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Tears I Can’t Cry September 27, 2017

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Michael N. Johns, 09/26/2017

My daughter is crying the tears I can’t cry,
I’m too full of anger, wondering, did God lie?
When His Son said we’d do the same things He had done:
Our prayers would be answered, our victories won
But my mother-in-law is still not doing well
I prayed, and still hope of miracles to tell,
But she’s dying. Did my prayers all stop right at my lips?
Why bother praying? My doubt fairly drips
Falling like my wife’s tears and I still just can’t cry
I want God to say yes, and the doctors to try
Something that will heal her; they’re just watching her die!
Praying, You healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  Now heal mine!
I’m shattered, and there are no answers for why,
While my family cries the tears I cannot cry.

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Pride and Predjudice and Christ-Followers April 4, 2016

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I attended an adult Bible study today, and I really enjoy how thought provoking it is.  Today the discussion surrounded the historic Jezebel, with our starting point at Revelation chapter 2,

18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds,your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

We chatted a little bit about the way the world seemed to be headed, and what an appropriate voice might sound like for the church.  One of our classmates was asked by her child, “What’s porn?” so she fielded the question as best she felt it should be handled, with an age-appropriate answer.  The child had been watching a television show that made a joke about a guy watching porn.  So the class discussed this in the context of Jezebel’s sexual immorality and the warning to the church at Thyatira.

We live in a time when Christians are supposed to be tolerant of everyone else and nobody seems to have to be tolerant of Christians.  What are we supposed to do?  Well, let people do whatever they want and shut up, seems like the world’s answer.  And, “deeds, love and service” sound like great and commendable works for any church, don’t they?  Except, what kind of deeds?  Love for whom?  Service to whom and for whom?

James taught about a “religion that God accepts:”  James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Our class had a discussion weeks ago in which I noticed Ephesians 4:15, where Christ-followers are instructed to “[speak] the truth in love” in order to grow.  If truth and love are in balance we’ll be balanced in our approach to the world.  Ignore love and we’re hammering people over the head with our truth: you’re a sinner on your way to hell.  Instant turnoff by the non-believer. Ignore truth and we’re not doing it right either, and people will flock to hear you tolerate, accept, even embrace, their sinful choices.  And without repentant hearts, people will end up in hell because we didn’t teach the truth, that there is such a thing as sin, but God loves us and wants us to repent (turn away) from our sin and toward Him.

It’s commendable to seek not to be polluted by the world.  This was the sin of Thyatira. They tolerated, embraced, and adopted the behavior choices of the surrounding community that were contrary to God’s intent for us.  What’s a Christ-follower to do?

Sinners are going to sin.  And sinners don’t like it when their sin is pointed up to them, and called “sin.”  In the modern era, sinners want their sin to be tolerated, accepted, embraced, even celebrated.  Sinners want to be proud of their sin, not be told it’s sin.  So we have parades and television celebrating and proudly proclaiming sinful lifestyles.  If a Christ-follower says anything they  are “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “hateful,” “judgemental,” etc. We’re told from our own Bibles, “judge not lest ye be judged.”  Essentially, the answer a sinful world has for a Christ-follower who points to sin and calls it sin or calls it evil, is to shut up.  And the world doesn’t say it that nicely.

I’m afraid they’ve got a good point though.

The world wants to be proud of their sins and they want Christians to stop teaching the Bible and sharing our beliefs about what sin looks like.  The world doesn’t want us to believe  the Bible, and if they want to shut us up they use our own Bible, selected passages, to shut us up about the passages that make them uncomfortable.

Are Christians really any better?  Sure our eternity is secure.  But are we teaching only the truth and committing the sin of a certain modern church that likes to bash certain people and tell them God hates them?  Are we teaching only love and tolerance and committing the sin of Thyatira?

I’m afraid Christians have given in to the sin of pride, on both errors.  Some Christians are proud of their knowledge.  These Christians are proud of their piety.  These Christians are proud that they have found the way to eternal life.  Some are proud of their love and tolerance.  I think both are wrong.

Christians need to lead the way with a new humility.  Because, are we so far removed from the sin we used to live in that we can’t understand its’ appeal any more?  And, are we blind to the sin we currently harbor?

The antidote to pride is humility.  If we confess our sins, not only is God “faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness,” but I think it’ll cause a revolution in the world.  They see us as “holier than thou,” intolerant hateful people because we think we’re better than they are.  We’re not, Christians.  We’re just as human.  We are holding onto our pride like a security blanket, and we need to shed that.  Nobody is going to listen to anything we have to say until we confess our sins to each other and admit to the world that we’re not that different from them, we just know where we’re headed when eternity calls our names.  When we admit that, I think they’ll be more likely to see our examples and be more apt to listen to the rest of what we have to say.

If we’re proud of ourselves, the world has no reason to pay any attention If we’re just saying “God loves me,” and “God loves you,” without any other instruction, like why Jesus was killed as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, ourselves included, there’s no reason for anyone to turn from whatever is their favorite flavor of sin.  And if Jesus is still in the tomb (He’s not) then no one has any hope at all.  But since He’s not, we’ve got His message, His truth AND His love to share. If we’re not saying there’s a better way and it’s God’s design, while admitting we’ve failed ourselves, we’re not that different than Thyatira.  If we’re saying God hates one sin any more than another, then we’re blind to our own pride.  I used to be so proud of myself.  Smug idiot.  I’ve got nothing but my  hope in Jesus, and my realization that He paid the debt for my sin.  A life of imperfection, thinking I had it right, blind to my evil character that I thought was good.  I’m not different than any other sinner in the world. God hates my sin just as much as he hates anyone elses’ sin.  I’m nothing to be proud of myself.

So that’s my humble confession.  I was smug and proud and judgemental.  But I know I have nothing to be those ways about, I’m no different, not really any better than anyone else.  God hates my sin just as much as anyone else’s sin, but He loves me in spite of myself.  And He loves you too and wants you to realize what your sin is, whatever it is, and then turn away from it and ask Him to forgive you.  And in spite of myself, I believe Romans 5:8 is written about me and the world:

 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I’m a sinner, but I’m not proud of it.  Just saved by the grace and love of God.  I’ve asked for forgiveness and I realize I’m still not perfect, in spite of the teaching of certain denominations.  If I call myself perfect, I’m lying to everyone.

I’m sorry, to the people of the world, I can’t keep it inside.  I have to speak it:  Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I John 1:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I bet in your heart, if you’re honest, you know the difference between right and wrong and know your life isn’t perfect enough, holy enough, or pure enough to get into a perfect, holy and pure heaven.  At the expense of my pride, I confess that I’ve failed to be good enough to earn a place in heaven.   There are people who think higher of me than that, but it’s just not honest.  I’ve got my eternal ticket, but it’s only because I admitted my failures and because God is rich in mercy and grace, and He extends it to the humble.  If we’re proud of ourselves, or proud of our sin, or blind to it, He won’t show us favor:

I Peter 5:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith…

 

I think if we clothe ourselves in humility, not just to the “one another” of fellow Christ-followers, but to everyone, people in the world might look a little differently at us, instead of just telling us to shut up.

“Prophesy! Who Hit You?” March 17, 2016

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Luke 22 is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, and also revealed the disciples’ spiritual blindness.  While they argued over who was the greatest disciple, Jesus was being set up. Jesus knew.  But the disciples never saw it coming.

My spiritual blindness has never been questioned: Exactly like the song goes, “I am blind, and I don’t like what I think I see.”

My career path evinces my blindness.  I can’t get on a career path because I don’t know the direction to go to get somewhere productively happy.  Which also means, the people around me are blind too.  They don’t know how to help me.  And I don’t know what to ask for.  I have a job, and I don’t know what direction to go.  People tell me to “just” get another job, which sounds so easy, and makes me depressed because for me it’s not.  I’ve tried to find a job while I have a job, but the people I’ve talked to and interviewed viewed me as at best, second best for their opportunities.  At the same time as I really need “a job,” I really want a job I like.  What I want to do is write.  And use my spiritual gifts, and my education and training.  And be used by God to do good things.  And bear fruit for eternity.  And, like everyone else stuck in this present reality, take care of myself and my family.  And I’m a dismal failure at getting on that path.

Yesterday two things happened.  First, something happened to me maybe a year and a half ago, and it required money I didn’t have to fix.  I don’t want to get into the graphic and gory details, so I won’t describe the event.  At the time, it was something that could be fixed, I was told, pretty easily, but it would require an expensive process and I couldn’t afford it.  But I prayed, I trusted, and I waited in hope.  At the risk of exposing a root of bitterness, this has become, over time, a real sticking point with me spiritually, because I trusted in God, and waited for the money.    And I prayed.  I’m still waiting.  I was still praying.  Yesterday that situation, which I have been waiting in hope that God would provide what I needed to resolve, just got worse.

From the prophet:
Psalm 22: 8 “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

And from the crucifixion story:
Matthew 27: 43 “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

Why would I expect God to help me if He didn’t even help Jesus? Well, because in the plan of things I think Jesus could have had the help if He had asked for it and could have backed out of the divine transaction, but he submitted because of the huge implications for eternity.  But for me, it’s just something I need.  It’s not a life saving miracle, it’s just a process I need to be done that now requires even more money to be done right.  I’ve already burdened my church and they’ve helped with other things.  I wanted God to answer in a more sustaining way than I’ve seen in the last few years, and there’s the sticking point.  That was what “I wanted.” In the grand scheme of things, it’s not about what I want.  But I also read that God hears and answers prayers, so I was just hoping.

Also, yesterday, adding to my already depressed state, it appears I was passed over again for something else I was hoping might happen that could possibly help me, in a life and spirit sustaining kind of way.

I’ve researched and found a poem/song I wrote for Easter back in 2013.  I wrote it trying to be hopeful, in a season when hope is hard to believe, much less find.  But it came to mind yesterday while I was processing my perceived emotional slap in the face.  It expressed my heart then and now, so I’m re-posting it here:


Maranatha, 10/27/2013, Michael N. Johns

It’s been one day that He’s been dead.
I saw Him on the cross.
The spear went in, His heart then bled,
And all my hope was lost.

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,
But He’s gone.

It’s been two days that He’s been dead.
We laid him in the grave.
We wrapped His body, and His head.
Who can a dead man save?

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,
But He’s gone.

It’s been three days that He’s been dead.
It’s almost like a dream.
What were the words that Jesus said?
I’ll be back soon; you’ll see.

We went to say our last goodbyes,
With perfume for the body,
I almost could not believe my eyes,
As angels greeted me

We thought we’d see his body
A cold, dead sadness,
Instead they said, Go in and see,
Fill up your hearts with gladness,
And find hope.

Two thousand years since He’s been gone,
It’s almost like a dream.
What did He say as He went on?
I’ll be back soon; you’ll see.

He sent us out to teach the world
His love, His hope, His story
I believe He will return
He’ll be back soon; you’ll see

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,

He promised me.
I will see.
I believe.


 

So that’s it.  I won’t get into the details of me being passed over again, but it happened yesterday adding fuel to my raging emotional fires.  I partially processed the events last night.

In my spiritual blindness, not that I’m worthy to be compared to the central character of Luke 22, I felt that I was being slapped.  Except, unlike Jesus, I can’t answer the question of Luke 22:

63 And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and hit him.64 And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy!  Who hit you?

I used to have a much sharper spiritual view.  I knew.  But when you pray, and you pray, and you pray some more, and the only answers are further breakage of things that could have been repaired, that now just need to be discarded and I can’t afford replacement, and being ignored and passed over, again and again, by people I trusted and thought had my best interests at heart, the view becomes much more clouded.  In the past, I’ve been pretty naive.  I really try to be trusting and think people will do what they say they will.  I’ve learned, over time, to get certain things in writing.  But I’m not in a current situation where that makes any difference.  I’m currently where I am, looking for the exit ramp that leads somewhere better.

It’s not that my situation hasn’t improved.  It has.  I’m better off than I was a year ago.  It’s just been very slow.  I still can’t fix what’s broken, I still haven’t stumbled across the answer God surely must have already arranged and provided, and I still can’t take care of my situation for now, so it has to get worse before it’ll get better.  I thought I needed an answer, but I’ve heard a deafening silence, or worse, spiritual platitudes about whatever overly simplistic “just do this” answer, or “encouraging” Bible verses my would-be encouragers have discouraged me by providing.  Or worse, the circumstance has gotten worse because I couldn’t fix it sooner, and I still can’t fix it.  Like yesterday.

So just ignore me, you should have stopped reading already. Maybe it’s temporary.  Maybe it’ll be fixed tomorrow.  But honestly, right now, I feel as ignored by God as this guy is by the girl he loves:

I’m just in a spiritual and emotional dark place.  Again.  I feel very irrelevant.  I feel like nothing I do really matters. I feel that what I do could be replaced and done by someone else, or maybe if it wasn’t done, it wouldn’t make any difference. I feel irrelevant to God, and everyone will want to tell me I matter to God, or to fix it for myself as if I had the wherewithal or the stamina.  (I’m sure I do matter to God, only just not enough to answer my prayers yet, and not the way I thought I needed them to be answered.)  Irrelevance is dark.  I’m spiritually blindfolded.

Who hit me?  Prophesy!  Because my spiritual eyes are darkness, and my smoldering wick feels very much like it’s being snuffed out.

I wrote this not anticipating any answers, because although I wrote it about me, it’s not about me.  It’s about God’s answer to my faith.  It’s just another dark season after another dark season.  Will He answer in some miraculous way, or will He answer with more waiting, more silence, more unanswered crisis points because He knows I should be able to handle whatever evil the day has in store for me?  He’s not obligated, and neither is anyone else.  It’s nothing any different or more special than any other thing anyone else would pray about.  Life struggles are common to everyone, and we just have to endure and walk through I suppose.  But it is growing very dark for me again this year and yesterday’s events just added insults to injuries.

Will He answer in some sustaining, fulfilling way, or will it be the same minimalist response like my ongoing doldrums?  I don’t know.  I know that the minimalist responses are probably, minimally, enough.  I was just hoping for abundance, but I can’t even fix or replace what’s broken because I still can’t afford it.  Something else, that seems about 2 or 3 months ahead of a sustainable schedule, breaks and spends the reserves before they’re built up enough to take care of what I need.  Last thing was the cars.  I don’t want a next thing.

Say it:  I’m naive.  I still believe.  I still hope.  And I’m still waiting and praying.  Don’t you dare write a check. I’m not asking you.  I’m asking God.  And the answer I need is something sustaining, not a one-time thing from some poor charitable schmuck who’s a sucker for a sob story.  I need the thing, the Divine answer, that sustains and provides to fix or replace needed things, for the normal wearing out life does on everything and everybody.  And leaves behind enough for me to help the next person looking for a charitable schmuck.  And I also need the fulfilling thing to do to keep that sustenance going, that goes along with my talents, education, training, and experience.  I just haven’t found it.  “I wish I was special,” but I’m not.  If I wanted a one-time answer, I’d set up on gofundme.  And FYI: “God helps those who help themselves” isn’t in the Bible.  Unless you’re a politician.  I think at least one of the candidates probably believes that.

January 4, 2016

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I sat in church for the first Sunday of the year, yesterday, and feel this so bad it hurts.

THIS!  This is what I want for the new year.  Dear God, please,
“Wake me up inside.”

“…Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I’ve become

Bring me to life

Frozen inside without Your touch
Without Your love, Darling
Only You are the Life among the dead.”

One of our pastors spoke in his own simple eloquence, about us determining whatever it is God wants us to do and who He wants us to be.  I know the answers to those questions, what I lack is the inner life to do it, to be it, to live it.

I feel dead inside.

I feel frozen inside (no Disney jokes, or songs, PLEASE).  I’ve become less than worthless, I am nothing, I am negative.  I look backward and see chaos, madness, sadness, destruction, sin, loss, debt.  I look forward and see the labor required to dig out, and it’s hopeless.

I admit it.  I did it to myself.  Partly.  I starved myself spiritually, only having the meagerest of snacks maybe every other day, but I knew I was missing out on the banquet.  I did it to myself because I feel kind of abandoned by God.

Say it all you want, if you’re one of those conservatives you’ll believe that if I feel the abandonment, it’s because I abandoned Him.  That may be true.  That the spiritual “snack” was there at all says maybe God was there sustaining me through the spiritual “drought.”  Or maybe like Cain from Genesis, I offered what I thought was the best I had to give, from a heart that was as good as mine could be, and still felt rejected.

I’m going to try something different today.  And maybe, this year will be different.  I’ll let you know, if I live to tell about it.  If He is “the Life,” maybe He’ll share.

On the positive side, I feel “only mostly dead,” which, if you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, means there’s hope, but “it’ll take a miracle.”

Oil On Jesus’ Feet (Sort-of-Humor) December 9, 2015

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From Wikipedia:
_________________

Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The oil has, since ancient times, been used as a perfume, as a medicine and in religious contexts, across a wide territory from India to Europe.

The Bible contains several references to the spikenard, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
_________________

In John 12, we have a beautiful picture of the sacrifice made by a woman who loved Jesus.  The custom of the day was to wash and oil one’s feet, as the environment could be dusty and dry.

In this instance, the scented oil was very expensive, but there were more common oils available in the day, especially olive oil.

When you drop any oil onto water, it floats.

This could explain how Jesus performed the miracle recorded in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6.  We’re not told if Jesus was wearing sandals.  If you were going into the water, most of you wouldn’t wear foot gear.  But He would have to have perfect balance to not break the surface tension of the water.  And he would have had to know Peter oiled up his feet too.  With Jesus as the focal point of Peter’s experience while walking out there, Peter had the necessary concentration and balance, but when he took his eyes off of Jesus, he immediately sank and Jesus had to rescue him.

I’m joking but there’s a practical application.  I’m not going to try that in any literal way any time soon.  I’m not well able to balance on flat earth, much less on the water.  And my eyes aren’t well enough focused on Jesus for me to match Peter’s experience.  But I am going to try to be better focused and more spiritually balanced in the new year.  It’s coming quick.

How well balanced are you?  How well focused is your spirit?

The Truth in Love: A Dangerous Thing March 10, 2015

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I wouldn’t have thought this was a really drastic change of position if I hadn’t lived through it.  Swept along by a wave of peers, I missed something.  In large part I agreed with them.  And in part, I was dead wrong for it.  These peers? Well meaning Christ-Followers.  I’ve been processing this still, so if I’m repeating myself, just move along to the next blog you like.  My feelings won’t be hurt, I promise.

I’ve been accused of thinking dangerously, or maybe that my thinking is dangerous, or maybe they weren’t thinking and they thought the fact that I was, was dangerous.  My fellow seminarians joked good-naturedly that they would pray for me even back before I got here.  Some of them would be spinning in their pulpits if they knew what I think now.  Farbeit from me to think I’m special, revolutionary, radical.  I’m no trail-blazer, like a Martin Luther.  I don’t think I could even come up with 95 theses, but I have one:  “the truth in love.”  I’m captivated by the power of the phrase, from Ephesians 4:  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

What if God’s love is more radical than even Christ-followers give it credit for being?  If we really understood it better, and embraced it more fully, I’ll bet we would reap a few benefits.  I’m only going to share two I believe are available.

Benefit # 1:  We grow and become like Jesus.  This makes us different from a lot of people in the world, and that might just make us dangerous.

I Corinthians 13 extols the virtues of love, and proclaims, “…if I don’t have love, I have nothing.”  “I am a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.”  (I used the loudest-sounding translation)  For years I thought nothing of my fellow Christ-followers proclaiming the evil of sin, the final destination of unrepentant sinners.  I saw nothing wrong.  But their focus seemed to change.  I think it became too narrow.  I think it became unloving.  We went back to Jewish legalism, for people who aren’t Jewish, for people who don’t even follow Christ yet, expecting them to live by some hand-picked set of standards out of that Old Testament law code.  Sinners who are well-aware that they are sinners are rightly calling us onto the carpet for it.  It’s not loving.  It’s not gracious.  It’s not Jesus’ method.  And we don’t even live by the letter of the law we’re offering the world.  Well-meaning Christ-followers are blindly falling into it.  It’s wrong.  It’s sin, and some are still ignorant of it, or worse, in denial about it.

I hope you can stay with me, this is going somewhere dramatic.  Trust me.  This is what I’ve been meditating on:

Some Christ-followers are operating under the misconception that sin is a choice.  This has never been true.  The question that came to my mind was, “What is a sinner going to do?”  And obviously, the answer is, “we’re going to sin.” I said “we.”  It’s a radical challenge to what I have heard a lot of well-meaning people trying to teach recently, as if it were the truth. And it’s a drastic change to my prior thought process as well.

Here’s the revelation, if I dare call it that:

Hatred quenches the Spirit of God.  Hatred stops any good from coming out of your part of a situation, no matter how well-intentioned you are.  Your hatred isn’t going to change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  You can tell the truth, without love, and your true words won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes the truth alone can quench the Spirit too.  You can love, tolerating and embracing and accepting, and your love won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes just expressing love quenches the Spirit as well.  A balance of both is required.  Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” but he was also very loving, which is why the people flocked to him.  Nobody but the mob is flocking to certain churches, because they don’t really “love.” They just “truth.”  And sinners who feel affirmed are flocking to churches that embrace the sin as well as the sinner –  flocking to a place where they can hear what they want to hear, nothing uncomfortable, nothing that demands “Go and sin no more,” but that’s equally wrong.  They just “love,” they don’t really “truth.”  As a Christ follower, my message is empty if I deny the sin, just as empty if I embrace and accept the sin along with the sinner.  As much as I want to teach about your sin, or their sin, I feel compelled to confess first, I’ve got a plank in my eye too.  Christ commands anyone who would follow to first repent, or turn away, from sin, and then take up their own cross and follow Him.  I have a hard time with both of these commands.

In Psalm 51:5, the writer says he was conceived in sin, and born into sin.  In Ecclesiastes 7:20 the writer proclaims “there is not a righteous man on earth, who does what is right and never sins.”  Isaiah 53:6 the writer says we’re “like sheep” and we all want to go our own way, but we’re being led the wrong direction by our selfish motives.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10 the writer says we are all crooked, “desperately wicked,” and ultimately God “rewards” us for what we do.  The story doesn’t change from Old to New Testaments.  Romans 3:23 says we’ve all sinned and none of us can even dream of reaching God’s perfect standard, His “glory.”  So we’re all sinners.  From the first time when you’re a baby and mom says “no,” and you do it anyway, or try to do it anyway, it’s sin.  But if we’re going to live by the letter of the law we should be aware of II Corinthians 3:6- the letter of the law brings death, but the spirit (intention) of the law brings life.  The letter of the law, a slavish obedience to an impossible law code, or disobeying the perfect standards of God, only bring us to eternal death.  The spirit of the law, as distilled by Jesus into just two neat commandments, gives life like in John 10:10 and John 14:6.

Guess what?  Nothing can change a sinner into a not-sinner.  We can only resist, with the power that we have inside ourselves, and that’s only if we know something is a sin and we decide we don’t want to do it any more.  It’s more blinding, more powerful, more seductive than alcohol or tobacco or any other drug.  In the flesh, we are all going to fail, and stumble into sin, even the best Christ-followers.  It’s true that we have a choice, but the choice isn’t whether we’re going to sin.  It’s what kind of sin are we going to choose?   Some well-meaning Christ-followers think sin is a choice, but it’s not.  If you believe the Bible, you should believe that we are all born into sin and we have no power to escape without the grace of God.  And some well-meaning Christ followers preach judgement and condemnation and hellfire and brimstone on certain people’s sins, while ignoring others.  Especially their own.  The only way to escape is through the truth in love, which allows the Holy Spirit of God to work on our hearts.

The pharisees used to do that back in Jesus day.  They held people to that impossible standard of behavior, “the truth,” while at the same time treating others without any regard to mercy, or “love,” which was why Jesus was so upset.  He quoted the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  And he specifically told the pharisees, I paraphrase: “On the outside you look great, all freshly whitewashed, just like a tomb.  But on the inside you’re ugly, full of evil things, corruption and rot.”  (Matthew 23:27)  Those pharisees were ignoring their own sins of hatred and pride, while pointing out other people’s specific sins with all kinds of judgement and condemnation.  Sound familiar?

The more I consider it, the less I think of myself, because personally, I am good at the above, because I suck at love, but I know all about truth.  I can hate all day long, and I can use the truth to defend my stronghold and crush the opposition with words, thrown like stones.  I can judge and condemn, just like everyone else.  It’s easy.  I can get all caught up in my fancy proofs of whatever the thing is that I don’t like, either because it’s not my choice of sin, or because no one knows I’m another definition of “sinner.”  There are plenty of sins to habituate.  I’ve picked mine, you’ve picked yours, they’ve picked theirs and we all point fingers at each other.  I have an audience.  They think I’m so good because of the whitewashed outside.  And from there, the mob mentality is too easy to just join in, grab the big rocks along with everyone else, and start flinging.  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you should follow me.  I do it wrong, in my own way, all the time.

That woman “caught in the very act of adultery” was a test case for Jesus.  He let the accusers think on their own hearts and decide if they were sinners themselves.  And he said, after they all left, “where are your accusers?  I don’t condemn you either, but go and sin no more.”  She was about to be stoned to death for her “sin.”  Jesus dismissed the mob though, and then quietly talked with her about her choices.  And Jesus said it was “sin.”  It was the sin of adultery, big enough it made God’s top ten list back in Exodus.  What’s “adultery?”  Any kind of sexual relations outside of “marriage.” And what did Jesus say was “marriage?”  Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 have Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24, validating the text like it’s his own personal stamp of approval. “Marriage,” sorry to say, as defined by God and verified by Jesus, consists of a man and his wife, nothing else.  Anything else is “adultery.”  So I’m not discounting what she did, or what anyone else, including me, does, that God says is wrong, as if that wasn’t sin.  I’m saying we should teach things differently.  We have to dismiss ourselves from the mob mentality, drop our rocks, consider our own thing that we do that’s wrong, and turn away.  I think we lead by example, and who wants to follow a rabid mob that operates based on its’ own standards, judging harshly and without any mercy?

Jesus’ first message to everyone was that we needed to “repent,” which meant to turn away from sin, and go toward God.

I’ll still agree with the mob that sin is evil.  I still agree with the mob that unrepentant sinners go to eternal torment and hopeless separation from God.  But I think we need to shift our message to something different.  Let’s understand, before we preach against one form of sin or another, that we all sin.  That’s the truth, and it makes us more gracious.  It puts the speaker on the same level as the audience.  No denial here:  there is such a thing as “sin.”  Anyone who reads Romans 3:23 will tell you that, and it hasn’t changed from Old Testament Jeremiah 17:9 to Romans 3:23.  The heart is crooked, no one can fix it for themselves.  Only when we get to Romans 6:23 do we realize there’s any hope.  It’s the gift of God, further clarified in Ephesians 2.  We should be teaching that, instead of just the condemnation, the straining of gnats of other people’s small misdeeds, while we pass the camel of our huge self-righteous judgmental hatred.

Romans 9 is quite clear:  Israel’s standards are out of date after Jesus’ sacrifice.  The law isn’t going to save anyone, it’s only going to convict us.  Once we decide to follow Jesus, we can look into what’s important.  I for one don’t want to go back to Israel’s standards.  They had over 600 rules to obey, from clothes to food to how and when to party.  Do I really want to invest the time to figure out how to do, or not do, all of that?  Might be fun to figure out the party schedule.  But I don’t relish the idea of trying to do all the rest.  But until we decide to follow Jesus, there’s no point.  There’s good news from Romans 10:4-13.  Once and for all Jesus paid the price for my past, present, and future sin.  And if I want to follow the teaching of Romans 10:14-15, I should be an ambassador teaching that forgiveness is available through Jesus’ sacrifice.  Not only forgiveness for yesterday, but also the strength to repent, and choose not to sin, for today.  I’m so happy that forgiveness is available, even for a failure like me.  I mess it up every day.  That whitewash I show on the outside is a whitewash.  Ignore it.  It’s nothing.

All you church people, let me challenge you first, like I did myself:  Love first.  Then speak the truth in love.  Don’t leave out either part.  If you do, the audience will miss out.

If I’m nothing without love, I’m nothing without the truth as well.  But with the truth in love, expressed with grace, I bet I’ll see Benefit # 2:  “The power of God  that leads to Salvation” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:16.  Even he put the love first, before he started talking about what was sin and what to do about it.  And after I decide to follow Jesus, Jesus boils it down to a really simple standard without all the nit-picky laws:  Love God wholeheartedly, and love others as I love myself.  I don’t think you can go wrong with those two rules.  I think if we really followed them, we might see other people deciding to follow Jesus, too.  And we all have to figure out how to love God on our own, although we can encourage each other.  That’s why there’s a church and you should go.  Yes, it’s full of us hypocrites- we’ve all stumbled at some point, on the journey of life, while attempting to follow Jesus.  Me included.  But if you come and encourage us, we all might become better Christ-followers.  A good church is welcoming (love) and challenging (truth).  Maybe you think the church isn’t welcoming.  Maybe your church isn’t challenging.  Maybe you aren’t going to a church at all.  I invite you: come and see.  If the first one isn’t welcoming and challenging, maybe the next one will be.  I hope you find a good one.

II Corinthians 5:

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin (Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Pets, Pests, and Protesters June 9, 2014

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It’s not like you can avoid them.  They are aggressive, pushy, and they are on a mission.  They want to get their way and they want you to decide it’s OK for them to do it even if it’s at your expense.  I am not talking about people in traffic today, but if I were, I would report I saw the same kind of people on my 7 mile commute that always seems to take at least 15 minutes longer than it should, at a minimum.  If I drive the same route on a Saturday or Sunday it takes 12 minutes.

No, I mean animals, and protesters.  I can see them in front of pet stores.  “Puppy mills are torture, won’t somebody think of the puppies?”  Adopting a pet sounds like a great idea until you get it home and have to deal with the past traumas and ferocious defenses of an abused animal with adrenalin on overload.  By contrast, we have a pet store that people accuse of getting at least some of their pets from mills.  I keep wondering where they get those magnificent fish.  And the guinea pigs and birds are just too cute.  Hold either of them and see them discharge on your clothes!  Yay!  This place sells totally cute puppies, and also sells adorable cats, which I infinitely prefer.  Sadly, although I love them and would delight to have a few, my last batch of tropicals and my last batch of goldfish died and so I emptied the tank and cleaned it, and haven’t gone back for more.  A cat and a few fish would be more fun to watch than our guinea pigs.  We got one from said pet store, and one from a “breeder” at the state fairgrounds.  So which is worse?  A “breeder” or a “mill?”  Or are they really the same thing?  If the animal rights protester has no evidence or hasn’t seen for themselves, why do they bother protesting something they know nothing about?   Because they’re sheep and they follow the leader.

Animal rights protesters will get right in your face.  They think thousands of years of food, fur blankets and fur coats and leather is more barbaric than practical.  Those commercials on TV should have been debunked by now, as I am sure the shabby looking pictures are mostly rescued pets (think floods and natural disasters), or sick pets or animals that are either currently receiving help or are beyond help.  I want to be sympathetic, but I also know wild animal populations are out of control.  And if it’s leather, or already cut into steaks, the animal is beyond saving.  Canadian geese are so well protected they attack us and we aren’t supposed to do anything about it.  They’ve become permanent residents rather than doing their annual migrations north to south and back again.  The green areas, sidewalks and parking lots are host to their dubiously donated evidence, and woe to you if you’re on your sidewalk and they decided to put a nest nearby.  My tiny back yard is full of those rabbits eating our trees and shrubs and my vegetable gardens.  I got smart this year and put chicken wire around the whole thing, only to find we have, or had, tiny rodents in our garage.  And the rabbits are circling around that chicken wire trying to find a way in.

The rabbits are pushy and aggressive too, although a bit passively aggressive- they run if I open my back door, but they’re hiding behind my kids’ swingset slide, and under my neighbor’s back porches.  They push their way through to, and aggressively consume, any plant they can to get their grubby, selfish little paws on, regardless of the cost to the homeowner. Sorry, animals do not have the right to be in my garden eating my food, or in my house, unless it’s by my invitation.  I haven’t done it, but my neighbor and I have discussed thinning the herd of larger rodents from our backyard chairs.  

The entire Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd skit about whether it is “Wabbit Theathon” or “Duck Season” just flashed through my head.

Bugs Bunny: Would you like to shoot me now or wait ’til you get home? 
Daffy Duck: Shoot him now! Shoot him now! 
Bugs Bunny: You keep outta this! He doesn’t have to shoot you now! 
Daffy Duck: He does SO have to shoot me now! 
Daffy Duck[to Elmer] : I demand that you shoot me now! 
[Daffy sticks his tongue out at Bugs. Elmer shoots.] 

The animal rights people would be furious. They’d be more furious to know I got one of the smaller rodent [deleted]s in my garage last night, and it isn’t a catch and release kind of trap.  There are so many rabbits, we could eat for a while AND have lovely fur coats made for our wives.  And there would still be rabbits cavorting in our back yards.  I want to be sympathetic but I could use a free meal, and they’re all, frankly, thieving and destructive pests.  I suspect the neighbors, and my wife and kids, are feeding them!  (Insert Yosemite Sam style “OOOOOOOH!  Consarn rabbits!”)  I’m resetting the mousetraps tonight just in case the companion comes looking for its’ mate or its’ evening meal.  Holes in my nicely drywalled and insulated garage walls will be repaired after I’m sure they’re all vacated or dealt with.  (Insert another Yosemite Sam “OOOOOOOH!”  Because  THERE’S A COTTON PICKIN’ HOLE IN MY FINISHED GARAGE’S DRYWALL!!) 

I see protesters in front of businesses that people don’t like.  Workers on strike.  Unfair employment practices.  Low pay and no unions allowed.  I want to be sympathetic because I know it’s so hard to find a good job, which is why I work at two and my wife works another.  No comment on how good our jobs are, but I suspect the fact that with college degrees, we still have to work more than one to earn a more-than-poverty annual income says something.

Then there are some who line up and pay travel expenses to protest funerals and other events.  You know them.  In the middle of someone’s grieving process, they want to hijack a private memorial event to make some kind of public political statement.  The protests, about a quarter of a million dollars a year wasted on negative campaigns that make no impact, or raise a counter-protest that only makes things worse.  That’s a quarter of a million dollars a year, that could have been spent on positive social ministries.  This kind of hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, unless it’s the wrong kind of hate speech as deemed wrong by the enforcement community, which seems swayed by the loudest squeaks and the most money.  But do you really want your morality defined by whomever has the most wealth and power, or knows the right legal loopholes to get away with their assault on your rights, or do you want to choose what to believe and think for yourself?

An animal is not the same as a human being.  And therefore I see the protesters in front of abortion mills too.  Bless their hearts. They do save a few human babies from being mercilessly slaughtered.  We look out better for the animals than we do our own species.  It’s a societal problem.  The women’s rights movement says it’s the woman’s body, I say, yes it is.  They say what if it was rape?  No problem.  You pays your money and you makes your choice.  It’s entirely legal for you to do whatever you want, and when it’s not you can always find a back-alley butcher like Douglas Karpen or Kermit Gosnell to do it late term.  I can’t tell you the far reaching consequences.  I have my own moral choice and I stand behind it, and you have your right within the law to do whatever you want as long as it’s legal.  I say it’s your right, not that it’s right.

An ounce of prevention may be obtained at your local gas station bathroom, for about $0.75 or $1.00.  If you don’t want a baby, but you want the action, prevention is easy.  They’re teaching that in schools now, a whole lot more freely than I was taught in high school.  All I learned in High School was how it worked, and the diseases and infestations you could get from sharing your time, and… um… talents, too liberally or with the wrong partner.  Our health teacher said he recommended orange juice.  Instead of extramarital um… activities.  It’s refreshing, the vitamins are good for you, it’s cheaper than raising a baby and safer than going to a doctor for a “procedure.”  And even with prevention there are no 100% guarantees.  

Adultery means anything “Extramarital,” which means anything outside of marriage, which by the way was #7 on God’s top 10 list of things not to do.  Don’t murder, that is to say one human killing another human, was #6.  Fortunately for us humans, though we all make mistakes, sometimes even big ones, there is grace to be had for all repentant sinners.  This, finally, brings me to the actual inspiration for today’s blog.

Ever been broadsided by God’s love?

I wish I was more like Jesus, in the way I met people.  I wish other people were too.  If I carried a megaphone to be heard by an audience and started yelling on the street, that there were huge potholes ahead and to slow down, or if the bridge was out and there were no signs from the police up yet, or there’s a speed trap ahead, would your reaction differ than if I were an animal rights protester, a “human rights” protester of any kind, an itinerant street preacher, or broadsided you with a blog?

If I did it like Jesus, you’d hardly know where I was coming from.  You wouldn’t suspect a thing, until I got to the punch line, or until you were already in my clutches and then SNAP!  The HUG FROM GOD would be upon you!  The gentle instruction to repent, the loving forgiveness of past sin.  The promise of future judgement to the unrepentant.

Oh, those tricky keyword “tags.”  If you set up yourself to follow or check blogs by keyword tags, you get what you get.  I can broadside you with the Gospel because my last article was about stupid traffic, how beautiful people are, about my car or my life falling apart, or how random my day or my brain was or is.  If only I knew exactly what to say to let people know how beautiful they are, and how much God loves them, and that there are potholes and pitfalls and speed traps and natural consequences ahead of them in life, and in the afterlife, depending on their choices. 

If I did, I don’t think I would go with the megaphone and the protest route.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as your assembly remains peaceful and orderly and lawful.  In America, you have the right to do whatever is legal, and I have no problem with that.  I used to speak out about such things, but frankly I don’t care enough any more.  Plus it’s not my job as I’m not a paid speaker.  I’m a person of peace, and I don’t like it when bullies try to tell me what to do, or shove themselves and their rights ahead of myself and my rights, as if I were somehow less important than they.  Although I make a value judgement and a personal choice, and a vote, I have no legitimate protest against you until you take my rights, or the rights of another human being away, in the name of expressing your rights.  While you are driving by or parked in your car, I may not like the “music” that is blasting from your subwoofers at top volume, but I’m not going to say anything about it.  I’ll leave it to law enforcement to determine if it is outside an acceptable decibel range.  I’d rather you not blast your free speech, including your expletives, all over my kids and me, but you probably have a right to do that.  As long as the sound doesn’t break my windows, and you came to pass and not to stay, I guess that’s fine.  But if your subwoofers or some garage band decide to burst into loud song at 11PM on a school night, don’t expect me to join the party.  I’m calling the cops to ask them to gently let you know you’re interfering with my right to sleep.

We have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to practice our religion and not one chosen by our government for us. Among other freedoms.  This is what I love about America.  But more and more, Mainstream Christianity seems to be becoming demonized from all fronts- their own moral judgments are seen as intolerant, even if they just teach it in a gentle and loving way.  And there’s guilt by association even if there isn’t association, with the more radicalized sects.  For instance, if I said I was a Baptist, or attended a Baptist church, wouldn’t you, in the back of your mind, wonder if I was like those Baptists?  Or if I said I believe the normal average law abiding citizen has the right to defend their home and family, would you presume I was one firearm away from a barricaded Utah, Texas, Montana, or Colorado commune?  I’m free to say it, you’re free to think it.  It’s your right.  But it isn’t necessarily right.

And if I set up a “cultural display of religious art” whether I call it religious or not, from any other religion than Christianity, would there be a public outcry to tear it down?  If I set up a nativity in the school, there is.  But if I set up a macrame representation of Shiva, in the school, nobody says a word.  Why is any other religion promoted and provided greater largess and freedom than mine?  I love art and artistic expression.  I also love people and believe they have the legal right to do what they will, within the confines of the law and public decency.  But I think that freedom should be across the cultural board, not limited for some and freely expressed by others.  I think Christianity is hated with as much hatred as is legally allowed, and occasionally that hatred steps into illegal grounds.  

At church, the pastor and deacons and leadership should have the right to decide what goes on, and I can choose whether to attend and presumably abide by their behavioral expectations.  In the Boy Scouts, another private organization, apparently they don’t, which frightens me a little bit about the future. That’s an interesting legal opinion that seems to enforce the world’s standards on a private organization and restrict their rights.  But for now while it’s still legal, in my own home and on my own private property I want the right to decide what goes on.  The behavior of immigrant rodents shall be restricted by any legal means.  Which means, for the rabbits, I may have to wait for “wabbit theathon” and get a license, to do whatever is legal and responsible with them, within the confines of my property’s borders.  Fortunately, mousetraps can be purchased almost anywhere and they don’t have to be the catch and release kind.

::As Simpson’s Helen Lovejoy::  “Please, won’t somebody think of the field mice?!  Such inhumane cruelty!”

SNAP!!

Note to people, including those “religious protesters:”  I’m not a pest and I hope you don’t choose to be one either.  My opinion is that God is loving and merciful and gracious, for now.  You have an open invitation to learn about that, and how to behave in response.  And if you don’t accept the invitation, I don’t care as long as you’re in the field not bothering me or interfering with my life.  I’ve said my piece, and offered you what I know, and now I leave you to God’s care and choice to bless or not.  If you ask me for an opinion I’ll offer it.  I think that’s tolerant of me, and I hope you’re equally tolerant of letting me do what I legally do without telling me what I can’t or shouldn’t do.  Do what you want, but I don’t think it’s news and I don’t necessarily care to see it or hear about it.  And again, it may be your “right,” but that doesn’t make it right.  Mostly I think I can express my opinion by saying many “sins” are the result of us deciding to go our own way and ignoring or refusing the design the Designer had in mind, even if it’s an obvious design.  That includes my own sins.  The potential consequences, and the occasional mercy of God, become equally obvious with a careful examination.  That’s not hate speech, it’s just my opinion, which is worth as much as anyone else’s.

Note to readers:  until it’s not lawful I’m going to continue to express myself and espouse (mainly) the love of God.  Sorry if you don’t like that kind of preaching, it may be just a phase I’m going through.  We’ll get back to fun and merriment soon.  Wait.  Nevermind, this blog was never about fun and merriment.  Fun and merriment in my thoughts is only an entirely random event and not guaranteed to occur.  But it’s possible.

Note to field mice and other vermin of all stripes everywhere:  God is loving and merciful and gracious, but I am not.  Don’t be a pest.  I don’t care as long as you’re in the field, but avoid my house at your life’s peril.  

::As Elmer Fudd::  Note to wabbits:  Stay away fwom my pwants.  Owe I might bwast ya!  

Who am I kidding?  If they’ve read this blog, they know I don’t have a gun!  You say rabbits can’t read?  

 

Memorial Day 2014 May 27, 2014

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My son went to a local cemetery this weekend, where, as a service project, he and his fellow Boy Scouts planted hundreds of flags to commemorate American veterans buried there.  This was not a military cemetery, and for a non-military cemetery, to me it seemed like there was a high proportion of military to non-military.  I followed along behind the scouts, finding a few here and there that had been missed by the over-excited scouts as they scattered to carry out their assigned tasks.  The few markers that were missed were small and harder to notice than the bold lettering on the grave markers.  I went to church, too.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so naturally I also watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  And after it cooled down on Monday, I worked in the yard.

At church, our pastor spoke well about wealth and how Christ-Followers ought to handle it.  As I am currently outside of that circle, I confess to have really tried to tune it out.  But what he said, to those with money, was a good message.  He wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the subject of Memorial Day, but was following the track of preaching through his texts systematically, verse by verse, currently in Matthew 6.  A couple of weeks ago he had spoken about prayer and fasting.  I often wonder what visitors think if they come on holidays, and if they came Sunday, they probably made our church out to be another one of those that always talk about money and how we ought to give more out of our abundance.  But on the contrary, messages about money are pretty rare at this one. He tied it in a little by saying that how we use our money shows our character, and our character tells others how we will be remembered.  Do we leave a godly legacy behind, or a monument to self that is destroyed and stolen?

I thought while I was working in the yard about how people try to fake it through life.  They say one thing, but their lives, and their checkbooks, say something different.  I pulled thistles from my yard, tucked in and hidden in the corners, and I looked at them thinking about how they try to stay inconspicuous until they are huge.  While they are small, they might be mistaken for ordinary dandelions, but when they grow bigger, the thorns become more obvious.  And if allowed to mature, the blue flowers don’t match the sunny yellow dandelion.  This then, was the explanation of another text, where Jesus defends his ministry by teaching “by their fruits you will know them.”  The same Jesus told sinners to turn away from sin, told hypocrites off after He called them out, and once made a whip to redirect the livestock, and flipped over tables in the temple when they were selling grace to people who could afford it at their prices.  He didn’t fake it.  When He loved he loved, and when He didn’t like a behavior He told people to leave it and follow Him.  He called out the hypocrites because they had a counterfeit religion based on fear and power and money, not on love and helping others. 

I keep pulling the weeds of sins- temptations, bitterness, complaining, etc., out of my life, and they keep seeding my lawn like maple samaras, or “helicopter” seeds.  We have two of those trees.  I raked and my wife swept in the cool of the day Monday, and we got a lot.  But there are too many to pull every one of them up from the grass, so if any try to take root, I’ll have to mow them down.

And while the viewing of Revenge of the Sith is not my normal habit on Memorial Day weekend, it did give me something interesting to think about.  We have counterfeit weeds masquerading as dandelions, we have counterfeit lives masquerading as “good people,” and we have counterfeit religions masquerading as the real thing.  In the movie, Emperor Palpatine revealed his evil, powerful nature when pretending to be good and weak were no longer needed.  He was a counterfeit, like so many of us are in real life, pretending to be good and humble, but when given the opportunity our dark, pride-filled hearts are revealed.  Hear Lord Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, tell his “legendary” story of his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis:  “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.”  

How curiously close to another familiar quote:  “He saved others; but he can’t save himself,” found in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23.  The people thought Jesus was starting another counterfeit religion and mocked him in his “powerlessness,” not realizing what was happening around them.  When your religion, or your idol, is power, you pursue that and your life becomes memorialized by your pursuit of power, with all of its’ truth and consequences.  In the end, our pursuit of money and power becomes empty and we are gone, spent on that.  Jesus’ religion on the contrary was about giving up power- Matthew 17:25, Luke 9:24 and Luke 17:33- in order to see how powerful He is.  Because He saved others, and because He returned from death, he was evidently able to not only save others, but also himself.  “Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit,” said Jesus, quoted in Luke 23.  And then He laid it down.  It wasn’t taken from Him; (John 10:17-18) he was in control the whole time.  Strength, real power, isn’t always seen in showy displays, rumbling thunder, lightning, earthquakes like on Sinai in the Exodus wilderness.  Sometimes it’s shown by restraint, and keeping it under control.

With religion, one has to be careful to search it out and compare diligently, to make sure it’s not a counterfeit.  The real one won’t change with the times, and the bending ideologies of humans, if it’s the same God behind it.  The real one won’t have contradictions in teaching.  The real one, if followed, should be applicable to everyone, available to everyone, and make us better for following it. The real one will tell us God loves us, and we should love one another, yes, but will also honestly address and deal with the problem of sin without trying to make us work for salvation.  Because, how would we ever know if we’ve done enough good works or prayed enough prayers?  If the leader says you haven’t done enough, won’t you do more to earn your salvation?  How far will you go with that?  Will you do a bad thing, or sanction a bad thing, because your leader or your peer group said it’s good?  (Isaiah 5:20)  Will you hate other people because they don’t agree with what you believe, instead of loving them and merely hating the sinful behaviors they choose and habituate or endorse?  What about your own (what about my own?) habits that you know are bad?  Aren’t they just as bad if your God is perfect and sinless?  Better for us to adjust to the side of grace, if we’d like to receive grace ourselves.  God changes people, not by external commandment, but from inside, from the heart.  Counterfeit religion is made up by men as they go along, and will reveal impure motives of acquiring money, power or popularity, eventually.  It’ll be exposed.  Some even teach that killing another person, as long as it’s done for God, is all right, when we know from universally accepted standards of right and wrong that, basically, killing other people is bad.  Some have even written their own Bibles or extra “holy books,” or rewritten the one we have, to support their specific claims.  As good as any religion may sound, the origin of true religion that reaches God has to come from God.  If they make, or have made, a prophecy, it must have come true to be of the truth.  If it didn’t, it’s a lie.  Count the religions which predicted Jesus’ return that hasn’t happened yet.  Counterfeit religion also frequently concerns itself with outside appearances, more than on the heart.  Count the religions that say you have to dress and act this way and submit to their authority without question, to get to heaven.  There have been a number of cults that ended very badly by submitting to whatever the leader said to do.  By contrast, the Bereans in Acts searched the scriptures diligently to find out if what Paul was teaching was the truth.

In some ways, money would make it easier to make ourselves look good.  We can give larger sums of money to charity.  We can buy suits or pretty dresses, fancy cars, big houses, have facial surgery to delay the appearance of aging.  We can pay people to say nice things about us that cover over the negative things we’ve done.  In my line of work there is something called a “media search” where companies pay us to search the internet, periodicals, and other media, for comments about people.  Where there is defamatory information, one can pay to have positive things posted to make the negative harder to find.  

In my own life, I could search for myself and find a certain famous Australian singer from American Idol, season 7.  Under cover of his fame, my infamy- my blogs and my online games- are pretty much obscured unless you know what you’re looking for and have a good idea where to find it- but I do like Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, and Pacxon.  And my blatant faithlessness and other sins against God and family are as secret as my family will keep them, since I couldn’t pay to avoid any blackmail.  If they come out I may as well confess in advance:  it’ll probably all be true.  When I fail, which happens all the time, I ask God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  I would hope others would know that when we follow in faith, and ask, according to First John 1:9, God is faithful to forgive and clean us up, and start us on the right path again.  Thank God.

I followed behind the young scouts, looking for the less obvious markers on the graves.  I did it with the motive that if a veteran’s family came by, they wouldn’t think poorly of the scouts for having missed the one.  But God’s not really doing anything to make a church look good.  I think God will pay attention to the markers in our lives that are smaller and easier to miss than the grand, showy displays of power, like people who give out of their abundance.  He won’t pay attention to the things we do to draw attention to ourselves.  He will look for people who do what is right when no one is watching, who give in spite of their own needs.  He will look for genuine faith from people who trust and hope and give their all in spite of all the odds.  And He will make sure they are remembered.  And thanks to His efforts and restraint on the cross, my sins are covered and my debt to God is paid in full.  If He remembers nothing of what I have done because it’s been covered, I think it’s fine as long as my feet get on the right side of those pearly gates.

In the sermon, the joke about money was at the expense of the rich miser who didn’t give much at church.  (I had to laugh thinking, did the rich guys at our church listen as I did?)  His mansion was said to be smaller than the maid’s and the butler’s who gave out of their need.  St. Peter quipped of the small heavenly hovel, “we did the best we could with what you sent us.”  And maybe it’s true, the mansion is smaller when the sacrifices made aren’t sacrifices.  I don’t care about the size of any mansion or hovel; I just don’t want to be homeless in eternity, or to have too much heat, all year, if you know what I mean.

While remembering the fallen, laid to rest in their graves, I can’t help but remember that Jesus promised that we would follow where He went.  Then, He showed us death isn’t the end, and following Him means from the grave to the heavens (John 14:3).  

 

I want to follow Jesus, and His way of Love.  So I pray, Lord Jesus, lead the way, and help me follow.

My Mite, His Might May 14, 2014

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On Saturday I witnessed the first communion of my niece and nephew.  As a Protestant I was surprised to feel so very welcomed and included.  And I was pleased with the encouragements being offered to parents and young, new communicants.  The clothes were elegant.  The language in the pew before and behind our family was unmistakeably Polish.  The grandparents and parents beamed with pride, and hope, and love.  The singing was scattered, but led well and played and sung loudly enough one didn’t have to notice if their neighbor didn’t sing.

My Mother-In-Law declined to partake in communion, saying her knees were unfaithful and she was afraid of the trip from pew to altar.  I stayed by her, mercifully pardoned the lonely embarassment of being Protestant in a crowd of Catholics.  Their worship books in the pew have provisions for non-Catholic participation in communion.  It’s done by special written permissions from the higher church authorities.  Or, it’s done by presumptuous people who don’t know you’re supposed to get permission if you haven’t been through their instruction programs.  I know too much to participate with a clear conscience.  But they were so welcoming!  From what the priest said, all were to be included in the special occasion.  I felt that I could have gone right up and received the elements.  It would have been very awkward for me though.

After the celebratory parade of new communicants and the faithful participated in the communion rite, what the priest had to say reduced me to tears.  Not because of what he said.  But because of what it meant to me.  I kind of simultaneously love and hate when God says stuff and seems to aim it directly at my hard, faithless, doubting heart. 

The text was John 6.  When Jesus tried to get away with his disciples just for a chance to break away from healings and other ministries, a crowd followed them and just when they sat down, the crowds were coming in a swarm, almost upon them.  Jesus knew they were coming and knew what he wanted to do all along.  He asked the disciples to figure out how to feed everyone.  They counted the cost, about a half a year’s wages or more, and knew they didn’t have that kind of cash. 

A little boy offered them his lunch.  5 small barley bread loaves and two fish.  The priest asked what the kids thought the disciples were thinking.  They gave various responses.  “It’s not enough.”  “What will the boy eat?”  And the priest only told about the disciple’s response of how much it would cost to feed the crowd. 

I read the text and they joked, I think with not a little sarcasm, amongst themselves, “oh, great.  That’ll go really far!”  But the kid offered it.  It was an offering far too small to meet the need, and it was offered because the innocent boy had faith.

Ever read the story of “the widow’s mite?”  See Mark 12, Luke 21.  That lady gave, down to her last lepton.  I don’t spend a lot of money.  What I earn mostly goes into the checking and out to bills.  But if I ever get any extra, and it isn’t spent on my wife or kids, I think it’s hilarious to empty my wallet (usually a buck or five is all I have) into the offering box.  My son saw me do that once and he was worried.  “DON’T!!  What if you need that?!”  I said “God and I have an arrangement.  I won’t need that.”  And since I don’t go out to eat normally, and rarely need anything for myself, if it makes it into my wallet, chances are, I won’t. Besides, it’s only a tiny mite, and I don’t want anyone to make a big deal about it, because it’s no big deal. No one is blowing trumpets to announce my giving (please).  I once went the whole week with a $20 in my wallet while my wife and kids were away from home.  My gas tank was filled before they left, I cooked my own meals and brought them with me to work and cooked at home, and when they came back I still had the $20.  So I have times when I live like a miser.  But there are other times when money goes like water and I can liquidate a hundred or two.

Like at the gas station, for instance.

The priest never specifically mentioned the faith of the little boy. He never mentioned the sarcasm of the faithless adult disciples, who obviously didn’t know Who they were hanging around with. But to silence their faithless sarcasm, not only did Jesus feed the crowd of 5000 men, not including women and children, he had the disciples go around and collect the leftovers. Not just one basket, but twelve. Not 13, He’s not wasteful. So that meant there was enough for one more meal of fish and bread for the disciples to enjoy.

About eating your words? In your face, faithless sarcasm. God can do anything He wants, even if the offering is far too small. I thought through this. And at that point in my thought process, I wept, right in the middle of my in-law’s first communion, in the Catholic church. My heart is broken, my wallet and my checkbook always only has an offering far too small. Lately, it’s been a harsh, brutal, difficult journey of getting into debt, with creditors now calling several times a day. Where do they get the money to keep up the attacks? We got call tracing on our phone and we don’t answer any more. The debts started accruing when I got a job that doesn’t pay enough and we tried to preserve the value of one of our cars and it ended up needing to be replaced in spite of our repair efforts and our investments toward it. It’s only gotten deeper from there. The interest rate is too high and we’re hardly able to make that, not to mention the principle we borrowed to start with.

So, Jesus, I have what I have, and I earn what I earn, and think in my sarcastic, bitter heart, “Oh great. That’ll cover a lot of the debt. Good luck with that, vultures. I mean bankers.” I don’t have enough. But like the widow and the boy with the single lunch, I need You to feed these vultures at my door and on my phone, and could You leave a few baskets behind for me and the family? I’ll cheerfully eat my sarcasm and bitter faithlessness if You’ll multiply the tiny offerings I have. From my perspective, there are too many details for which money is the answer, and not enough to cover the costs. But from God’s perspective and plan, perhaps the proverbial “lunch” I have to offer can be blessed and multiplied somehow.

Readers, I’ll let you know when He answers. And I’ll let you know what He says, too. Right now He’s pretty quiet. Maybe He’s waiting for them to sit down. Maybe there’s still something I’m supposed to learn. But He can do anything. This I know. My mite is still going to go into the offering, because it’s still ridiculously hilarious. I just pray He covers me, and multiplies my mite with His Might.

Human Strength and Frailty April 17, 2014

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We are so strong. We can endure some amazing things. Listen to older people tell stories of endurance, and I don’t mean the ones where they say they walked uphill 26 miles to school and uphill 26 miles back again. I mean the ones about the heroes who lived through wars and tortures and starvation and poverty and mans inhumanity to his fellow man. I mean the ones where the person worked from sun-up to sun-down and then came home and took care of family and home because no one else cared. There are stories about people saving others from fire, from water, from war, surviving icy exposure, desert heat, bullet holes and concentration camps.

And we are so frail. A little tiny bacteria or virus can kill you, without the correct antibodies or antibiotics or antivirals. A little tiny appendix can kill you without the correct surgery. Your heart may just up and quit one day, or even explode under the pressure of life. Your teeth. A little food particle gets caught in there too long, and you’ve got decay. Your lungs. A little cancer cell starts to multiply in the fertile, smoky environment, and you’re dead. Your liver. A little alcohol, and a little more, and pretty soon that thing is riddled with holes and all you want is a little more and a little more. A little ulcer on the stomach, a little tiny kidney stone, a little corn or heel spur or cold sore or… You get the picture. We’re good, but tiny tiny things will mess us up.

Steel shows similar traits. It’s strong, and if it’s made correctly, can cut through anything. Ginsu, or Sheffield Steel, or Chicago Cutlery, anyone? But let a little water sit on that long enough and it’ll rust. From water. Something as soft and gentle and necessary as water can destroy something so strong and dull something so sharp. Something so small, causes such great destruction.

One of my friends is a preacher, and he’s a dynamo. He’s just good. He can share a message from the Lord, and deliver the fire until your hat’s on fire with blessings, or your tails on fire from knowing what you did. We have the same kind of heart, in fact we’ve talked on several occasions and seen, that although we don’t spend time together, the same spiritual thread is weaving through both of our spirits. We may see one another once a week or two at work in our secular jobs. But something is wrong. Doctors are working on him, trying to figure out how to control epilepsy.

In the New Testament, if it were written in the modern era, they would have called certain demonic fits “epilepsy.” And they would call certain skin and nerve diseases “leprosy,” and others by their medical names In the Old Testament you can read about stuff like this and how the root cause was probably not so much an outer manifestation of the body or the skin, but an outer manifestation of some hidden sin.

I don’t think there’s sin in that man’s life. And yet I know there is because all have sinned. Still, we have medicine, a gift from God, with modern technology, another gift from God, to help us understand where these medical conditions come from and how to treat them. We’ve come leaps and bounds in treating things like AIDS and Parkinson’s and Epilepsy and Influenza and tooth decay. If there’s a bigger sinner, it’s me. All I can do though is pray for him, so the doctors figure out the small thing that’s causing the bigger symptoms to happen, and a way to control that. I love that guy like he was my own brother, and I don’t have any brothers in real life. I think he’s awesome as a husband and father, and as a friend and preacher too. And I think, that like the man who was born blind, the weakness is in him to show off how strong God is.

We are so strong, we have these endurances, and yet, we are so weak. Jesus had the cures back in the day, and he also knew the hearts. I wish we knew what He did, and how He did it. But sadly, most faith healers are either fakers, or flashes in the pan. All we can do is pray for each other. When my friend had a seizure at work, it was pretty scary. He was standing, reeling, lurching, trying to walk around but his body and his mind were failing to work right. All I could do was pray for him to be set free.

And then the most awesome thing happened. Before the seizure released him, his team all stood around him, closely, surrounding him, preventing him from falling and injuring himself. They put themselves at risk because he could have lashed out and hurt one of them. But they protected him from himself until the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital. And then their gentle, human shield of protective restraint was replaced by straps and a gurney and medical professionals. That is probably the most beautiful and profound demonstration of “community” I have ever seen.

I need friends to surround me, to help me, and to protect me from the little things I can’t see, and can’t fix myself, that are making life spin so out-of-control. And so do we all. I hope we all have a group of that kind of friends, and also friends who will pray for the little things to let go so we can fix whatever’s broken and move on.