Thursday, August 17, 2017

Take a stand

This blog is a little tough to write. It will cause disruption at the least, hate quite possible, and the loss of friends a possibility. I need however to speak my mind on something that is rooted in evil itself, spans our history, and has come again to prominence.

Groups such as the Neo-Nazis, Skinheads, KKK, and White Nationalists, like a multi-headed serpent, have again come to a very vocal and violent presence in our country and world. Even though they should be shouted down from every voice from every corner of our nation, we have some who would claim these hate mongers as "Good people". Hear me clearly, those who would advocate hate are not "Good". They are not "Christian", they are not "good citizens of America", they are not anything but purveyors of hate. My father was severely wounded, and almost lost his life (But for the strategic placement of a Gideon's Bible taking the shrapnel) in fighting against these very low level dredges of society.

Yet here they are, coming again and again, spilling their vile, poisonous venom, amplifying it with violence and murder. As a strong believer in the First Amendment to free speech, they have the right to speak, however wrong they may be. But it is then up to us, as citizens, as Christians, as humans, to counter that speech until it is driven out, and no more assails and sickens us.

If you think my denunciation of these scum as too harsh, then I would refer you to a higher source.

Leviticus 19:17-18
 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. 
Amos 5:15
 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate;
Romans 12:9
 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Galatians 5:22-23
 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
 
 
1 John 2:11
 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

1 John 4:20-21
 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

And maybe my favorite:

1 John 4:7-12
 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
 
That is pretty specific. Someone whose beliefs include a hatred or bigotry of another person or group because of race, religion, or even just being different, falls into that category. "If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar". And Jesus was even more specific than that.
 
Matthew 5:21-22
 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, "You fool!" will be liable to the hell of fire."

So why speak out? Because without speaking out, the voices, the hatred, the violence only continues and grows; growing ever more bold, ever more confident, ever more evil. If we do not speak out, we are complicit in all that follows.

One last word on this, from pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He knew this evil quite intimately, and gave his life to stand against it in Nazi occupied Germany, even when he could have escaped with his life. He said,

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
 
Will you stay silent? Or will you take a stand?
 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Abstractionism and Creeds

"Abstract goals lead to abstract results" - Anon.

 "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it on my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." - Philippians 4:13-15

I have often been known to take time to daydream. (Also known as wool gathering, watching the cobwebs grow, etc.) Imagining the impressive charitable contributions I would make  upon obtaining a massive fortune, after buying a house, yacht, three King Charles Cavalier puppies, and a small music studio somewhere on my own Caribbean island of course. Trouble is, I don't see that as a reachable goal at my point in life, and the path to that goal is somewhat obscure, to say the least. So I continue the course laid before me, and count it good that God has allowed me to provide shelter and food for my family, even in the midst of illnesses that have tried to put obstacles in my way.

Just so, being a Christian isn't about having a vague concept of goodness, or thinking you have "made it" so you can wool gather at will. Being a Christian is about believing something, and then living like you represent it. In the early days of Christianity, there were many different ideas about just what it meant to be a Christian. Anybody could say they were a follower of Christ, but just what was that supposed to mean? It was different with every group of followers, some wildly different. The Church Fathers got together, and came up with this:

 1. " I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth."
 2. "And in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord."
 3. "Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary"
 4. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried."
 5. "He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again."
 6. "He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father"
 7. "From which He shall come, to judge the quick and the dead."
 8. "I believe in the Holy Spirit"
 9. "The Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints"
10. "The forgiveness of sins"
11. "The resurrection of the body"
12. "And the life everlasting, Amen"

Twelve statements, covering everything needed to call yourself "Christian". The very basic of being a child of God. Whatever reason you have for being a Christian, this should be your road map, your vision to the goal. Did you become a Christian out of fear of Hell? Fair enough, but rather than look back in fear, look forward in joy. Were you socially motivated? (That can be anything from peer pressure to simply wanting to look good in front of others on Christmas and Easter.) That still means those twelve tenants must be believed, not just in words, but in the heart.

Part of living a Christian life is believing that God loves you, and if He loves you, then you have purpose and meaning. And if there is purpose, it is sometimes in His vision, but not ours. He sees the path of our whole lives, while we can only see a step at a time. The creed above illuminates the path. Numbers 1,2, and 8-12 give us what to believe, and 3-7 tell us why. We may not always know what we encounter on the way, but our goal is the same: Jesus. The end of our journey is not death, the end of our journey is Him. He is our goal, our target, our prize, our victory.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 says
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

No abstract goal. Only the real, true, living Lord. Amen.




Friday, July 21, 2017

Fly, Bluebird, Fly

"Spirits high, Bluebird. To the sky, Bluebird. Free, you and me. Lord, I want to be winging free." - Gary Mills

Sometimes, it's tough to be a Bluebird. By that, I'm talking about Camp Bluebird, the adult cancer survivor camp that is held twice a year. These are some great friends, and we share, in its many forms, the unique bond of cancer survivor. For two weekends a year, we ARE the norm, not the ones set aside by the label "cancer". For two weekends a year, we laugh, cry, pray; sometimes all at once. These are friends that go beyond "acquaintance". These are friends that I love to be with, and am proud to be a part of, even if my membership dues of cancer were rather steep. (To me, anyway.)

Today, we have lost a member of our group. I won't give the name, out of respect for the family. She was a sweet, funny, beautiful lady, with a heart so full of love it burst out of her, overflowing. The cancer came back for her, unexpectedly, and took her away. It was quick, and left us with a sudden vacuum where she had filled our lives. But part of being in this group is celebrating when a person is cancer free, and celebrating when they pass on as well.

I know so many who have had cancer, that want to act as if it was never there, and avoid anything that brings it up. I have a co-worker here, who also had colorectal cancer, and she looks away anytime I'm around. The fear of it coming back is for many, I believe, so great that avoidance is the only answer. But cancer will not be avoided, or ignored.

I recently read a devotional talking about cancer in trees. Sometimes, you may see, on a tree trunk, a large ballooned out part, looking like the tree just bulged out at that spot. That, according to botanists,  is cancer. It hits a tiny spot, then spreads out in every direction. It looks ugly and deformed. But woodworkers actually love those cancerous spots. Their wood is multi-colored, and swirls, and can be crafted into magnificent works of art.

Don't get me wrong. I don't like cancer. I don't like that it takes lives. I don't like the toll it takes on families, finances, emotions, strength. But God can make good out of anything, if we give it to him. Without cancer, I would have never found such wonderful friends as those from Camp Bluebird. Without cancer, I would have never found my voice as a writer and blogger. Without cancer, I would have never found my voice as a pastor. I would never have had the guts to even try.

In the things we face in our daily lives, sometimes the cancer is all we can see, whether it be disease or stress or hardship or loss. Step back, and know that God is seeing from a different viewpoint. Let His vision guide what you comprehend. That is why He speaks of "peace that PASSES understanding". (Emphasis mine.) Rest in Him, and fly.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Just Like Ronnie Said

"I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will eventually triumph, and that there is purpose and worth to each and every life."
- memorial marker at the Ronald Reagan grave site

That statement wouldn't go over well with most Christians of a Calvinist background. Actually, most church statements will say that man, because of original sin, is degenerate. So, that statement wouldn't even be agreed to by most people that just watch the nightly news. Why would someone as intelligent as Ronald Reagan make a comment that could have come from Bonzo? (Bedtime for Bonzo, Bonzo Goes to College-come on, look it up, people!)

I think Reagan was looking at mankind in faith; faith in what we hope to be, not what we often are. And I think that is the way God looks at us. Not blindly, but seeing beyond the bad, to the good. AND, I believe that is how we are to look at each other, beyond the bad to the good. Just like we want others to look beyond our bad to the good. Dottie Rambo wrote beautiful lyrics for a song titled "He looked beyond my fault and saw my need". Shouldn't we do the same?

This is harder sometimes more than others. Sometimes we see the whole world going to the pits of Hell. (Except ourselves, of course.) Elijah thought that after he confronted the priests of Baal (I Kings 19) but God put him straight. Even though we feel alone, there is a sense of urgency, of expectation that something better is coming. In Romans 8:19-21, the Bible says:

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.

In Matthew 19:28-29

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[a] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold[b] and will inherit eternal life.

So, maybe, Ronnie had it right. We need to look expectantly to the good. Because, in faith, it is there. And this new world we look to, we yearn for, is for all. We only need to accept Him as Savior and Lord. It is even there for those we may not like. C.S. Lewis said that we would be surprised to see the people that make it into Heaven, and I think he got it right. His salvation is for ALL who will accept it.

This hope is here and now as well, not just in the future. In II Corinthians 5:5, it says

God is the one who has prepared us for this change, and he gave us his Spirit as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us.

A guarantee is like a deposit, a down payment, a TASTE of the Great Banquet that awaits. His Sprit in us is just the beginning of what is coming. So let's look at each other a little more kindly. After all, we know what's ahead, and we wish it for everyone, as God wishes it for everyone.

(Except for you. Yeah, you. I see you out there. Just no hope...dang, there I go again!)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Surviving Life - A New Blogspot

     A friend of mine, Lisa Moorehead, has just begun a new blog. It's titled "Surviving Life...In loving memory of Ben". For any parent who has ever felt the crushing loss of a child, or whose child is one deeply chained by an addiction, this let's you know you are not alone. The blog is to document Lisa's journey through this process. I would highly recommend it to you at www.lisamoorehead1.blogspot.com.

     The story is as old as time. Adam and Eve lost their son, Abel. Eli lost his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. King David lost his son, Absalom. But these all pale to the willing sacrifice of God's own son, Jesus. Can you imagine the pain and suffering, even knowing the outcome, that God must have gone through, watching and crying through each drop of blood spilled?

     Because of that, I think God feels deeply for others that have lost a child as well. He understands the pain, and wants to be there through the process of healing. There are no miracles to get someone through, but there is always His love. It can be tough trying to accept that love, sometimes even blaming God Himself for the loss, but even in our anger, He waits to love us through.

     If you, or someone you know, has gone through this, please check out Lisa's blog. Thanks!

Friday, May 12, 2017

One Minute After You Die

"Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."
- 1st Corinthians 15:51-52

The other day, I saw a tract in the bathroom at work with the title "One Minute After You Die". I did not read it (I'm not in the habit of picking up things left in the bathroom!), but it did set me to thinking. There are several ideas on what happens at death, and I'd like to look at a few here.

One is that death is final and forever. Gone, Kaput, Bye-Bye, Worm food. When the physical self ceases to be, all thought, dreams, likes, dislikes and wants will all end with it. Anything that made up who you were (personality, creativity, your true essence) is forever gone. Not a fan of this mode of thought.

Another is like that, but states that brain activity continues for a short time after death. This would allow for the near-death experiences we hear of, the white light being the electrical impulses still traveling the neurons. Seeing family and friends our memories acting as dreams for one last time. But in the end, the result here is the same as before. Gone. Also not a fan.

Some will admit to the existence of a soul, but believe that soul is reincarnated (comes back) into a different body after death, leaving at most, trace elements of the life it led before. Eventually, when a soul reaches perfection, is sent heavenward. While this would greatly reduce Heavenly overcrowding, what happens to the lives of all those who went before the final reincarnation, each life different and unique? Seems a waste. Not a fan.

So, my thoughts? I think the soul goes on, but that it is separate and unique, just as we are all separate and unique. I believe the soul is eternal, because it is how we are created in God's image, in Spirit. We are also created in His image in body, though, in that He came down to earth in human form. So...what now?

We are told to worship with all our "heart, soul and might". (Deut. 6:5) Mentally, spiritually, physically. Because what happens in one area, will affect the others. In that "One Minute After", I imagine our souls are going to look pretty battered and bruised. But then the unimaginable happens. "We shall be changed". Not from who we are, but INTO who we were meant to be. The personality, the memories, the character, all enhanced by God's gracious love. Made pure, by His Holy Breath, just as we were given life in creation by His Breath. In that "One Minute After", we shall see God as He truly is, and be seen as who we truly are. And the new bodies created to house the perfected souls shall be imperishable. Perfection, without weakness or sickness. Perfect houses for perfected souls.

Your thoughts may differ on the matter. As always, these are "my" Thoughts and Musings. There is even debate on when that change may happen, at death or at Jesus' return. But think on this. On any of the first three, whatever you do, say or think, will eventually be of no consequence. Those things that make you "you" will be gone. If, however, you feel the soul DOES go on, then everything you do to nurture it continues on for eternity. Every act of kindness, thoughtful words, or simple sharing of yourself is carried on forever. And EVEN should that be wrong, your doing so leaves the world a better place.

But it's not wrong. And your soul deserves the care of Christ. Because you are His, not as slaves, but as brothers and sisters. God's own, loved children. Let Him love you deeply, richly, as he so desperately wants to do. Then, love each other as He loves you.

(And if you SHOULD be reincarnated, I hope you never come back as the third verse of a hymn. Those things NEVER get sung!)

Friday, May 5, 2017

JCS to A.HAM - A Musical Oddesy

In the summer of 1973, I listened to a double album that "rocked" my world. At a church retreat, our youth leader played through the soundtrack to "Jesus Christ, Superstar", and went through the different scriptural references in each song. Up until that time, Broadway and Movie Musicals were basically the same; story lines built up to lead the characters into song. (One of the reasons many people don't like musicals, they will say "People don't just burst out into song!" Any musician and their significant other will realize the fallacy of that statement! But I digress.) JCS evened out the playing field by having everything in song, much like an opera.

This was an opera like no other, though. Guitars wailing, drums beating, Ted Neely and Carl Anderson screaming notes so high only dogs should have been able to hear. And the story Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber told became different in their hands. Never again would I hear the story in hushed monotones of Shakespearean English. They put PASSION into the Passion. I will still listen to the soundtrack around Easter each year, and the instrumental section on the crucifixion, led by Andre' Previn's magnificent direction, will still raise goosebumps on my arms.

Fast forward 44 years. Just this week, a friend loaned me a copy of Hamilton: An American Musical. And I was thirteen all over again. The mastery of music telling a true story, the obvious talent in the writing, arranging, and production. And the singers/actors themselves, bringing the story of Alexander Hamilton to life. But what made me go back was the true PASSION with which the story was told. So many times we look at history as only dates and body-less facts. History isn't about the thumb tacked dates on a time line, it's about the lives lived between those dates. The love, the hurt, the joy, the life. And Hamilton brings that out with exuberance.

In that same way, Religion isn't so much about do's and don'ts, rights or wrongs. They are there, yes, to give us a model by which we can live by, but the law is secondary to WHO the law points us too. Just as in History, dates and mere facts are secondary to the lives lived, so are laws meaningless without the LIFE lived, Jesus, for without HIM, there is no salvation. No law can save, only Jesus. The law can help us be more like Him, but only He can make the true transformation.

In the summer of 1973, that began to become real to me in ways I never imagined. The Bible began to turn from a rule book, into a love story, of which I was the object of affection. And I was loved with PASSION. Enough so that God's only begotten son, Jesus, gave His life for me. We will never be perfect, as He is perfect, even though we should strive to perfection. But we are loved. With passion. Let us love Him, and each other, with nothing less.