Tuesday, September 19, 2017

If I Could Only Hide My Head in the Sand

Most of us have been told that you can't discuss politics and religion in mixed company. As a rule I don't discuss either in a public forum such as Facebook. I regularly engage people in those types of discussions but as a rule I avoid those types of forums because misinterpretation is too easy and they generally degenerate into clich├ęs and name-calling, all of which accomplish nothing of much consequence. 

But today I am going to break that rule. 

Over the course of the last few days my Facebook feed has been overwhelmed with stories of the supposed "Return of Jesus/End of the World." I did a little research and discovered that no reputable Biblical scholar holds this view and that one must turn some truly incredible theological summersaults to even come close to such a conclusion. This conclusion is achieved by mixing numerology, mythology, and such a bizarre reading of scripture that one would have to believe that sitting in the garage makes one a Honda. 

That wonderful bit of intellectual suicide was followed by another friend, a person whom I respect greatly, deciding to debate the role of women in the church....on Facebook. He used a specific passage of Scripture and then threw open the door for "discussion." I read some of the responses, sighed, and then hid the post. There was little regard for the Word in most of the responses and even less respect for differing opinions. 

And then to continue my two days of lunacy....I recently ordered a book from Amazon. I frequently order things from Amazon, the prices are generally lower and I don't have to drive over an hour to the closest Christian bookstore. This was a Christian theology book written by a well-known Christian author. I have developed a practice through the years of reading the endorsements of a particular book as well as the foreword of those books. This particular foreword was written by another Christian pastor and author. The foreword identified the author as an "evangelical superstar" in the very first sentence.

I almost threw the book away. "Evangelical superstar"? Excuse me, but I thought that the only superstar in Christendom was Jesus. But maybe that's part of what's wrong with the church today, we've made superstars out of mere men. The is a very real celebrity culture in Christianity today and it measures celebrity in the same ways the secular culture does. What does it say when a man is trumpeted as "America's pastor" has no theological training and has no real knowledge of biblical doctrine. I would dare to say that Jesus wouldn't be a "superstar" in today's culture...or Paul, for that matter. We have forgotten, either by deliberate choice or by neglect, that Jesus lived his live in the embrace of the outcast, giving his life for those whom others had judged to be unworthy. 

And then, as I listened to a podcast this morning I was made aware of a statement made by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2013. The Archbishop stated "I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven..." (Washington Times, July 26, 2013). I can only shake my head. 

Self-styled "prophecy experts," "evangelical superstars," and bishops who care nothing for the Word of God...what have we come to and where are we going? Without the Word of God the church is nothing more than a country club, which is what many of our churches have become. The Word of God is the plumb-line for our faith, that which all doctrine and teaching is to be measured against. The reason that the church has become so ridiculed and ineffective in our world is because we have abandoned the Word of God, both in our pulpits and in our personal lives. 

God forgive us.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thinking About Old Friends

This morning in my devotional reading I read 2 Samuel chapter 1. This chapter records David receiving the news of the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. David's response is heartfelt, genuine and powerful. 

As I usually do, I recorded my thoughts and reactions to this passage of Scripture. I felt that I should share them with you. 

David's heart was broken by the death of Jonathan. The two men shared a friendship that was deep and affecting - and one-sided by human standards. A study of their friendship shows just how disparate these two men were; one a royal prince, the other a simple shepherd. Jonathan had before him all the glories and riches of a kingdom, David watched sheep and played the lyre.  One was schooled by the finest minds in the kingdom, the other went to Vo-Tech and got a degree in shepherding. These two men could hardly be more different in position and background. 

But Jonathan and David shared something that is not learned by instruction alone: they shared a godly character. These two young men exemplified what godly character is all about. Their hearts were bent towards the LORD, each with a desire to honor Him. Their character was forged in the heart. True character is not a matter of instruction alone...almost all of us are taught right and wrong, but few of us seem well versed in its proper application. Character development requires more than instruction, it also requires demonstration. David probably had character modeled for him by his father and Jonathan may have seen character demonstrated for him by the prophet Samuel. Regardless of who it was, someone demonstrated godly character to these two when they were young, and the result was a life of blessing. 

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of their friendship was the selflessness that both of these men demonstrated. Each put the other's welfare ahead of their own. They were willing to lay their lives down for the other without regards to the cost. They each sought better for the other than they sought for themselves. In this sense they serve as an example of another who sought the benefit of others above his own:

Philippians 2:5-8
5  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

These two men weren't perfect, far from it, but they demonstrate what is possible between men when the Spirit of God fills both. The best of human relationships are fallen and none of us are capable of Christlikeness on our own, but when the Spirit of God lies within the hearts of both amazing things are possible. 

It occurs to me that one of the problems in American society in our day is that we lack true character (not characters, there are plenty of those). Our leaders, in churches and in especially in politics, seem less concerned with character than with personal advancement. Perhaps that is why we seem to be so...lost.

I believe that what we need are more men and women of godly character. Leaders willing to sacrifice self for others, willing to love with a sacrificial love willing to follow the example of Christ. I have been blessed to know men and women with that character, and I am blessed to have friends with whom I share a friendship like that of Jonathan and David. Oh that our country would know more of that. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Hard Part of Forgiveness

This is a picture of my mom taken when she was 25. By my reckoning I was 2 or 3 years old at the time. My mother died last week at the age of 78. Cancer      
had ravaged her body throughout and she made the decision in November of last year to discontinue her  treatments. It took cancer to move me to reestablish a  relationship with her, to attempt to learn who she wa
 and who she had become. I discovered as much about  myself as I did about her. To understand, or perhaps it is better to say to begin to understand the words that will follow requires me to cover familiar territory for some of you. 

My childhood was far from normal. My parents had a difficult relationship that included abuse and neglect of both his spouse and son. My father was an enigmatic man of great talents but also great failings. His was a difficult   upbringing that I don’t believe he ever made peace with, and those unresolved issues bled into every area of his life. Eventually their marriage fell apart, my mother leaving him in the summer of 1976. Through a series of hard to understand events I found myself with no family shortly after my 16th birthday. My parents never reconciled, their marriage finally dissolved by my father’s death in 1983.

There was little to no communication with either parent and for many years I was unaware of either’s whereabouts. Needless to say, this created lots and lots of unanswered questions. I had a poor opinion of both for a number of years, until hearing from an aunt who finally began to provide me with some of the answers that I had wanted for so long. This interaction with my aunt reignited in me a desire to answer those questions that had haunted me for so long, questions about rejection and reasons and fears of being a man I didn’t want to be.

My mother seldom gave me the answers I sought. She didn’t want to reopen old wounds. She had remarried and was building a new life. To be honest, for a long time I held hard feelings towards her over that. I needed answers about my father and why she permitted the things that happened. I came to understand that my mother had been a buffer between my father and I, that she had taken many blows intended for me and had taken the brunt of many blows intended for me. I came to understand that she left me behind, in part, so that I could have the stability that a 16 year old needed, that she trusted my soon to be adopted parents to be able to provide for me what she could not. I cannot say that it was a noble act, but it was not as calloused as I had come to believe.

In the 34 years since my father died my mother was able to piece her life back together. She married again, a man who loved her and cared for her. They were good for each other. She had found a way to break free of the chains of her past.  She discovered faith in Christ and turned her life around. She made an impact on many people. She became someone I did not know. The question was and is....can I break free of the memory as I have held it all these years?

As Christians we are called to forgive, and I believe that most of us genuinely try to forgive others. But we all have trouble forgetting. Genuine forgiveness involves forgetting the offense, to choose to no longer hold the offense against the person we have forgiven. There can be no true forgiveness without forgetting. I had to choose to forget the past, unanswered questions and all, if I was to truly embrace forgiveness for both my parents. I had allowed my memories to color how I thought about and how I related with my mother, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately. My mother had become a different, a better person, and I was unwilling to let her be that person. I limited my love and forgiveness for her by the memory I chose to keep alive, and nobody suffered for it but me.

As I spent a few days last week at my mother’s I came to realize that my mother had become the person she was always meant to become. She had been molded by her experiences into someone who made a difference in the lives of others. She allowed what was to pass and became someone I had never given her the freedom to become because I would not forget.

Sometimes it’s not so much who we need to forget but the memory we hold of them.

Rest in Peace, mom. We all will miss you, even me.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Fresh Starts and New Years

Fresh Starts and New Years

I’ve seen a few New Years in my lifetime. That doesn’t mean anything other than I’m getting older, which really only means that I was pretty adept at dodging cars while playing in the street as a child. I have also made my share of New Year’s resolutions throughout the years, but I don’t do that much anymore because I came to the conclusion that anything worth making a resolution about was probably serious enough to just go ahead and do.
Having said that, I will take up your time and mine today by sharing some hopes and resolutions for 2017:

1. I resolve to be a giver of cheer this year. Those who know me would agree that I am usually a glass half full type of person. The last two years have made an outlook more and more difficult, but as a Christian I need to remember that God is still such in control and that the word “oops” is not in His vocabulary. Everything comes into our lives for a reason and according to His purposes (even the bad stuff) and it’s high time that I began reminding myself of that and living in accordance to the confidence that knowledge gives me. When I remember to have that outlook I will find that my life will begin to bring joy to the lives of others once again.

2. I resolve to be more thankful this year.  It’s too easy to slip into an attitude of ungratefulness (is that a word?...spell check thinks it is). I/we live in the greatest country in the world, regardless of who’s President, and we have more to be thankful for than anyone else in the world. We need to quit thinking of what we don’t have and comparing our lives to others and considering just how blessed we truly are. Thankfulness flows out of hearts that are focused properly.

3.  I resolve to sing more this year. There is no better therapy for the blues or the blahs than lifting up your voice in a song. I’m blessed with the ability to sing pretty well but I don’t use that talent as often as I should. I have decided to change that. It doesn’t matter whether you have lots of talent or not....well, maybe it does (I suggest the car and the shower for those who don’t have a lick of ability in this regard). You don’t have to only sing church songs, sing love songs, country songs, silly songs (some of my favorites)...just sing! I guarantee your heart will feel better because you did.

4. I resolve to journal this year. This is the toughest one of all for me. I have had a truly “on again, off again” relationship with journaling (and blogging; truth be told). But I have come to realize that one of the reasons that the tough times have gotten to me is that I have a super-short memory when it comes to God’s work in my life in the past. The simple act of recording my thoughts about the day will give me a reference to look back to when the tough times threaten to overwhelm me and that’s a great thing.

5. I resolve to pray more this year and talk less. Nobody stays around long when a person is constantly complaining about their situation or is always being critical of others. The people in my life who are the toughest for me to be around are folks just like that. Therefore I have decided that from this day on I will take my concerns and complaints to God rather than sharing them unnecessarily with other. Gods a better listener and when I shut up long enough to really listen to Him I discover that He gives far better advice that any  of you...or me.
And lastly:

6. I resolve to speak more words of appreciation and affection. I desire to become someone who give others hope and not discouragement, joy and not sorry. In short, I want to be someone others want to be around because I help them find joy in their lives.

Is it too forward of me to say that I hope these would by your resolutions as well?

Happy New Year