Fear, Faith and Foreboding; a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6, “Don’t worry about tomorrow”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Christmas Means Nothing if Not True

o-holy-night

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

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

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

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

From Pliny the Younger in 112 AD:

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

From Josephus’s writings, Jewish Antiquities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Apostles Creed Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

born of the virgin Mary,

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

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

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

He descended into hell.

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

On the third day he rose from the dead:

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

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

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

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

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

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

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

the holy catholic church,

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

the communion of saints,

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

the forgiveness of sins,

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

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

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

and the life everlasting.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Gratitude at Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Will Be Said About Me?

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

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

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

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

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

Why Wasn’t the Queen of Soul Healed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wonder of the unconditional love he has for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plan! I love you!”

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

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

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

 

 

Asking God Questions Doesn’t Make You Weak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I stated, I am in good company!

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

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

Politics-“Be Not Entangled…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter, the Pagan Holiday-NOT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is it with you?  Rock or sand?

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Has the Salt of the Earth Lost its Taste?

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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!

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.

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.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

Finding Hope in Times of Great Loss

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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.

 

Applied Christianty-Do We Really Get It?

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Upon our recent trip to Southern California we had the privilege of spending some time with one of our adopted kids-in-Christ. She and her peers from Vanguard University had gone on a mission to the Philippines earlier in the year to work with an orphanage.  When she arrived back in the states she was very certain that God was calling her to go back for an immediate return trip.  Learning of the opportunity and the need my wife and I were happy to provide some staple items that she would deliver to the orphanage and a birth center.  In every aspect, it really was the least we could do.  While in California we were blessed and convicted to hear the report of her latest mission trip.

She described for us in great detail the climate of the islands. Her “accommodations” were hot, humid and buggy. It was required that she sleep in long sleeves and pants to ward off insect bites and other night time creatures, though sleeping in this hot and humid climate with no air conditioning. Although she felt God’s hand of protection, safety is always an issue on the island as local law enforcement can be bought by the highest bidder. While she was relaying her experiences she was popping antibiotics for an amoeba she had picked up on her last trip.  As she told us her story we were all to the point of tears.  Why?  Because she suffered so much while doing good? Because of the horrendous living conditions of those she was serving? Not at all.  It was because of the glow on her face as she gave us the details-because of the love you could see in  her eyes and her expression for the kids she had come to know on her trips. And because of the true guilt we felt when  she told us that she could not wait to go back!

This young college student was showing me, a professed follower of Christ for over 45 years, what Christianity looked like when applied.  I was and am still dumbfounded. Still dealing with parasites and bug bites this young lady can’t wait to go back into the conditions most of us would shy away from, just to be a blessing to children who have no family but show love to all who come into their villages.  I was so proud and at the same time, so shamed.

We sing “Give Me Your Eyes” and “I Want to be Your Hands and Feet” emotionally in our comfortable climate controlled worship services and listen intently to messages about the Good Samaritan once a week to get out “feel good” on, but do we take it to the streets?  Are we living an applied Christian faith in our everyday lives?  Are we quick to jump on a soapbox over social ills and ungodly laws but slow to buy a homeless person a meal or give a coat to a street teen?  Are we guilty of hitting Like and Share and typing Amen on social websites to show our faith but stingy in our response to support even our local shelters or charities?  I have to tell you straight up-upon hearing this young lady’s testimony I was convicted to the core.

James 2 in the Message Bible speaks this same sentiment to me like this:

“Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really (gets it)? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say ‘Good Morning Friend! Be clothed in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit!” and yet walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup-where does that get you?  Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” 

I am not a man of means but I know now that if I am to reflect through my walk what I profess in my talk, I need to be less concerned with my approaching retirement and more concerned with the real-time needs of those around me “while it is still day”. I need to be teaching our young people how to show forth good works rather than being schooled by those who “got it” much sooner than I did. She will tell you that she’s been blessed by crossing paths with my wife and I, but I will tell you I’ve been changed by crossing hers! God help us to emulate those around us who get and apply their faith, even when they are 20 or so years our junior.

The Progressive Evolution of the Church

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I have spent the last couple days configuring a new notebook computer.  May I insert here that Patience is not one of my spiritual gifts. I do not embrace advanced technological change. When everyone was singing the praises o this new phone called the IPhone I was perfectly happy with my antiquated Blackberry. When personal music media evolved I was still humming away with my Walkman. As people gather to worship with their electronic tablets I still like the look and feel and smell of my old leather bound Bible with its scribbles, crumpled pages and stretched cover.  I don’t consider myself as old fashioned necessarily but I am not eager to change things that work for me just because I’m told there are better ways of doing things. This new touch screen laptop with Windows 8.1 and Outlook 2013 is replacing my old desktop with Windows XP and Outlook 2003-you can see what I mean when I say I don’t embrace change.

We live in a progressive world. Everything around us is changing-faster, greener, leaner, smarter. Gadgets not in existence twenty years ago are now staples to our lifestyle that we can’t imagine living without. When is the last time you used a corded phone or played your favorite cassette? Can you even find a store that still accepts paper checks? Does anyone still own or use a phonebook or dictionary? Some change can be good even when it is forced upon us through advanced technology.  Some forced change however should not be so quickly embraced.

The face and identity of the twenty-first century church as we know it has certainly been caught up in change. Prayer chapels are now bookstores-greeting areas are being replaced with bistros. The only church organ you might here is an effect on the more modern Korg keyboard.  But more has changed than just the cosmetics.  Our theology and ideology has “evolved” to better fit into a more tolerant society that frowns upon uncomfortable Biblical tenets, rigid commandments and outdated creed. In many churches this more modern ideology has been incorporated to keep attendance numbers and giving in place.  In others the thought is to be more open and nonjudgmental for fear of being targeted as hateful or pious. The mega-churches in our country preach happiness, prosperity, kingdom privilege and favor over discipline, humility, sacrifice and suffering. After all, who wants to go to a church that teaches that following after Christ requires submission to the same sufferings as our Savior when just down the road we can hear the secrets to getting the best parking spot or that job promotion we are not qualified for. And Worship should make us feel good and sermons should be motivational speeches, not disciplinary lessons of faith.

Many in the faith are concerned with the modern day evolution of the church.  Even as I write this the courts of our country have made a decision on what was once a sacred cow to the church.  But we as believers must share the responsibility for the face of our church.  We have stepped away from sound doctrine. We have set up sermon courses like a TCBY bar-just pick those toppings you prefer. We have turned a blind eye to things going on right under our noses because we don’t want the world to see our imperfections. When I was a teen it was common knowledge that you go to church camp to lose your virginity. Famed televangelists are caught up in adultery, fraud and solicitation but reconciled back to their pulpits at the speed of the best computer processors. Fear of God, or more precisely fear of our individual actions before God has been MIA for decades and the fruits of our blindness are being seen today.

We should not be surprised at these events as Christ told us in the Word, that Book that many are trying to change to make more palatable, that there would be false teachers, bad teaching and a falling away from the Body, the church. I’m not an alarmist by nature but we were warned. But if the great apostasy that was foretold is a result of the lukewarm stance and disregard of traditional and Biblical church tenets by the church, then we are going to have some explaining to do before Christ when He will judge us all for how we handled, divided, represented and lived His words in our lives, our churches and our communities.

As an imperfect follow of Christ I have to conduct my thoughts, beliefs and affairs according to absolute, relevant and eternal truths, specifically those I find in scripture:

Psalm 33:4; For the Word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.

Hebrews 4:12; The Word of the Lord is alive and active.

2 Timothy 316; All scripture is God breathed and to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119:105; Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Isaiah 40:8; Grass dies and flowers fall but the Word of God lasts forever.

Psalm 18:30; Gods ways are perfect; The Lord’s word is flawless.

As a church we must united on the uncompromising Word, careful not to disregard the heart of the commands it contains for us in an effort to me more appealing to the world.  Yes we are to go out to the highways and biways to invite them all to come just as they are and we are to love them as Christ loved us and to show them the same mercy and compassion, allowing the Spirit of Christ to make the change.  But in doing so, the church still needs to be reflective of the true character of Christ, not the twenty-first century version we are presenting to them. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, we must forgive so that we may be forgiven, we must acknowledge injustice and take a stand-we must strive for peace whenever it is possible without compromising the very words and nature of our God.  The enemies and forces of this world are ramping up the intensity of the attack.  The weak will fall and the careless will be trapped. The unchanging, still relevant, unpopular Word of God is our only defense and our best offense. It should not be up for debate within the church but held as our eternal banner and standard for living a loving, caring and disciplined Christian life even in the twenty-first century.

Disclaimer; the thoughts above are my opinion and not directed toward any specific faith or denomination. Any resemblance to these allegations are coincidental (and should probably be addressed).

 

 

 

What Does Real Courage Look Like?

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The Social media has been ablaze this week with articles, debates, mud slinging and downright vicious attacks over the subject of bravery and courage.  You would have to have your residence in a cave to have not been exposed to it through either the televised news media, recent magazine publications or your preferred social media outlet.  One thing is sure, when it comes to real bravery, real courage and true heroism, America has certainly perverted the definition and twisted the perception of how we once defined these rare attributes.

This week I want to share my definitions of courage and how I recognize real heroes.  You may not agree-you would certainly not be the first this week! I choose not to mention specific names but rather share stories of what bravery and courage looks like to me.

A female student who loved the Lord was among the victims killed in a senseless shooting in Columbine. When approached by one of the two gunmen and asked if she believed in Jesus she responded without hesitation, yes.  She died of wounds to the head.

One of the twenty Christians shown recently being executed in the Middle east for their faith, was actually not Christian at the time of his capture.  However, after seeing the bravery of the men who were executed for their faith before they reached him this man had a change of heart.  When it came his turn to denounce his faith in Christ, he replied “their God is my God”.  And with that became a precious martyr.

Twin brothers in Chicago were on their way to the High School basketball game when they were accosted by four men who wanted one of their coats.  When they jumped one of the brothers the other brother placed himself between them and his brother allowing the brother to escape.  The brother who intervened was shot and killed. He was just fifteen years old.

A woman who was burned by her husband in Pakistan when her husband threw acid on her, scarring her for life because of her conversion to Christianity, now spends her time working with other women who were burned for the same reason as an advocate and a support resource.

A promising NFL football star with a lucrative seven figure contract laid it all aside because of an overwhelming urge to serve his country in the war in Iraq. He traded his team colors for his country’s colors and was buried with honor as a fallen hero.

A woman who found freedom after being trapped in the world of the sex for sale industry now spends her time counseling other women who are looking for a way out, risking her life as pimps lose their profits.

In Sandy Hook 20 students lost their lives as did six teachers.  One female teacher hid her kids in a closet and told the gunmen when they entered that they were in the gym.  The students however panicked and began to run from the closet to escape, at which time the gunmen open fired on them.  The teacher died from wounds as she put herself between the gunmen and her students.  More then one teacher died that day doing the same.

Right here in Las Vegas last month some friends were cliff diving at Lake Mead.  One of the teens jumped even though they were not a great swimmer and did not emerge from the water right away.  Another friend dove in and located the friend and brought them up to safety but quickly disappeared under the waves himself.  They found him the next day just under the water’s surface, our latest drowning victim.

These are my heroes. These are the men and women I would want to emulate in similar situations, the ones I would prop up as the face of courage and bravery. Maybe you have your own stories.  Courage doesn’t have to be this dramatic.  It can be seen in the single mom who works two jobs to take care of her kids when no father is present.  It can be the long time addict who finally finds the strength to overcome his addiction and become a sponsor to someone else trying to do the same.  Courage can be the deeply scarred burn victim that society doesn’t want to look upon who goes through life happy to be alive and more beautiful on the inside than their scars would indicate on the outside. Courage can be that teen at a party who stands alone and true to their convictions against drugs or alcohol or sex. Courage can be that person who comes to the defense of the unpopular kid in school who is constantly bullied. Bravery can be that young child fighting cancer who always has a smile for someone else engaged in the same battle. Courage can be the wife of that police officer killed in the line of duty as she hold back tears in a show of strength for her children.

My point is simple really-let’s give honor and credit where it is due, not where it is sensationalized. Let’s be careful in our tendency to idolize the ordinary and look past the heroic acts we encounter in others every day. Don’t fall for every story the media wants to feed us about who we should cheer and champion as our heroes. Let’s be sure we show our kids and grandchildren how to recognize courage, how to act courageously in the face of adversity and Who to call upon when our courage and strength is weak. And if I haven’t given you enough examples of true courage, feel free to pick up the Bible and start reading in Genesis.

Praise Him for Roses-Thank Him for the Thorns

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Have you ever been stuck by a sharp thorn?  Why do some of the most beautiful flowers, shrubs and even fruits, have thorns?  When you think of roses, how can something so beautiful and desired and something so painful and unwanted grow together on the same vine?  These are the types of things I think about-questions few ask.  So I did some research on plants with thorns, briers, or other prickly appendages.

There are three specific functions of the thorns on plants. The first one involves protection.  Specific to the rose, thorns offer protection from larger plant eating animals that may otherwise prey on the flower for food.  The large pointed thorns tell would be herbivores to leave this plant alone for their own good.  At the same time, the thorns are large enough that smaller bugs or insects can easily maneuver them and carry on their task of pollination, assuring that the plants will produce beautiful blooms when the time is right.  I had a pyracanthia tree in my back yard and the thorns are deadly, but when that tree was in full bloom, it was magnificent. Thorns are vital in the protection and the growth process of the plant.

Psalm 91:14 says “I will rescue those who love me.  I will protect those who trust in my name.

There are a variety of flowers that are pretty to look at but are easy to pick or snatch up.  They have no protection that would cause predators to turn away. But smart people don’t grab a rose and try to snatch it up like you might a tulip or daisy because they know they will come away with a bloody hand.  Christ is our protector-He prevents our devourers from snatching us up. 

John 10: 28  No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.[d] No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand

The second function of thorns in certain plants is to direct water to the stem for growth.  They take in moisture in the form of fog, dew or rain, and direct them to the root of the plant’s water table to help the plant grow.  You can imagine how important this is to the life of cacti which typically live in hot dry climates.  You can say that without the thorns, the cacti would not survive the heat and drought.

In Job 38:26 God is speaking to Job after he complained to God about the troubles he had just gone through.

Who do you suppose carves canyons  for the downpours of rain, and charts the route of thunderstorms that bring water to unvisited fields, deserts no one ever lays eyes on, drenching the useless wastelands so they’re carpeted with wildflowers and grass? And who do you think is the father of rain and dew, the mother of ice and frost? 

God provides us with those things we need for growth in Him, even though at times the process is painful and we question His methods.

The third purpose of thorns, particularly briers, is that they offer the plant support and the ability to reach toward the sky for sunlight.  Plants like these are typically low lying berry plants.  I will never forget the many weekends when I was young when my dad would load us up in the car and drive far out to the country looking for wild blackberry and raspberry plants.   The plants that were the tallest were always the one with the biggest berries because they were closer to the sun’s nutrients.  These briers allow the stems of the plant to hook on to each other and give them support or stability from falling.  If you’ve picked blackberries, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It is virtually impossible to separate these vines or branches from each other because they are so intensely entwined with each other.  Without briers, these plants would lie flat to the ground and would not produce fruit.

To me this scenario is the easiest to compare to the thorns that come our way.  More times than not, we view the troubles in our life as thorns that are painful and unwelcome.  Life today is full of these thorns-losing a job, failed marriages, unexpected sickness, deaths of loved ones, bankruptcy, being victimized by crime, and the list goes on.  Like Job we would question God as to why these troubles come our way, as if we’re above trials and tribulations, or worse, that God is picking on us for some reason.  We fail to recognize that these thorns of life are meant to make us grow, make us stronger, give us protection, and keep us close to the Son.  We forget that Psalm 23 says the God is with us when we walk THROUGH the valley of shadows and death, not around it.  We believe the mis-teachings of those who would tell us that the Christian walk is easy if we living right.  But that’s not what Christ taught us-He said that in this life we would have troubles!

But we gain strength and endurance in these thorny situations.  The process of building and gaining muscle in weight lifting happens in the strain of the lift.  The muscles are actually torn down and they regenerate as stronger and larger muscles.

Romans 5 says We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

When we’ve been through these trials and survived, we become support for others who are going through similar situations.  Those who are the most helpful and supporting in bad times are the ones who have already been through the same situations.  There is strength when people get together who have similar thorns in their past and together they can help and support the weaker vines or people who now need to reach the Son.

If you’re like me you’ll never view roses again without noticing the thorns and understanding their importance in producing something so beautiful and so sought after. Remember, it’s the thorns we don’t see that help create the beauty in each of us through a divine process we don’t need to understand, but one we should accept with thanks.

 

Stories Behind the Songs We Love

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I have always loved the progression of Contemporary Christian Music and the impact it has had on sharing our faith with music that appeals to the younger crowd.  Just this past weekend I attended a Worship Experience here with Tenth Avenue North and Chris Tomlin, the Bill Gaither of our generation and had an amazing time of praise and worship. However, I grew up on the Hymns of the church and they are ingrained into my memory as much as the multiplication tables I learned in school.  While I may never relinquish my love for Contemporary Christian music, I am finding that the older I get the more I love and appreciate the hymns from my past.  It’s funny how I can be going about my daily business and out of nowhere an old hymn that I haven’t sung since I was a kid will start playing in my mind as if I had been singing it over the past weekend. Some would call that dementia; I call it wisdom.

There is a purity and an integrity in the lyrics of songs written before our days that is hard to find in their modern successors.  You can almost hear the intensity and the depth of the relationships these authors had with their God, one that is envious to me.  But even beyond the depth of their faith are the stories and the tragedies behind some of the most popular hymns that make the songs even more inspiring if possible.  I wanted to share a couple with you on this post.

Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago Attorney with a successful practice in the mid to late 1800’s. He was a devout Christian and counted among his friends Dwight Moody. But money doesn’t protect one from tragedy.  Early on he and his wife Anna lost their young son, devastating to the most faithful of men. Shortly thereafter in the Great Chicago fire of 1871 Spafford suffered a great financial loss when most all of his real estate investments went up in smoke.

In 1873 Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe for his wife and four remaining daughters where they could relax and recover from their recent losses. Spafford would be joining them and then helping Moody with an evangelistic campaign but last minute business detained him in Chicago. About 4 days into the trip the Ville du Harve collided with a Scottish Iron vessel and within 12 minutes the ship sank into the deep Atlantic taking 226 passenger down with her, including all of Horatio’s daughters.  A fishing boat near the scene spotted a woman clinging to some boards.  It was Spafford’s wife Anna-she had survived. She sent a wire to Spafford which simply said “I alone survived.  What shall I do?”

Devastated and in mourning Spafford boarded a ship to meet his wife in Wales.  About 4 days into the trip the Captain of the ship came to Spafford’s cabin to tell him they were over the area where the Ville du Harve had sunk. Spafford went to the deck to view the spot and reflect on his loss. It is there and at that moment that Horatio Spafford penned these words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet and trials should come

Let this blessed assurance control

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate

And has shed His own blood for my soul

Chorus:

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul

It would be the only hymn Spafford would ever write but one that brings hope to everyone who hears it haunting but beautiful lyrics. What an amazing and incomprehensible testament to the faith of a truly Godly man, to compose such a timeless classic in the midst of the most horrific tragedy.  This is the purity and integrity of lyrics to which I referred.

Louisa Stead was born in 1850. At a very young age Louisa felt a call to ministry but she suffered from frail health and was unable to go into the mission field. At age 25 Louisa married the love of her life and later gave birth to their daughter Lilly. But just a few short years later her beloved husband was attempting to save the life of a drowning child and in his attempt lost his own life.  Louisa was devastated beyond grief.  It was in her sorrow that she penned these now famous words:

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus says the Lord!’

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Chorus

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Who was the “wretch” in Amazing Grace? John Newton, born in 1725 grew up with no religious training or conviction and was often in trouble.  he was forced involuntarily into the military and the service of the Royal Navy where he learned his navigational skills. After leaving the Royal Navy he became a major figure in the Atlantic Slave Trading business.  During one of his trip his ship was hit with a violent storm off the coast of Ireland that battered his boat so severely he instinctively cried out to God for rescue. It is while his boat was being repaired that he penned the first verse to this Anthem of the Faith;

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found

Was blind but now I see

In 1755 Newton gave up slave trading and entered Seminary. He went on to a vocation of Christian ministry and completed the song Amazing Grace.  It is estimated that this tune is sung more than ten million times annually in churches across America yet today. It’s a story of redemption from past sins, of hope for the lowliest of creatures and of our future glory, When We’ve Been There Ten Thousand Years.  It has truly become one of if not the most recognizable hymns in history.

There are so many more stories like these of the circumstances behind the hymns we love-not all of them as tragic but just as inspiring. They say the greatest love songs ever written come from a broken heart.  It can truly be said that the most inspiring hymns of the church today come from tragedy and broken spirits.  But oh how we are the benefactors of the situations that birthed these awesome anthems that we relish and still sing today.  I’m not getting rid of any of my contemporary CD’s just yet, but When the Roll is Called Up Yonder and With a Thousand Tongues to Tell we sing Holy Holy Holy and How Great Thou Art to our Fairest Lord Jesus, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to contain the overwhelming joy and gratitude, or express any better our adoration to Him than these and others have already done decades ago.  The older I get, the more precious these hymns.

True Relics, True Gospel, Changed Lives

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This post may be summarily dismissed by many Protestants who don’t accept, acknowledge or understand the existence of historic Christian relics or the miracles attributed to them.  Relics are simply the remains of saints, i.e. bones, hair, skin, etc., or items closely associated with them or that may have come in contact with them.  There has always been a reluctance in the Western church to acknowledge or venerate these relics for fear that they would somehow be guilty of their misunderstanding of the constitution of idolatry. However for us to dismiss the stories and the miracles reported in association with some of these relics is to dismiss portions of Holy scripture in both Old and New Testaments that document similar miracles. Consider as a basis of Biblical support the following verses:

2Kings 13:20-21  Elisha died and was buried.  At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year.  Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band.  So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off.  But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet. 

Matthew 9:20   Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, 21 for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”

Acts 19:11-12  So extraordinary were the mighty deeds GOD accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Upon reading these passages it would be intellectually dishonest to deny that God released His power indirectly through dead bones, clothing, personal items and even shadows. The items listed were never the object of worship. They were used to show that with God nothing is impossible and not everything is explainable.

The stories of miracles associated with relics are countless and can easily be researched for study by anyone with internet access.  One miracle involves the death of St. Nectarios.

On September 20, 1920 one of the nuns took him to the local hospital, in spite of his protest. He was convulsing in pain from a long-standing ailment. He was admitted, and placed into a ward reserved for the poor and unwanted. There he stayed for two months among the sick and dying. At 10:30 in the evening of November 8th, although in the midst of terrible pains, in peace and at prayer he gave up his spirit unto God at the age of 74. As soon as the Saint gave up his Spirit, a nurse came to prepare him for transfer to Aegina for burial. As the nurse removed the Saints sweater, she inadvertently placed it on the next bed, on which a paralytic lay. And O, strange wonder!, the paralytic immediately began to regain his strength and arose from his bed healthy, and glorifying God.

The oil from the sacred lamp of St. Nectarios continues to be used for anointing with resulting healing reported frequently.

Another of my favorite relic stories involves the discovery of the cross of our Savior, referred to in research as the True Cross. St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, is said to have discovered three wooden crosses under a pagan shrine that had been built on the site of Golgotha. She ordered the shrine to be leveled and was led to the spot by a man in Jerusalem claiming to know the burial place of the crosses. Upon the discovery it was not clear which one was the cross of Christ, so a Bishop who was with her suggested they bring a lady from the city who was known to be critically ill.  Upon the lady’s exposure to the True Cross she was immediately healed.

Other stories are associated with those who possess just small pieces of the True Cross, like this one of Fr. Stavros. When Fr. Stavros was young, he accidentally fell from a height, and his injuries were so great that even the doctor acknowledged that he had died. Everyone was preparing for his burial, at which point his mother remembered the Precious Cross that was in her possession, and she crossed him. A few hours later, he was brought back to life. Fr. Stavros is now in possession of this relic of the True Cross and continues to witness miracles as a result. When Fr. Stavros or another priest places the Cross on the bare skin of a sick person, it adheres or sticks like a magnet where there is sickness or illness.  When the person is healed, or when the sick person is about to have an operation which will heal the person, it no longer sticks to them.  Here is another reported miracle of this particular relic. When Fr. Stavros brought the True Cross to the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Wisconsin, Many sick people came seeking healing. One of these was a Native-America woman with a large, malignant tumor on her chest. With fear and faith she approached and was blessed with the Cross, and a few days later, her tumor had totally disappeared.

As you might expect any sacred items that people seek out for various reasons become prime targets for forgery for profit. You can buy your very own piece of the True Cross on various Ebay stores today for $9.99. Many medieval merchants brought back wood from the Middle East and passed it off as True Cross relics. CNN has documented cases where carbon dating on certain acclaimed relics, including the supposed finger of john the Baptist, cast heavy doubt on their authenticity.  So what, if anything, is the true measure of the authenticity of a relic? It’s actually quite simple.  Those who come in contact with it and release their faith are changed. The lady who touched the robe of Jesus was healed by her faith response.  Those who wanted to be in the path of Peter’s shadow were healed by their faith response. Those seeking miracles at the exposure to Christian relics are healed through their faith response.  False relics do not result in dramatic changes.

There is a direct correlation to be made between true relics and the true Gospel. From the day the Gospel was first preached lives were changed and miracles were performed. People heard of the healing and redemptive powers of the message being delivered and they journeyed for days to hear, to see and believe. The early church grew quickly and in great numbers because of people’s faith response to the true Gospel. And at the same time and even so today there are a myriad of false or forgery gospels being preached, and yes many of them just for profit. Many modern day evangelists are being exposed for teachings that are contrary to the Gospel.

Galatians 1:8 – Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.

So what is our measure for the authenticity of the Gospel? Just as with relics, no one can come in contact with it and not be forever changed. And herein lies the beauty of the True and authentic Gospel; you don’t need the capacity to understand the entire Gospel in order for transformation to begin. The Holy Spirit of God can pierce the soul with a single verse!  That may not sell well in some evangelic churches today. But who among even the mature and life-long students of the Word can claim to grasp in full the context or the mysteries of the Gospel or expound upon the message of God’s grace and mercy with the finite capacity that is the human mind?  While we are exhorted to study and rightly divide the Word, none of us have to score 100% to ascribe to the benefits hidden therein.  The life altering transformation of our spirit can begin with the initial exposure to just a fragment of the Gospel, just as those who are healed at the release of their faith and exposure to just a fragment of a relic.

If you want to know if an evangelist is authentic or a forgery, look at their fruit.  Are lives made better?  Is Christ glorified? Is the integrity of the Holy Scriptures maintained? Jesus said a bad tree can’t produce good fruit and a good tree can’t produce bad fruit. Our great commission as followers of Christ and representatives of the true Gospel is to be vessels of change ourselves and in our lives and conduct, share that change with others-to become individual relics of the life-changing Gospel of Christ for a world seeking even the smallest fragment of hope so that their faith response to our relic of grace may manifest a miraculous and eternal change in their lives.

Prayer for Dummies-A Simplistic Privilege

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I’ve often heard of prayer being described as a spiritual discipline when in fact, it’s a holy privilege afforded us by the brutality and suffering of our Savior which we will be remembering in a few weeks.   There seems to be misconceptions about prayer, who prays better, what catch phrases to use to get God’s attention, the secret tricks to getting your prayers answered and so on. There is no mystery in prayer, no seeds of faith that must first be planted, no prayer hankies to purchase, no holy water from the Jordan River. It’s not snake oil, it’s simple and honest dialogue between us and our Father. Yet many remain intimidated at the concept or waiver thinking they don’t know how to pray.

What exactly is prayer?  Simply put, prayer is nothing more than communicating with God.  It isn’t something you have to study and learn, it’s not a dialect you have to master.  All my life I’ve heard people say they are not good at praying, or say something like “I wish I could pray like that person”, or “you pray, I’m not very good at it”.  I walk away scratching my head.  So, for all of you who may feel you don’t know how to pray, I’m going to give you the real secret.  If you can put words together is some recognizable form, whether vocalized or in thought, you have mastered prayer!

Do we fully grasp the privilege we have in approaching God directly in prayer? How did we came to acquire this privilege?  Before Christ, only High Priests were allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, a special place within the temple, to offer up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then, only at certain times of the year.  After Christ’s death and resurrection, we read that the temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn completely from top to bottom, symbolizing our new direct access to the throne of grace, by anyone and at anytime! We can instantly be in the presence of God, on holy ground.

In many of the Catholic, Orthodox and other faiths, you won’t find a schedule of services-you’ll find instead a schedule of liturgies.  Liturgy  comes from the Greek leitos, the people of God, offering up their ergon, or energy and efforts to God in prayer.  There should be a compelling desire on the part of all Christians to be a people of prayer, to want to stand in the presence of our Lord and spend time with him daily in our personal life, and corporately in our churchesMartin Luther King Jr. said that being a Christian without prayer is like life without breath.

When I met my wife, I wanted to be in her presence all the time.  It wasn’t enough for me to stand in front of a picture of her and think about her, or call her up on the phone once a week for 30 minutes or read a biography about her written by someone else.  My days were brighter because I knew I could see her and spend time with her everyday.  And when I was with her, I wanted to talk to her, and to listen to her talk back.  I wanted to know what she thought about things-I wanted to know more about who she was.  I put in the time and energy to make this happen.  God desires our time alone with Him more than we could fathom.

In Luke Chapter 11, verse 1 we read “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he had finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray”. What do you think the disciple was asking him?  These disciples did life with Jesus-they watched him perform miracles-they listened to his teachings, and they observed his prayer habits.  They didn’t just want to know how to pray-they wanted to know how to pray like He did!  They watched as he spoke to his Father-they witnessed him bask in the glory of God’s presence.  The disciples wanted their prayer life to have the same impact on them as they saw on Christ.

At that point Jesus responded by giving us one of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for-the model prayer.  He responded to the request by saying, “when you pray, pray like this”.  After that, we read the Lord’s prayer, recorded both here in Luke 11 and in Matthew 6.  Note here that Jesus didn’t say, “pray this prayer”.  Jesus understood what the disciples were asking him, and he gave them a model to fashion their prayers around.  Let’s take a look at that model we call The Lord’s Prayer.

The prayer can be broken down into 5 parts, all important ingredients for powerful and effective prayer.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

  “Our Father in Heaven, hollowed be your name”.

It’s important that we recognize the deity of God.  It’s a beautiful thing to know that by virtue of the cross, we have been given the right to call him Abba, or Father, on the same level as our Brother, Jesus Christ.  But, oh, how important it is to remember that we are in the presence of Holiness when we approach God, and we need to express that gratitude reverently and in awe when we pray.

Any of you who have kids or in my case grandkids, especially girls, can relate to this.  When your little girl, daughter or granddaughter climbs up in your lap and throws her arms around your neck and says I love you Dad, or I love you Papa, you know that at that moment there is nothing in the world you would not do for her if she asked.  Why-because she just got your undivided attention.   Jesus said,” if you dads on earth know how to give good gifts to your kids when they ask, how much more does the Father want to give you good things when you ask of him”.

SUBMISSION

Your kingdom and your will be established on earth just as it is in Heaven”.

It is important that when we approach God, that he knows we want and seek his will for our lives, first and foremost-that regardless of what we are about to petition him for, we submit to his perfect plan for our life.  That’s a tall order.  Whenever we talk about “God’s will for our life”, we almost always assume it’s different than our will for our life, and few of us want to know that.  We need to remember Christ’s example when he prayed in Ghesthemane before his arrest.  He knew what he was about to endure and asked if there was any other way for this plan to unfold, that he wanted the choice, but prayed, “nonetheless, not my will but yours be done”.  If we are to be like Christ, we have to submit to God’s will.

In the very same chapter where we find The Lord’s Prayer, in verse 33, we read “seek first the kingdom of God, and then everything else will be added to you”.

PETITION

Give us our food for today

AFTER we have acknowledged God and his deity, and AFTER we have requested his will over ours, then can we make our requests of God.  Let’s go back to our little girl for a moment.  If you’re sitting there reading the paper and she comes in and knocks the paper out of your hand and says “Daddy, why won’t you buy me a new pair of shoes”, your immediate response would be for her to step off and remember who she’s dealing with.  But if she comes over and climbs in your lap and gives you a big kiss, and then asks you, you give in, even if you recognize the ploy, because she’s your little girl and you love her that much.  Remember, our emotions are God given-if it works for us, it must work for him.

Note that in the model, we are to ask for our provisions for the day.  I think sometimes our petitions look more like a Christmas wish list than daily necessities.  Yes, James 4:2 says we have not because we ask not, but this is not to be understood as a blank check promise, but willingness to be blessed as God sees fit to better serve Him and His kingdom.

REPENTENCE

Forgive us of our sins as we forgive others”

This is a prerequisite to effective prayer.  Mark 11:25 says “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive your sins too”.

Some in the body have been led astray by a false presentation of the work of Grace and eternal salvation.  The Apostle Paul had to address this even in his day as many thought they had a license to do anything because of a grace covering.  Paul said, “should we sin more so that grace may abound more?  No Way”.  A humble and repentive spirit is required for effective prayer. God’s mercies are made new and fresh every day because we need them every day!

DIRECTION

Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one

Psalms 19:13 reads, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.  Then I will be blameless and innocent of great transgression”.

God does not put stumbling blocks before us-that’s the work of the evil one.  Sometimes, however, we put ourselves into positions or situations where we are tempted or attracted to doing what we know is wrong.  Prayer is a great weapon against the daily onslaught of the tempting situations we face. In Ephesians 6:11, we read “Put on all God’s armor so that you’ll be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil.” It then tells us in verse 18 to “pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit.” God knows what we’re up against, and has given us all the weapons we need, working together in prayer.

There is a final key to developing a reverent fear of God through effective prayer.  Quite simply, there are times when we need to know when to just shut up!  Psalms 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God”. It may be coincidence, but again maybe not, that both times in the New Testament when the Lord’s Prayer is recorded, there is no modeled ending to the prayer, no “amen”, etc.  I see this as my invitation to sit patiently in the Lord’s presence and listen for his voice.  His voice may come as a peaceful holy silence; it may come as an inner voice in your heart; it may come as an urging or sudden thought or inspiration.  One thing is for sure, it won’t be detectable unless you are giving God an opportunity to speak as you wait and listen.

“Pray without ceasing”; “in everything give thanks”. What an awesome privilege to spend time alone with the creator of the universe in intimate prayer.

 

 

LOL-It Does the Heart Good!

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Actual Church Bulletins:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

—The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks on the Water.” The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”

—Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

—Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.

—For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

—At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.

–Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.

—The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

—This evening at 7 PM there will be hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin..

—Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM.. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.

—Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door..

—Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

—The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: “I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours”

An Internet site advises this Wellness Tip: “Go on and laugh! Whether your preference is giggle, chuckle or guffaw, here are a dozen well-being benefits of laughter: Increases antibodies in saliva that combats upper respiratory infections. Secretes an enzyme that protects the stomach from forming ulcers. Conditions the abdominal muscles. Relaxes muscles throughout the body. Aids in reducing symptoms of  rheumatism. Has positive benefits on mental functions. Reduces blood pressure and heart-rate. Helps the body fight infection. Releases endorphins which provide natural pain relief. Tightens stomach muscles. Helps move nutrients and oxygen to body tissues. AND, it makes you feel good!”

“Why, Joe, we’re Christians and we must take seriously the business of building the Kingdom and saving souls and making disciples-we don’t have time to laugh”.  

And to that I would say look at how many empty seats there are in any church on any given Sunday-maybe we should try a different approach?  Perhaps it’s time to let the joy of our salvation show just a little more on the outside. Besides, if you really don’t believe God has a sense of humor, just look around you! 

There is something to be said about having a joyful attitude and demeanor when spreading what is supposed to be GOOD NEWS.  I wrote a song called The Dead In Christ Blues that addressed the over-seriousness of so-called Christians.  One verse says “There’s joy in our salvation-we’re all sinners saved by grace.  So if you’re saved and you know it, then why don’t you tell your face?”

God has a holy sense of humor, as the following stories from the Bible will plainly illustrate.  Consider this story from Acts chapter 20.  In this story the Apostle Paul is preaching, and he preached for a very long time!  I’m talking, a really long time.  I’m not going to make any correlations to any long-winded preachers we know, I just think this is a hilariously funny story, of course I’m twisted that way  Again, from the Message Bible:

7-9We met on Sunday to worship and celebrate the Master’s Supper. Paul addressed the congregation. Our plan was to leave first thing in the morning, but Paul talked on, way past midnight. We were meeting in a well-lighted upper room. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window. As Paul went on and on, Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out the third-story window. When they picked him up, he was dead.

 10-12Paul went down, stretched himself on him, and hugged him hard. “No more crying,” he said. “There’s life in him yet.” Then Paul got up and served the Master’s Supper. And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn! On that note, they left—Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.

Now we can laugh at this story, first off because we can all relate to falling asleep during a long sermon, and secondly because the story has a happy ending.  But try to picture this scene-Paul is preaching and goes on for hours, and finally this guy falls asleep and falls out of the window. Paul goes down, brings him back to life, and then picks up where he left off and continues preaching!  I’m twisted, but somehow I see this as the kind of skit Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would have done on the Carol Burnette Show.  This is funny.  I can almost hear the young man saying “Geez, what’s a guy have to do to give a hint.  You killed me once already-don’t do me anymore favors.”

So you’re still not convinced?  Let’s try one last story found in I Samuel chapter 5.  And this is the story you will only hear here this morning-I can pretty much guarantee it!

Let me set the story for you.  The Philistines have stolen the Ark of the Covenant from Israel, a big no-no in God-eyes.  And they take it back and place it next to the image of their God, Dagon, another big no-no.  Let’s pick up the story from the King James version, just because it’s funnier.

 2When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it next to Dagon 3And when they arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.  4And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.  5Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.

So the first part of the story, God knocks over their little image of Dagon so that he’s flat on his face, then after the Philistines set him back up, the next day he’s knocked over again, but he was missing his head and hands.  God could have destroyed the whole place or burned the image up entirely or struck it with a bolt of lightening, but instead, He toys with the Philistines by just slapping their little god around a bit. But it gets better!

 6But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, (Hemorrhoids) even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.  7And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.  8They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.  9And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.

I’m sorry, but that’s funny stuff!  You Gotta love God’s sense of humor. But wait, there’s more.

2And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.  3And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.  4Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.  11And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the images of their emerods. 15And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.

Now you know why hemorrhoids always burn!  It’s the Philistines fault.  So it begs to question-they were told to make golden images of their hemorrhoids and present as a sacrifice.  How could they possibly have known what they looked like?  I leave that up to your imagination. The Bible is full of humor, especially if you tend to have a twisted sense of humor like mine.  It is the only book that is an historical document, a love story, a mystery, a tragedy, a comedy, a how-to manual, a motivational book, and on and on.  But you’ll never know the wealth and diversity of The Bible without spending some serious time in it, including, as we’ve just demonstrated, the Old Testament. 

So what’s the point?  Was I just trying to be a comedian today and get you to laugh-ABSOLUTELY.  Most people who know me would say I need to laugh more myself.  Here’s the essence of today’s message.  When Christ ascended into Heaven, He gave us a commission to spread the Good News of love and peace and hope and forgiveness.  There should be something beautiful and attractive and compelling about the Gospel to those who hear it and see it for the first time.  But instead of joy, we hear fiery sermons intended to literally scare the hell out of people-we see others standing on street corners with signs that say repent or burn.  We hear legalists condemning everything from tattoos to dancing to having a drink to showing your knees and elbows in public to staying up past 10 PM.  What kind of model of Christianity is the un-churched world seeing from us, and what are we showing them that would attract them to the cross of Christ?   The message of Christ should not be preached and presented solely as an insurance policy to avoid hell-it is much more than that!

When other see us at work or out and about or even in church, they should see something in us that makes them say “Whatever they have, I want some of that too”, like the TV commercials-I’ll have what she’s having!    Anything less is not in keeping with the true character of Christ, our namesake.  I’ve seen bumper stickers that say “Lord, deliver us from other Christians”.  It would be funny if it weren’t true!  There are far too many Christians who take up their cross daily and have sucked all the life out of their Christian witness.  They misrepresent the Gospel of Joy and Peace in a way that would turn anybody off or away from the message we’re supposed to deliver.  Our Christian lives should be Christ like in every aspect.  It’s as though we are walking mirrors so that when God shines His light down to us we reflect the exact image of God without any distortions unlike mirrors in a funhouse, twisted, out of shape and hard to determine.

Listen to the words in I John 1 and ask yourself if your Christianity looks like this:

1 John 1  3-4We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

This is why we laugh-this is why we enjoy special occasions in life-this is what our faith should look like to others who need to know the whole story.  There is a time to be reverent and to wait on the Lord-a time to be on our knees and faces in holy respect of our King, but there is also a time for joy and music and praise and yes, laughter.  It’s ok to enjoy your faith and to do so in a way that draws others who want to know more about our joy and our hope.  The world should be envious of the hope and joy we have, to the point of wanting some for themselves.  If there is joy in Heaven when one sinner repents, then there should be joy on earth as we reflect Christ in our lives.

 

You Can Create Nothing More Precious Than Memories

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As I write this week’s blog I’m about to embark on a weekend wedding for my niece. Camera, check. Kilt, check. Greek dance lessons, check. I’m not exactly sure what all is in store but of this I’m certain-lasting memories will be made. Some will be suitable for print and framing while others will simply be etched forever in our minds. Truly, there is little more precious that one can create than a memory of a happier time. They cost nothing but are priceless.

I’m not old by any means but I’m certainly getting older every day. While I try not to linger on things past or regrets just yet, I do already regret that I didn’t make the effort to create more positive memories, especially with my boys. I’m sure many who thought they took advantage of every opportunity can look back and say much the same thing, especially as your kids grow into adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, I carry with me plenty of precious memories of their childhood and school years.  I can still remember my oldest son’s cap and gown kindergarten graduation. I recall my middle son playing Little League baseball-I still have his gear. I recall my youngest being a chubby version of his current model like appearance. I remember taking all of them to a small Indiana amusement park no longer there; I remember wrestling with them on the living room floor and sledding with them on cardboard boxes down snowy banks during Indiana winters. These are things I won’t soon forget. But, I didn’t spend nearly enough time with them as I should have.  For every opportunity I took advantage of there are two or three or more I missed. And sadly there is no way to go back in time and recapture lost moments or forfeited opportunities-once lost, they’re gone forever. And I’m just as certain that if you were to ask the boys they would say the same thing-I could have done more.

My wife takes pictures of everything-every event-every occasion; we must have 50 photo albums waiting to be filled that we haven’t started because we have 100 albums worth of photos to go through. Each photo is a moment in time-an image captured that can be revisited and for a brief moment relived. There seems to be nothing so insignificant or unworthy of a photo opp with her-I love that about her. One thing we have learned as grandparents is that moments are fleeting.  We want to be sure not to miss anything we might have missed in the first round as a parent. And besides, who can resist pulling out embarrassing baby pictures on certain occasions just because we were smart enough to keep them handy for such times.

There are many things we do in the faith to remember special occasions-things we should never forget. In the Jewish custom Passover is celebrated as a reminder of the Exodus. We partake of Communion at the Lord’s command to remember His broken body and shed blood on our behalf. We celebrate Christmas to acknowledge the Incarnation, the day the Word became flesh.  We likewise celebrate Easter or Pascha and give thanks for the glorious works done through the cross and the Resurrection. We refer to scripture to revisit the historical roots of the early church and acknowledge the lives of certain Saints for their works and contributions to the traditions of our faith. To us of the faith these are indeed precious memories of eternal existence that will continue to be celebrated in our Heavenly home. 

Creating lasting positive memories is vital to enjoying life because all of us will unfortunately have our share of not so positive memories that must somehow be offset. There are the memories of past relationships that couldn’t be repaired.  There are the memories of broken homes and reduced visitations and forever lost bonding time. There are the memories of tragic events, auto accidents, violence, the unexpected loss of a loved one, the crippling illness that one never recovered from. I recall a fire in 1994 that destroyed all our photos.  Life is not always kind and some painful memories will be created by circumstances beyond your control and without your consent. Such is life.  They too are forever etched in the recesses of your mind and can pop up randomly without explanation. It is for this reason that we must have an inventory of deliberate memories to fall back on that can push out the ones we don’t cherish as much.  This catalog of mental archives can sustain us through the most difficult situations. It is in times of distress that we can be grateful for moments captured and embossed in our memories.

This wasn’t intended to be overly spiritual. All of us, regardless of faith or race or income bracket have equal opportunities to latch on to memorable occasions and relish the value of time-stamped memory making. If I could offer any advice for my children that they would actually adhere to, it would be to never take for granted the small seemingly insignificant events of your life when laughter is shared and family and friends are gathered.  And never think that time stands still for you or that you will pass this way again at some point in the future. Don’t let “if only I had known” be a regular part of your vocabulary. Don’t look back at times in your life and have regrets that you didn’t do more to exploit and savor the moments. Take advantage of every opportunity you are given to create something that costs you nothing but can’t be purchased for all the money in the world-precious, timeless memories.

To Reach New Heights You Must Dive to New Lows

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I am completely fascinated by a video I viewed recently recorded by a team of biologists with  National Geographic. The Great Cormorant is a large majestic bird that lives high along the trees or cliffs near the ocean.  The cormorant lives off of eels and fish caught deep on the ocean floor.  Biologists attached a camera to the back of one of these big birds to study their eating habits and eventually posted it to YouTube.  The cormorant dove into the water and descended to a depth of over 150 feet, a level that would cause most humans to pass out without proper diving gear. The deeper the bird went the darker the waters became and it was hard at times to make out the video.  Upon reaching the ocean floor the cormorant actually walks the bottom looking for food, following his senses when it’s too dark to detect the surroundings, until it finds just what it wants to satisfy its craving.  When it catches its prey it swims back to the surface in record time and takes less than 10 seconds to decompress, at which time it enjoys the catch of the day.  The food source these birds rely on can only be found at the rocky bottom of the oceans where they live. Only by navigating deep ocean levels for its sustenance can it enjoy living high in the cliffs.

Earlier this year during my prayer time I asked God to take me to a new level of faith uncommon to the status quo of everyday Christendom. I asked this not to become better than others in the faith, but that I may have an uncommon revelation of who God is and who I could become through Him.  It sounded like a genuine request-I wasn’t asking for material blessings or a better life, just a deeper walk, expecting voices and visions and mountain top experiences.  The past year of my life has been the darkest, coldest, loneliest and most silent period of my Christian journey, one from which I have yet to completely emerge. If you have read my earlier posts like God in a Steel Cage or God’s Deafening Silence, you may have a clue to what this period has been like for me.  I have definitely sank to new spiritual lows in the process.

I discovered only what I think I already knew about God but I mistakenly gave Him permission to prove it to me.  So consider this fair warning if you are serious about your faith and tempted to ask God to do the same for you.  I had already learned about patience earlier.  Patience is NOT one of my spiritual gifts.  I don’t like lines, I don’t like being late, I will stand by the microwave counting the seconds for my instant oatmeal and all speed limits are merely suggestions.  I was only smart enough to know I needed more patience.  God didn’t grant me my request with a sprinkling of holy water or twenty Our Fathers. No, He put me in situations that demanded patience. I have to admit I firmly believe God finds humor at times in testing us-didn’t think it possible for God to be sadistic. He sent me fender benders on the only freeway out of my section of town that added thirty minutes of waiting.  He would send me to the shortest check out line at the store only to find it was either the line for training new cashiers who had no computer skills or the line with that person, you know the one, who finds every item in the store that has no price tag.  He would make me take the call from that customer you’ve taken care of successfully for years who goes ballistic when 50 of his 5000 brochures weren’t folded just right.  Ask and it shall be given thee-for reals!!!!

Given what I knew about the patience thing I should have expected as much from God when making my lofty request for a deeper experience.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happens when God gets serious.  I can only attempt to describe in words my spiritual journey this past year.  I liken it to the dark portion of a haunted house, minus the screams, you know that portion where there is total darkness and many built-in dead ends and sections where the floor underneath your feet gives way and you can’t find your way except by holding on to the shirt of the person in front of you, except I had no shirt to hold on to. Darkness, silence, no direction, no voices, no clues or hints of light to guide me, and decreasing confidence with every step, having nothing to lead me except for my knowledge of His Word, which I had to force myself to recall.  I had asked God to take me to new heights and He took me first to all time lows.

As Christians many of us have false conceptions of what our faith walk and life in Christ are to look like.  Through false teaching and itching ears we want to believe that our journey should be one of ease, one of peace and one of tangible Osteen type blessings where our healing is just around the corner and our favorite parking spot at the mall is just waiting for us to pull in and claim.  But without explanation or justification God allows the righteous to suffer illness and the nearest parking spot to be blocks away on a rainy day. Or perhaps we aren’t nearly that gullible and we realize that wanting to grow deeper in our faith requires that we be willing to endure situations too uncomfortable for us to eagerly choose on our own so that settling for mediocrity and the path of least resistance is preferred.  Given the options, I can certainly understand.  I felt and still feel at times like asking God what I did to cause these trials.  The irony is that God was in fact answering my request and honoring me by driving me to the ocean floor where I would find just what was needed to sustain me and allow me to live at a higher level.  It is the method God uses for all of us.  I can’t build muscle by looking at pictures of ripped men in magazines, but by going to the gym and tearing down the smaller muscles I have now through pain and exertion.

There is yet another bird that has recently been discovered that can fly at an altitude of over 21,000 feet over the Himalayas and at commercial airline heights.  I’m not sure if I want to soar that high, at least not yet.  For now I’ll settle for flying over the Smoky Mountains and a diet of food at my current altitude until I catch my breath.

Football in the Cow Pasture

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As we eagerly anticipate the long overdue start of the NFL season this weekend, I am reminded of perhaps the funniest comedic routine I’ve ever heard.  It is an old recording performed by the late Andy Griffith as he is describing in great detail the first time he ever witnessed a football game.  If you haven’t heard it and need a laugh, google it and prepare to bust a gut.  The game was being played in a cow pasture.  His final observation was that the object of the game must be to run with the little pigskin from one end of the pasture to the other without being attacked or “a steppin’ in sumthin'”.

I can completely relate to this.  My dad grew up in the small town of Quitman, Mississippi. He was raised on a massive farm with acreage, ponds and cow pastures.  Directly across the road from the house was the larger pasture.  As kids we visited his childhood home at least twice a year.  Since we all loved football, and since the closest spot of grass was the pasture across the road, we would eventually end up over there playing football.  As you might imagine there were cow mines all over and it was very difficult to concentrate on running or catching a pass and being aware of where you were stepping.  You just couldn’t avoid “a steppin’ in sumthin”.

Some of us in the faith live our Christian lives like playing football in a cow pasture full of opportunities for us to step in it.  We feel we have stronger resolves than we actually do.  We think we aren’t subject to temptations and distractions like those other people.  We wear our faith like a coat of teflon thinking evil influences or suspect environments won’t stick to us.  Maybe in our alone time we get on the computer and scan videos dangerously linked to porn sites.  Or maybe we have that one drink knowing we are subject to over indulgence. Maybe it’s leaving after your third heaping plate at the harmless all-you-can-eat-buffet.  It might be that innocent conversation on social media with someone you would never want your spouse to know about.  It could even be as innocent as the destructive lyrics to your favorite secular music.  All these examples represent cow patties, fresh, hot and smelly, right in the area where you are playing and usually unavoidable.  It’s just a matter of time before the foul scent of your misstep announces to the world your arrival and your most recent activities. Scripture reads “be sure and know that your sins will eventually reveal your character” , my interpretation.  Like Taco Bell, you can’t easily rid yourself of the stench of fresh cow dung-trust me on this.

We live in a world that smells foul and we travel a road surrounded by pastures.  We can see and smell the eminent snares from our path without veering off into the actual pastures where we will surely be soiled by corruption and temptation greater than we can handle or escape.  Thankfully God left for us instructions on avoiding these dung hills in His Word;

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)

“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim 2:22)

As the Day of our Lord approaches the intensity of warfare against the saints will increase exponentially and the battles will become more numerous.  We have to take seriously ever threat, every opportunity, every snare that lands in our path and overcome them by a daily renewal of our minds and a regular diet of scripture so our spiritual immune systems are constantly being nourished for battle.  It all starts and ends in the mind.

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”  Phil. 4:8, Message Bible

Enjoy your football season, just watch out for the land mines in your path.  Go Colts!

God’s Deafening Silence

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When I was much younger I heard stories about the 30 day nights that parts of Alaska experience each year.  I couldn’t in my wildest dreams fathom how a person could withstand 30 days of cold and darkness, even knowing that the darkness was temporary and that soon the morning sun would be seen again.  Now I know all too well what long periods of still darkness feel like and it is no less easy to cope with. All believers have been there-the periods of your faith journey when God seems to take a hiatus from leading us and leaves us to our own vices.  We may cry out to God in despair-we may dig deeper into The Word-we may fast, light candles, rise boldly with harsh words, fall on our face in submissive humility, and still nothing.  We knock with no answer, we seek but don’t find, we ask but are left with no answers.  The long periods of God’s extended Winter silence is cold and deafening.

When Mother Teresa passed on to her reward she left behind some letters that she had written in her 50 years of service.  Who among us could boast to have the heart of God that she spent her life displaying. One might believe that for someone to accomplish what she did in her life of service to the poor and needy that God must have been an ever present guide and companion. But her letters surprisingly reveal quite the opposite.  Listen to her heartfelt despair in some of her letters; “I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul, . And another, “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation. And again,  “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” And finally, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves but does not speak.” The are the words spoken by one of God’s true saints.  At no time in her journey does she ever confess a true disbelief in God, but in the silence she wrestled with the knowledge of His existence and involvement in her life against the tangible evidence that indicated otherwise.

As I read the Psalms I can hear in David’s voice his own personal agony as he sought God in his most desperate of times only to hear the sound of silence.  Does this sound like you?

“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” “Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever”. “LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?” And even Jesus, as He hung on the cross cried out to His Father, “why have you forsaken me?”

There is no recording in scripture of God answering even His own Son.  Are we to demand more than He gave His own Son? these times in our lives are the most trying, the most painful, the most difficult times of our journey.  And it seems like the times that are the darkest are the times when God seems to be the most distant. So how do we cope.  How do we tone down the deafness of God’s silence when we can’t sense, find or hear Him?  Don’t believe for a second that I have this figured out as I have been seeking God’s voice over a situation for many years with no clear response.  Yet as a long time believer these are the things I try to rely on to get through each dark day.  First, I have to disconnect my heart from my mind.  We all want to “feel” our faith, but most times we have to choose to recall and believe God’s Word and the promises He left for us.  Hebrews says that faith is believing in things not seen-I might add things not felt or heard as well.  We have to go by our knowledge that God can’t go back on His promise to love us, to guide us and to work all things out for our good, even when we can’t see Him doing so.  Second, I have to learn how to navigate the darkness.  Those who are blind and live by themselves learn how to navigate their dwellings by recalling where objects are and assuming they remain unmoved.  I can’t always see god but I know He’s there because He’s always been there before and I must navigate under the belief that I am not alone and that God has not been moved.  Lastly, and perhaps the most difficult, even though I can’t hear His voice, I must continue to communicate with Him in prayer. It may seem like more of a monologue than a dialogue, but through prayer the line of communication remains open and things are brought to mind that compel us to keep moving forward on our journey.  Once we stop communing with God, the darkness will overcome us and leave us vulnerable and defenseless to enemy attacks.

How I wish God taught us things using any method but silence.  To those like me it is the most excruciating experience imaginable.  Earnestly seeking God but not finding Him where we think He should be leaves us feeling much the same as it must have Mother Teresa.  But even when we can’t hear Him, we know He hears us. I exhort you today to keep fighting, keep believing, keep studying and keep praying to a sovereign God Who has already displayed His love for us in ways that requires no further response.

Why God Why?

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Why now?  Why her?  Why me?  Why this?  It may be the biggest three letter word in our vocabulary-why.  It is often time the hardest question and most assuredly the least answered-a question that even the most mature and devout of Christian believers struggle with-Why God.

We’ve all been subjected to the inquisitive minds of children as they ask about the whys of the universe, where babies come from, why the sky is blue, with each explanation followed by yet another why.  We find these times amusing when we look back on them.  But as life progresses and children become adults baptized into a world of sin and chaos, the whys become more urgent, less amusing and with fewer answers. When we take into account the state of the human condition and add to it the tragic recent events from around the world, we may all find ourselves asking these heart breaking whys:

Why does my child have cancer?

Why can’t I find employment?

Why did my loved one have to die in that crash?

Why are innocent children the first casualties of war?

Why are Christians being tortured and martyred in this day and age?

Why won’t my kids serve the Lord after years of praying for them?

Why did my spouse leave me?

Why didn’t you heal them?

Why God won’t you respond to me-why so silent?

Why do bad things happen to Godly people?

These whys are painful. These whys are real. And these whys rarely receive a response.  They come from our deepest and darkest moments, our raw and naked emotions, and they test the very fibers of our belief and faith. Many have walked away from their faith in God because they could not find answers or accept silence as their only answer.

There was a man named Job in the Bible, a man described as the most God fearing man of his day-“none like him in all the earth” it says.  But in a matter of hours, Job lost his possessions, his children and his health for no given reason. He had some serious whys for God. Joseph was thrown into prison for years for a crime he didn’t commit with no communication from God. Paul and Silas were chained in a dark dungeon like jail, beaten and tortured for being obedient in preaching the good news about Christ. I’m sure deep inside they may have had a few whys. Even our Savior, while hanging on the cross in our place, feeling the unfathomable pain from the beatings and the nails, rendered to His father an unanswered…Why!

How I wish I could submit a reasonable explanation as to why God allows such suffering seemingly without cause. How I wish I could comfort friends or family who are going through difficult times with words that make sense or scripture that makes it all clear.

The Psalmist David, after being promised the throne, found himself in the wilderness running for his life. He had a few whys as recorded for us in the Psalms;

O LORD, why do you stand so far away?
Why do you hide when I am in trouble?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

Why have you tossed me aside?
Why must I wander around in grief,

O LORD, why do you reject me?
Why do you turn your face from me?

I have had my own whys-why divorce? Why disease? Why did I lose the business? Why God can’t I hear your voice when I desperately seek you? We all have unresolved whys in our lives. To follow God blindly without having questions is unrealistic. But trusting God in the valley of the shadows of death when we don’t understand requires a relationship with Him that can’t be forged just in the easy times. We are purified through fire. We are strongest when we are at the end of human reason and ability. And we are best able to offer comfort when we have been comforted in our own times of why.

I can’t answer in a thousand words or less a question that has been posed by much holier men and women than me for thousands of years. If I could I would be in high demand like Bruce Almighty. I have reconciled in my heart that I will most likely go to my grave having most of my whys for God unanswered.  But I also know that on that day when all things are revealed and the mysteries of faith resolved, it won’t be as important as it seems to be now. God is faithful, just and good and He loves us with an everlasting love, having pardoned our sins through the death and resurrection of His son so that we might inherit eternal life, which may be the biggest why of all.

 

 

But I just Hate Going to the Gym

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When I turned fifty my wife surprised me with a trip to Hawaii, a place I always wanted to visit.  As you might expect we took many photos as it was the first visit for both of us.  Upon our return we couldn’t wait to go through the pictures we had taken. I wasn’t impressed with many of them that I was in. My initial response was “honey, who’s the fat guy you’re with?”  I knew I was out of shape compared to my earlier athletic years, but photos show what mirrors don’t-reality! I was embarrassed.

There is an epidemic of laziness and lethargy in our country. The U.S. boasts some of the best Medical Schools and facilities in the world. Regardless of your opinion of our current healthcare system, most anyone can find treatment for their ailments.  The F.D.A. has stepped in to inform all consumers of the dangers of the foods they consume.  We know what foods contain the highest levels fat and calories, which foods can elevate our cholesterol and blood sugars, which foods can lead to heart issues and even which ones have known carcinogens in them. As a food loving society, we can not plead ignorant to what we consume. Nor can we hide behind the veil of ignorance when it comes to daily exercise. And yet with all this publicized knowledge the U.S. consistently ranks low in the overall world health reviews. Forever we were the most obese nation in the world with over 30% of all citizens being obese-we are still #2! We rank higher on all preventable illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, COPD and cancers due to smoking and UV exposure. We know, what to do, or what not to do, but like the Apostle Paul, we do just the opposite. 

Each year as I observe the mass rush to local churches for Easter I am compelled to draw the same comparisons to the overall spiritual health of our country and the Christian church in general. We live in perhaps the most religiously tolerant country in the world.

We have the freedom to express our worship and live out our faith to the unlimited degree we desire, or not. Unlike many world countries, the U.S. has more than 450,000 churches, temples or synagogues to choose from. There is no shortage of facilities available for spiritual fitness.  There are radio formats and cable television stations broadcasting daily in most US cities. Bible sales as well as phone and computer apps are profitable ventures, and even Hollywood is starting to cash in on the religious demographic, so that our senses are constantly aware of the spiritual realm. 

But on Easter Sunday, churches prepare for the largest service of the year, some even scheduling multiple services to accommodate all those who will show up for their annual pilgrimage to a house of worship.  Thank God for every person who pulls themselves away from the sofa to attend church on Easter Sunday. But the very next Sunday churches are back to half capacity.  What are we doing to enhance our spiritual fitness the other 51 weeks of the year?  Why are we, especially of the faith, less than zealous to be in service early enough to get a good seat and not miss anything? Where is the local church marketing and evangelism team when it is not Easter or Christmas? Why are many churches closing their doors due to reduced attendance and consequential funding instead of fighting for the fitness of their entire congregation?

There is little urgency in the body of Christ for the same reasons there is little concern over our physical health. If we aren’t sick, haven’t had a stroke or heart attack, haven’t yet developed diabetes or coughed up a lung, we assume all on the inside is well, and why fix something that isn’t broken on the outside. We will get to the gym when we get that first bad medical report.  We have heard all our lives that Christ will return, but it hasn’t happened in over 2000 years, so what’s the rush. We will find our way to church when we lose our job or when we suffer through a nasty divorce or when we have some serious crisis that is bigger than our daily routine. We will exercise our unique religious freedoms by going to church when we feel like it. We will continue to treat our spiritual health on a symptomatic basis, when a pain arises or for an annual checkup.

However the comparisons between our physical and spiritual fitness only go so far.  There is a unique difference that many fail to acknowledge.  Our physical bodies are deteriorating every day toward an eventual physical death, no matter how hard you fought to stay in shape and apply your knowledge of physical fitness.  Our spiritual being, however, goes on into eternity after physical death, in the state and level of fitness you maintained during your lifetime.  Those things we do now to enhance our spiritual fitness, or those ways we simply ignore it, will last an eternity.

When I finally realized the seriousness of my lethargic lifestyle I forced myself to head for the gym at least 3 times each week. While I am not big into repetitive exercise, being around a group of people all there for the same purpose, I felt encouraged to push on and increase my level of activity and stretch myself beyond my current limitations. Might I suggest the same dynamic happens when we attend church with fellow believers. Going to church to worship is only half of our purpose.  According to scripture we are to be there to encourage and be encouraged, to motivate and exhort each other to greater levels of spiritual fitness, something that can’t be done by watching your favorite TV evangelist from the comfort of your sofa by yourself. How many time this week have your worked on your physical and spiritual fitness levels?

When There Are No Words

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Have you ever been in a situation when you were at an absolute loss for words? Perhaps it was when you saw your child in their first school or church play, or maybe their first musical recital.  Maybe you were left speechless when friends threw a surprise party for you.  With most of us there have been occasions in our lives when words simply escaped us. For me it was the moment I realized how in love I was with the lady who would soon be my wife. I have always loved writing and thought I possessed a fair mastery of the English vernacular, that is until I tried to put into words the depth of emotions  I was feeling for her. Yes, I wrote her a poem or two-even had one of them published in a poetry anthology. But even with that, I still felt I could not come up with adequate words to express my love for her.   After seventeen years of marriage I am only more aware of this observation.

As much as I love my wife, imagine with me if you can how much more of a challenge I have in approaching God.  There are no words to describe the challenge of having no words!  After all, one can’t even describe God.  When He sent Moses to rescue the children of Israel, Moses asked Him “who should I tell them is sending me?”  God replied “tell them my name is I Am”.  I almost believe even God couldn’t describe Himself in a way that we would understand.  I Am pretty much covers it all with an infinite number of fill-in-the-blank descriptions.   There are no textbook definitions that are remotely adequate to express the person and deity of God.

So if we can’t even find words to describe God, then how can we possibly find words to express our loving response to an indescribable God? It can’t be done. There are no words. Oh many have tried-the writings of the early church fathers are masterful and the hymns written over the centuries have moved us to tears when reflecting on all we know and don’t know about God.  Yet all who have tried have come up short in their attempts.  The created can’t capture in human language the Creator.

When you are with someone you truly love there are those times when just being in their presence is enough. Love is shared and expressed at times when words would get in the way. How cool is it that we can approach God with the confidence of knowing the same holds true for us. In our intimate prayer or reflection time with God we can be assured that God sees our hearts and knows our deepest thoughts so that are linguistic inadequacies are not an issue. We are told in scripture that there are times when His spirit in us prays for us in groans that need no words. There is dialogue between our inner spirit and God’s heart that we wouldn’t understand even if it were somehow audible.  Thou shouldest not have need of  expressing thyself to the Almighty with Shakespearean prose thou canst comprehend or a language thou knoweth not of!

With people we may feel at a loss in trying to relay to them the depths of our emotions, but with God, there is no shortage of understanding even when there are no words.

Father, let my words be few.