Tag Archive: faith

Since attending my uncle Jack’s funeral this past week, I’ve been thinking of times I remember being with him on family occasions. My daughter, Jennifer, took her first steps at Jack and Juanita’s house. Eventually my thoughts traveled to other experiences of my younger days. Such as our family trip to Pennsylvania.  Cyndy, the three boys, and myself replicated part of that trip in August of 2010. The trips were also on my mind because I am flying to Philadelphia this week for the Religion Communicators Council’s national convention.

Be that as it may, the story from the Pennsylvania trip when I was a teenager that came to mind was when we were driving through the farms in Amish country. The view was gorgeous and breath-taking. I think I even put down the book I was reading – I always read when we drove long distances. We drove through miles and miles of farms and fields.

We passed several produce stands – which were larger, as a general rule, than the stands I was used to seeing in Texas. The stands in Texas were mostly single farm stands whereas the Pennsylvania stands were co-op. After the third stand, my mother said “we need something sweet.” We pulled into the next stand, mom went looking and came back with several pounds of cherries.

We left the produce stand and continued our journey. The four of us ate cherries until we were nearly sick. Then mom spotted a nut stand.

“Now I need something salty,” mom said, after which dad pulled into the stand. This time she came back with a pound or two of a nut mixture.

We continued down the road, stuffing ourselves with nuts. Fortunately, we had some cherries leftover. With the sandwiches and lemonade mom had made, we were able to stretch the sweet and salty cycle for most of the day. However, during the unfolding of the sweet and salty saga, another story unfolded.

As we ate lunch and switched between salty and sweet, we put our reading material down, turned down the radio, looked out at the scenery, and shared observations and stories.

After a while we quit eating and were just talking and sharing. The salty and sweet episode was, at the outset, giving in to selfish urges. But, rather than simply giving in to the urges, we used it  as a time to have a conversation and draw closer to each other.

Which is a lesson I have kept with me since our family vacations all those years ago. For one thing, a family vacation is not about having a perfect time, leaving all the problems behind. A vacation is about having an experience together out of the ordinary (facing different problems) as a family. When the vacation is over, you remember the good times the most, not the difficulties.

The other part of the lesson pertains to the sweet and salty episode in particular. In different forms it occurs in every vacation, and life itself. Satisfying urges is not, in itself, a bad thing. But if we let the urges control the circumstances, the urges become more important than the fellowship and our faith. God made food to feed us, but Jesus also said “is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Peace be with you.

I wrote an earlier post about the hens next door (the rooster, thankfully, has found a new home elsewhere). Our neighbors now have four different colored hens which are white, tan, black, and grey-striped. The black hen recently discovered she could fly over the fence into the front yard. Her choice of direction for her escape was quite intentional. Dogs could be heard barking on the other side of the fence of the other three sides of the backyard.

The hen has taken to wandering from her yard through our yard to the yard on the other side and back again, pausing at length under the bush at the far corner of our house. She also likes the bush next to the front door. She struts so close to the house that we can hear her clucking from inside. When I walked out the front door the other day, the dust flew as she scampered away from behind the bush. Unfortunately, she gives our dog, Misty, added incentive to try to escape when someone opens the door.

In the past few days, the black hen has become more curious and adventurous. She was wandering across the street, exploring the entrance to the driveway across from ours. But she mostly hangs around our front yard and her own. However, when I walked out into the backyard this morning, my assumption that her direction of escape was intentional was torn completely asunder.

The hen was strutting away from me about ten feet ahead. I was glad I had not brought Misty out with me. She strutted around the yard and seemed to be trying very hard to ignore the fact that I was there. As if she just ignored me, I would not notice she was there. She did not cluck at all, presumably so I would not hear her and become aware of her presence. She had acted the same way in the front yard. Yet, even though the hen tried to ignore me, she had to face the fact that I was still there and was not going away.

Which I tend to think is how we are with God at times. “I am just one person out of billions on the planet. Maybe if I try to be insignificant, God will not notice my presence or recent transgressions.” Then, at other times, we wonder why the Lord does not respond when we pray. We cannot have it both ways.

Try as we might, it is beyond our ability to fly underneath God’s “radar.” No matter where we go, God’s presence is always with us. He knows our smallest transgression – and forgives us with his grace. He is present when life is most difficult – supporting us with his grace. We just need to have faith, ask for God’s forgiveness, and accept his grace.

Peace be with you.

Our owl returned a few evenings ago. I say it is our owl. It looks the same, sounds the same, and is the same size. And it always returns to the same tree in our backyard, even though trees are numerous in our neighborhood. If it is our owl, then we also have a woodpecker, and several squirrels. Not that they are ours in a pet sense. They do not spend all their time here, with the possible exception of the squirrels. The squirrels are territorial and have our dog, Misty, to hassle.

Although we feed the squirrels inadvertently on occasion, we would not know how to feed the owl and the woodpecker, even if we wanted to or could. The woodpecker could fit in my hand (though I imagine it might be a bit painful), and is usually so high in the tree that we only know he’s there by the sound of his pecking on a branch. For a tiny bird, he, or she, is amazingly loud. She begins a little later in the morning and can be heard periodically through the day.

The owl, on the other hand – as you would expect – only visits at night. I have always wondered what owls do during the daytime. Be that as it may, it is comforting to walk out in the backyard at night to get some air and see him, a shadow against the night sky. Then he begins to expound his bird-ly wisdom, or at least his thoughts at the time.

While the owl and the woodpecker are not our pets in the traditional sense, they do seem to stop by to say “hi” occasionally. Which I think is not only an act of nature, but a subtle sign from God. It has been a particularly difficult time for us. As I have stated before, we have three teenage boys and problems can multiply in an instant. It’s frustrating not being able to post because nothing positive seems to be happening.

So when I went out in the backyard a few nights ago, I was greeted and comforted by the owl hooting overhead. He was on a branch lower than any branches he had perched on previously, not very far overhead. It was as if he was telling me that everything was okay and God was with me. It was the same feeling I get when I am greeted in the morning by the pecking of the woodpecker. And after all, who knows how God speaks to, or contacts, each one of us. So why not through an owl and a woodpecker?

Peace be with you.

When God Seems Absent

There is a rock in the flower bed outside the office door to the backyard. If you glance at it quickly, and use your imagination, it looks like a heart. If you look closer, it still resembles a heart – just a little misshapen. Each day I walk outside (except during inclement weather), I glance over at the rock and take comfort from its presence.

I cannot remember when I saw it for the first time, but I remember seeing it for the first time. It was not one of my better days and seeing the rock cheered me up. I thought it was there for me. A sign that God was with me.

Part of me feels a little silly getting comfort from a seemingly random vaguely heart-shaped rock. Regardless, I still feel that comfort. On a difficult day, when everyone seems to have me in their sights, the rock is still there. Letting me know I am never completely alone.

Then one day last week the rock was gone. There was an indentation in the flower bed where the rock had been. It had rained recently, but there was no corresponding deposit of soil. Our dog, Misty, often buries food and digs it back up later. Cyndy and I thought we knew most of her spots, and she usually covers it back up. Regardless of the reason, the rock was gone.

I felt lost. Which I feel rather silly admitting, but it is true. I walked around in circles, looking for where it might have ended up. The day did not seem right without the rock in its proper place. The rock had been a sign of hope. Was its absence a sign of the opposite? My mood was altered without a discernible reason.

The temperature was beginning to get colder. I would kick around and peer through the grass and leaves, but it was not a thorough search. I would tell myself that it really was not worth it and I would just have to get used to it not being there. But the feeling of emptiness did not go away. When I went back outside, I found myself circling the area again, with the scenario repeating itself.

A few days ago I was searching again – closer this time – and dug up a couple of rocks. I felt around and dug a little further. I do not know what caught my eye or caused me to dig where I did. But there was the heart-shaped rock. I placed it back up in a place of relative prominence near the bricks that border the flowerbed.

I do not know if the rock is from God, but I would like to think he is using the rock – so to speak – to get a message across. If not to me, then through me, by my telling of the story. But I do know that there is a message here – one way or the other.

We tend to take God for granted. We see the signs, and feel strangely warmed, but we simply come to expect them rather than appreciate them. We do not take time to thank God for the grace he bestows upon us. We take the fact that God is always with us, no matter what we do, way too literally. We forget our part of the covenant.

Then something happens and we think God is not there. We walk around in circles, looking for him. We shuffle the grass and leaves wondering where he could be. Then we get desperate, praying that we will find him. After digging a little bit, putting forth effort and praying, God makes himself known to us. Letting us know he never actually left us in the first place. He did not fail us. We failed to live up to the faith God has in us.

Peace be with you.

I was walking to our sons’ school with the youngest son’s football gear stuffed in my backpack. Cyndy was running errands after dropping them off at school. In the waking up atmosphere of sleepy-eyed confusion in which things can slip teenage minds, J.D. had forgotten his gear on the couch. Of course, he had to have it right away. It was a hot and fairly humid day. Which was not conducive to walking long distances on sidewalks with slight, intermittent, shade.

When I am walking, I watch the ground ahead of me – for several reasons. For one thing, I walk quickly which requires watching the terrain. And by watching the ground ahead of me, I am not constantly reminded of how far away my goal is at any given time. I have also found a large number of coins over the years (albeit mostly pennies).

I walk in long strides, setting up a quick rhythm. Inevitably, I set my stride with the aim of missing the cracks in the sidewalk. Lengthening my stride when the situation requires it. At some point the superstition of my youth slips through – bringing to mind the phrase we used to say.

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Do I believe it? Not really. Do I avoid the cracks? You betcha – just to be on the safe side. And I will have you know that to this day my mother has not broken her back. A few other things maybe, but not her back. I will also have you know that I do not think my avoiding cracks had a thing to do with it.

Yet, as I was walking to my son’s school, I was avoiding the cracks. Mostly to set up a rhythm in my stride, but avoiding the cracks nonetheless. That got me to thinking – as walking is wont to do – about avoiding cracks and hedging bets.

As a general rule, I can set a rhythm or pace and move quickly along while still avoiding the cracks. As we as Christians can go about our life in the secular world, avoiding the larger, more obvious sins. But then I come across a section of sidewalk – or life – that has begun to show wear, causing a conundrum. There are so many cracks that even a hop-scotch afficionado would have trouble traversing the area.

So which cracks count in the break your mother’s back scenario? If it is a natural part of the sidewalk which was purposefully made that way, is that considered a crack? Is it just the cracks that have developed over time from wear and weather that count? Or do all cracks count, causing the situation to be crucially problematic?

In our Christian lives the question – considering the cracks as sins – is which sins to avoid. Which cracks are actually sins? And which cracks are part of the sidewalk as it was made? When we come to the section with too many cracks to avoid them all, which do we choose not to avoid?

We are human and cannot avoid all sin. And not all the cracks in life’s sidewalk are sins. Some cracks are merely faults in the sidewalk. Fortunately, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” is just a game. Unfortunately, life is not a game. Even though it might seem that way at one time or another. Some of the cracks we try to cross in life are wider and deeper than we could have imagined.

When we reach those rough spots in life’s sidewalk, we wonder if we took the wrong path – if we are on the wrong sidewalk. We are unsure which cracks to avoid and which cracks are okay to step on. What false idols we have succumbed to and need to avoid, and what we should be embracing more than we are.

During those times of rough spots, when our paths reach too many cracks in the sidewalk and other obstacles, we need to recall what Paul said to the Corinthians. “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Corinthians 10:13.

As we walk along life’s sidewalk, we need to put our faith in God, and trust the path we take. By the grace of God we make it to the end of the sidewalk.

 Peace be with you.

Being Between Holes

Occasionally, I begin to notice that I keep adjusting my belt. It is not due to a major shift in my weight. I weigh about the same as I did in high school – give or take five pounds at any given time. And I am way past high school. 

When I buy a belt, it fits snugly. Maybe right after my jeans have been washed, the belt might feel a little loose, but when my jeans work back out, it fits fine again. Inevitably, at some point in time, I begin to notice that I need to tighten up the belt a little. But sure enough, when I try to tighten it, I find that I cannot do so without discomfort. I find that I am once again in my personal twilight zone of being “between holes.”

When I bought the belt I had a two hole leeway. Both worked okay, but one a little better. Where did that leeway go? Okay, the belt is leather and leather will flex a bit after time – I get that. And jeans tighten and loosen – I get that, too. But the holes are the same distance apart they always were – within a fraction of an inch. And although I am at the age that my body is beginning to shift, it has not as yet affected my waist.

It is not a recent occurrence. The situation is the same with our son’s belts – when they wear them. Many times I have taken out my pocket knife and fashioned a new hole in a belt. But that is only a temporary solution and does not work for any thing resembling a formal event. And, unlike the original holes, it tends to grow, sometimes splitting the belt in the middle to the next original hole or simply splitting it in half.

Unfortunately, it is not a problem for which I think there will be an easy solution. But it did get me to thinking about the times in our lives when we find ourselves “between holes.” We receive life with all the right holes – with a two hole leeway. We keep going back and forth between one hole and another. Because we do not keep on a steady path, our faith stretches, the human factors flex, and we find we need another hole. Which we try to make ourselves. But the holes we make are inferior to the original holes and do not stand up to wear and tear.

The “between hole” theory can apply to our bodies, the planet, and our faith. We take what we are given, as perfect as it can be, and flex it, stretch it, use it, and abuse it until we suddenly find ourselves between holes. Then we think we can solve it on our own. We make another hole. But our solutions are only temporary and usually do not stand the test of time.

We need to work within the boundaries of what we were originally given. Stay within limits and follow the path we know we ought to and take care of what we have been given. We should listen to the Lord and demonstrate – toward others and our planet – a “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” 1st Timothy 1:5.  

Peace be with you.

When I was a single father, and my daughter was at her grandparent’s house, I fixed a steak on the small hibachi on the front porch. It was a covered wooden porch but the roof was ten feet high and, like I say, it was a small hibachi. The steak I was cooking covered a majority of its surface area. When the steak was ready, I ate it along with the vegetables I had fixed, then put the dishes in the sink. All the while the front door was wide open.

I laid down on the couch, the left two feet of which faced the front door, and fell asleep watching television. At some point, I was awoken from a deep sleep to the foggy place in between deep sleep and fully awake. I heard a sound, some running steps, and doors slamming. I got on my feet, clawing through the fog, and headed for the open door. I watched the car pull away.

The hibachi was gone. Which was not a tragic loss – I had not paid much for it. But there had been burning coals and ashes in it! I looked around on the porch and over the side where I figured they would dump it. There were, however, no ashes to be found. Not even between the porch and the middle of the street. The two young men had just shoved a grill with a burning fire in their car.

As I stood there looking in the direction in which they had driven and shaking my head, I had a vision of these two guys driving around with steaks, looking for a grill to cook them on. In my mind I saw them driving to a park, pulling out the hibachi and blowing on the coals to cook their steaks. Why else would they take a cheap hibachi costing less than fifteen dollars – with a fire in it no less? It is doubtful they were looking for a grill for their family.

Most likely they were just stealing it for a prank. When they realized it had burning embers in it they did not have time to dump them out before escaping, as it were, in their car. But did they dare each other? Remember, I had the front door open and was laying on the couch facing the door (albeit asleep). What about the hibachi was worth taking the chances they took? Had I thought fast enough, and cared about the hibachi enough, I could have read the number on their license plate.

Thinking back on the occasion, the situation calls to mind those times when we commit sins and think that no one knows or we “got away with it.” Getting too much money in change from an inexperienced or overworked employee at the store, for example. Or being charged less than the actual price and keeping silent. Parking in a handicapped parking space when not at all disabled would be another example. There are many other examples.

We inwardly dare ourselves to not say anything, while at the same time we know it is morally wrong. We think no one notices. We tell ourselves that makes it “okay.” But God is standing on the front porch, shaking his head, watching as we walk or drive away – wondering why we think we have “gotten away” with anything.

Peace be with you.

Alyce McKensie, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins Theological Seminary at SMU, published a post before Easter entitled “Have You Got Your Ticket” on Patheos.com. With three teenagers and end of the year school and church activities, I was distracted and only recently re-read the post. The lectionary text that week was the Walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. “… Easter season is a journey that begins with the empty tomb and the Risen Lord. But for some reason I’ve been thinking about journeys and ways we can remember where were headed and why.”

McKensie recalled the well-known story about Albert Einstein’s train trip when he was on the floor looking for his lost ticket. The conductor told him it was okay, he knew who he was, and trusted him. “It’s not a matter of trust,” said Einstein. “If I don’t find that ticket, I have no idea where I’m going!”

Alyce then wrote about receiving an original ticket to the Wesleyan Class Meeting of the Wesleyan-Methodist Society from 1829. How holding the ticket in her hand led her on a mental spiritual journey back to when James Hart (the name on the ticket) was in fellowship and worship with the society and back to the beginning of the Christian church with the Last Supper and the empty tomb. Read the full post here.

While I was reading her post, my mind went in a slightly different direction (as my mind is wont to do) with the example of the ticket. I do not know what the conductor would have done with the ticket when Einstein found it. But I remember having to get my ticket punched when riding on a train – ostensibly to prove the conductor had validated my ticket. Which led me to consider another kind of ticket.

Part of the problem with the decline of churches today is that many Christians live as though they are mentally getting their ticket punched. Not exactly a good example with which to persuade people to come to, or come back to, church. It’s more about having their eternal ticket punched than faithfulness or discipleship.

Went to Communion Sunday – punch. Went to Wednesday night dinner – punch. Church music programs – punch. Holiday worship services – punch. Christmas services and Easter services – double punches at least. As if the totality of one’s good works can bring entrance to heaven.

If St. Peter at the golden gate were the conductor to eternity, when handed the attendance punch card, he might ask: “Where is your mission punch card, your evangelical punch card, your kindness to strangers punch card?” And so on. If the applicant is using the punch card approach, they are going to fall short of the mark of a good and faithful Christian.

Approached with a true and right spirit, attending church services and events are joyful times of worship and fellowship. Worship and fellowship create an impetus for doing good works, not the other way around. The good works come as acts of faith to, in some small way, return the favor for the Lord’s magnanimous gift of grace. We should want to do good works to further our spiritual journey, not to collect points.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:9,10

Peace be with you.

[Re-posted from former blog]

Faith and Pop Culture is the eighth installment of the Christianity Today Current Issues Bible Study Series, published by Thomas Nelson. As stated in the introduction, “[t]his Current Issues Bible Study is designed to facilitate lively and engaging discussion on various facets of entertainment and how it connects to our lives as Jesus’ followers.” The Faith and Pop Culture study examines the compatibility of our faith with the current culture as it pertains to the various parts of the entertainment industry. The book includes observations on movies, books, sports, television, and violence in entertainment media.

The study also takes a look at how entertainment affects Christians and vice versa. Must all entertainment Christians enjoy be “family friendly?” Can Christians influence the entertainment industry? With “entertain me” as the cry of our culture, is it compatible with a life of faith? These are questions to be discussed during the eight weeks of this study.

The Current Issues Bibles Studies are designed to be small group studies. Each session of the Faith and Pop Culture study begins with a Scripture Focus which provides the passages pertaining the lesson. After a brief introduction, a relevant article from Christianity Today magazine and ChristianityToday.com follows. The study guide of each session following the article are Open Up – discussion activities, The Issue – focusing on the main issues with which the session is concerned, Reflect – sharing thoughts and observations on the Scripture Focus passages, Let’s Explore – discussion questions, and Going Forward – taking what is learned and discussed and putting thought into action within our culture.

Each study guide includes ample questions and activities. Which allows for flexibility within the small groups using the study. If the group meets for two hours, they have plenty of questions, scripture reading, and activities. A group that meets for a shorter time has many options to choose from. Some sessions have “bonus” ideas or extra activities which could also be done outside of the regular group time.

In a time when many books and articles are written about modernism, post-modernism, and, indeed, faith and culture, Faith and Pop Culture is an intriguing Bible study that allows Christians as a group to actively apply their faith to the culture in which we live. The studies are also relevant for any small group in any situation. After reading the study, you might find yourself mentioning the book and series to group leaders whom you know.

Peace be with you.

I was given this book by Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of  review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor did I receive any compensation other than the book itself.

[Re-posted from former blog.] Christianity in Crisis 21st Century, written by Hank Hanegraaff, published by Thomas Nelson, is a book every Christian should have on his or her bookshelf. I wished I had read Hanegraaff’s first book, Christianity in Crisis when it was published in 1993. It would not have changed my views, but would have given me a source to which to turn for proof in my discussions on the subject. I commend Hanegraaff for having the faith and mission to read and listen to these preachers of fallacies and their obvious distortion of God’s word in order to alert the general populace of Christians – many who have themselves been deceived by prosperity and faith healing preachers.

In the 1970’s, after a night of sitting with my jaw on the floor while watching the 700 Club, Pastor Gene Scott, and the like, I wrote a song called Buy One God (Get One Free) portraying the ridiculousness of the prosperity gospel. At the time, I felt alone in my convictions, not even being able to bring the subject up in church. Now I find that I am not alone – thanks to Hanagraaff and others – but the problem has grown much larger and more ingrained in our society and economy.

It is not necessary that I repeat some of his arguments here – he does an excellent job and you must read it for yourself. Although you will be completely repelled and incensed at the audacity of these false preachers – which under other circumstances would leave you feeling lost and praying that it was not so – Hanegraaff points out the fallacies, which offsets the discomfort brought on by their demented interpretation of scripture.

In chapter seven, Back to Basics – as well as the appendixes – Hanegraaff leaves the Christian readers with positive thoughts and theology on their journey through the teachings and theology of these false “prophets.” The reader finishes the book with the comfort of knowing that there are those such as Hank Hanegraaff to point out the false preachers and their fallacies.

Peace be with you.

I was given this book by Thomas Nelson for reviewing purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, nor did I receive any compensation other than the book itself.

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