Being Jesus?

November 14, 2017

Ruminations

I was ordained into the “professional ministry” on October 21st 1984 at the age of 30.  I felt anything but prepared.  Feelings of inadequacy surged through my veins at the thought of being a “minister.”  Honestly… they still do.  I so deeply respected the ministers whom I had known that the notion of sullying their profession was overwhelming.  That’s not to say I “liked” all of them… just respected them. The thoughts of incompetence far outweighed the moments of clarity and experience.  No one in seminary told me it would be like that.  I had been called to Ross Community Presbyterian Church a few weeks before my ordination and the service of laying on of hands was the culmination of years of education, but little training in being a pastor.

Not long after October 21st I got a call that the husband of a faithful member of the church had been admitted into the hospital having had a serious heart attack.  He was a member of the church as well, but had not attended in years.  Such is the case with too many spouses, men in particular.  I had little, if any, experience with visiting anyone in the hospital and NO experience with intensive care.  Back then the ICU was very different from what it is now.  There were no televisions, newspapers, radios, books, calendars or clocks allowed.  Patients lay for hour after hour, day after day with no idea of the time, the date or any current events.  I think the idea was to keep them calm and allow for no excitement or stress.

The man I went to visit was named Bill, like myself.  I had never met him before, so I had to ask a nurse which cubical was his.  When I walked in, I introduced myself as the new pastor.  It was just awkward from there.  Very awkward.  Did I mention that it was awkward?  He was very weak and hard to understand with the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose.  I don’t really think he wanted to talk anyway.  I stayed for only a few minutes and then tried to graciously excuse myself because, like I said, it was awkward.

I had no idea how often I was supposed to visit him… another thing we never discussed in Seminary.  Every day?  Every other day?  Twice a week?  I just didn’t know.  Concerned that I might fall short of expectations, I visited him every day for over a month and prayed with him on each visit.  To this day I have no idea what people expect regarding the pastor and visits to the hospital.  I have no formula other than, the more severe the illness, the more regular the visits.  Distance is also a factor.  I once visited a church member in Franklin PA and another in Jamestown NY but only once.  I walked/visited with Bill through the intensive care unit to the step down unit (also new to me), until finally he was transferred into a regular room.  After a few weeks it got less awkward.  Did I happen to mention that it was very awkward at first?  Anyway, I learned about his life and his profession.  He had been raised in the church, but grew disenchanted and dropped out.  He had even been a Deacon at one time.  He was retired from a job with the county and was old enough to be my father.  That in itself made it awkward for me.  I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4: 12: Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

I dropped in one day and the first thing he said was, “I’m going home.”  And then he said these words, “Thank you for all that you have done.” I was confused and naively responded, “I haven’t done anything.”  He then looked at me with a very serious and puzzled look on his face and said, “You don’t get it, do you?”  I think I may have said, “Get what?”  He responded with these words that have rattled around in my head for over 30 years.  “When you come into my room, Jesus walks into my room!”  Honestly even now I have tears just typing that.  I had no words.  What does one say to that?  Please understand I know he was not likening me to Jesus.  He was trying to say that I represented the presence of Jesus when I visited him.  Over 33 years later and I still have no response to that.  Not many of us get the privilege of being in that position.  Or the honor.  Or the burden.  I am a poor substitute or representative for Jesus.  And yet I get the opportunity to walk with people down a path into His presence… if they want to.

The truth is, there are many more failures over the past 33 years than there are successes.  I’m sure that too many would say I drove them away from Jesus.  They might say that I am a poor representative of the Lord of the Universe.  For that I grieve, daily.  No lie.

Back in those early years I used to wear a clerical collar on occasion  It was in the days when I thought being identified with clergy and being called “Reverend” was… cool.  And it gave me a status that pleased me and in some ways put me above others.  I know… I’m sorry.  There was also the additional bonus of being able to go anywhere in a hospital without being questioned.  I care little for those things any longer.  I avoid anyone knowing I am a minister in strange company.  Why?  Because as soon as they discover a minister is in the room, their honesty, sincerity and vulnerability go right out the window.  And honestly, I don’t want to hang out with phonies all day!  I would hope we/I would be able to represent Jesus without the outward formalities of our “religious positions.”  Maybe a day will come when someone will say that when I walked into a room Jesus walked in, but they won’t know I’m a minister.  I can only hope.

I should add that Bill regularly attended worship after his time in the hospital.  He was still there when I left 12 years later.

Blessings.

 

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Ancient Sin

November 9, 2017

Ellen and I are away on vacation this week.  We’re staying in a cabin in the woods… literally.  No Wi-Fi, no phone, no text signal, no television, no radio…  The closest “conveniences” are about 4 miles away at a lodge.  Did I say we are staying at Tygart (first syllable pronounced like the “Ti” in tiger) State Park in WV about 50 minutes south of Morgantown?  Well, we are.  We like to go to places that are off season and isolated.  No people around.  No hustle and bustle.  Just us.  Pictured is our cabin and the surrounding woods and reservoir through the trees.

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Yesterday we went to “historic” Philippi, WV.  Why “historic” you ask.  Well… you may not know that Philippi is the location of the first “land battle” in the Civil War.  We were in a small restaurant in town and I asked if there was a battle field nearby.  I was informed that the battle took place right on main street, i.e., we were sitting on the battlefield.  Philippi is small enough that you can drive from one end to the other in less than a minute if you hit THE red light on time.  It does have a Sheetz and a Subway, so they have that going for them.  The Barbour County courthouse that sits in the center of town is picturesque and somewhat awe-inspiring.

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South of Philippi about 4 miles, in a small country church cemetery, we found the grave markers pictured below.  They are Ellen’s great, great, great grandparents’ and her great, great grandparents’ graves.  We didn’t come down here to find them.  It was just a small diversion that I didn’t think would come to fruition.  For those who do genealogical work you know that these things are often VERY difficult to locate!  It took 1/2 an hour to find the sites at the local library and 10 minutes once we found the cemetery; we were very fortunate.  It further amazes me that they are my granddaughter’s great, great, great, great, great grandparents.  Whew!

great, great:

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great, great, great:

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I was reminded of a question that is often asked in confirmation class by students; “Why do we have to carry with us the sin of Adam and Eve?  We aren’t the ones who ate the fruit!”  That of course, is a great question.  I usually answer something like this:  Why do you have the hair color you have?  Why do you have the eye color you have?  Why do you have the mannerisms you have?  Why do you have the values you have?  Primarily because they came from those who came before you.  You are who you are because of those who preceded you, i.e., your parents, your grandparents, etc.  Why is it that alcoholics often had alcoholic parents?  Why is it that abusers often were abused or witnessed their mother being abused?  Some would say regarding alcoholism that there is a genetic predisposition toward addiction.  Others would say that if abuse is modeled for us then abuse will be our “norm.”  I admit this is a little bit more complicated for those who have been adopted, but even they carry many of the traits of their biological ancestors, they just may not know it.  Again, the short of it is this;  we are who we are because of our ancestors.

Turn with me for a moment to the 10 Commandments listed in Exodus 20 4“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

What do you suppose it means that God “punishes” several generations because of the sins of one particular person, or several “particular persons”?  Could it be that because of the sin of my great, great grandfather, God is sitting in heaven eagerly waiting to fire thunderbolts of destruction at me and my family? (Some people think that.)  If so, that is a demoralizing and incomprehensible thought.  And yet, there it is in black and white… well okay, red and blue.

Allow me to suggest an alternative view.  Could it be that the sins of one person, in this case a father, can taint or stain the values and the very life of a whole generation?  I’m sure that’s possible (and even likely); simply ask the children of violent, abusive alcoholics.  Might it be that it could take several generations to “filter or strain” the damage out of a family?  Not only “might it be” but it is VERY LIKELY the case!  Get it?  The sins of one father being carried through to the following generations.

One of my favorite questions to ask people goes something like this; “How are you like your father or mother?”  You would be amazed at the facial expressions this question elicits!  Partly, I suspect, because many of us don’t like to think of ourselves as being like our parents.  And for others they have simply never thought about it.  The truth is… if you were raised by your biological mother and father you have many similar qualities… whether you like it or not.

Well okay… what do we do if those qualities are less than desirable?  I mean what do we do if we struggle with addictions, unforgiveness, anger, impatience, selfishness, etc. and they are simply part of our psyches?  Maybe we were raised with those values and we struggle to leave them behind.  Seriously what do we do?

I’m fairly sure that the answer to this is much more complicated and difficult than what I am going to address here.  That being said, there is a thing called “redemption.”  Hallelujah for that!  We can actually be redeemed from our brokenness!  We don’t have to live as slaves to sin and rebellion against God.  There is Jesus, there is Jesus, there is Jesus!

Hebrews 9:  12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Jesus allowed His blood to be shed so that stained humanity might be cleansed.  Please do not misunderstand me.  I know that leaving behind generations of sin and rebellion is not easy.  I have known too many people who have BEGGED God to remove certain sin from their lives and God seems to have been silent.  I don’t know why. For many of us we will not be fully redeemed from “death” until we enter Glory.  But we need not succumb to the sins of our past or the sins of our fathers’ past.  For those who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, God does not hate you, nor is He gleefully shooting arrows at you.  Are there generational sins in your life that need to be purchased/redeemed by the blood of Jesus?  Are there?  If so… you are not alone!

Blessings.

Anger at God

November 7, 2017

 Is it ever appropriate to be angry at God?  Is it?  I have certainly been around enough people over the years who were furious with God.  Tragedies in our lives can produce hostile feelings toward the One we blame… the One who could have prevented calamity if He chose to.  Oh yes, I have known many who have caused their hearts to be hardened toward the King of the Universe.

It’s interesting to note that some of those who express anger toward God have few thoughts about Him one way or the other when all is well.  They have no expressed faith outside of a flippant, “Sure, I believe in God.”  And they have little if any connection to Christian fellowship whether it be church or some other form of faith acknowledgement outside of Easter and Christmas.  And yet they vigorously express their wrath toward a God that they otherwise don’t acknowledge.  Honestly I don’t understand that.

Believers on the other hand, those who sincerely and actively seek after a Holy God… their anger is a little more complex.  Please understand that what I am about to say here is said without a current crisis in my life, and is articulated under the guise of reason.  I realize that anger is an emotion and not always subject to the same guidelines.

The scripture seems to speak to two types of anger:  sinful anger and righteous anger.

Sinful anger is referenced numerous times in The Bible.  A few examples:

Psalm 37:  8Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Matthew 5:  21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

Ephesians 4:31   Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Colossians 3:8  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

 And then there is righteous anger:

Exodus 32:19  When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

John 2:13–22  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Ephesians 4:26b “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

James 1:19  My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

And then of course there is the anger/wrath of God:

Judges 2:14  In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

Romans 1:18–32 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

One author suggests that we not hold onto our righteous anger too long lest we give Satan a foothold and our “Godly fury” morphs into sinful anger.

 The question remains… is it ever appropriate for Believers to be angry with God.  If it’s true that there are only two types of anger, sinful and righteous, then by definition there is never a time when anger toward God is justified.  If our anger is sinful then of course it isn’t appropriate.  And if our anger is righteous then by definition it is in line with the things of God and cannot be directed against God.

Take for example an adolescent who has returned home past his curfew for 3 nights in a row.  (Yeah I know, “curfew;” who even knows what that is anymore?!)  On the fourth night his parents discipline him by refusing permission to attend an event.  Like all adolescents he expresses anger.  Does he have cause to be angry with his mother and father?  Is it “appropriate” for him to be angry with them?  I suspect most of us would say “No, he has no right to be angry with them.”  And yet he is… why?  Two reasons I suspect.  First because he is only concerned with himself and his self-centered desires.  And second he is unable/unwilling to see the big picture and the fact that his parents actually care about him. Need I explain that our anger toward God finds its roots in these same two rationales?

I suspect there may be one additional reason we find ourselves angry with “god.”  Too many of us worship the god of our own invention.  The god whose sole purpose is to make us happy and never allow us pain.  When that god is found sleeping on the job and we don’t get what we want… we turn to anger.

I wonder if our willingness/inclination to express anger toward God has any connection with the culture we have been raised in.  You may have seen in the news recently the young American woman in Africa (I forget the country) who may be sentenced to 20 years in prison because she said the leader of the country was a “sick man.”  Since we have freedoms to say almost anything about our leaders her predicament is FAR from understandable!  Or the recent law passed in China that disrespecting the National Anthem can lead to 20 years in prison!  (There are not NFL teams in China.)  Clearly we have no idea what these things are about in the U.S.  Is it possible that we would be hesitant to express our anger toward the King of the Universe if we lived in some of the places just mentioned.  I don’t know.

In the end we do one of the following:

  • We find ourselves in sin because we express unjustified anger toward the King of the Universe.
  • We express anger toward a God that we don’t choose to worship anyway.
  • We express anger toward a god that we invent. (So invent another god then!)
  • We recognize that God is God and we are not. And that God’s ways are not our ways.

Until we understand that the God of Christianity is beyond our full comprehension… we will not be comfortable in our faith (to the degree that we can ever be comfortable in our faith).

 

Blessings.

Healing… really?

November 2, 2017

There is an old expression that “Time heals all wounds.” Honestly, I doubt that’s true.  I mean, there has to be some willingness to allow ourselves to be healed.  If we choose to hang on to old wounds, then they will not heal no matter how much time goes by.  Do you remember as a child continually picking scabs off of skinned knees?  We took so much longer to heal because of that!  I think emotions are like that as well.  The more we allow hurts and emotional injuries to fester and infect our minds the longer it will be before we are whole again.  And in some cases we NEVER allow for healing to take place.

And honestly, much of this depends on our definition of “healing” does it not? When I was 7 years old, my family and I were swimming in the Colorado River.  We were moving from Utah to Pennsylvania (long story) and had taken a few minutes for a picnic lunch and a dip.  As I wandered in the river farther and farther from shore my mother kept saying, “That’s far enough… that’s far enough.”  Eventually I took one step too many and felt excruciating pain in my ankle.  Blood started bubbling to the surface of the water as my sister Donna came and “rescued” me.  I must have “brushed up” against something very sharp on the bottom of the river because it sliced my ankle wide opened.  I’m not embarrassed to say that I cried like a 7 year old!  After a trip to the hospital, many stitches and of course the dreaded tetanus shot, we continued on our way to PA with a very unhappy and uncomfortable little boy.  Eventually my wound healed… or did it?  That was 56 years ago and I still have a scar on my ankle.  So, what does healing really mean?  It seems that healing very often, if not always… involves scarring… a reminder of a wound.  And scars are sometimes limiting.  I’m not in the medical field but I know there is such a thing as “scar tissue.”  And I believe that can limit our ability to use muscles and other tissue as we once could.  Do those sorts of wounds “heal”?  Well yes… but we are now somewhat restricted as a result of our previous injuries.  So we are “healed” but not fully “restored.”

Why do you suppose God made us that way? I’m not sure either.  It could be that full and complete healing/restoration is not possible in this broken world anymore.  We know for sure that the world is not as it was created to be before the Fall of Adam and Eve right?  And yet we don’t always know how The Fall has affected us.  How are we different from the days of the Garden of Eden… pre Fall?  Certainly the world is now scarred by sin.  Full healing/restoration will not take place until Jesus returns.  Or until we breath our last and find ourselves in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Yes, healing (physical, emotional and spiritual) is certainly possible in this world… but I don’t think it happens without scars. Some in the faith will dispute what I have said here.  They will say that I have placed limitations upon God.  Or that my faith is inadequate.  I am fully prepared to admit that I could be wrong.  But… NEWSFLASH… God is limited.  There are many things that He cannot do:  He cannot sin, He cannot be what He is not, He cannot save people without the death of Jesus…, etc.  And of course there are innumerable things that God could do but chooses not to do.  Can God fully and completely heal and restore us?  I have already said that will happen in Glory.  Can He do it now in this existence?  Probably but He chooses not to do so.  He allows for scars.

An interesting side note. Jesus was raised with some sort of “Glorified” body… and yet… He retained His physical scars.

John 20:27

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

What do you make of that?

Rather than denying that you have scars, it might be wise to consider what your scars are. Are there reasons that you struggle to find and express love, kindness, forgiveness?  That very well could be a result of emotional scarring.  Issues that you thought were well in the past may still limit you today.  It’s not that we can’t function.  It’s more that we may not operate with the full capacity with which God created us.  Healing might have occurred for you… complete restoration on the other hand… well… if it comes at all, it only comes because of the Grace of God.

Blessings.

Las Vegas

October 6, 2017

I feel a need to make some comment on the tragedy in Las Vegas this past week. I apologize in advance that I will likely not shed any light on this heartbreaking disaster.  I am deeply grieved for the families and the innocent victims of the mad man who shot, injured and killed so many.  My first response is not to blame anyone but the shooter.  I have no desire to condemn the “country western fans who voted for Trump so I have no sympathy for them” as was stated by a lawyer for CBS.  She has since been fired.  What a moron.  Nor do I have any idea what caused this man to act as he did.  But I do know this:  As Christians most of us believe that we are born in sin.  Our nature is one of brokenness and fallenness.  We sin because we are sin. Christians who would argue that humanity is basically “good” are blind or out of their mind or both.  And they clearly have not read several Bible passages… namely:

Romans 5: 12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 10:18  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.

Psalm 51:5  Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

Beginning in the 2nd century The Christian Church has embraced the theology of “original sin,” i.e., we are born in sin and we are sin.  So on a larger scale, why did this man commit this heinous act?  Because he was broken… just like all of us.  Why, in particular, he chose to act this way?  I have no idea.

People do bad things because humanity is bad. Some do worse things than others. There is not enough money or resources on the planet to change that reality.  Wars will continue.  Murder will continue.  Abuse will continue.  Theft will continue.  Unfaithfulness will continue.  Racism will continue.  Hate toward fellow human beings will continue.  Envy will continue.  Etc.…  That being said, we can be declared righteous through Jesus… but ONLY through Jesus.  And even then our old self continues to hang around and cause sinful havoc.

Allow me to say something about guns and politicians. First of all, I see absolutely NO REASON for citizens to have automatic weapons.  None.  Not for a second.  I have heard 2nd amendment people argue like adolescent boys over our “rights” but I am not convinced.  Why?  For this reason.  If we are going to argue that the 2nd amendment protects our rights to own weapons… then why can’t I have a rocket launcher?  Or a bazooka?  Or a case of grenades?  Or, heck… why not a nuclear weapon?  Why are those not protected?  I’m assuming they are not protected because they are dangerous.  Um… having guns that can kill loads of people in a VERY short period of time seems kind of dangerous too.  And I am sick to death that the Republican Party continues to kowtow to the NRA!  Just as I am sick to death of the Democrats doing the same with Planned Parenthood!  This political jargon where the Left blames the Right for having blood on their hands while not embracing their own guilt over 60 million plus aborted babies makes no sense.  And the sad part?  I can already hear the comments you on the Right and Left are making to justify your own political positions!

Once again, I am not speaking to the World. I expect nothing less than total self-absorption from them.  But for Believers?  We need to repent!  Repent that we have allowed ourselves to get so caught up in the politics of the World that we have forgotten the Truth of Jesus Christ.  We are too quick to say: “I am so sorry for the families, now let’s talk about politics and policies.”

I just read this quote last night: “This is our predicament.  Over and over again, we lose sight of what is important and what isn’t.”  -Epictetus AMEN!!

For believers… Jesus is of primary importance. Not the Republicans.  Not the Democrats.  Not the NRA.  Not Planned Parenthood.  Not our own agendas.  Can we start acting like Jesus is of foremost importance?  Can we?  No, I didn’t think so.

Seek Jesus

September 25, 2017

I remember very clearly my first encounter with “style” in elementary school… I was in 1st grade. I’m fairly sure that I had not spent one moment of my very short life up to that point worrying about or caring about what I wore. (This proves that things come full circle.) Whatever happened to be in my dresser or strewn about on the floor of my room went onto my buff, 6 year old, Arnold “Schwarzenegian” body.  At some point, not too far into my first academic year, I noticed that I was the only boy in my class who was wearing suspenders. (I know… you need say no more.) All the other boys had belts.  I began to feel peculiar about it, so I went and asked my dad if he would buy me a belt.  I don’t remember his exact words but they were something like, “No, you have a perfectly good pair of suspenders, you don’t need a belt.”  Keep in mind that my father’s generation thought much more about “functionality and finances” than they did about their children’s social status.  So I spent the remainder of that year as a first grade pariah with suspenders.  I guess they must have broken by 2nd grade because I have no memory of ever wearing them again.  Nor do I have any recollection of the relief or exultation that should have come with my new “rank.”

I can’t possibly know the answer to this question but I wonder how many times in my life I have put on my belt? I mean, it has to be thousands… even 10’s of thousands!  Last week I was adding to those numbers by looking into the mirror as I tried to thread my belt through the pant loops.  On most occasions I can put my belt on in the dark. Do you think I could do that by gazing at the reflection?  Not for a second.  I finally had to turn away and allow my hours and hours of experience over the past… well, post-1st grade years… to take over.

Sometimes when the truth seems to be right in front of us, it’s only a deceptive reflection. The real truth is just the opposite of what we think.  Too often in the faith, I fear we accept the “deceptive reflection” without seeking after “real truth.”  We just allow ourselves to operate on “spiritual auto-pilot” doing things the way we always have; not realizing that the faith for believers is about our constant transformation; continual morphing.

I wonder how many Christians would say they do their best to follow the teachings of Jesus and yet they have not cracked open a Bible since I last wore suspenders? They are simply doing and believing what they always have.  Keep in mind that this is not about a guilt trip over whether you are reading your Bible.  I am asking this question.  How can one possibly know what the “truth” of Jesus is if we are not becoming more and more familiar with what He said?!  I think the answer is obvious.

A few verses about “truth.”

John 8 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Luke 20:21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 4:23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

John 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I wonder how many things we have believed in our lives that we have considered to be bedrock, indisputable truth, only to discover they are not true at all? I can remember one silly thing.  When I was 5 years old, I spent Monday-Friday with my grandmother who lived next door to us.  Both of my parents worked and my older sisters were in school.  On one occasion I was chewing gum and I grew weary of it so I swallowed it.  My grandmother took that opportunity to tell me a story (as grandmothers are wont to do) about a little girl who swallowed her gum all the time.  She died and when they cut her open they found that she was full of gum!  Needless to I say I immediately quit swallowing my gum and it was years before I knew this story to be untrue.  Need I even mention more substantial things like the earth being flat, or the sun orbiting the earth?  Or more mundane things like, “Eat your bread crust and it will give you curly hair.”  Or (my mother to me) “eat your peas and it will put hair on your chest.” 🙂

WE AS “BELIEVERS” MUST CONTINUALLY SEARCH FOR THE JESUS OF THE BIBLE!!!  Not the Jesus of our childhood.  Not the Jesus of our own invention.  Not the Jesus of our own desires.  Not the Jesus of our culture.  Not the Jesus of our political persuasions.  Only the Jesus as revealed in Scripture.  There are no valid alternatives to this for Christian people.  None!  If we look elsewhere or don’t look at all, we will surely get fooled by a “deceptive reflection.”

Seek truth… seek Jesus.

Blessings.

Speaking out

September 22, 2017

I was born in 1954 so in the early to mid-1960’s, I was in elementary school. The Vietnam War meant little to me in those years.  I didn’t know anyone who was killed in that far away land and outside of my step father, who was a lifer in the Army, I didn’t know anyone who even went to Vietnam.  The only thing I really remember were the nightly newscasts telling us how many young men had been killed that day.  An interesting side note (and I confess I have no way of checking to make sure this is accurate so I apologize if this is “fake news”), in the mid 1960’s, the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam began to rise.  It was a PR disaster for the government, so they decided to address the problem.  What they did was simply redefine “killed in action.”  Unless a soldier actually died on the battle field, they were not included in the day’s casualties.  In other words, if one died a day or two later from injuries sustained while fighting, they were not included in the everyday statistics.  Is it any wonder that my generation struggles to trust the government or institutions in general?!  Yet, there are still those who hold to the axiom “America right or wrong.”  Um… I don’t think so.

In my relatively protected neighborhood in Gibsonia PA (with a few temporary excursions to Utah and Texas), I never saw a black person.  I knew little of the “Civil Rights Movement.”  Oh, for sure I had heard of Martin Luther King Jr., but he and the “Movement” meant little to me.  That being said I was deeply saddened when he was killed, as I was when JFK and Bobby were.  I never heard of Medgar Evers or Malcom X until I was a young adult.  (Do you know Malcom’s birth name?  Malcom Little.)  It wasn’t until adolescence and the “hormone years” that it began to dawn on me that the world was in turmoil.  Or at least the world I lived in anyway.  The Vietnam War was escalating.  The Civil Rights movement had made great strides, but as we know today there was and is a long way to go.  I remember naively arguing with my dad over whether we should have dropped the bomb on Japan.  I was 16 for heaven’s sake… what right did I have to judge his generation!?

In early 1972, I enlisted in the Navy. I didn’t actually depart for boot camp until November.  Suddenly Vietnam became much more real.  I am thankful that the war began to wind down about then, even though the fall of Saigon didn’t occur until 1975.  I never was in any danger of going to Vietnam but I met many who had been there.

Well, what I really want to point out here is that there was a great deal of anger and division in our country. College campuses were hot beds of dissent and protest.  Draft dodging, free sex, protest marches, bra burning, drugs and hippies were the order of the day.  And speaking to it all were the artists, the poets and the musicians.  Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Barry McGuire and many more.  I have asked this question before but… where are they now?  I don’t mean the specific people mentioned above… I mean the sages of our day.  The artists who will speak for a generation.  Where are they?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I will agree with them. I am merely asking what has become of a culture where even the artists are silent?!  I suspect it’s similar to a passage found in the Old Testament book of Judges.

Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

That sounds great on the surface doesn’t it? Everyone making their way along in life… making their own decisions… doing what they thought was right and “fit.”  But that’s not what was going on at all.  At least it is not what this passage is alluding to.  Here’s what was happening:  People were pursuing their own demented thoughts and passions.  It was every man, woman and child for themselves.  Chaos and anarchy reigned.  Why?  Because they turned away from God and there were no leaders.

We now live in a culture of “me first,” “I want what I want,” and “I deserve to have whatever I desire.” Consequently, there is little sense of community, or working together toward common goals.  And that applies to artists, musicians and politicians as well.  They are unable or unwilling to speak to the culture.  They are only speaking to whatever brings them their self-appointed interests.  It looks on the surface like it might be impossible for a leader to come in to this mess and move us in a positive direction.

So, what do we do? Well, I cannot speak to unbelievers.  I have no right or expectation to think that non-Christians will look to Christian standards to “right the ship.”  But for believers….  There are many verses to which we could look.  Allow me to mention only a couple from Philippians 2. Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  

We ought to be reading these verses EVERY DAY… especially v.3-4.  Humble servant hearts… I don’t see much of that these days.  I only see arrogant, angry, loud mouths (especially on the internet!).  I really don’t care to hear what you say you stand for or against.  DO SOMETHING OF VALUE AND SOMETHING POSITIVE!  Maybe we need to cease screaming out our agenda for a while and allow Jesus to shine through.  If you think this applies to someone else… you might need to think again.  Just sayin.

Blessings.