Anger or Grace?

Warning… semi-rant spoiler alert!

A long time ago I knew a woman who had a very different way of viewing the world from me.  We often talked about our conflicting values but, surprise surprise, we actually liked one another.  (And still do.)  I remember on one occasion her saying something like this:  “Do you know what your problem is?!”  (Actually my problems are legion.)  “You are an idealist!  You want to see the best in people and if you can’t see the best you make excuses for why they are not who they should be.”  Truthfully and sadly… that guy is gone.  Something to do with age, maturity, various experiences (some of them not so good)…  Oh, I still have smatterings of that old ideology but not nearly what I once had.  That being said, I do have high expectations for those who claim to know Christ.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a hypocrite.  I have high expectations for myself as well, and I often fall short to my continued regret and sorrow.  The desires for Godliness are still there ripping me apart as I also struggle with the “old man.”  You know, the broken sinful one. (Romans 6:6 “We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”) So please do not read this essay as a condemnation of those who do not have their lives all together as I do because, as Paul said in 1 Timothy 1 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  I guess if Paul can admit to his short comings… well…

Let me also make it clear that I am writing to those of you who claim Jesus as your Lord.  Maybe you use different language to describe your faith but in the end… well… it’s about Lordship.  And, in particular, who is yours?  I have little expectation for non-believers other than continued self-centeredness.  When light shines through them, it’s all “gravy.”  I find myself saddened by the anger, vitriol, cynicism, and constant haranguing of “Christians” who do not agree with others on a variety of items whether they be political, theological, topical, etc.  What should we “Christians” be known as in this country in the 21st century?  Are we the “people of the issues?”  Are we “the religious Democrats?”  Are we the “religious Republicans?”  Are we the “religious independents?”  Are we the “Christian Pro-lifers?”  Are we the Christian Pro-choicers?”  Are we the Christian “Obama people?”  Are we the Christian “Trump people?”

Much of what I see on Social media these days by self-proclaimed “Christians” is anything but “Christian.”  Their comments are agenda driven.  They are surely not Jesus driven.  I see no “grace,” or “love,” or “kindness.”   I have not seen one person remind us to pray for those on the opposite side of issues… not prayers for “illness or assassination” as have been abominably mentioned for over 8 years now, but Godly prayers for health, blessed lives, for their families, for wisdom, for their faith….  Nope, I guess we are the “people of the issues”, not “the people of prayer.”  What ever happened to grace, love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness?  These things have somehow gotten lost in our desire to take a stand on political or social concerns.  And I would add that for too many, they have gotten lost in our need to vent our inner anger and rage that likely have more to do with our own sinfulness than the defense of “issues.”  The world needs to hear a whole lot more about “grace and love” and a whole lot less from those who can’t keep their angry pie holes closed.  Just saying.  (Whew!  Good thing I just thought that and didn’t actually write it down.)

I know… someone is going to say, “Well, Jesus got angry.  He even tore up the temple!  Not to mention the fact that he humiliated the religious leaders of the day on numerous occasions.  So, there is Biblical precedent for the expression of ‘righteous anger’.”  Can we be clear on this?  First, no doubt Jesus did those things but they are greatly outweighed by His teachings on love.  Second keep in mind that his outrage is almost without exception directed toward religious leaders who were leading people astray, not toward political types.  Use whatever rationale you want for your anger toward your political enemies, but don’t drag Jesus into it.  This is on you, all on you.  (Well okay you can drag some Old Testament prophets into it if you want.  But keep in mind those prophets were talking to God’s “chosen people” what we might think of as The Church, not to secular politicians.)

I think I’ll conclude with this.  Should we have values that cause us to take on issues?  Of course!  Absolutely!  Without a doubt!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great German theologian and pastor before and during WW2, was a pacifist when the War began.  He eventually came to the conclusion however, that sometimes evil is so great that there are no options but to stand against it and destroy it.  In time he became part of a plan to assassinate Hitler.  But you also need to know that he came to these conclusions and actions with much soul searching, grief and sadness.  I see little soul searching, grief or sadness by many as they spew their rants to friends, family and on the faceless internet.  I should add that Bonhoeffer was vindictively killed by the Nazis as they saw the war coming to an end.

If your hope is to bring about change consider this challenge:

Take a week (or a month if you dare) and send a message (direct or otherwise) to family, friends, “Facebook friends” and anyone else you choose.  The message is this (use your own words).  I am about the love and grace of Jesus Christ for all.”  You are not allowed “buts,” or explanatory prefaces.  Just love and grace.  No other messages… only this one.

I bet some of you just can’t bring yourself to do it.  The Body of Christ is diminished because that.



Of Mice and Mousy Men

Written February 17, 2017

*Editorial comment related to last week’s Rumination.  In the past week Ellen and I have wandered through various venues with literally thousands of people if not 10’s of thousand.  I have not seen more than 30 couples holding hands… just sayin.

At the gracious invitation of Ellen’s younger brother Daniel and his lovely wife Kelly, Ellen and I spent this past week in Orlando Florida.  Seriously I don’t get it.  People talk about Florida likes it’s some sort of “heaven on earth.”  Outside of the perfect weather, exotic birds, beautiful flowers, majestic palm trees, green landscapes, clear blue skies, flawless pot hole free roads, everything Disney, sandy beaches, beautiful resorts, amazing architecture, warm swimming pools, bright sunshine in February and maybe a couple of other things… it really isn’t much different from McKeesport in the winter.  Um… okay… well… maybe it’s a little different.

I am 62 years old and thanks to my daughter Rebekah and her free Disney employee tickets we spent our anniversary at Epcot.  It was WAY cool.  Well, outside of the “space ride to Mars” that I went on ALONE because someone who shall remain nameless refused to go with me.  She missed the opportunity to suffer motion sickness for most of the afternoon after the G forces to clear our atmosphere, weightlessness, and the final crash landing on the Red Planet.  If you haven’t experienced the ride I can’t really help you very much.  I can tell you this however… if you go to Epcot, want to fly to Mars and they give you the choice of “Intense vs less intense”… choose wisely!

Today we drove 90 minutes to Florida Southern College to meet up with Ellen’s older brother John and his wife Carolyn.  (You can see whose family this trip is all about!)  We had no idea that this College has the largest “collection” of Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings in the world.  Normally I’m not into architecture but it was amazing seeing all of these historic structures designed by the greatest architect of the 20th century in a somewhat out of the way place in southern Florida.  We had a wonderful time exploring the campus.  I even got a short private tour of one closed building by the head financial director of the college.  Too long to tell here, but it pays to greet people and to be friendly to them.

Tomorrow we board a plane in the afternoon for the 2 hour flight back home… connecting in Super Bowl losing Atlanta.  Honestly… I’m not a big fan of flying.  I’ll do it, but I avoid it as much as I can.  I would have gladly driven down here but the time taken to do that would have seriously curtailed my opportunities to get sick in Epcot.  I don’t like it when the plane jumps all over the place and I pretty much white knuckle it wherever I go.  I have tried to get a handle on this fear by analyzing the reasons behind them.  I’m pretty sure the anxiety finds its roots, not in the rough flying, but in the potential 600 mile an hour stop on the ground.

That raises an interesting question… is “fear” sinful?  Is it lack of faith in God?  Do you feel guilty when you experience “fear?”  I do at times.  I doubt there are many folks who do not have a fear of something.  The admitting of it is not a strong suit for some.  It may be the obvious things like snakes or heights.  Or it may be things like fear of failure or fear of dreadful things happening to our children or grandchildren.  Admonitions to refrain from fear are found over 100 times in the Bible.  Joshua is told by God’s messenger 3 times in the beginning of the book named after him not to fear.  We’re told in Luke that Jesus’ pours oozed blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.  No doubt taking on the sins of the world, much less the horrors of the cross, were frightening indeed.  Fear, it seems, is not sinful in some situations.  As a matter of fact, it’s a response built into our systems that likely keeps us safe on many occasions.  Would that Eve had had a bit of fear!

So if fear is not in and of itself sinful… when does it become sinful?  I suspect that the line is somewhere tied up in our occasional lack of faith.  When fear debilitates us because our faith is negligible then it has likely become sinful.  When we find ourselves unable to see or follow the hand of God because of our fears then we walk a path that ought to cause us to be afraid.

Years ago I heard a pastor ask this of a group of clergy, “If fear were not a factor in your life, what could you do for the Kingdom of God?”  I was immediately convicted and recognized how my life is controlled by fear.  As I said earlier… I, for sure, have fears.  And I grieve over the things I have not done over the years because I have been afraid.

How about you?  What things could you do in your life or for Jesus if fear were not a factor?

Oh, one more thing… there is no fear in Florida.  Well unless you are afraid of “mice” because there is one giant one here and he seems to be EVERYWHERE!





First Love

February 6, 2017

Years ago, Ellen and I knew a couple who were in their early to mid-70’s. They loved each other like two school kids.  Any time we saw them in public, they were holding hands.  The glow on their faces as they talked about one another caused Ellen and I to say, “We want to be just like them when we grow up!”  And we do!  They are both gone now… she having died first.  He joined her in death 5 years later.  I never told them about my admiration for them.  Sadly, I can’t now.

I have a question to ask of those who have been married for a while. Did you hold hands when you were dating and early in your marriage?  If so… why did you stop?  Maybe you didn’t but honestly, I see few couples who hold hands any more.  Why is that?  Some might think that’s a silly question, but I would like an answer.  Have you ever even thought about it before?  Maybe folks object to holding hands because it’s a “PDA.”  Talk about silly… that objection seems to be a bit over the top to me.  Or could it be that when kids come along you don’t have spare hands anymore?  That makes sense on some level, but why don’t folks go back to holding hands after the kids are gone?  Or when they are alone without the kids?  Yeah, see the “kid” excuse doesn’t really work for me.  Wanna hear my theory?  Well, here it is…

I think that when we are early on in dating relationships physical touch is “electric.” Men and women (young men and young women) want to touch and hold one another and they want to be touched and held.  Does this apply to EVERYONE?  I’m sure it doesn’t, but I’m guessing for the vast majority of us…  it’s true.  Then over the course of years something happens.  The “electricity” that was a driving force early on dwindles into a small spark and eventually disappears.  Holding our loved ones’ hand becomes like wearing our old slippers.  “Comfortable” but not ecstatic.  Why do it anymore if we aren’t getting anything out of it, i.e., the spark is gone?  So we don’t.

Ellen and I hold hands pretty much everywhere we go. We even hold hands in the car while I’m driving sometimes.  Guess what?  No spark.  No electricity.  No voltage.  No current…  Just comfort.  Does that sound sad or childish?  I don’t think of it that way at all.  Honestly, I need and desire “emotional comfort.”  Don’t you?  I don’t want to live in a constant state of anxiety or aloneness.  I am grateful to God that there is someone that I can reach out to and know that they will take my hand, love me and comfort me.  That is not sad or childish.  That is the electric part these days!  Not the hand holding but the sharing of life.  Young people who are still experiencing the voltage of touch have not yet learned the power of long standing, sticking to, experiencing together… LIFE with someone.  It’s glorious and cannot be understood until one has done it… seriously.  And as the years go by… it becomes more comfortable and more glorious!  At least that’s my experience.

Can I suggest that for some, their faith journey parallels parts of the story above? Maybe you remember your early days in the faith.  It could have been in a church youth group.  Or maybe you came to faith in your teens in some other form.  Remember the fun and the adventure of those days?  Learning about Jesus with friends.  Maybe going on mission trips together.  Or just hanging out with other Believers.  There was excitement in all of that… or shall I say “electricity.”  Then the years came and went.  You grew up.  You grew older.  You became an adult with adult worries and adult pressures.  You no longer spent time with your Christian friends in a Bible study or group.  Not only was the electricity gone, but you didn’t grow into any old slippers either.  It all just… drifted away.

The Faith for too many folks has become like… I don’t know, “obligation,” if anything at all? What a dreadful place to be.  Something that was once so wonderful and exciting has turned into just another commitment.  Oh, I get it.  Every once in a while, we are reminded of the old spark, but it sputters pretty quickly.  On occasion I have met with old friends who used to be a part of my life when the faith was electric for both of us.  Sadly, on too many occasions they are no longer walking with Jesus.  I enjoy my time with them, but the last thing we are going to talk about are faith issues.  It’s just awkward.  The thing that used to pull us together has become uncomfortable.  How sad is that?

What do we do about all of this? How do we find some perspective on our faith after the electricity seems to be gone?  I can’t say that I know the answer to this for everyone, but I can suggest one thing.  Begin with the notion that the Christian faith is not about a set of rules or a “belief system.” The Christian Faith is about a relationship. In particular, it’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s about “knowing and being known” by the Son of God.  It’s about spending time with the One who died for us on a cross.  I’m going to guess that for those who have found their faith to be “obligatory” or “dull,” or even “non existent” it has something to do with the fact that it has been a long time since they worked on their relationship with Jesus.  No wonder their faith has grown weak or died… they don’t know the One the Faith is about anymore!  Once their early faith friends were gone, so was their “Christianity.”

In his book entitled A Case for Faith, Lee Strobel interviews Charles Templeton a past co-laborer with Billy Graham.  At one point in his life, Templeton came to the conclusion that Christianity made no sense to him any longer, so he abandoned all faith and became a self-proclaimed atheist.  Below is part of a striking interview he had with Strobel about Jesus.

“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .

” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

The words of an atheist… they miss Jesus. Friends, maybe that has something to do with the lack of electricity for you.  Maybe you just miss Jesus.  Guess what?

Revelation 3:20

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Answer the door why don’t you!