Wednesday, August 31, 2011


What did you do that you loved in worship this past Sunday? What is the event or portion of Sunday morning coming down you care for the most? What is your religion in your religion?

Do you love the discipline of religion? Do you love the method (for those Methodists out there among us)? David, king of Israel, wrote about how he perceived ritual: "I hate all this silly religion, but you, God, I trust. I'm leaping and singing in the circle of your love; you saw my pain, you disarmed my tormentors, You didn't leave me in their clutches but gave me room to breathe."

So the question is, do you love your religion or do you love the object of your religion? Those are two very different things.

 I feel an urge to discuss this thing we call religion. While having my morning coffee, I read a piece in the local newspaper that told me that as Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, came to a close, Syrian security forces killed at least seven protesters. Thousands, the article told me, poured out of mosques to stage anti-government demonstrations. The protesters were forming to have their say against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.  Nothing like a little bloodshed to signal the end of a religious holiday. Nothing like protests piled upon prayers. The Apostle Paul told his student Timothy, "As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They'll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they're animals. Stay clear of these people."

Rosh Hashanan, a key Jewish religious event, is less than a month away. Security will be intense during that period of time, despite the fact the holiday is about not allowing work in Israel for those who follow the tenants of that religion. This is the beginning of the Jewish year, and one way that is celebrated is the blowing of the shofar, a ram's horn. It is a call for repentance, a 10-day call for repentance that culminates with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, Oct. 7 this year.

Ramadan, Rosh Hashanan, Yom Kippur, Sabbath. Repentance. Repairment. Reframing. Rehash of what it means to love Jehovah, Allah, God the Father.

Religion, religion, religion.

It seems to me this morning that we must acknowledge there is a humongous difference in religion and redemption, in religion and the relationship. Christianity is about, at its purest, no set of rules one must follow to gain entrance into a religious club. No. Christianity is about one man dying on the cross saving the world.

Nothing we do, nothing we can do, saves us except confession this to be truth.

Have we mutated this "system" at times into how to's? Surely you know the how to's? How to be to worship ... how to pray ... how to be good ... how to do missions, evangelism, church itself? That's the religion of Christianity. I try desperately not to belong to that club.

But heaven help us all, we were never -- in Jesus' eyes -- to be about religion. We were to be about, saved with, galvanized by Christ's cross and the shed blood of a very, very innoncent and pure Lamb of God. No doxology, no prayers, no ritual. Jesus. JESUS. JESUS. And nothing else.

While doing my morning Bible reading, I came across these nuggets, first from Isaiah, then from Luke:

In Isaiah, "The Lord says, 'if you treat the Sabbath as sacred and do not pursue your own interests on that day; if you value my holy day and honor it by not traveling, working, or talking idly on that day, then you will find the joy that comes from serving me."
In Luke, "Jesus was walking through some wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples began to pick the heads of wheat, rub them in their hands, and eat the grain. Some Pharisees asked, 'why are you doing what our Law says you cannot do on the Sabbath.' Jesus answered them, 'haven't you read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, took the bread offered to God, ate it, and gave it also to his men. Yet it is against our Law for anyone except the priests to eat that bread.' And Jesus concluded, 'the son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.' "

The key portions of those two sections of scripture are "your own interests" in Isaiah and "the son of Man" in Luke. Sabbath isn't about ritual or calendaring. Whose Sabbath is it?

Clearly Jesus had his thoughts about what constituted good "religion" and what didn't. Religion, it seemed to him, wasn't about our own interests but rather it was about the son of Man. It wasn't about how do we do this as much as it was about what are we doing this for.

In Luke we find, Jesus saying in another area, "Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preen in the radiance of public flattery, bask in prominent positions, sit at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they'll pay for it in the end."

The apostle Paul tells us his letter to the budding church in Rome, "[ Religion Can't Save You}

And, finally, James (Jesus' brother) told us this about religion, "Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world."

Religion isn't, or shouldn't be, about months on a calendar or days on a PDA.  It's not grape juice and homemade bread. It's not hymns or praise choruses or guitar or pipe organ. Christians, true worshipping Christians, know it is about one man who loved dearly, walked humbly and faithfully, and came to demonstrate not only humanly but Godly love. No ritual, no planning calendar, no event can love us.

Jesus did. Jesus does.Jesus will continue to.

Someone once said you can't lose what you never had. You can't lose religion if you never had a big ol' chunk of it. If that's true, praise be to God.

As the songwriter wrote, "I'd rather have Jesus than vain applause; I'd rather be faithful to his dear cause."

Not once did this man Jesus ever tell us to start a new religion. He did, however, say this: "Burning out on religion? Come to me. ... I'm after mercy, not religion."

Kick the religiosity out of your life and invite the King in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Friendly faith

Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. When they couldn't find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their bold belief, he said, "Friend, I forgive your sins." Luke 5: 18-20

How impressed are you that friends would do anything to get a stricken friend close to Jesus? Think that question over. Roll it around on your tongue before answering. Let it fester, sit, marinate, stew. The answer to that question is one of the more profound and meaningful ones you can give to any question.

How much will you do for someone you love, know, have yet to meet, so that they can meet and greet the Savior of the world? Will you carry them to Jesus? Will you pray with them along the way? Will you shed tears for them if they can't get it, or won't get it, that Good News that is the Gospel of Jesus the Christ?

It is my contention that we've lost some of that desire. We've lost our evangelical edge. We've lost the ability to love someone into the Kingdom of God, fearing the person will fight back, will stall, will make fun of us, will call us less than intelligent.

And in the process of defending our own beliefs, we lose those who have none of their own.

Yet these friends carried the person on the cot onto the roof, dug out a hole and let him down gently.

Let me make three quick points:

1) Both in this telling and the mirror-image in Mark, Jesus sees the faith of the friends and heals. Notice he sees the faith of the friends, not necessarily the faith of the paralyzed man.
2) Jesus sees the faith of the friends and instead of saying, "You are healed" says "Man, your sins are forgiven," which seems a strange retort.
3) In Luke's telling Jesus then ties healing with the forgiveness of sin (for the first time in that Gospel).

It seems to me that there is no greater healing than that which offers to us forgiveness for what we have done. Luke is not telling us that Jesus says sin and the fact the man is paralyzed are tied together. Jesus on other occasions points out that there is no relevant chord running from sin to physical problems.

I like to ask my Bible studies participants to find the answer to this question: Why is the miracle done?

In this instance, it is another of Jesus' teaching moments. Who is Jesus teaching? The teachers of the law, and I suspect, the friends. He heals and forgives because Jesus wants them to understand why miracles come. They come for the glory of God. No other reason is given. Jesus forgives this man's sin (of what we're not told), and tells him to get up, take his mat and go. Notice the friends aren't mentioned again. The man gets up, goes about glorifying God, but where do the friends go? Don't know.

That is our story, folks. Jesus forgives, tells us to get up and go. The miracle is .... we do. We accept the forgiveness freely offered (some of us sometimes). There is no greater miracle in all of scripture.

But... Jesus is saying to all of us, his future readers I suspect, what are you willing to do for the miracle that will forgive those you love? What will you do?


Monday, August 29, 2011


Six years is a lifetime, isn't it? I have trouble remembering what I did last week in the order it was done, but I can remember everything about six years ago, though it was another life. Six years. Only one dog and one cat of the current menagerie was with us as we scampered away from New Orleans. We were leaving for our lives, we thought. Turns out it was leaving our lives, for we never really got them back. Six years later and the deaths of loved ones and loved pets and loved times and here we are.

It was Katrina, that witch that took us away from our kids, our grandchild and future grandchildren, our house, my job that I was enjoying and settled in and even our church. Katrina, which changed the way we viewed our lives, viewed who we were, viewed what would come next. Katrina, that date by which we figure out all other dates.

But, and it's a big, big ol' but... there's a Darius Rucker song out right now that talks about how every little action a person takes leads one to the moment one is living, and I truly believe the Bible is echoed by the lyric. If not for Katrina, we wouldnt' be here, where God is loving us, well, me, into submission. We all simply must live for the moment, God's moment, for peace to exist in our lives.

Joseph, he of slavery and being sold by his brothers, said to those same brothers when they had been brought back together that the brothers had mean evil but God had meant good for that action. Every action is not governed by God, but it is allowed and monitored and everything is turned to the good, according to the Apostle Paul.

Katrina, good? Losing everything we had worked for, good? More importantly and badly, losing hundreds of lives through flooding and such, good?


The Apostle Paul, writing from jail, had this to say: "8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

The God of peace allows game-changing hurricanes? Huh? Really?


Say, just as a maybe, I move to the northshore, take up two churches, take up prison ministry go to prison to serve and something I say or do as a vessel of God's grace changes the heart and thus the life of a prisoner. Say a hurricane was the cause of that move. Is it all worth it? To the prisoner I would reckon the answer would be a resounding YESSSSS. Could it be so for me? Only if I remember their were probably just as many unknown actions that led to that moment when I fell to my knees in submission before a holy but loving God and accepted that singular fact that not only could I not save myself, but I needed help to even reach toward that one who could.

The God of peace allows game-changing hurricanes? Allows stuff I detest because of the changed game? Allows bad to shape my good?

Oh, my goodness, er, His goodness YESSSS.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Prowess left behind

Here's my morning shocker: Everyone dies. There. I said it. But have you ever thought about what you will leave behind? I don't mean what trinkets, money or things. I mean will the world notice that you are missing from it? If you haven't, well, there's a good thing I write these things so I can ponder it for you.

The Bible says, 'Anyone can see that the brightest and best die, wiped out right along with fools and dunces. They leave all their prowess behind, move into their new home, The Coffin, The cemetery their permanent address. And to think they named counties after themselves!"

Do we leave our prowess behind? Do we make a difference? I've always been excited about the books I've written not because they were any good, because I'm afraid they weren't. But they are in the Library of Congress as having been written. That's good enough for me. There's a record I came, I tried, I existed, I confessed my shortcomings. Did I leave my prowess behind? Probably not, but I was here.

I haven't seen many of my kinsmen for years. I haven't been to the West Virginia area my father grew up since 1969, and I wouldn't know them if they came to me face-to-face. I don't see the aunt and uncle who remain from my mother's side. I talk to a dear cousin often, but that's about it. I wished I lived close to the folks I grew up with, but frankly, they probably wouldn't know me much now.

I was sitting in my office recently with time on my hands and as I discovered just how much the chair will swing around without stopping (a real scientific endeavor, I might add), I picked up a book on the history of one of my churches. Turns out it is fascinating. They recorded, well, the families that have made this church what it is. They left behind, well, this church. Seems that's a good thing to do.

Did the world notice they were gone? Well, probably not. But their families and friends did, and ultimately people down the years and years and years did because they have a church to attend.

Ultimately, I have given little to these churches. There won't be a building named after me. The newspapers I wrote for have long since forgotten I was there. Friends? They don't call, because I ceased to exist to them when I walked out of the door for the final time while they continued on. That's okay. I understand that.

But Jesus knows I came, I existed, I tried and I confessed. For him, I didn't even need to do all that. I was loved before I was born.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's all a shell game

I was driving a couple of days ago when I came across, nearly literally, a turtle crossing the road. This is not a joke with a punchline. I actually saw a turtle crossing the road. Verrrrrrryyyyyyyy slowly.

I drove by him, he being in the other lane, and I observed him moving legs and head sticking out as he headed toward my lane. Did I mention it was Verrrrrrrryyyyyy slowly?

I hope he made it. He might have. He could have.

Since then I've thought about how that turtle must see us as we whizz by him or we whizz over him. What fear he must have knowing that he can't possibly move quickly enough to make it without someone helping him, someone much, much greater than himself. If someone wants that turtle dead, that turtle is dead. If someone wants to stop and help, as I should have if I could have figured out how to, then he is helped.

The turtle lives a life completely helplessly.

Does the metaphor need to be explained.

We are no different. God is to us as we are to the turtle. He looks down and sees our crawl through life, every bit as slowly as we watch those turtles cross the road. He helps, he pushes, he watches over. But he does not often stop us from heading out into that road.

After doing two funerals in five days, I've had time to ponder these things and what I see is we are all heading across those roads, and sometimes the cars strike and sometimes they do not. It isn't random, though. There is a plan. Somehow we were helped along the path that took us to that road that determines so many things. We had the choice to stay in the ditch beside the road. But somehow we decided there was more to our world and we risked everything to see it.

That's life. Really.

By the way, why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the Shell Station. (That, just in case you didn't know, was a turtle crossing the road joke).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bitter is the norm

This is in the I don't believe it category:
An entrepreneur is selling soil from a serial killer's home in Cleveland, outraging victims' families.
The Plain Dealer reports Eric Gein of Jackson, Fla., had an associate fill two sandwich bags with dirt from Anthony Sowell's (SOH'-wehlz) house two weeks ago and is selling it on his website called for $25 per gram. Gein expects to make a total of $500.
Sowell was convicted last month of murdering 11 women and dumping their remains around his property. Gein says the soil is valuable to people because Sowell's victims were buried in it. He also says: "We live in a sick world."

There was a time when perhaps we would arge against that notion of a sick world, but not now. Not while people are shooting each other after football games, and nearly every night in some cities.

What have we become when we are so bitter?

What have we become?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Crooked path indeed

This is the second one of these this morning. We'll see if this one takes. The worst thing about losing one of these is I don't remember what I wrote before. Says a lot about me, I reckon.

Let's begin with the Proverbs.

The third one tells me this, "5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
   and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
   and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Can you imagine more meaningful instruction? Leaning not on my own understanding means I never step out the door without God by my side. God understands when I don't. God knows when I can't. God sees where I'm blinded either by useless ambition or by intense false pride.

He even sees, maybe especially sees, when pastors fail him.

In South Carolina today, Dale Richardson is behind bars, having been arrested on charges of kidnapping and raping three women at gun point. Unfortunately that happens all too often, but what makes this different is Richardson is the pastor of the Freedom Free Will Baptist Church.

While he hasn't been convicted of anything, his name has now been removed from the sign outside the church that has a congregation of about 50 people. Those attending last Wednesday night's service who were willing to be interviewed did not condemn Richardson.

"He's always been a real sweet person. He's always taught God's word," said Virginia Davis, who has been attending the church about a year. "He's been honest with me since Day 1. I'd let him look me right in the face and tell me he did it, because I don't believe he did it."

Straight paths. A preacher who is accused of raping women in a trailer behind his church. Seems at the best that Richardson didn't learn quite enough from the writer of the proverb. At worst, he went off the straight path.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The morning battle

How do you start your day? Are you up 15 minutes before you have to rush out of the house? Or do you take an hour or two and begin with meditation and prayer? Do you race here and there, heart pumping as if you were some sort of cheerleader? Or do you relax and take deep breathes, forcing yourself to strangle the ify start of the day until you're hand in hand with your creator? Or is it none of the above?

The Bible says joy comes with the morning. The Bible says Jesus is the bright and morning star. Often, things simply happen with the coming of the morning. Many times Jesus simply went away in the mornings to pray. Morning is more than the sun rising. It is the time of day that the son rises.

This very morning, I've devoted the morning to saving someone's life. I will read from the Psalms (five), and one from the Proverbs. I will continue my Gospel readings from Matthew. I'm bound and abandoned, but I'm not lost this morning as the son rises again.

The morning is about us, then. As Jesus has forecast a glorious morning, so shall I. O glorious morning, o glorious day. Take the pain away and let me praise Him with what I say.

The 20th Psalm weeps for joy, shouts for healthy tidbits, and roars with accolades. God get the bitter wash ready to go. The morning battle, or perhaps the battle for morning, is what it is.

"God answer you on the day you crash, The name God-of-Jacob put you out of harm's reach,
Send reinforcements from Holy Hill; Dispatch from Zion fresh supplies, exclaim over your offerings, celebrate your sacrifices, give you what your heart desires, accomplish your plans."

The battle has never been yours or mine. The battle is His. If we can finally acknowledge that we can finally win the battle.

 "When you win, we plan to raise the roof and lead the parade with our banners. May all your wishes come true! That clinches it—help's coming, an answer's on the way. Everything's going to work out. See those people polishing their chariots, and those others grooming their horses? But we're making garlands for God our God. The chariots will rust, those horses pull up lame — and we'll be on our feet, standing tall. Make the king a winner, God; the day we call, give us your answer."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Everywhere there is change

Let's explore today the notion of change as it applies to our salvation, our hope The Bible is extremely clear that God is unchangable. “I the LORD do not change," scriptures tell us in Malachi. Get that notion through your hard head. God is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, as it tells us.

But, and it's an extremely big but...we must change. God doesn't change. We must change. That's the idea of today as the sun climbs over the horizon.

God has, from time to time, looked upon us and decided things needed to be different. God's Message came to Haggai on the day the Temple rebuilding was launches: "I am about to shake up everything, to turn everything upside down and start over from top to bottom -- overthrow governments, destroy foreign powers, dismantle the world of weapons and armaments, throw armies into confusion so that they end up killing one another."

When Jesus came, bringing with him the idea of a new covenant, he walked into our lives saying we all needed to not only change but to be reborn at that. "He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Then in one of the most expressive of statements about change, we have this: 4"How can anyone," said Nicodemus, "be born who has already been born and grown up? You can't re-enter your mother's womb and be born again. What are you saying with this 'born-from-above' talk?"
5-6Jesus said, "You're not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the 'wind-hovering-over-the-water' creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it's not possible to enter God's kingdom. When you look at a baby, it's just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can't see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit."

Decades after Jesus was resurrected and then ascended into heaven, Paul taught his followers, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."

Change. Change. Change. Everywhere we look there is change. I-Pad comes out, everyone catches the way and produces their own tablets and Apple comes out with I-Pad 2. Change. Change. Change.

There's almost no way around the idea that we are afraid of change for the most part. This story illustrates that: When the railroads were first introduced to the U.S., some folks feared that they'd be the downfall of the nation! Here's an excerpt from a letter to then President Jackson dated January 31, 1829:  As you may know, Mr. President, 'railroad' carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by 'engines' which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed. Martin Van Buren Governor of New York.

What change are you afraid of? What change has kept you from reaching your true destiny, your true calling from God? What change has you excited? What change has you depressed?

Change can be terrifying, and it can be comforting.

A man from the back mountains of Tennessee found himself one day in a large city, for the first time standing outside an elevator. He watched as an old, haggard woman hobbled on, and the doors closed. A few minutes later the doors opened and a young, attractive woman marched smartly off. The father hollered to his youngest son, "Billy, go get mother." (Source unknown)

That's change you can find hope in, huh?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Divine CPR

Suddenly I'm without sleep. I woke this morning at 2:30 a.m. after waking yesterday at 3. I'm writing this at 6:38 after having had breakfast, before my ride on the stationary bike. What has happened? The main issue seems to be I have so much on my mind. There are meetings to be held about meetings to be held, and I have to get it all planned, then all done. And while I'm at it, I need to take time to pray about the two churches that have my name on the sign. Both need an infusion of the breath of their loving God.
So, while I finished my second big cup of Joe before dawn, I pondered the scripture that speaks most to the situation.

"The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

As Ezekiel preaches, the bones come together and take on flesh, yet without life. The bones are revived in two stages, similar to the creation of Adam in Genesis--first the body, then the breath. So Ezekiel next preaches to the wind. The “four winds” (verse 9) is an expression for the four corners of the world. Scientists say that, while the earth is round, there are four corners geographically. In this context, it means “from every direction.” The Spirit of God then enters these bodies, giving them life, raising them up. 

The Spirit of God, the breath of God, gives those bones life.

In all our mission statements and demographic research and the like, have we ever stopped and pondered this passage? The bodies are there, hanging around, doing little before the Spirit enters and changes everything.

Doesn't that seem to be the answer to all these little churches?

Dem bones are lying there. Dem churches are lying there. Dem bones are raised up. Dem churches can be raised up. Dem bones are given life. Dem churches can be resurrected by the Spirit and power of a holy God.

The story of Ezekiel and the valley of the bones is explained later in the 37th chapter of the prophet's work. In the Message it reads, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they're saying: 'Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there's nothing left of us."

A tired clergy. A winded laity. Bland worship. Boring service. "Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there's nothing left of us," sounds an awful lot like Sunday morning coming down.

What to do?

God says, "I'll breathe my life into you and you'll live."

I...Him ... not plan, no mission, no leadership training, no seminary, nothing natural except God breathing into us like it was divine CPR, which is what we need. The body of Christ is damaged. The heart is barely pumping. The lungs aren't producing much. Some even say the body is dying.

But not Him, and not us. Let's stop what we're doing and let him breathe. That will fix what ails us, I believe.

Divine CPR is needed, and quickly now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ultimate bargains

Ever been a bargainer with God? You know those, "If you help me here, God, I'll ...." I sure have, lots of times, plenty of which came during New Orleans Saints football games or during Atlanta Braves baseball games. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose and my fingernails are ravaged in the process.

The late George Carlin, a funny but sometimes dirty comedian, once said in a routine about how we miss-use the language, "When two airplanes come close to each other, it is not a near-miss as we say. It is a near hit."

Fact is, one can get a different outlook on life if one has a narrow miss or a narrow near-hit. A brush with death can motivate, can turn a life, can cause reflection that brings new life. The Bible often calls it being reborn. Once I was lost, now I am found, the hymn reminds us.

In the 116th Psalm, the writer reflects on being saved from death.

He writes, "Death stared me in the face; hell was hard on my heels. Up against it, I didn't know which way to turn; then I called out to God for help. Please, God," I cried out. "Save my life."

With a successful bargain signed, sealed and delivered, the writer looks back, "What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me?" In other words, what is his end of the bargain?

"I'll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God! I'll pray in the name of God; I'll complete what I promised God I'd do, and I'll do it together with his people."

His end? He is well aware that God will do what God promised. So, the writer must as well to complete this divine document. He promises to complete God's actions with God's people. He'll tell others about the nature of God.

Then the writer makes plain what might be missed. "When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him."  The NIV says, "Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants."

Either way, it seems the bargain is this: For my love, for my adoration, for my faith, I will be loved in return when I breathe my last.
Kim Fabricus says of this bargaining with God, "For here is what religion, at bottom, is all about: it’s about making a bargain with God. And the bargain goes like this: Lord, I give you my faith and all that goes with it: the church-going, the praying, the giving, the rectitude, the extra mile, and so on; and you, God, in return, you’ve got to be fair. If I keep my side of the bargain, I expect you to bless me with good things – health, work, family. I don’t expect life to be all strawberries and cream, but I do expect a sense of proportion – no serious illnesses, traumatic divorce, or kids on crack. Of course if I don’t keep my side of the bargain, if I lapse and behave very badly – hey, nobody’s perfect! – fair enough, I get what’s coming to me. But, Lord, we both keep to the contract. And there is an unwritten codicil to this contract: other people – they too must get what they deserve: as the righteous must prosper, so the sinner must suffer."

It seems to me that there is no real financial bargaining, because we have nothing to leverage our bargains with. We own nothing that we can take with us, take to him to give. To be saved we must empty our pockets and open our hands and show God that we've left nothing in our grasp. We come to him with nothing, praying that he will not just understand, but love the absence of things. It is called being broken, not being bargained.

What we come to God with, finally, is our faith that He will be all we need. The irony is He will save us not because we've offered him a bargain but because we've acknowledged that without Him we can do nothing. It is unmerited mercy, un-purchased grace. un-bargained salvation.

Perhaps that is the ultimate bargain, though. We are given salvation. We give surrender and nothing else.

In the fabled end of the day, that is what the bargain, the covenant, is. It is us being given not what we deserve but what He desires for us. It is His mercy. It is His love. It is His grace.

And if the Saints or Braves win, it pales beside arriving at the gates and being let in, a preciously loved child of God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Saying goodbye to a Saint

Nobody lost their life, but darn if I'm not sad. The New Orleans Saints cut offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb, and it's not just that he was one of my favorite players. He was one of the best of the Saints, in every way.

I talked to him a couple of years back for my book, God's Calling. He was gracious enough to permit me some time, and I still have his cell number. I got his cell number after Jon had spoken at a breakfast at a convention I was attending. See, Jon was a Christian, a United Methodist at that. He was a good man, a big, hulking guy who would hit you hard but the kind of guy who would make sure you were alright later. He loved the Lord, and he saw no difference in his vocation and others in terms of violence versus the love of God.

He was sincere. A hard worker who didn't quit and played through injury, Jon was also the union rep for the Saints during that long lockout you might have heard a word or two about this spring and summer.

He told me then, "I think (my call of God) came when lots of prayer and having a lot of good Christians around me, and feeling the Holy Spirit inside me."

Stinchcomb came back from a knee injury in 2005, went through the ravages of Hurricane Katrina with the team that year, came back to start every game for five seasons including a magnificent Super Bowl victory after the 2009 season.

But apparently, apparently, an injury has taken its toll. He was released.

It led me to think about the assuredness of God's promises. See, Jon can be the perfect person for going through what was an absolute shock to everyone including several teammates. He is picked up and set on his way by a loving, holy God who doesn't just set the world into motion and step back. He can actually step in and hold us up, as I wrote about yesterday.

Jon and his family have earned their money, including $2.5 million that was guaranteed for this coming season. It's not about the money. It's about at 32, what do I do.

Ironically, the two Saints I talked to for my book that was printed earlier this year, Jon and Heath Evans, are both gone. Both Christians. Both outspoken lovers of Jesus. I would question the fact that they were released except another rather outspoken lover of the savior of the world on that team is Drew Brees.

I suspect they won't be cutting him.

God Speed, Jon Stinchcomb

Monday, August 15, 2011

Seems about right to me

I struggle with the notion of suffering. I see so very much of it. I see so much death. I see so much pain. In my struggle, though, I find this relief:
Jesus said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" And he said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." And he said, "I will be with you till the end of the age."

The Father said, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

In our darkest nights, the dark night of a slippage of faith or the dark night of a loss of a loved one when the pain builds like blockage in old arteries, he's there in the room, providing the little light there is.

Seems about right to me.

This weekend a great saint of one of my churches died. He slipped away to that home across the river, away from five years of a failing body, a paralyzed life lived in a bed with his dear, dear wife watching over his every breath. I prayed all last week that God's will be done while with the wife. In private, when God and I do business, I prayed he be taken.

Today I believe he's dancing. No bed. No body that was just a hanger for a soul. No heart pumping blood to a frame that would not respond no matter how he told it to. No large smile on a shrinking face, surely, but also no seemingly endless amount of work for a little woman who couldn't hardly turn him when she needed to clean him or clean his bed.

Seems about right to me.

No, I don't know the reasons he lived so long after a stroke that took who he was away even as much as a bank failure takes away what we believe to be money in the building. I don't know the whys or even the hows. I can't know on this side of the blessed River Jordan.

I know this much, or suspect it (in words from a song called The reason for the world by Matthew West), "Maybe the reason for the pain is so we would pray for the strength and maybe the reason for the strength is so we would have hope, and maybe the reason for the hope is so we would face the world and maybe the reason for the world is to make us long for home."

Seems about right to me.

"Just keep your eyes on heaven and know you are not alone." He promises, promises mind you, that we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but he also promises he will walk that dusty, dark valley with us.

Seems about right to me.

The Bible says: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him ..."

Seems about right to me.

This morning that works for me. The suffering? We deal with it. The pain? Wish it weren't, but it is. The loss? It's going to happen to all of us.

But the promise is he will hold us, even hold us up when our legs are too miserable incapable of holding our trembling, crying bodies.

Seems about right, even to me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

God still rules the Planet of the Apes

Mary, my wife, and I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes on Monday and were greatly moved by the tale and the special effects. But one thing that didn't move me was the basic premise, which is that a serum could change the way apes and man are regarded. In other words, one dose and the apes are as intelligent as man and that is the only thing that separates us.

I take a bit of umbrage at this. I believe, without going into a rampage about what Genesis teaches, that we are created in the image of God with a soul that makes a huge difference no matter our smarts. There is one scene in the movie that stands out to me. The owner/father of Caesar the chimp takes him for a walk in the forest and they come across a couple walking their dog. Caesar takes a good long look at that trio and then signs to his owner/father, "Am I a pet?" He's wondering where he fits in. It's a memorable moment and it speaks to all of us, I think.

But the answer is not, "You are one of us."

Shakespeare said it this way, "What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals -- and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"

We, humans, are many things. We are the best of God's created work. Ephesians calls us his masterpiece. We are to rule, to be in dominion, over all he has created. That would include, presumably, the apes. Though their DNA isn't far from us, it does not mean they are us and no serum would change that.

No need for a Scopes monkey trial or anything. It's just a work of fiction. But it bothered me that no one in the movie for a second even talked about the implicit loss of God in the framework of the fiction.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The little jobs count big

Today I go to pray for teachers and classrooms at Northlake Christian Academy. We have a teacher who works there and it is a fine, fine activity. Last year I was moved beyond words by the prayer requests and the tears shed.

It reminds me that we all have a "job" to do and that as the song says we everything we do we do for the one who made us, cause he made us. We don't need big duties, big moments. Little moments done as well as they can be done are just as important.

The Bible says, "If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, tick to your teaching. If you give encouraging guidance, be careful you don't get bossy; if you're in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face."

Do everything you do to the best. Today's them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

God's planning

I read the other day that the first 150-year-old person probably already has been born. I know that I have a 101-year-old in one of my churches and a 94-year-old in the other. I also know that both are in pain and the drugs we have today cost so much that the 150-year-old plan had better include more effective back procedures in it.

Imagine what the world would be like if our life expectancy grows beyond 100. These two women above have seen two world wars, two or three conflicts, the great depression, the great recession. They have great-great-great grandchildren. They have lived so long they remember when calling on the phone included a party line.

Life is a real interesting conversation. There is a man who lived across the street who has been paralyzed after a stroke for six years. Six. Years. He's having another of those maybe this is it moments right now as I write this and his daughter is in again. She's come three times in the past year.

All this makes you wonder what God has on his mind sometimes. It really does. Two women live seemingly forever, babies die in car wrecks and stroke victims go on and on and on. There is really no rhyme nor reason, it seems. I know God has a plan; I believe God has a plan; I sure as heck hope God has a plan.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

God-attention disorder

So we're talking another recession. Jobs are going away at a record pace. We're all wondering what is next, unless we're corporate head honchos who are making bigger profits than every before. What's to do?

I know I sound like a broken record, but the Bible addresses life: "So here's what I want you to do," writes Paul at the beginning of Romans 12. "God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life -- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him."

In other words, this is your life. It's given to you. Make of it the best you can with God's divine help. Make your body a living sacrifice. "Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God."

I can't find a reasonable argument that says we've haven't stopped doing that. Though technology has grow and developed and changed our culture, one of the things it certainly has done is take the attention away from God. Can anyone argue that the church hasn't stopped being the center of community life? Is life better? Can social networking (even as I blog daily) not take attention away from God unless we make certain we keep it on Him. As I do, or try to do.

That's where we are. We've taken our attention and placed in everything elsewhere. God notices. He really does.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The response? End the violence

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday:
A woman still grieving the murder of her 12-year-old daughter three years ago lost a son to gun violence Friday and lay in a hospital bed, unable to speak with detectives, herself the victim of a shooting an hour earlier.

Those close to Kimberly Wade said she still struggled with the loss of her daughter, Jolesa Barber, whose killing in a hail of gunfire in January 2008 became emblematic of the ravages of gang violence. Ms. Wade, a mother of seven, moved to Koerner Avenue in Perry South, not far from the row house where Jolesa was struck by gunfire meant for her brother.

But harm followed her. Police said Ms. Wade, 45, was shot in the stomach while she sat on her porch just after 10 p.m. Thursday, by at least one gunman who riddled her house with bullet holes. A witness told police two young men darted away on foot. An hour later and less than a mile away, her son, Chris Michaux, 19, was shot in the head outside a friend's house on Leland Street.

It is interesting to me that thousands of miles away and a day later, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prayer event "The Response" was held. It was, of course, controversial, because Perry is a governmental official and because it is a Christian event. Perry was quoted as say about the event, "As an elected leader, I’m all too aware of government’s limitations when it comes to fixing things that are spiritual in nature. That’s where prayer comes in, and we need it more than ever. With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need god’s help.”

Notice that the g in God is lower case. We won't even argue about that this morning though we could. It seems to me that instead of fussing and fighting and arguing abut whose god we should be praying to, the fact remains that God, a living, loving being who created and sustained us, is more necessary than ever before in this country and in this world. Frankly, we are in bad, bad shape. Our credit rating -- our CREDIT rating -- went down. The greatest country in the world no longer is as trustworthy as it once was. That's not a story. That's a huge story, friends. We are no longer the country that others turn to financially. How long before we're not the country to turn to in other ways?

The question, perhaps then, should be where will we turn? Where will we get a proper response, Perry asks.

The Bible says the question has been posed, "Where does my help come from?" The answer, the only answer I'm afraid is, "My help comes from the Lord."

Perry, who is quickly gaining my attention in an attentionless group of Republican candidates, seems to understand this. If we want to end the violence, we must become peaceful people. If we want to become peaceful people, we must turn to the giver of peace ... this man Jesus.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Imagine hopeless living

My daughter has finished her quest to find the best schools for her children. She is faced, since her husband was killed in a vehicle accident four plus years ago, with having to transport her kids to two different schools in a matter of an hour before she races to work. It is an intense time when getting the kids dressed and out the door is like dressing an angry ostrich. Imagine what she goes through on a daily basis.

But what she goes through is nothing compared to what is going on in the world thousands of miles away from Shanna, Gabe and Gavin. Nothing.

Ask yourselves this: What it is in your life that you just flat out couldn't live without? Take your time. It's not as easy a question as we will try to make it to be. Imagine, if you will, life without television, without newspapers or books, without a car or air conditioning. Imagine life without your loved ones, or life without certain foods or without fresh, drinkable water.

Imagine life, then, in Kenya or any of the Horn of Africa countries.

Imagine dying because it won't rain. Rain.

This is life over there: There are water distribution points in Kenya, places that some have to walk 10-12 miles under the scorching sun to reach the nearest borehole.

Water is scarce. Wells are 500 feet deep and sometimes the water is salty. Water trucks will dump the precious liquid in tanks in remote communities, but sometimes the water is pumped straight out of the rivers and it is much less than clean. Another sure sign of drought are the animal carcasses lining up the side of the road. Some have had a long time to rot, but others look like they have just fallen from exhaustion. Goats, cows, and even a giraffe remind that a shortage of food and water inevitably lead to a slow death.

One refugee settlement is now home to more than 400,000 people, mostly Somali families who have escaped their own country with hopes of a better future in Kenya. The political instability in Somalia has only exacerbated the effects of the drought, causing the United Nations to call the situation a famine. As a result, 2,000 new refugees cross into Kenya daily, slowly and painfully making their way from the border town of Liboi to the camps in Dadaab, located approximately 60 miles from the entry point.

While we're imagining the fears of having no cable or Internet, these people are dying because they don't have a drink of water or a morsel of food. People have been walking for weeks. They are hungry, thirsty, and exhausted from their exodus. Each story is different but the common thread is tragic. Many have lost children along the way, starved to death, with no other choice but to leave them behind. I don’t think any of us can fully understand the unimaginable sense of helplessness that a mother can feel when facing such tragic circumstances.

When these new arrivals finally make it to Dadaab, they receive a ration of food for 20 days, a tent, and medical attention. It’s not much, but it’s still more than some Kenyan communities in the corridor between Liboi and Dadaab are getting. The percentages of children who are malnourished have soared. The nomadic cattle herders have lost their source of income, as animals have died and prices for livestock have plummeted, leaving them with insufficient means to provide adequate food for their families.
Imagine if you will, people who have lost all things, but the most tragic of all the things they have lost is the fact that they've lost all hope. They don't look forward to anything but a day that might, might mind you, be less tragic than the day they're currently in.

David writes in the 144th Psalm, "Blessed be God, my mountain, who trains me to fight fair and well. He's the bedrock on which I stand, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight."

Imagine those persons without water, without clean water, without rain, without food, and without anything they can call a home. Imagine their gaunt, skeleton-like dirty faces and stringy hair. Imagine having no dental care and no health care in general. Imagine no nights of mac and cheese, like, ever. Imagine the last time you had on clean clothes was not within memory because having clean clothes is not a priority at all. Imagine a land where stealing animals from your neighbor is not only understood it is expected because what would you do, after all, if you hadn't eaten in days and even a scrawny, unhealthy cow looks unimaginably enticing.

Imagine no hope.

See, giving Jesus to someone, talking about what Jesus has done in our lives, isn't going to work if one doesn't also give someone a drink of water and a morsel of food, and a bit of health-care as well. Love is patient and it is kind, but it is also pragmatic and real.

We have the the means of giving everyone in this world a Bible. We also have the means to give everyone clean water and reasonable food. We've made many people millionaires. Can't we give up some of that money to make kids in Africa hopeful beings?

With every bite of food and every slurp of water, they will know that Jesus is King of Kings. You know, that probably would work in America as well.

Just saying....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Testing our hearts

Today I go to a cardiologist to find out if I have a heart. Odds are against it. Seriously, though, they're checking for calcification of an artery in my leg. So I will have to do things, many things, to discover my heart health. I only know that I'm so very sleepy after no caffeine for 24 hours plus and I'm hungry after no food for the past 12 hours.

I only know this, as did David, "I cry out loudly to God, loudly I plead with God for mercy. I spill out my complaints before him, and spell out my troubles in detail."

As I was in line yesterday at the grocery, the check-out lady and I talked about growing older. I used my line, "Every day I rise and attempt to figure out what will be hurting today." She agreed wholeheartedly with only a slight laugh as she pondered the sentence. The sentence fit too closely to her life to make it completely funny.

In scripture we can find a number of duties of the heart, none of which include pumping blood to the body. The heart can be set (on someone), the heart can sink (as in become despondent), the heart can be hardened (as in become unmovable or unchangeable or even unyielding), the heart can be the center of something, the heart can be moved, it can be humbled, it can melt in fear, it can be a measuring stick as in loving with all your heart, it can be inclined towards God, it can even be proud. Heck, the Bible says it can even be circumcised, which is a feat I do not want to have happen to me today in the doctor's office. Nope, not at all.

God even tells the people of Israel to "fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads."

The Israelites, you see, understood the heart to be the center of emotions, but also the place where wisdom was stored.

As Daniel said to King Nebuchadnezzar, the wisdom of God is not revealed so that we who share it can show off or be glorified, but so that we and our listeners can be edified, so that we may all have the thoughts of our hearts revealed to us. The person who truly looks into the depths of Scripture will see his heart revealed in the light of the heart of God, and such revelation must move us to repentance and greater faith.

So today when they have me walk the treadmill and put some sort of dye into my body, they're seeking the physical health of that created device that pumps blood throughout my body. Sunday when I walk from pulpit to altar rail and sometimes beyond, I'm seeking the spiritual health of a congregation of people, by virtue of a created device that pumps the Holy Spirit through out bodies.

Here is my challenge for us all today: let us come to Scripture with a new heart, seeking God’s Word with new purpose.

Yes, we can come to know God’s love and God’s will for our lives through studying the Bible. But each time we come to God’s holy Word, we need to start by setting our minds to one purpose: to see our own hearts revealed in the light of Christ and His gospel

Let us turn to Scripture daily, seeking to know God so that we also are known, seeking His wisdom so that we understand the hidden recesses of our own hearts, seeking signs of His mercy so that we truly understand our need for repentance. Ultimately, let us look to the Bible not only to better understand who we are but also to know who we can be through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Holy God and Father, I thank You today for Your holy Word, for this Book that You have graciously given us. As I come to Your Bible each day, Lord God, help me to understand myself, to know Your will for my life, to truly see the amazing gift of Your mercy. In Your Word, let me see myself through Your eyes, through Your love. Help me to see Your Christ so that I may become more like Him. Truly, eternally open our hearts and let the Spirit of God in fresh and new each day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Talking it out, over and out

David sat in a cool, damp cave, having run madly from his king, Saul. It was a fire-less evening, and he was without light and without heat. He was alone, in every sense of the word. Nothing he could do, nothing he could think, nothing he could say would lift him out of the doldrums in which he now found himself.

The Bible says in First Samuel 1:22 of his stay in the cave, "1-2 So David got away and escaped to the Cave of Adullam. When his brothers and others associated with his family heard where he was, they came down and joined him. Not only that, but all who were down on their luck came around—losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts. David became their leader. There were about four hundred in all.
3-4 Then David went to Mizpah in Moab. He petitioned the king of Moab, "Grant asylum to my father and mother until I find out what God has planned for me." David left his parents in the care of the king of Moab. They stayed there all through the time David was hiding out."

A short time later (two chapters as the crow flies), we read, "When Saul came back after dealing with the Philistines, he was told, "David is now in the wilderness of En Gedi." Saul took three companies—the best he could find in all Israel—and set out in search of David and his men in the region of Wild Goat Rocks. He came to some sheep pens along the road. There was a cave there and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were huddled far back in the same cave. David's men whispered to him, "Can you believe it? This is the day God was talking about when he said, 'I'll put your enemy in your hands. You can do whatever you want with him.'" Quiet as a cat, David crept up and cut off a piece of Saul's royal robe."

One "boy" and one "king" had to reach their reckoning point.

So, what's your reckoning point? Where does God want you to reach before He causes you to actively pursue His goals, His moment of truth? Where? What? When? Why? And that all important "how." What's your bottom? How low can you go? Will you ever reach a point from which there is no return, no way out?

It was a bitterly hot day yesterday. Eggs were being cracked across our parish in preparation for sidewalk frying. Beyond simple early August heat, it was one of those borderline dangerous summer days, the kind you wouldn't wish on an enemy. I made some home visits, and we had a dinner "on the grounds" last evening at the church. Each time I got out of the car, it was practice for Armageddon. A few seconds out of the air conditioning and I was drenched. Each and every time. Drenched with sweat. Drenched with minutes -- long, long minutes mind you -- of odorous olfactory obfuscation or as they say where I'm from, "I was sweating like a dog." Mind you, dogs don't really sweat except out of the pads of their feet so that makes no sense. I think it should be dog tired, sweating like a pig and trotting like a horse, but I've stalled.

My clothing was nothing short of wringing wet as we warmed the evening meal Mary had prepared. I hate to be wet, dry, wet, dry but there was little I could do. A cool cave would have been a welcome change in temperatures, but we had no cave and we had no cool.

David called out from his temporary residence in the 142nd Psalm, "As I sink in despair, my spirit ebbing away, you know how I'm feeling. Know the danger I'm in, the traps hidden in my path. ... I cry out, God, call out; 'You're my last chance, my only hope for life!' Oh listen, please listen; I've never been this low.' "

Friends, it's hard not to get that low right now. The caves in our lives offer more than shelter; the caves offer hope. The caves offer fortification against attack. The caves offer a way out from an unbelievably dire situation.

Been there? Done that? Recently?

I offer to my congregations each week a solace. I tell them what they must do if they want a way out.

I tell them that if they want to talk, if they want to listen as I talk, if they want shelter against the pain and suffering that is today's living, all they must do is set up a meeting either at the church or their homes or a coffee shop or whatever. They almost never call.

As the pain grows deeper and deeper in their lives, I am always sure they will contact me. They almost never do. I don't really know why except they seem to feel if they come to talk to the pastor, it is an admission of not only guilt but certainly failure. That's true. It is. But that's really the point of all this. If we admit our sin, admit our guilt and certainly admit our failure, we are on the road to replacing that failure with the goodness of our being washed clean by Jesus' blood. What a sweet, sweet Spirit that replaces our failure. Oh for the joy of that moment.

David prays to his Lord in the 143rd Psalm, "If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice, I'll go to sleep each night trusting in you. Point out the road I must travel; I'm all ears, all eyes before you."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Myspace is twittering all over my Facebook

Psalms 141 says, "Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising; my raised hands are my evening prayers. Post a guard at my mouth, God, set a watch at the door of my lips."

The mouth/tongue is a deadly thing. It can trip us up at the most inopportune time. It can hurt us more than anything I know. Matthew tells us, "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' " (Matthew 15:11) And James says of the tongue, "7People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God."

We read in Proverbs, "death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it [for death or life]."

Those of us who understand how powerful our words can be understand how conversely wonderful our words can be, as well. In a world of TMZ reporting (instantaneous and live recording hitting the internet in seconds), what we say, not how we say it, is all important. There is no correcting our mistakes; there is only showing our mistakes -- over and over and over. It is a lesson many are learning the very, very hard way.

George Herbert understood this more than a century ago. He said, “Better the feet slip then the tongue.”  He understood these things despite the time in which he lived. What would he have understood about Facebook?"

Our world has changed. If you don't Facebook, Myspace or Twitter, you don't recruit well in college football, or keep up with the police docket in professional football or simply know what your buddies are doing in high school football.

You need to keep up with where your money is because your mouth has already travelled there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The debt we owe

"Man, I owe you," we say with no real thought as to what that sentence means. When the first sparing compromising vote came through Sunday night about the new stimulus package, one person said, "I'll be paying bills, student loans, a mortgage for the next 30 years," he said. "I'm not going to let this bring me down. It's one more thing I'll owe. When you're born, you start owing."

When you are born, you start owing. What a thought. A dreadful, truthful thought. The word comes from the French dette and ultimately Latin debere (to owe), from de habere (to have). The letter b in the word debt was reintroduced in the 17th century, possibly by Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of 1755 — several other words that had existed without a b had them reinserted at around that time. Debt allows people and organizations to do things that they would otherwise not be able, or allowed, to do. Commonly, people in industrialised nations use it to purchase houses, cars and many other things too expensive to buy with cash on hand. Companies also use debt in many ways to leverage the investment made in their assets, "leveraging" the return on their equity. This leverage, the proportion of debt to equity, is considered important in determining the riskiness of an investment; the more debt per equity, the riskier. For both companies and individuals, this increased risk can lead to poor results, as the cost of servicing the debt can grow beyond the ability to pay due to either external events (income loss) or internal difficulties (poor management of resources).

Debt. It's a word that is virtually, uh, debt-free today. No one is interested in discussing debt any longer. Get it? Interest, debt?

We are, as a nation and as individuals, knee deep in debt. Writer Gary Gibbs says this:
There are more than 376 million Visas and MasterCards in circulation. This is up 80 percent from a few years ago when the average family had only two credit cards and $2,340 in outstanding balances. Today they have an average of four cards and owe nearly $4,880. Altogether, American consumers have racked up $480 billion dollars in debt with these little two- by three-inch pieces of plastic, and that figure grows at a 13 percent annual rate.

"We are a nation drowning in red ink. Plans for the large government budget surplus seem to be the focus of recent political attention, but soaring consumer debt is seldom discussed. Within the past few years (debt) has increased 39 percent and now exceeds $1 trillion. "When you carry this much debt it's scary," says consumer spending expert Madelyn Hochstein in a recent newspaper article, "Black-hole Borrowing, Consumer Debt Surging; Nation's Economy at Risk." The article goes on to warn that, "This could be a time bomb for the U.S. economy and its banks."

Let's get some perspective. One million dollars in $1,000 bills would make a stack eight inches high. One billion dollars in $1,000 bills would stack 115 feet higher than the Washington Monument, which itself is 555 feet tall. One trillion dollars in $1,000 bills would stretch 126 miles into outer space. If a person stood over a big hole in the ground and dropped in a million dollars every day, it would take 3,000 years to throw a trillion dollars away.

God's Word peers into the financial future and predicts that a catastrophe is coming. "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days" (James 5:1-3, emphasis added). Brother James is telling us that riches won't help us now or in the future.

There are two principals at work here. First, you go where your god goes and where your heart has been. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21). If money is your god and your heart is set on earthly things, then when Jesus returns, you will go to the moles and bats with your idols. Second, we need to understand is that God owns everything and Satan tries to steal it from Him. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalms 24:1).

But not only does Satan try to steal God's riches, but there are people who are not faithful also. A survey of 6,000 families who attended church at least three times per month showed that only 34 percent tithed at least 10 percent of their income, 40 percent gave three percent or less, and 26 percent gave virtually nothing.

God wasn't overstating matters when He said there were thieves in the church. Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira? They promised to donate the proceeds from the sale of their house to God, but they reneged on it. The apostle Peter, moved by the Holy Spirit, rebuked the hypocrisy of this couple. "Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? ... thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God" (Acts 5:3, 4). Then they dropped dead!"

Some people object to tithing by saying, "Tithing isn't required in the New Testament." The fact is that the Bible is God's Word no matter what testament it is found in. Furthermore, Jesus did endorse tithing in the New Testament. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23). The apostle Paul also endorsed the tithing system in Hebrews 7:8, "And here men that die receive tithes; but there he [Jesus] receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lived."

God uses His tithe to support the work of His church. "And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Numbers 18:21).

And remember that offerings are in addition to tithe and are not set at a certain percentage. "But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings" (Malachi 3:8, emphasis added).

We gladly give to God's work because we love Him and want to see people led to Christ. "So let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).

It requires money to take the gospel to the world. It took money when Jesus was on earth. He had his own treasurer on His staff of disciples (John 12:6). And the early church taught that those who worked full-time in gospel ministry needed support from the church. "Do you not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so Lord has ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:13, 14).
This is a fact: We have a debt to God that can never be repaid. Jesus paid our debt on the cross, paid for our debt not with debt consolidation plans but with the pure blood of the lamb of God. Therefore, we should think about what we owe him, our blessed redeemer, our kinsman, our pure and innocent sacrificial lamb.

Compromise on debt? Jesus didn't. He simply paid the greatest price of all with the only thing that could possibly pay off our debts. How is it then that we don't even pay a 10th back to him? How could it possibly be? What are we short-changing God of?

Stanley, son of renowned Charles Stanley, tells of speaking to a group of teens at camp one year. He wanted to impress them with the wisdom in obeying and following God. He put $325 into his pocket before his sermon that night. He talked about trusting God. Then he asked if there was anyone in the audience who had all their money with them that night. One young man did.
He invited the teen to the front. But before he continued, he wanted to make two things clear. One, did the young man trust Andy? "Yes," the fellow said he did. And two, Andy assured him that he would leave the stage better off than when he came. The young man held $226 in his hand. Andy asked him to give him all his money in return for what was in his pockets. Ultimately the boy refused the deal.

Like Andy, God has many good things to give us, but first He wants us to trust Him and hand over the things we're putting before Him. God loves us and wants the best for us. That is why He teaches us truth. Every truth He brings our way is for our good. He knows that a time of economic chaos and trouble is coming, so He asks us to follow Him. If we want to survive the coming economic abyss, then we must make God number one in our lives and recognize His ownership of everything by returning a faithful tithe and offerings.