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Archive for the ‘Christian fellowship’ Category

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12b)

The video, which has gone viral this week, shows a young woman verbally abusing a tall man in a winter hat on a subway. She mocks his hat, his shoes and other things as her friends and other onlookers look on and smile.

The young man does nothing for a while except stand there and take it. Having apparently had enough, he finally responds by calling her a not-so-nice name commonly used to verbally abuse females.

The woman then rolls her tongue outside of her mouth and smacks him in the head with the end of a stiletto. Reacting, he hits her with a forceful slap to her face. This action sets off a brawl on the train.

My first reaction to this episode was quite judgmental, especially toward the woman. Then I walked through a McDonald’s parking lot the other morning to grab a quick breakfast on the way to work.

This parking lot is not particularly large and is usually crowded with cars and pedestrians. Apparently some young man in a black coupe took offense at me walking in front of his car after he left the drive thru window. I knew he wasn’t happy because he let loose with some curses at me.

Of course, I responded with Christian humility. Uhhh…I wish I could say so, but the fact is I responded in kind. In fact, I was so mad that if he had come out of his car I would have been willing to duke it out with him right then and there, come what may.

Ironically, my next stop was to pick up my antidepressant. As I walked toward the pharmacy, I attributed my behavior to being off my meds for a few days. That’s probably true, but I also know there was something else at work. I just wasn’t sure what.

I have spent a good part of today reflecting on this.  My musings began with the life of Josiah in the Old Testament. He was the Israelite king who created personal and national reforms after a priest discovered the long lost Scriptures (to that time) in the temple in Jerusalem. (See I Chronicles 34).

Here is what the Life Recovery Bible says about him:

When the Scriptures were discovered, Josiah initiated a recovery program for himself and his people immediately.

It is fair to say that Josiah grew up in a dysfunctional and destructive situation. Idolatry and other forms of sinful behavior were an established norm. Josiah had to begin by discovering what God’s ideals for living were.

In time, he was able to break the cycle of sin that had ensnared Israel. He had faith, commitment to God and the courage to pursue both personal and national recovery.

Josiah began his recovery program when he delved into the  Scriptures. As a result, he is considered by Christians to be one of the more godly kings of Israel.

Another godly king, whose story comes a few pages in the Bible before Josiah,  was Hezekiah.  As was typical of ancient Israel, they were threatened by a powerful invader during his reign. Hezekiah began a large defense project he hoped would fend off the enemy. The Life Recovery Bible compares this work to that of building defenses of our own in order to live the Christian life:

Recovery involves repairing or building healthy boundaries that have become weak, defective, or torn down through abuse.

For some of us our boundaries have grown weak as we have let people walk all over us or we have let down our guard against our destructive behaviors.

Part of the recovery process involves repairing our boundaries. We can also construct a second wall of defense by developing a strong support network around us.

…..There is someone on our side who is far greater.

The lessons I learned from the Life Recovery Bible’s commentary are twofold. First, I was right to have set boundaries with that fellow in the McDonald’s parking lot. In fact, I was kind of backed up by this when my landlord told me later,”I’m proud of you.” Now, I think he was proud of my being willing to stand up for myself and fight the guy if necessary.

However, I believe that my response could have been something like this: ‘Why, my good man. Why are we upset. Don’t you see this is quite a full lot and we all have to show some common courtesy.”

The second lesson I learned from the Life Recovery Bible was that the reason I did not respond in a godly manner, other than my lack of a prescription, was due to my lack of boundaries against destructive personal behaviors. I suppose my meds are one form of boundary against them. But I lack the support network and the sort of relationship with God that would build a  further line of defense against self destruction. (And yes, I could have ended up in jail–or worse.)

Saul of Tarsus was no stranger to destructive behaviors. Unfortunately for Christians, his havoc was directed at them. The Bible says he uttered threats against them (although I am sure he didn’t do it on a subway or McDonalds since those didn’t exist at the time.)

Saul had his comeuppance, however. Acts 9 describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him blind and totally dependent on others. The Life Recovery Bible once more gives us some insight on this Scripture:

Saul was suddenly confronted with the fact that his life wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Self righteousness had been his trademark. By letting go of his illusions of power, however, he became one of the most powerful men ever-the apostle Paul.

When we are confronted with the knowledge that our life isn’t under control, we have a choice. We can continue on in self denial and self righteousness or we can face the fact that we have been blind to some important issues. If we become willing to be led into recovery, and into a whole new way of life, we will find true power.

For me, the key word from the good people at the LRB is “willing”.

Obedience to Christ has always been an issue with me. When I was in college I went to a conference and learned that Christ wanted to be my Lord, not just my Savior. I drove home angry, feeling I had been “had”. “No one told me about this,” I thought.  My concept at the time I think was that I only needed “fire insurance” and I didn’t think much about Jesus’s desire to change me.

I have had problems with obedience to Christ ever since. I have never learned to obey Him. More importantly, this comes I believe from not knowing why I should obey, other than that I am told to by Christian leaders. This hasn’t been enough of a motivation for me.

This morning during my reflections I came new a new understanding from the words of a  praise song I listened to. It told me  why Jesus is worthy of my obedience. It opens with these lines:

“Worthy is the,
Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat” (words by Kari Jobe)

The bottom line is that Jesus, by nature of who He is and His work on the Cross for me is worthy of my obedience.  How Jesus must tire of my recalcitrance. I’m even proud of my stubbornness, irascibility and curmudgeonly ways, thinking of them as an eccentric family trait.

Like Josiah, I see the importance of obeying the Word of God.  To me they are a road map for living. However, Jesus points out in the Scriptures an error of the Bible believers in His day that can be just as true of me and I suppose other believers.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” (John 5:39-40).

RC Sproul makes this point in a sermon on John 5, noting how we modern day believers still try to maintain some sense of self importance and control over their own lives. He decries the use of a bumper sticker with this message.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

“How arrogant is that,” says Sproul. “I want them to write a new bumper sticker: ‘God says it. That settles it.’ It doesn’t matter whether I believe it. It was settled long before my assent and long before I concur with the message. If God Almighty opens His holy mouth and says something, we don’t need another witness. It’s over. It’s settled.”

Sproul further explains the primacy of Jesus Christ and obedience to Him by referring to Paul’s statements to a group of Athenian philosophers:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31).

This message is in contrast, says Sproul, to the current evangelistic techniques  of today which emphasize our “receiving” of an “invitation” from God.

What is needed is for me is  to “sing a new song” to Him that sits at the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand.  This should be a song of willful, happy obedience to Jesus.

Why? Because He is worthy of my obedience, and it is not an option.  Oh, and did I say “He is worthy?”

“With all creation I will sing praise to the King of Kings and I WILL  adore You.”(Kari Jobe)

I have some ideas how this obedience will translate into my daily life, but more importantly, I now have a reason for this submission to the authority of Jesus.

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery (Kari Jobe)

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 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;  my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:5,6).

As Christmas Day approaches, my nation is reeling from a terrible massacre of 20 innocent six and seven year old children in Connecticut by a deranged 20-year old. He also killed six adults in the school, using a military-style rifle, before shooting himself in the head with a pistol.

Five days later, the country is in shock. The usual issues have popped up, i.e. the need for gun control and the requirement that we do some soul searching about how we treat the mentally ill.

One commentator wrote that such mass killings today are prompted by three things: 1) extreme anger 2)isolation 3) too much time on the Internet.  To me this is a scary cocktail because I see all three operating in my life at times.

What is particularly troubling is isolation. As a person of faith, I find the feeling of being abandoned by God as the worst form of this.

One former pastor turned politician, Mike Huckabee,  got into  some trouble with some people of one political persuasion when he answered the question  “Where Was God?” He told his listeners in an interview that this was an interesting question since for the last few decades we have been kicking the Lord out of the public schools.

In an episode of the old TV series Touched by An Angel, Monica the angel finds herself in a situation where she too asks the question,”God, where are you? Why can’t I feel you with me?”.  She has witnessed a building blow up due to a bombing with a lot of people inside.

Earlier she had met a little girl named Madeline who was to be her assignment from God. This child was in the explosion. Monica  watches as her colleague the Angel of Death approaches the building, and her heart breaks.

That’s it for Monica. She walks away, walking down the road to who knows where. She has left her post.

As she walks, a charming man in a black sports car offers her a ride. Monica knows who the fellow is.  It’s Satan, otherwise known as Lucifer, the Devil and a host of other names.

Satan has seen his chance to knock an angel out of the heavenly realm and wastes no time tempting Monica. He is conniving, helpful and clever. Why, he understands Monica. After all, he tells her, I’ve been there.

Monica and Satan are now out in the desert, and he says to the distraught Monica,”I remember when you walked through the desert unshod,  unafraid, an angel of God.  Confident of your divine mission.”

Monica is upset, but she tells Satan she wants to be alone. He tells her that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. “We don’t have to be friends”, he says,”but we don’t have to be enemies.

Monica replies,”You are the enemy.” Satan’s rejoinder? “I’m not the enemy. I’m the alternative. That’ s what you’re looking for isn’t it?”

Satan even asks Monica to come work for him. “You don’t have to work for Him you know. There are options.”

Monica doesn’t want to forget God, though, as the devil suggests she do.  But Satan doesn’t quit. He even asks her where God is as she has done?

When she tells the devil that God is where He has always been,Satan asks,”Then what are you here for?” Monica answers: “Because I am hurting.  Because as much as God loves them they hate each other. Oh, they say the words and they write the books and the songs about love and they make the vows of love, but they don’t love!

Satan then lets Monica observe a scene where she is a human wife and mother. This is because Monica thinks that just maybe she could love better than they can.

The devil offers her this chance. Monica is drawn to this opportunity. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be a mother”, she tells the devil.

After that, despite Monica’s protest that she is God’s and belongs to Him and that she is returning to Him, Satan continues his deceptive assault.  When Monica tells Satan that she will find God again, he replies:

“Where? At Madeline’s grave?  Year after year, century after century Monica, you watch the suffering and the sorrow.  All you can do is stand by and utter the words that sound so hollow every time you say ’em: God loves you.”

After more arguing, including a theological one about the meaning of suffering,  and more temptation to become human, Satan asks her,”How long can you go on like this? Lost between heaven and earth. You must be so lonely.”

Monica tells Satan,”Sometimes.” And as she weeps and falls on his chest in tears, she says,”Sometimes I am.”

Satan sends her off to the desert to think about his offer. He tells Monica to find a high place and when she is ready to just jump. He’ll be there to catch her.

As a viewer, I know that this is like receiving an offer from a slick used car salesman. However, as Monica walks, Satan sings to her.

The devil is known as an angel of light, and his song is beautiful and seemingly promising. Furthermore, it seemingly gives Monica dignity as the lyrics tell her that she gets to make her own decisions apart from God.

No one here to guide you

Now you’re on  your own

Only me beside you

Still your not alone

Truly no one is alone

Sometimes people leave you

Halfway through the wood

Others may deceive you

You decide what’s good

You decide alone

But no one is alone (Mandy Patankin)

Monica eventually comes to the precipice,  and Satan is there to catch her.  She utters the same words to the her Heavenly Father that Jesus did on the cross to God–“Why have you forsaken me?.

Right after this  a bouquet of Monica’s favorite flower , the lilac,  suddenly grows from a stone. Satan has told her as a human that lilacs will smell much sweeter.

However, God has just revealed Himself as the Creator of all beauty.  He is trustworthy and greater than t he ugliness Monica sees in the world.

Satan may have wooed her. But God is the better Romancer.

She is not alone in any sense. Knowing he has been defeated, Satan fades from view.

Monica asks God for  forgiveness. She tells God she wants to come home.  She is restored and returns to her duties as an angel who takes care of humans.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be abandoned.  When He  turned 12, he went to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover feast. After it was over they headed home, but soon realized that Jesus was not with them. They had forgotten Him at the feast.

After three days they found Him.  His mother said to Jesus,“Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Jesus replied, Why were you searching for me?” Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house (Luke 2:48,49)?”

Popular preacher T.D. Jakes says of this incident,”They found him right where they left Him: in his Father’s house”.  Jakes exhorts today’s believers not to forget Jesus themselves while celebrating the feast that bears His name.

Isolation is a terrible thing. It opens us up to all manner of evil and Satan’s lures. As I said, it scares me, especially if I there is a sense that God has left me.

Mike Huckabee offered viewers one other explanation as to where God was at that school during the killings. He explained that while evil was present, God was there in the presence of the first responders and the teachers who courageously protected their kids.

I too have realized where God is in my own community.  Jesus is right where I left Him. He is over there at the church in my town that I’ve been staying away from for so long. And He’s there in the pastors and people who go there.

It’s a foolish thing to walk away from God. He’s the only source of beauty and love in this sometimes ugly world.

 

 

 

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“Think of ways to encourage on another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of His coming back is drawing near (Hebrews 1o:24,25).”

I don’t know what prompted me to do it: seek advice that is. I am a typical male. I hate to stop and ask for directions.

It could have been the Corp of Cadets at the university in my town. With school back in session, the campus is full of these young men and women.

The other day I passed some of them at an exercise station, the kind with balance beams and wooden bars. As I walked by these students,  about 10 of them were in a circle. They had their arms around each other and were yelling some kind of chant, moving their bodies up and down in unison.

I got the point of the cheer. It was designed to develop and show their comaraderie and unity.

I chose to see some counsel because of a family matter that couldn’t get resolved. It concerned a path one of my kids wanted to take.

So about three days ago I got the idea to send some Emails around to some men I trust. One was a mentor of mine. Another was a high school principal.  The other Emails went to my pastor and an elder at my church in charge of the high school group my child is a part of.

Within a couple of hours these fellows had all responded. What impressed me also was the consistency of their advice.  Although their suggestions differed somewhat, their comments were more like shades of the same color.

Their counsel tended to agree with my wife’s view of things, even though I had not brought her ideas up specifically in my request for advice. While I agreed with my spouse generally, these men gave me some specifics that helped sway my view toward hers.

As we met with child and discussed the pertinent issue, I spoke out the written suggestions of my counselors. With input from my wife and kid, I made a decision.

All seem settled, that is until I heard my wife and child heatedly discussing the issue again in another room a few minute after our discussion. So much for my effective leadership!

I was quite flustered and basically just delegated the whole thing to my wife to solve. (Men: I wouldn’t recommend this as a conflict resolution strategy.)

During the last three days since there has been an edge of contention in my household.  The argument finally came to a head this morning as I was trying to sleep in. (It’s Saturday.)

Again my wife and child were having a loud discussion. Forget trying to sleep.

I came upstairs and got involved in the battle. I wasn’t much help. Indeed, in my pre-coffee state I just added fuel to the fire.

Finally, some thing occurred to me.  It became clear as day that my wife’s spirit was just flat out against the whole approach I was taking. Even though I was trying to be conciliatory and my wife was willing to compromise, it was clear that no matter how I framed the issue, she was not comfortable with how things were going.

It was after comprehending how she was feeling, I made a decision that from my perspective was completely in line with with what was in her heart. What was interesting to me was how, within the next hour or so, I had this complete sense of peace about me. In addition, my wife had the same spirit.

We were both in unity. We both were positive we were making the right decision regarding our child.

None of this would have happened if I had not chosen to ask advice from some other guys. Their thoughts acted as a catalyst to bring my thinking around to that of my wife. It took three days, but at least I finally was open minded and made the decision that seemed to be the best one.

The wise man of Proverbs tells us that healthy counsel is very valuable:

Timely advice is lovely,  like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism  is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.  Trustworthy messengers refresh like snow in summer.  They revive the spirit of their employer. (Proverbs 25:11-13).

This same wise man writes that involving my wife in the decision making was a smart thing to do to:

 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)

This sage closes this  thought by reiterating how effective it is in a conflict to not be a loner.

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

My adult son and I have been watching the Little League World Series. I am intrigued by how, whenever there is a home run, the entire  team of the boy who hit it greets him at home place and enthusiastically celebrates.

To me. the peace my wife and I gained, a rlesult of a decision borne from our teamwork, was to me a home run. And it was a sign to me that our success was a sign  of God’s pleasure.

He was at home plate jumping up and down with us. If those counselor friends of mine had been here, they would have been patting us on the back, too.

It’s this kind of fellowship I ought to be engaging in every day.  In addition, in the times we live in, and with the difficult contests of life sure to be ahead, it’s essential to be a part of  a community of saints like this.

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 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24,25).

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly opened his show the other day with these comments:

“So there I am at mass yesterday and the sermon is about to begin. Often these homilies are not very relevant, to be polite. But the African priest speaking said something very interesting. He looked at the congregation and said that God wants the faithful to keep their sanity. The priest went on to say that there is a plan for everybody. And if you are misguided you can’t carry through on that plan. Now, think about that. God wants us to be sane. It makes sense. The problem is we’re living in an insane world where some people completely lose their bearings.”

If you are a fan of the TV medical drama House like I am, you see people whose lives have become unmanageable every week, led by the not-so-good Dr. House himself. “Lead” is probably too kind of a word for the fictional Gregory House, as he doesn’t really lead anyone.
 
Play games with them? Yes. Humiliate them? So true. Deceive them? Spot on. But lead them? Not really.
 
As a result, his team of doctors all come across as lost souls.Oh sure. They are technically the best at what they do, but even on the job their lives are corrupted (and that word is charitable to them).
 
First there is Australian Dr. Robert Chase, who  is serially promiscuous. He once was married to a previous doctor on the House team, but it didn’t last.
 
Of the same ilk as Chase is Dr. Chris Taub. He is separated from his wife.
 
Taub has had two children during the separation. He has a child through a nurse and also has a child through his wife, conceived after they were separated.
 
Newcomer Dr. Jessica Adams is more moral it seems, but has been a victim of men like Chase and Taub. Her husband cheated on her with a woman he met on the plane coming back from their honeymoon. 
 
She seems to have sworn off men, and works all the time. As Taub says of her, “Adams works 80 hours a week fixing bunions on hobos because she can’t face getting to know someone new.”
 
Another recent addition to House’s entourage, Dr. Chi Park, is a young Asian American woman who is still living at home. It’s not that she wouldn’t want to ge involved with men, it’s just she is afraid to offend her family, or so she says.
 
Furthermore, Park  has a major inferiority complex. She tells Taub, when he advises her to go out with a guitar player who asked her for a date,”I’m not that good at guitar. Or flirting or small talk. I’m not as pretty as Adams, I have stuffy clothes, and I hate my hair.”Finally, there is House. He is currently married to a woman solely for the purpose of getting her a green card illegally and it is common for him to take up with hookers. His last meaningful relationship, one with his boss Dr. Lisa Cuddy, ended with House in jail.
 
House  drove his car into the woman’s house  after she broke it off .  Cuddy had come to the conclusion everyone else has: House is hopeless. 
 
On this theme, in a recent episode the “patient of the week” is a man named Henry. His  girlfriend, a woman wh he says “changed his life”broke up with him a few months ago.
 
Henry keeps a life-sized doll customized to look like this woman. Like House, the breakup sent  the poor chap off the deep end.
 
As the doctors discuss whether Henry has a disorder or is just weird, House says sarcatically,” You know what’s really crazy? Living with a human being. Someone with opinions and feelings. Gets mad just ’cause you want to take Salsa classes with them one night a week.  One night.”
 
Taub adds”,He’s just running away. He hangs out with a doll, he never needs to fear rejection.” Park replies,”It’s sad.”
 
House them comes in for the kill. He tells his team individually,”Your doll is your kids( to Taub). Yours is your parents (to Park), yours is your charity (to Adams). All excuses for not being in a relationship.”
 
Not neglecting Chase, House tells him,”You don’t go looking for the right person. You just shack up with whoever’s in the room, and then you get surprised and/or divorced when it doesn’t work out. 
 
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked Adams out yet.” (The sparks have been flying during this episode, something which the perceptive House definitely has noticed).
 
Interestingly enough, it is Adams who later does the asking, after seeing what Henry has become. She tells Chase, who is suspicious,”It’s time for a change”
 
Equally interesting is that Chase the playboy turns her down. He tells her,”I don’t really think that’s a good idea for me right now.” Chase also has learned something from Henry’s case, and from House.Of all people, it is Dr. House, one of the most relationally dysfunctional characters in television history, who has hit on a truism:  We need healthy relationships.
 
Unfortunately, in our time, the tail is wagging the dog. Technology has replaced humans as our source for flesh and blood human dialogue and interaction.
 
Even as late as the early 20th century it wasn’t that way. In Ireland, for example, people would gather around the hearth and fire of a storyteller in large numbers, listening to him tell exciting tales handed down from one generation to another.
 
Today, we  meet with people through machines. One of my students lamented this, saying that people of his generation never see each other anymore. They just text.
 
I think some of the most misunderstood people in the Bible are Job’s friends, men who existed long before Facebook and MySpace. The first half of the Old Testament book which bears Job’s name  shows that he  and his friends really go at it: face-to-face.
 
Knowing the end of the book of Job, we usually think of what insensitive boobs the man’s friends were. However, I think we have them wrong.
 
First, when they learned of Job’s suffering they gathered together to console him. They didn’t even say a word for a week and wept with him (Job 2:11-13).
 
Their arguments were not unkind. They were meant to rattle Job’s brain and get him to think. His responses were of a like kind.
 
For example, Zothar, speaks about Job’s idle talk. Job replies after Zothar speaks that his friends  think they are “it” and that it is clear from their arguments that when they die, wisdom will disappear (Job 11:1; 12:1,2). Job’s friend Eliphaz, after the patriarch goes on for a while,  basically calls him a blowhard(Job 15:2)!
 
I could see me having the same kind of conversation with a couple of my close friends. We will nag, insult, cajole and kid to make a point, knowing full well that below the surface is love, caring and brotherhood. We want the best for each other. 
 
We need in-your-face living and loving relationships, even though they are costly and painful. We need them although it may mean sacrificing our time and energy to be with people who may be different from us.
 
Facebook, your cell phone, and Skype just don’t cut it, that is if you want to keep sane.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,every knee will bow before me;  every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10,11).

Yesterday a young friend of mine, a former coworker, invited me to his place to play poker with his friends. I gladly obliged since I have always enjoyed visiting his home, talking with his father (who is my age) and messing around with his buddies.

A few hands after we got started, we were ushered into the kitchen where some sandwiches and cookies were waiting. My friend’s mother kindly prepares a little spread  each time we have a game at their place.

As we were munching, my friend’s Dad began to bring out bottles of various spirits. He noted that he himself nor his son drank alcohol, but we were welcome to them.  The father noted the alcohol was so plentiful because he had been given bottles of it by former students and others.

My friend’s other two invited guests were regular drinkers. They had no trouble inbibing. I, on the other hand, am not a drinker except on rare occasions.

When the father mentioned cognac I became curious. I had never tasted what to me seemed to be kind of an elite beverage, and I wanted to try some, so I did.

Later, during our game, one of the drinking players took a short break and went home. He was busted and had to go get some more money.

When he returned he had some famous brand of Irish whiskey with him, and offered me a bit. As with the congac, I accepted the offer and noted how smooth this particular drink was.

As the game went on, I also found myself losing. Although I don’t play Texas Hold ‘Em much, losing to these guys was a new experience for me. I had won the pot the last two times I had played.

Luck I guess. We don’t play for much, but as I am on a tight budget I winced at even the few euros I was giving up.

As I have reflected on this past evening, I am curious about something. What has sparked my interest is my emotional reaction as  I:  was offered and drank alcoholic beverages;  lost money while playing cards.

What I experienced in my feelings last night was guilt. Why is that, I wondered?

In thinking about it, I have determined that my evangelical Christian background influenced my emotions.  It occurred to me to ask myself,”What if so and so knew about this (and certain influential Christians in my life popped up)?”

My reaction to my participation in last night’s events were not earth shattering. Indeed, I had a few sips  of alcohol only. Furthermore, my losses at poker were worth the expense in my view.

I thought,”Where else would I have had so much fun and had such good food and drink at these prices?” Yet, the guilt still floats through my subconscious.

Because of this, I have mentally been running through some biblical principles I know about such issues. For example, I know that the Scriptures make no probibition against drinking alcohol. It only speaks against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).

I also know that the Bible exhorts believers in principle to not violate their consciences, nor to hurt weaker believers in their practices (Romans 14;13,22). In my case, I am pretty sure my guilt was not the result of the breaking of my conscience, only a reaction to what I believe some folks in the evangelical circles I hang around would think.

In fact, as I have thought further I have even patted myself on the back. I know we are to take care of our bodies as temples of God, and I refrained from the cigars offered (I Corinthians 6:19). I thought,”I have enough health issues. Why add to them by inhaling smoke into my lungs.”

Indeed, I even engaged in a little more analysis and judgment of my own.”Why, Dwight Moody, a hero of Christendom, was a smoker. If some people knew their Christian history, they wouldn’t be so smug.”

What is going on here in my heart? I think an episode of the TV medical drama “House” called “Love is Blind” has helped me to flesh this out.

A young blind  man named Will is brought into the care of Dr. House. While in the hospital he is visited by his girlfriend Melissa.

As the writers of this episode make clear, Melissa is quite controlling.  She treats Will like a child. This is perhaps because Will is a minority and blind and Melissa is a healthy young white woman.

 Will tells the doctors he intends to marry someone else he met while the couple were “taking a break” because of Melissa’s behavior.  “Most of the time she acts more like my mother than my girlfriend,” he tells the female Dr. Adams, who thinks Will is treating his girlfriend badly.

Indeed, Will breaks the news to Melissa during one of her “mothering” incidents that he is breaking up with her. She storms out of the hospital room distraught.

What I perceive in Christianity as it is practiced in some circles in America is this tendency for believers to “mother ” one another . I suppose it is only human nature for people to like to tell other people what they think is “good” for them, but Christians at times like to add the air of God’s authority in their pronouncements, as if they speak for the Almighty.

The truth is that in many cases they are only speaking for themselves and their opinions. Their understanding of what is good and not good for others may or may not be legitimate or appropriate, but they come across as if they bear the “Word of the Lord”.   Furthermore you get the impression that if you don’t follow their way of thinking, you’re be in their doghouse.

Will’s worsening condition provides the scaffolding for my teachable moment in relation to how believers ought to actually treat one another. The doctors determine that the right course of action to save the young man’s life, but it means he may lose his hearing in addition to still being blind.

When he learns the news, Will refuses treatment. He tells the doctors he has had enough of his suffering and can’t bear any more.

Enter Melissa with Dr. Adams. The script best bears out what happens next. 

Melissa: Will, it’s me.
Will: Let me guess. The doctor who thinks I’m an ass wants you to convince me to live.
Melissa: Yes.
Will: It won’t work.
Melissa: I know. So I won’t.
Will: Wow. You’re that angry?
Melissa: I’ve made enough decisions for you. This is your life.
Will: Why’d you come back?
Melissa: Because I love you. And I want to be with you for as long as I can.
Will: Melissa, I’m so scared.
[She moves from the doorway to his bedside and takes his hand.]
Melissa: Me too. I’ll always love you.
Will: Even if I was deaf?
Melissa: Even if anything.

SPOILER ALERT

This unconditional love moves Will. He accepts the “cure”, and the next morning asks Melissa to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts.

Melissa treated Will as an adult, allowing him to make his own decisions, including life or death ones. She no longer tried to manipulate him into the path she thought best.

The results of  Melissa’s course in this fictional drama were positive. Perhaps the end result won’t always be so rosy, but it would behoove believers in Jesus Christ to give each other the same kind of freedom.

If a person takes a public stand on some issue important to us, and especially if they are trying to influence others, we  have the right, perhaps even the duty, to oppose them. But on private matters of conscience, cutting each other some slack seems to be in order in my mind. 

A little less arrogance and a little more freedom of choice, “even if”,  would go a long way in today’s world. God Himself gives us that kind of freedom, so why don’t we do the same?

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“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16a).”

“When I eat I feel like a failure.”

“I take more than the suggested dose.”

“My family is rich, but I shoplift every day.”`

“I am a peaceful person who happens to be filled with violent rage.”

Those are just some of the messages placed on postcards in a video made by a band appropriately called “The All American Rejects”. Their song is “Dirty Little Secret.”

Here are some more of the messages:

“I hate feeling alone.”

“I’m afraid to take the next step.” 

“I fear I have an undiagnosed mental ilness.”

“I had gay sex at church camp-3 times.”

“Three years ago I tried to kill myself..now I’m 18 & people say I’m happy…but I still want to die.”

The messages in the video came from the Post Secret website. Post Secret is an organization where people send their confessions anonymously.(Source: Wikipedia)

A review of their website shows that some of the confessions are silly, some are minor, and others are deadly serious. If you have any kind of heart, you can’t help but be moved when you watch the video made by the All American Rejects.

What these messages say is that there are a lot of hurting people in this world. Unfortunately, they can’t tell their secrets to anyone, so they have to put them on a postcard and send it to some faceless organization to post on their website.

While the song “Dirty Little Secret” isn’t particularly uplifting in the inferences made, some of the lyrics are telling. As this line says, people are afraid in the supposed glitz and glamour of this world to admit who they really are and what they struggle with:

“When we live such fragile lives,
It’s the best way we survive..”

The effects of all this secrecy and dishonesty is mind boggling:

Who has to know?
The way she feels inside.
Those thoughts I can’t deny.
These sleeping thoughts won’t lie.
And all I’ve tried to hide
It’s eating me apart
Trace this life back!

It’s just outrageous. 

My experience is that the only place you can go to get true help with your own “dirty little secrets” is a counselor or a recovery program like Alchoholics Anonymous.  These programs are not necessarily “Christian”, although they give aknowledgment to a “higher power” in their steps to recovery.

Who thinks of the church as a place to go for help with addictions, suicidal thoughts and out of control rage if you are a Christian?  Why, these behaviors are just unacceptable there.

It’s fine if you demonstrate such weakness as a non-believer. The church will just tell you to step right up and get saved and all will be well.  NOT!

The above charge against the “church” is, to be fair,  rather vague and anecdotal. There are exceptions.

One megachurch in California sponsors a recovery program that has mushroomed and gone worldwide. I attended a meeting in my local community in the States and was impressed with the transparency and focus on Christ as the answer to our problems. 

The truth is, though, that programs of this nature seem to be a little like the illegitimate child in the church family. We acknowledge their necessity, and even feel a little sorry for the folks involved in them, but the general church goer will not admit to the need to attend themselves.

Baloney! My educated guess is that most of us need to be sitting in those circles in the recovery meetings.

A recent report indicates that 40 percent of Europeans suffer some form of mental illness. Given that North America is part of the western world, I would surmise that the statistics in the United States and Canada are similar.

The other 60 percent may not be “officially” mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean peope don’t suffer from moral, spiritual and emotional disorders. They are all part of the human condition. We just don’t want to admit it!

Here’s another postcard message from the All American Reject’s video:

“I haven’t spoken to my Dad in 10 years… and it kills me every day.”

Absalom could have written a similar sentence. He was estranged from his father David for five years.

If there were a Post Secret organization in ancient Israel, Absalom could have written these postcards”

“My father committed adultery and had the husband of the woman murdered.”

“My brother raped my sister.”

For the last “secret”, Absalom murdered his brother Amnon. The young man had sexually assaulted Absalom’s sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:1-19).

Absalom developed very bad feelings over this. His postcard would have read:

“I am the king’s son and I am filled with hate and rage”. (II Samuel 13:22).

Absalom’s father David was angry about the rape of Tamar, but he did nothing. It was his family’s own “dirty little secret”.  As a result, Abasolom took matters into his own hands:

“I murdered my brother.” (II Samuel 13:28,29).

When he did, Absalom fled. When David finally relented and let him back in his kingdom, he refused to see him, until he softened (a little) after 2 years and met with his son.

My fellow believers, this game playing is so wrong. The words of Billy Joel explain what I feel about you:

If you search for tenderness
it isn’t hard to find.
You can have the love you need to live.
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind.
It always seems to be so hard to give.

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

I can always find someone
to say they sympathize.
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve.
But I don’t want some pretty face
to tell me pretty lies.
All I want is someone to believe.

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

I can find a lover.
I can find a friend.
I can have security until the bitter end.
Anyone can comfort me
with promises again.
I know, I know.

When I’m deep inside of me
don’t be too concerned.
I won’t ask for nothin’ while I’m gone.
But when I want sincerity
tell me where else can I turn.
Because you’re the one I depend upon. 

If I can’t get my brothers and sisters in Christ to honestly tell me who they are, and to give me listen t my much as well, where shall I go. Frankly, unbelievers do a better job of being honest about themselves than we Christians do. 

The reason we aren’t honest with each other, I suppose, is that we are afraid. Afraid of rejection.

In an ideal world, we would behave toward each other as Billy Joel suggests:

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you to believe in me
The way that I believe in you.

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

Until we get to this, we will be far away from each other, and in reality, from God as well. And revival? Forget about that.

One more postcard on the All American Rejects video says this:

“I miss feeling close to God.”

My postcard this hour to you is this:

“I miss feeling close to you.”

I hate Satan for what he has done to us and this world. How about you?

Let’s do something about it. The first step it seems is to be honest with each other about the impact he has made on our lives.

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“Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water (Psalm 114:7,8).”

“My head is stuck in the clouds
She begs me to come down
Says “Boy quit foolin’ around”
I told her “I love the view from up here
Warm sun and wind in my ear
We’ll watch the world from above
As it turns to the rhythm of love” (Plain White T)

I’ve been told I live between my ears. On the negative side, one could accuse me of being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. I hope I am not worthy of the criticism.

It just seems sometimes that all I have are my wits and my brain. Is that so wrong?

Since I was a young man I have been told I could write. I am now not too far from old age, and I have never used that gift to its fullest.

My mind just seems to be able to connect the dots on some things. Then I can produce them on paper.

Not always, though. I can write as much junk as anyone else.

“A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin.” (Kimberly Perry)

The song these lyrics come from concerns the tragedy of dying young. In my case, the tragedy in dying would be to leave nothing behind.

When you get to be my age, you begin thinking about your legacy. I know.  I know. The real legacy for a husband and father like me should be what I leave to my family. In that regard, I know I have a long way to go.

For the sake of this piece, let’s just stick to the outside world. Although I think I can think and I have written that I can write, I have very little in print at the moment to leave to anybody.

I think I might be a little what Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, portrayed his character Frank Bascombe to be: dreamy. Dreamy is when you go into a trance and forget the real world.

But is that so bad? Maybe being dreamy is what makes someone like me happy.

One of my friends just posted an article on Facebook which discusses the “10 happiest jobs”. The happiest people tend to be like me.

(Why are we Americans so into lists of 10? Is it David Letterman’s fault?)

The number one job on the list is clergy. The author of the piece, Steve Denning, says of them: “the least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all”. I am not a preacher, but I have studied a lot of theology, have been writing this devotional for two years and over the years have spent a lot of time with God. fellow Christians and in the ministry.

Also on Denning’s list is  author, which is my dream job.  “For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness”, Denning writes.

Finally, number six is my current job: teacher. Denning notes:

” Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions. The profession continues to attract young idealists, although 50 per cent of new teachers are gone within five years.”

Count me as an old idealist. I guess I may have burned out on teaching 10 years ago, but at my age it is the only thing I can do to make a regular living.

I still enjoy it somewhat, too. Some of the same skills I would use as a full-time writer are employed in the position.

I read one article in one of those magazines for writers in which the author wrote that he preferred working other types of jobs. He was a paralegal at the time of publication and writing on the side. I kind of agree with him, although I am still drawn to sitting and pondering in a home office all day with a great cup of coffee on my desk.

Denning speaks of how our jobs provide meaning:

Why were these jobs with better pay and higher social status less likely to produce happiness? Todd May writing in the New York Times argues, “A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile. The person living the life must be engaged by it. A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game.”

This is what underlies the difference between the happiest jobs and the most hated jobs. One set of jobs feels worthwhile, while in the other jobs, people can’t see the point.

When I do other things besides having my head in the stratosphere and writing what I think, I just don’t see the point. I am not happy and I make others miserable in my unhappiness.

I wonder if that’s what was troubling Fool. That is the translation of the name Nabal, who had to be one of the unhappiest creatures portrayed in the Bible.

The Scriptures describe Nabal as a curmudgeon of the first order. They say he was surly and mean (I Samuel 25:3).

Ole Nabal was described by his own wife as wicked and a person who was living up to his name. She gave that description to David after Nabal refused to help out the future king’s entourage with provisions, although even Nabal’s own workers lauded them for them.

It took Abigail his wife to calm David down and provide for his men.  The Scriptures say that when  Nabal learned of the plans David had for him,  “his heart failed him and he became like a stone (I Samuel 25:37).”

While it is clear that Nabal’s trauma was mainly mental and emotional, it seems that perhaps he also suffered some kind of stroke. He died 10 days after his wife told him of her meeting with David over their morning tea.

Ole Nabal was really not a happy man. He had no real purpose in life except to make money and get drunk.

Connecting the dots about my own purpose is what brought me to the Lord when I was 17 years old. I figured I was soon going off to school, which would only lead to a meaningless cyclical cause and effect.

“Why go to school?” I asked. Answer: to get a job.

“Why get a job”? I thought. Answer: to make money.

“Why make money?” I queried. Answer: so I can get married, have kids, who will grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids.

It all seemed so empty.

I came to Christ looking for a purpose to life. It is the fool who says there is no God (Psalm 141), and I knew there was one. If there was a purpose to life, I determined in high school that He had it.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire”, missionary Eric Liddel is late for a meeting related to ministry because he has been training. His sister is quite unhappy, thinking his  attempt to be an Olympic champion is without meanng:

Liddel tells his sister, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure”. Lest the pragmatist think he was too dreamy, Eric went on to China to do missions and died in the midst of World War II.

When I think and write, I feel God’s pleasure.  Writing these devotionals is one way I connect to God.

The trick for someone like me is to not to be overly dreamy.  Brett McKay of the website Art of Manliness writes of the dreamer:

“He spends too much time dreaming, and not enough time learning how to have relationships with other people, and thus developing the social skills needed to make his dreams comes true. He is stunted and unconnected.”

McKay says the “uber dreamer” (my term, not his) is like an immature boy. To move into manhood, the boy has to learn to be a gentleman. Says McKay of the gentleman:

“He can be warm, even “sweet” with others, and he can be introspective and spiritual while still keeping his feet on the ground”.

One minister told me he thought writing a blog was self centered. Given what was going on in my life at the time, he may have been correct and I at least understand his perspective.

In any case, in my heart of hearts I believe I think and write hoping that one day I will leave a legacy to others. My problem is that in my personal relationships I have a bit of the Nabal in me.

I believe God is with me when I think and express my thoughts online. It believe it’s a good thing for me and others, even if some critics don’t.

Writing engages me. Yet, I have a suspicion that the down-to earthers are correct in respect to being engaged by more than your own head.

Perhaps I can depend on God  to get through my thick, boulder-like skull that meaningful personal relationships with flesh and blood people are both meaningful and worthwhile.

In addition to the Facebook and blog posts, I can ask Him to, on a moment-by-moment basis, help me express love practically to other people when I am dealing with them in person also.

My mama didn’t raise no fools. There’s a balance here somewhere.

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