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.

 

 

 

Is the 1 as Important as the 99?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words for the Class of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview With Christ-The Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You a Light or a Snuffer?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side Chicks and Loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make America Hate Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Greatest Speech of All Time?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year Resolutions-Over/Under Odds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apostles Creed Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

born of the virgin Mary,

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

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

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

He descended into hell.

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

On the third day he rose from the dead:

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

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

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

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

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

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

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

the holy catholic church,

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

the communion of saints,

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

the forgiveness of sins,

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

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

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

and the life everlasting.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Gratitude at Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Politics and Believers

Gods-Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Haunts of Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 12-be transformed by renewing our minds;

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

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

Proverbs 4-guard your heart and mind;

Ephesians 4-be made new in your mental attitude;

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

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

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

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

Understanding the Black Response to American History

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

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

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

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

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

The 1 October Shooting; One Year Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politics-“Be Not Entangled…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Racism Will Never Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-I Corinthians 13

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

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

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

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

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

Dads Need to Feel the Love Too!

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day.

In Search of That Fairy Tale Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mother Speaks From Heaven

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

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

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

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

Love, Mom.

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!

Has the Salt of the Earth Lost its Taste?

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

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

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

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

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

“He Will Wipe Every Tear From Their Eyes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Attempted Robbery of Your Esteem

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

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

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

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

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

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

book cover 3     my soul cries out   AVAILABLE ON AMAZON KINDLE

Sex Begins in the Kitchen, new book

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

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

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

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

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

“…In Good Times and in Bad”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Navigating Life’s Devastating Losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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

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

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

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

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

A Tribute to All Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Common Threads That Connect Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We share our mutual woes,-our mutual burdens bear

And often for each other flows-the sympathizing tear

When we asunder part-It give us inward pain

But we shall still be joined in heart

And hope to meet again.

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

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

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Great at Being Not-So-Great

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

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

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

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

Much love and prayer, Joe Hill

 

 

The Simplicity of the First Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Grandma’s Shiny Christmas Pin

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks When Feeling Not So Grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A House Divided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Milestones

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORDS-Our Weapon of Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A soft tongue break bones” Proverbs  25

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

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

 

 

Confessions of a 21st Century White Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life_is_just_a_vapor_in_in_the_wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Church and Politics-The Great Polarization

Gods-Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(parentheses mine)

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

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

 

 

 

The Diminished Cross

GUWG-Cross-Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Dark Side of Hearts Day

break-up

December 26th-shelves filled with Christmas products just the day before have been reduced to a single 50% off Clearance aisle.  In their place, the newest assortment of red heart-shaped boxes, stuffed furry animals and oversized cards, the annual commercial tribute to Valentine’s Day. And although given almost two full months to select the perfect gift, most will wait until just days before, some out of true love and others mere obligation. The Valentine’s Day holiday is a thirteen billion dollar annual event (that’s $13,000,000,000.00). More than 180 million cards will be exchanged, 480 million roses and more chocolate than any of us need. Ironically, while it’s the best time for a man to buy that card once a year that says the things he can’t articulate, one study says 85%of these cards are actually purchased by women.

While many joke that the day was created by Hallmark, it’s romantic roots can be traced back to a 13th century poet named Chaucer who in essence wrote that all creation comes together in love and harmony, etc. etc. etc.  Simply stated, it is a dedicated day each year that gives most an opportunity to freely express or reaffirm their love for their significant other, accompanied by many passed down traditions and gestures.  In Europe for instance some still exchange Valentines Day keys that signify an invitation to unlock the heart of their lover. But sadly for just as many, this day only serves as a reminder that the locks to the hearts of their special love have been changed and their keys no longer work.  A day that brings joy to those in love brings severe pain and isolation to those who bear the scars of broken hearts.

Statistics may not prove that suicide rates are higher on Valentine’s Day than on others but many studies support that depression brought on by broken relationships is a leading trigger for suicide attempts. When asked of those who survived such attempts, they responded that they didn’t necessarily want to die, they just simply had no reason to live. I can speak from past experience-there is no greater pain than to love someone with all your heart only to know they no longer love you in return. The feelings of loss, hopelessness and loneliness resulting from a severed relationship are no different than those feelings of mourning the sudden death of a loved one.  All of us, if breathing, have experienced it at least once in our lives.  The brave dare to love again, some more than a few times, but others shy away from the vulnerability necessary to love again for fear of the possibility of yet another broken heart already scarred by past loves and the pain associated with it that can bring even the strongest to their knees and turn their world upside down.

I wish I could offer words of healing or a fix-all solution for a quick recovery for those who feel the sting of rejection while witnessing others exchange their flowers and chocolates on this day of love.  If I could I wouldn’t be writing a blog post but a multi-million copy best-seller.  The pain of rejected love can be found in the earliest recorded writings in existence. It is a timeless tragedy that all will eventually suffer.  Some may bring calamity upon their love due to their own indiscretions-some due to apathy or just being oblivious to symptoms of trouble, and others will simply be innocent victims of a heart gone astray. Whatever the reason, the euphoric feelings that many celebrate on Valentine’s Day are the daggers that re-wound broken hearts haunted by abandonment and rejection and lingering memories of past loves that play over in their minds like an old movie projector with no Off switch.

If there are words of hope to offer, they must be found in Holy scripture.  I know that curling up with your Bible on a lonely night may seem to offer little in the way of comfort or companionship but there are words that can serve as a salve to help ease pain until such time as the heart can begin to recover.  Here are but a few to consider;

Psalm 34:18; The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3; He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 73:26; My flesh and heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

1 Corinthians 13:7; …love endures all things

2 Corinthians 12:9; My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness.

Lamentations 3:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.

Til death do us part…”. Apparently some die more than once in their lifetime.

For better of for worse…”. And some must be beyond “worse”.

Time is the universal healer of brokenness and Christ is the accelerator of the healing process. The feelings of loneliness felt by widows, divorcees and others on Valentine’s Day are natural and can’t be avoided without crawling into a hole and coming out when the stores start stocking for Easter. But there is no reason to feel totally unloved or uncared for.  There is another simple verse that reminds us if we will take heed…

cast all your cares on Him for He truly cares for you..

New Year Resolution Disillusions

New Year's Resolutions, list of items

 

Yep, it’s that time again!  It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone already. I’m still tanned from my last visit to the beach-it can’t be almost January! But just as the ghost of Christmas present dries up and blows away at the strike of midnight on Christmas Eve, 2015 will soon be but a memory.  Some will have great memories of the past twelve months while others will still be living through the pain the year brought them. Whatever your story, you will likely be among the countless throngs who sum up the year and take inventory in an attempt to make the New Year better.  And just like last year, you will wonder after another twelve months just when your plans veered off course.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for self-improvement, being a better version of me, and perhaps a bit smaller as well.  We all tend to resolve to accomplish things that will make our lives better.  I would bet that if you compared one hundred random lists of resolutions, the majority would have very similar and common objectives: lose weight, eat better, save more money, pay off bills, quit smoking, drink less, (or for some, more), reduce stress, etc., etc.   The busiest week of any gym or fitness franchise is the first week of January. These are healthy and positive goals and I see nothing wrong with having them, at least on the surface.  But this year I have to ask myself, what is the real value of these goals in respect to the world around me?  Look at the list again, I want to lose weight, I want to eat better, I want to save money, and so forth. In being consistent with my faith and desiring to be a better Christian as well, I have to line up my list of resolutions against a master list that is provided each year in scripture, and one that never changes with time or the calendar.

Christmas is a time that temporarily for most, alters the usual inward perception to an outward one, making us more benevolence minded.  We buy gifts for “angels” we’ll never meet, serve at the local shelter or food bank or maybe even adopt a family for the holiday.  These are grand and caring gestures worthy of our efforts. But for many the charity outfit worn so festively just before Christmas is pressed and put back in the closet for another year the day after. I know as I am guilty and keep a closet full of barely worn charity outfits myself. I’ve always wondered why it is so easy to give of our time and resources for three weeks before December 25th, but so unnatural from December 26th on.  Our focus at New Year tends to change from others to self, resolving to do all I can to make my New Year a better one for me.

The sum of my annual resolutions should be met with but one command, the same command Jesus gave His disciples when He said to love your neighbor, even as I have loved you! Simple yet profound, straight forward but complex. Love each other-support each other-provide for each other-rejoice and mourn with each other.  In a world increasingly bigoted, hateful, intolerant and partisan, how can we possibly achieve a level of love that would ever resemble the same love that Christ shows, the “even as I have loved you” kind of love? What of our human efforts could ever be mistaken for that kind of supernatural, super human love?

On the surface it seems unattainable and unachievable and perhaps for some, an impossible undertaking not worthy of even attempting. While it may be true that our works of righteousness are “as filthy rags” compared to our Savior’s, the precedent has been set to take care of and notice the least of these. The same needs that are presented to us during the holidays exist 365 days of each year.  Hunger doesn’t hibernate until the next Thanksgiving; the homeless don’t retreat to some unseen holding area for eleven months; the need for visitation in nursing homes and jails isn’t silenced at the start of a new year. The only thing that seems to change is me, my perception, my involvement and investment in others.  This year the change I need most is the desire to bring change to others, which consequently will bring about eternal and valuable change in me in the process.  This will be my resolution this year-God help me help someone else just as you would.

One parting thought as I submit this last post of 2015. This year many families, including ours, said goodbyes to loved ones they were not expecting to leave so soon. Death and tragedy is not reserved for the elderly, as we have seen played out once again this year. While an unexpected passing is cause for us to hold our loved ones a little tighter, we should always have the attitude that any day could be their last, or ours in an unpredictable world of disease and tragedy.  As we strive to love each other a little more this year, please don’t forget to love on each other within your earthly family as well, bearing in mind that only God knows the number of our days.  Make each day count, say what needs to be said, don’t be shy or stingy with affection and be foolish enough to be vulnerable with your family, your mates and your closest friends.

Thanks to all who have considered my thoughts worthy to follow this year.  God bless and extend His grace to each of you in 2016 so that we may collectively draw a bit closer in reflecting His love to others.

He Stepped Into Our Globe

Victorian-village-snowglobe-0113683001-119_95

The young woman stared intently at the scene in the globe. Ravished by the scars of recent events in her life and desperate for some solace and relief, she found comfort in the simplicity and safety of the images depicted and encapsulated within the safety of the globe.  As she rotated the globe she watched as the winter scene unfolded. The homes were all lit up and looked warm and inviting, their chimneys showing evidence of logs on the fire.  She could almost smell the aroma escaping their kitchens as they prepared their holiday meals.  The children were playing outside in the snow in a safe and protected environment. The church doors were open and she could imagine hearing the hymns as the old organ bellowed out sweet melodies of traditional seasonal music. There was no traffic, no rush, no sirens-just a fresh falling snow that covered the village in a security blanket of white. Everything she held as ideal was captured in the globe she held in her hands, and just for a moment she longed for the ability to step into the world she was viewing and find refuge within the confines of this artificial creation.

I would imagine we have all done this at least once-perhaps like this young woman, it was a snow globe that captured our attention, or maybe a peaceful Thomas Kincade painting or even a man-made Hollywood setting depicted in a favorite Christmas movie.  The thought of stepping out of our world into a different one is not a concept foreign to many of us.  We long to escape the burdens and cares of a crime riddled, hateful, unloving planet in favor of a peaceful euphoric existence, even if within the limited dimensions of a painting or a plastic figurine within a snow globe.

Christmas is upon us, a time of joy, nostalgia and charity. Yet each year so many get caught up in the hustle and busyness of the holiday that we forget that it is for believers, a Holy day. It is best signified with the limited realization that 2000 or so years ago, God the Son, held His creation, his Earth globe if you will, in His hands.  However it wasn’t a Kincade scene He was viewing but rather one of brokenness, of sin and despair, in need of healing and reconciliation through means only He could deliver. It wasn’t a man-made world He beheld-He was the creator, but the world had turned away from Him and all the simplicity, the tranquility, the beauty He originally intended. The globe He held in His hands was neither peaceful nor inviting.

So, He did what only He could do-He stepped out of His heavenly kingdom and entered the globe He created. He entered not through some easy means but through the painful delivery of human birth that first Christmas. It was vital to the plan that He become the very flesh He had created and experience the frailty of humanity in every way. John 1:1 says that the Word became human and moved into His globe (my paraphrase) and we witnessed His beauty and unique glory.  Romans 8:3 explains it this way:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did. By sending His own Son in the form of humanity, He condemned sin by being incarnate (flesh).

There was nothing picturesque about His mission. We celebrate and depict a peaceful entry with shepherds, livestock and a star, and I’m quite certain the entire earth stopped spinning at the moment of His birth, but the objective was clear and anything but tranquil. He entered His globe that first Christmas morning on a path that would lead to Easter-the lamb that was born would be the eternal lamb to be slain so that through grace and forgiveness we could be reconciled to our original relationship with Him.

The songs, the spirit, the love and if you will, the magic of Christmas, comes alive each year in a very supernatural way to the believer who takes the time to ponder the great mystery of the incarnation of God to His people, His creation, His globe. So the next time you hold one in your hand and imagine what it would be like to insert yourself as a figure in the glass dome, remember God already did, and we call it Christmas.

Jesus Was a Child Refugee

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Matthew 2 records for us the story of how Joseph was instructed to take his wife and the child Jesus and flee to Egypt because their lives were in danger. Jesus was a child refugee.

We are in the midst of a horrifying dilemma as we witness the tragedy of families being forced from their homelands and having no place to go and no place to welcome them. Fresh off the recent attacks in Paris our first instinct is the safety and welfare of our own families.  Choosing to err on the side of preservation, Congress is being urged to close all borders and Governors are following suit, turning away families literally in mid air before they  even land. Even Franklin Graham, son of the famed Rev. Billy Graham and founder of Samaritans Purse, a charity that caters to homeless and the hungry, put out a statement that we must close our borders to anyone who may be Muslim for our own protection. But is this the proper Christian response? The answer to this polarizing question lies within the irrefutable Scriptures, and the answer will not be a popular one.

The children of Israel were refugees. They were led out of bondage, captivity, torture and many of the same circumstances that modern refugees face. While God made their way of escape, He reminded them several times that they should welcome strangers and foreigners as they too were once escapees from captivity and persecution. Exodus 22:21 reads “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner for you too were foreigners in Egypt”.  Deuteronomy 10:19 takes it one step further, saying “love those who are foreigners”. There are at least a dozen more Old Testament verses calling on the benevolence and welcoming of foreigners and strangers.

I get it-I’ve read the arguments. “We don’t take care of our own, why should we bring in foreigners?” We have a homeless crisis of our own to contend with. There are thousands of veterans, teens and children living on the streets of our  country.  But they have always been there, and yet suddenly when faced with a potential threat, they become the face of our stand against further hospitality toward a desperate and hopeless people as if suddenly their plight has a useful purpose. Our historic and current treatment of our own under privileged population can not be used as an intelligent argument to refuse aid to families who have nothing but the clothes they are wearing, just because there may be an evil person among the thousands of helpless families, or because we have failed as a nation to provide for those we encounter every day. Two wrongs, especially in this case, certainly do not make it right.

Another argument I’ve read is that they should all just go back to where they came from.

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This is where they came from. This is why they flee. This is why they overload a refugee boat resulting in the drowning deaths of their own children.  We all recall the horrendous and heartbreaking image of the three year old little boy’s lifeless body washed up onto the shore. And yet I know it’s still hard to somehow reconcile.  What would Jesus have us to do?  Well, He actually told us, and made it pretty clear.

In a positive affirmation, Jesus placed a child on His lap and said that anyone who welcomed one of them in His name not only welcomed Him but “the One Who sent Me“. In another passage He reminds us that rue religion is taking care of widows and children. There is no qualifying criteria for whose widows or children. And in Matthew there is a much more damning story of the sheep and goats. You know the story.  He addresses those on His left when He says that whoever didn’t feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty or clothes to the naked, or who didn’t visit the prisoners or welcome the stranger, didn’t do these things for Him as well.  Again, try as I might, I can find no qualifying criteria for strangers. Shall we go on?

Jesus also exhorted us in Matthew 5 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Of course that doesn’t mean that if someone breaks into your home or threatens your family that you should join hands and say “let us pray”. What it does mean is that we are called to love supernaturally, above the expected or explainable conditions, just as Christ did. He said in this way the world would see that we are different. That is perhaps the most difficult task of the Christian experience, especially when faced with uncertain outcome. We can’t find this capacity for love except through Christ and not of ourselves.

There is one other facet to this whole refugee situation that no one has mentioned but that has to be considered by the followers of Christ. We tend to be a patriotic people, proud of our heritage, our ethnicity and our geographical borders. We proudly proclaim our status as Hoosiers or Buckeyes or Americans, etc., which is all fine and well, to a point. However, as believers, we are reminded, in scripture, that we are not citizens of this earth, rather our citizenship is a heavenly one. Christians are not defined by the man-made borders in which they live. One of my favorite classic Christian songs was one by Petra, entitled Not of This World. One stanza says “we are pilgrims in a strange land-we are so far from our homeland-with each passing day it seems so clear, this world will never want us here-we’re not welcomed in this world below-we are foreigners who don’t belong”. Nothing could be more true for the believer. We can’t in the faith claim allegiance or ownership of a bordered land that our souls don’t claim. It is against our core beliefs to do so.

Illegal immigration may be a deciding factor in the upcoming Presidential election. We absolutely have a problem with people crossing the border for more opportunity. But we must be clear in differentiating those looking for economic advantage and those seeking survival. We also must be careful not to add our own qualifiers to Holy Scripture as justification to refuse aid to those who are desperate and hopeless without it. This issue may be a defining moment for the modern church, more so than any previous issue. I have tried to imagine the hopelessness of being a father with a wife and young children, minding my own business, working hard to support my family, and suddenly finding that my home, my business and all my belongings were suddenly destroyed. Now I am forced to flee because the war and violence poses a dangerous and potentially lethal threat to my wife and children. We flee to the nearest country for harbor but are soon deported and ultimately turned away because there is no room or provisions available, much like the night of our Savior’s birth. I have no funds, no food, no shelter and no foreseeable relief. Through no fault of my own I and my family are now unwanted visitors to a cruel world. I’m quite sure that my imagination of their plight pales in comparison to the harsh reality. The very thing that we hold dear, self-preservation is ironically the very same reason they are refugees.

The inscription on the statue of Liberty reads “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free-send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. ”

Jesus says “come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened down and I will give you rest.” Are we the hands and feet of Christ or just a safe meme on social media for a Like and an Amen?

There is certainly no easy answer to this crisis, but for believers in Christ, there is only one right one. Father, soften our hearts and give wisdom to our leaders and let us not be found guilty of refusing the least of these when asked how we responded to your children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUTRAGEOUS OUTRAGE – The Flap over Frap

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The controversy du jour of the day for religious zealots everywhere is a plain red cup void of any traditional holiday graphics save its red color. Social media ironically has been lit up like a Christmas tree with comments and posts over the absence of, said Christmas tree, snowflake, angel or other Pavlov-esque seasonal stimulators. Zealots everywhere have called for, or fallen for the command to either boycott this coffee establishment, or give a false name like Merry Christmas when ordering just so employees are forced to comply with our demand of a cheery holiday greeting. To that I reply with a resounding Bah Humbug!

The things that get some Christians’ panties knotted up continues to baffle me. Real, everyday situations that scream for our help and attention barely get a glance, but we stick our chests out like a Thanksgiving Butterball when it comes to a $5.00 cup of Frappuccino that fails to inspire us to have a Merry Christmas. This is nothing new. We’ll step over the legs of a homeless person or claim to be cashless when confronted by a vagrant wanting change for a dinner,  but we can become indignant over conceived evils of corporate America and pick up our crosses and blare out our off-key rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers as a sign of our unashamed allegiance to the cause.

I fully support taking a stand on legitimate principles based on personal convictions. Right or wrong we are given the freedom to protest and boycott at will.  What I question is our consistency to do so across the board, opposed to our selective preferences or trending evils, preferring to isolate others instead of remaining open to them in an attempt to be Christ whenever and wherever we can.  Out of curiosity I did some quick research to see just who and why Christians are boycotting these days.  The following are the current top 10;

  1. Starbucks, for lack of holiday spirit and views on serving everyone including the LGBT community.
  2. Pepsi for allegedly supporting the gay agenda.
  3. UPS for stopping their funding of Boy Scouts who initially disqualified gay scout leaders.
  4. Oreo, yes Oreo Cookies for support of same gay agenda.
  5. The Muppets for reasons above.  I always wondered about Beaker and the 2 old men.
  6. JC Penny for offering fashions to the gay community.  (See a pattern yet?)
  7. Nike for shoes that let you be light on your feet, like Mikee
  8. Home Depot for selling to the gay community.  Tool guy from Village people was consequently fired.
  9. General Mills because gay people have to eat too.
  10. Girl Scout Cookies-the only one in the top 10 not related to the LGBT agenda. They just aren’t godly enough.

If we as a faith-based community could demand that every corporation doing business in America do so based on our Christian values, there would be no need for us to be the light and salt of the earth.  Jesus said it Himself-it’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. We are exhorted to let our light shine before men and bring glory to Christ.  We can’t do that if we refuse to enter into places that are dark to the Gospel. Our views on ministry and evangelism are terribly skewed. However, in keeping with the current boycott trends based on our perception of supporting sinful lifestyles, I would like to propose that we add the following companies to our boycott list for their sins:

  1. Holiday Inn and all hotel chains-a hot bed (pun intended) for fornication and adulterous acts.
  2. If JC Penny, then Walmart, Target, Macys, Sears and any retail outlet that sells paisley.
  3. Any restaurant or club that sell alcoholic beverages because too much liquor makes you drunk.
  4. Any dance hall or club because dancing leads to touching-dancing is the devil.
  5. Any all-you-can-eat-buffet because the saints are getting gluttonous. Glutton is a sin.
  6. Churches-yes, they are full of hypocrites and sinners! Boycott them all.

How ridiculous can we be and how foolish we must look to a world we should be reaching out to as Christ would if He were still here in body. It is fine to be viewed as foolish because of the Gospel, but it is questionable to be viewed as fools because of misdirected indignation over things as silly as a red cup.  So here is my proposal and challenge to all my blog followers who read this.  If you really want to be in the Christmas spirit, buy a homeless person a hot cup of that coffee in a red cup.  Better still, get them a gift card for several and wish them a Merry Christmas. Ship your holiday packages with UPS and slap a Merry Christmas sticker on it somewhere. Buy a case of Oreos and deliver it to the local orphanage with a big red bow on it-better yet, wait until the red holiday Oreos come out. Raid your local JC Penny store for their clearance on scarfs and gloves and hand them out to the local homeless tent cities. Find that little boy whose parents are struggling and buy him a pair of Nikes for his parents to wrap for Christmas. Go to your local grocer who sells General Mills and get some Gift Cards for families who may not have a decent Christmas dinner this year.  I’d imagine they would gladly accept General Mills food without protest.

We can make a real difference, and not by engaging in social facades of overly righteous appearances.  Jesus had a term for that too-white washed tombs, pretty on he outside but full of dead bones on the inside. If you agree, share this with your social friends.  If not, I’ll still love you and drink to your health, with my red cup.

Time-Our Most Precious Commodity

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The text read “So how would you feel about going to Indy the weekend of Oct. 17th?”. It came from my youngest son. The timing wasn’t good.  I had just returned from a trip to Indy two weeks prior and was preparing for a business trip to Dallas. “I have two tix to Notre Dame USC in South Bend”. “I’ll buy your plane ticket”. It was clear that my son was anxious for me to spend the weekend with him and take in a great game.  How could I say no to that?  To say it was a great weekend would be the grandest of understatements!  We had the best time visiting friends and family, catching the game and being on the road, just the two of us.  Had I not made time for this weekend, I would have regretted it for years to come.

We spoke about jobs, women, future plans, tattoos and kicked back a beverage or three.  It was a reminder to me of what great sons I have, not that I had much to do with it. To pass myself off as the model father would be dishonest. While I took advantage of this opportunity to spend time with my son, there were too many times that I didn’t. We have made some great memories along the way-I just wonder how many memories were left unmade because I didn’t  make time. How many such moments did I not experience because I was too busy. It’s shameful and regrettable. And sadly, once the moments have passed, they can’t be recaptured.

We live in a world that spins as a hectic pace. Whether you are chasing a career, remodeling a house or even a fixture at your local church, our time gets divided by the things we choose to prioritize. I can’t make that event because it’s my poker night, or I will miss your birthday party because I’m singing at church. Don’t misunderstand me-there are things in each of our lives that we do as eternal investments, but in doing so many times we miss the chance to invest in the here and now-our adult children ever maturing or our grandchildren who remind us, if we pay attention, of just how precious and fleeting time is whether we are in the moment or not. Time passes at the same pace for all of us but some are much better at recognizing Kodak opportunities.  None of us are guaranteed a certain quota of time-it’s as if we are in a constant game of musical chairs, wondering when it’s our time for the music to stop and to find ourselves the odd man out for additional time, left to face eternity with no more opportunities to create memories for those we leave behind.

As I write this I just turned fifty-four years old.  As I look back on my life so far, the best memories I have are not of the things I had, the cars I drove or the salaries I made. The best times were when I was with people I loved just doing life together-Christmases, vacations, walks on the beach, making snow women with the kids on the block, playing monster at the playground with the grandkids-riding roller coasters with the boys-the things that will keep me company when I am old and alone. I don’t want any more regrets of time wasted, of memories lost at the expense of something so temporal to even remember. But how many of us have made the same mistakes in the name of chasing the dream. That, sadly, I have been very good at.

In the New Testament Jesus reminds us how foolish it is to say tomorrow we are going here or there and make this amount of profit, etc, when in fact we don’t have any assurance that we will be around in the near future.  It is certainly not in error to plan for your future or make plans for events or activities, but to do so in arrogance as if we have all the time in the world and not taking advantage of today is a mistake Christ didn’t want us to make. As always, His words are true for us on numerous levels if we will but listen.

This week is the twentieth year anniversary of the film back to the Future about time travel.  While the movie was entertaining, it certainly was far from realty.  What we wouldn’t give to go back in time and make better decisions, eliminate events that weren’t so important after all and replace them with those we didn’t take advantage of. But time has only one direction, forward. We can make time that that is still before us but none of us can substitute for the time that has already passed. The weekend I spent with my son will be one I’ll always remember and will serve to further remind me that whether taking in a road trip for football, or spending the afternoon on the golf course or sipping a beer at a NASCAR race, time spent with my kids is never wasted. The same may be said of siblings, spouses and close friends. When we leave this earth it won’t be the toys we acquired, the titles we held or the degrees we earned that will be remembered, it will be the moments, the toasts, the laughs and a few tears.  These are the real things that make up life. These are the things I want to spend the balance of my time pursuing. A plaque on the wall is nice; a Notre Dame ticket stub or a golf score card is priceless.