, just in case. In that instance, the salt of the earth has lost all of its flavor worthy of nothing more than being discarded and trampled.