Category Archives: Ramblings

Why?

In my later years have been accused of being a little over inquisitive. I ask questions which cause seeming discomfort to myself and those who I ask. Asking why is the measure of my quest.  I can look up the how; there is always a video on YouTube to show me that.  I can weigh all the factors like my bank account and my calendar to determine the when.  I can even analyze the best person to do the how.  But when it comes to why, that question is different. 

Why? Why? Why? Any statement of fact can well be answered by the dreaded “WHY”. I was never satisfied with the, “because I said so,” in response to why I needed to clean my room. There is always a question in my mind. I can be annoying if you are the victim of most of them.  I am a curious sort and want to know everything: its origin, meaning, cause, and consequence. It can be profound or mundane. I have asked the great questions of life (or so I think) and also the base queries about ordinary stuff.

My why today is about the motive of those who express themselves in response to those around us.  It has been called peer pressure, or crowd think, or herd mentality. Why do we seem to want the acceptance of everyone around us even it may cut at the edge of public morality and personal ethic?  Why loot a store just because someone else broke the glass in the first place.  Why go along with the crowd and carry signs of solidarity with those who know little about? Why complain about the amount of cows that are in danger of being slaughtered when your own ox in the ditch (to use a biblical expression)? Or like Jesus said why worry about the speck in the eye of someone else when you have a log in your own.

I will keep asking why.  And if you don’t want to answer, Why not?

The domesticated Church

In the last 250 years the United States has changed drastically. This change is an antithesis what our country was founded upon.  The very idea of a nation that could and did have the right to believe what they ever they like was one of the best ideas of the Bill of Rights. Our nation has changed. It has changed from the idea of freedom of religion to freedom from religion.

The very idea a nation can survive in a culture where there is a choice between religion and no religion at all was simply crazy thinking in the beginning of our nation.  Our dependence upon the divine was built into every thing our nations was built upon. Belief was the basis for our total identity. It was not what was possessed it what was believed. A mandate to believe in something was required in oursociety. There were few atheists or agnostics.

There was no duality in the early years of our republic.  Religion and life were inextricably tied together. It changed in small little steps. Now we live in an age that would separate Faith and life.  The default mode is to see faith as simply an escape from the madness.  Carl Marx is now seen as correct when he was quoted as saying, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Christianity or any belief is seen as a crutch. And we have fallen for a dualism.  The life of the everyday has been segmented from the life of faith.  It is much like a plate of food where the mashed potatoes are never allowed to touch the peas. 

This dualism attitude says it really doesn’t matter who is in control: Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communist, Secular Humanists, Green, Libertarians.  The secular can go ahead and run the world.  Let them run the country as long as those who believe can have their little piece of heaven.  As long as Jesus is there in the believers little corner of life, all is well.  Jesus can be well scheduled, secluded, private and quiet.

If one would try to invade the other’s space, whether the world into faith or faith into the world there is anger.  Any attempt to join the two is seen as revolt of personal rights.  Today, there is a separation worlds because there is no possibility of co-mingling of authority.  The world would say the only authority is man.  Faith says the only authority is God.  They don’t mix well. 

Christianity in the west has become like a boxing ring. Christians in one corner and the world in the other.  And if each is in their respective corners all is quiet.  The Faithful, if they stay in their corner they are ignored by the world.  The world is equally ignored in our prayer closets and our pulpits.  Until one or the other makes a step to meet in the middle there is no reaction.

This duality of life is almost satisfying.  There is little motivation to step out to the middle of the ring. To enter the battle place to fight the good fight.

A Christian nation is a good thought.  It gives the average churchman solace of purpose. It is an acknowledgement of rightness of God.  It is good to be a part of something that is well accepted.  There is even a group called the Religious Right that has influence on the culture of the West. They have made an imperceptibly small nudge toward the center and the other corner calls foul.  Foul because the world not only wants its corner but the middle too.

Those in the corner act Christian.  As long as our corner is not invaded by the world, if the world does not take our tax deductions, If the world allows us to occupy a corner or two, then it is good. And this corner keeping attitude brings with it an expectation.  Not a faith expectation to change the world, but an expectation of something in this life.  It is an expectation in which each generation will have it a little better off.  We will live longer.  We will have all the food we need.  We will be able to go wherever we want. To be treated fairly.  In a Godly nation we will have the best healthcare, the best lifestyle, the best leisure opportunities.  This Nation which stamps on their money, “IN GOD WE TRUST”, comes with it an expectation of being better off than the ungodly nations.  In doing so we have lost the bigger viewpoint.  It is all about the battle.

We have developed a form of Christianity to support this concept of prosperity.  It has become a Christianity which is acceptable, comfortable, secure, and prosperous as seen by the other corner.  This corner Christianity that looks at our uniqueness, our personal goals, our own needs, our own wants, our own preferences, our own prosperity.  We have nice churches, nice chairs, nice heating and cooling, good lighting, the best music, and short messages about other people.

There is no call to be an alien, a traveler, or a selfless soul on a journey. It is an attitude of arrival.  Heaven on earth. And we are good with that. 

We get angry if the world doesn’t treat Christianity as something that is not normal.  The church has become comfortable.  And all this normalcy, this duality is destroying our relationship to the real Jesus.  The world has domesticated the church.  I don’t want to be a comfort seeking, entertainment addicted, survey craving, approval desiring Christian.  I can not stay in my corner.  I don’t want to waste my life just fitting in.  I want God.  And I want God to be the authority.  I want God to rule my life. No duality. Just primary. I want God in the whole ring.

Fool for Christ

I worry about what is happening to this generation. It is a generation that doesn’t know books.  The ability to read and be moved by the well-written page is slowly slipping away. Today it is all about screens, smartphones, blogs, Social Media, Kindles, and iPads. Through video games, they have raced cars, built civilizations, won wars, destroyed zombies, and killed hundreds. They communicate orally far less than any previous generation, and when they do so, they typically do it with less passion.

Is there hope for this generation to continue to get excited about the church?  To be deeply moved by a sermon or a passage in the Bible.  Does this generation know what it is like to sing heartily of the blessing of God and even shed a tear when someone finds God? How will God use this generation to fill the pulpits of our churches? 

God still calls men and women to the overwhelming responsibility of standing in a church and being the mouthpiece of God. God still uses the preaching of his Word—an oral event—to edify the church, encourage the saints, and engage the lost. Even now a sermon can not seem to be preached without a PowerPoint presentation providing the salient points.  Congregants simply can’t be trusted to take their own notes so there are fill in the blank’s puzzles in the bulletin. Are all these devices to keep attention symptoms of shortening attention spans and instant gratification?  Do we just forget it all and let the internet do it all.  The preachers there seem to have enough passion to hold even a gen Xer’s attention long enough to feel good about themselves.

Preachers don’t give up.  Be willing to go the extra mile.  Try preaching without props.  Get excited about your text.  This is the Word of God, not a five-minute podcast.  Risk being a fool for Christ.

So to preach the Word, anyone called to fill the holy desk must be willing to get completely out of the comfortable cocoon he’s built in his personality and habits, and recklessly abandon himself to risk being a fool for Christ.

How do I find intimacy with God?

Sermons just don’t do it for me anymore. For that matter the music or should I say spiritual songs, don’t do it for me either.  I have served as a preacher in five churches of various lengths and sizes.  It was overwhelming experience to which I have always accounted as both a privilege and call. To translate the difficult and make it plain and relevant is a task not to be taken lightly.  I am fully aware of the time which must be expended to reach that perfect balance between deep theology and practical understanding. It is a gift from God to both the preacher and those who submit themselves each Sunday. They come to fill their spiritual bread baskets full for the week. They depend on the preacher to fill infuse them to carry on for a little while longer.

Years have come and gone.  Hundreds of messages, prayer meeting studies, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies have been completed. I continually study, build and prepare messages.  Weekly Bible study for the men in our church requires just as much time and preparation as preaching; or maybe even more.  And if the truth be known, these studies are more preaching than a shared study. A few faithful shows up each week and seem to be challenged.  Some are even studying ahead.  One even told me that the studies has caused him to dig deeper.  

As I recollect on the nearer present, I am not quite as enthused.  I don’t get much out of the messages as presented in church.  Sure, there is evidence of study and all the video clips are well placed, but they are not doing it for me. There is nothing new.  There is nothing challenging.  I am easily distracted and the slow pace of the sermon allows my mind to wander.  I guess I would rather read a well thought out argument, than to listen to one more three point, fill in the blank sermon.

I connect to God by working. My connection to God is more focused and more intimate when I am doing for Him. I find true joy in study and passing on that knowledge, that wisdom on to others.  It is not enough to just accumulate a vast amount of facts and illustrations.  There is a true joy in helping someone else to light the fire of their own intellectual pursuits.

So, I am at a quandary.  Do I just keep on going to church to be seen by my brothers and sisters?  Does the effort equal any reward?  I can well fill my own basket.  I share from my basket and it never seems to run out.  I feel an inner satisfaction with the supply by God.  I read voraciously the great preachers; I am challenged by the great hymns of the church.  I long for a church which challenges me more and coddles me less.

Where do I find intimacy with God? It is in my books, in my study, in the crafting of words to would challenge others.  I guess that is good enough.

WOKE

I am a WOKE Christian.  Now before you get all judgmental on me, let me explain.  The original use of this word was back in the 1940s quoted in the Atlantic.  It quoted a black United Mine Worker as saying, “Waking up is a damn sight better than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.” It was a way of saying I am aware of social injustice.  It has been adopted, for the most part by minorities of all races and ethnicities. But the meaning is still the same.  To be aware of how society marginalizes and makes efforts to minimalize anyone who is different. In the 1960s, WOKE could more generally mean “well-informed” in Black English, but it still strongly aligned with political awareness, especially in the context of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950–60s and appearing in the phrase, “stay woke.”

So what do I mean when I say I am a WOKE Christian?  There are so many in our society that has been and is both marginalized and minimized because of perceived differences. When I say I am WOKE, I am stating for the record I am aware of social injustice.  I believe the spectrum of talent, intelligence, and drive includes everyone.  Those who are WOKE, exclaim that all those in the spectrum of life are not given the same access to opportunity. 

Restriction of opportunity has been pictured as prejudice, racism, hate, and discrimination, of which I can neither support nor permit in my life as I live in my Faith in Jesus.

Facebook, the news, and politicians all seem to be screaming at me.  Each trying to emphasize the terrible nature and reputations of opposing politicians.  Republicans or Democrats both have their problems.  Both would require my vote for them to the exclusion to the other.  They have become so apart and divisive, there is no middle ground.

Now, this is where I get into trouble.  I am trying, as a Christian, to understand the differences between the two prominent political parties and their stands on the access of opportunity.  Is one party trying to limit access to all? Is one party providing pathways to opportunity over the other? A comparison is needed to determine the most “limiting” faction.

As a Christian, I must start my examination by saying, “everyone has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God,” Romans 3:23 and that Jesus died for everyone 1 John 2:2.  This includes those who run for political office. Every candidate has equal access to the grace of God.  And lastly, it is not my place to judge anyone based on their faith; that is God’s job, not mine.  All politicians are limited by a sinful nature. I must concern myself with the policies and promises, not the moral content of their personal lives.  It is not my place to judge the spiritual nature of another.

Therefore, I must, if I am WOKE, vote for the candidate I believe will do the best job to overcome injustice in any form and restrictions of access and opportunity.  It falls on the rule of law, justice and, equality.

I am not saying I must set aside biblical principles.  Politics matters to God. Politics and the choices they make can well mitigate some of the effects of a fallen world. The society around us should multiply and flourish. After all, Jesus, in everything he did was a motive to uplift or make better.  He healed lepers, gave hearing to the deaf, opened the eyes of the blind.  Every effort in his life, death, and resurrection was to redeem, restore, and empower. Jesus was WOKE. It did not matter if they were Hebrew or Gentile.

Recently the President of the United States was found not guilty of charges set against him.  Some would say it was just politics. And mostly I would agree.  I think the whole thing was about limiting access and therefore an opportunity for him to do the job he was elected to do.  I think the process was not about the abuse of power but simply a difference of opinion.  It was a process wrought by fallible people with fallible judgments.  It was more about a self-perceived set of standards.

Character has always been a factor on the political stage. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and every other president had their detractors.  Some voters that did not vote for President Obama only on the criteria of his skin color. These restrictors of access are accountable to God.

Again, I am a WOKE Christian.  My vote is not based on perceived character. I do not know what is in the heart. Only God can do that.  I vote for the person who is most likely to give equal opportunity and access to everyone who is being governed. And for me, that specifically includes my right to shout I am a Christian and I understand and care.

So, who is the most WOKE in politics today?  The pickings are few. If I would take out the judgmental aspect of my choice, I am left with a decision of which would increase the opportunity of all.  What is the track record for this specific quantifiable question? Which one will set the standard of access?  And which one limits access and therefore opportunity to thrive.

Let’s start with the big one; Pro-life V Pro-Choice.  Which would seem to limit access and opportunity?  I must say taking a life severely restricts the access and opportunity for the child.  To abort a life up to the minute of birth is simply not WOKE.

One party seems to welcome all, including all faiths, ages, races and sexes and the other jumps over the moon when a Catholic schoolboy wears a MAGA hat to a rally.

One party seems to be promoting religious freedom for all faiths, even for Christianity. Christianity seems the most beleaguered and limited and ridiculed.  One party sees the value of faith the other tries to marginalize and mock faith of any kind.

Of the two parties in this contest, one fought for both the 1964 Civil rights Act and the 2018 justice reform to reduce mass incarceration.  One party was founded as the Anti-Slavery party and the other voted against every effort to open access and opportunity to the enslaved population.

Of the two opponents in the political world, one encourages the right to disagree and make voices heard and the other seems to what to silence civil discussion even on college campuses.

I applaud the need for every person to have access to healthcare, but in the application it impacts access. All the rhetoric talks about healthcare but it really is about insurance. It is about who pays.   A Faith based Hospital is required to conform to a single standard that allows for abortion and the right to die measures. 

One party has given us the elimination of terror threats from across the world and the other gives us unisex bathrooms.  One believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, while the other says it doesn’t matter.

Not only has Trump not drawn us into a nuclear war, but he also relegated ISIS and Iran’s murderous General Soleimani to the dustbin of history. Not only has he pursued regulatory reform and created millions of new jobs, but his administration also heralded the lowest unemployment rate ever recorded for Latinos and African Americans. Combined with sweeping criminal justice reform, Trump’s policies are not just symbolic, but real steps forward in our country’s enduring quest for racial equality. Not only has Trump sought tax relief for families and children, but he has also been the greatest protector of unborn lives since the atrocity of Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell’s Senate has confirmed 187 qualified, originalist federal judges.

Neither party has the high ground as models of Christian virtue and sinlessness. I must choose one over the other.  President Trump may well not deserve it, but nobody does if the only qualification is being an unbroken, infallible, sinless, politically correct automaton.

We live in a broken world; sin, hate, prejudice, and discrimination is rampant.  Our lives are our decisions.  While President Trump is a most unlikely banner holder for the WOKE, our lives are better for it.  Millions of forgotten and disenfranchised men and women of all races and creeds and faith have been renewed and are blossoming through the actions of this man.  And it is this blossoming of circumstances that ultimately matter most. “I am WOKE”.

Ten Fears for the American Church

My Bible tells me perfect love casts out all fear.  Here on the edge of a new month, a new year and a new decade, I am alarmed at the signs within the church which can well be called fear.  Here is the ten that disturbs me:

  1. I am greatly fearful of the church having the form of godliness but without the power of God.  I find more and more people using Christianity as an inoculation to provide an entrance into the Kingdom of God and not truly living the life of a blood washed throng.
  2. I am fearful of the body of believers tolerate sin far too much.  Some would well say it is legalism but sometimes we swing to far to acceptance at any lifestyle there is no real distinctiveness.  If it makes no difference, then there is no difference.
  3. I am fearful of the relevance movement in the church.  We have music that no longer teaches us about God and more about the beat and the light show.  Sometimes it may well be called 7-11 music: eleven words sung over and over eleven times.  We tell the world come as you are, but even at a football game there are uniforms. 
  4. I am fearful of the seeming lack of the use of the Bible.  In church, if the scripture is not posted up in a PowerPoint presentation on a big screen the Bible is ignored.  We don’t take our Bibles to church, we don’t study, we don’t memorize, we don’t hide the Word in our hearts much anymore.
  5. I am fearful of the American church that thinks it is the center of Christianity.  The growth of the church is stagnant if not declining in America.  The places where the church is growing is in the poorest places in the world.  Has the Church in America become complacent?  Probably.
  6. I am fearful of a church that gets hung up on the things that simply don’t matter.  We readily say we are in agreement with our Christian denominations but under our breath, we think they are simply misguided and wrong theologically.
  7. I am fearful of the American church which reserves prayer for the up-fronters in worship.  Prayer meetings have become a thing of the past.  The power of prayer has been replaced by the power of the committee and community.
  8. I am fearful of the American Church that produces not strong Christians but milk drinkers.  Discipleship that reciprocates to create more disciples is being lost.  When Jesus said to go unto the whole world, he said our job was making disciples not increasing attendance at a worship service.
  9. I am fearful of the American church because of the movement to the Mega-church model.  There is nothing wrong with big churches, but they often kill the small fellowship of believers with care for each other and know each other.  Sure, there is more struggle to make ends meet in the small church, there are fewer opportunities for specialized ministries. Never-the-less they have been and must be the source of the true strength of the American church.
  10. I fear for the American church because they seem to have lost the awe of God.  I miss the tears, the testimonies, the victories, the little old ladies with handkerchiefs raising them in victory, of altar calls, of singing Victory in Jesus and meaning it, of my heart pricked to do more for God, of a preacher that gets excited at what he has to share, of sinners saved, of habits broken, of redemption and rejoicing.

Just my thoughts today. If you agree with any of these, pick one and work on it. Strengthen the American church by beginning with your congregation.

New Year’s Plan

This is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it.
We have to be alive.
Think freely, practice patience.
Smile often. Savor special moments.
Live God’s message.
Make new friends. Rediscover old ones.
Tell those you love that you do.
Feel deeply, forget trouble.
Forgive an enemy. Hope. Grow.
Be crazy.
Count your blessings. Worship.
Observe miracles; make them happen.
Celebrate small victories.
Discard worry. Give, Give in
Trust enough not to take.
Pick some flowers, Share them.
Keep a promise. Look for rainbows.
Gaze at stars. See beauty everywhere.
Work hard, be wise. Try to understand.
Take time for people. Take time for yourself. Take time for God.
Laugh heartily, Spread joy.
Take a chance.
Reach out. Let someone in.
Try something new. Slow down.
STOP
Be soft sometimes, Celebrate life.
Believe in yourself, Trust others.
See a sunrise. Listen to rain. Reminisce.
Cry when you need to.
Trust life. Have faith.
Enjoy, wonder, comfort a friend.
Have good ideas. Learn.
Make some mistakes.
Explore the unknown, Hug a kid.
Be alive.
Anticipate a good day,
Believe a good day,
Plan a good day,
Think a good day,
Work a good day,
Pray a good day.
Be Still and know God.

Restoration of AWE

Christmas has changed since I was a child.  The four of us kids slept in the same room and Christmas was always a special time.  If you looked carefully through the vent you would see into the living room to view the Christmas tree.  All decked out with both homemade ornaments a whole lot of tinsel.  Mom and Dad would never put our presents under the tree until the night before.  The anticipation for the big day was palpable. The change in this experience of Christmas is a change in expectation.  Kids submit there “have to have” list and expect the parents to come through.  The guess work is all gone. There is no awe.

It could well be that Christmas now starts almost a month earlier during the Thanksgiving celebration.  With Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it seems so contrived and commercialized.  It feels like the day after Halloween the Christmas commercials begin. I try to hold Christmas at bay in my mind until after Thanksgiving.

In a world drowning in trinkets and knickknacks, reruns and plastic, people are hungry for the real thing.

The celebration has become an event.  Big difference. One is filled with awe and expectation, and the other is just one more milestone to mark off the calendar.

At the heart of the celebration is not a tree and presents.  It is not Santa and red-nosed reindeer.  What it is and what will instill in my life the rightful place of awe, is to understand it is about a single gift.  A gift given freely by a man almost 2000 years ago.  It is a gift that met a need of my life for redemption. It was a gift that was both revelation and reconciliation.  And He did it for me.

I don’t believe there’s a formula that helps overwhelmed, sometimes jaded, struggling-for-a-new-Noel-angle members to reclaim our lost wonder. I just know that when I don’t have it, I can’t fake it. And in a world drowning in trinkets and knickknacks, reruns and plastic, people are hungry for the real thing. So I’ll keep fighting for wonder, and if you battle with me, we’ll have something great to bring to Christmas.

The greatest enhancement

Stop and think.  Think of God, better think of God’s mind. Imagine God with a concept of creation.  To create something that is perfectly designed, perfectly built, and perfectly understood. Think of a God who made decision after decision in the design of man. And once built, watching intently the happenstances and sometimes chaos resulting in His design.  Get inside the mind of God and seek the trillions of detailed decisions He made before He made it all. And He said it “WAS GOOD”.

We stop and think and wonder strange things and we ask questions.  “God why did you make the Duckbill Platypus and mosquitoes?”  And that is just the point of the greatest design enhancement, the greatest augmentation to his ultimate creation was to allow us to ask, “WHY.”

Questions are better!

Answers are often wrought with criticisms, dubious jumps of logic, and sometimes outright lies.  Answers are always are based upon the assumption of truth. It comes with the assumption and expectation of the holder as being true and therefore for true for everyone. The Issue is we do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are. Our truth is not the same as anyone else’s truth.

Whereas questions are always honest, seeking and hopeful. Questions answer doors, renew discussion, build up ideas, create self-examination and most important they are most personal. Questions seek, questions try to understand, questions expose.

Answers are the temporary stopgap to questions. Answers are temporary responses.  Answers are subject to changing of accuracy and shift of decay over time.  The answers need to be reformed, remade and reevaluated as the self, community, church, and the world changes.  

God is found in questions not in answers.