Thanksgiving

November 21, 2017

A few days ago on my way to the hospital to see a church member I stopped at a local convenience store. I got one of their fountain drinks that are too big for any one mammal.  Do you know what I mean?  They advertise “same price for any size drink.”  Well, I don’t NEED to get the largest “barrel sized” drink, but I guess my Scottish heritage compels me to do so.  I mean, why would I get a medium sized drink that has more than enough pop in it when I can get an elephant sized one so that I have plenty to waste… all for the same price?  Duh!  Anyway, you know those cups that the drinks come in?  They are plastic with a plastic lid that fits snuggly over the top of the container.  Then you insert a straw into the cup through the plastic lid.  “Easy peasy!”  So I climbed into the car with my 3 gallons of carbonated drink and proceeded to drop the cup onto the floor of my van upside down.  Miracle of miracles… not a drop came out.  It literally landed on its top and not one drip or trickle of “good old Mountain Dew” was on my carpet.  I picked it up with a sigh of relief and thanksgiving and began to suck on the straw… GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?!  When the drink landed on its top the straw bent sideways and cracked so when I went to inhale my bucket of pop, the straw wouldn’t work!  I was so aggravated!  The straw was broken!  It ruined my whole day.  This by the way falls under the category of “Some people are NEVER satisfied.”  Do you know what I mean?

Let me be clear here and say that some people have more than their share of hardship. However, for too many of us, we complain and moan about our lives when we have been nothing but blessed.  Nothing!  We all know people who answer the phone like they just lost their best friend… and that’s when they’re happy!  And these are people who are part of the most blessed group of people who have EVER lived in the entire history of humanity.  Blessedness and Joy are all wrapped together.  Below are a few quotes from “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg along with a few others.

“And I need to learn. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings. The reason for this is worth pondering awhile. Joy is at the heart of God himself. We will never understand the significance of joy in human life until we understand its importance to God. I suspect that most of us seriously underestimate God’s capacity for joy.”

“We will not understand God until we understand this about him: ‘God is the happiest being in the universe.’”

“The Bible puts joy in the nonoptional category. Joy is a command. Joylessness is a serious sin, one that religious people are particularly prone to indulge in.”

“How much damage have joyless Christians done to the cause of Christ?”

And

“To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for our existence.” -Lewis Smedes

And

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” -C.S. Lewis

Please understand I am not implying that we ought to slap a smile onto our faces in the most dire of circumstances. That is just silly and naïve.  But I think when folks remember us they ought to recall us as people of joy and gratitude.  Not angry complainers and whiners who never seem to be grateful for anything.  Or those who always find the negative in the midst of joyous occasions.  Do you remember that at a time and place in history the SON OF GOD WENT TO A CROSS FOR YOU?  DO YOU?

It is my hope and prayer that when you gather with friends and family tomorrow or in the weeks ahead that you exude joy and gratitude. Part of the benefit?  It’s contagious!

Have a joy filled Thanksgiving!

Colossians 3:15 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Philippians 4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

P.S. Do I need to mention that the first paragraph is written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek?

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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.

 

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.