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.