Let’s Pretend to be Real, so we don’t come across as Fake.

We read some dialogue between two theologians recently. I use the word “theologian” with a grain of salt. You will understand in a minute. Dr. X and Dr. Y (seminary professors and pastors in our locale) were discussing the youth of today. In that discussion, they mentioned that regarding religion, youth “just want realism today”. Ironically, the solution that these two “theologians” agreed upon was that religious leaders in churches and colleges should mold themselves into, and present themselves as, what the youth are looking for because, “youth can spot ‘fake’ a mile away.” HHHmmm. Okay, so, let’s pretend to be real and sincere because that is what the youth want. Because, let’s see again…oh yeah, they don’t like fakes. What can you say?

This is on the heels of another conversation yesterday with an individual who has been a religious leader for decades. We have known this person for many, many years and have never really heard them express gratitude for much. In fact, the opposite was often true. Their attitude was obviously, “you owe me that and a lot more.” Imagine our surprise when this person was loudly expressing thankfulness and gratitude for multiple things that we and others had done over the years. I sat in slightly stunned surprise. What had created the change? Even some tears accompanied the platitudes. Later, I spotted a book that this person had been reading and that they recommended to me. The book was, “Be Thankful or Lose Your Mind…Literally”. The book went on to explain that because of the way God made us, expressing gratitude is important to mental health. Okay. I get it. I agree that thankfulness is indeed important, just as forgiveness is. Holding on to bitter or negative emotions is dangerous to one’s health. But, I sadly realized that this person, although well intentioned, was not expressing gratitude because they were truly grateful…they were expressing gratitude out of a mental health exercise. They wanted to be sure they had healthy mental attitudes…Wow. What can you say? Just the fact that they are doing that shows that they are already in a sad state mentally.

This is the kind of “fake” that youth can indeed spot. Christ doesn’t need “fake” representatives. He is the real thing. He expects the real thing from His followers.

This is along the same theme as another article we wrote but wanted to wait for the Memorial Day weekend to pass. The article is about “Selling” the Gospel. We will post that one a little bit later.

A Godly Moral Compass that Regulates both Private and Public Affairs

We have noticed a trend that seems to have escalated in the last few years. This trend troubles both Sarah and me. We believe that a capitalist based economy is the best economic form for a society. Capitalism not only rewards hard work, ingenuity, creativity, etc., but it encourages it.  I stand to reap the economic rewards for my efforts and creativity; therefore, I have a reason to excel and achieve in the marketplace, much like an athlete has a reason to excel or achieve in his or her chosen sport. If I run the fastest in a race, I am rewarded with a 1st place ribbon or trophy. Actually, that held more true when I was a kid in the days before “participation trophies”; but that is another subject for another time. But I’ll just say that, if in the Olympics, everyone only received participation medals, the games wouldn’t be the same.

While we believe that capitalism is the best economic form, it needs to be kept closely in check by another force. That force is not government, because government is not capable of the task.  Only one entity is capable—it is He who imparts us with the ability to govern ourselves and our actions. I am speaking of God and the Godly moral compass He imparts to his followers.   Without a Godly moral compass or governor, capitalism over time becomes controlled by greed, which results in dishonesty, selfishness, and a list of other vices. These vices, in turn, create all kinds of misery for society at large. Does any of this sound familiar? Has anyone reading this experienced any unscrupulous marketing or business practices of late? This is the trend that we were speaking of earlier. It has always been around, but it is escalating in mainstream, and even small town America. Why? Because we have removed God from most of our society; hence we have removed the Godly moral compass that should keep our business practices in check. Without this governor, our business practices become ruled by profits and bottom lines. If we remove regard for God’s laws and compassion for humanity from the equation, price gouging doesn’t exist, neither would deceptive marketing. It would be about a business extracting as much money as possible for the least amount and least quality of a product or service as possible. Sound familiar? Because we have deemed ourselves too good for God, we now live in a world of escalating deceptive advertising, deceptive packaging, and deceptive pricing of products that are often shrinking in quality and size, all in an attempt to maximize profits. We have lost our Godly moral compass of what is right. While you might expect this type of behavior from the world at large, sadly many people who attend church and claim to follow Christ have developed the attitude that church is  church, and business is business, and they need to be as profitable as possible: it is just good business. God has become compartmentalized; He no longer has complete rule of our lives. We have become out of control. We have in essence removed ourselves from the principle stated in the Scripture passage, 1 Cor. 10:31, which states, “whatever we do, do unto the glory of God.”

Why can’t government step in to remedy this situation? Simple: because without a Godly moral compass, Government is just as corrupt as the businesses they are supposed to keep in check. In our society, “government” is a group of elected or appointed individuals, most often from within our own communities. There is no such thing as a mysterious entity called “government” absent the people. Government, is, in its very essence, people who are in positions to govern. Some societies choose a monarchy and are ruled by royal families. Some societies are prone to dictatorships and are governed at the point of a sword or gun. But, even in those situations, it is still people who are in a position to govern. In our society, those who govern are most often chosen through an election process and are consequently put in charge “at the consent of the people” to manage public affairs. However, they can, and often do, go awry with the power with which they are entrusted. We must return that internal governor of God awareness in order for both private and government affairs to be fair, just, honest, and effective. Otherwise, the strongest one wins, the one with the most money, power, influence, or intimidation techniques runs over the “governed”, and it most certainly does not represent the ideal of “with the consent of the governed.”

Bug Spray and Citronella: An Easter Message

We came in from mowing this afternoon and walked up on the porch. There, for all to see, was a spider web woven between the citronella candle and the can of bug spray. I quickly wiped away the spider web and squished the little fellow; then, I thought, “I should have taken a picture of that.” I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but here are my thousand words, with no picture.

The bug spray didn’t do any good in the can, and the citronella candle didn’t do any good unlit and just sitting in its canister. What makes the bug spray effective, and what makes the citronella effective as a bug deterrent? The bug spray must be applied, and the candle must be lit. I know that some of you know where this is going.

There is a spiritual parallel here. Now, I’ve known people who display crosses, religious books, Bibles, and other Christian paraphernalia openly in their homes, vehicles, or places of work or business. Sometimes, these same people have forgotten to open the can and spray the bug spray; or, they have forgotten to light that candle, so to speak. What good does it do them? Sometimes these same people are the most difficult to deal with; they are the rudest at restaurants; they are the pushiest in line; they are the loudest and most critical; they are the most inconsiderate of others; they are the first ones to get what they want in product or time and do not seem to care if others are considered. They forget to put themselves last. They forget to go without so others can go with. They forget to be forgotten so others can be remembered.

Having a Bible displayed in a prominent place or hanging a cross around one’s neck is not good enough. One must apply the contents therein. Reading the Bible and applying it are a sure-fired way of not having spiders build nests right on top of you. A spider web represents uncleanliness. Unclean living can be done right in front of a Bible. However, when the Word of God fills you, the desire for uncleanliness leaves. Just like when we spray that bug spray. Suddenly, those spiders don’t want to hang around. When we light that citronella candle, those bugs suddenly find somewhere else to be. When we apply the Word of God and when we are filled with the Living Word (the Spirit of Jesus), those unclean habits will suddenly go elsewhere. They won’t corrode your life with uncleanliness; they won’t cloud your judgement with cobwebs.

Happy Easter, Everyone. God Bless you and fill you.

“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

I was seated at an outdoor restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk. My date had been thoughtful and had chosen an upscale and picturesque venue. He ordered wine and made light conversation. He was in his mid 30’s and was a professor at a university. I was in my mid 20’s and was writing for a publishing company. Both of our professional futures had promise.

Soon, the conversation turned more serious, and he asked me if I would date him exclusively, with marriage in mind, a little bit down the line. It wasn’t exactly a proposal, but it was a request for a more serious dating relationship with marriage being the goal in a few years.

I paused. I couldn’t fool myself or him. It just wasn’t there for me. He had everything a woman could want; just not this woman. I smiled. It was an awkward moment. I said, “No. I’m looking for something different. I just can’t commit to anything more serious.” He was a bit surprised. He was quite a catch, and he knew it. “Well, what do you want?” He asked, taken aback. I sighed. What did I want? I could feel it, but could I articulate it?

While in college, I had attended a church where I had met a married couple who made a profound impression on me. They were in their 50s at the time. Their children were older than I was and were out of the home. My senior year in college, I was looking for a place to live closer to the university I was attending, instead of having a long commute. I refused to live on campus and had never even considered it. My mother suggested that I ask the couple I so admired if they would rent a room to me. While at Bible study one evening, I mentioned it to the woman. She was delighted and made me feel very welcome. I moved in without delay. They treated me like a daughter and would not take rent money from me. Over the course of the year or so that I was there, I witnessed an amazing marital relationship—such as I had never seen—it was one of love and devotion, respect, fun-loving jabs and retorts, laughter, and eye-rolling at “honey do’s”. It was real. There were no pretenses. She adored him, and he was her everything. He loved her more than he loved himself, and it showed. I subconsciously tucked these things away, not knowing that I had observed in them a standard that no one whom I would date from then on could live up to. I could not get over it. I had to have that, or I would have nothing. I didn’t mind being single. But, being in a pretentious marriage was more than I could bear.

On the Riverwalk that night, when the professor asked me what I wanted, I found myself describing a man that somewhat fit into an old western movie: I wanted a gentleman who said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ I wanted someone who was at ease with either presidents or peasants. I wanted someone with a plain name—John, Tom, or Sam, or something like that—I didn’t want someone named Wellington, Davenport, or Piccadilly. I wanted someone who was confident in who he was and who didn’t obsess in the mirror over his hair gel. I wanted someone who would give you the shirt off his back and who worried more about pleasing God than padding his bank account. I wanted someone whose ‘Yes’ meant ‘Yes’ and whose ‘No’ meant ‘No.’ I didn’t want someone who squabbled over insignificant details and differences. I wanted a self-made man, not a company man or a union man. I wanted a one-woman man—his heart had to be true toward me, and he had to genuinely love me.

My list included a few more items along these lines. My date interrupted me often as I talked. He didn’t agree with me. I had named nothing of ‘importance’ in his mind that made a good marriage: career, social connections, family connections, ambition, politics, religion. “Besides,” he said, “they don’t make them like that anymore. You are describing a throw-back, not a modern man. I’ll bet you can’t even name anyone like that—except maybe your grandpa.” I smiled. No, not even my grandpas (both of whom were deceased) fit this description.

Months later, when God saw fit, He introduced me to the man who would become my husband. Ironically, he was so real, that he once told me that I was a “little snot” who was spoiled and bratty. And he was right. I was selfish and lost in my own little selfish world. My ideals had not met reality, even in myself. For three years we were simply “friends”. I dated; he dated. We would get together and talk about our dates. We admitted one time that whenever we were on a date with someone else, we thought about how much more fun we had together instead of with others. We talked about what we really wanted in a spouse. One day, it hit us. What were we doing? It was right in front of us. He was the first one to broach the subject. Would I consider going on an actual date with him? I said that I was afraid to mess up what we had. It was so good and so real. I said that maybe we could try it. That night, he kissed me. That was it. It was real, and we knew it. Two months later, we were married. That was thirteen years ago this month. He is still the man of my dreams, and so much more. They do still make them like that. But, they are rare. I’m so blessed to have one of those rare models.

Who Decides Right and Wrong?

I have stated many times that man or humanity cannot deem what is right or wrong; it can merely determine legalities according to the laws created by the morality of that society. Like it or not, only God determines right or wrong, and we as humans are subject to his decisions. Recently our nation has recognized the legality of same sex marriage, while it is now legal according to our laws and accepted by many as legitimate, these actions do not , I repeat do not, make it right. Why? As I stated before, God determines right and wrong.  We, as individuals, and as a collective (society), are not sovereign over God, but rather, are subject to Him. He does not have to accept our laws; we have to accept His.  God doesn’t have to accept something as right just because it is now legal in our country.

The strength, health and legitimacy of a society are really judged on how its laws align with God’s laws. If its legal system is based on God’s principles, all of that society’s judges and courts should be the same in determining right or wrong based on God’s stance not their political viewpoint. There is one standard. If the standard was followed, there would be not liberal or conservative judges with personal and political viewpoints coming in to play.

We tend to think of religion (following God’s way) or anti religion (against God’s way) along political lines—if someone is “liberal” he or she tends to be anti religion (not religious themselves and not friendly toward individuals and institutions who are); if someone is “conservative” he or she may be more religion friendly, if not also religious themselves. This is not always the case. Just because someone is “conservative” does not make them godly. In fact, there are such things as conservative atheists who are not hostile to religion but who do not espouse it themselves. There are “conservative” humanists and secularists who believe more in man’s power than God’s power. And, just because one is liberal, does not make one against God. Churches are full of Christians who tend to lean toward a liberal political viewpoint. One cannot be grouped merely by their political affiliation or their religious affiliation.

People on both sides and all along the political scale (from far left to far right) have ideas on what this country should look like in the future and where we should go from here. They have ideas of what laws we need to pass, what laws we need to abolish, and so on. When one side of the political scale gets their way and a law is passed, the other side weeps and mourns, proclaiming doom and gloom; when the other side gets their way in the political system, the first side proclaims that the apocalypse is just around the corner.

The truth is, the only hope we have as a nation is to bring ourselves back in alignment with God. Try as we may, we will never bring God into alignment with us. We must be One Nation, Under God or we will become fragmented along the cracks that have already begun to develop in our society. As much as I urge my fellow countrymen to do so, sadly, I do not see us uniting under God. We will continue to try to unite under laws passed by man and man’s strength, which, in time, will result in a fractured nation that may or may not stay intact. In truth, our country now resembles a broken windshield—pieces of shattered glass barely held together and technically still in place, but obviously very broken. Again, our only hope of our nation’s repair is in God. This is achieved by giving Him His rightful place—Sovereignty over us.

The Scriptures are full of episodes in different nation’s existences that can be summed up best in this verse: Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.” Throughout history, many nations have risen and fallen as the Lord has seen fit. He can call into existence a nation out of nowhere, and He can cause the mightiest nation to fall. It seems like the stronger a nation gets, the more independent of God it thinks it is. It becomes its own god and offers up a plethora of false deities to its masses to please different regions and groups.

I mentioned Psalm 33:12 in particularly to a man who attends church regularly and who identifies politically as both a Christian and a liberal Democrat. He said that he does not accept that verse because it implies that if the Lord God is not the God of our nation, we will not receive His blessings, and that’s not fair. This person’s beliefs toward God were that He is fair, and like a social program that doles out benefits equally to all, God should do the same. He (God) should not have preferences or dole out His blessings selectively to people who accept Him and follow His ways.

I was speechless. How can one argue with that (ill)logic?

Right now, our nation has many gods. But there is only One Sovereign God, and we seem to want any other god except Him. Ultimately, we want to be our own god.

In Article 3 of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” approved in 1789 by the French National Assembly, a statement reads, “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body or individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.” This socialist, humanist, atheist world view governed the actions of the notable and infamous French Revolution. Clearly, they had become their own god. And, history tells us where that leads.

 

Rocks for Toilet Paper

We met a family who had recently moved to a small, rural community. They were very happy to be there and were clearing the land of cactus and intended to run some livestock and plant a large garden. They were eager and happy to get out of the city and live in the quiet solitude of the country. They were blue collar at best and had very little disposable income, but they were hard workers and had a vision for their place. It was a very humble home, but cozy for them and their nine-year-old son. They befriended an elderly woman who was their nearest neighbor and volunteered to help her with yard work, etc. One day, while we were visiting this elderly woman, whom we had known for some time, she introduced us to her new neighbors who happened to be there at the same time that we were that day.

We were happy to meet the neighbors and were pleased that they seemed like good folks. For nearly a year, we did not encounter them again. One day while sitting at home, Sarah said she felt like she was supposed to go visit them. I said, “Do you mean Dora?” (the elderly lady whom we already knew). Sarah said, “No. I think I am supposed to go visit John and Miriam.” I said, “Well, you don’t really know them, but okay.”

Sarah baked some cookies and made up a nice gift basket with a note that read, “Just thinking about you guys and hoping all is well.” She drove to where they lived and knocked on the door. The wife answered and was surprised to see Sarah, who explained that she had brought a gift basket and wanted to let them know that we were thinking of them and hoping they were doing well. Miriam graciously invited Sarah into the house and accepted the gift basket. They sat on the couch together, and Sarah asked who the little girl was playing in the corner. She was probably around three years old. Miriam explained that it was one of John’s relative’s daughters. The child had been removed by social services, and John and Miriam said that they would keep her for a while (they ended up keeping her for two years).

During the conversation, Miriam emotionally broke down. No, they were not doing well. Long story short, John had been laid off and was out looking for work. Miriam had always worked at home and cared for the livestock, etc. but she was actively looking for employment as well. They were a one-car family, so they had to work around each other’s employment schedules. Their son had been playing ball at a cousin’s house and had run out in front of a truck that had hit the boy accidentally and broken his leg.

Sarah began to look around. There was hardly any furniture. She asked Miriam about it, who said that they had sold nearly everything to keep food on the table and pay the boy’s medical bills. Sarah noticed that there was hardly any food in the house, either.

Miriam said she wasn’t sure what they were going to do if God didn’t help them. She and John had made the decision not to get on welfare. They did not want to take government subsidies. They wanted to find work and stay out of debt, if possible. They had always paid as they went, and if they couldn’t pay for it, they went without. But they had reached an all-time low. Miriam revealed to Sarah that they were even out of toilet paper and shampoo. Sarah asked what they did for toilet paper. Miriam said that they went out to the pasture and collected rocks that were smooth. After they used the rocks, they collected them in a bucket and took them outside where they dumped them on the ground and hosed them off. Then, they would clean the rocks and reuse them.

Sarah asked what they did for shampoo. Miriam said that they used hand soap because that is all they had. Miriam ran her fingers through her hair with a look of disgust on her face. “It makes my hair feel nasty.” Sarah nodded in agreement. On a camping trip one time she had used hand soap for shampoo. It was not a repeat.

Sarah asked if the elderly neighbor was aware of their dilemma. Miriam said that they had not told anyone because they didn’t want to seem like the kind of people looking for a handout. She laughed and said that the nearby church had met on Sunday for their monthly “pot luck,” and the smell of food had tormented them for hours after. Sarah asked if anyone from the church ever came to visit them. Miriam said that one time, when they had first moved in, a couple had come over and invited them to church, but that had been over a year back and no one had been since.

Sarah noticed a wood stove on the porch with fresh ashes in it. She asked Miriam about it, who said, “I’ve been practicing cooking on it. When we lose electricity tomorrow, because we can’t pay our bill, I will be able to still cook and boil water for laundry.” Sarah said, “How will you get water? Isn’t your well on an electric pump?” Miriam said it was but that they had been collecting rain water in barrels for some time and had also drawn up more water to use until the electricity could be turned back on.

These were tough folks. They knew what to do to get by, even if it was really difficult. Sarah knew why she had felt like she was supposed to go visit them. She told Miriam that the electric bill would be paid and there would be food in the pantry and toilet paper and shampoo in the cabinet by the end of the day. Thankfully, that was so. A friend who came to visit us that evening pitched in, and John and Miriam were back to going with full refrigerator, pantry and cabinets.

Eventually, both of them gained employment, and a family member provided for them a second (rather beat-up, but functioning) vehicle. They are doing much better and still enjoying their home in the country. Their boy has grown up and moved away, but they have taken in two or three other children in need. They have invested in their community in other ways, as well, like helping dig a community storm shelter and taking part in holiday events. They have even been seen taking food to some other neighbors in need. When the elderly woman, Dora, ended up going to an assisted living home, John and Miriam were regular visitors to her.

One day while a construction team was remodeling the church building nearby, one of the workers was overheard talking about “them people.” They were looking in the direction of John and Miriam’s home and were intending to be derisive about them. We happened to be there visiting with some of the construction team and laughed at the ignorant statement.

We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that the “them people” comment was made regarding John and Miriam’s economic status. We don’t know for sure, but one thing we do know for sure–knowing the construction worker who made the comment, we do know who we would rather have for a neighbor. We are so happy to have met “them people”. They are an inspiration. They knew how to knuckle down when times were tough.

The Wrath of God

A few days ago, I read some posts that mentioned the wrath of God, and I have been thinking about them ever since.  In one post, a person stated that they didn’t want to speak about God’s wrath or think about people suffering His wrath. In another post, someone stated that as Christians, we do not need to talk about God’s wrath but instead, should talk about His love.

Nearly three hundred years ago, this same debate raged in the American colonies. Jonathan Edwards, American preacher, delivered one of the most powerful messages ever to be preached on this continent. The name of his sermon was, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But, if you read the sermon, it is much about God’s love. Both love and anger are part of God. When we speak of only one of His attributes, we are not speaking of God as a whole. What if we spoke only of the calm in the eye of a hurricane? Even if we did it because we didn’t like talking about the forces at play outside the eye, or the thought of people and property being exposed to those forces? Would we be doing the people in the path of the hurricane a favor? No. We sound the alarm. We tell them a storm is coming. Even if in the eye of the storm there is tranquility, that is only part of the truth. The second point that emphasizes what I am saying concerns bears. If you have ever lived in bear country, you go by certain rules. Those rules are posted frequently by the forest rangers/forest service as constant reminders to anyone traveling in the bear’s habitat. Why are these rules posted? To avoid the wrath of an angry bear. Or, perhaps better said, to avoid being a hiker in the paws of an angry bear.

We speak often of how to avoid the wrath of a hurricane or a bear. We take certain steps and precautions. When one is headed our way, we take protective actions. Interestingly enough, both the bear and the hurricane only affect our temporal, earthly life. God’s wrath deals with the immortal soul—eternity. We are taught to respect and fear the bear and the hurricane. But by failing to mention God’s wrath and anger, He is no longer to be feared—at least in the minds of those who would rather operate in denial. What does the Bible say is the beginning of wisdom? It is the fear of the Lord God Almighty. By speaking of only part of Him, this is lost. We are doing no one a favor by not speaking of God’s anger. Would you send children into the woods and not teach them about the wrath of a bear? Would you not warn a neighbor of a hurricane if you knew it was coming? The reality in this world is, If you die without being redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus, Who is God incarnate, you are facing eternity and damnation. I will agree, that does not sound pleasant. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone—even my worst enemy. The thought of hell in actuality is more than the human mind can comprehend. My refusing to think about it or speak of it does not make it go away.

I once made a similar statement to the one above regarding the redemptive power of Christ. It offended one of my friends who stated something like, “You must not care about me. You say there is a God, and I say there is no god. So, I must be wrong. How can you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong?” I replied to him, “No, I speak of this to you because I do care about you. You are my friend. I truly believe this. What kind of friend would I be if I did not warn you of what is true? If I knew of a danger that was present, of course I would warn you.” He stated, “I’ve never looked at it like that. So, my friends who tell me that God is real are doing it because they care about me. I always just thought that they were picking on me or being pushy with their religion.”

Again, we are doing no one a favor by not mentioning the wrath of God. Not only has the one sided view of God (only His love) become a personal favorite of individuals, but it is also a corporate ideal as well, perpetuated in and by many churches and Christian leaders—God’s love sells better than God’s anger. Christian entities and individuals need to quit trying to sell God and speak of Him in His entirety. We might be surprised at the results in our communities and country.