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.

“He Will Wipe Every Tear From Their Eyes”

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It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon.  It’s Valentine’s Day and your shift is just about over.  Your thoughts are on sharing some simple tokens commemorating the day with your family and reading the hand-made cards your kids always make for you each year. It’s one of those simple traditions that you embrace and hold dear. But then, the unthinkable-that phone call you always heard about but hoped to never receive.  There has been a shooting at your child’s school and you need to pick them up at a designated safe place as soon as possible.  You leave without even clocking out and rush to the scene while battling the invasion of images from similar events that have played out before, and praying with all your might that your child is safe and waiting for your arrival.

The first bus of students arrives at the designated rendezvous sight and you anxiously wait for your child to exit.  They aren’t on this bus but that’s ok-it’s a large school and it may take several busses to vacate them all from campus.  The second bus arrives but they aren’t on that one either.  Then the third, the fourth, and so on until all the students have been located and reunited with their families…except your child.  There must be another explanation, you tell yourself-maybe they escaped into a local neighborhood or retail store and are on their way home.  But, there is no response to your calls or texts.  Perhaps in a panic they dropped their phone-it’s ok-surely they are safe someplace and just need to be picked up.  You wait-you pace-you talk to your child’s classmates to see if they know anything.  One of them breaks into uncontrolled sobbing as they try to utter the words, “they are still in there”! Your day, your life, your entire universe just changed forever. Your child isn’t coming home today.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of a parent living out this nightmare as yet another tragic school shooting unfolds.  I can’t comprehend the emotional trauma of losing a child to such a senseless act of cowardice and evil at the hands of a person who is less than human and has no business carrying a weapon onto a school campus.  Whenever possible I strive to use my blog to encourage others with positive words of hope as we all deal with real-life challenges and tragedies we can’t adequately explain.  But on days like today, even a writer and artist of written expression has no words that will make any sense or remove any of the thousands of tears that will be shed over the coming days.  As a resident of Las Vegas and witness to our own similar mass shooting just last October, my heart goes out to the families, the friends, the first responders and all who are and will be forever changed by yesterday’s malicious and hateful act of evil.

I’m haunted and troubled by the early reports that the unnamed gunman had been reported to authorities on more than one occasion prior to yesterday’s attack.  I’m haunted and troubled that social media posts from this person showing guns, hate symbols and red-flag signals were ignored or unreported by the usually vigilant social media police.  I’m haunted and troubled that in an age where we have already seen 18 school shootings since the beginning of 2018, not even two months, that anyone could have walked onto a school campus in any city America with an AR-15 Assault rifle, entirely unnoticed and unchallenged.  And I’m haunted and troubled by a society whose cries for tolerance and rights and political correctness are given more consideration than the cries of grieving parents or their lost children, who although born with the same rights, will never appreciate or experience their individual liberties because we adults did a poor job of protecting the defenseless.

I don’t want to use my blog for this purpose-there is enough sadness and grief in our world to have to stop and address this, but today I am compelled to lend my small voice to advocate for my grandchildren, your children and grandchildren-our kids.  We will have our moments of silence for the departed, we will offer our “thoughts and prayers” like a “God bless you” after a sneeze-we will pretend to hold special meetings behind closed doors in an appearance of real concern or policy change, but nothing – absolutely nothing will be done to protect our children.  Profit trumps controls; rights trump accountability; civil liberties trump common-sense safety measures; lobbyists trump grieving family members; fear of being labeled as a hater trumps fear of loss of life due to inaction or alerts, and the beat goes on.  If the blood-bathed bodies of dead first-graders resulted in non-action, we have become no better than the worst third-world terrorist country.  God helps us.

And yet there must be some words we can cling to in these times of senseless tragedy.  In the Biblical book of John, Jesus is called to the tomb of his departed friend Lazarus.  Jesus knows that he held the power of life and death in his divine hands and that his friend was going to miraculously live again.  And yet we are told in the passage that when Jesus saw the sorrow and the tears of friends and loved ones mourning over the death of Lazarus, he too wept with them.  Jesus was deeply moved at the brokenhearted cries of mourning that resulted from earthly death.  I am convinced that he still mourns with us and indeed is shedding tears even now as he welcomes many of these victims into paradise but sees and hears the tears of those they left behind.  There is little else we can hold onto in times like these when words and expressions are woefully inadequate and ineffective.  We are to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those with the same comfort we have received, and we are to fervently pray for all who are affected by this, another unexplainable tragedy.  The peace and solace that these grieving families need today and over the next few difficult weeks can only come from God, who sees our tears and mends broken hearts.  But, it’s time we force our leaders to hear our cries for radical change.  If I have to go through a metal detector to go to a club, a government building, an airport or even a local high school football game, our school campuses where our children attend each day should be no less safe and monitored.  We need to scream over the voices that would silence us so that we can look forward to and expect the safe return of our kids at the end of any school day in America.  We need to put names and faces with the victims so that they are more than just a meaningless statistic.  We need to view these victim lists as if the name of our own children are among them and act and respond accordingly.  It’s not someone else’s problem-it doesn’t happen just in Detroit or Chicago or Vegas or LA.  Please, please, stand up for our children-the lives we save may be those who share our own last names!

Father, we humbly and sorrowfully implore you today to comfort the grieving families and friends of all affected by yesterday’s events, and to compel us to take action in protecting your children.

 

The Attempted Robbery of Your Esteem

One of the cruelest tricks opposing forces uses against us when we are facing some of life’s toughest battles is to try to steal our self-worth or esteem.  You went out on a limb and started that business you just knew would change your future, only to be left in ruins after its demise.  Or maybe you decided to give it one more try and risk being vulnerable enough to start a new relationship, knowing the risk, and eventually feeling yet again the sting when the relationship fails.

If you are alive, you have failed at something in your life.  Some failures are more devastating than others, and the responses may vary depending on the mental toughness of the victim, but no one can walk through life unscathed by some sort of failure or set-back that left you with doubts and questions.  We all face opposing forces that are keenly tuned into our thoughts, looking for any signs of weakness or openings suitable for an attack on what’s left of our esteem.  And sadly, too often we become willing parties unaware of the schemes and pitfalls laid before us.

Most of us bear more than one title during our existence.  I can hold the titles of father, husband, employee, student, Christian, son, etc., and so can most of you.  These titles should be viewed as separate descriptions of the numerous levels and roles we play.  In a perfect world, when one of those titles changes or is taken from us, the other titles remain effective and unaltered.  If fired from a job, I’m still a father; if a dropout of college, still a son, and so on and so forth. But for some, and admittedly at times for me, when we suffer failures that shake our core in one are of our life, we start to question our worth over our entire universe.  If I failed as a husband, I must not be a very good father either; if I can’t run a successful business, I’m surely a poor employee for anyone else.  If I’m not the best parent, I’m probably not a very good friend.  The cycle is vicious and spins out of control until such a time that we lose our complete identity because of a single collapse in just one area of our universe.  The enemy seizes onto this like a drowning person to a life preserver.

It is in times like these that a handful of strong friends can be vital, if we are transparent enough to communicate our issues with them.  Men are not good at this, even when they have friends like brothers.  We view it as a sign of weakness to admit our fears with each other.  The war on our esteem begins in our mind.  There is a scripture that compels is to hold each thought captive.  Too many times our feelings overide our intellect-we easily disregard what we know to be true in our minds because we allow the heart to dictate the filtering process of our knowledge.  Feelings are often a poor indicator of reality!

Prayer and times of quiet reflection can be great remedies and defenses against attacks on our mind, but there are also other tools available to us.  A hobby or special interest can be a welcomed distraction; volunteering for a local charity will give you back a sense of worth and purpose.  I’ve been blessed somewhat with an ability to write.  In tough times writing has been my therapy.  And the transparency in real time of my challenges has been an encouragement to those who have opted to follow this blog.  The point to be made is that in your weakest moments, your times of fear and doubt, you still have much to contribute!  And dare I suggest that for the believer, the trials are meant as a vehicle for you to use to make an impact on others, much like an AA sponsor does with womeone seeking sobriety.  You are never as worthless as you allow youself to believe; the stripping of one title doees not eliminate or alter all the others.

In exercise, strength and muscle gain are only achieved when those muscles are tessted beyond their strength.  Life for most is just one long exercise with our weaknesses being strained for new growth.  Don’t become your own worst enemy in the growth process.  Hold fat to what is true and use it to propel yourself to new titles, bringing a few who need your encouragement allong for the ride!  Blessings on your journey.

book cover 3     my soul cries out   AVAILABLE ON AMAZON KINDLE

And Just Like That-My 2017 Story

Our beautiful Beagle boy finally laid calm in my arms after a 30-minute full Grand Mal seizure. He had been in our family since his birth nine years earlier. An injection of valium calmed him down long enough for what was about to come. The cancer had spread to his brain and the seizures he was having daily were unbearable to witness-it had to end today.  I cradled him like a baby one last time.  The vet asked us if we were ready.  Of course not!  But out of love and mercy I nodded to proceed.  The injection worked quickly, and just like that, this once full of life furry friend lay motionless in my arms as his life came to a merciful end.  I sobbed like  little boy and continued to hold him until the vet finally took him from me and carried him out of the room.  Thus 2017 was ushered in.

In January and then again in February I was served with two different lawsuits stemming from a business I was forced to close through foreclosure in 2014.  I thought that chapter had been closed but aggressive attorneys thought otherwise. The amounts of the lawsuits coupled with the legal fee estimates to defend them were staggering.  I had received nothing from the business when it closed and had lost my entire savings that I had invested when it closed down.  These unexpected court actions left me with little recourse.  My finances and credit were now in shambles.  And just like that a lifetime of perfect credit history was now, well, history.

The following March, thinking things could get no worse, things got much worse. The love of my life asked for a divorce after a twenty year relationship.  What began as a Hallmark fairytale romance that others envied had now been reduced to a signature on a legal document.  To save money, with vision blurred by tears, I drafted the legal documents that would terminate my own marriage.  Upon their completion and our signatures, I proceeded to the courthouse and waited in line for what seemed like an eternity waiting to file them.  Upon the clerk’s stamp, I took them up to the Judge’s inbox and deposited them for final signature, which took just one day.  And just like that the air I breathed for twenty years was taken from me. I felt abandoned, unloved and alone.

The following May I was scheduled for my quarterly check-up with my nephrologist.  I suffer from Polycystic kidney disease for which there is no cure.  I was advised by someone close that with the year I had experience thus far perhaps I should cancel-I should have listened.  I was informed the disease had now progressed to stage Four and I was nearing the need for dialysis.  And just like that an otherwise health-minded man was forced to consider life-altering choices and my own mortality.

In a mere span of just five months every aspect of my entire being had come under severe attack.  I had lost a dear friend, I lost my financial security, I  lost my health and most tragic, I lost the love of my life and best friend.  I was, and in many ways, still am quite the mess.  Any one of these life-changing events would be enough to take down the strongest of men.  But seriously , all in one year?  I was left alone in a 2000 square foot house with empty rooms having nothing but the haunts of the past as a companion.  Funny thing-I never realized that quietness could echo!  Few knew of the numerous challenges I faced this year.  More than one person, perhaps not fully disclosed, reprimanded me for wallowing in self-pity.  My closer friends shared concerns over what I might do.  After all, many have pulled the trigger for much less.

It would be at this point in the story that some, just like friends of Job, would ask how I could still trust in a God who had allowed such destruction to overcome me.  I will confess that God and I had some serious “come to Jesus” conversations as I wrestled for answers or purpose.  If this is what perseverance looks like, I wanted no part of it. But as a long-time believer I knew that faith was not based on feelings or emotions but on knowledge and trust.  My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to find words of hope within the Psalms.  David and I became close friends. He could cry out and lament to God over his turmoil in one breath and confess his hope and faith in the very next breath.  David always went back to what he KNEW to be true even when he was hiding for his life. In a twisted irony He who allowed these things to invade my 2017 was the One who I had to turn to and lean on in order to survive them.  I have surely walked this year through the valley of shadows but Christ has been my comfort and His spirit has been my  lifeline when I had little sense or worth, purpose or direction.

I can now see some light as I enter 2018.  The demise of my marriage prompted me to write a book that has already made an impact in other couples’ marriages.  Claiming a promise of healing, my last check-up on my kidneys revealed the progression of the disease had halted for now-I am claiming a miracle.  The Christmas and holiday season which had left me with old familiar and painful memories of years past was spent with my children, all alive, healthy and well.  And my first gift, the announcement of a new grandchild’s arrival this coming Summer, brought tears of joy, the first in a long while.  My faith sustained me through an impossible year and I now see some sense of purpose and a restored reason to continue the race the Apostle Paul describes. I know I am not alone.  Many this year suffered tragic and heart-wrenching losses-death of spouses or loved ones, serious illnesses, broken relationships, unemployment and the list is long.  When you are shut in by the surrounding thickness of storm clouds it is challenging to see the sun or feel its warmth, but yet it remains.  I want to encourage-no, implore you to seek shelter in the hope and promises of God’s Word and the comfort of His Son, Jesus.  David understood it while hiding in caves-the Apostle Paul got it while singing songs in prison chains.  I’m no David or Paul, but I get it too.

May the hope, the comfort and the love of our Father bring you into a glorious, prosperous and healthy new 2018.  May His will and purpose be revealed in your spirit and inspire you to do great things this year!  May you find in Him the strength and courage to boldly face and navigate the storms that may pop up out of nowhere with full knowledge that the Son is always there!  Happy New Year!

There’s a Little Mary in All Of Us

Each Christmas I attempt to find something in Luke’s Christmas story that is meaningful and sometimes glossed over.  This year I am drawn to the verse in Luke 2:19 that reads “…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart“. I would guess that many who read this simply believe that Mary was content and peaceful with all that has happened, having reconciled it all and found it to be good.  I might suggest that is not at all what this passage means.

Ponder, from the Greek word ponderare means to weigh.  Defined it means to carefully consider, to examine, specifically, something that is not completely understood or determined.  Remember, the passage records that everyone around her was rejoicing over the good news, but Mary was pondering, contemplating, perhaps partly in personal reverence but also partially in great confusion.  Her first words upon hearing from the angel gives us a clue, when she replied, “why me?”  We refer to her as bless nd she is depicted as this Holy, saintly mother of God, when in fact she was a teenager at best, never married, never sexually active, and now the mother of someone being hailed as the Messiah.  I personally feel she pondered because she was perplexed and a bit less than confident.

How many of us actively seek God’s will or purpose in our lives but become confused at the events He causes or allows to invade our world?  Even for the rare few who can say they heard God’s voice, there is still trepidation when it comes to being obedient to something when we don’t fully understand the purpose or know where it will lead us.  When Mary was told by the angel that she would soon be pregnant, she must have pondered how Joseph and her family would receive her. When she and Joseph hear the words from Simeon that “a sword will pierce your soul too“, she must have pondered those words as well.  When she and Joseph had to flee to Egypt with full knowledge that all infants under the age of two years  were about to be slaughtered because of her son, she must have pondered these things.  When Mary witnessed the brutal beatings and stripes her son bore she must have been pondering.  When she wept at the foot of the cross she surly pondered all these things.  In fact she may have spent thirty-three years “pondering these things in her heart” until the time her son was resurrected from the grave and she finally understood!

I’m fifty-six year old and I ponder things and events all the time.  Why would God allow this event to shatter my world?  What purpose is there in going through this particular situation?  What can possibly be worked out for my good from this impossible situation? If we are to be honest, we all have seasons where just like Mary, we ponder these things.  And guess what?  It doesn’t upset or Father in the slightest that we have honest questions, so long as at the end of the day, like Mary, we have a servant’s heart and can honestly say, just as she did, “very well, let it be unto me just as you have spoken“.

This Christmas many are in an unfamiliar situation, missing loved ones, suffering diseases, enduring trials unknown to others, and may be pondering, weighing, contemplating things for which there are no apparent answers.  My prayer is that you find peace, hope, joy and love in the Christ Child we celebrate with full knowledge that His purpose in our lives is clear and perfect, even when we are left pondering.

To all my followers, let me say again how humbled I am that you read and subscribe to papaswords.com. I wish all of you, from the bottom of my heart, a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

book cover 3    my soul cries out  Available on Amazon Kindle.

 

Twas the night…

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through my pad

There was not much remaining of the life I once had

No stockings were hanging where they did once before

No holiday trimmings or wreath on the door

The only reminder that Christmas was soon

Were the tv commercials and some Christmas cartoons

The holiday tree, once my annual display

Was still packed in boxes tucked safely away

A candle or two with some holiday scent

A familiar aroma of what Christmas once meant

For most it’s a day filled with high expectation

Shared with family and friends in great celebration

While for others a haunting of those who are missing

It’s a day much like others, alone and just wishing

In moments of silence and thoughtful reflection

We relive Christmas Past from now faint recollection

A tragic mass shooting, diseases like cancer

We approach Christmas morning with more questions than answers

Where is the fairness in being left all alone

Could I have done something different if only I’d known

The heat and the passion I once felt from love’s fire

Now replaced by the chill of extinguished desire

But then a still voice softly whispers the reason

The purpose and meaning of each Christmas season

In the midst of the trials and the turmoil on earth

We pause to reflect on the night of Christ’s birth

He came for the lonely, the forgotten, the least

The God of creation now the Prince of our Peace

To comfort those mourning and to dry up their tears

With a promise of hope that removes all our fears

It’s but one special moment we pause to remember

But it goes far beyond just one night in December

He came as Messiah, the one perfect light

To chase away shadows on those dark lonely nights

To offer redemption to those who believe

Like he did for the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve

It’s a gift for regifting you won’t find at the mall

No need for a sale, offered freely to all

So for us left alone, the ones brokenhearted

Due to severed relations or the recent departed

Don’t be chained to the sorrows of Christmases Past

But find hope for the future and a peace that will last

In the birth of a child and a King’s coronation

Come and let us adore him, the God of creation

So the day that once seemed much too painful for some

Yields to child-like excitement when Christmas Day comes.

 

Merry Christmas from Papajoe, 2017

 

Finding Peace During a Stressful Christmas

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Christmas-it can be a most magical and reverent time of year, especially for believers who find the significance in the celebration. However, it can also be an overwhelming and depressing time of the year for many who feel alone maybe for the first time or are missing a special someone present just a few months earlier.

We are bombarded with all manner of media stimulus that implies the beauty of sharing the holidays with someone else, from commercials about giving them that special gift, to Hallmark holiday movies that always end with someone finding an unexpected love at Christmas, to even many of the modern songs we hear about love during the holidays.  We can’t escape the message that Christmas is for couples as well as for children.  It is easy to feel left out during the holidays if you are single or worse, recently widowed. You shun dinners or parties comprised mostly of couples and you tend to stay to yourself wandering through the weeks preceding alone with your thoughts, memories or in some cases, haunts of Christmases that now seem a long time ago.

These feelings are genuine and can not be easily discounted by those who do not understand, and yet they are a result of a false perspective or narrative on the true meaning of Christmas.  Santa, jewelry sales and romance movies aside, Christmas is about a commemoration of an event that changed forever the world, the incarnation, or the God becoming his own creation, the arrival of the Christ child.  Among other titles, he was heralded as the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile and restore us, to heal broken hearts, to give us worth and value and a full and fulfilling life.  In the midst of stress, chaos, depression, loneliness and feelings of worthlessness, He says “I give you my peace”. Peace is hard to accept often times because it is first, an intangible, and second, a deliberate decision.  It is difficult to choose peace when everything in your life feels wrong or off.  Feelings, though real are often false indicators of reality.  Feelings are real but thought processes and focus are often skewed.

2017 has been a tragic year that has left many families facing the holidays missing special people in their lives.  From the numerous mass shootings like the one here in Las Vegas on 1 October, to the unusually devastating hurricane and fire casualties, to the constant mortality of loved ones due to incurable diseases, to the trauma and aftermath of failed relationships, there will be many empty chairs around family tables this holiday season. It may sound ironic or contradictory to suggest that the season that seems to steal our peace is the same season in which we can best find our peace.  Trust me when I say I am struggling with that this year along with many of you.  For the first time in forty years I am going into Christmas without that special someone to share the season with-I know-me too!  But it is at this most Holy occasion that I am compelled to allow my intellect, that is my knowledge of the Christmas significance, to override my feelings of loneliness and to remind me why we celebrate and remember.  There would be no Easter, no sacrifice, no triumph over death and the grave, no forgiveness of sins if not for the Virgin birth that put into motion the divine plan that is our salvation.  When viewed and considered in those terms, there is nothing more meaningful or worthy of our focus than that Bethlehem birth and our reconciliation.

Yes, this will be a difficult if not different celebration for many this year missing those special people in their lives due to one event or another, but a reverent acknowledgment of the reason for the season is still possible if through your feelings of despair, you can see the star and follow your heart back to the holy nativity to be reminded that Christ came for you, for me and for all the broken people so that through the Prince of Peace we may be healed of all hurt, sorrow and discouragement.  It is a gift available to all.

Please remember that my new book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen is available through Kindle as an eBook or paperback and may make a great gift for someone in your family struggling with relationship issues.  I hope you will check it out.  Blessings as always!

book cover 3

 

Sex Begins in the Kitchen, new book

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I apologize to my followers for not posting for a while but I have been in the finishing stages of my new book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, A Marriage Manual for Men, available on Amazon Kindle as an eBook or paperback. I began writing it about 8 months ago after a painful failure.  My approach and objective in writing it was to help men recognize and avoid many common mistakes that can have negative or terminal consequences in their marriages before it’s too late.

The book is not all about sex, per se, but it is about intimacy and how everyday acts lend themselves to an intimate attitude that women need and expect from men. Men and women approach intimacy from very different perspectives.  Men tend to view it as an event.  Women however, see it as an attitude, a lifestyle.  For example, there is intimacy in compliments, manners, helping out, encouragement, listening, etc.  All these things and more are intimate ways of letting wives know they are always on our minds and in our hearts.  But sometimes men get complacent, especially after wedding vows are recited.  Some take the attitude that they rang the bell or knocked over the milk bottles at the carnival and won the big prize, so now they can take it home and put it on a shelf as a reminder of their achievement. Instead, we need to be winning that big prize every day.

This book covers many topics, such as continued dating, making the domestic life anything but boring, proper communication, effective fighting, those just-because tokens, overlooking the little things, allowing her to chase dreams, and several others.  In a nutshell, everything a man feels he needs in a relationship, women need as well.  I contend men and women aren’t from different planets, as some suggest, but maybe just different areas of the same planet. We are much more alike than different.  We most certainly both feel the pain of loss and failure when a relationship comes to an abrupt end, which was my motivation for writing Sex Begins in the Kitchen. I wanted to help men avoid the pain, the separation of families, the loneliness of non-involvement after a breakup and the helplessness and hauntings of constant regret.

While I may not have learned or perhaps applied what I already knew until it was too late, I wanted to help other men recognize the signs of trouble so they can be proactive in finding resolutions before they find themselves on the outside looking in.  They say hindsight is 20/20, and it’s true, but this book will help men see things as they occur so they can make provisions and correct things that are of concern to their wives.  It certainly takes two to make a marriage strong, but this book addresses the role of men and how they need to become vulnerable and humble in learning ways to keep their marriages in more of a honeymoon state than a boring, predictable, overly comfortable state that has dire consequences for both men and women.  There is a line in the book that says one shouldn’t be able to guess how long a couple has been married by their countenance or if they can’t keep their hands off each other, and I believe that can be true, but it is largely up to the men in the relationship to create the atmosphere and attitude of constant intimacy.

I truly hope you will read and recommend this book to others as the credible marriage repair tool it’s intended to be. For those who wish, there is also a Facebook page by the same name, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, for reviews and open discussion so we can work together to strengthen marriages and keep families together.  I would be humbled and honored to hear your reviews if you purchase this book.  Please know also that this is my second book. the first, My Soul Cries Out, is also available on Amazon Kindle.  Love and blessings!

The Eternal Consequences of Denial

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Fifty-eight young, healthy people planned on a fun-filled night of music and hanging with friends and family.  Just a few hours later fifty-eight people stepped unexpectedly into eternity. A man in his thirties sits down for a meal and chokes on some food with no one around and discovers his own eternity.  Just this morning five workers entered their workplace in Maryland as they always do.  A disgruntled former employee sent three of them into their eternity, leaving two closely behind.

We see and hear the stories so often it seldom warrants a second thought.  Another weekend in Chicago leaves ten people dead.  With the exception of mass tragedies like that here recently in Las Vegas, these sudden and premature deaths are back-page stories or a simple line item entry in the city stats notices.  And yet families are faced with each unexpected passing with the grim reality of eternity.  And many questions arise.

What lies beyond death has been the subject of scholars and philosophers for centuries as we wrestle with the unknown. Humanists will tell you that life is the here and now-you only live once, and when you die, you are merely an entry on a family tree.  Others profess a belief in a reincarnation, that all living organisms return to life after death in some alternative form to go through the whole process once more. Believers and followers of Christ have their hopes pinned to the holy scriptures and the promises of eternal fellowship with each other and in the pesence of Christ.  Who’s rght?  What proof has been or could ever be presented of what really lies beyond this earthly existence?

I could not imagine the hopelessness of living a life, knowing that however good or bad it is, it is in fact all there is and that death is it’s own finality. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letters to the church in Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

The one thing we know with certainty if we are but paying attention, is that none of us are guaranteed of tomorrow.  The probabilities of a young health person waking up tomorrow are high, but checck your local news outlets and witness how many people who were alive and vital yesterday are now in an eternal dimension through an unexpected passing. No one is protected from an act of evil, the path of another vehicle, an undetected medical episode or even a piece of food having deadly consequences.  This is in no way to be insensitive but rather to acknowledge the obvious-death is not just for the aged!

As it relates to our approach to living our lives, we really have but two aternatives.  Alternative #1 believes that this life is all there is and that there is no higher power or deity wating for us upon our last breath-live your best life, go for the gusto and deny yourself nothing.  Aternative #2 says that this life should belived to the fullest in full ackowledgment that we are to, in the process, love our neighbors and love our God and live in such a way that we are insuring our eternal destiny with the hope we live and believe.  So what consequence is there if #1 is correct and #2 is wrong?  Person #2 will have lived a life mindful of others and and will simply sleep to rise no more. But, what if person #1 is wrong? That person will have lived a life in denial of the very being he now stands before with no recourse and no “do-over”. In which scenario would you prefer to be wrong about eternity?

I am persuaded that life is more than what we experience on earth, and that time is only measured in the earthly realm and ceases to exist in eternity.  I believe St. Augustine said that eternity is the absence of time, and that nothing exists but a never-ending now. I have made so many wrong choices in my life that I would never dare to leave eternity up to my flawed thought processes.  I choose to believe in an eternal God and His written Word so that should the time come unexpectedly for me as it has for so many just this year, I am not caught in remorse over choosing the wrong alternative after life. And so should it be with you.

 

 

I Pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag…

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It’s a pledge many Christians have never cited or memorized:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to its Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands; One brotherhood, uniting all true Christians in service and in love.”

It’s a flag that represents not an earthly country with manmade borders but an eternal kingdom that will exist long after the earth and its kingdoms are destroyed.  It’s a flag that recognizes a people bound by a heavenly citizenship that isn’t subject to limitations, temporary visas or naturalization. It’s an emblem that is common to Americans, as well as Asians, Hispanics, Africans, blacks, whites, young and old with belief in Jesus Christ and brotherly love as its only criteria.  It is my flag and I love all it represents.

Yesterday was a shamefully divisive day among Christians and non-Christians alike as we witnessed a sport we all love and anticipate in the Fall of each year become a necessary platform as players and owners alike showed solidarity on some form of protest against not a country they hate, as some believe and wrongly accuse, but a country they love who in many documented cases, has not been fair in it’s distribution of equality and justice for all.  How I wish that any other platform had been chosen but football, but alas, here we are, millions of people being made aware of continued and systematic pockets of racial prejudice, yes even in 2017, and forced to acknowledge its evil exisstence. It is not something that all whites are guilty of, nor is it something all blacks are victims of, but if few are affected, all are. The chosen protest is a perceived lack of respect for a country and it’s flag, as well as all who fought for its freedoms.  To say it’s a touchy subject is a severe under-exaggeration. My opinion is not popular among many people.

The argument as to whether players are on company time as salaried employees will be left up to others to debate.  My concern is not over rights, but over where our true allegiance should lie as Christians.  I thank God daily that I was born into a country of rights and freedoms and I’m genuinely grateful to be born American.  But my birth was not by my choosing but only by God’s providence.  I could have just as easily been born in Nigeria or Afghanistan or Myanmar, point being I had nothing to do with my birth origin. I honor our flag and all those who fought so bravely to assure my freedom, many paying the highest cost of their lives-I aknowledge that. I participate whole-heartedly in July 4th activities and festivals celebrating our freedom and uniqueness and yes, greatness as a country.  But at the end of the day, or quite literally, at the end of days, I will exist as a Believer and one of the elect, not as an American or any other nationality.

God caused the seas to divide the land, according the the creation story in Genesis.  It is man, however, who divided, conquered, plundered in some cases, and ultimately created the borders used to define countries as we know them today, creating laws and limits as to who can cross, who can benefit, who can be referred to as its citizens and share in its freedoms. When God refers to nations it is usually a reference to a people of common origin, not a people defined by borders.  Jesus clearly pointed this out when he was asked about paying taxes in  a scheme to trick Him.  His answer, give to God what is God’s and to a government what is the government’s, is self-explanatory-one does not necessarily belong to the other. What and who belongs to God is not determined by borders or restrictions established by man.

So what is my response as a follower of Christ?  Holy scripture assures me I will be judged on how I loved and treated my fellow brother, ala sheep and goats. I will not be judged on how patriotic I was to a country that on Judgment day will not be in existence. I will be judged on whether I practiced true religion as defined in the New testament, not whether I stood or kneeled during a song about a country.  Did I speak out against injustices when I witnessed or was made aware of them? Did I treat my brothers according to the Golden Rule? Did I classify men by their skin color or Nationality?  Did I pray for my enemies and all those out of my reach who are daily persecuted for their faith, not their allegiance to a country?  Will I receive a robe of red, white and blue on that glorious day or a robe of pure white with neither spots or wrinkles?

There is nothing wrong with showing love and patriotism for the country you were destined to be born into.  But when patriotism becomes instead nationalism, an idol has been erected and a very defined scriptural line has been crossed. Philipians is clear that Christian brothers and sisters are aliens to this world and no longer its citizens, but citizens of a heavenly kingdom anticipating the return of our supreme commander-in-chief, Christ. With that in mind, as much as one may love their country, the kingdom of God and it’s mandated treatment of its people, along with awareness and assistance for all those who are hungry, hurting, homeless, orphaned and widowed, i.e. true religion, “Trump’s” all other allegiances.  While it is possible to be both patriotic and Christian, as soon as one contradicts the other, Christianity must rule as absolute law.  We who are treated unjustly or are made aware of and stand, or kneel with others of our brothers who are, are not “sons of bitches”, but sons of God. We need to be sure the flag of Christ flies above the flag of country in our hearts and in our actions. Beleivers truly have no alternative response but that of Christ’s own words, love God and love others over yourselves.

I’m proud to be American, but I’m humbled, grateful and blessed to be Christian.  I will honor our national anthem, but I will shed tears of privilege with my fce to the ground over Amazing Grace, my eternal anthem.  Love and peace to my readers.

Storm Surge-the Lingering Aftermath

Today many residents in the state of Florida will begin to make their way back to homes they evacuated due to Hurricane Irma to assess the damages while many others are still dealing with the destruction left behind by Hurricane Harvey.  These were both described as historic storms of epic proportion and as a result many lives will be forever impacted.  In words of advice, newscasters, government officials and emergency responders all echoed similar warnings that went something like this-don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the winds have calmed and the torrential rains have ceased, that the storm is over or that it is safe to come out, because the worst may be yet to come in the way of flooding and storm surge. Although delivered as a message pertaining to a weather event, the profound warning is a life lesson that for many, hits close to home.

Many who survive these storms return to what they knew as their life only to find that everything they know has been lost.  Some homes were washed away and others, though still standing, left inhabitable due to the effects of the wind, the rains and the storm surge that washed away what little the storms had left behind. Tough choices have to be made-do we try to rebuild where are former home once stood-do we move on to a different location we aren’t familiar with-do we just sit in the water and lament the tragic losses with little motivation to move on?  The parrallels to life are too great to ignore.

In this world we will all face life-changing storms of epic proportions. We may be allowed to suffer the unexpected loss of loved ones or children, we may be facing life-altering diseases, we may be reeling from divorce, we may have lost much of our mobility through injuries resulting in paralysis or strokes that left part of our body unresponsive.  Whatever storms we face there is almost certainly a storm surge that follows that is just as damaging or more so than the storm itself.  A breast cancer survivor may be forced to deal with the scars of a life-saving mastectomy.  Graduations and weddings are parrticularly painful for parents who lost children before they ever reached the age when they could experience these things. Divorcees are left wondering what went wrong when faced with  the realization that their former lives and family structure are forever changed and they are left on the outside looking in.

It may be one of the hardest lessons to learn, but somehow, God speaks to us through the storm, if we are desperate enough to listen.  In Job 38, after Job had lost everything, scripture says “…and God spoke to Job from the storm”. There may be little solace in knowing this, but sometimes it is all we have to hold on to when life as we know it changes drastically and permanently. Those who have survived Harvey and Irma never asked for their resolve to be tested by hurricanes-I’m quite certain that if you were to poll them they would say their lives were pretty good and these storms were unsolicited. We don’t get to pick and choose our battles.  No one welcomes death-no one wants to face cancer or other crippling diseases-no one wants a failed relationship, but like the hurricane survivors, we must realistically weigh our options and determine the best path forward as opposed to sitting in the rubble of shattered lives and broken dreams.

It is only by the unlimited grace of God that we are compelled to move forward, one day at a time, mindful of the evidence of the storm’s aftermath but with a resolve to rise from the rubble strong, proven and better built for future climatic events.  Storm victims will have many resource available to them from charities, goverment agencies, insurance policies and the likes.  We may not have similar infrastructures available for our recovery, but having God, even at times when He can’ be seen or heard through the wind and the rain, is all the aid we could ever need and a source that is never depleted due to previous tolls and storms. It is a lesson that, after all these years, I still need to be remonded of daily in my own rebuilding process.

Our most sincere prayers will be with the victims of all the natural disasters of recent weeks, the hurricanes, the fires and the eathquakes.  And we also pray for comfort and peace for those dealing with their own personal storms.  May the God of the wind and rain who walks upon the storm surge hold you in His powerful and unshakable hands and bring you peace.

“…In Good Times and in Bad”

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Today’s blog is lovingly dedicated to a special couple as they enter into a life of matrimony in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The intended couple may never read these words, but this would be my sentiment and advice if they did.

As we enter the Fall wedding season many couples will choose to marry their partners or soul mates in ceremonies as simple as a backyard wedding or as grand as a private island with all the trimmings money can buy. Regardless of the size of the party attending or the price shelled out for the event, it is likely some sort of vows will be exchanged during the ceremony, especially if the marriage is religious in nature and performed by clergy.  A vow is a solemn oath or promise made declaring your commitment to remain faithful and at all times to be “all in” the relationship.  Some couples will choose to write their own vows while others will exchange the more common traditional vows.  But as people evolve during the course of their life, and all of us do to some extent,  those vows often become difficult to honor, especially in a world where lifelong commitment common to our parents generation have become somewhat relevant to more progressive ways of thinking.  So here is my humble advice to safeguard your marriage against the forces that would fight to it’s demise.

First, a wise Proverb cites that we should love the wife of our youth.  The gem of advise is priceless as it encourages us to at all times, and in all situations, good and bad,  remember the qualities that compelled us to enter into this marital commitment to begin with.  Our bodies age and we quickly lose our youthful attitude and appearace, but the mind is sharp and fully capable of recalling things like the first kiss, the first dance, that first flirting glance and the first “I love you”.  Like photos in an album, these mental images and recollections will serve as a constant reminder of the reasons you fell for, became engaged to and eventually married this special person.  Use these images at all times to strengthen your relationship when times and waters become troubled.

Second, always see you mate with a wide-angled lens.  If I were sitting on the beach of Oahu but had a telescope focused on a dead palm tree at the base of Mt. Mauna Kea or a dead fish floating on the surface of Hamana Bay, I might ask myself what why all the fuss over such a dead island.  But yet sometimes in a long relationship that same wide-angled lens is often exchanged for a 10 power telescope and instead of seeing a person for all they are and including all their traits as a whole, one simply focuses in on the dead wood, the floating fish, losing sight of all else so that their mate is suddenly defined by the limited view within their magnified sights.  When this happens and is not quickly caught, a terminal cancer takes hold and the usual result is not good.  Never lose sight of your mate as the whole and beautiful person you first fell for and be quick to overlook faults when the tendency is to magnify them.

The third piece of advice would be to make every ocassion a memory.  Life can’t always be comprised of festive parties or grand vacations.  A marriage is made of days with a cold, nights too tired to venture out and sometime limited options due to limited funds.  The magic happens when a night on the sofa watching a favorite movie brings as much contentment as an all-night club-hopping adventure, or times when a walk in a nearby park can do when a walk on the beach is not possible.  These little moments are the first things that a person recalls when life suddenly and cruely takes one of them-the simple dinners at home, the family events for no real reason, the cuddling at the end of a long day with agenda thn just to be present.  These “little” things are the big things that make a marriage and fill in all the gaps of a fulfilled life together.  Take none of them for granted because once gone, they can not be recaptured.

And lastly, throw away the old marital playbook that suggests that marriage is a 50/50 proposition.  What foolishness!  If you want a succesful and long-lasting marriage, be 100% All In.  If truly in love, deeds and sentiments won’t be exchanged expecting something in return.  Love is expressed just because!  You are compelled to show your affections because it is now instinctive to everything in your nature to do so because of this special person in your life. Give them your all.  From the Message translation of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter;

Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than self. Love doesn’t demand what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut orhave a big head. Love isn’t “me first”. Love doesn’t keep track of wrong doings. Love puts up with anything.

At all times continually ask God to show you how to love your spouse.  Do everything within yyour power and capbility to water, to fertilize and to protect your marriage from any and all forces that would oppose it. Don’t wait for symptoms before considering treatment options when the relationship shows sign of illness but be proactive in diagnosing and administering the proper remedy to assure complete restoration and health.  The alternative is not pretty.  God bless all couples embarking on what is still a grand institution.

 

Navigating Life’s Devastating Losses

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The date was April 14, 1994.  I had only been at the office for about an hour when I received a call from a neighbor.  “You need to come home quickly. Your residence is on fire!”  We jumped in the car and sped home to asses the situation.  We couldn’t get close because of the number of fire engines on the scene.  We got out of the car and ran toward what was once our home.  I was devastated to see that there was nothing left but smoldering timbers and a burnt out shell.  We were left with nothing except the clothes we were wearing.

I’ll never forget the feeling of loss when the fire crews escorted us back to the scene to see if there was anything we could salvage under their close supervision for our safety. “Things”, as people suggest, can be replaced. But photos of the kids in various stages of their lives, parties, family heirlooms passed down, one-of-a-kind keepsakes-all gone in an instant. Thirty five years of history and collections reduced to ashes.  Grateful to be alive, of course, but the loss was real and the mourning genuine.

This week as we witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that is still wreaking havoc, my heart goes out to the victims because I know exactly how they feel and the challenges they face financially and emotionally as they begin the slow process of rebuilding. Some of these victims were already displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  It does my heart good to see how the Texas community has already come together to offer shelter, aide and whatever assistance is necessary to assure the best possible outcome to the neighbors they have never before met.  In a world of social media wars and disingenuous outrage over issues of little significance in comparison, the things that matter most quickly rise to the surface when such tragedies occur. Our thoughts and prayers will be for the people of South Texas as they begin the rebuilding process.

However, burnt timbers and flooded homes are not the only signs of a devastating loss.  For some, life may have seemed to be going fairly smooth when suddenly everything they held dear was stripped away and they are left sitting in a pile of rubble no less devastating as the aftermath of a powerful natural disaster. Through the death of loved ones, broken relationships, divorce and other emotional tragedies, one can find themselves sifting through the rubble trying to find anything they can salvage from life as they knew it.  The stress and psychological effect can be paralyzing, the will to move on temporarily nonexistent and the realization of the losses traumatic.

I would offer up that it may in fact be easier to replace shelter and bedding and clothing than it is to replace the overwhelming loss of the infrastructure that makes up one’s life and the broken hearts that are left with no real consolation. Time may heal all wounds, but how much time is always the question, as is the real level of recovery expected. It is in these times of loss that God’s grace is the only remedy and hope one can cling to without being disappointed or let down. God is close to the brokenhearted and collects our tears as His gems.  Only those who have suffered the loss of everything they own can fully relate to the sense of loss others in similar situations experience.  And only those who have lost all they hold precious and dear can fully appreciate the feeling of hopelessness as they somehow try to muster the strength and courage to regroup, rebuild and recover.

The best source of hope we all have in dire circumstances can be found in scripture.  They may for some ring a bit hollow at first, but through repetition and eventual adaptation, they become our strength:

From Job 5, “He sets on high all who are lowly and lifts those who mourn to safety”

From Isaiah 41, “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed for I am still your God. I will strengthen and help you and hold you in the palm of my mighty right hand”

From Matthew 11, “Come to me, all of you who are weary with heavy burdens (and broken hearts), and I will give you relief.”

However devastating our losses may be, whether material or emotional, our Father is not oblivious.  There is noting hidden from His view, nothing that catches Him off guard and nothing too big for Him to resolve.  I tell myself this everyday-I have to.  May it be so for you as well.

 

“Finally, All of You, Live in Harmony…”

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When you combine three or more specific but unique root notes on the musical scale they create a very pleasant sounding single harmonic chord. These chords are then arranged or scored and the result is a beautiful piece of music-Harmony.  Some of the greatest bands of all time are known for their incomparable harmonies-The Bee Gees, Boys to Men, The Eagles, The Stylistics, Acapella and yes, even Abba! Harmony is a beautiful thing when aspired to and achieved.  It can also be extremely painful even to the untrained ear when one of the notes is not in tune with the others!

As followers of Christ we are exhorted through scripture to live at peace with each other, in harmony with our Christian siblings and with the world at large so that nothing evil can be said of us and so that the name of Christ is not tarnished. Sadly, this is not always the case.  As I observe the recent riots centered around hate groups and the resulting violent counter protests in Charlottesville, the controversy over the NFL, the extreme left and right rallies wherever the POTUS is appearing, the obvious agenda of media coverage to create false barriers and all the consequential replies and posts on social media, which has made experts of us all in each and every subject, I am left wondering why we have allowed our Christian mandates to be hijacked by emotional responses that cause betrayal and division. When differences of opinion, strategy or approach result in labeling, bashing or overly heated exchanges aired on social media like yesterday’s dirty laundry, we are not only betraying each other but our Lord whose name we sometimes falsely bear.

The title above is taken from 1 Peter 3. This is what it says in full context:

 “Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing”.

The circumstances of this particular letter is extremely relevant to what is going on in our world today.  The author of the letter is the Apostle Peter, believed to have been written while he was Bishop of Antioch.  It was addressed to various churches, Christ-followers in Asia Minor who were enduring religious persecution for their faith by those opposed to the church and its teachings, much like what we are seeing today.  The difference, however, and it’s a biggie, is that the church was not at odds against itself but wholly united for the cause of Christ.  But many in the church today are being wounded by friendly fire from within the brotherhood. Those wounds are profoundly deep and take much longer to heal and recover from.

In an effort to avoid any contribution on my part to the divisions seen in the Body, I decided to refrain from politically partisan posts or comments.  And yet, try as I might, I am sometimes compelled to add my two cents worth of wisdom since I too have become a social media expert, only to be quickly reminded why I swore off such participation.  Wee can’t all be alike, thank God, and we will each have different perspectives on certain issues based on our upbringing, our environment and our own personal experiences and history.  But the vigor with which we sometimes respond and the emotional hijacking of our character whenever those differences are made known, offers little resemblance to the passage above from 1 Peter. The words harmony, sympathetic, compassionate and humble, should be our guiding compass if we are compelled to jump into the fray of a particular cause or injustice.  But we can’t be harmonious if we are all off key, we can’t be sympathetic if we refuse to consider opposing views, we can’t show compassion if we’ve left grace and mercy behind, and we most certainly cannot be humble if we are hell bent on winning an argument and being seen as “right”.

The ideal of a perpetual state of peace may only exist in old Beatles songs, but the daily commands left for us in scripture can not and should not be so easily tossed to the side jut because we feel compelled to take up the banner for some issue that hits close to home. Yes, scriptures also tell us to combat injustice whenever we see it, bit is also tells us how that should be accomplished and seen. However when we crank up our volume to match the intensity of the worldly volume, we lose all credibility and can do more harm than good.  There will be a day for all Christian believers when the differences we so vigorously exaggerated just for the sake of a Hatfield-McCoy like feud will be of no consequence or recollection as finally we achieve harmony and one accord around the Great Throne and the mandates of Holy scripture are finally fulfilled in a peaceful eternal Kingdom.  Would that it would begin here with the time we have left on Earth.

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

Saturation-The Myth of Chasing God

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Lately I’ve been on somewhat of a campaign against some questionable teaching and doctrine.  There are catch phrases and clichés we use in the religious vernacular without giving it much thought-I’m guilty too.  One of those is the concept of the believer chasing after God, as if they have somehow drifted away.  Is it really possible for an engaged believer to move away from God?

It doesn’t matter how long you have walked in the faith-there will be times when you doubt God’s presence, when you sense abandonment and are tricked into believing God has left you on your own.  Trust me when I say I know how easy it is to feel this way when everything you thought was solid suddenly crumbles under your feet and you are left wondering what the hell just happened.  Many are the times that God’s silence in the middle of severe testing is misinterpreted as God’s departure, and that is not sound Biblical teaching.  We are compelled to accept our feelings and emotions as reality and the only departure is that of our way of thinking in light of God’s Word.

First, believer and follower or not, God is omnipresent.  He is everywhere, all the time and at the same time, like the oxygen in our atmosphere.  He saturates everything.  This implies that He is also in us, through us and around us always.  I used in my title the word saturation. It is the perfect term relative to God’s existence in and around His children.  Saturation literally means to be in a state or process when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with or in any other way added to!  What a great concept of God! If I were to use the sponge as an illustration, it would go like this.  I can take a dry sponge and drop it into a sea of water.  It will float on the surface for a time until it slowly begins to absorb water.  The dry sponge would be the one seeking God but not yet committed.  As the seeker begins to accept His grace and reality he slowly absorbs the truth and the saturating essence of God until at the point of total acceptance, he is fully saturated and sinks to the depths of God’s goodness.  He is full of water.  He can come under attack by any one of the sea’s natural predators and believe he is no longer wet or that God has left him but his perception doesn’t change the reality-he is saturated by a God who doesn’t leave or separate from us when we are feeling otherwise.

Consider these irrevocable promises recorded for our encouragement for those times when we question God’s presence;

Psalm 139:7-12 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea…

Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Matthew 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Popular recording artists The Newsboys recorded a song entitled Wherever We Go, and talks about God always going with them.  I like the line, “Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at”.  When it comes to our way of thinking about the impossibility of escaping or running out of God’s presence, it is much more sound doctrine than you could ever imagine!

 

 

 

Our Amazing Race

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There is a popular reality show on television called The Amazing Race.  The objective is easy enough, be the first team to reach the destination and win the prize.  The race is broken down into segments or legs.  Upon completion of a leg the team is presented with a clue as to the next pit stop destination.  The teams are given credit cards to use to purchase travel, and a stipend for food and other necessities along the way.  So ultimately, each participant knows where the next stop is and is given everything necessary to reach their destination.

But…what if the rules were different?  What if the teams were asked to travel a road but they didn’t know where it was leading?  And what if they determined they must be at a pit stop but there were no clues given as to the next destination?  How would the game change if they knew they were in a race but had no idea where the finish line was let alone how to get there?  It wouldn’t make for good TV, that much is certain.  And yet many times as believers in Christ, we are called into similar situations, finding ourselves on a road we aren’t familiar with, one that leads to a place unknown.

Our amazing race is often times more of an obstacle course full of hazards and pitfalls we don’t see coming.  We are put on a path we didn’t choose and have no other option but to stay on the path even in the midst of falling trees, sinkholes, quick sand and venomous creatures.  We may believe we have sure footing and are running at an even pace when suddenly a gust of wind knocks us off our feet and we end up on our backs looking up and wondering what just hit us.  Illness, unemployment, divorce, crime, accidents…our hazards.  They can cause even the most devout Christian to ask why.  David asked God why many times in the Psalms.  “If you appointed me king why am I hiding in a cave?” If I am chosen why am I running for my life?”  “Why have you abandoned me? When will you come to my rescue?”  A man after God’s own heart, asked Him “why” many times.

If you’ve ever been in a nasty storm or blizzard where visibility was zero and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, you will be able to relate to being in the midst of trials so severe you can’t see God in it.  And yet we are compelled to rely on our belief that He is ever-present even when we can’t find Him, even when we can’t determine purpose or direction, even when He leaves us no clues as to the intended outcome. Sometimes we can’t see the path that lies before us-we can only see the next step.  We are told in Psalm 119 that the Word of God is a “Lamp for our feet, a light for our path“, even if only the next few steps are illuminated. We are also given this bit of hope, a rock solid promise and clue, if you will, from Proverbs 3, my translation:

Trust in the Lord with all you have left and don’t try to figure out His purpose with your human mind.  In everything you say and do continue to confess Him as Sovereign Lord and He will give you a path you can navigate.”

Grace for the race, enough light for the next step-sometimes that’s all we’re given.  All we can know for sure is that someone has already run this race for us, long before we came along, and we know it can be navigated and it has an eventual destination.  Peace and blessings.

 

 

 

Cup Runneth Over or Leaking Out the Bottom?

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Can we put aside the Christian facades and be real for a minute?  Believers are expected to live out their lives with a smile pasted on their face as if oblivious to all that’s happening around them, “counting it all joy when facing trials of every nature” as if numb to pain like mindless zombies on Quaalude. But for every believer who truly lives like this, with a cup that runneth over, there’s a believer whose glass is always half empty because of the leaks in it, some due to bad choices but often times due to no real fault of their own.  And try as they might to fix the leaks and minimize the loss, they only encounter additional leaks, like a bad cartoon character using gum to stop a leak in a dam but running out of gum before running out of leaks.

It is hard to not be distracted by the reality of our circumstances. Even the Apostle Peter, whose faith was such that he was the only person to ever walk on water besides Jesus, could not help but notice the waves licking at his feet and the darkness of the watery depth that endangered him to the point of temporarily losing his religion.  This same Peter, the Rock, crumbled in fear when asked if he was one of the disciples of Jesus, to the point of denying all knowledge of Him to save his own skin. Thomas, referred to by some as the doubting Saint, was a man like Peter who lived life for three years in the footsteps of Jesus, heard His messages first hand, witnessed His miracles and sat in on the intimate lessons Jesus taught His disciples.  But when faced with the physical evidence of torture and death that his eyes could not deny, Thomas doubted that Jesus could really do what He claimed He would, and had to be shown physical evidence that in fact Jesus did exactly what He said.  I don’t know about you but I can freely admit I am no Peter or Thomas.  And so the cup leaks.

I am not convinced that God is impressed with our brave fronts or the smiley masks we hide behind when faced with unwanted changes or calamity. In fact it reads in Psalm 34 that “God is close to the broken hearted”. We can sing and proclaim all we want “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering..” on the outside but there are those times when our spirit fails us, when our drive and passion wane, and just uttering the name “Jesus” is a challenge.

Leaks come in many manifestations-physical illness, unemployment, failed businesses, unwanted divorce, criminal victimization, and those unmentioned “testing of our faith” that all of us need but none of us want. The outward evidence of the Apostle Paul’s faith is recorded-he healed the sick and raised the dead just as Jesus did!  But the inward evidence of his faith told another story.  He had physical ailments that he was never healed of and endured them until his death only by God’s grace.  Ah, and in my Shakespearean voice, there’s the rub.

Those things that God allows into our lives to test us can only be endured by a measure of grace that He gives at the same time.  In a very twisted sense, it’s tantamount to saying I’m going to cut up your arm but I’m leaving you with a year’s supply of bandages and Neosporin so you can treat the wound until it heals. In that light it sounds a bit cruel and not very God-like.  But these lessons have a purpose in bringing out a level of maturity and stability that can only come from a continual determination to keep getting up when you keep getting knocked down. That said, if I were to be completely honest, I sometimes wish God would just grant me a passing grade instead of driving me to acing the test. But that’s not my call.  Apparently He sees things in each of us that when refined, can be useful for His purpose, one we may or may not ever fully know.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a single sincere prayer could stop a leak like flex-tape, that whatever comes our way we could just say the magic prayer, quote the scripture du jour of the day and sprinkle a little faith so we could have fuller cups?  But and alas, God doesn’t work like that.  He sent His own Son into the desert for 40 days for a 3 year ministry.  Do the math-we will have trials of every kind!  But as Paul learned, God’s grace is truly sufficient.  It is the only leak stopper at our disposal and has been proven effective in studies for over two thousand years now. So if your cup truly runneth over, please say a prayer for us who have sprung leaks until such time as we can all be sopping wet and giddy from all the over-flowing spills from our respective cups of blessing.  Peace.

my soul cries out

 

Making Your Way Through a Blackout

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Today I ventured out to a popular mall on the Las Vegas Strip.  Upon my ascent up the escalator to the main entry hall I was met by a lady who seemed frantic as she explained to me that there was no power anywhere in the mall.  I tried to assure her that these sometime occur here and not to worry as I maneuvered into the main corridor.  Well, she was right.  There were no lights, the restaurants stopped all service, the stores had the roll cages pulled down for security and you would think we were there after hours by mistake.

I couldn’t help but notice the people seemingly lost.  Some paced back and forth nervously, others just sat quietly in the darkness and still others had their noses pressed against the store front windows as if they might see something if they looked intently enough. For a bunch of tourists on vacation, it was a very somber mood, almost like a zombie apocalypse movie.

Rather than sit with them I decided to walk the halls just to keep moving.  There was a heavy security presence at every turn guarding stores and merchandise. The fountains were silent as I rounded another corner but still I walked.  And then, a store with power, and another followed by others.  Turning another corner it was clear that this part of the mall had power and was fully functioning with food being served and cashiers ringing up sales.  Only half of the mall was without power but I would have never discovered that had I simply sat in the darkness with the others.  And all those who sat there this afternoon may be under the impression that the whole mall was dark because they never ventured out to discover otherwise.

That’s a bit the story of my life this past year.  Many of the things that brought light into my world have been removed leaving the feeling of navigating through darkness.  Perhaps you are reading this and can relate.  And like those people in the mall the tendency is to just sit and wait out the darkness or to feel helpless that there are no source of light anywhere within your immediate view. I can freely admit that at times I stopped moving and just stood there wondering what’s next, do I keep moving or just fade into the background.  When you are exposed to prolonged darkness it becomes a familiar place if not a familiar friend, almost comforting if that makes any sense.

But with time you learn that your surroundings or circumstances may never change, and your only recourse is to change your location, that is keep moving.  A popular Psalm says “even when I walk through the valley of shadows…”.  Its a journey that compels us forward even when we sense little direction, motivation or benefit for doing so.  And it’s a path that we truly never travel alone even though the isolation is at times overwhelming.

I’m so glad I kept walking through the dark halls of that mall today to the well-lit portion full of lively people enjoying their day.  It was one of those “a-ha” moments, a real life lesson.

A Tribute to All Mothers

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Try if you will to list all the positive virtues of the human experience and you might come up with things like love, compassion, gentleness, grace, support, protection, encouragement, guidance, et al. Or, you could simply sum up these virtues in one single word and title, Mother!

Each year about this time we are given an opportunity to shower our moms with love and praise for all they mean to us on a daily basis. For some it’s a time to remember those special ladies who are no longer in our presence but forever in our hearts. There is no task or duty so noble or revered as being a mother.  It is only fitting that they receive a day designated just for them.

Some still believe Hallmark created the modern Mother’s Day for commercial purposes, but in fact the practice goes back a bit further than Hallmark.  You can actually trace days honoring mothers all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome  who held festivals dedicated to the goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but more contemporary celebrations go back to Mothering Sunday, a European tradition when it was common to return to your mother church for a special service.  In 1914 the holiday made its way to the American soil and became an officially recognized holiday for all mothers.

Truth be told, whether a day, a year or a lifetime, there is no real way or designated period of time sufficient to adequately thank our mothers for all they do, all they are and the important role they play in our lives. From the very first time our newborn eyes are able to focus the first face we see, the first love we feel, the first life-giving nourishment we receive, is that of our mother, and that bond that was formed long before birth remains for most until it is severed by death, only to be rekindled as we share it and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

The role of stay-at-home mothers has taken a beating in contemporary times.  Feminism ushered in an age where motherhood and being a housewife was viewed as an inferior position compared to having a career and competing with men in the workplace. Moms were made to feel lowly or like under achievers because they didn’t take the lead from their modern counterparts to climb the ladder of success.  In some ways that stigma still exists today.  It’s not uncommon to hear a mom say “oh, I’m just a stay-at-home mom”, almost apologetically as if it were anything less than noble. I feel bad for every mother who is made to feel like she’s wasting her time raising kids and not adding to the family income.  How dare anyone speak down to a full-time mother in any way that belittles her noble vocation or disregards the contributions to our lives that only she can make! Some have attempted to put a price on the domestic services she provides if hired out to professionals, but there is no known way to calculate the value of the lifetime love and care we receive from our mothers or the investment she makes in the success of her children.  It goes far beyond a paycheck!

I am here because of a stay-at-home mom. All of us are beneficiaries of motherly investments of time, love and a ton of energy.  The blessed among us can boast of more than one mother figure in our lives, whether mothers-in-law, church or spiritual moms or the moms of our best friends who adopted us whenever we were around.  Proverbs 31 says that a mother’s children rise up and call her blessed and for good reason, but in fact it’s the mother’s children who are truly blessed!

As a man who still has a loving earthly mother but who lost his last grandparent, my grandmother over twenty two years ago, I implore you to take full advantage of any opportunity to let your special moms know how much they mean to you.  Don’t send her a text-send them a card flowers or pick up the phone.  And if you are in close proximity, make every effort to visit with them while those moments still exist.

To mothers everywhere, Thank you-you are loved and cherished, not only on a day in May but for a lifetime!  God Bless you all for that which we can never repay!

 

my soul cries out

One is the Loneliest Number…

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When God created Adam and placed him in paradise, He is recorded as saying that it was not a good thing for man to be alone.  Up until that 6th day everything He had created, He called Good. Loneliness was the very first thing God labeled as Not so good.  This was not an oversight on God’s part, or heaven forbid a divine epiphany-we’re talking about God here.  It was always the plant to create a mate for Adam to share life with, and for the most part it has remained thus through the ages. Maybe God knew that Adam needed someone to press his fig leaves or dress the wild catch of the day for dinner.  Or perhaps, He simply knew that human connection was an integral part of the grand design.

We live in a society of lonely people.  They are all around us in plain sight yet hidden from us.  They may hide behind smiles and activity, bar-hopping, social media and yes, even church involvement.  But truth be known at the end of the day these go home to a cold and lonely dwelling where the only voices are heard over their airwaves of the television.  Because of the stigma of admitting loneliness, especially among men, they choose to remain silent and battle solitude while those closest to them are completely unaware.  Loneliness is a major factor in depression.  Feelings of irrelevance, isolation, despair, worthlessness-all symptoms and results of one who suddenly finds themselves alone.

Many in bad relationships long for the day they could have total freedom without answering to anyone-the ultimate bachelor.  But even those who relish the thought and through unexpected circumstances get their wish, find that the novelty wears off when they go to bed night after night by themselves and wake to mornings the same way.  It can be a vicious cycle and get old very quickly.

I find it ironic that in an age of social media where people are connecting with friends they haven’t seen in years, social media plays such a large role in loneliness.  Even with FaceTime and Skype, personal interaction is becoming a lost art.  Business calls are replaced with emails.  Sales meetings have been replaced with much cheaper video conferences.  Even dating clubs for singles have fallen to sites like Match, Christian Mingle or OurTime.  Land lines are now obsolete-greeting cards requiring thought and postage are slowly being phased out by e-cards. I even have to check  my own groceries at most stores where clerks are now computer kiosks. And dare I even suggest that church attendance is now a choice of getting up and going to a gathering place or watching a live stream from the convenience of your own living room. We are being systematically screwed by a technical age that is turning us all into mindless loners with no social skills or personal interaction.  I may have introverted tendencies but being alone is not my preferred way to live life.

Right about here is where I would normally list scriptures that give us hope and encouragement for the topic of the post, and with this topic there is certainly much the Bible has to offer. But sometimes a Bible verse is not the best remedy.  Yes, I know, Amy Grant caught hell for saying that back in the day, but she was right.  Even the Word asks us what good it does to tell a person to be well without meeting their need.  I must have ten different versions of Bibles at my disposal but the human element is not present.

When I was younger the news of a house fire had little impact on me.  However in 1994 I learned first hand the meaning of empathy when I lost everything in a fire.  Now when I see news of a fire my heart goes out because I’ve been there.  If you’ve ever been alone you know how others feel, the despondency and everything associated with isolation. It is through empathy that we connect and offer healing to those who travel where our feet have been previously.  You don’t have to look far to find lonely people-bars, nursing homes, orphanages, even Facebook. A visit, a beer, a baseball game, a phone call goes a long way in helping others who would otherwise have little or no connection to a real person.  Yes, in Christ we have “a friend who sticks closer to us than a brother“, but flesh and bones are preferred. Ask God to allow you to see others as He does so that you can be aware of those you can help.

my soul cries out

The High Price Paid for our Worthlessness

We have entered Holy Week, those days approaching our Easter or Pascha remembrance and celebration of the events that have become the foundation of our faith and belief in Christ.  It is a somber time of reflection as we recall the written words depicting as best as mere words can the horror and excruciating pain suffered by our Lord on our behalf for the remediation of a sinful world. Even Hollywood with its special effects could never accurately capture in film the physical brutality of a suffering Christ.

It is so easy in this life with its trials and disappointments to lose sight of not only the heavy price paid, but the reason Christ endured our just punishment. Life sometimes is simply not fair, at least as we view fairness.  We work hard but are still laid off or our position eliminated, we take care of our bodies but still receive the negative medical report, we give it our best but our relationships still end.  The normal human response is to measure the obvious against the given standards of success and feel a sense of worthlessness as we recall a trail of failures. I know because I do this constantly.  Do I measure up?  Am I leaving anything of worth behind in my wake? Are people who come in contact with me left better or worse for the encounter?  While self-examination can be a motivating tool, it can also cause great harm if our measurements aren’t true because of corrupt criteria.  And to continue in our false sense of worthlessness is to completely diminish the work done by Christ on the cross on our behalf.  And therein lies the error of this line of thought process.

It is in these times that we are compelled to recall those verses we have all heard and grown up with but failed to apply on personal levels. This is what Holy Scripture has to say about our worth and value in God’s eyes:

Matthew 10:29; Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them fall to the ground without the Father seeing it? But even the hairs of your head are numbered! You are of more value than many sparrows.

Isaiah 49:15; Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she would have no compassion for him? Yet these may forget but I will not forget you. See, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands-you are continually on my mind.

We are a people of emotional responses and triggers; we love passionately; we grieve over painful losses; we fear uncertain situations. But the journey of faith can be easily hijacked by our emotions.  In times of despair when all seems hopeless we have to hold fast to our knowledge of the written Word as our plumb line and not the false indicators of human response. We may or may not be moved by the verses above and others like them when we are at our lowest, but we have to hold them to be irrevocable truths that emotions can’t alter.

Our Lord would not have endured the cross for losers, failures, those deemed worthless.  In fact the opposite is true.  It was us who need hope, who need forgiveness and restoration that He is most compassionate toward and He proved it on that Good Friday as the world and all creation went dark while He took His last breath and temporarily surrendered to death. And it was all for love, a love we could never comprehend, and certainly never merit. Again, reflect of these undeniable truths:

Romans 8:35; Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 4:9; In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Ephesians 2:44; But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ.

The death of Christ once and forever tore and removed the veil that separated sinful man from a Holy perfect God in that we are now made perfect having our sin removed from us as far as the East is from the West, and we are encouraged to boldly approach a God as His children and siblings of his Holy Son.  There is nothing we could ever achieve on earth, no title given, no award of prestige we could ever claim that has more value than being referred to as Children of God. While this designation should be grasped with humility and reverence, it should never be tarnished by the deceit of human feelings during trying times. He Who knew us before we were born died a horrible death so that we could be forever united with Him in a kingdom yet to come. He would not have done so had he shared the same appraisal of us that we accept as true.

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my soul cries out

Job’s Story: Restored But Scarred

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I am convinced that the unknown author of the Biblical book of Job simply got the name wrong; surely it’s the Book of Joe. The similarities are to striking to be coincidental, the lessons taught touching nerves that cause us to wince.  Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe it should be the Book of Steve or the Book of Cathy because you know too well the pain of living from one calamity to another, waiting on answers that never come, believing for miracles that never come to fruition.

The recording of Job is one of the great mysteries of the faith and one that most of us if honest really struggle with.  It’s tantamount to asking your dad “why” only to hear him respond, “because I said so”.  We in our selfish nature want to attach to this story our understanding of justice and fairness.  Our finite comprehension of God wants to ask the same questions Job’s friends did.  We who read carefully want to inquire of God why it is the He pointed out Job to satan and why He removed His hand of protection from a man that the Bible describes as the most righteous man in all the earth at the time. Surely if Job was not spared what chance do we stand who would hardly be labeled as righteous?  Why must rain fall on both the just and the unjust? Aren’t we supposed to be blessed as believers-to be highly favored and to prosper in all we do?  Isn’t the Word of God unchanging and His promises unbreakable? Or is the hedge of protection around us only so high?  Why must believers suffer great losses here on earth if we are attempting to walk upright before God?  Age-old and still unanswered questions that have always been and will always be.

The story of Job is one that most of us have heard or read so many times that we feel we could tell it ourselves.  It is always preached the same as if the sermon is simply a boilerplate template from Sermons Du Jour that any seminary grad student has access to. But there are aspects to this story when digging deeper that you never hear taught from the pulpit.  One is simply an oversight, that of Job’s wife.  Those who mention her do so with contempt as the devil’s advocate without considering her plight.  For instance, the ten children Job lost, she bore, and a mother’s grief is unbearable. She shared in Job’s wealth so she too suffered in his losses. And when she had lost all her children and her financial stability she alone was left to take care of a husband who was sick and helpless.  Yes she spoke out in anger at a low point in her life, and so have I-many times.  But she remained and endured and is seldom credited for her faithfulness to her husband “in sickness and health, good times and bad”. Much more could be written in her defense.

But while reading the story again, as I often find myself doing during those times when I can relate, I saw something I missed the first hundred times I read the story, something obvious but not noticed before. When Job’s life is preached we usually hear the same outline, Job good, satan bad, Job loses everything, Job repents, God restores Job double for his losses.  The implication is that faithfulness in God always pays off in the end and that everything lost will be restored many times over.  It makes for a feel good Osteen-esque sermon, even though we still can’t get past the human response to question God’s purpose in picking on such a godly man. But this is what I missed and what I want to share in case you missed it as well. Job did not emerge from this fierce Heavenly tug of war without serious permanent scars and painful reminders of his season of loss and torment. First there is the consideration of his physical affliction.  Scripture says that upon satan’s appeal God allowed him to attack Job’s body.  It is recorded that Job was suffering from painful boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.  It also says that Job tried to escape the agony by scraping these boils.  I would never interject what the Bible leaves out, but we do have knowledge of boils through modern medicine and from this we can deduce that these boils, just as they do now, left permanent scars, especially given the fact that Job scraped these, a definite no-no in any modern medical journal because doing so increases scarring. In reading of God’s restoration of Job in chapter 42, no mention is made of Job’s physical healing.  We can assume in time his health was restored but the Bible is silent so we can only apply what we know of these boils now-painful with permanent scarring.  If so, every time Job looked in a mirror he would have been reminded of his epic battle with satan. And if like me many of the same feelings and questions would have surfaced and Job would have to remind himself each and every time of God’s faithfulness.

While Job’s physical state is left somewhat to speculation, there is something else I noticed that is right there as plain as day-something else that would have served as a painful memorial to Job’s battle.  Scripture records that everything Job lost was restored two fold, and that he was even blessed with ten more children, the daughters being described as beautiful beyond belief. But Job is recorded as living another one hundred and forty years after his season of testing.  Here is what I missed.

Everyday for one hundred and forty years Job had to walk past the graves of his first ten children.

We are given a glimpse as to how dearly Job loved his kids.  We know they were adults so Job was a part of their lives for many years and they were a big part of his. We know Job considered their welfare so much that he offered up sacrifices for their sins so God would have mercy upon them in case they stepped out of line with Him. As we read how the story unfolds each messenger comes and relays to Job how his oxen and donkeys were stolen and his servants killed, how his sheep were wiped out by a fire from heaven, how his camels were stolen and those servants also killed, all with  no response from Job. It is only after the last messenger tells Job that his children all perished when their house caved in on them that we read Job became distraught, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in grief. It is apparent that Job’s greatest and most unbearable loss was the death of his sons and daughters.

Decorating the graves of our loved ones is a tradition.  Even knowing our loved one is with the Lord we are compelled to visit the place where we laid the shell to rest and to remember the life and reflect on the earthly absence in somber remembrance. Most likely Job’s children were all buried on his property with stone markers that would be evident from a long distance and I would imagine Job would have been compelled to visit, decorate and remember, just as we do today.  Yes Job was restored and his faithful wife was blessed to give birth to ten more children (blessed? that would make 20 natural births). But those who have lost children or spouses are painfully aware that no number of children or any blessing of a new mate will ever erase the memory of those you loved and lost. Through photos, memories and grave stones they exist forever.

Job’s earthly restoration was miraculous and generous, but not complete. He was left with scars, battle wounds and constant reminders of his testing and lived with them for another one hundred and forty years. To be honest I have never liked the story of Job, primarily because I have a hard time getting past my selfish arrogance in questioning God’s fairness and purpose with my finite comprehension. I don’t like or relish the thought of being the battleground God uses to prove a point to satan.  I want to grow in the knowledge of Christ but without the pain that accompanies the testing and refining process. I don’t want my friends looking upon me with pity.  I want to be the one who raises other’s spirits, the life of the party, the happy-go-lucky person with the Teflon persona that nothing sticks to. My desire is to be that person who is blessed on earth by a wealthy God who spoils me with goodness that the preacher describes in his false teaching of prosperity by works. But that is not my life and it’s probably not yours either.

Scripture is clear that we will each be rewarded in a heavenly kingdom.  We are told to lay up for ourselves treasure in Heaven.  We are told that our good deeds are credited to a heavenly account. All indications are that we must live life and endure trials, hardships and losses here on earth without any guarantee of a Job like restoration. We will go through periods, seasons and for some lifetimes of silence from a God we have to trust in the darkest of times and the fiercest of storms. We sometimes have to navigate life when we can’t see our hand in front of our face and can only take one step forward at a time when the winds are blowing directly against us. We have to pray when there are no words, study when there is little desire and believe when all indicators suggest not to. If there was a magic potion or spell to make this process we all face easier, I’d own the world. God knows our doubts, sees our struggles with faith, hears our non-verbal prayers and feels our distress. I wish I couldn’t write these words from personal trials and seasons of my own doubt, but I can and I do. When tears no longer come, when the pain is so intense it causes numbness, when all hope and light seems to have vanquished from your world, God remains.

Just one more observation from this story, one which supports the notion of a heavenly reward and eternal afterlife. Job received back double for all his losses, except his children.  He lost ten but was only blessed with ten, not twenty.  Did God oops?  No. Job realized that portion of his restoration when he was reunited with them in paradise.  God didn’t forget or short change Job, and He won’t forget us even when we are tempted to give in to our own disbelief. We have no other recourse. It has to be so.

 

 

 

 

My Fig Leaves

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Now that I have your attention…in publishing my blog my objective has always been to be transparent in confessing personal faults, failures, challenges, etc. so that maybe one or two readers might be spared the pain of learning lessons others have already benefited from. Some weeks are more difficult to post than others depending on the subject matter or the freshness of the wounds or hurt.  This may be one of those weeks.

We all have heard the story countless times.  God tells Adam to stay away from just one tree but instead he yields to a tempting Eve and disobeys a directive meant for his benefit.  Genesis 3 reads that Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and sewed together fig leaves to cover their exposure.  But then something deeper happens that we often overlook.  When God is calling Adam out of the garden Adam’s reply is that they were afraid and hid so that God would not see that they were naked.  However, Adam and Eve had already created and were in fact wearing their fig garments when they heard God’s voice.  So we must ask if Adam was afraid of exposing his genitalia or was he hiding something much deeper?

The fig leaf has always been used figuratively as symbolic of covering something up that may be distasteful or embarrassing. In more recent times the fig leaf is used metaphorically as an attempt to cover up something that is only a token gesture as the object being covered is still obvious and for the most part exposed. Fig leaves can be as long as ten inches and as wide as six inches.  However when they are cut from the tree they exude a sticky gel like substance that can be quite uncomfortable when coming in direct contact with skin.  To go to the lengths of covering up one’s “nakedness” with something so uncomfortable must somehow relay the desperation of attempting to hide something really ugly or shameful.

I am a shirt guy.  I buy shirts like women buy shoes. I have easily 200 shirts in various closets.  I’m a shirt whore. But I also have some fig leaves that I wear in certain situations so that my faults and failures are not overly exposed.  Allow me to explain. The mother of my sons and I divorced in 1996.  Say what you may about the reasons that led up to that painful decision, the divorce for me represented a failure-something I lost control of and did not cultivate enough to save.  It was perhaps my first fig leaf.

I have been blessed with three young men as sons who are unique and individual whom I love dearly.  But I was not a great father. I worked too much, I was absent for certain events, I didn’t spend nearly enough quality time with them, and I could go on.

Three fig leaves.

I was blessed with an opportunity to own my own business but in less than two years was forced to give it back to the creditors because of fierce industry competition and mismanagement on my part.  I am still paying the price for that failure and increasing my fig leaf wardrobe. Through obstacles and life challenges I have not handled well I have developed or rather allowed to surface a deep resentment, a sometimes bitter attitude, an unexplainable anger and deep feelings of frustration and doubt even when trying to rely on my faith in God’s grace and strength as my only recourse. Yet another fig leaf.  I could relay many similar stories of past mistakes, miscues and missteps that have added to my hidden fig leaf closet. I have much to hide, much that I fear admitting to the world and much I am ashamed of for fear of being exposed. My loins, my legs and most of my torso are covered in unseen fig leaves.

When God called out to Adam He knew exactly where he was hiding and why.  And as Adam had tasted of the tree of he Knowledge of Good and Evil, he most likely knew God was on to him.  Any attempt to cover his nakedness before God was futile.  It was just a token gesture of modesty before a God who sees everything beneath.

Jeremiah 23:24; “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I don’t see him?  Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”

Hebrews 4:13: “There is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

God knows us inside and out, our fears, our lusts, our hurts, our doubts-nothing remains hidden from Him.  Any attempt to cover ourselves is futile.  But perhaps what is more significant is the thought process or reasoning behind our fear of being exposed to Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son and the dispensation of unending grace through our belief in the same we are set free from the chains of guilt and shame of our shortcomings.  While our approach should be one of humble reverence and confession, our lifestyle should not resemble sackcloth and ashes, or sticky fig leaves.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”…Romans 5:1

“My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly (and not hide behind fig leaves) about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Some of us may be in a season where we are not only covered in fig leaves but are hiding in the belly of a dark cave.  We may be facing questions with no answers, situations with no solutions and a future where we can’t see any ray of light because of present darkness. The tears may be uncontrollable, or you may have few left. The intangible faith in an unseen God may be a real struggle for some, but the hope and the promises of a loving and merciful God can not be withheld from us even when we hide.  Clothing  trends may come and go but fig leaves have never been fashionable.  Be clothed instead in grace and mercy, an ensemble that all believers share and is never out of style.

 

 

 

The Common Threads That Connect Us

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Over the past several months I have become increasingly downhearted in observing the numerous attempts to divide people according to applied false labels, and our willingness to play into these social attacks and methods.  It is even more discouraging to witness this among believers in Christ, who have redirected passions and responded like a bad Pavlov experiment.  The world would have us separated by skin color, political ideology, religion, sexual preference, income level, education level and so on.  Yet even the faithful have shown a tendency to view each other based on denomination, who they voted for and which sin they adopt as their personal cause.  Why do we of all people play into this devilish scheme designed for our own demise?

Many have asserted that regardless of our state we all bleed red, but the common threads among us are much more than physiological. In fact if you would just take a minute to consider the human experience you should see quite clearly that there are relative few things that we don’t share in common.  I am so weary of the way that social media has been used to build walls instead of bridges that I wanted to take this post and share a different perspective that some may be completely disregarding when they consider others.  These are just a few things we all desire, cherish or fear.

I vividly remember the first time I fell in love.  Don’t you? It was daisies in Spring, butterflies in the stomach and a rush whenever that special person came around.  Is that feeling different if a person is black or white? Christian or atheist? Conservative or liberal? I doubt it.  We all long to be loved and in love! There resides within most of us the need for companionship that transcends labels or diversity.  Love is universal.

Just as fresh in my memory, the first time my heart was broken.  The pain was real, the disappointment devastating. I was sure no one in the world had ever felt hurt the way I was feeling it.  And you? Have you ever lost weight because you couldn’t eat due to a broken heart?  Ever felt your world as you knew it had ended? Just wanted to hide? Yep, me too.  We are much the same when it comes to healthy or broken relationships.

I have three natural children, three step-children and six grandchildren.  They are my pride and joy.  I admittedly was not the best father but I always wanted what was best for them and did everything I could to protect them.  I show off pictures of my grandchildren to anyone who will look just because I am so proud to be their lucky papa.  How about you?  Do you have a collection of framed pictures in your house of your kids?  Any albums on your cell phone for quick reference?  Do you worry about them, make every attempt to be at their school events, spoil them to the displeasure of their parents? Yep, a common thread.

Do you have dreams few know of?  I always wanted to play in the NBA but wasn’t even good enough for a college scholarship. Later I wanted to write at least one book and be a noted author.  That dream may still happen some day. I have written numerous songs in hopes of just one of them becoming a hit.  Have you any dreams?  Have you reached for something and fell short?  Do you still possess certain aspirations, a bucket list if you will of things you want to accomplish while you still can? Do you ever wonder if you will really amount to anything worthy of recognition?  Same here!  It’s a big boat we share.

What are your biggest fears? one of mine is that of wasted opportunities.  What am I doing with my life?  What am I leaving behind of value for my kids, what trail markers, directional signs, danger warnings? Will my boys want to emulate my life or steer clear of any resemblance of it?  And what of my friends? Am I the one they enjoy hanging around or do they avoid me because my countenance is deflating and a killjoy? Am I making a difference to anyone?  I have to imagine that if we are all honest we all share a similar sentiment-we want to be welcomed and liked as a positive influence and we want to be respected for living according to our core beliefs in a way that is contagious. Another common thread.

Have you ever lost a loved one to death, a parent, grandparent, spouse? Have you cried until there are no more tears to cry at the thought of never seeing them again in this life? Do you think mourning is shared between us?  Can you sympathize with someone else who has experienced such a devastating loss?  Does anyone think it hurts less for a Democrat or Republican or independent?  Catholic or Jew?  Do Americans mourn differently than say Asians or Hindus or native tribes people?

And how about this one-as believers in Christ who look forward to gathering with others who share our faith we experience those times when we need it most the presence of the spirit of God that moves us to tears in acknowledgment of who we are to Him.  None of us, whether you have a seminary degree or are just a layperson can fully comprehend the magnitude of love our Father shows each of us in a unique yet common fashion, simply because we have confessed Christ as our Lord.  Our outward expression may certainly differ-oh how it differs!  You may kneel and weep, you may stand with lifted hands-maybe you shout and dance a little like David, but the differing responses are due to a common thread, the presence of God’s spirit that runs through each of us and ties us all together in an eternal bond as brothers and sisters of the same hope and same kingdom.

We have all heard or even quoted this famous passage from Galatians 3, yet I have to wonder if we all view it the same way when I observe the divisions among us:

“…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. So now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, nor is there male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If we belong to Christ we are all Adam’s seed and joint heirs according to the promise”.

Common threads!  Eternal threads! All woven together into one glorious loom, Christ. I love old hymns, and there is one in particular that is seldom heard these days but the message of which is entirely appropriate.  The lyrics of Blest be the Tie That Binds are as follows:

Blest be the tie that binds-Our hearts in Christian Love

The fellowship of kindred minds-Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne-We pour our ardent prayers

Our fears, our hopes our aims are one-Our comforts and our cares

We share our mutual woes,-our mutual burdens bear

And often for each other flows-the sympathizing tear

When we asunder part-It give us inward pain

But we shall still be joined in heart

And hope to meet again.

Common threads, ties that bind, eternal kinship, may parts of one body-these are the things that should pull us together in a holy bond of love, recognizing uniqueness of tastes, talents and purpose but wholly integrated into one woven masterpiece that should be the envy of others who “want in”. I don’t know if our product is one the world desires in it’s present state.  I think we can do better-I think I can do better. I want to be the purple thread that is easily seen because of the brilliant orange and bright green threads next to me that highlight different shades by pulling them all tightly together into a colorless work of art.

I want to make it my personal aim to not be party to any attempt to label, degrade or divide us against each other.  If you feel the same, there is but another common thread we share.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

If God, Why Evil and Suffering?

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A young officer just recently promoted to detective is hit head on while leaving the courthouse, leaving behind a wife and four-year old daughter. A newlywed couple are tragically killed in a collision on their way to their honeymoon. A young bride full of faith dies a slow chronicled death to a cancer that gripped her body and wouldn’t let go in spite of thousands of prayers on her behalf. A nameless lady across the globe is violently and publically raped and beheaded because she would not deny her faith in Christ. Children with cancer, people dying of starvation, innocent victims of horrible crimes, the deaths of saints-the question that agnostics have posed for centuries and the question believers today fear most. If God is one of love and justice, why do seemingly innocent people suffer?

If you are reading this hoping I have the answer, you may as well stop reading now. I have studied, heard sermons, read articles and even searched scripture in my own quest to find my answer to this age old question but to date no one has adequately been able to answer the question as to the dichotomy of suffering and evil under the sovereignty of a loving God.  Even Christ would not directly answer this when He was questioned about it in Luke 13. A tower in Siloam collapsed killing eighteen people who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus did not reply with why innocent blood was shed but rather impressed upon those who questioned Him the importance of living a life of repentance and preparation.  There are those today who when asked about evil and suffering offer up the same handed down answers the church has always put forth-God’s ways are higher than ours, or it’s a sin issue, or God is sovereign and we just have to accept it.  Perhaps these are the only real responses to the ultimate question, but it remains a weak apologetic argument when posed by those agnostic to the faith who would accuse us of a blind allegiance to a deity we can’t fully grasp or explain. Are they right?

I’ve wrestled with this in my own spiritual experience. Why me? What next? What have I done? Where is God or what purpose is served in this situation?  Why teach me these lessons and not the next guy?  In my Jim Carey voice, Aren’t I the Lucky One! Within the confines of a limited view I have tried to find an answer. This is the best I can come up with.

Why would God create a world where evil was existent? That answer is easy-He didn’t! God’s world was perfect, innocent, harmless, sufficient. Food was provided for man and animals alike from the vegetables and herbs.  All creation lived in peace and harmony. But God wanted his creation, man, to love Him, not from default programming but from choice, a conscious decision to do so. For that to happen God had to allow man the option to choose-free moral agency.  Consequently as with any choice the potential to choose wrongly exists. A serpent agnostic to God, the embodiment of evil, presented Eve with a choice. Eve chose of her own volition to go against the commands of God, took the forbidden fruit, persuaded Adam to do likewise and ushered in the element of disobedience and separation from God. It is this separation, the void, wherein evil resides. At that point pain entered into the world as Eve would bear children in great discomfort. Death entered as God said to dust they would return. Animals began to prey on each other. The knowledge of good created the possibility of evil just as the existence of light created the possibility of darkness.

To fully understand this concept one must understand and define evil. In the simplest of terms, evil is not a thing but a void. Cold is not a definable existence but rather a lack of heat. As above, darkness is not a natural thing but a lack of light. You don’t really make a room dark, you simply make it less lit which leaves the natural state of darkness. Likewise evil is presented even by the earliest attempts of definition as a void of goodness, thus the natural state when all else is removed. In searching for writings that support this I ran across perhaps the best I’ve seen, written by St. Maximus the Confessor, c 73;

“Evil never was and never will be on its own, for it has exactly neither substance nor nature nor hypostasis nor power nor energy in beings; it is neither quality nor quantity; neither relation nor replace; neither time nor position; neither creation nor movement nor habit nor passion, so that it contemplated anything existent…it is neither the beginning, the middle nor the end. Evil is the absence of energy inherent in all natural power toward the end and nothing else…”.

In other words, evil is absolute nothingness, void of all natural good, empty of all moral judgment, fully and completely lacking God.  Another way of saying this is that Evil is what’s left when God is removed, the natural unconfessed state of godlessness. So, where does this leave us and how does it apply to the question at hand? At the very least it takes away our reasoning to blame God for evil. It gives us much more insight into the passage recorded in James 1:13 that says “no one should say “God is tempting me” for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone”. God and evil can not coexist any more than light can exist simultaneously with darkness or cold with heat. This then takes us to part two of the question; if then God is still sovereign, why does he allow suffering?

It is perhaps only at this point that any attempt to answer this adequately becomes simply conjecture. There is really no response satisfactory to human logic one can offer to which one would reply, “Oh, okay, now I get it”.  The only real approach I can come up with is to take a look at history and patterns in comparison to our limited definition of fairness and justice.  We are programmed in great error by authors of  “Blessed and Highly Favored” type books, Claim your Reward sermons and Prosperity doctrines that are in opposition to the recorded Word. While the natural, less Godly nature wants to question suffering as unfair, we really need to take a closer look at history, going back to the beginning. Abel offered up to God a pleasing sacrifice and from all accounts was a friend of God. However that did not stop Cain from taking his life, an act that we would surely deem unjust by our definition. Fast forward to Job. Scripture says there was not a man in all the world as righteous and right standing before God, yet we are fully aware of the calamity that God allowed him. Job’s questions were much like ours-why me, what did I do wrong, how is this fair? God’s famous non-answer is on record.  When we can dictate weather patterns, explain birth and create our own species, we can expect an answer.

But it doesn’t stop with Job. The perfect sinless man, the sacrificial Lamb of God, Christ bore suffering through crucifixion so severe we derive the word “excruciating” from it. No one in history was less deserving of suffering than our Lord.  More evidence, consider the Apostles who lived life with Jesus, shared stories, sat under His teaching, witnessed His miracles, His death and victorious resurrection. Defenders of the faith, seed planters of the early church, miracle workers in their own right; and all but John martyred brutally for their belief and testimony in spreading the Gospel.  Just? Fair? If our concept of blessing and favor was withheld from the saints, are we somehow more deserving of a life without pain, one affected and infected by evil? It should be just as logical to deduce that if they were not spared, why should we be?  Jesus was very clear-did not mix words when he said during the beatitudes message that those who were persecuted would be blessed, inferring persecution and suffering was eminent. He later said in John 16 that in this world we would have troubles! Yet He went on to say to “take heart because He had overcome the world”.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says ” now we see through a glass darkly; (or as a reflection in a mirror); but then we will see everything clearly”.  Matthew Henry says that it is only the light of Heaven that will remove all clouds and darkness that hide the face of God from us. Only then will we have answers to questions that at that point will be irrelevant and non-consequential. For now we must suffer those things that will be used to bring us into a closer relationship with God. For now we must receive comfort during trials that we can in turn use to comfort others who encounter the same testing. For now we must know that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. For now we must praise him in chains, worship Him in storms, hold fast to Him in emergencies and crisis and try with all our energy and strength to maintain the attitude of Habakkuk of old when he said in chapter 3;

“Though the fig tree doesn’t bud, there are no grapes on the vine, the olive crops fail, the fields produce no crops, though there are no sheep in the pens or cattle in the stalls, yet will I be joyful in God my Savior”.

This is as close as I can come to answering an unanswerable question.  It will have to do until I can see through the glass clearly. God bless you and grant you peace in your walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings from Old Endings

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It’s one week into the New Year and I’m guessing many of us have already broken at least one of our resolutions. Typically the new year signals the start of new beginnings, change of habits, a renewed focus on things we prioritize as important in self-improvement.  New Years and birthdays are good opportunities to reflect on the past, take inventory of our lives and make adjustments as we move into the future. For many these are exciting times, but for others, they are unwelcomed detours.

A wise philosopher is quoted as saying that new beginnings often come disguised as troubled endings.  You may be embarking on a new job but only because you were unceremoniously dismissed or laid off from the one you loved. Perhaps you are starting the year off debt free but only because your prior financial situation resulted in bankruptcy. Maybe you are in a new relationship but only because of a recent heart wrenching separation or divorce. Indeed some new beginnings are only a result of painful endings.

New is described as recently originated or produced, not seen before.  We love the idea of driving a new car or moving into a new model home.  But new is also defined as unaccustomed or unfamiliar.  New can be intimidating or scary. New can be unwelcomed and dreaded requiring changes which were not of our choosing. The world turns, our environment and circumstances shift, we adapt and prepare to move forward but it is not without trepidation. Fear of the unknown and not being able to see the path before you is only welcomed for haunted house adventurers, not everyday people.

In the original new beginning God made everything new and perfect-man was a new creature, the earth he inhabited was new, the sun, moon and stars all new and good.  Then man did what he does best, he inserted his own will into the equation and messed everything up and became separated from God. So God came up with a New Covenant through His son Jesus, the best New we could possibly welcome.  The Word as always has much to say about newness and starting over from the past and should serve as words of hope and encouragement when read.

Jeremiah 29:11; I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and a future and a hope.

2 Corinthians 5:17; Anyone in Christ is a new creation. Old things are no more and the new things have come.

Isaiah 43:19; Look, I am doing something new and it springing forth even now, do you not see it?

Lamentations 4:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ends! His mercies are new every morning.

Ephesians 4:22; Put away your old self, your old former self with its corruption and evil desires, and be renewed and put on the new self created in the likeness of God.

Job 8:7; Your beginning my have been small but your new latter days will be great.

Isaiah 40:331; Those who wait for the Lord will be given new strength.

Ezekiel 36:26; I will give you a new heart and I’ll put a new spirit within you.

Revelation 21:5; He who was seated on the throne said “Look, I am making all things new”.

I like many of you know the joy of being given a new opportunity because of something I worked hard to achieve. And I also know the pain of a new beginning due to a less than perfect ending. I write from a first person point of view because in most cases I am the first person, reporting from inside the storm.  Some of the most encouraging words we have to live by today were written by an Apostle while he was in chains and sharing his sleeping quarters with rats. It is only through the Word that we can embrace new beginnings with a renewed sense of hope that a sovereign God will see us through our new surroundings as we eagerly await the ending of this life on earth in exchange for a new home in a new kingdom where everyday is a new and refreshing beginning that will never have a painful ending.  Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Great at Being Not-So-Great

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It seems I’ve spent much of my life striving to be great at one thing or another. As a young boy I was awkward and lanky so I practiced various sports and ended up on several teams, but I have no MVP or other trophies to show for it. As a newly married young adult I strived to be a good husband but the marriage failed and ended up in a divorce. I was blessed with three sons and I really wanted to be a great dad but it took me over twenty years just to learn how to be an adequate one.  I tried hard to be a great model employee throughout various careers but am familiar with the words “sorry but we have to let you go”. So I thought perhaps I’d make a better employer than employee and bought a business but that business failed and left me starting over. I have always wanted to be a great musician but I only sound okay when surrounded by truly great musicians.  I’d like to think I’m a much better grandpa than I was a dad, but if so, I am far from great.  I love writing and want to be a great blogger but you won’t find In My Own Words in the top 500 of any category. I think most of us want to believe we are great Christians but I am fully aware of my failures and shortcomings in that area of my life as well.  In summary my road to greatness is littered instead with mediocrity and failure, being efficient at many things but truly great at nothing.

As we end the old year and usher in the new many of us take this time to reflect on those things we have accomplished and those that remain in need of improvment. For some it is a welcome inventory as they have the personality to be highly motivated by goals set for self-improvement. Yet for others it is just another smack in the face reminder of just how non-great they and their lives remain as from year to year nothing appears to be any better-same income, same struggles, same habits, same mediocrity, just  new year. You wanted to lose twenty pounds but gained ten.  You wanted a raise but was instead laid off. You wanted to strengthen a relationship but see it slipping away. It is not very surprising that the beginning of the New year is ushered in with so much alcohol and partying-it deadens reality for those fearfully dreading yet another average year.

So how would one describe greatness? Would it be being the very best at something? Being highly achieved or esteemed?  Highly educated or degreed? Ranking at the top of any given corporate ladder? Having the most accolades or awards?  Although greatness is something most of us want to aspire to, our definition of greatness is a bit different than what the scriptures tell us.  In fact the greatest man to ever walk our planet showed us what His words on the subject looked like in action.  In the book of Matthew, chapter 20, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a bold request that her two sons be awarded seats at the left and right of Jesus in his kingdom, places of the greatest honor. Of course when the other ten disciples heard of the request they became infuriated and lost their tempers, something I can relate to. So, Jesus gathered them and settled them down and taught them a hard lesson, described in the Message Bible like this: “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to become great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not be served-to give His life…”.  Earlier in chapter 18 Jesus held a child on His lap and told them that whoever would  humble themselves like the child would be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Humility, meekness, servant, slave-not words we would find in any dictionary associated with greatness but that is the way it is with the Christian faith. The things we would achieve often require the exact opposite actions our world would dictate. Want to be first? Go to the end of the line.  Want to get great service?  Pick up a pitcher and fill the glasses of others. Want to be publicly acknowledged? Take a seat behind the curtains. These are lessons I am still learning on my journey to greatness.  I may never achieve that greatness here on earth in spite of my best efforts. I may never have the life or success that others would want to emulate or pattern. Few ever find the brass ring of being a pro athlete, a Grammy winning artist, a Pulitzer author or Parent of the year. I just have to believe that if we run and finish the race we are in, if we get back up when we stumble, if we help others up along the way, we will have a great reward handed to us by the greatest of all time, Christ, our example. Let it be so as we enter and embrace the challenges of a New Year.

As a caveat, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have opted to receive this weekly blog.  My hope and prayer each week is that God gives me words through my own experiences that even one person is needing to read to help them in their situations.  It is humbling to know the expanse of readership In My Own Words receives globally. I wish you the very best God has to offer you in 2017.

Much love and prayer, Joe Hill

 

 

The Simplicity of the First Christmas

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It has become part of the holiday tradition, finding the perfect gift and then the perfect wrapping paper.  Gift wrapping is an art to some, a science to others.  Some spend as much time looking for just the right paper as they do the gift.  Of course with paper comes the right coordinated ribbon, bows and for the really serious wrapper, silk flowers or other accessories.  And when we present that gift with all it’s adornment we expect to hear how lovely the wrapping job is, almost as much as we want to receive appreciation for what’s inside.

I recall when the boys were much younger and even now with grandkids how the fun of watching them open our presents was temporarily sidetracked as they tore off the paper and played with it as if it were the present.  Even our pets got a bigger thrill out of the paper than what the paper covered.  In many ways this is us at Christmas time. We become so engaged in the “wrappings” of Christmas, the parties, the shopping, the decorating, the shows and concerts-all the traditions that surround the actual gift, the reason we stop and commemorate, that many of us discard the gift with the paper and completely miss out on the intended present, the Child born unto us.

When we read the accounts of the first Christmas in the books of Matthew and Luke many details are left out of the story.  For instance, we don’t know for sure if Christ was born in a stable or a cave dwelling or a lower level of a home.  We don’t know much about the shepherds.  We aren’t exact on the date of His birth.  We aren’t really told how many magi traveled to see Jesus or when they actually showed up. Hollywood producers have used artistic license to fill in the blanks for us to make movies more marketable and all of us have a sense of what the real scene may have been like, but the truth is these details were kept from us.  Why? Because we get too caught up in the wrapping!  We want to know things that have little significance in light of the real event and its purpose. Even within our worship we tend to seek approval for our church production or our operatic performance of Oh Holy Night when all the glory and attention is to be focused on the gift.

The first Christmas was incomprehensibly simple. In the beginning, Christ was.  He created all that is created.  We messed it up as we always do.  We needed a perfect sacrifice in order to be reconciled to God the Father.  Christ put off his glory, His Kingship and became flesh, His creation so that as a man he could die as a man once and for all.  His coming was proclaimed as great tidings for ALL people. In one selfless act He became our King, our redeemer, our eternal bridegroom. God loved the world so much He gave us the perfect gift sans the trappings and distractions that would make us glory in the surroundings but lose sight of the gift. One Holy Night, one perfect sinless child, one act of unmatched love, one eternal hope.  That is as simple as it can be if we would but accept it as it was intended.

In a world of hate and bigotry and finger pointing it would serve us all well to revisit Bethlehem and insert ourselves into the story as humble observers of a blessed event that would change mankind forever; to feel and see the love, to hear Heaven sing and to experience the forever healing and completion of our souls. Peace on earth, good will to all men, all ethnicities, all countries, all religions.  I wish you the very best this Christmas season with a prayer that you will not miss the gift because of the wrappings, and that you will find it in your heart to carry this good will to all those you encounter in the coming year.

 

 

Grandma’s Shiny Christmas Pin

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When I was but a boy I delivered flyers for a local grocery store in Indianapolis-I was paid a penny per flyer.  I made about $3.00 per week and loved doing it. On most weeks I would take some of my money to Long’s Bakery where I could buy second day donuts for half price as my reward.  The grocer is long gone but the bakery remains. However, whenever Christmas rolled around I looked forward to taking my two or three dollars to the local G. C. Murphy or Kresge store to buy my grandmother a shiny colored pin for Christmas.  She loved her collection of costume pins and wore them to church each Sunday. These stores would have tables of little white boxes each containing a different pin they brought in just for Christmas.  I would be in there for hours picking out just the right pin for her.  The funny thing, it didn’t really matter which one I selected-she would love it just the same.

At age fifty-five this remains one of my favorite Christmas memories.  It was a simplistic time, the pride of buying a gift for my grandma with money I earned, the thrill of the search for the perfect pin, the joy of giving it to her on Christmas Eve and the love she showed when opening it.  I could have given her a purple hippo pin with orange ears-she would have never said a word but would have loved it and worn it proudly.  In my grandmother’s eyes, I could do no wrong.  Simple, loving, cherished, pure!  How times have changed.

I’m all grown up now.  I live in a world where acceptance and approval is sometime difficult to acquire. It’s almost as if our lives are lived as an obstacle course full of hazards and opportunities for failure, lined along the way with our share of naysayers telling us we didn’t study hard enough, we didn’t work hard enough, we haven’t earned enough, we haven’t given enough, we haven’t loved enough. And all along the course we are looking for grandma in the crowd to give her unconditional approval but she’s long since gone to her reward and no one really cares for our shiny pins anymore.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at Christmas time.  The intensity of the season serves as a natural amplifier for all emotions and feelings, good or bad.  For the lucky ones whose lives are balanced and in order Christmas is a magical time where love and hope abounds in volume. But for those who have been beaten down by failure, by rejection, by battles unknown to others, Christmas can be a lonely, dark and empty time that only reveals to us the desperation of our current state.

It is during this season that we are compelled to look beyond what Christmas may have become and instead consider the divine purpose of the Holy Incarnation of that special night when God became flesh to show us an unconditional Grandma type love that would lead to us being called children of God. The arrival of that baby Christ-child was not trumpeted in the courts of kings or revealed to the religious leaders and holy men.  It was instead heralded to the lowliest of the low, the shepherds, society’s outcast, those whose lives were expendable, unwanted, invisible. Christ came to give all men equal status and acceptance into a new kingdom where worth and value are not placed on income levels, educational degrees or corporate titles, but rather on who you know, specifically, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. When we come before Christ and lay down our lives in surrender and sacrifice with all our sins, our failures, our bad decisions, our regrets He doesn’t look upon the darkness of our status or see the obvious soil on our robes.  He sees shiny Christmas pins, full of color, sparkling in the light as if they were Lennox or Swarovski crystal. We are received and set at the same table next to kings and royalty as VIP guests of the highest honor with full access and privilege to the King of all kings, the Christ, now wearing our shiny pins as His badges of honor.

My grandmother has been gone almost twenty years now and I still miss her at Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks When Feeling Not So Grateful

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How does one offer thanks when they are in the midst of less than thankful circumstances?  How can someone sing praise when everything inside them screams for help?  Tomorrow across America most families will come together in what has largely become the first day of the Season of Consumerism, yet some still set it aside as a day to reflect on the many blessings they have received.  For believers it is just one more occasion to acknowledge the never ending provisions we are granted as children of God.  But for many it may be difficult to find a grateful heart due to personal situations or circumstances for which they are anything but thankful.

It’s hard to gather around a table that first time when one chair sits conspicuously empty due to a recent death.  It’s difficult to act gracious when the latest medical report was anything but positive. It’s hard to enjoy the day when you are wondering how you are going to get your bills paid, let alone shop for Christmas presents.  It’s hard being single for the first time around friends and family after a broken relationship.  We are falsely led to believe by some that Christians should give thanks for any and all of their circumstances like zombies on an acid trip as if nothing can touch us because of our faith when in fact most would be shocked to know the pains and concerns our Christian siblings harbor secretly.

1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. To this day I cringe whenever I hear someone say that everything happens for a reason. That is simply not true!  God is not the author of disease, calamity, broken hearts, unemployment or loneliness.  It is His desire that we avoid these things when possible.  And yet it is correct to say that He can make magic from a mess, wholeness from brokenness.  Only He can truly turn our sorrows into dances of joy but our approach to God has to be one of a grateful heart.  Sounds a bit contradictory.

The heart of gratitude is something that goes much deeper than the surface circumstances. In one of my favorite movies, National Treasure there was a map on the back of the Constitution that was not visible on the surface but could be seen with a special pair of reading glasses.  Those who successfully maintain a grateful heart have learned how to read the whole of their lives with special glasses that see and understand things hidden from all outward appearances.  They understand the old but proven cliché that bad times don’t last but good people do. They know the meaning of “count it all joy” when considering present situations in light of the much bigger eternal picture.  They realize the temporal nature of this earthly life and set their minds on a much higher reward.  I can’t say that I am quite there yet, but I know how to get there.

This Thanksgiving Day I want to offer words of hope, comfort and encouragement to those who are struggling to find any spirit of gratitude. This may come across as a bit lecture-ish but as you gather tomorrow, consider the food that thousands of others only dream about. Look across the table and see the smiling faces of your kids, grandchildren and family and be grateful for their presence and safety. As you bless the gathering, take a moment to consider where you might be if not for a loving Father who provides all that we could ever need if we sincerely seek and acknowledge Him. Consider the dwelling you are gathered at in light of the thousands of homeless families with children right in your own communities. I know, it sounds easier than it really is, but there is a peace that comes from an earnest attempt to come before God with a heart and a spirit of Thanksgiving even in the midst of life’s troubles.

The following is just a compilation of various Psalms written by a man named David even as he was in the desert running for his life.  His comfort was his knowledge and recollection of God’s goodness.

“I will give thanks to the Lord due to His righteousness and I will sing praises to the name of the Lord most high”.

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount his wonderful deeds”.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving”.

“Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise”.

“And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of His deeds in songs of joy”.

“Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good.  His mercies are everlasting”

I hope and pray each of you have a wonderful, meaningful and grateful Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

 

 

Sleeping Through the Storm

barn-in-rain-2I have fond and vivid memories of our Summer visits to my grandparents farm in Mississippi when I was a young boy. Of all the stories I could tell and experiences my kids will never know, one of my favorites was crawling up into the loft of one of the old barns where they stored some of the peanut crop and resting during a southern Summer rain storm.  There was something incredibly peaceful, relaxing and almost hypnotic about listening to the rain hit the old tin roof.  As much as I love the ocean, if I could make a sleep sound mode machine of my choice, it would be that familiar sound when raindrops collide with rusty tin.

I wish I could tell you that metaphorically speaking I can always sleep with such peace in the midst of storms. More times than not the sound of the rain and the chill of the wind leaves me more on edge than at rest.  Even though I’ve lived through and survived my share of life’s storms there is still an uncertain but familiar tension that arises and remains until the storm passes.  When I lived in Florida I recall during the monsoon season that the sun would be out and the skies would be clear and in mere seconds the sky would open up with a torrential rain storm seemingly out of nowhere.  Life for many is much the same-smooth sailing, sunny skies and kaboom-instant thunderstorm, dry one minute and drenched the next, warm and cozy to bone-chilling gusts before you knew what hit you.

There is a story recorded for us in Matthew Chapter 8 that most are very familiar with:

” And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

I can almost hear readers making the obvious observation because it’s the same one that I made.  “Yeah but He’s Jesus and I’m not”.  Of course He did have a bit of an unfair advantage as He was the creator of the seasons and the storms and was undoubtedly not in any peril. But how easy it is for us to automatically displace Christ when we are in these storms, forgetting that “this same spirit” remains in us and consequently the same peace also resides within us.  I’m fifty-five years old and have known the Lord as my Savior since I was seven, and to this day I have to be reminded that I always survive, that God is always in control and that the spirit of Christ is always at my side.  It’s ironic how we as a people can be wronged and we may never forget it but when we are “righted”, rescued and restored, time and time again, we have such short memories.  No matter the severity of the storms we face we must as believers find shelter in the words left for our comfort and encouragement:

Psalm 107:28; “when they cried out to the Lord in their trouble He brought them out of their distress.  He calmed the storm and its waves quieted down…”.

Nahum 1:7; ” The Lord is good, a stronghold in days of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him”.

Isaiah 25:4;” For You have been a strong place for those who could not help themselves…and a safe place from the storm and a shadow from the heat”.

Isaiah 44:6; “There will be a booth for shade by day from the  heat, and a shelter from the storm and rain”.

When I first met my wife I took her to meet some friends of mine in Dana Point, CA who had a thirty-nine foot schooner.  This was her first experience on a sailboat. There was a red flag warning out that day, meaning the winds were too high for sailing, but they subsided just long enough for us to take a quick cruise to the Newport Harbor and back.  Although the warning had been lifted the seas were still choppy and rough.  My friend asked me if I wanted to take the helm for a bit and I jumped at the experience.  After just a few minutes he said I looked like I knew what I was doing so he and everyone on board went below deck for a nap and left me at the helm with instructions to let him know when were close to our harbor. At no time was I afraid or timid.  It remains one of my most precious memories. Alone at the wheel of a boat surrounded by sea with large swells, and I was having the time of my life!  My approach to life’s storms should be equally undaunted, knowing that Christ has placed me at the helm of something He knows I can handle and he is taking His siesta, asleep but close by if needed.  He has given me instructions, set my compass, and provided me with coordinates that I need but follow so that even on a stormy sea, I can hold and follow a true course through the waves.  How easy that sounds through keystrokes.

 

 

While America Votes Red or Blue the Church Walks Away Red and Blue

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Tomorrow many will head to their local polling places to exercise their right to vote for the candidates of their choice.  In the political arena the colors red and blue have been used to indicate left-leaning or right-leaning voters, and on maps, showing Republican vs. Democratic States during election coverage.  However, it is my humble observation that the church will walk away from this unprecedented election as both red and blue, i.e. bloodied and bruised.

I am grateful that God allows His kids to be unique, to have differing experiences that shape their life long beliefs and philosophies when it comes to certain issues.  God forbid we were all cookie-cutter church droids void of any diversity.  We can have different tastes in worship styles, in dress, in practice and traditions and within limited context we can even have differing views on Biblical topics like tongues or the tribulation, so long as we accept opposing views with respect and humility.  With that said, I am deeply troubled at how social media has applied a magnifying glass to the existing vile and bitterness exchanged within the church when it comes to a civil election.  We can peacefully agree to disagree on tongues or prophesy and call it different takes but when it comes to secular politics, opposing views are tantamount to creating enemy lines.  The passion and the angst we should hold for the Kingdom of Christ is perverted and exploited to “ungodly” levels as we label and in fact view each other not as eternal siblings but as red or blue, left or right, conservative or liberal, and even in some cases, “real” Christians or disingenuous believers.  We invoke God and His will or His sovereignty into the debates when in fact the God I know would have little to do with such petty grievances as secular politics.  Whether one views voting as a Christian obligation or abstaining as a preferable option, both have been demonized and regardless of the outcome of this election, there will be brothers and sisters of the faith left battled and bruised, red and blue.

Many have been duped by those who bastardize Holy Scripture to support a political stance. The “God sets up Kings” and the “God establishes governing rulers” crowds have not only used improper exegesis in interpretation, they have “exorcised Jesus” “straight out of context”.  There is not a single passage anywhere in the Word that advocates an obligation to exercise a secular civic right.  Thank God we live in a country where we can have a voice, but that choice should be individual, personal and most certainly not subject to ridicule by opposing siblings of the faith.  Conversely, the Holy Scriptures are plentiful in reference to how we are to treat each other with love in a spirit of unity that surpasses the limitations of fleeting time in a temporal world.

Romans 12:16, …”be of the same mind toward one another, not haughty…”

Romans 14:19, “pursue things which make for peace and building up of one another…”

1 Peter 3:8, “…be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted with a humble spirit…”

Eph. 4:3, “…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…”

When the religious leaders came against Christ accusing Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He was quick to remind them that a house divided against itself is doomed. We can be peacefully divided when it comes to non-essential differences of opinion-you can love the Colts and hate the Pats, you can cheer on the Cubs and detest the Sox.  You can tithe by obligation or you can be a cheerful giver.  You can fast once a year or on a regular calendar. But any division or opposing view that causes one brother to look critically at another in light of just these few referenced passages alone goes against the grain of the totality of Christ’s teachings on peace, love, unity and humility.  We can’t be the light of the world if we are snuffing out each others candles.  When any light is diminished the result is an increase in the level of darkness. At that point we have failed our commission.

Most would say that tomorrow, Election Tuesday, is the most important day of this year. The result of the peoples’ preference and direction for the next four to eight years hinges on the outcome of the vote.  I might suggest however that for many believers, the following day, Wednesday, is actually the most important day of the year.  It is the day after the election that we as a church will be forced to look at not only the results of this race and the impact it will have on its citizens, but the aftermath and the damage done during the electoral process and the ramifications it will have on eternal relationships. I have to ask this with all sincerity-on that day when we are reunited with Christ in our forever home, how important will it be if you voted red or blue, if you abstained completely, if your good friends or even your family shared opposing social beliefs, or if your candidate won or lost? We hear the phrase “big picture” quite a bit.  But “big picture” should mean totally different things to believers vs. nonbelievers. To the church, this world is but a vacation stop, not our home.  Until we can see each other in the realm of eternity we will continue to take up arms against the political enemy in a secular war with no real winners but a host of losers.  This weekend I’ll  still be in church as always,  I’ll still buy food when I run out, I’ll still be able to post my opinions, popular or not, and I’ll still have a loving Father who will sustain me as He has before when “my guy” didn’t win.  And I won’t be moving to Canada. My prayer is that we will embrace our rights to have a voice but that our love for each other will “Trump” any temporary and insignificant civil situation we find ourselves in, with the understanding that we serve an eternal leader who has already won and one who can never be voted out of office.

God bless our country and heal our land but more importantly, let our rule of law be the debt to love our brother, which can never be fully paid.

 

 

 

 

Does God Appoint All Leaders? A Twist on a Twisted Passage

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Since the day they were first scribed to a scroll the Holy Scriptures have been subjected to poor translations, misunderstanding and blatant twisting to support questionable theology, not unlike an adult game of Twister with those who have had a bit too much to drink.  The result is often times, well, use your imagination.  A good Accountant can make numbers tell any story they want them to and a clever scholar can do much the same with using God’s Word selectively or improperly. One of the most commonly accepted twisting of scripture is often quoted during Election cycles, Romans 13:1 where Paul instructs us to obey governing authorities because all authority is ordained by God, which leads some to ask some serious questions in light of historical leaders and even the atrocities committed by them.  Can God really be responsible for the appointing or election of all leaders? I am no degreed scholar but I want to attempt to break down this passage a bit and take a closer look at what it really says.  This may be controversial for some.

Since the inception of the first King of Israel it is clear that God establishes a system of rule and authority.  That is, all authority is under His divine providence.  But here is where things get twisted.  No where in scripture does it read that God selects all individual leaders!  Nor does it say that everything done under God’s providence is approved by Him.  That sounds, well, twisted, I know.  Consider this example.  My body is under God’s providence.  There is not a single square inch of it that God doesn’t claim as His.  However, what I choose to do with my body is under my free agency.  If I join my body to a prostitute while under His providence, I am certainly not under His approval.  Scripture is very clear about how I am to treat my body and it is on me whether or not I comply with His will and intended purpose for my body.  The same should apply to the concept of governing authorities.  God expressly establishes the dominion of rulers and order, but does not necessarily appoint or approve of every individual leader.  For Biblical support of this consider Hosea 8:4 which reads, “They set up Kings without my consent: they choose princes without my approval”.  It is clear in this passage that God played no part in the selection of these rulers and most certainly did not approve of them, even though they were under His providential rule of authority.

We can not with intellectual honesty look upon the deeds of historic world leaders such as Hitler, Tung, Stalin or even Clinton (I know, use Bush if you prefer) and say God established government so therefore He approves of all governing leaders.  The Word is clear about God having no part of evil.  To assert that the acts and thus the leaders under God’s providence work under His approval is wholly contrary to His own words. For us to say that God, for instance, gave us two flawed candidates as Presidential choices and consequently must want one of them to be President is flawed theology at the highest level. Just as with our bodies, it is up to us how we respond to what we view to be His will.  The conundrum is that our will and His will don’t always coincide. It is highly questionable and borderline blasphemous to claim God gave us these two Presidential candidates as “thy will be done”. No, we selected them through our own selfish vetting or lack thereof to do our bidding based solely upon our own personal desires and gain. It is unfair to lay this at the feet of God by claim of Godly providence mischaracterized as Godly approval.

The second aspect of Romans 13:1 that needs to be considered is context.  Who was speaking and to whom were they speaking?  Where were they and what was the current social climate under which the statements were made?  CONTEXT IS EVERYTHINNG!!! First the Apostle Paul was addressing the early church in Rome. If you read verses 2-7 you find why Paul makes these statements.  He mentions those bearing swords.  The early church was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Roman Empire.  They hated Christians and looked for any excuse to off them.  The church likewise held Roman authority in contempt of the church and considered them an enemy of God.  Paul was being very clear in laying out guidelines for the church members to avoid trouble, to pay taxes to avoid jail time and to make no waves directed toward the ruling leaders so there would be no additional bloodshed against the church.  Verse 8 states that they, the church of Rome, were to live lives of submissive love and meekness.  Remember that this is the first century A.D and Paul’s letter was written most likely around 40 to 50 A.D. just a few years after Christ. The same leadership that crucified Christ still existed and Christians were still being singled out and persecuted.  Nero was an awful Emperor who is recorded as having Christians captured and set on fire to light up his gardens at night!  The persecution of the church would only get worse upon Nero’s predecessor Domitian. For the church to spread and Christianity to take root, it was important that a large number of them survived the rule of these Emperors.  (Did God appoint and approve Nero and Domitian?).  If they had not been peaceful law abiding subjects of the current administration there would have been few survivors left to carry our the great commission of spreading the Word.  The subjection to governing authorities was under both the providence and approval of God and His will for those people at that time.  The individual Emperors and their respective crimes against the church were most certainly not!  For further evidence, consider the three Hebrew Children of the Old Testament book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego.  They were ordered by the ruling authority of the day to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image in worship of it or be tossed into the furnace of fire.  It was, after all, the law of the land.  Should they have not been subject to it?  We all know the story and the outcome. That law and its signor were in direct violation of God’s law so compliance was not permissible.  God honored their disobedience to civil law and spared them the consequences of their direct violation. This is a classic example of the providence of authority being perverted and twisted against the will and approval of God. CONTEXT!

Fast forward to 2016 and a very important upcoming U.S. election.  We as believers are faced with some tough decisions as a result of a selection process under God’s providence but not subject necessarily to His approval which has given us two primary flawed choices.  I won’t attempt to address here the polarization that has split the church body into fighting factions. What I do have to address is the irresponsibility of twisting scripture and consequently condemning brothers and sisters in the faith as a result of the same twisted logic over a Godly institution injected with ungodly man made choices.  The Word is to be rightly divided, not torn into sections to support bad doctrine. I cringe each time I see a verse quoted or applied to a meme removed of all contextual meaning. It is nothing new and it will continue to be done. It is our individual responsibility to test (challenge) all scripture under Godly criteria to affirm its proper interpretation and application, and to call out when positive any attempt to Twist it like an old game.

 

A House Divided

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At no other time is the division of the church more apparent than during the heated and passionate weeks leading up to a Presidential election. But politics in general is just an umbrella label that covers several very controversial and divisive issues that separate the church, some to the point of drawing lines in the sand against brothers and sisters of the faith.  As free moral agents God equipped each of us with the ability to reason and form opinions.  Those opinions may be based on several factors including life experience, demographics and upbringing. Thank God for diversity of thought lest we be zombie-like followers void of any uniqueness. However, are we as believers afforded the option to differ over basic tenets of Biblically doctrine?  What are some of the hot-button topics the enemy is using to divide the church?  With much trepidation, I want to examine just a few, in no particular order.

  1. Same Sex Marriage-this is most certainly not a new issue as the early church had to deal with this shortly after the birth of the church. It has only become a hotly contested issue with current legislation that makes it legal for same-sex couples to marry.  As with any good argument, opposing sides seem to be extreme.  Stones are cast with equal velocity by those who view this as the mother of all abominations and by those who “judge not”.  Is it indeed biological, is it a moral choice, is there restoration offered or is restoration required?  As with anything under the sun these answers may be found upon close study of scripture and a sincere seeking of God’s spirit for direction.  One thing is certain-it is dividing the body at the highest of levels.
  2. Racism-perhaps no other issue in modern times has resulted in or been the result of a blasphemous twisting of Holy Scripture.  Slave Owners used passages with slave references to instill fear and obedience in a way that was never intended.  Although we have evolved as a society from those shameful days of hatred, cells of bias still exist in the church that propagate a continued mistrust particularly between black and white Christians.  I have seen and felt this first hand in largely futile attempts at spurring racial dialogue between us.  That level of bias is exhibited even behind many pulpits.  You have on one side a black church body that continues to see and feel discrimination in a system largely lopsided to their disadvantage, resulting in a defensive and sometimes revolutionary posture. On the other side, a white church that knows the evil of bigotry between brothers but is either ill-equipped to properly engage in the battle, or for self-preservation, chooses to stay clear of controversy completely resulting in a complete ineffectiveness in ending racism.  I’m convinced we will never see a complete dissolution of racial hatred in our lifetimes, and it continues to plague the health of the church.
  3. Abortion-the number one reason some will vote for their favorite candidate or abstain from any vote.  More than any other issue, this one affects the voiceless and defenseless innocent.  It has been masked as an anti-government invasion of privacy between a woman and sometimes the biological father.  It has been debated on arguments of life vs. conception, whether pain is experienced by the unborn child, whether or not the fetus is a living soul before birth, whether or not an unborn child is entitled with the same right to life and liberty the living are afforded, etc.  It has been a painful and shameful cancer in the church that tears us asunder much like that of a late term abortion.  It’s ugly, disheartening and continuing. There are solutions to reducing abortion that include education, counseling and yes, birth control.  While I would never sponsor government endorsed contraception in schools, parents need to stop being naïve about sexual activity during teenage years and be active in teaching Biblical precepts regarding sexual intimacy accompanied with practical advice on contraception.  While some would argue that there is no difference in the sin of fornication vs. the sin of abortion, one involves an innocent victim.  Yet the church will look the other way on this topic when voting for their candidate of choice, which leads to the next issue.
  4. Politics-perhaps it has always been this divisive in the body and the popularity of social media simply casts a spotlight and magnifying scope on its existence. That said, the ugliness of partisan political affiliations displayed on posts and threads available for public consumption truly shed a bad light on the body of Christ. At no other time do Christian brothers and sisters hurl such hateful insults at each other than when done over political stances. Core convictions are placed to the side in preference to personal gain and welfare.  Personal responsibilities are discarded in lieu of government intervention and regulations. The custody and control of “do unto others” is surrendered to a largely non-Christian administration, defended by those who cite separation of church and state as if we are personally absolved of considering “the least of these” in light of big government agencies. Believers are highly criticized if they vote red-they are equally criticized for voting blue-they are called un-Christian if they abstain-they are called mindless if they vote third party and even accused of supporting ABC candidate if they vote for XYZ candidate. A temporary man-made form of secular leadership has caused many to overlook our eternal citizenship and relationships to each other long after any two-party system ceases to exist.  And lest I sound like a stuck record, this too is a top (clergy) down situation where even pastors hang their dirty laundry on social media for all to observe.

What ever the issue of the day, the Word is still relevant and has MUCHO to say about divisions in the church.  It plagued the early church just as it does us today.  John the Baptist or Jesus, Paul or Apollos, circumcision or not, foods, rituals, traditions-all divisive then just as our social issues are today.  Consequently, much was recorded for our consideration:

Romans 16:17; “I appeal to you brothers to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to what you have been taught, and to avoid them, for such do not  serve our Lord…”

1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you brothers in the name of Jesus Christ that you agree and that there be no divisions among you but that you be of one mind and judgment. “

Titus 3:9; “Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law for they are unprofitable and worthless. “

Like 11:17; “But He, knowing their thoughts said to them ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and a divided household falls'”.

Our commission is to present through words and our lives a unified gospel of hope, peace, love and forgiveness to a world looking to us for answers.  That can’t be accomplished when there are canyons of division that present anything but unity.  Love has to be a bridge that holds the church together during enemy attacks.  There is but one Holy church, the body of Christ-one savior, and He’s not red or blue but He’s always Right-one Holy Gospel that should be “rightly” divided, not torn into sections to fit preferred lifestyles-one blessed hope that secures eternal communion. How I long for the day when love rules over all evil and the teachings of Christ become our only guiding principle.

 

 

 

 

 

My Safe Place

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Most of us tend to have that certain special place we can run to where we can escape or just decompress.  For some it may be a cabin deep in the woods surrounded by nature.  For others it might be a hike up to Emerald Lake in CO. For me, it’s easy and has always been the same since I was just a young boy. I Love the Beach! I go every year to my favorite beach on the Pacific Coast and in fact was there just last week.  For me there is nothing more relaxing than playing in the waves during the day or more breath taking as the sunset at night, as I attempted to capture in the image attached to this post. It is my safe place.

While I enjoy corporate worship and my private alone time, I am never more close to God than when I am on the beach.  I am in awe of the power of His creation.  When I try to comprehend how the powerful surge of the ocean waves become humbled and silenced by the tiny grains of sand that make up the beach, I short circuit. I am reminded of God’s response to Job in the same book when He asks “…who commands the waves you can come this far and no further…”. When I sit and witness that natural phenomenon I am left speechless. I feel very tiny and insignificant in comparison, but here, it’s ok. This is my place and I don’t have be concerned with my worth or my worthiness.  Here I am not this party or that party, red or blue, upper, lower or middle. Here there are no labels, no hatred or biases, no trending social issues or systematic barriers.  Here there is a sense of a much higher power who values us even more than the creation that we marvel at.  My safe place.

But when I’m on the beach there is more going on than simply the awesome display of a creative God. I can find a sense of restoration or readjustment here. I am a man of many mistakes, many failures, many bad decisions. I am imperfect by definition and in daily need of reconciliation. Truth be known I should be on the beach every week and not just once annually, just for this reason alone. For me the waves and the ocean have a very significant and symbolic effect on my imperfections.  There is a peaceful calm that occurs with watching the tides.  It’s almost as if each wave that comes to shore removes a bit of my imperfection and takes it back out to sea, far away from me.  Indiscretions, out to sea; bad choices, out to sea; feelings of failure, out to sea. The healing can’t be described or fully understood. Yet again, however, I am reminded of scripture that deals with this very notion of sin and sea.  In Micah 7:19, the Prophet says “He will turn again and have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities and will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”.

As I usually do I waded in the shallow water looking for any cool sea shells I could retrieve for my grandkids.  The water would only be clear for a few seconds to reveal what was lying on the sandy bottom.  And then a wave would come to shore and wash everything back out to sea-where there were many shells just a few seconds ago was now a cleared sandy floor.  I get it. Just like that everything was washed out to sea.  To think that our sins are likewise cast into the deepest parts of the sea where man can’t even reach is comforting and healing.  But to actually see it displayed like shells that were so plentiful just a few seconds ago and are now completely removed really drives home with power and magnitude the incredible lesson of forgiveness and redemption. What a refreshing contrast in reading about the sea’s role in the removal and disappearance of our imperfections and in seeing played out in nature.  If only all Biblical lessons were as easily revealed.

My safe place doesn’t magically make everything and every issue go away.  I still have to deal with me when I leave, and I am my biggest challenge. But just the few days alone in my place does more good than the best counselor or psychiatrist money could buy. I wasn’t born on the beach but I’m convinced I was born to spend time there. It is the only place where I feel somewhat whole and at peace.  My Heaven, the Throne of Grace, surrounded by the soft whispers of worship of calm waves washing up on the sandy beach, set against an eternal California sunset. My never ending safe place.

 

 

A Tale of Two Brothers

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This is the story of two brothers, Peyton and Romo.  No, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo are not secret illegitimate love children of the same philandering father. This is a tale about our two beagles, brothers from the same litter. Our family has divided loyalties when it comes to NFL teams; half are Cowboys for life and the other half are blue-blooded Colts fans.  So in the interest of fair and balanced, the names Peyton and Romo.  In many ways they are quite similar.  As you can see they are both inherently lazy.  They look almost identical. They both have insatiable appetites. They are both spoiled! But that is where the similarities end. In every other respect they are exact opposites.

Peyton, the smart one, takes life in stride.  He does not get overly excited, he is a thinker, he shows a bit more maturity and is less likely to get on your nerves.  When he needs attention he just comes up to you and taps your leg with his paw so you will scratch him. Romo, is wired, hyper, nervous, always under foot and suffers from ADHD I’m sure. But what I observed a couple weeks ago really showed how different they are. We bought them each a new toy. Peyton immediately started playing with his.  He chewed on it, tossed it around a bit, laid on it and utilized it for it’s intended purpose, fun and enjoyment. Romo on the other hand, was quick to take his toy outside and bury it as if to keep it safe.  He then just as quickly unearthed it and brought it into the house (with the earth) and hid it under the sofa, only to remove it thirty seconds later and cart it upstairs.  He didn’t know how to just enjoy it because he was too worried about losing it. And there it was.

Some of us spend our lives making a living, putting away for the future, protecting our nest egg lest anything or anyone should take it away from us.  While investing in the future is a responsible approach too many of us are too busy making a living and not living our life.  We worry about the future, having enough to retire on, health issues, calamity, what if, what if.  That is no way to live.  Instead of enjoying what we have worked hard for and making the best of every day, like Peyton, we are in protection mode, securing what we have to the point of not being able to relax and enjoy life, like Romo.  In NFL terms, once you go into a Prevent defense, you are more likely to lose the game. It’s a rough way to live.

Christ warned us in Matthew 6 not to worry.  In context He was speaking about the over-emphasis of money and it’s distraction from serving God.  He says “don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or what you will wear. Life is more than food and clothing. Don’t worry about tomorrow”. As always, His words are meant for our welfare.  He understands our needs, our fears, our tendencies and the number of our days. Sadly it is a fact that many who put away for their future enjoyment never live long enough to appreciate the fruits of their labor. If you can’t stop and find some pleasure in today, you are risking ever enjoying your latter years as they are not guaranteed.

A sad note to this story as an example to us all.  Peyton, the smart one who lives for the day, has a terminal tumor and just months to live.  He doesn’t know it and goes through his day just as he always has.  I need to find a way to be like Peyton. The things we can learn from dogs!

 

Milestones

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Today is a milestone of sorts for me.  With this post I have published 100 blogs since creating In My Own Words. I was a bit surprised to learn that in 2015 http://www.papaswords.com was viewed in 93 different countries.   And yet I still question my impact or influence with my readers, an unfortunate part of my character.

A milestone defined is something that signifies a life event, change or achievement.  Simplified a mile stone is a stone marker used to mark each progressive distance of one mile. Some milestones are dedicated to historical events.  I’ll never forget as a young boy on vacation with my family in the car I would see these road signs that read “Historical Marker Ahead”.  We were usually in too much of a rush to stop to read them and I always wondered what it was that happened at these spots that was important enough to erect a monument for our rememberance. Today when I travel and see these I try to make a point of stopping to read them.  The details in events of the past become more fascinating to me as I age.

Milestones are often a time or opportunity to stop and reflect.  In a month I’ll be turning 55.  I’m not yet certain how I will respond to this particular milestone.  Birthdays, like New Years are undoubtedly the more common milestones we face each year.  Lately I’ve spent much time in self-reflection over my past years.  I will always have the same questions; have I helped anyone along the way, could I have done more, could I have done things differently, how will I be remembered when I’m gone, will I be missed, will I have regerts (like a tattoo gone wrong).  These are questions I can’t help but ask.  These are the concerns of both over achievers and those of low esteem-what is my purpose and have I achieved it or have I fallen short.  I may never know these answers but just asking them help to keep me on track as I approach the next milestone.

I’m not sure what success means.  I still don’t know how one determines if they have fulfilled a purpose or measured up.  What type of milestones have I left along my journey? I can think of a few that if read would encourage others to do something similar. And sadly I can also name a few markers that when read would cause others to not follow the same path.  In that respect I suppose even mistakes can be used as a lesson to others if they take the time to stop along the road and read the historical milestones. I don’t really want to be the person that others look at and say “I don’t want to be like him”, but even that has a purpose.

Life is so full of opportunities for us to make decisions that ultimately determine the markers we leave behind for others.  Our lives are a living milestone, ever changing but always readable. A life may be marked by a successful career or marked by a failed business.  It may be marked by a long and exemplary marriage or by divorce and failed relationships. It can be marked by a life of faith in One who left us many milestones, or marked by a life of indulgence and denial of the spiritual realm. Each and every choice we make on our path impacts our journey and leaves behind a marker for other travelers to stop and read.  We want to believe that our markers are more positive than negative, that our children and family are proud to claim our markers and that others are encouraged to stop and read them on their journeys.

I hope that my posts have been an encouragement to those who have stopped long enough to read them. I keep posting so that even one person may find a nugget or two to help them in their own journey. I write words of hope to compensate for a life of mistakes and lessons learned.  And even if some of the milestones of my own life signify battles and defeats, there’s encouragement in knowing someone else’s course might change as a result. With that in the forefront of my mind, I will begin the second hundred posts and hope that those who come along later and read the markers will be impacted either by my successes or my missteps. Either way it’s all good.

You Are Not Alone

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This week our worship team performed a song entitled I Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe. It was immediately evident by the response and facial expressions how many people in the congregation were identifying with this song.  Perhaps they had gone through a lonely period in their life and could look back and see God’s engagement in their solitude.  Or maybe they were in the midst of the darkness at present and needed to hear words of reminder of our ever present Father.

Consider these moving lyrics:

When I walk through the deep waters-I know that you will be with me

When I’m standing in the fire-I will not be overcome

Through the valley of the shadow-I will not fear

I am not alone, I am not alone

You will go before me-you will never leave me

You amaze me, redeem me, you call me as your own

The feeling of loneliness or solitude is an awful feeling.  Most of us have at some time in our life experienced times of dark loneliness.  We most likely worship each week with other parishioners who appear to have it all together but only come to church for the few minutes they receive of fellowship before returning to their lives void of companionship. Loneliness has many faces-the elderly person who has outlived all their relatives, the recently divorced man or woman who struggles to find joy in anything, the young person who is socially different and isolated, the recent widow, the homeless outcast, the forgotten incarcerated.  Solitude is tangible-it’s heavy, it’s dark, it’s endless and it can crush a person’s will and spirit.

There are a host of online services for matching up people who are dating or looking for a mate-eharmony, Match, Christian Mingle, Our Time and others. Savvy (or totally insensitive) business people are making millions off of people’s desire not to be alone. But these only cover one demographic.  I’ve yet to see a website called Prisoner Visit, Convalescent Companions,  A Day Under the Bridge or any other site that addresses the many faces and situations of loneliness in our society.

I know from my own experiences that it’s hard to find comfort from scripture when you are in the darker times of your life.  And yet, as a believer in Christ His words are often the only source of hope and encouragement we can cling to in times of trouble and solitude.  We are reminded of God’s presence in dark times in Psalm 94:17-18;

“Do not be afraid-I will save you. I have called you by name-you belong to me. When you pass through deep waters I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through the fire you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you.  For I am the Lord your God. ….because you are precious to me and because I love you and give you honor, do not be afraid.  I Am With You!”

Sounds like the perfect lyrics to the perfect song to remind us that God is always near.  Wish I had beat Kari to it!

 

Fast Food Faith

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We live in a world of convenience and choices, especially when it comes to fast food. Tonight we might prefer a run to the border; tomorrow maybe a double whopper or a pizza-pizza. Sometimes we just crave something sweet and at others a jolt of java to wake us up. Not only do we have choices of where to go but what to  order once we get there.  Some of this, a large order of that, hold the other, just make it my way. And our choices can be amusing.  Give me the double-heart-attack griller with extra cheese, and a large diet soda, just to feel good about my otherwise unhealthy food choice.

What a perfect picture for many who claim the name of Christianity. And yes, I’ll say it-it is never more evident than in a heated political season. A good diet is supposed to consist of generous portions of all the major food groups but many don’t want lean meat unless it is smothered in A-1 or can’t tolerate healthy vegetables unless they are swimming in a rich cheese sauce. Still others live on a diet of sugar alone which causes muscular apathy and a false sense of being full and satisfied when in fact the body is being starved of vital nutrients that will result in catastrophic medical episodes or death. What a dangerous game to play…with the Gospel.

I have come to loathe the political process because it reveals the ugly and inconsistent nature of Fast Food Faith. At no other time is it more evident at how we select certain Christian tenants and precepts but blatantly lay aside others, depending solely on how we can receive the most benefit from elected officials and their administrations. We use terms like the “greater good” or “lesser of two evils” to justify and feel better about voting for someone whose platform smacks in the face of true Christianity, specifically the teachings of Christ. I know, I’ve been guilty for many years. The angst I feel when I see how beloved brothers and sisters turn on each other and even resort to labels and name-calling is something even I can’t adequately portray with words. Worse is the fact that even when pointed out these faithful will have a list of template justifications for their temporary disregard for truth only to be blessing one another come Sunday.  It is little wonder that the world sees our inconsistencies and calls us out on them.

If being Christian is defined as being “like” Christ of “of” Christ, is it for us to select only certain aspects of his character or only glimpses of his glory in our walk, our speech and our actions?  Is our approach to reflecting our faith tantamount to pulling up to a fast food window based on the whims and desires of the moment?  If others see in us a poor or false reflection of the one true and complete Christ are we to be held accountable?  And is the objective of personal faith only to be expressed as an inward benefit and not an outward invitation?  How do we look each other in the eye and exhort others to good works through false pretenses of inconsistency and partial application or worse, scriptural relevance?

It is not my design to bash the church but rather my concern that so many are leaving the church in early adulthood or being turned away from the church through mixed messages and meat smothered in sauce. When I observe my reflection in the mirror I see the ugly truth in my own life.  The call to follow and accurately reflect the glory and the image of Christ is a tall order.  It is only by the restorative works of grace that any of us stand a chance. But if our foundation is selective, if we choose what to believe and what to throw out, then as St. Augustine said above, we are no longer serving God but ourselves.

We are in for a long few months heading up to the election. There will be many opportunities if taken, to show love and light or to cast shadows and doubt, to bridge peace or to usher in discord, to reflect Christ or your personal welfare. It may be an ugly truth, but it can’t be laid aside for the convenience of a campaign and then gathered up again after the election is over.  Too much damage can be done, both to those watching us and those guilty of falsifying the name of Christ.  Just as we choose wisely at the polls, we must choose wisely in our character. It is no the next eight years at stake but an eternity.  Peace.

WORDS-Our Weapon of Choice

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The years was about 1978.  I was working behind a full service meat counter.  A young lady was next and I couldn’t help but notice the entire left side of her face was discolored as if she had just been in a horrible fight. Thinking I was being sympathetic I asked her, “Wow, what happened to your face?”. I will never forget her response and her words when she informed me that it was a birthmark. I don’t know to this day who felt worse over that exchange, her for something she was born with and couldn’t change, or me for being an insensitive jerk and speaking before thinking.

Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me” must have never been insulted, disrespected, bullied, or otherwise verbally assaulted.  Words have ended relationships, landed people in jail and started wars. They can be as deadly as bullets when spoken and released down the barrel of hatred to their intended target.  And just like bullets, once fired you can’t put them back in your weapon; they have already done their damage.

I have been privileged, challenged and exhaustingly enlightened this week to be engaged in several conversations with my black brothers and sisters over the current and never ending racial tensions.  What has impressed me the most deeply is that many views and opinions are formed over ill thought out comments or taped interviews where certain people of both black and white races say the most outrageous things and the opposing side is left speechless by the implied hate and bias being spewed forth.  I can’t even offer a defense to them when I am exposed to an elected white official talking about the lack of contributions by “sub-groups”, or minorities to the success and fabric of our country. These blurtations (yes, I made that up) are harmful, divisive and deadly because so many who hear them accept them as generalized and representative attitudes of the race.  While this may be far from the truth, those who hold to and are not afraid of expressing these prejudiced sentiments and deliver them with the force of a 357 revolver are doing more collateral damage than any assault weapon on the market.  The perception that these extreme views are held in common by all people is preventing many from any attempt at healing and constructive dialogue for peaceful relations, and who can honestly blame them.

As with all things I go to my source, God’s word to see how exactly I am to live and control my tongue(could have used that advice in 1978) when communicating with people.  Where do we start?  I’ll list but a few:

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” Proverbs 18

“Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth” Ephesians 4

“The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity that defiles the whole body” James 3

“If any man among you seems religious but can’t hold his tongue, he is deceived and his religion is in vain” James 1

“The tongue can’t be tamed and is evil and full of poison” James 3

“A soft tongue break bones” Proverbs  25

The tongue is the true gauge into the soul of a man. The jokes he tells, the tone of his speech, the actual words he chooses all reveal the inner man like an x-ray machine, open and apparent for all to hear and see. Likewise the words you tweet, the words you blog, text or transmit digitally or virtually not only have immediate impact but are permanently recorded to be further transmitted and easily referenced to maximize the damage.  Why in this age of technology and social media do we not see and understand this?

Yes, I am overtly concerned with things the way they are still to this day between blacks and whites and am on my own personal campaign to do something different, to be something different and to achieve something different. In doing so I have to examine every aspect of those tainted relations to see how and when they were damaged so that in moving forward through much listening and understanding I can be fully aware of how others respond to me, my words and my actions, or inactions so that I can feel at least that I have contributed something positive to the end result of peace and harmony.  I may never see it in my lifetime but I’ll  be damned if I continue on maintaining the current status quo when I know I can be better.  I have been given a small gift with written words.  I pray that I am full cognizant of their impact, both the damage they can do but also the healing they can offer.  God help me to choose correctly at all times so that I’m not forced to taste the bitterness of their improper use.

 

 

Confessions of a 21st Century White Man

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Hello, my name is Joe and I’m white. I’ve been white for, well, almost fifty-five years. I never really thought I had a white problem. I denied being white for many years.  After all, there were people much more white than I was. Then I thought I could control my whiteness by just being white on occasion without going overboard, or that I could quit at anytime. But recent events have convinced me that I have a problem and I’m here to confess.  I’m white and I’m sorry.

This opening statement was not intended to be humorous or offensive, but rather to lay the foundation for what will be a painfully honest and transparent post about the role I have played through apathy in helping to maintain the status quo of poor race relations in our country.  I can’t say for sure why the recent tragedies in MN, LA and Dallas had such a powerful impact on me compared to the hundreds before.  All I can offer is that for some reason this time it caused me to take a hard inward look at myself, to see the real man in the mirror without my color tinted lenses, and I didn’t like what I saw.  I’m remorseful and I need to change in order to be an instrument of change around me.

Let me be clear. I don’t believe I am racist, at least not on the surface.  I grew up in Indy’s West side in a racially mixed neighborhood.  I attended equally mixed schools. I grew up listening and preferring Motown music, wearing clothes that would make most white men blush and most black men jealous. Even now through the modern miracle of social media I count many black brothers and sister as just that, my siblings and I have a diverse list of friends including blacks and Hispanics. I appear to be doing everything right, but am I really?  If I and my white counterparts are truly living bias free, why are we still dealing with race issues in America?  We just last Monday celebrated two hundred and forty years of freedom but are all of us free?  The answer is a painful and resounding No! We are all still shackled by prejudices.  We are still enslaved by generational baises. We are still chained by fears and misunderstandings of the differences that divide us. I was driven to my knees in search of an answer as to why seemingly good and Godly people were having such a minimal effect on racism in our land. And I cringe at the epiphany I received in my soul searching.

For the average white person to deny the existence of lingering racism they have to be intellectually dishonest or deliberately blind to the world around them. We live in a society designed to be systematically divided, stating at the top and rippling all the way to our homes. We have been duped for generations into electing officials who promise change but disregard their own campaign slogans once in office for the same reason there is no known cure for cancer.  Officials are elected by creating fear in their constituents so they may be viewed as a potential savior. But we have failed to realize that our officials have been running on the same platforms for decades because nothing has changed and they have no intention of bringing about solutions that would give them little else to campaign on. That’s not on them, that’s on us. Two of the biggest contributors to racism in our society are the Republican and Democratic parties. Racism is not going to be eradicated at the government level by electing the right person.  Many of us believed that electing a black POTUS was a sure sign that racism had ended and relations going forward would improve. Recent events have proven that notion to be anything but true.

But I don’t lay our problems at the feet of our elected representatives.  The problem lies much closer to home.  This is where it gets painful. This is what I was forced to see in my search for answers. This on many levels is a church problem, and you and I who are the church are guilty. This past weekend I saw several posts about local churches having urgent prayer services to heal our nation.  The prayers go something like this: God, our country needs you to heal us.  Our country has rejected you and now we beseech you to remove the hatred and heal our land”. On the surface that might seem like a legitimate and sincere petition.  The problem with it for me is that it removes the onus and the blame from the roles I have played in aiding and abetting racism and places the burden of resolution on God and not on me. We are asking God to do something that he already mandated as our responsibility in his Word.  It is not for God to send reconciliation-he already did that when he gave up his Son for our restoration. Consider the often quoted passages, “love your neighbor as yourself”, “love others as Christ loved the church”, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, “there is neither Greek or Jew, slave or free…”, God is not a respecter of persons”, and on and on.  But for many these have become lifeless words suitable for framing and hanging on a wall in our offices or our homes or a cleverly designed tattoo or piece of jewelry and little more. We have removed their powers by not applying them to our hearts.  They have become as meaningless as a Facebook meme.

We gather each Sunday in the safety and comfort of our local churches and we sing songs like Love Lifted Me or Make Me an Instrument and we each let our lights shine so brightly among our fellow parishioners that it is blinding. We quote from Matthew chapter five that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city on a hill and we sing and we dance in emotional responses and displays of insincere agreement, high-fiving each other and anointing each other with blessings of favor and prosperity and brotherly love. But as soon as the service ends and we exit through the church doors the slightest breeze of disagreement or trouble immediately snuffs out our light.  The light we are to carry into the world, the light of love and peace and forbearance and unity, is never seen in our schools, our places of work or our communities, because the light doesn’t even remain lit until we reach our homes. Without this light we are attracted to other source of artificial light that skews our thinking and our responses. Without this light we find ways to justify injustices.  We wax indifferent to the loss of life. We as white people respond to misconduct by painting victims as having lengthy records and being less than perfect and somehow deserving of their fate. We are quick to deflect complaints by quoting black on black crime rates.  We are hardened to suggest things would be different if there were more engaged black fathers. We diminish the loss of a young life by pointing out the number of black abortions as if one carries more weight or dismisses the legitimacy of street crime. We as a white people, and specifically as white Christians have lost our ability to be empathetic to the plight of our black brothers and sisters who deal with everyday life on terms none of us could possibly understand. I’m guilty. My heart is broken.

I’m guilty because I haven’t been an active advocate of peace and unity. I’ve simply prayed for peace in the solitude of my prayer closet. I haven’t gotten my hands dirty in the fight. I’m guilty because I approach the debate but become easily distracted or offended when my black brothers try to lay some honesty on me that I receive as a personal attack, so I take my ball and go home to where I’m safe. I’m guilty because the actions I try to take in confronting social injustices I do so in the relative safety behind a computer. I’m guilty because I sing on stage or play with our Worship team but quickly lose my religion on the freeways of Las Vegas.  My light is extinguished by the first driver who cuts me off in traffic. I feel the words of the Apostle Paul. what a wretched man I am.

We have to be better than this-protests, marches, movements, boycotts and yes, even prayer alone have not proven effective in providing healing to the festering wounds and visible scars of evil and hatred that has plagued us since the beginning of our country. But what do we as a people do?  I heard some well intentioned commentators speak about finding common ground between blacks and whites so we can build on something. But at the core level, that notion in itself is divisive. Common ground? The fact is there is very little uncommon about us. If I need a new heart I can receive one from a blood typed black brother. If they need a kidney they wouldn’t want one of mine, but any white man with healthy kidneys could just as easily be their donor.  We are not from different planets that we have to search for commonality in order to progress past prejudices. We are created in the image of God, unique but the same, individual but bonded as one bride to Christ.  We have much in common and any suggestion otherwise only exasperates the issue.

How can I as a white man be a conduit of real and lasting change and reconciliation to my black brothers?  I can only offer my humble thoughts.  This has to begin first and foremost with taking an honest personal inventory of each of our lives to see if through deliberate action or through inaction, or worse, gross negligence we have contributed to the cancerous racial tensions in our communities. We have to pray that God will not change our country but our individual hearts, to remove the blinders that keep us from seeing the reality of the situation, to get beyond our standard white defenses. Once God through his spirit has opened our eyes and empowered us with resolve, we then have to take it to the streets. We have to come to the table of peace, blacks and whites alike and deliberate and reason together a solution.  For me as a white man, this means I have to become vulnerable, remorseful, to drop my guard and to leave my bullet proof vest at the door.  I have to be willing to sit and endure the valid complaints and everyday challenges young black men face through a designed social system without feeling offended, without firing back with the latest crime statistics or meaningless arguments of justification.  I have to, perhaps for the first time in y life, really listen to the complaints being lodged without retort.  Only by honestly identifying the ugliness of the issue and the centuries old evil schemes we have fallen for in further perpetrating injustices in our world can we develop the appropriate treatment and response. You can’t vaccinate against a disease until you have properly identified it so the correct vaccines can be administered. The vaccine for hate is love.  The vaccine for bias is understanding. The vaccine for social injustice is acknowledgement. And our black brothers, although they may feel it useless because they have been at the table of peace before, have to come back one more time and engage us in dialogue.  These efforts should be instituted in our local church assemblies first, but not limited to the office of the local clergy. I am the light of the world-you are the light of the world. When light is introduced into darkness, the darkness fades.

I’m genuinely fearful for the world we are leaving behind to our children and our grandchildren if we don’t take action once and for all to fight the dark forces at work to cause our destruction.  I want better than that for them.  I want a world where a white man can see a black woman and without a second thought say to himself “dayum, what a fine looking woman. Gots to meet her!”. I want to live in a world where a black woman can view a white man and think to herself ” he looks like marriage material, like someone who would treat me like a queen”. I want to live in a world where a white son can bring home his black girlfriend  and have his parents say ” if our son loves you, that’s good enough for us. Sit down and have some quiche”. I want to live in a world where a black girl is not reluctant to introduce her white boyfriend to her parents and to hear her parents say “welcome into our home young man. Have some chicken and waffles”. I want to live in a society where police officers are well trained and not fearful for their lives simply by doing their job, so they can go home at the end of their shift. I want to see a society where young black men are not afraid of being shot over minor traffic violations. I want to live in a society where hateful people are prosecuted for crimes against their brothers, and where there exist no blue code but a human code.  I want to see a world where racism is not instilled into us by a government dependent on minority voter support so they can live a lifestyle their constituents can never realize. And I want to live in a world where our lights shine brightly beyond the four walls of our churches, where we are not content because we have a black or white friend or two. I want to live in a world where my black brothers are not tired of the same shit different day lives they lead, and a world where whites are not despised because of our negligent and historic approach to the disease of racism. I don’t know if I can make a difference but I sincerely want to try this time. This is the confession of but one white man, a confession that is bound to cost me a few friends but one I feel is worth the risk if I am to ever be the good Samaritan I am called to be outside of my local church.

Dear Father of us all, place in me forever the burden of confronting my fears, my biases and my inaction so that I can have a positive impact on the world around me. Bring me to tears over the things that break your heart and help me God not to hide behind the veil of my faith in combatting evil but rather spur me to greater works in being instrumental in ushering in a movement of change and peace in my community until that day when peoples of every tribe and every tongue will bow at your throne to worship in unity the creator and lover of us all.

Influence

 

Networking

It’s been a while since my last post.  When life hits with its surprises and uncertainty I tend to take a critical and maybe even an unfair look at some things. As an aspiring writer I question constantly both my influence and my credibility. Do my words have any positive impact on my readers? Do I inspire deeper levels of thought and reason? Do I adequately reflect my Christian faith? Are my words being read at all?  Am I leaving anything of value behind in my wake?

These questions are certainly not limited to writers. In fact I would suspect many of us at some point in our lives ask ourselves these same questions-why am I here, what is my purpose and who if anyone am I impacting by my speech, my actions or my lifestyle.  However the fact is that every single one of us has some impact on someone, whether positive or negative.  None of us live our lives under a shell or as hermits.  At some point we all cross the paths of others either inadvertently or by God’s design and have immediate influence on that person and in that situation. It would be idealistic to believe we leave behind rainbows and Skittles everywhere we go but none of us are ever on top of our game 24/7.  In fact if you are like me, you have probably disappointed more people than you have helped, or maybe it’s just me.

So what exactly is influence? The dictionary defines it as a noun, “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or the behavior of someone or something…”. When I think of influential people I think of great orators like the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther King or Billy Graham or Ronald Reagan-people who have an effect on others by their powerful convictions and proficiency with words. But as a brother or an uncle or a dad or a grandfather I have an effect, good or bad, on those around me everyday.  Am I making a difference?  Am I having influence? Is there any evidence of positive effect on thought or behavior?

There is a popular passage in Matthew 5 that portrays for us the type of impact we should be having in our circle of family and friends.  Beginning in verse 13 it reads “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand so that it lights all the house. In the same way let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven”.

That is a tall command, a mandate if you will to always be positive in every way, and for many a seemingly impossible task, one that most certainly stirs critical self-review. When you shine a light on your own life to see if you measure up to this extremely high standard of living, the shadows it casts on your failures can be daunting in regards to positive influence. When you have serious questions on the impact you have you are left with only two options; retreat to your shell and assure yourself that no one will be impacted positively by your words or life, or find a way to live above the waves and have an effect on even one or two people.  One choice is easy, the other a real challenge.

If you are one of those who can step out of bed, break your leg but go about rejoicing that you still have one good leg to hop around on, let me just say I hate you! Rather I hate that I am not like that by nature and find it difficult to sing through pain. Yet everything in scripture confirms that I am light, I am salt, I am iron and that whether I sharpen someone or dull them, I have a choice to make each new day on how my response to life will impact or influence those God puts in my path whether I want Him to or not.

And so it is with you.  Peace.

A Dad…

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A dad doesn’t always have natural paternal instincts but is a work in progress.

A dad is burdened with teaching his kids life lessons that he is still learning himself.

A dad is expected to remain strong even in the most difficult of circumstances.

A dad is forced to grow up when everything inside him still longs to be a kid.

A dad bears the responsibility of providing for his family at any cost, even the cost of his own dreams.

A dad doesn’t let his family in on his darkest fears or troubles but keeps his worries and concerns to himself.

A dad sees a different piece or trait of his in each of his kids and knows they are his.

A dad is always concerned about the welfare of his kids and the decisions they make.

A dad is expected to blaze a trail for his kids when he doesn’t always no the way.

A dad doesn’t overreact at the sigh of blood or a broken bone but hurts inside for his kids where none can see.

A dad is to teach his children God’s ways but pushes the limits of God’s grace in his own life every day.

A dad is expected to be a builder, a mechanic, a handyman even when those skills are not his strengths.

A dad has to face the declining physical abilities due to aging but keep up with the increasing demands of energy and activity of his kids and grandkids.

A dad is soft spoken until his kids are threatened and will then risk life and limb to protect them.

A dad is the biggest fan of his kids even when they don’t realize it.

A dad sometimes pushes his kids too hard so they won’t make the same mistakes in life that he made.

A dad is forced to watch his kids fall off the bike and get banged up because he knows if he doesn’t let go they will never learn.

A dad must sometimes work extended hours or additional jobs at the sacrifice of his own relationship in order to provide for his kids and secure their welfare.

A dad never stops loving his children even at times when it doesn’t show or is hard for him to communicate or demonstrate.

A dad wants and needs all the same things he attempts to give his kids, love, respect, affirmation and encouragement.

A dad is looked to for wisdom in areas where he is still seeking answers.

A dad is constantly evaluating his performance against a model of a heavenly Father that no one can ever duplicate on Earth, and is overwhelmed at his own failures to measure up.

A dad is challenged with trying to identify with his kids by being cool or hip even if it doesn’t naturally become him, while still maintaining a paternal presence.

A dad must discipline his kids for going down the same paths he traveled at their age.

A dad is sometimes unfairly judged by his status, his career or his ability to produce income.

A dad needs his children to know he did the best he could but knows he made mistakes along thee way and could have been better.

A dad deals with an ever changing life on a daily basis with little recognition but is okay with that as long as he knows his kids are growing or have grown to be responsible adults based on what little influence he may have had on their lives. But he will always wonder if he could have done more or done things differently.

A dad’s greatest reward are his grandkids so he can start the process all over again.

Have a happy Father’s Day dads!

The Perversion of Social Media Amongst the Flock

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When I was younger we thought two tin cans attached by a string made for great communication devices for our war time games.  If we wanted to catch up with a friend we had to use a land-line telephone-that’s a phone that actually had to plug into a wall for your millennials.  Now we can reach out and touch like never before in real time with friends and family across the oceans by way of social media vehicles and smart phones.  I am an avid user of such media and have to admit that  without it I may have never reconnected with some of my childhood and school friends and caught up on their lives hundreds or thousands of miles apart.  And who doesn’t enjoy watching cat videos to pass the time.

The number of active accounts on social media is mind boggling.  On Facebook alone there were over 1.65 BILLION active accounts as of April 2016!  I would swear some of my FB friends know every last one of them. The potential to reach the masses has never been greater or easier as it is now with everyone having access to these media outlets right on their personal smart phones.  But like any good invention it didn’t take long for some of us to pervert it and abuse it to the detriment of many.  Specifically I am addressing us church folks who have used it to preach false doctrines, perpetuate hate and alienate Christian siblings who have differing views on social, political and religious issues. I have witnessed just within my limited circle of friends how harmful social media can be when used for the wrong purpose.  It can be embarrassing, hurtful and quite frankly, not very Christ-like.

There is a verse, Mark 13:10 that says the Good News must first be preached to all nations.  The worldwide usage of social media may be the very vehicle God intends for us to use to fulfill that requirement. In countries where Bibles are not allowed, study can still be done discreetly on smart phones  by way of URLs to Bible sites.  The Word is going forth by way of social media into areas where Christianity is otherwise forbidden. The impact social media has on spreading the Good News can not and must not be ignored. The potential for people to be pointed to the only source of salvation, Jesus Christ has never been greater. But alas, just as there are those who use the very Word of God to divide and tear down instead of its intended purpose of offering hope, there are those who abuse sites like Facebook to bring harm and disruption and discord among the Church. For me this  a travesty, and one I have been guilty of myself in years past.

If you are concerned about your activity on social media let me suggest the following verses as a measuring stick regarding social media posts:

1 Thessalonians 5:11; “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”

Hebrews 10:24; “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”

Romans 14:19; “So let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding”

Eph. 4:29; “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up”

1 Peter 2:1-24; “Put away all malice, deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Be like living stones used to build a spiritual house…

Exodus 23:1; “You shall not spread a false report.  You shall not join with a wicked man to be a false witness.”  (This is a biggie on social media, sharing uncorroborated posts).

Does this mean we have to type “Amen” to every lame meme that comes into our box, of course not-that is only another form of a false doctrine.  However it does mean that we need to be aware that our social media posts may as well be billboards for the number of people who will come across them in your circle.  There is but one truth, one Holy Gospel and not a myriad of relative truths based on our socio, economic, political or religious persuasion. To cause others to stumble in the faith is irresponsible at best, and to turn someone who is genuinely seeking away from the truth because of a hateful or divisive post is simply unforgivable. Don’t be like I once was, guilty of perverting a tool that should have been used to exhort, not destroy.  Peace.

 

 

 

Just a Vapor in the Wind

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Once again we were recently reminded of the fragility of life and of the uncertainty of days as we said goodbye to another legend long before their three score and ten years were up. We have witnessed an alarming number of deaths just this year of those we were not expecting who seemed to be immortal just by virtue of their contributions that were woven into our mainstream lives.  These are just a few who are gone too early:

Prince, age 57; Chyna, age 46; Gary Shandling, age 67; Joey Feek, age 41; Vanity, age 57; Glen Frey, age 67; David Bowie, age 69; Natalie Cole, age 65.

The most recent mortality tables for the U.S. puts the average life expectancy at 78.8 years and yet we hear daily of tragedies of the not-so-popular people killed by violent acts, auto accidents or heath related issues that never get close to their allotted seventy years of life. As a fifty-four year old man with a few health issues, I am paying attention and considering the fact that I may live to see eighty or I may die on the golf course before I reach sixty.  No one knows for sure save God.

Where do we believers get the three score and ten years idea from?  The Psalmist David says in Psalm 90:10 that “our days may come to three score and ten, or fourscore for some”, score representing twenty years.  But he adds that “the best of them (years) are but trouble and sorrow for they quickly pass and we fly away”.  The older I get the more I can testify as to how quickly the years have gone by.  Through social media I keep in touch with many of my childhood and school friends and I am confounded as to how we can be discussing our grandkids. Time indeed flies.

There was a very popular song written by Kansas called Dust in the Wind which captures this essence.  The first line says “I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment’s gone.”.  How true.  The author of this song was Kerry Livgren, a Christian who took this right out of the Word.  We read the following in James 4:14:

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”.

Some argue that our days are predestined and that nothing we do can take from or add to the years of our life.  While it may be true that God knows our life expectancy, there are verses left for us that indicate we can play a role in our life span. In 1 Kings we are told that “if we walk in obedience and keep his commands we will be given long life”. and again in Exodus 20, we should honor our father and mother so that we may live long”. The mystery of all mysteries is the shortened lives of those we view as righteous. We are simply called to a life of humility and obedience and service as we await. There is a parable in the New Testament about 5 wise virgins and 5 foolish virgins waiting for the groom to come for them. The wise virgins, not knowing for sure how long they may wait were smart enough to buy enough oil for their lamps should the wait be extended.  The foolish virgins, thinking they had more than enough time found that their lamps burned out too soon and they missed the groom when he came because they had to leave and buy more oil at the wrong time. There is a lesson for us here.  We can’t assume the time we have because of our own false sense of immortality-we can’t wait until tomorrow to be reconciled to God through Christ because we are only in our twenties, thirties or fifties.

So what should my response be when I read of unexpected deaths and consider my own pending mortality?  First I should rest in the knowledge that this life, although it is all I know with my human understanding, is but a short precursor to my REAL life which starts when I begin eternity with my savior, Christ.  We are reminded in the Word that we are just aliens here on this earth waiting for our eternal home. Second, this realization should compel me to make every moment of every day count for something bigger than me.  My kids need to know how much I love them.  They also need to be aware of my faith and my desire that they too be reconciled to Christ while there is time to do so, not knowing for sure what tomorrow brings. Third, I need to find joy in life even when life seems to be amused at my constant struggles.  This is a hard one for me as there are times when I feel like the poor mole in the arcade game Whack a Mole; every time I pop my head up someone is waiting there with a hammer to knock me back down. On these days I must find comfort in uplifting music, charitable work, leisurely activities-anything to keep me occupied so as not to dwell on current circumstances. This chapter may not be going the way I would have written it, but I still know how the story ends-I have to find peace in that knowledge.

The point is simple-look around, read the news, consider your own close circle of friends and acknowledge that no one is guaranteed another day, that no amount of fame or fortune will buy you another minute and that in a split second you or those close to you may be gone from this life. Embrace your mortality and use it as exhortation to live every moment to the fullest and leave no regrets.  Try to find happiness during deep times of sorrow and be conscious off those around you who need your encouragement and your love so they too can overcome their trials.  If the wind blows out your candle, light a bigger one. Be a friend, a mentor, and a road sign that leads to Christ in all you do, say and yes, post. Live life abundantly as to overflow onto others and go out with a bang!  At least that’s my ultimate plan.

 

 

 

The Church and Politics-The Great Polarization

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Hello.  My name is Joe and I’m a former ditto-head (hello Joe).  I’ve been politically sober now for almost two years. (Applause, yada, yada).  I was a proud follower of all things Rush Limbaugh but I have since given away my personal copies of The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So.  However I still enjoy a good Arturo Fuente cigar, which Rush turned me on to.

It is that time again, you know the one, when many of the faith for whatever reason put aside all thy have learned, or should have learned about their eternal status in Christ and take up arms and soap boxes in support of their favorite candidate and make claims based on social media memes and the usual talking heads of the propaganda machine that is the American political system.  Yes, thank God for every brave man and woman who fought for or died that we might live in a country where we can openly campaign for and support the candidates of our choice-this is in no way a knock on our freedom to cast ballots and select leaders.  We are much more fortunate in that respect than most countries around the globe.  But I can’t help but feel that many of us play right into  the hands of those running for office who have little real concern for our religious affiliation or core beliefs, and why should they, when we leave them at the doors of our local balloting locations.

Yes, not long ago I was a devout ditto-head (that’s a supporter of Rush Limbaugh for those in Yorba Linda).  I couldn’t understand how my Christian brother or sister could call themselves Christian but vote for this person or that person. I dreaded what would happen to me if this person was elected or how my relationship with those of the other side of the aisle would be impacted once the elections were over.  But then an amazing thing happened at about age 52-I Grew Up!  I realized that I had lived through several Presidents that I didn’t support, but I was still the same-my personal situation had not been affected in any great means at all-amazing.  But I was so sure that the country would go to hell in a hand basket if this guy won office-what happened? I didn’t have to move to Canada, change churches or renounce my political views, and I was still here and not in a bread line-wow!

Here’s what I finally came to understand-I am a proud citizen of the USA, born in the State of Indiana.  However, my REAL citizenship as a follower of Christ is not of this world. While I need to understand and choose to take part in the political process, my fate is not held in the hands of a Republican or a Democrat, a socialist or a conservative, the red side or the blue side. I am constantly reminded through the Word that God is my protector and provider and He directs my path and dictates my future, not the Senate Majority.  Here are a few verses that we all quote but somehow disregard during campaign season:

“And My God (not the POTUS) will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”…Philippians 4:19

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?”. (or what if so and so wins office) . our Heavenly Father knows what you need”   Matthew 6:31

If you then who are (Dems or Repubs) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask him”…Matthew 7:11

“Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!…Like 12:24

“I am Lord-Open your mouth wide and I will fill it”..Psalm 81:10

(parentheses mine)

And I could fill pages with such promises.  And yet there seems to be nothing that so greatly divides the church as a good political campaign during an election year.  I sit back now and read (without jumping in) the posts and heated debates that go back and forth on social media.  I hear stories about clergy surrendering their pulpits to candidates turning a worship service into a political town hall meeting. I read with my own eyes the names and sometimes visceral that comes from the posts between Christian siblings who share differing views and the worst of all, groups of clergy rallying behind the efforts and campaign of a chosen candidate and laying hands in agreement but demanding separation of church and state whenever the church tax-free status is questioned.

This I my newly enlightened approach-not saying it’s the only approach, just the process that I am comfortable with in making my ballot choice.  My number one criteria above all else-can I justify my vote before God?  I know exactly through His Word what He desires from my life, how I should live and the precepts I should espouse and support in voting.  My new motto, and unfortunately more true each election-a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. I can’t in good conscious cast a vote for anyone who believes anything contrary to God’s laws and desires-period!  If that means I have to write in a name not on the ballot, I will do so and not worry that it’s a “wasted” vote. Second, I don’t put much stock in what is said during a campaign-I follow the money and the voting records.  Who supports them-why-how did they vote on this issue-what bills have they sponsored on another issue?  And the big one for me, perhaps the hardest of all-I rarely comment on political posts and refrain from sharing baseless memes, unless they are too funny to ignore!!  I don’t even pray that God puts the “right” person (pun intended) in office.  Instead I ask God to help me cast the right vote for me.  I finally get it-I will be just fine if the other guy or gal wins.  My provisions, my security, my future don’t lie within the hands or policies of the current administration-I am a child of the eternal President, the supreme ruler and he is the one I need to please and rely on for my welfare, not whether the country remains red or blue for the next four-year term. Sure I will vote and encourage others to exercise the freedom to do so, a right bought with a high price. But I will no longer fret over who controls the House or Senate because neither control me, only my God.  It may not be popular, but I think I’ll stick with my new strategery! 

 

 

 

The Diminished Cross

GUWG-Cross-Light

Each year about this time I lament my disappointment as I once again embark on a futile search for a place to observe Good Friday among my protestant based churches.  Mind you not all have done away with such observances, but with each passing year the offerings become fewer and fewer.  In a feel-good age of cheap grace and victorious living, the message of suffering, forbearance and surrender of self, becomes increasingly diluted if mentioned at all.  The challenge of taking up one’s own cross and submitting to the unpredictable and uncomfortable life of following our Savior in His suffering and death is being largely replaced with the more popular theology of living your best life, tapping into God’s treasure trove and living a free-style life where all is covered by grace and a high five is preferable to a lowly stature of humble prayer and reflective remorse.  The cross is only relevant as a piece of jewelry or a favored tattoo and not a reminder of our sinful roots.

The cheap form of grace that some brandish about like an infinite well we didn’t have to dig was provided to us at a high cost.  In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dierich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the cost of this grace:

“such grace is costly because it calls us to follow. It is costly because it costs a man his life and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; “ye were bought with a price”, and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

That cost was paid on a cross.  There would be no Resurrection Sunday without the horrendous events surrounding Good Friday.  In fact there would be little value at all in an empty tomb except that given it by the verified death just three days earlier.  It is the cross that empowers the message of the resurrection-it is the bloodshed and the suffering and the ultimate show of sacrificial love by means of the cross that gives life and hope to the message of redemption and eternal life revealed by the empty tomb.  But somewhere in our attempt to make more palatable the message of hope and forgiveness many have left out the call to obedience, suffering, discipline and selflessness that the cross represents. A 30 second Sinners Prayer void of a call to total submission under the weight of a daily cross would be to hard to receive and would turn many away, so it is left off the buffet of inspirational anecdotes and dessert blessings lest the people may not come.

While I enjoy the freedom of our worship styles I am never drawn away from the integrity of the old hymns.  One of my favorites was written by Isaac Watts over three hundred years ago, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  The descriptives held within the lyrics paint for us an undiluted picture of the price paid on the cross and the eternal value that lies within the solemn observance of that first Good Friday;

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride. 2. Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to his blood. 3. See, from his head, his hands, his feeet-sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e;er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown. 4. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, deserves my soul, my life, my all.
I am the least of those to point out how we overlook the cost of the cross as we pass Go and head right to the empty tomb and collect our $200. My life is not one of submissive discipline and I fall short of understanding and living out the combined message of the tomb and the cross. But I am deeply grieved and concerned at how through the generations the high cost paid for the grace we boast has been diminished to a nearly unmentioned detail having little significance compared to Living our Best Life Now. It is the blood shed up to and on the cross that provides our healing.  It is the lashes and the nails on the cross that provide our forgiveness. It is the carrying of the cross by our King that provides us the best example of meekness and humility. And most importantly, it is only the death on the cross that made possible the glorious resurrection we celebrate at Easter.  One can not be separated from the other; one can not be observed properly as a single event without knowledge of the other. And one can not glory in the risen Savior and the empty tomb with giving glory to the crucified Lamb and the price of death paid for our redemption.
There is no shortage of scriptural texts to instill in us the ever relevant importance of observing the work accomplished on the cross.
1 Peter 2:24; He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”
Hebrews 12:2; For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Galatians 6:14; May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
1 Corinthians 1:17; Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom or eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Although they gave it their best effort, not even Hollywood with all their special effects could adequately capture the horror, the level of pain, the sense of abandonment nor the depth of so great a love that was displayed that Good Friday on the cross we so reluctantly acknowledge. Christ took upon his body the eternal punishment for all evil, for all hatred, for all martyrdom in his name, all terrorism, all extremism, for every lie, indiscretion, theft, for every person who has walked the face of the planet he created. The source of all life became death; the embodiment of all that is good became all that is evil so that even his own father could not look upon him in his deepest and most agonizing hour on the cross. How can we so easily brush aside the infinite sacrifice in favor of the glorious outcome? Is it because the cross reminds us of our worthlessness and our own sinfulness but for the high price paid for our grace? With all that is left of my shattered life I will attempt to find glory and worth in the cross and pray that its significance is never lost on me.

I boast not or works or tell of good deeds for naught have I done to merit his grace

All glory and praise shall rest upon him so willing to die in my place

I will glory in the cross, in the cross, lest his suffering all be in vain

I will weep no more for the cross that he bore-I will glory in the cross.

May you have a blessed, reflective and completely cognizant Easter celebration as we acknowledge the whole Easter story from the incarnation to the passion, from the death to the resurrection and from his ascention to his eventual return, all made possible by his obedience to the cross.

 

 

Finding Hope in Times of Great Loss

hope in Christ

None of us are shielded from unexpected events that rattle our lives like an erupting volcano or a major earthquake.  The strongest among us can be brought to our knees when faced with certain life events or painful losses-the loss of a child, the loss of a home, the loss of a job or a business, the loss of a spouse due to death or divorce.  All of us will eventually face one or more of these events or know of some who have and can bear witness to the long term damaging effects it can have on an individual’s attitude, their outlook on the future and their quality of life.  And all of us who have already been visited by any of these can attest to the resulting sense of hopelessness and isolation.

Besides the obvious impact these losses or changes can have on the emotional or mental health of a person, these events can also alter the physical health as well.  In 1967 two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of more than 5000 patients to see if there was any correlation between some life events and eventual major illness.  Their findings have been confirmed by subsequent independent studies and the results are the same, and not at all surprising.  Based on their data they developed the famous Holmes and Rahe Scale, used to determine the chances of a person suffering major illnesses in the future.  Each event was given a numerical value in line with the severity of the event.  Here is what the scale looks like with events and numeric values listed:

Holmes-Rahe-Stress-Inventory

When you begin to take inventory and add up the numbers, especially if you are older, the results can be scary in light of the rating scale based on your score. The things that happen in our lives have a measurable impact on our mental and physical health-there is simply no disputing this.

But before you add up your score and head for your garage to start the car and close the garage door, take heart-there is a disclaimer!  These studies are based on the normal conditions and responses of the normal person.  There is no allowance or consideration given for the person who has overcome or survived these events due to the hope they have through their faith in Christ. Upon our conversion we are promised that we become “new” creatures, that is with clean slates, having all old things and events “pass away”.  That is certainly not to say we don’t suffer the same pain or agony when faced with any of these major life-changing events-we do, believe me. However it is to say that we have the promise and the assurance, the Hope that even though we walk through these dark places (not over or around as some suggest) that God is with us to provide comfort and courage and strength to endure.  We may not sense His presence during these trials in life but we rely on the knowledge through the Holy Spirit that His word is true and that He is faithful and completely incapable of breaking His promise or His covenant with us when we need Him the most. The great disclaimer to the Holmes Rahe Scale is Christ. He is or can be the great equalizer to those with high risk factors and scale totals-He is the unaccounted for variant in the numeric scale.  You may score high, but Christ…

Holy Scriptures are alive with resounding promises of hope, too many to list.

You may have lost a loved one but you can “lie down and sleep and wake again because the Lord sustains you”. You may have lost a job or a business but “you have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for food”. You may feel abandoned or that God has overlooked you, but in your heart you remember “Has he said and will He not do it or has He spoken and will not fulfill it?”  You may have lost the person closest to you but you can hold fast to the words “Fear not, I’m with you; don’t be dismayed for I’m your God and will strengthen you and hold you steady with my righteous right hand.”

Some of us have faced the events measured on this scale more than once. In fact if not for the disclaimer mentioned some of us may not have lived to tell about it.  But hope is like a skin graft that offers immediate healing and comfort and eventually manifests itself in new growth so that hardly a scar remains.  And by the way, these aren’t just shallow words but first hand testimony that is continuing to be rewritten.  I added up my scores, assuming just one time per episode although I have faced several of these events more than once.  My score….931!  But Christ.