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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.