Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Whatever Happened to This Way of Thinking?

Time for a memory lane retrospective.  I got to thinking - after seeing a very few television commercials of late - whatever happened to the old way of doing advertisements?  Not only were they slower paced, but they appealed to your reasoning ability, and not your emotions like the contemporary ads do now.  They also came from a worldview of definite right from wrong, and what to do versus what not to do.  Witness exhibit A, a 1951 Westinghouse television set advertisement:

You can be sure if it's Westinghouse was a line I remembered from constant exposure while growing up to its advertisements.  The whole notion of one being able to be sure about something. . . anything. . . sprang from this one lil' long running advertisement campaign, still playing strong in the 1960's of my childhood. 

OK, try one from my Dad's former company:

The most trusted name in electronics, RCA would tag in its advertisements in the 1960's.  Hmmm. . . a name you could trust.  What a concept that is lost to folks living today in 21st Century North American culture. 

Bonus round: here's an RCA consumer sales training film from 1959 made at RCA's old headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  My Dad was a field electronics engineer technical representative at the time for RCA Service Company, with Defense Department contracts to fulfill.  I remember visiting the outside of this building from time to time as we traveled by car as a family in the 1960's, even though we lived on the west coast of the United States, and New Jersey is on the east coast.


Dependable - Reliable - Quality in every TV set.  That's how this video begins its message.  In those days especially for Black and White televisions, that was very much the case given the vacuum tube technology and nascent solid state electronics cards that made up newer sets of the era.  There's anectdotal evidence that sets of this era outlast the "made for the landfill" electronics made for our current time.  They certainly lasted longer than just a few years like current television sets do.  Far longer, in fact. 

Here's one that is a real cultural gem and is pretty much lost to the current culture nowadays:

Putting you first keeps us first was the Chevrolet Division of General Motors' advertising slogan for the 1969 model year. . . into 1970 advertisements as well.  Sounds a lot like this verse from Matthew 20 beginning at the last half of verse 25:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[c] 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,[d] 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

How many people live their lives with the attitude of being a servant. . . putting others first before themselves?  Not too many, I might add.  Countercultural to the "me first, what's in front of my nose" attitude so often seen today. 

The culture today certainly has a lot more ambiguity and mistrust and a whole lot less dependability and trust than it used to have.  A relativistic worldview, one fed by Secular Humanism ("Man is the measure of all things") and one that has forgotten all too readily its historic cultural pointers to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. . . the One on whom you can be sure on, and is the One whom to place your trust. . . because He put us first before himself.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Employment done God's Way

My wife, my "Christiana," if you are familiar with Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, has reached a milestone or marker of sorts.  She's been nursing in one form or another for almost forty years now.  She's almost 60 years of age as well.  Employment at one agency has lasted four years running, the longest employment she's had since being married to me. 

But it's not been without pain.  Never being told you are doing a good job, always being told of your deficiencies, and seeing an office staff that once was on the top of their game descend into abysmally poor morale while their accreditation is currently in jeopardy is hard to take.  So it's time for her to go and work elsewhere.  It's not like I didn't counsel her to get out of there. . . I did that over and over for months on end.  It's due to her being fired. 

Now, regardless of whether or not the firing is justified or not, how ought one's attitude be toward an employer in this case?  Generally speaking before a firing, how ought an employee's attitude be?  How about that of the employer?  Does God have anything to say on the topic?  You betcha he does!

I used to have a yellow legal pad paper sheet entitled "Employer-Employee Relationships" that had a plethora of applicable scriptures on the topic at hand.  I gave that paper away years ago to a young, enterprising, personable, charismatic (in the relational, not theological sense) pastor friend, Todd DuBord.  Todd these days is the Chaplain to none other than Chuck Norris of Walker, Texas Ranger fame.  Check out what he's done on the subject of America as a nation with foundational beginnings in the Christian faith. . . quite a bit of good research, actually.  Good stuff that goes along with what David Barton of Wallbuilders.org says.  Anyways, like I fool I was then, I didn't make a copy of my paper.  I sure would like to have it now.  Nevertheless, the Internet is your friend when it comes to the Bible and what it says on virtually any topic, including this one.  So I've been able to some degree recreate my list of verses to some extent below.  All passages from the ESV unless otherwise noted. 

*  *  *

From Colossians 3:22-25:

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

A lot of people forget that the Bible is replete with imagery concerning slaves and masters.  Why?  Because that was the way it was back then, for starters.  The bigger reason, though, is because in reality, if you belong to Jesus Christ, he is your Lord. . . that is, your Master. . . and you are his bondslave, as the Apostle Paul put it over and over in his letters.  That's right.  A master/slave relationship.  Not a bad thing if and only if you have a good master.  Jesus is in fact that good master.  Modern day 21st Century sensibilities and North American cultural views often occlude these facts. 

From Colossians 4:1:

Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Aha!  Masters have a master too!  That's right. . . and one reason why it's important for a supervisor or manager, or executive not to become too arrogant in their business dealings involving employees.  They have someone to answer to, just like the employee does.  The Lord God Almighty himself.  So they'd better be just and fair now. . . or pay the price later before their master, the Lord.

From Ephesians 6:5-9:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

So. . . employees are to act as though they are working for Christ, servants of his, doing his will from the heart, and not any people pleasing (or watching the clock).  Whole different work attitude than what most encounter on the job.  Employers are to have true consideration for their employees with fear and trembling and a sincere heart, and stop their threatening, knowing that the Lord is impartial in judging all concerned.  That awareness of the Lord as everyone's judge puts a lot of bad behavior in its place, as it should.

From Leviticus 25:43:

You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

From Leviticus 19:13:

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.

From the last part of this verse one may infer correctly that prompt payment of wages is what pleases God.  Yet in modern day society, how many let pay accrue on a every two weeks or twice a month basis, much less monthly?  A whole lot.  See, it really should be pay at the end of the day like one pays a farmhand in agriculture.  How do I know that?  I've picked in the field for pay before.  Not afraid of work, you know.

From 1 Timothy 6:1:

Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.

Really, what it gets down to is this: recognize the earthly master or employer as in the place of the Lord himself, and treat him as such.  If one does, the name of God and the Scriptures of the Bible aren't called into disrepute. . . harmony and respect ensues.  A happy situation, instead of the rebellion and resistance people like the Occupy Wall Street crowd have done in the last year.

From Luke 3:14:

Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

Being content with your wages is beginning to be a recovered art form once again in the face of a stagnant and uncertain economy.  People realize that they are blessed to have employment these days. . . any employment.  A chastened attitude towards obtaining wages is a good thing.

From Ecclesiastes 9:10:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

So give your work your all.  Do it with all your might, and don't hold back in your efforts.

From 1 Timothy 5:18:

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

Employers, don't hold back wages.  An uncertain economic stream of income increases irritability and anxiety, which you by a faithful rendering of accurate wages paid can eliminate.  No commission reductions to please the home office, kickbacks to the owner because he doesn't think you deserve the pay, and that ilk (and believe me, I can cite more personal examples here).  Be straightforward and honest in your accounting of pay.

From James 5:1-6, (Easy English):

“Now, you rich people, weep and cry aloud. There are terrible troubles that will soon be coming to you. Your riches have lost their value. Your beautiful clothes are as if moths had eaten them. Your gold and your silver have become dirty and stained. The dirt and stains will be evidence against you in the judgement. They are like poison that will eat up your bodies as with fire. That is because you have heaped up a lot of riches in these last days. Listen! You have not paid the wages of those who worked in your fields. The money you kept from them cries out to God against you. The Lord of all power has heard the cries of the workers. You have lived on earth in luxury. And you have had all that you wanted. You lived to please yourselves. You have made yourself fat, like animals ready for men to kill. You have accused. And you have caused the death of those who were innocent.”

It's not a sin to be rich, but it is a sin to have a wrong attitude towards workers (employees) and deliberately withhold wages due.  Pretty ugly picture here.  Dickensian imagery to boot.

From 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (Easy English)

“Brothers and sisters, keep away from Christians who are lazy. Such people do not live in the way that we taught you. We tell you to do this by the authority that the Lord Jesus Christ gives to us. You yourselves know very well that you should live as we did. We were not lazy when we were with you. We did not depend on any of you for our food without paying for it. No, we worked hard night and day. We earned what we needed. So we did not have to charge you anything at all. We did this, not because we do not have the right to expect such help. But we did it so as to be an example of how you should live. Because when we were with you, we gave you this rule: Whoever refuses to work should not eat.

We say this because we hear that some among you are lazy. They talk about other people but do no work themselves. By the authority that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ, we urge them to work quietly. They must earn the money to buy their own food. But you, brothers and sisters, must never tire of doing good things.”

Whoever refuses to work should not eat.  Not whoever does not work should not eat.  See the difference?  If one has the ability, one should be working for what they need to eat.  Pretty straightforward.  No entitlement society going on here for the able bodied, unlike a lot of North American society today. 

From Ephesians 4:28 (Easy English):

“If you were a thief, you must stop stealing things. You should work and do something useful with your hands. Then you will earn something that you can share with other people. They may need your help.”

This is such a good and useful verse to use with my incarcerated juvenile students in the county camp system, I'm going to be memorizing it and quoting it liberally.  Lots of theives behind bars there where I work. . . trust me on this.  Yes, those friends and relatives outside of their confinement in juvenile camp need their help.  I raise that point up to them over and over, and talk of legitimate employment they don't know about as a way to do it once they're released.  Often these kids don't know there's any other way of getting money other than burglary, grand theft auto or drug running.  I have a big job to do in that regard, for sure.

Finally, some reminders on the bigger picture on the matter from where God sees it.  There's no place for bitterness towards an employer, even when one may be (justly or not) fired from a position.

Hebrews 12:14-15:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

What God really wants is renewed minds in sync with him, walking with him, depending on him, trusting him, communicating all the time with him.  That's a lot of him. . . and not a lot of me!

Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Hope you've profited from this time together in God's Word as much as I have.  Until next time. . .


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Heart Aches for America

Today's guest writer is none other than the Rev. Billy Graham.  He has great words of wisdom to share. 

*  *  *

July 24, 2012 - In a new prayer letter Billy Graham writes: "My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance."

Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

She was probably thinking of a passage in Ezekiel where God tells why He brought those cities to ruin. “Now this was the sin of ... Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49–50, NIV).

I wonder what Ruth would think of America if she were alive today. In the years since she made that remark, millions of babies have been aborted and our nation seems largely unconcerned. Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle.

Just a few weeks ago in a prominent city in the South, Christian chaplains who serve the police department were ordered to no longer mention the Name of Jesus in prayer. It was reported that during a recent police-sponsored event, the only person allowed to pray was someone who addressed “the being in the room.” Similar scenarios are now commonplace in towns across America. Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone—except God.

Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control.

My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the lone world superpower—wealthy, unconcerned, and self-centered. When the Prophet Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh and proclaimed God’s warning, people heard and repented.

Read the whole thing here: http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=8813  A pilgrim's pilgrim, he. . . and he gets it that America is being deceived by the Evil One.  Refreshing to hear the truth. . . and he, like me in a recent post, knows that our God is a God of Mercy.  Indeed, his kindness leads us to repentance.    

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thirsting for Mercy

In the course of my teaching duties, I came across a most atypical young man.  This youth, incarcerated in a county youth camp like almost all of the students I have in my care, asked me a simple yet profound question.

"What word comes to mind when I say mercy?" he inquired of me. 

"Grace," I replied. 

"How is that?" he asked.

I pulled out a church business card from my pocket and gave it to him.  My church's name, by the way, is Grace Chapel - you'll find the link for it on the top right of the page here under "Links for the Journey" - so I explained to him the natural connection between these two words. 

"So what you're saying is that mercy and grace are equal - is that right?" he thoughtfully summed up.

"Essentially, yes," I replied.  "They are pretty much interchangeable words to a large degree." 

"Well, I always thought that grace and mercy were different.  Grace is being nice and stuff, and mercy is when you are really needing a way out of your spot," he countered.

"Interesting that you say that," I volleyed back to him.  "I can understand that in your life situation you have come to understand those two words that way.  But in the sense of how the Bible uses those words, they are more similar in meaning than different," I advised, praying a silent prayer that the Lord would use this situation to reveal himself and his perfect will to this young man, while asking for protection against anyone who might get upset and file a complaint with the ACLU, who has a presence in this one youth camp. . . and throughout the county camp system these days due to a recent ruling from a judge.

I looked around the room for some Webster's dictionaries.  There were none, surprisingly. . . the normal situation is to find several in each classroom.  Interesting. 

My student still verbally contending that grace and mercy are with different meaning, he reaches out to his probation officer, who is stationed in the classroom by the door - standard protocol for operating such a county camp classroom for the safety and discipline of the classroom.

"Valletine, come here!" he shouted.

The probation officer, Officer Valletine, saunters towards the student's desk with his handheld computer tablet with Internet access. 

"What you say about these two words - are they the same or different?" he readily asks.

"Oh, different," the PO replies. 

"See!  Valletine agrees with me!  You've got it wrong!" he glowered at me.

"Well, maybe on a common word usage basis, perhaps.  If you would look at a good concordance or get into the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, you'll find that in that sense I'm telling you the straight scoop."

"The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek?" he exclaimed.

"Certainly.  It sure wasn't written in English. . . only Archie Bunker believed that!" I replied. 

"What's a concordance do?" my student inquired.

"It tells you what the words mean with precision so you know what the text actually says in words you can understand and relate to," I answered. 

"Oh."  He slumped back in the chair as if in resignation, realizing there was a lot more in the world that he had never realized existed or had seen yet. 

He looks at his probation officer and asks, "You get a concordance thing up on that computer?"

"Yup, sure thing.  We can go look at one when you get out of class and see what we can find, OK?" he reassuringly replied.  

A moment of calm in my student heart was thus achieved.  Relief that he could find out what he wanted to find out.  It was important, because he was writing lyrics in his dorm time hours, and he wanted to do the best job he could in expressing himself and his yearnings for freedom and release from camp and its walled, barbed wire confinement.  But not mere physical freedom. . . the kind of spiritual freedom which is found only in Jesus Christ. "So if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed," Jesus said in John 8:36. 

*  *  *

Well, my student's question has been richoteting in my mind the last few days.  Let's answer it by looking at some applicable verses. (All in ESV unless noted otherwise)

From Hebrews 4:16:

 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Strong's Concordance lists our word "mercy" from the above passage as eleos, meaning

mercy: kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them
  1. of men towards men: to exercise the virtue of mercy, show one's self merciful
  2. of God towards men: in general providence; the mercy and clemency of God in providing and offering to men salvation by Christ
  3. the mercy of Christ, whereby at his return to judgment he will bless true Christians with eternal life
Contrast with "grace" which Strong's identifies as charis, from where we get our English word "charity":

that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech

  1. good will, loving-kindness, favour
    1. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
  2. what is due to grace
  3. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
  4. the token or proof of grace, benefit
    1. a gift of grace
    2. benefit, bounty
  5. thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward
From Titus 3:5-7:

5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Grace and mercy again appear in our text above.  Here, the sense is the same.  The exact same Greek words appear as before.  

Perhaps it's best to restate the above verses from Titus this way: "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own  clemency of God in providing and offering to men Salvation by Christ, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ or Savior, so that being justified by his loving-kindness and merciful kindness which turns them to Christ we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

Clemency.  Salvation.  Lovingkindness.  Isn't that what all of humankind yearns for?  And that word "clemency" is a well used term in the prison systems across the United States. 

Finally, from James 2:13:

 Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Another way to put it is "The clemency of God in providing and offering to men Salvation by Christ triumphs over judgment."

Clemency is, of course, another way of expressing the notion of redemption, an important Biblical theme in and of itself.  Hey. . . even a major motion picture deals with the topic in a gritty but emotionally moving way: The Shawshank Redemption. 

Was I correct in my initial response to my student in what grace meant versus mercy?  Strong's does mention that part of the definition of grace is merciful kindness. . . so in that sense I got it right.  In the larger sense of the words' meanings, I needed to be clearer in my definitions.  That's what you get when you work in a tax supported public school system environment, though.  But I am thinking about the possibility of purchasing a tablet and taking it to my next work assignment for a situation like the one I had here.  The Lord will provide, as he always does. . . in his time.  Until then. . .


Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's All in the Attitude

While at my regular grocery retailer of choice, I overheard the tail end of a bit of talk between a security guard and a store clerk.  The end of the conversation ended with this statement: ". . . She wasn't allowed in here."  Being that this conversation ocurred in the men's restroom, I could understand.  Females ought not to be allowed in men's restrooms which are multistalled in nature. 

Upon leaving the store, I asked the security guard, who was stationed at the exit, what the conversation was all about.  "We had a customer come in with their dog," he replied.  "Was it a seeing eye dog?" I asked.  "No," the guard admitted.  "It was just your everyday mutt."

Intrigued, while aware I had mistaken the "she" for a human female when it was in fact a canine female, I probed further into this situation.  "So did the customer stay long inside the store?" I asked.  "No, not really," related the guard.  "They knew I could have called the deputies and that would have been trouble for him (the customer)," the guard added. 

I wanted to know more about what kind of things this guard saw each day at this store.  I already knew of customers who dealt marijuana in the store's parking lot, much less reeked of it while inside the store.  So I inquired some more of the guard, who was friendly and polite throughout my conversation with him. 

"So what else have you seen from the customers while on duty here?" I asked him. 

"Oh, plenty," the guard nonchalantly replied.  "Probably the biggest thing I've had to deal with is girls who come in that are pretty bare.  Not wearing much and I have to throw them out.  Health and safety code, you know."

"You mean they were so bare that their body parts could come against the produce and so forth that customers could pick up and buy?" I ventured to him. 

"Well, yeah, that's probably the way to put it.  I mean, it's not that I'm against customers staying cool in the Summer heat, nor is the store and its policies, but it's about other customers picking up germs from other people's body sweat and so on.  People don't realize what they do while they pick up produce and goods as they shop."

Eeeew.  There you go.  Letting dogs into grocery stores - even while on leash - and females in scant attire brushing against who knows what in the produce and/or meat section of the store while selecting their groceries for checkout is the issue at hand.  Is this what you would want to have happen with what you purchase from such a place?  You get the drift.  There are health and safety codes in place to protect and keep clean and safe retail operations like this one in the State of California at least.  Yet with the influx of new people to my part of the state, the knowledge and practice of following the health and safety codes in terms of acceptable behavior while at a food retailer is diminishing.  Hence the need for a store guard stationed in the store.  A sad state of affairs, indeed. 

*  *  *

On the other hand, there were plenty of times Jesus ate with the unwashed, the unclean, the down, the out, the dirty, the imperfect, the Godforsaken.  I don't recall the Lord ever refusing someone coming to him who genuinely sought him just because they had a dog, or didn't have the right wardrobe, or didn't have their act together.  From Matthew 5:2-11, ESV: 

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus give us his emphasis on what life is all about in the latter portion of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 6:25-33, ESV:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Ain't that the truth, eh?  (wink)  Each day has its own trouble.  But the good news is that God wants to provide for us and have us rest in his care.  All we have to do is let go. . . stop being anxious. . . stop wondering what we will wear, among other things. . . and seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  When we do that, the things that are important - from the Lord's perspective - will be added to us and provided for us.  What will those things be?  The things God finds are necessary for us in this life and the life Eternal to come.  God, being a good God, gives good gifts to his children, and not bad (Matthew 7:11, ESV):

  7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Finally, the Apostle Paul has these succinct words for us from Colossians 3:17, ESV:

 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

My wife and I have actually done this regarding dogs.  We have a Chihuahua puppy who is just adorable. . . we can't give him up, my wife says to me!  When he was still nursing and needing more immediate attention, we actually brought him to church while we were attending our adult Sunday School class and worship service.  He was in a woven reed basket, kind of like how Moses might have been in back in the day.  Never an issue with the church leaders, and never a behavior problem.  And he was quite the hit with kids and adults alike! 

On clothes, my wife is always on my case because she doesn't like my "desert dress" of polo knit shirt and shorts.  She wants me to dress more like Arnold Palmer or something.  I say to her it's too hot to wear long slacks. . . shorts are just fine.  Besides, others in our church wear shorts, men, women, and children alike.  She has conceded the issue, but still brings it up when she thinks she can get me to change. 

Bottom line, it's all in the attitude.  Why do you bring your dog to where you are going?  Why do you dress the way you do?  Is it to get your own way, or to make Jesus' name great and praised?  That's the acid test, my friends.  Consider it deeply, reflect, and pray to the Lord what his will is for you to do based on what he has revealed to you through his Word, the Bible.  He will never steer you wrong!


The Kindness Club

My wife, who is a Registered Nurse, referred to me, her loving husband, a patient of hers who for reasons I won't go into couldn't get transportation to the doctor.  So I took this woman to her doctor's appointment, which is some 70 miles away from her residence.  As is my habit, I brought along a book to read while waiting in the waiting room.  Lately I've been reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas whose link is here: http://www.christianbook.com/bonhoeffer-pastor-martyr-prophet-spy/eric-metaxas/9781595551382/pd/551382 .  I'll be posting my reflections on the book, a very engrossing and captivating read, in the days to come.  But I digress.  

While I was in the doctor's waiting room, I was asked by a woman patient, "who's that on the cover on that book?"     

"Bonhoeffer.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Do you know who he was?" I asked her kindly. 

"Was he Russian or something?" she replied.

"No, he was German," I answered back. 

"Oh, what kind of German?" she inquired. 

"The kind who gave up his life to be against Hitler and the Third Reich," I matter of factly stated. 

A long pause ensued.

"So Hitler killed him?" she timidly exclaimed.

"Those under his authority, yes," I answered calmly.  He was executed in prison weeks before the Allies had a chance to find him and to set him free."

Another long pause ensued.

"Who wrote the book?" she asked.

"Eric Metaxas," I replied.  He's a guy the late Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship mentored, who now shares the commentator duties like Chuck did on the Breakpoint program found on the radio and the Internet."

"Charles Colson?" she excitedly exclaimed.  "Prison Fellowship?"  Her eyes grew wider and her expression of recognizing a friend was unmistakable. 

"Yes, Charles Colson of Watergate fame and Prison Fellowship Ministries.  You've heard of him?" I asked.

"Oh, I certainly have!" she exuded.  "I have a son who is a young adult in State prison in Delano."  I gave a sad looking look of recognizance in reply.

She gave her story of woe to me about her son.  Long story short, she is concerned that he will reoffend again and break the law, landing himself in prison once again, becoming an habitual offender and be locked away for years. . . maybe decades.  His heart is not at peace with God, and even though he has watched the thought provoking film The Shawshank Redemption over and over while in prison, is in contact with the chaplain there and sees Prison Fellowship volunteers, he has yet to truly give up control of his life and turn the control over his life to God.  This is the stark reality he is in in the midst of the extreme lack of privacy and the confinement prison affords.

Funny that my employment happens to be behind bars these days as an education professional. . . well, no.  Serendipitous, actually.  The Lord knows what he is doing, and placed such a one as this mother in my purview while I was waiting for the one in their doctor's care.  Get this: seated right next to this woman was another lady, whose husband is locked up in prison for a longer period - decades, from what I heard.  In his case, he has made his reconciliation with God and has received forgiveness for his many sins, and though he is a prisoner and locked up for many more years, the Lord has truly set him free in his heart and spirit!  Across the aisle, yet another woman knew of Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship. . . I don't remember any of her other details right now.  Was this a God moment or what?

The most natural thing to do in a moment like this, after our first lady poured our her heart concerning her fears about what could happen to her son, and seeing the literal "cloud of witnesses" that shared in her suffering and related to her situation. . . was to pray.  I led us in doing so, all of us holding hands right there under the watch of the medical office's receptionist, who I suppose didn't bat an eye!  (smile)  Tears of joy were shed at the end, and warm hugs as well.  

This kind of moment I'll call "The Kindness Club."  To become a member of it, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew so well, one must endure suffering.  But not suffering alone. . . hope is present as well.  Hope in the things of Eternity, where there is no prison except in Hell. . .  and we shall feast at His table, rejoicing at what the Lord Jesus did for us in remitting our many sins. The Apostle Paul knew of suffering and its connection with hope, to wit:  

(Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

  3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James also knew of trials and suffering through the testing of one's faith, and its response in (unnatural from the world's perspective) joy:

(James 1:2-4, NASB)

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various [a]trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [b] endurance. 4 And let [c] endurance have its perfect [d]result, so that you may be [e] perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

John records Jesus saying these immortal words on our subject:

(John 16:33, ESV)

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John, later in his life, undoubtably reflected some more on these words of our Lord in this part of his letter (1 John 5:4, ESV):

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.

Hence the title from the old Gospel hymn, "Faith is the Victory!"  I love indeed the refrain from that song so much. . . in fact, the whole song.  Here it is:

Wonderful to see folks from the United Arab Emirates who are - I take it - literate or becoming literate in English partaking of the Christian faith and singing this marvelous, uplifting old Ira Sankey hymn.  This is how I learned the words to 1 John 5:4. . . and how you can too!  It is part of the "music rumbling through my head," as I mentioned awhile back in a previous post. 

It's not how polished you are in singing it - or living out your faith.  It's about taking His hand and letting him completing the journey with you, taking his yoke upon you, and having a lighter burden, since you allow Jesus to carry the load.  Trusting Jesus, walking with Jesus. . . all the way.  That's how to have true freedom in a place like prison, my friends!  Out of prison too. . .   Until next time. . .


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seeds of Destruction

What do the following statements have in common?

  • ". . . I'm not understanding what you mean by 'wrong.'"  -- (then) Penn State University President Graham Spanier, February 26, 2001 (1)
  • "The janitors were afraid of being fired by reporting a powerful football coach."  -- Judge Louis Freeh, July 12, 2012 (2)
  • "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."  -- fired Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, November 9, 2011 (2)
A lack of moral clarity.  A "don't rock the boat" mentality.  Lack of moral courage to do what is right.

I kid you not. . . I have been troubled to hear the news lately regarding the entire Penn State football coaching staff scandal.  An entire university football program is likely in jeopardy and may not continue for a time.  Penalties may well be assessed that will hurt the school's football program and its lucrative financial dealings.  I'm not a fan of football generally speaking, and so a lot of this didn't get on my radar screen until it became headline news.  I'm certainly paying attention now, though. 

It's easy to shrug one's shoulders, give a look of disapproval, and condemn what's already happened at Penn State, which certainly could use prayers from God's people right about now.  The more difficult task is to know how to deal with such a situation and to quote a well known television character from the Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife, "Nip it in the bud."  For starters. . . 

1) Call a spade a spade.  Call the wrongdoing what it really is.  Sin.  That's right, sin.  Sin is evil, you know.  And sin separates one from the Love of God found in Jesus Christ.  

 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, tI do not know where you come from. vDepart from me, all you workers of evil!’  (Luke 13:27)  (All verses ESV unless noted otherwise)

From Hebrews 10:

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.


  31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Admittedly, these are words not often heard from church pulpits in North America.  Yet they remain the true words of God.  Sin and evil are therefore serious business.  I remember well the verse from James 3:1 (NASB): 
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a [a]stricter judgment.

2) The above statement implies, quite rightly, that those who teach - have moral and educational authority over others in their care - have a duty to be accountable to others. . . and most importantly, God Himself.  Here's a selection of some pertinent Scriptures: 

Proverbs 27:17:

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Galatians 6:1-2:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ezekiel 33:7-9:

7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

The Penn State football program had gotten to the point where it dominated the University and had unparalleled power and influence.  What the trustees and those charged with carrying out its mission forgot is sin is pervasive and endemic to the human heart, resulting in death.  That lack of knowledge about sin isn't just from those associated with Penn State, however.  Consider the following exchange I had with a fellow customer at Costco the other day:

Me: Kinda busy in the food court today, eh?

Her: Yeah.  I can deal with it, though.  I just wait and get through it.  Gotta be patient. 

Me: Patience is still a virtue.  Good to know you are willing to be that way. 

Her: Well, I'm really not.  You know, everyone is so busy these days, they make you pushy when you're in line for something.

Me: They make you pushy?

Her: Yeah, they do quite a lot these days.

Me: A wise man once said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"  (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV)  


Well, that ended the conversation right then and there.  You hopefully get the point. . . they didn't make her pushy. . . she did out of her own volitional will, from her own heart.  But she undoubtedly let this bit of wisdom from God's Word pass her by. . . just like the "common sense" wisdom even the janitors at Penn State had and ignored, allowing Jerry Sandusky to continue his criminal acts in the locker room with his young "guests."  James has this very appropriate word for us to consider:

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.  (James 4:17 NASB)

That verse has always convicted me.  Ouch!

My takeaway questions I ask myself are these:

  • Do I possess moral clarity in my thoughts, words and actions?
  • Do I allow myself to be accountable to others who know me and submit to what is right in the sight of God - and most importantly God's Will for me?
  • Do I have the moral courage to do the right thing in the face of moral lapses of judgment in others?
I pray God may find me worthy in these despite my manifold shortcomings, and in that Wonderful Day when I am translated into Eternity.

One of David's Psalms gives some insight and perspective I find useful.  From Psalm 139:

 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.[b]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts![c]
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting![d]

Please pray with me for all those affected by the Penn State football scandal, especially the young men who were once boys that were abused. . . they surely need them.  Until next time. . .






For more background and sources: