Friday, December 25, 2015

Reflections of a Full Christmas Moon (Or, Why Santa isn't a Lie)

This morning I woke up about 5:00 am to the light of the full Christmas moon shining on my pillow, and I suddenly understood.

You see, the light of the moon is just a reflection. From it's place in the sky today, our moon fully faces the bright sun, and then in turn reflects that light down to us here on earth. It never doubts the source of its light. The moon simply takes it in, and reflects some of it back, giving us a beautiful full moon.

This Christmas, I think I have seen more and more articles about children who have asked their parents if Santa Claus is real. Most of the stories have told of the great disappointment children learn when they are told that there is no Santa, but that the gifts actually come from them. One story in particular told how a child was so distraught at the news, that he wrote a scathing, profane note to his parents telling them he hated them for lying to him, and that he would never believe anything they ever told him again.

The thing is, the parents really blew it, because they actually didn't lie to the child until they told him Santa wasn't real. He is real, and I want you to know why I believe it.

The question has always been a popular one in Christmas lore: the story of how Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun to ask if Santa is real is one of the most well known. Editor Francis Church responded to the girl's letter saying the now famous phrase, "Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus," and the story became famous.

Two days ago I attended a funeral service officiated by my long-time friend, Ned Beadel. during the service, Ned told the lesson of faith centered around Charles Blondin, a famous French tightrope walker who crossed the expanse above Niagra Falls on a rope several times, one time even pushing a wheelbarrow. Blondin's fans who witnessed the event exclaimed they had complete faith that Blondin could cross the rope all day long without mishap. So Blondin challenged them: If your faith in me is that strong, then who will cross with me riding in the wheelbarrow?" Not a single volunteer came forward.

We all profess our faith. We say we hold fast to our beliefs. Yet when we get called out on the depth of our convictions, do we have the understanding and conviction to follow through on that faith?

Santa Claus is what we in the USA call St. Nicholas, a saint identified by the Catholic church. Like soon-to-be-sainted Mother Theresa, Nicholas was a real person, who was an early church Bishop, and know for acts of charity, one time providing the dowry for some poor girls so they could get married. Through the years Nicholas has become the patron saint of children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and even repentant thieves and prostitutes.

So it comes easily that Saint Nicholas plays such a vital role in Christmas. Christmas is a holiday filled with laughing children, drinking, and exchanging money for goods. We lament the "greed" of the holiday, and track the financial impact of relentless Christmas shopping on our economy. Many retailers actually rely on Christmas buying for their success.

But, here is the thing: Saint Nicholas came about his acts of charity as a reflection of his faith in Jesus Christ. He gave a gift to young girls in need. The feast of his sainthood is celebrated in the middle of the advent season, December 6. And in the spirit of that great, giving man, to this day we give gifts to our friends and neighbors: sometimes even to people we really don't like! We give in the spirit of Saint Nicholas. That spirit that brought Nicholas sainthood continues to live in us, even if we don't fully understand it.

So when parents are called to jump in the St. Nicholas wheelbarrow, and explain to their children if Santa Claus is real, they falter... they fail to step up and explain their faith. There is so much about Christmas we fail to understand!

Grasp and understand what you truly believe. Be completely consumed by your faith, and act accordingly. There is so much to be gained. The joy you will feel is immense!

All of the lore of Santa, all of the tales, can be valuable lessons for children, if we let it. Nicholas was a man of faith. Tell his story. Teach children the value of complete faith, of reflecting the love of Christ in acts of generosity and charity. Teach them the value of building a lifestyle of giving. Let their generosity reflect Christ, as the full Christmas moon reflects the sun.

Tell them the truth about Santa Claus. His spirit, his faith in Christ, can be in every one of us. Santa Claus is real.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Press Your Own "Like" Button

"As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.

Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son. This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up. But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God."
—John 3:14-21

This is a world that lives by the "Like" button. We look for approval. We want to be popular; some even seek fame. At one time or another, most of us find ourselves in situations where approval by someone matters: That proposal you are making to a company for a big sale, or that job interview. If we are not careful, we find our own opinion of ourselves becomes measured by our acceptance of others.

But God has a message for all of us: He loves us, unconditionally. That's not to say he approves of everything we do. But regardless of our activity, the scriptures repeatedly tell us that he holds us very dear.

Yes, there are many in the world who deny him. They reject his love because it interferes with their own pursuits. But know this: whether or not you believe in him, He believes in you. The most direct message communicating this is John 3:16, shown above. But as you dig deeper into the Bible, time and time again he offers compassionate love and opportunity for us to come to him.

For man, this is not a easy thing to understand. When someone denies us or rejects us, we usually turn away from them. Families become torn apart, friendships fade, business relationships end, and are seldom renewed. "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

But I am here to tell you that in spite of any rejection you have felt, or for that matter, have dished out, God understands. And hear me on this: He loves you anyway.

There is much inside of you that is good. Now, you can choose to let those rejections tear down your mood and opinion of yourself. My own mother had tremendous self-esteem troubles, and often told me she just would rather stay at home in bed under the covers, that come out and face a judgmental world.

God wants you to see in yourself the vast and intense beauty of the person he created you to be. There is much to be done in the world, and if you let yourself rise above the judgment of others, then you can begin to see a better you. If you seek out that person, you can make the changes that will completely change your attitude.

Personally, I can tell you from experience that I have seen this change in me. I have done some very unforgivable things in my life. I have hurt others, sometimes unintentionally, but no excuses: I blew it. But what is to be gained if I wallow in it? Shall I commit to living the rest of my life imposing punishment for it? Why? I cannot change the past. But I can learn from it, and try to live a wiser future.

Make that change. Give yourself permission to find joy. Pursue your passions, and help others do the same. Press your own "Like" button. There is much there to appreciate.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Thoughts for a Tough Month

Just because they say some people may now marry whomever they want, it doesn't mean YOU have to. If you have a problem with it, then marry heterosexually. Live life according to your principles, but don't expect everyone else to jump on board. That's called freedom.

The Bible tells us to not allow ourselves to be double minded. But your principles are yours, and the nation has to forge its own to accommodate all of its citizens. I have my beliefs, but I also understand that what goes down in Washington isn't always going to agree with me.

The fight we need to fight is one to preserve this system, so that we may all worship and believe as we choose, and stand united with the common ground of being Americans.

If you really want a fight, then fight those who would undermine the authority of constitutional law with another set of laws that do not recognize the rights of all. Do not let Sharia law set a foot down in this land.

And it is time to stop bowing to terrorists and cowards. Do not give them the satisfaction of being able to frighten you. Have faith. Pray for peace. Walk in love, instead of fear or hatred, or prejudice.

Yes, we all have our issues... our flags to wave and drums to beat. Things need to be better. But we can do it. We can meet any crisis, with God's help.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Count the Blessings of Life

Romans 12:11
"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."

I woke up this morning to a usual sound. I've been blessed to have them all my life. Mockingbirds. Living first in the hills above Los Angeles, and now in Orange County, the song of the mockingbird reaches every suburban corner.

Now, I know they can be noisy. They try every sound they can come up with to do whatever the reason birds chirp. Sometimes repeated "check marks." Other times loud scolding. Immediately following, they sing complicated ditties that repeat and then go into variations.

I lay in my bed and thought "What a blessing." Then I listened deeper. Other birds joined in song. There was silence beyond. No traffic noise. "Blessing number two and three," my waking brain added. Number four was a light snoring. My little Yorkie, Mattie, lay sleeping soundly at the foot of the bed. This little dog, who came to live with us a year ago after being rescued from a puppy mill, was enjoying her luxurious new lifestyle. A far cry away from cement floor cages hosed down occasionally by rough, uncaring workers.

As I lay there, I thought that I could just coast and count blessings all day. My love, Gwen, next to me. My canine pal Bentley Bones, nearby. My house, my bed, this pillow... the list went on and on. I thought of Bing singing "Count My Blessings Instead of Sheep." Instead of going into slumber, I thought this was a great way to wake up.

Gradually the morning opened up to coffee and toast. There on my kitchen counter lay the program from a memorial service I attended yesterday. Michael, who died of cancer last month, looked up from the page with the smile we all enjoyed so much during his life.

Michael was a man who knew how to be a friend, and always created more of them. On the surface, he fastidiously worked his station at our favorite restaurant serving the customers he loved. He barked orders to the bartender when cocktails weren't just right. He hugged and kissed the ladies and greeted the men with "Hey Stretch." He extolled the benefits of a health food product for which he was a distributor. He was both professional, and a rascal. At 69, Michael had more life in him than most other people I know.

His favorite word was "yes." Sales convention? "Yes." More wine? "Yes." Skydiving? "Absolutely. Pick a date." He swam 100 laps daily, and exercised at the gym regularly. He mentored young folks naturally. He was always clean, always friendly, always organized.

Like all of us, Michael had a history, but instead of letting it stop him, it motivated him to be more open, more focused, and above all, a man who counted his blessings. Was he in pain? Yes. Did he ever let people know? Never, though we knew he was.

I looked around the room at his memorial. It was standing room only. People packed the room to mourn their loss of Michael. He brought people together, made them feel good, and helped more than we will ever know. He was the ultimate server. A man who found blessings with everyone he met.

Some people minister to others more than a thousand sermons. They remind us that a person lost is really a person just around the next corner. We never really lose them: they remain with us in our hearts, in our thoughts, and in the way our lives were changed by their presence.

Michael taught us all to be grateful for the things in our lives. Notice the chirping of birds and the smell of a fresh breeze. Know that there is always hope, and that we can all change our lot in life by changing ourselves.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Voice of the Loud vs The Lord

Romans 14:10-13

"You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

The other day I was in a comic book shop to pick up a new release. As I browsed the wall of new magazines, I saw a new independent comic that was about a team of "Robin Hood" robbers who plot to hold up mega-churches right after the morning offering. The author, who makes no bones about being an atheist, is compelled at the close of issue one to tell the readers that he was raised in a Southern Baptist church and even volunteered at Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusade... That is, until he began to see the hypocrisy inside the church, and questioned the need to believe in God. He concluded he would like to believe, but he no longer feels his rational mind can accept the idea.

Of course, his depiction of the faithful is less-than-flattering, making church-goers appear as mindless sheep, willing to repeat anything the pastor says, singing hymns with lyrics all about giving. The implication is that they have all been programmed to swallow the kool-aid, and are willing to open their wallets completely blind to the foibles and indiscretions of the leadership. The thieves see themselves as morally justified for stealing millions from the church safe and distribute it anonymously to what they consider more deserving charities.

All this sets up a dynamic between the two investigators; one an experienced detective who happens to be a Christian, and the other an athiest hacker, who feels empathy for the criminals. Using the relationship between the two, the author is able to pose discussions between them that seems so far to stack the deck in favor of being an atheist.

Here's the thing. I totally get his thinking. Christians have been using comic books for years as tools to lead youthful readers to Christ. This guy is just turning the tables and doing the same. And like the Christian counterparts, he makes the same mistake: he fails to represent the opposition very accurately.

There has been a groundswell of activity lately from atheist and other camps to proselytize their opposition to belief in God. Billboards, television/radio ads and other social media are filled with efforts to discredit churches and try to cast the Bible as a collection of myths and legends far too long in the past to be relevant in today's scientific world.

It saddens me to see it. Not so much that I fear the impact their efforts will have, although if people are led away from faith in God, I am deeply sorry. No, I am sad to see how trivial the subject has become. In some ways, this guy has a point: all too often we let our churchy-ness interfere with engaging our minds. I think of this every time I hear people mumbling along with praise songs and repeating liturgy or simply reading aloud something printed in a church order of worship. People repeat memorized prayers without so much as to grab on to any meaning behind the words. Blah Blah blah blah, Amen. Yawn.

We give without demanding fiscal responsibility. We fail to do our homework. We talk about reading the Bible more that we actually read it. We say we love and then do hateful or simple judgmental things without considering the impact. We preach faster than we act.

Let me just say that I am fascinated by the great strides we are learning in the world of science and medicine. It is all amazing. Cures and discoveries are happening at astonishing rates, and we get photos of planets, stars and galaxies billions of miles distant. It boggles the mind, the size of the universe.

But even as it happens, I just don't see anything that discounts any possibility of the existence of God; that higher entity that set it all in motion. I never really see the supposed conflicts in scripture as something that can be dismissed. One one hand, we can choose to ignore the conflicts as they arise. But instead, I prefer to reflect on them. Whenever I do that, I learn so much about God and his creation!

I know I have a choice. I can believe in God, or I can dismiss him. The trouble is, I have more conflicts if I dismiss him than when I believe. I choose faith, and the more I reflect on existence, I find confirmation. Any doubts I may feel are always proven wrong.

Our comic book writer would tell me I am just reacting to the conditioning of faith that I have had from my youngest days, but I just don't buy it. I have felt God's hand in my life. I have seen first-hand his works. It's too amazing to ignore.

The critics of faith are loud. They shout their pronouncements and pontificate almost as well as any Bible-thumping preacher. They are cunning, and smart, and have an answer for everything. But still, there is a quiet voice of assurance in me. God is real. Like Elijah, in that still, small voice, onward came the Lord!

I know I haven't given any sort of convincing argument here. Frankly, I'm not really trying to engage in debate. All I know is that God is real, and I acknowledge that yes, the church has made lots of mistakes. But my faith is not a religion. It's a full-time engagement of my mind with the world and He who is greater than the world. I believe in God, and in Christ who died for me.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Yes. I Mean It.

Matthew 5: 34-37

"But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes' be `Yes,' and your `No,' `No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

I recently saw a cartoon of Abe Lincoln, watching his wife try on a dress. Mrs. Lincoln says "Dear, does this dress make me look fat?" The caption of the cartoon was "testing the limits of Honest Abe's honesty."

Getting caught telling a lie is awkward and hurtful, but telling the truth can really get you in trouble. We live in an age where lying is celebrated by even the highest officials. Case in point, Senator Harry Reid recently admitted to lying about Mitt Romney not paying his taxes. Romney was able to prove he did indeed pay taxes, but Senator Reid had no regrets for lying or feeling the need to apologize for his prevarication. In fact, these days we assume we are being lied to by everyone in politics.

So when the very people who we have held up as leaders of our nation think nothing of lying, it becomes hard for society to value speaking the truth. It is even to the point where truth comes in various degrees. One would think that being truthful is a black and white affair: You either tell the truth or you don't. The term "Truthiness" comes to mind. Comedian Steven Colbert coined the word to describe the fullness of truth-in-degree.

There is a reason that our court system swears in each witness with the phrase "the whole truth and nothing but." We sometimes lie by not telling the whole story. My wife could ask me "Did you go to lunch with Dave?" and I could answer a simple yes. But if Dave brought along a couple of pretty ladies to dine with us, my affirmative answer didn't exactly tell the whole truth!

Navigating in a world like this is uncertain. How wonderful it would be if we could know for certain when someone is lying or withholding the entire truth. Full disclosure could surely make decisions easier to make. But it's just a fact of life. We move ahead cautiously, hoping the things to which we commit will prove to be true and honest.

The only part of the equation we can do anything about is with ourselves. We are urged in Matthew to let our "yes be yes" and our 'No be no." That means we need to come clean before others, and tell them the best truth possible. If disclosing any portion of the truth be pertinent to the other, we owe it to them to let them know.

It's not easy. We tend to want to please. But it is a challenge to be honest with those we encounter, because ultimately what we are aiming for here is a truthful reputation. Once you establish the habit of being fully truthful,then when it comes time for you to talk about your faith, you are better prepared.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Make It So You Don't Have To Fake It

Romans 10:9-10

"If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

There is an adage around these days that goes "fake it till you make it." It has wide application. People advising others about how to survive in a new job say it to impart the idea that new work peers will assume you know what you are doing if you act like it. Eventually you will learn the job, and you will impress them with your confidence.

Other applications are found in the world of pop-psychology: if you find yourself less-than-happy, put on a grin anyway. Eventually your smile will convince you to be happy. That one I have a hard time buying, but so it goes.

"Fake it till you make it" is probably not the best advice to give some people, who might just endanger others along their learning curve. Trying to fly a plane or drive a locomotive comes to mind. In those cases, I'm fairly certain there is a reason you'd better be trained properly. Faking it is no substitute for knowledge.

It is interesting advice that Paul gives to the Romans above. When it comes to matters of faith, you really can't fake it till you make it. Both your mouth and your heart need to be aligned. I've seen a lot of preachers who thump a Bible talking about loving others, but then turn around and do some pretty hateful things. You heart has to believe, and then your mouth will profess.

Sometimes we may not always be standing on solid ground when it comes to faith. Situations arise where we may have little faith that our words will match our hearts. In prayer, we may ask God to meet our need, but our faith is tentative. We might not believe it possible that our prayers will make it all the way to God's ears. Even as we ask, we plan for contingencies.

God invites us to test him. He knows our trepidation. Remember, he built us this way. He instilled in us all mechanics to operate independently, and frankly, uncertainty is part of the kit. Uncertainty and doubt is a survival tool that protects us. We know that there are situations that arise where we need to test the waters... or frozen ice on a pond. Check the lines on a rope bridge before you get out to the middle.

What Paul is telling us is to proclaim our faith, and choose to believe. Talk to your inner soul and get aligned. Faith is a choice. You may sometimes be challenged to keep the faith you have chosen, but stick with it.

The amazing thing about choosing Christ is that as life becomes more complex, you will discover that your faith will grow in equal complexity. You will be able to think deeper thoughts, be wise in a multitude of challenges, and discover more about the world around you as you stick to one simple truth: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is real. His resurrection is the ultimate triumph over this world.

Develop a faith in your heart, and you will triumph too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reacting to a Rude Awakening

Matthew 6: 5-8

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

This morning I got a phone call before I was fully awake. I had been "coasting" for about five minutes but suddenly I had this urgent call that required that I spring out of bed and deal with something with a clear head.

It didn't help that the caller was already anxious! It took a little while for me to get to a point where I could get involved with his need, and come back down gently. The best I could do was fulfill his request, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, from his viewpoint, resolution didn't happen immediately! Again he urged me to make some programming changes undoing what I had just done. But I could already see that things were settling down in the software, and I finally had to just tell him to let it go for now... give it some time for the changes to take effect. Once I did, he backed off. Perhaps he was a little uncomfortable that my sense of urgency did not match his, but if I had let the situation continue to escalate and make repeated change requests, we might have really harmed the program. Hopefully by now he can see things are working out.

Let me be clear. My caller was never rude. The anxiety of the situation just jarred my resting spirit. While the caller is always very courteous with me, the sense of urgency made it more difficult to transition into a calm morning. Even this afternoon, my nerves are still a little rattled!

Most of us has had that "rude awakening" feeling where we've felt suddenly jarred into taking action before our thoughts are prepared. All too often we hang on to those feelings, because we sense we need to act immediately, but we just are not quite sure which way to go.

Whenever that happens, it is good to find time to talk to God. Like meditation and other spiritual pursuits, prayer has the ability for us to seek out that quiet essence inside. But prayer has an added plus, because it enables you to think beyond yourself, and focus on a higher power. Prayer, unlike meditation, is open-ended on two sides; Meditation guides you to find peace within, whereas prayer helps you connect beyond yourself with God.

Some meditative methods seek to free your mind, and empty your mind of negative and challenging thoughts. Prayer, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to get down to the essence of your need. It helps you discover the source of your trouble, and then helps you seek and find solutions.

Now, it might be a little hard at first to train yourself to not react in your usual manner, and instead recognize a shift might be needed. But try to be ready. Pray continually for the wisdom to seek out God's guidance in everything.

If you do, then when those panic moments arrive, you'll be better equipped to seek out God's solution.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Treat The World as a Steward of God

Genesis 1:26

"Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

There are some in the church that will tell you that the things of this world are evil. I tend to think the things... actual, tangible things are not evil at all. I think there is better scriptural support that the things of this world have a single owner, God. God owns it all, but he has given them to us for care.

When we start to think we own it instead, then trouble brews. Greed and power create hate and lust. When we tell ourselves we want to own things, we start to make errors in judgement. I'm not saying that creating personal wealth is in and of itself evil, but it all has to do with motivation.

The other day I had an online "discussion" with a gentleman who felt I was contradicting myself when I say thing like that. He felt I cannot have it both ways; that all successful people are not necessarily greedy. He felt that if you pursue wealth, you are guilty of greed. He didn't see the difference. He felt that any church that gathered mass amounts of money were evil and hypocritical.

We often hear the phrase "Money is the root of all evil," but that is actually a misquote from 1 Timothy 6:10. The actual quote is "the love of money is the root of all evil," and therein lies the difference. I will agree with the gentleman that there are organizations that have not been wise in their handling of money, creating cushy lifestyles for a few instead of delivering on the promise of helping others. But I still believe it is possible for people who have been fortunate enough to be in charge of wealth to do good. To believe otherwise is to completely discount the great acts of philanthropy that have occurred in the world.

No, the things of the world are not evil. It's more about our attitude in handling the things of the world.

Just as I believe the things of this world belong to God, I believe God challenges us to manage them well. We read in Genesis above that God has given us dominion over the earth and all the living things. So if you have a willing heart to properly care for God's things, then the accumulation of those things is Good, not evil. If you build with the intent to manage it wisely and with care for the benefit of all, how can that be evil?

No, time and time again, I see the pattern of God's calling. It is often less about the way most of the world sees things, and more about taking God's view and adopting it as our own. We have (at least at this moment in time) only one planet to care for, and many have managed to hurt our environment, destroy species, and war over the ownership of specific regions. Greedy rulers have harmed the people they ought to be helping by stealing the best for themselves at the expense of the ones they should help.

There are plenty of people who would dismiss the importance of caring for this world. But I contend we have a Christian responsibility to manage it according to God's design. It doesn't really matter if global warming is just a political movement or a real thing; we should strive to act carefully anyway. Do the good things for air, sea, flora and fauna. We should act carefully for each other. We should pray to focus on being the stewards of a world for God.

Take the politics out of environment. Take responsibility.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

About Being Openly Christian

I Corinthians 14:6-9

"Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air."

Ever take an online quiz? They are a regular staple in Facebook feeds, and my friends have shared their results from tests that range from "What kind of Personality do You Have?" to which "Disney villian are you?"

I used to do them for fun, but then I had a thought: What if all these results were being gathered and analyzed somewhere? The questions always seem innocent enough, but you constantly hear advice cautioning against revealing too much personal data online.

Now, I think that ship has probably already sailed for me, because I have been writing online for decades (really!), and have probably said way too much about me already. In the pre-cyber-criminal days, you seldom thought about someone using information against you. But it is a sad reality that all the things we reveal could provide someone just the right combination of informational bits to break into your bank account, steal your identity, or even stalk and harm your family.

It is sad to realize that much of the good and wonder the internet promised in its infancy has been misused and hijacked by criminal entities. And it is also sad that it causes us to become jaded and suspicious of the intentions of certain internet institutions. While I do not really think someone asking me which cartoon show I liked most as a child would provide anyone a clue to my online passwords (No, Yogi!Bear57 is not even close), other seemingly innocent questions could provide some fairly insightful information. Which of these four colors do you prefer? Choose a pet. What do you see in this inkblot? Frankly, those are the kind of answers that could come back to bite you later.

Today I took one for research purposes. It was a personality test based on my reaction to twelve paintings. For example, the quiz showed a picture of a young woman holding a book while behind her two people worked harvesting a field of grain. Then it asked a question "What is the girl thinking of?" It then offered six possible answers. (She desires a man who works hard, She came to visit her boyfriend, etc.) Frankly none of the answers even came close to my impression. I had to just pick one.

By the end of the test, I got a result that I was an idealistic person. I laughed at that, because I realized an optimistic person wouldn't be as suspicious of a quiz as I am. It seemed like a legitimate quiz, but then I have to wonder why someone would go to such lengths to create it. I would hope the answer is that it is somehow a kind of data collection project created by a graduate student somewhere developing research for a paper. I'd rather not think of more evil consequences. That's the idealist in me, I guess!

Yet there is a reason for the Christian to be transparent, and often to convey a thought, it becomes necessary to open and honestly reveal your most private thoughts. It is a risk, to be sure, because in the most extreme sense, as we are seeing now in the middle-east, many who have revealed their faith in Jesus Christ are now being beheaded and murdered in schools, towns, and beaches. But as for the western world, we become targets for derision and criticism from associates and strangers alike. Being a Christian sounds wonderful to us, because we know what it means for us. To others, they see it as a challenge and a judgement against them. We can end up dismissed or even despised.

Paul was writing to Corinth because there were a number of them who experienced a gift of the Holy Spirit know as speaking in tongues. We are told that after Christ ascended into the heavens, suddenly many of his Apostles spoke in languages they had never known before. Later, others began speaking in unknown languages not identifiable by others.

Paul wrote to acknowledge that for the person so gifted, it could be a wonderful experience. But it should be done only in private, because, quite plainly, it freaks out strangers when you do it in front of them!

Instead, he urged them to speak clearly and truthfully about the Gospel. What good does it do others if you cannot be understood?

And so it is with us: we need to reveal clearly the truth of our reconciliation with God in real words, that others will understand. And Paul knew there was a risk of it, because it could incite others to harm you. Still, unless we speak plainly, and clearly, that the promise of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ has been given, how else will the world know?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Giving to the Poor

Proverbs 19:17
“He who giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord, and the Lord will surely repay him generously.”
Proverbs 22:9
“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

The Word has much to say about meeting the needs of the poor and indigent. Above are just two of the many verses. Solomon was known for his wisdom. He saw the blessings in being generous with the poor. He made special notice that when one gives, blessings are returned to the one who gives. Verse after verse, God makes special provisions for the poor. Acts of generosity toward the poor are rewarded regularly.

In His parable about heaven, Jesus said:

Matthew 25:34-40
“Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Jesus tells us when you give to the poor, you are giving directly to Him. And the Apostle Paul expressed one of the strongest promises in God’s word when he wrote:

II Corinthians 9:8-9
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in ever good work. For it is written, he who scatters abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.”

Giving to the poor should be a part of every individual’s lifestyle of giving. There are many kinds of poor:

  • Those who are poor financially and do not have food, clothing, or shelter, the necessities of life
  • Those who are poor because they have been starved by society, bound by crime, alcohol or drugs
  • Those who have not received, because they have not entered into the riches that God has provided, through His gift of eternal life

    In reality, all giving, whether to meet humanitarian needs or to take the Gospel into all the world, is giving to the poor.

  • Monday, April 6, 2015

    Prophets are Rising

    Revelation 6: 12

    I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red...

    Modern day Biblical prophecy is big business. As a poke at Christians at Easter, a friend of mine who is not a big fan of religion posted a picture online depicting Jesus shaking hands with two Madison Avenue business execs behind the large caption, "Congratulations. Prophets are Rising."

    I hate to say it but I think he has a point. There is money to be had in Christianity. Just look a the financials at any of the large churches. Some of them are certainly reputable, delivering as much ministry as they can with the donations they receive. Others are notorious for not being so wise and altruistic. Religion scams work because they hit people right where they are most vulnerable; their emotions. And emotions are tied to checkbooks. How easy it is to think you are making spiritual progress when you give for the wrong reasons.

    Lately we have had a lot of tragedy in the world at the hands of terrorists and crazy people. We've also seen more of the wonders of our universe too, thanks to advances in technology. So when the universe happens to offer several amazing whammies in close succession, timed with the world's troubles, Humans do what they have done for eons. They assume there are spiritual reasons for the cosmic occurrences. When similar events seem to be spelled out in scripture, well, "look out believers and unbelievers alike! The end times are upon us!"

    Ah but hold on.

    We have wars and massacres. We have technology for WMD's bartered about like trade deals. We have disease, drought, global warming, melting ice caps, cities incapacitated by snow, floods and drought at the same time we get meteors crashing into Russia, sinkholes swallowing up cars, blood moons (lunar eclipses) and earthquakes. John's revelation; his vision of the future certainly looks to be at hand. Scary stuff. The modern "Prophets" are having a field day. It's not just in the Christian church; Scientology and other cults thrive on such news too. Buy now, pray later.

    But what did Jesus tell us? Take a gander at Matthew 24. He acknowledges all the awful things are going to happen, and he predicts correctly that there will be those who will tell you "look here, look there!" What an awesome Lord we trust! He knew the hearts of the evil long before they were born! I like the way he puts it: " For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together."

    His advice? Life goes on. Don't bother following the charlatans. Just be ready, anytime, regardless of the news. No one, not even the angels in heaven, know the time for certain. You might be walking down the street, or harvesting the fields, or whatever, and suddenly the faithful will be called. Simply be ready. Anytime.

    So, don't let the eagles pick at your flesh. Just be ready... that is to say, be prepared in your heart with your thoughts on God's greatness. Love others. Take care of your house. Reflect on your faith, savor your relationship with a living Christ. Jesus sums it up in verse 46: "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing."

    Friday, April 3, 2015

    Hyssop and Vinegar

    John 19:28-30

    "Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

    Hyssop is a plant that thrives in the middle east and southern Europe. It has been used for centuries both in cooking and medicinally. It has several chemical properties that interact with the human immune system and was a staple of life back in Christ's time.

    Fields of hyssop were cultivated for harvest in the late spring and early fall. The stalks were dried and stacked on pallets to be sold. In addition, the flowers of the hyssop were highly attractive to bees, so hives were often kept adjacent to the fields. They produced an abundance of honey, long recognized as one of the most pure foods in the world.

    Medicinally, teas made from hyssop were beneficial in treating cough and as an expectorant. It also affected the nervous system, but high a high dosage of it would cause epileptic seizures. The reason for this is because the plant has high concentrations of thujone and phenol. But these chemicals also giving hyssop one other useful feature: it was most commonly used because of its high antiseptic properties.

    It is therefore interesting that John tells us of the soldier's choice to slake Jesus's thirst is a sponge soaked in wine vinegar, and raised on a hyssop branch (Luke 23 tells us it was a soldier). Much is made about the cruelty of giving a thirsty man vinegar to drink, but back in the day, Wine vinegar was also medicinal; bitter yet an astringent, it was regularly used to treat and heal wounds.

    So here we have two purifying, healing agents given to Jesus right before he utters his last words, "It is finished." And so was; all of his earthly duties completed. Taking on the bitter sins of the world, Jesus took his last breath, and died.

    Hyssop and vinegar. Purification and healing. There is no way of knowing if the soldier had any idea of the symbolic gesture. It may have been intended as a cruel joke, as you so often hear. Or perhaps the soldier, familiar with battle scars, was actually offering a gesture of kindness and understanding; a respectful offering from one soldier to another warrior.

    Today is Good Friday, and the goodness comes from the gift given to all of us for the forgiveness of our sins, great and small. Jesus suffered for our redemption. Today, reflect on the final gesture of the soldier through the eyes of a repentant soldier, and prepare your heart for the purification and healing that comes through Christ's death and resurrection.

    Thursday, April 2, 2015

    A Maundy Thursday Tribute to Robert H. Schuller

    John 15:12

    "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."

    Today is Maundy Thursday according to the church calendar.

    "What Thursday," you ask?

    Maundy Thursday, and yes, it sounds weird. So I looked up the etymology of the word, and it comes from the same root word where we get our modern word "mandate." The Church recognizes this day as "Commandment" Thursday, the day of Christ's last supper.

    As you well know, Jesus met the disciples in an upstairs room for the Seder dinner, a Jewish tradition that is part of celebrating Passover. "Seder" means "order," and it refers to the ritual where this Passover dinner takes each "course" in a specific order with blessings.

    Now, Jesus was considered by all the apostles as their leader, but in preparation for the dinner, Jesus took a bowl and cloth, and washed the feet of his disciples, under their protestations. They felt unworthy for Jesus to wash them. But instead, Jesus gave them a new commandment. "Love each other... as I have loved you."

    So the mandate, or commandment, that Jesus gives here becomes the very heart of Christian life. Love one another, as Jesus loves you. Serve each other. Submit yourselves to each other, giving as Christ gave his life to us.

    I am reminded on this day of a gift I once received from Pastor Robert H. Schuller, when I was first married. It was an enormous silver spoon! With it was a note: "Give to each other, as Christ gives to you. As you give your teaspoon in love, imagine this spoon as Christ's return. Far greater than any offering you can give, God will honor and bless your gift tenfold."

    This morning, Dr. Schuller left our world to be reunited with his beloved wife, Arvella, and the God he so richly served during his lifetime. Despite any criticism people may hold regarding the final days at the Crystal Cathedral, I believe Robert Schuller had an enormous, lasting impact on the Christian faith. Like those ministers he admired most, like Norman Vincent Peale and Bishop Sheen, Schuller brought church out the dark sanctuaries and mysterious church language, and forever changed the way Christ's message is delivered to a modern world.

    His "Possibility Thinking" philosophy taught people to stop concentrating on the guilt of sin, but instead look at the value and love God holds for you. He taught his followers that is God was on their side, who could possibly stand against them. In essence, look for the possibilities in life, and live joyfully! Schuller's little drive-in dream ended up circling the world, from Garden Grove to Moscow Russia.

    So on this Maundy Thursday, remember the great blessings God returns to those who serve. Dare to dream, dare even more to serve. Love each other, and you will be amazed at how God will bless your efforts!

    Wednesday, April 1, 2015

    Bag Ladies

    Ephesians 1: 7-12

    "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."

    Go into any metropolitan area and you will see them. The world is filled with people who have fallen to the bottom of life's ladder and live on the streets. They used to call them bums. Hobos. Vagrants. Nowadays the euphemism is Homeless, but truth be told, many of them actually do have homes. Cart Pushers. Bag Ladies.

    I've seen some pretty ambitious ones, to tell the truth. Most of them manage to carry a few possessions with them wherever they go. But some take it to the next level. Some of them load up on grocery bags filled with things they have found along the way. Others go whole hog and steal shopping carts, then stack them high with the things they hoard. Their progress is slow and laborious. Over the years, the weight of their personal problems, combined with the weight of the stuff they carry takes a toll on their health. They drag their bodies along skid row, not really looking for anything in particular. They just survive day to day, dragging their stuff from place to place.

    Of course, some are drug addicts. Others are alcoholics. Some are mentally unfit but lack anyone to care for them... or they ran away from those who did. But there they go now, trudging along through life.

    Not everyone makes it to skid row, but I submit to you that there are more of us who are bag ladies than we realize. I once knew a man named Bob Merkle, and Bob made the observation that in a way, we are all bag ladies, trudging through life carrying the weight of memories, issues, and hurts we have picked up during our lives.

    Imagine it: At one time you were born into a world of promise. Some lived care-free lives for a long while. Others encountered trouble right out the gate, with abusive parents. But eventually, everyone experiences their first slight. It might be major, it could be minor. But you let it shape how you viewed life. Congratulations. you just put your first thing in your bag.

    Over the years, other things happen. You lose a loved one. You get your heart broken. Your dog dies. You get in an accident. You are diagnosed with something incurable. Each time, you pick up a perspective, and drop it in your bag. "Never again," you tell yourself... but then you continue to carry it with you.

    Years pass. Your bags fill up. Some things in those bags are pretty big. Some things are just little tidbits. But you still allow them to slow you down. You become jaded. Less open. You used to dream about possibilities. Now that some of those dreams failed to come true, you've sworn off dreaming new ideas. "Why bother," you tell yourself.

    And then one day, you look back, and see you haven't really traveled very far at all. You've allowed the old things you drag around keep you from doing the things others seem to be doing so easily. "Why?" you ask yourself. "Why did all this stuff happen to me?" You're a bag-lady, burdened with the weight of all that went wrong in your life.

    I have good news though, and the answer is simple.

    Put down the bags.

    "Let it go, Elsa."

    Human life is interesting. We make so much of things that happen to us that we let it cripple us. But truth be told, at this very moment, you have as much potential as the day you were born. You have time left. You can drop the hurts, the bad habits, the slights, the bad feelings, the regrets, the fears and move on. Make amends. Drop the issues. Dream a new dream.

    Yes, we are all bag ladies. But we don't have to remain that way. God has given you a great gift of redemption. You are a new person. It doesn't really matter if others believe you or not. You know. You realize it now. You can let the past go, and leave it behind.

    Drop the baggage, and live.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Don't Let Life Defeat You

    Psalm 55:22

    "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken."

    I have always had a fascination with what can age a person. We can see it clearly in our lives. Ever notice how much Presidents age during their tenure in office? So often they go in with energy and youth and emerge four or eight years later with deep lines and grey hair.

    Being overweight is my personal struggle, along with hypertension; I've had high blood-pressure since I was 17!

    Lots of other things contribute to aging you: Lack of exercise, smoking, heavy drinking, avoiding fruits and vegetables. I've seen people who are vital and active at work start falling apart once they retire. They either become couch potatoes or simply check-out because they are no longer driven by the deadlines and positive challenges they experienced at work.

    Work so often invigorates people because they feel useful and needed. Once people experience a life-changing event, such as the loss of a loved one, a career change, an unwanted diagnosis, all too often we see them decline rapidly.

    Interestingly, there are some people who experience the very same events, but instead of letting things defeat them, they become supercharged and motivated! Michael J. Fox comes to mind: Here is a young man who was diagnosed very early in life with Parkinson's Disease, so severe he had to quit his acting career. But Fox decided to own his malady. He took on the challenge of increasing awareness and fundraising for Parkinson's research. He started his own Foundation to help those with the disease. The fact is, we know so much more about Parkinson's and how to treat it now than we did because of Fox's efforts.

    I have seen people defeated by divorce and others who have made it their work to help others. Retirees who involve themselves in the lives of others do far better than those who just opt to do sedentary things. Watching games is one thing. Playing games is a better thing.

    My point is for you to take actions to improve your life now before you are unable to later. Exercise your brain by reading, solving puzzles, writing, and discussing issues with friends and family. Exercise your body so that you don't just resign yourself to watching television. Resolve to eat better, instead of "dieting." The latter is a stress inducing temporary fix.

    Above all, the secret to living well is to take God up on his offer to give him your burdens. Live invigorated, open, and righteously. That is your best way to spend the remainder of your days, however many or few that lie before you. Praise God in everything.

    Monday, March 30, 2015


    Daniel 11: 32-35

    "With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. "Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time. "

    There are two reasons someone embraces a cause. One, because they truly believe in it. The other reason can be less honorable.

    When I used to work at a high-profile ministry, I met a man who could knock you over with his sincerity. He was a real story: He had no family, and he'd been on his own for quite some time. He became a successful businessman. Unfortunately, his partner had swindled him and took all the assets, leaving him destitute. He was a devout Christian, and a very sweet guy, and was just looking for another big break that would put him back on top again.

    Unfortunately, it was all a lie. He was an accomplished con artist. The high profile and big crowds at the church made it possible for him to move about relatively easily without being detected. He had been to many events, and had his picture taken at several of them with the Pastor, so it looked like the two of them were close. He also put together a network of legitimate "friends"; folks who would know him, say hello to him, and call him by name, unaware that he was using them to give him a legitimacy. He knew the morning schedules of those who were on to him, and was able to find his way around without being sighted.

    He would come and go. Usually when he disappeared it meant someone had been conned and he decided to lay low for a while. It caused the ministry a lot of trouble. We managed to tip off the police whenever we discovered he was working another parishoner, but every time he got arrested he would get off with a minimal sentence, and within a year he would be back to his same old tricks.

    Christianity, because of it's stress on forgiveness, is especially vulnerable to these kinds of things. We want to believe people when they say that Jesus Christ changed their lives. But it is a sad fact that there are some out there who have no conscience, and can convincingly profess Christ, but with total insincerity. Other entities suffer as well: Many so-called minority leaders profess a commitment to the cause of equality, while misinforming their constituency regarding policies that seem so good, but actually work to the detriment of "their people." Why? Because what would a minority need with a leader, if members were fully functioning well within society? Keep them enslaved, keep them indebted to their leadership!

    Today's column is to serve as a warning: We cannot afford the luxury of complacency. Be careful. Trust those who can prove their trustworthiness. Look beyond the surface and try to find the real people you deal with. Jesus went beyond the surface. He saw into people's hearts. With prayer, and carful observation, we can and must do the same. Don't take a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) approach to life.

    You can be discerning without being judgmental. Look deeper, and act accordingly.

    Friday, March 27, 2015

    We Built This City on the Wrong Rock.

    Psalm 62:7

    "My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge."

    Ever wonder where the term "Rock and Roll" came from? I think most people, if they had to guess, would say it started in the 1950's, but actually it goes back much farther.

    In 1935, Henry "Red" Allen recorded a song with lyrics by Russel Robinson called "Get Rhythm in Your Feet and Music in Your Soul." It is the first pairing of the two words, etymologists tell us, with the lyric "If Satan starts to hound you, commence to rock and roll. Get rhythm in your feet and music in your soul "

    The term rock came from old gospel music, where a person would be "rocked to the core" in a spiritual way. Roll was also a religious reference, where evangelicals would roll in the aisles, moved by the holy spirit. As the terms evolved, they began to pick up a double meaning, where "roll," became a euphemism for having sex (as in "roll in the hay"). "Rocking" came to mean to dance suggestively.

    Small wonder then, that when the hot era of Rock and Roll music on the radio took over the airwaves, it freaked out a lot of conservative parents and pastors! Dancing, if it was allowed at all, was to be "civilized" and disciplined. Which does explain why my mother, even to her last days, felt a big loss with the decline of old-fashioned ballroom dancing. She would watch "Dancing with the Stars" with contempt. "That's not dancing," she would declare, and ignore the television.

    Rock and Roll morphed over the next few decades, from ethnic street harmonies and Gospel remakes to Bubble-gum Pop, British invasion, and Hard Rock. In the 80's, Jefferson Starship came out with the ultimate Rock and Roll anthem with lyrics that summarized the rebellious feeling among rockers tired of Rock's hypocritical intolerant critics:

    "Someone's always playing corporation games
    Who cares they're always changing corporation names
    We just want to dance here, someone stole the stage
    They call us irresponsible, write us off the page
    Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio, don't you remember
    We built this city, we built this city on rock an' roll."

    In rebellion, Rock becomes a voice against immorality. It sets itself up as a new morality: "All we want to do is dance and not play the corporate games of greed and corruption."

    Ah but sadly, Rock and Roll itself is big business, and the hardest of Rockers have a reputation for being the bad boys and girls. It's hard to resist the draw of wealth and fame. Far too many have died living the "free life" of being stars. The things wealth and fame attract have killed many a musician.

    It is too bad things have strayed so far from the original Rock of Ages. You can think you are okay, ignoring the real dangers of life. It would be nice if we could dance evil away... but that doesn't work out well.

    We built this city, but on the wrong Rock. God is our mighty rock. We may seek salvation in trying to blithely dance away our cares away without seeking truth and honor. It cannot be done. Listen to His call. Let Him be your ultimate refuge.

    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    Like A Bolt Out of the Blue

    Philippians 4:6

    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

    A while back one of our readers told me a lesson he learned while out riding motorcycles one day with his brother.

    They rode across desert hills, and wound up miles from anywhere. Topping a rise, they stopped for a moment to appreciate the vistas before them. But trouble was noticed almost immediately. A strange sound was coming from his cycle, and upon investigation he found it was the sound of air being sucked into the crankcase. He had lost a bolt out of the engine, and if it were to be turned off, all the oil would drain out immediately.

    He had no options but to turn around then and there and go back, canceling the plans for the day... unless they could find that bolt. In desperation they left the cycle idling on its kickstand and started to walk back along the desert trail. How hopeless it seemed. Who knew where it might have fallen out?

    Then his brother suggested that One DID know where the bolt was, and they should stop and ask Him for a little help. So they did, and bowing their heads they sent off a simple prayer. He felt a little silly: he basically believed that God helps those who help themselves and stopping to pray they were we wasting time. Then he realized that with his head bowed, he was looking down at the trail at his feet -- and there was the missing bolt!

    God knows your troubles. Yes, pausing to pray about them takes time. But the hardest thing we have to learn is that when we take the time to include God in our plans, we give him the opportunity to reveal himself. In everything, present your requests.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    Barking at Waterfalls

    Psalm 55:22

    "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken."

    We have written here about two of our dogs: Bentley (Bones), and Matti. We have a third dog, Molly, who belonged to my mother before she died.

    Molly is a Doxie; a purebred that was given to her by my first cousin Rick, in Atlanta. Rick and his wife knew mom loved Dachshunds, and Rick wanted to do something special for Mom. So he found Molly at a breeder in Atlanta, and flew out to California with Molly on his lap. Molly's original name was Duchess, but the name didn't seem to fit her. Mom and my daughter Janel liked a character on West Wing named Molly, so Duchess was re-dubbed Molly.

    Molly is a big barker. Our pool has a waterfall feature that comes on daily at 11:00 am. She barks when it comes on, and barks when it goes off. We found out Molly had an internal clock the week we drained the pool to replaster it. Even though the waterfall was turned off during the work period, Molly would run to the door at 11:00 am and start barking. We feel very fortunate that Molly protects us daily from the waterfall monster. To her, the threat is real, and no matter how I have tried to keep her from doing it, she continues her insane tirade.

    There are lots of monsters out there, real and imagined. And likewise, there are Mollys everywhere yapping at us with dire warnings that doom is very near. I know that the world is a dangerous place. We live in scary times. But I also know that throughout my life, there have been countless of times we have been told that the end was near, only to have the deadline pass without incident.

    Mark Twain is credited (perhaps incorrectly) for saying ‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.’ It is a quote I think about often whenever I have a feeling of dread for what may or may not be ahead.

    When that happens, it is good to recall Psalm 55. In it, the writer tells us that all around him are enemies that seek his destruction. But in verse 22, he changes the tide of his remarks, saying that God will sustain us during those time that rattle us, and cause us dismay.

    So, put your mind at ease. Go about today without fear, and think about righteousness. Strive to attain it. Learn from Molly's futile lesson. The water monsters we fear are most likely just imagined.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2015

    Paul's "Elevator Speech"

    1 Timothy 1:1-3

    "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."

    I am Bob, a Christian and a writer, and I have this desire to tell people about God in ways that are not in your usual church language. I write to you, the various people who come to my blog site. I hope things are going well for you, and you have the peace that comes through understanding the gift of life given by Jesus Christ.

    That's my personal version of Paul's greeting. In Paul's time, it was commonplace to introduce yourself fully whenever you wrote a letter, so that you give the reader the honor of knowing the writer more completely. It was customary to say who you were, to whom you were specifically writing, and you stated your business up front.

    These days, things are a little more, strike that, a lot different. We communicate in different ways now. Back then, if you wanted to express an idea, you had limited methods. If you could write, that was one option. If you couldn't, you needed to get someone to write for you. Or you could try illustrating by artistic expression. Other than that, your only other option was to speak to the person directly, and over long distances, that was impractical.

    Today we have all kinds of ways to send messages, as you well know. Internet, television, videos, texting, calling, video chatting... the options are endless. So now, we are inundated with all types of messages; some desired, some not. Daily we filter these messages to glean out the good stuff. And in turn, the messages have tried to be more creative over the years.

    So now, we get emails, advertising, links, and videos that may not be as up front about the end-message as we once had. The message has to have some sort of hook, to grab your attention. Take television ads, for example. Often is the time I watch in my alpha-state stupor, as the big screen offers message after message. But occasionally, a particularly clever ad gets my attention. That's good, mission accomplished, the advertiser may think. But then, does the ad sometimes fail to deliver the message? I can think of countless ads that I think are clever, but in retrospect, I have no clue what product the ad was promoting. Fail!

    We have seen earlier this lent that Paul has one very important message he wants us to remember: Be clear in what you communicate! If your words say one thing, but your behavior contradicts those words, you do the message more harm than good! Your actions could completely contradict the message of love, peace, repentance, and change brought about by Christ.

    But part of that clarity comes only if you are clear in your own mission. I found when I wrote my version of Paul's greeting above that it really required some thought. What am I really trying to do here?

    And so it should be. We need to "write our introductions" no matter what we are doing. Give yourself the advantage of having ready your own "elevator speech." How can you represent yourself best if called on to give a summary. Call it your mission statement, if you like. You will find it will help you in any endeavor you take on.

    Monday, March 23, 2015

    Practicing Self-Control

    Titus 2: 1-8

    "You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

    Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

    Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us."

    It is interesting when we get a bit of a glimpse into the world and culture of the earliest church. It was clearly a world where a woman's role was inside the home, and the man was one who would go out and earn for the household.

    I think a lot of people get the wrong impression about what biblical passages contain. I don't think it was proscribing that those roles continue as such for the sake of God's will, as the writers, Paul here, were writing to the world they lived in. So his instructions are all addressed to people in the role he saw them performing. I don't think it occurred to him that things might change over the centuries. He was talking to a world he knew, and one based on previous centuries of the same.

    But times change, and not only are women as much in the workplace as men are these days, but likewise there is a strong movement of men who have become the home nurturers. We could discuss all day long about how this came to pass, and how much more change people would like to see, but I'd like to look at the instructions themselves.

    Frankly, the teaching for each of the mentioned groups is the same: Practice self-control! "Teach older men to be... self controlled." Teach older women to not do the common un-controlled actions, like slandering and drinking. They in turn should teach "younger women to ... be self-controlled..." Young men, be... self-controlled. If I were a betting man, I'd bet the theme here is actually for us to be... and this is a big guess here... self-controlled?

    It's pretty clear that Paul sees self-control as the key to living a life of shining example to the rest of the world, so as not to give ammunition to those who would try to find reasons to malign Christians.

    I wish we had more self-control in our world today. We aren't always the best examples to the world when we join in the popular culture trash sessions. Let's face it: this is a glorious era for the gossip mill. We love to talk smack about celebrities, friends, and groups other than our own. Political parties, religious beliefs, even cross-denominations, we often lack the integrity to keep our opinions to ourselves.

    Paul, who was actually aware that he wasn't a very good speaker for reasons not revealed, makes a very big deal about being the kind of people who, when we speak, we are clear about what we are saying. He repeatedly urges us to keep on point with our message, not only with our words but with our actions too.

    Lent is a time for refinement. An opportunity to reexamine ourselves and come out revised, rejuvenated, reborn and simply better than before. Practicing self-control is something I really need to work on. I hope this speaks to you as well.

    Thursday, March 19, 2015

    Is It Our Job to Judge?

    1 Timothy 1:9-11

    "We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me."

    There are sometimes when I am uncertain what I am going to write about here on Internetspirations. I try very hard to avoid putting my own spin on any scripture. I try to understand its teaching, and then I try to find a new way to talk about it. Sometimes I write a topic and then check to see if scripture backs it up. More than once, I have found what I wrote to be wrong, because the scripture I find on the subject demonstrates very firmly that I need to reconsider my position.

    My preferred way is to write on something that I am involved in studying, but right now, I confess, I'm not studying anything in particular. That's when I go for the random verse: I go to Bible Gateway, and see what the verse of the day is. So when I did that today, 1 Timothy 1:9-11 came up, and I said, "Oh no. I don't want to go there!"

    I considered trying again for another random verse, but that's the chicken way out. No. I need to think about it here and now. So here we go, diving headlong into a verse that lists a number of sins, and there in the middle Peter lists practicing homosexuality. And it is sitting with some pretty bad company; Mother and Father killers! Slave Traders! Murderers! Liars! In an era where listing homosexuality as a sin can get you labeled a pariah and homophobic, addressing it isn't likely to win me friends in the gay community.

    Well, here's the thing: The list isn't mine. And I am not about to condemn anyone for being gay, as I have several family members and friends who are. They are wonderful people, many of them people who call themselves Christian. Even this week the Presbyterian Church of America changed their playbook to allow gay marriage. So what's the deal? Is Peter just wrong?

    One thing I can tell you for sure: condemnation isn't my thing. There are a lot of folks out there happy to pass judgement, but to them I always ask if they are as fast to judge adulterers, liars, cheats, thieves, and others as sinners as they are gays? It just all seems more heavy-handed for homosexuality than it is for other types of sin. And actually, is it a sin?

    Well, it certainly was considered a sin during Peter's day. And in many countries today, being Gay can get you thrown in jail or killed. Plus, I am sorry to say there are plenty of gay people around today who do their best to make it an act of rebellion against the moral fabric of society. Meet-up parties for people to have random, anonymous sex are common today. Heck, there's even an App for it. But does that mean all loving relationships between people of the same gender are the same?

    All I can tell you is that you have to look within yourself in prayer to determine what God wants for you. For me, I have to tell you, there are certain aspects (like the App) that I just cannot endorse. But what about committed, loving relationships between two people of the same gender? Marriage? I have a heterosexual one. That's the only one I need to address. When my younger daughter called to introduce me to the love of her life (a woman), I was easily able to accept it. It was her life; not mine. She is in a place, as a Christian, where she is fine with it.

    What I can tell you is what the major theme of the verse is, and it isn't there to condemn any of the listed sinners and keep them out of the church. No, instead it tells us just the opposite. The law was given to all people, because who of any of us can claim to be sin-free. God's word is for everyone, in spite of any way they may be out of sync with what Peter calls the sound doctrine.

    You may agree with me, or not. Either way, leave your comments (please be civil). Disagreement between Christians isn't anything new. That's why we have hundreds of separate denominations. I do think it is a little sad that we have to divide ourselves up according to our disagreements. If Peter is willing to extend the church to include all these sinners, who am I to stand in the way?

    I'll leave the judgement part up to God.

    The Free Things In Life Are Best

    Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

    I have good news: There are still some great things that as yet are not illegal!

    I know. It's been a rough decade. It seems that everywhere we turn someone is doing something that flies in the face of some tradition we hold dear. Respect for many of the things we have long held as American rights are slowly being eroded away. Our freedom becomes reduced because there is an increasing number of people who think that "fairness" is something that can be regulated by law.

    What they fail to see is that countless of other nations before us have had the same idea, and the results have failed because there will always be those who will take more, in the name of "fairness."

    I was in a country in turmoil a few years ago, and I noticed that there were some very large stores, but no one was inside buying anything. I asked my friend why this was, and she told me that the stores were owned by the criminals in the government. Only they were allowed to sell because of favors done for their political comrades. As a result, they would charge outrageous prices for things, knowing that there was no competition allowed. So people only bought from them as a last resort. Legislated fairness only benefited a few. The rest of the country lay in squalor.

    Fortunately, it is not to late for us. There are still values we can celebrate today. We can still love each other, find joy, practice forbearance and kindness. We can strive for goodness, and be faithful to those to whom we have made promises. We can be gentle in our actions, and above all, we still can practice self-control. I think the world would be hard-pressed to make laws requiring the practice of any of these things, and these are the best part of being alive... especially as Christians.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    Want to Go For a Ride?

    Romans 15:13

    "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

    I have a dog named Bentley. I call him "Bones" because when I first met him the poor guy was nothing but skin and bones. That was three years ago, and while he still maintains a slim physique, he is no longer the frightened, abandoned dog we first knew.

    In brief, Bones is my guy. No matter where I go, he is most likely nearby. Here in my office he is sleeping right now on an ottoman right behind my chair. At night, he gets as close to me as he can, sometimes to the point where I have very little bed space left. For a small, ten pound pup, Bentley Bones makes his presence known.

    But he is also the gentlest dog I have ever known. When I am writing at my desk, occasionally I will feel the gentlest of brushes against my leg. He never paws or scratches. Instead he just brushes his curly coat of hair on my leg, as if to say "Hi. Don't want to interrupt you, but if you have the opportunity, I could use a little affection." His demeanor is primarily calm and quiet, but if he senses danger, his bark is the toughest one in the house... including mine.

    Bones loves to go for a ride. In fact, you can barely say those words without him going bananas. Then once in the car, he tries to sit in my lap or on the middle console. Oh what joy! Each car ride is the greatest ride ever! It is the thing he loves most of all, even above eating. Sometimes it is hard to get him to come into the kitchen to eat breakfast, if there is even a tiny chance of going for a ride. His tan eyes are filled with anticipatory hope, just waiting for me to tell him "Okay."

    We are encouraged in Romans to have the same hope when it comes to living our lives in Christ. To be quite honest, I seldom see that kind of behavior in people. We keep our emotions in check, lest we be perceived as a total dweeb about our faith. One exception: I DO see it in my daughter. She is an amazingly honest Christian, who actually has a reputation among her friends of being the one to bring party to the party. Her sense of joy and hope is infectious. It is a blessing for me to see, and it is clear that the lives she touches agree.

    Let us all strive to be hopeful and joyous. There is plenty of negative input in the world. Let's live our faith and be different. Be joyous. Be at peace. Overflow with hope as you trust in Christ. It is a journey of Joy. Get excited to "go for the ride."

    Tuesday, March 17, 2015

    Give Up if you Must, But Don't Give In.

    Ephesians 6:10-18

    "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

    We live in times where the threat against the Christian Church is once again on the rise. There are an increasing number of anti-Christian groups doing their best to snuff out every last trace of Christianity, along with any other faith that disagrees with their own sick and twisted view of the world. Stopping them is a seemingly impossible task.

    Each of these groups have their own leaders who dictate and encourage these actions, who are very good at manipulating their followers into doing their bidding. But just as in the story of Hercules, if you move to cut off the head of the monster, it seems that two more pop up to take its place. Hercules found an answer: when he cut off a head from the Hydra, he seared the wound with a torch, and it was unable to sprout a new set of heads. The lesson the ancient Greeks were teaching was that any impossible task is doable; you just have to do the job completely.

    There are those who will tell you that we are facing the end of days, as foreseen in scripture. That may be true. Or it may just be another flare-up of the same old pestering problem where sick, twisted, evil and sometimes just dim-witted leaders rile up their followers to wreak havoc across the holy land. Certainly, given the weapons available these days, the consequences are staggering. Either way, the results are fearsome and demoralizing. The implications of a world wide conflict are depressing and frightening. So what do we do?

    The apostle Paul is quick to put things in perspective. The real conflict isn't so much against the individuals as it is against the spiritual forces of evil. Yes, those individuals can and do cause a great deal of harm, and we may be forced to face such evil ourselves some day. Maybe in a big way, like a global conflict. More likely in a more personal conflict, like fighting a disease, or a rift between family or friends.

    But Paul also tells us what we can do to prepare for it: Put on the Armor of God. Know his word. Focus on the heavenly realms. Pray. Be firm in your belief. Be more certain and protected in your relationship with God that the heart of the murderers and terrorists in this world. Put on the FULL armor. Know the things driving your faith and use them to stand against the foe.

    Acclaimed lyricist Nan Knighton captured that spirit of courage saying this:

    "There will always be perilous waters
    Which someone must sail
    Into valleys, into waters
    Into jungles, into hell
    Let us ride, let us ride home again with a story to tell
    Into darkness, into danger
    Into storms that rip the night
    Don't give in, but give up
    But give thanks for the glorious fight"

    So take on the full armor. Be prepared for any sinful attack against your faith. That is your best protection. And even if you find that in your personal battle, the foe becomes the victor and you have to give up... Don't give in! Keep on believing in the greater power, and give thanks for the glorious fight. You belong to Christ eternally.

    Monday, March 16, 2015

    Dressing in God's Style

    Colossians 3:12

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

    They say clothes make the man, and for me, the clothes come from my wife, Gwen, who is nothing short of a genius at the sewing machine. She made her wedding dress, prom dresses, sock monkeys, animal toys, quilts, wall hangings, barbecue covers, Christmas stockings and much more. But I really benefit the most, because she makes nearly all of my shirts.

    She makes all kinds of them, but I think the ones I get the most compliments on are my Hawaiian style shirts. I was frustrated at trying to find comfortable sports shirts in my size that looked like something one could wear in public. So Gwen found a pattern or two, and then we went shopping for some decent fabric.

    Over the years she has tweaked her pattern to take into account all the details I prefer: They are a little longer than most without looking like I am wearing a smock, They have perfectly matched pockets... even the buttons are placed specifically where they work best for me.

    I constantly get positive comments about them, and I always tell them thank you, and let them know my loving wife created each one. Some are fun, some are classy... I even have one special one created just for Hallowe'en. There are wine themes, Christmas themes, fall colors and even one with Route 66 images, for those road trips! Each one is amazingly cool looking, and they give me a good feeling to wear them.

    So much so, I am spoiled. Now when I have to wear a shirt that Gwen didn't make, I feel less-dressed, and trashy. Gwen's shirts fulfill my sense of style!

    Today's verse tells us about other things to clothe ourselves in: Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. These are gifts from God; ways of being that reflect the significant traits of a Christian. When we go out into the world, we want to reflect these traits over the other things people might see.

    You've certainly heard about Christians who put Jesus stickers on their cars and then drive horribly. Do they not know that people really do judge Christians by our behavior?

    So clothe yourself in the traits spelled out for us here. We may have our own style; but let us work to present the Lord's.

    Friday, March 13, 2015

    Losses and Gains: What Really Matters?

    Phillipians 3: 7-9 "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. "

    A few years ago I left the University of Ca, Irvine to take care of my mother who had been diagnosed with dementia. I thought I would work from home, and I got the idea to start a Christmas decoration business. I learned a great deal, and frankly, as new business ventures go, I was able to figure out how to obtain ornaments from Ukraine, and even though it took a while to figure out all the intricate details of importing goods, I had a worthy supply of the ornaments for a fairly low investment.

    Ah but there was so much I didn't know in the sales department, and I was spread too thin trying to buy, import, sell, ship, invoice, etc. After about four years I closed the business. Now I have thousands of Christmas ornaments in storage; beautiful, hand-painted orbs of Christmas joy, and I am unable to unload anywhere. I've tried all sorts of things, and I will keep on trying, but what was once a great asset I now count as a large loss.

    Don't cry for me though; I am okay with it. Eventually we'll find a buyer or two. It makes me wonder how those guys on the storage auction shows get rid of the things they find. I'm pretty sure they have people who do nothing but find buyers for forgotten inventories. My daughter says she has an idea for selling them, and we'll give her a shot at it (We welcome your suggestions too, by the way)!

    Sometimes we fill our lives with things that seem important at the time, but end up having little or no value. More than just tangible objects, we fill our lives with thoughts and activities that ultimately yield very little long-lasting value. We live when leisure time is at an all-time high, but at the same time, there are thousands of people who are without work, homeless, hungry, and without an education. How much money does a hit movie make? Hundreds of millions, and often over a billion! Imagine what would happen if the local food banks received such funding.

    Eventually we will all come to an end to our lives, and beyond that, Christians believe in life after death in union with Christ for eternity. Others believe in reincarnation, and some say that life now is all there is, and once you die, lights out. Whatever the final scenario turns out to be, there is still this thing called life right now.

    Human endeavors, even the greatest of books, monuments, and ideas all fade away. Even scientific progress seems to need to be "rediscovered" from time to time. So what does that leave for us? I believe we need to spend this time finding out what really matters. For me, pursuing a relationship with God seems tantamount in importance. Passing on my thoughts to you is part of that pursuit.

    Whatever you decide, it is never a bad idea to examine the things that occupy your mind, and re-prioritize to higher purposes. Assess if the things you are doing now are your best use of time, and then act accordingly. Consider a more spiritual approach to life.

    Thursday, March 12, 2015

    Maddie Goes Swimming

    Proverbs 22:3 and Proverbs 27:12
    "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty."

    Every morning my wife gets out of bed first and takes our dogs out back. Sometimes I wake, sometimes not. This morning I got out of bed at the same time, and was about to get dressed when I heard a commotion out back; our youngest dog, Maddie fell into the pool!

    Now Maddie is a funny little Yorkie. She is a rescue we've had for about a year. When we got her, she was completely wild. She had been a puppy-mill breeding dog, and had never experienced any kindness, as near as we could discern. Over the year, she has really responded well to our affection, and has become a very loving pup to us. She needs work with others, but we are amazed at all she has learned. Her protective instincts are strong, as she tries to distance herself from danger. That's not always the smartest choice, but usually the easiest.

    She has this one dangerous habit. She will always walk along the edge of the pool. So when Gwen took her out this morning, Maddie got in trouble. The forecast for today was for high winds. Gwen turned her back on Maddie for a moment to crank in the awning. the noise startled Maddie, who jumped back... and thus took an early morning swim.

    Fortunately Gwen was there to rescue her, but whether Maddie learned an important lesson from the experience only time will tell. Hopefully next time she is in the yard she will start giving the pool a larger buffer-zone.

    The verse we quote today is interesting in that it appears twice in fairly close proximity in the book of Proverbs. Repeated text is not that unusual in the Bible, but it is interesting to note that the writer uses it twice indicating he places value in its teaching. You can see why in my illustration of Maddie's morning dunking. Her initial reaction, the simplest one that relied on her instincts, got her in deep water. In time she will learn that a more prudent, thoughtful approach might be of value.

    We often react before we think. You can probably envision situations in your own life where you wish you had thought things through a little better. You may also find that certain activities lead you to stray from living the life you should. Avoiding the things that lead you astray and into danger may be the first step in beating the obstacles that cause you to stumble. Experience teaches us to be less reactionary, and more careful. Think about how you can avoid or better prepare for dangers that lead you to make the wrong response. Set up your refuge; your "buffer-zones." Identify the things that lead you astray. Set yourself on a course to higher goals. Be more mindful, and you will have a better chance to succeed.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2015

    Human 2.0, or Christianity Explained

    Romans 6: 1-4
    "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

    My wife, Gwen, and I were discussing the point of my last writing, where I spoke about how it was impossible for humans to live a "Holy" life. And as is often the case, I realized I left a good part of what I believe out of the discussion. I realize that I was essentially making the argument that sets up chapter six of Paul's letter to the Romans. Being human, it is impossible for us to live sin free. So do we just keep on sinning?

    You can see how the idea might find footing; If God, through the act of His Grace, forgives our sins, then doesn't it seem like the more we sin, the more grace we get?

    Paul makes the case that if we, in true repentance for our human flaws, come to accept the gift of forgiveness, the forgiveness is a complete package, covering both the sins of our past, but also the sins of our future.

    As someone who is trying to be an instrument of clarity on Christian philosophy, I do not want to write anything that would take away the real simplicity of the Christian message. There's plenty of that going around already, as misguided pastors, filmmakers, secular publishers and even atheists try to explain Christianity. I've written this before, and I will continue to believe that Christianity is really a simple faith to understand. But you also have to accept a few premises to the argument:

  • First,that God is real
  • Second, God has moved toward man in love.
  • Third, he became a man (flesh incarnate in church-speak) in the person of Jesus Christ.

    If you can open your mind to these three ideas, then understanding the faith called Christianity is easy. The Bible is essentially a gathering of inspired documents that chronicle God's relationship with man. Oh, it says a lot more about him, such as being the creator of the universe, his omnipotence, his constant presence, and so on, but the main theme is about our mutual relationship.

    First, he creates our world, and delegates responsibility for it to man (a task for which we're just beginning to understand the magnitude). We immediately show we are flawed, but rather than toss us away like the first batch of bad waffles, he decides to do something amazing. He says, "I can work with this."

    So man gets to thinking we're pretty hot stuff, and we tend to forget him. So God tells us this:

    "Okay, I am going to let you grow. Become a nation. Try to run yourselves. You will forget me. So I will give you some rules to follow. You'll forget them too. You want a king to enforce those rules for you? Sure, I'll give you one if you think that will help. It won't. You see, I know you. And I know your flaws. "

    "So here, I'll make you a deal. After you've tried all these other things, I will come to earth in the form of a son. And yes, I know you: you will find a way to kill him too. But here's the thing: When you do try to turn your back on me again, this time you will fail. That son is going to live, despite your flaws. He is going to take on all your sins, all your shortcomings. You will insult him, strip him, humiliate him, hate him, make fun of him, beat him, and nail him to a tree. Even then you will taunt him, drain out his blood... every horror man can heap on him, you will do."

    "And after all that, He (I) will forgive you. "

    "Even then, after he comes back to life, after he walks among you a second time, most of you won't recognize him. After a while, He'll come home to me."


    "A few of you will realize what happened. A few of you will understand. And my deal is this: In spite of your sins, all you have to do is accept who Jesus is, admit your sins, and accept his forgiveness. If you do that, then You and I are going to be fine. You will be a new version. 'Human 2.0,' if you will. No longer bound by the sins and errors of your way, the old you dies as Jesus died. Your life is now new, changed, and amazing. Not just for this world, but for eternity."

    So, now, as a Christian, you are a new creation. That should inspire you to become more like Christ. We "press toward the mark", as Paul goes on to write to the Phillipians.

    Yes, even then, you will still fail. But now you know those failures (hopefully fewer and farther between) are forgiven.

    So embrace the new you. You have been given a great deal of forgiveness and acceptance, and most of all, eternal love. It should inspire you to do the same for others you meet. Instead of passing judgement, you understand. You give up condemnation for loving.

    You are a new person. Show the world what God would want you to be.