Justice for all, mercy for some

A few lessons I’ve learned or re-learned through a year-long study of Romans in the New Testament:

  • We discover order in nature, but we can’t learn about sin and salvation through nature.
  • Justified: Acquitted of all charges. That doesn’t mean we are innocent, just not guilty. There are no consequences for what we’ve done. This is grace – an act of God. We do not contribute to it.
  • Justification is a one-time act of God. Sanctification is the process of becoming like Jesus, which takes a lifetime.
  • Law reveals sin, but can’t cure it. A CAT scan may find a disease, but the CAT scan itself can’t cure it. Same principle. Jesus, not the law, is the medicine we need to have our sins forgiven.
  • The Old Testament laws weren’t written down until Moses wrote them – 430 years after Abraham lived. Sin still existed, even though no written laws did. See Adam and Eve.
  • God did all the work to offer us salvation from our sins. He initiated, taught, died and resurrected, all while we were sinners. We don’t have to get it right before God saves us. We accept God’s forgiveness; then sanctification starts.
  • Our trespasses can be counted. Grace is infinite.
  • We also died on the cross and were buried with Jesus, and were raised from the dead with Him (see Romans 6:1-4). Burial means death to sin is final.
  • No one is “free.” Everyone serves someone or something, whether we realize it or not.
  • While Jesus delivers us from the power of sin, it’s not a one-and-done thing. Recognizing this conflict proves that we are His.
  • Sin does not define us. The struggle with sin defines God’s forgiveness and love.
  • We have conflict, but not condemnation.
  • Suffering is temporary; glory is permanent (eventually).
  • Justice keeps us on Death Row. God chooses to give mercy to some people. This is not about us. It’s about Him. We have to trust God’s character, because there’s no way we can understand this.
  • God sent the apostle Paul to people (Gentiles) who weren’t even looking for Him. God operates that way frequently.
  • We are transformed by the renewal of our minds. So often we blame our bodies for sin, but it starts in our minds. Always.
  • All people are far more important than humanists imagine us to be. All people are far worse than humanists suppose.
  • Loving God and others is not behavior modification. It’s a heart issue.
  • Harmony and dissonance: Do my notes blend in with the melody? There are no lone-ranger Christians. My notes, played correctly alongside the in-tune notes of other Christians, will make beautiful music.
  • If we respond to evil with evil, then evil never ends.
  • If we respond to evil with love, we absorb the evil. This is not normal.
  • God is in control of all things. This is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to accept.
  • Following God does not always mean that all goes well. See Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or Daniel in the lion’s den. Sometimes God brings us through the fire. That often glorifies Him.
  • God establishes authority for our good. Anarchy brings chaos. Even poor leaders are better than no leadership at all.
  • Light shines brighter in darkness than it does in the daytime.
  • The purpose of the law is to help us live together well. We can do this only if we love each other. (The law no longer applies when we die, of course.)
  • Food and drink won’t matter in heaven. Righteousness, peace and joy will.
  • “Accept” means to welcome or receive, not simply to tolerate.
  • The gospel is simple, but it’s not simplistic. The plan of salvation has a few easy steps to follow, but living them out takes a lifetime of learning and doing.
  • Don’t study evil; we know it already. Study God’s word.
  • Avoid people who reject Christ. Don’t argue for the sake of arguing.
  • God has won the war. The battles of this life will end soon.
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Shorten the game, permanently

Cleveland Indians reliever Josh Tomlin, left, waits to be pulled during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on June 30, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

 

When was the last time someone pitched long relief in Major League Baseball?

That happened when a starting pitcher got knocked out of the game in the first, second or third inning, and the relief pitcher who replaced him stayed in the game for three or four innings, sometimes even longer.

Long relief.

These days, if a starter leaves the game early, a parade of relievers comes in for one or two innings at a time, draining the bullpen of just about everyone available. But since each of them pitches only one inning (20 pitches or less, most likely), he’s available for tomorrow’s game as well. Flexibility, not performance, is the goal.

If a relief pitcher does his job well, he still gets taken out after an inning or two.

That’s why bullpens are such a crap shoot. If a reliever is having a good day, why not ride him? Save the rest of the bullpen for another day.

Instead, when teams put six or seven relievers on the pitcher’s mound in the same game, at least one of them is likely to have a bad day at the office. Oh well.

No purpose anymore

I did a Google search of middle relief or long relief pitchers. The current definition of “middle reliever” is anyone who isn’t a starter or closer. There’s no such thing as a long reliever anymore, unless it’s Andrew Miller – and, when healthy (which he isn’t at the moment), he pitches at most two innings at a time.

That’s why Josh Tomlin has no role on the Cleveland Indians, and hasn’t most of the season. He flunked as a starter earlier this year, so he became a mop-up guy who pitches only when the outcome of the game has already been decided. As a former starter he’s physically capable of pitching five or six innings at a time. But since that role doesn’t exist in today’s game, he gets an inning here, a batter there, just like any other reliever.

If he gives up a hit or two, he doesn’t get the chance to straighten himself out.

He wasn’t trained for one inning of relief. No wonder he’s struggling.

Baseball experts say he’s washed up.

Perhaps he is.

Or, perhaps he needs a new opportunity with another team, since the Indians no longer have a place for him.

Starters don’t finish

Which brings me to my second point about pitching.

News flash: Baseball games are nine innings long. No one, and I mean no one, associated with Major League Baseball remembers this anymore.

Starters are groomed to pitch six or seven innings, no more. Even all-stars.

MLB: JUL 12 Yankees at Indians

In the past week, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer – both All-Stars this year – pitched shutout ball for seven and eight innings, respectively. Since they reached their pitch count maximum, they were taken out of the game.

The relievers cost both starters a win – and lost the games themselves. Badly.

 

Last Saturday, Kluber left after seven innings with a 3-0 lead. Reliever Neil Ramirez, who has had a good year so far, actually, gave up three runs to tie the game in only one-third of an inning. The game went extra innings, when Tomlin gave up three more runs as the Indians lost. (Five relievers pitched the four innings after Kluber left.)

MLB: JUL 10 Reds at Indians

On Tuesday, Bauer cruised through eight innings and exited with a 4-0 lead over the Cincinnati Reds. The Indians brought on their closer, Cody Allen, to pitch the ninth. He promptly gave up three runs and left the game with the bases loaded. The next reliever gave up a bases-clearing double and another run-scoring hit. After doing nothing for eight innings against Bauer, the Reds scored seven runs in the ninth inning – seven runs! – and the Indians lost probably their worst game of the season.

Protection, not performance

But no one cares, because it’s only July. Got to save those precious All-Star arms for September and October.

That’s the mind-set in baseball. Protection, not performance. No one is allowed to finish what they start. Games are decided by the crap shoot in the bullpen.

That’s why there will never be another 300-game winner. Ever.

The last to do it was Randy Johnson in 2009. I was blessed to see him pitch for the Yankees in Detroit in a playoff game in 2006. He is one of only 24 pitchers to reach that milestone.

Meanwhile, no pitcher reached 20 wins in a non-strike-shortened year for the first time in 2006; this was repeated in 2009 and 2017.

Kluber and Bauer pitched shutouts, and the team lost both games. That’s great for their personal stats, but not for the team.

The Indians have an outstanding starting pitching staff, and one of the best hitting teams in all of baseball. But their bullpen is awful. They should win the American League’s Central Division easily, because every other team in the division is rebuilding its roster and not seriously competing for the post-season.

Not a winning formula

Do the Indians have a recipe that could lead to a World Series victory?

History says no.

The 2013 Detroit Tigers were built in a similar fashion to this year’s Indians. They had an outstanding starting staff led by Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, and a top-notch batting order with Miguel Cabrera at the peak of his career.

But, in the words of Rob Neyer of SB Nation:

 

Now, about the relief pitching. Once the Tigers finally settled on a closer in June, their bullpen was no longer a running joke. Still, Detroit’s relievers did finish the season with a 4.01 ERA, fourth worst in the league and the worst among the league’s postseason teams. By the end, (manager) Jim Leyland didn’t seem to have much confidence in any of his relief pitchers, which left him making changes just about as quickly as the rules would allow …

Ultimately, this was a team that could really pitch (for seven innings) and really hit, but couldn’t do much else at all. Which can work. Which did work. It worked for six months, and given a little luck it might have worked for one more month. But the baserunning and the fielding and the relief pitching wasn’t likely to improve all of a sudden. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera got hurt and stopped hitting fastballs, and Prince Fielder drove in exactly zero runs in 40 postseason at-bats.

When you’re built solely on starting pitching and hitting and you take away the hitting … well, there’s just not enough left.

 

https://www.sbnation.com/2013/10/20/4857258/alcs-2013-detroit-tigers-red-sox-season-review

The Tigers beat the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series, then lost to the Boston Red Sox in the Championship Series.

The Indians of 2018 better keep hitting – all the way through October. Otherwise, the team has no chance to win the World Series.

The starting pitchers aren’t able to finish. The bullpen, as it stands, can’t finish.

And the Indians are one of the better teams in baseball.

That’s the way Major League Baseball is played today.

Many people complain that baseball games take too long. The latest proposal is to institute a time limit.

Here’s another option: Cut the game to seven innings.

Make starting pitching relevant again. And take away the need for long relievers.

God’s affection at Christmas shows up in July

Hollywood would recast the Christmas story … A civilized person would sanitize it. No person, however poor, should be born in a cow stall. Hay on the floor. Animals on the hay. Don’t place the baby in a feed trough; the donkey’s nose has been there. Don’t wrap the newborn in rags. They smell like sheep. Speaking of smells, watch where you step.

“Because of Bethlehem Love is Born, Hope is Here” by Max Lucado, page 131

 

This describes my workplace. Perfectly.

I work with developmentally disabled adults. Some of them are not sanitary, and make it difficult for the rest of us to be sanitary. I won’t get too specific, except this one example: I drive some of these individuals in a wheelchair-accessible van. One individual I drive wets himself, through his clothes and adult Depends, and the bench seat where he sits. He does this a couple of times a week, at least.

It smells in there. I’m constantly cleaning it and spraying Lysol.

I can’t keep a full roll of paper towels in the van; he takes it apart and puts his hands all over it.

Jesus was born in a place like that.

Messy. Unsanitary. Possibly even unsafe.

At the day program where I work, washing my hands is not a simple chore.

This is real life. Some of these folks don’t know any better.

And I stay.

God came to me – and you – in a place just like this. He didn’t arrive in a climate-controlled hospital room like our three sons did, surrounded by nurses and doctors who made sure each was healthy before they sent him home.

Thank God for hospitals.

But Jesus never saw one, and I don’t work in one either.

 

lucado

You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of a slamming door. So here you are in the grotto, always on the outskirts of activity, it seems.

Page 133

 

I’ve been fired twice, relocated once (I quit first, though), and downsized once, all in the past 10 years. I’m hardly unique. Nobody works in the same job for an entire career anymore: My two oldest sons also have seen their jobs phased out – and neither is 30 years old yet.

Both have landed on their feet. One has landed his dream job; the other has a decent position, but still isn’t where he wants to be.

Both make more than they spend.

Because my wife has a good job, we do too. I provided for our family of five as our sons grew up, but those days are long gone.

I knocked on the innkeeper’s door, but I don’t have the passion, drive and self-promotion to thrive in today’s job market. Nor am I willing to relocate again. AARP asks me all the time about age-related job discrimination. Maybe that plays into it, or maybe it’s just me.

Old, dull, damaged, peculiar … especially peculiar. I don’t have the “presence” that employers are looking for. I don’t come across as enthusiastic with all these great ideas on how to improve your company.

I was a copy editor, for heaven’s sake. Behind the scenes. Making you look good. It’s never been about me.

Even newspaper executives don’t get that anymore, if they ever did.

So, my newspaper career is done.

And I’m in a smelly, unsanitary day program for developmentally disabled adults.

I’m glad I’m there.

Because, hopefully, I can make a difference.

 

You do your best to make the best of it, but try as you might, the roof still leaks, and the winter wind still sneaks through the holes you just can’t seem to fix. You’ve shivered through your share of cold nights.

And you wonder if God has a place for a person like you.

Find your answer in the Bethlehem stable.

Page 133

 

I was looking for something to read the other day and found this Max Lucado book on the shelf. We received it as a gift for a monetary donation we made, obviously around the holidays, to a radio station we listen to.

I’m reading a Christmas book when it’s literally 90 degrees outside.

The timing is perfect.

Fifteen years ago, I didn’t dream about being where I am now. I had a great job in a wonderful town with great friends and plenty of community involvement.

Life happens, as we all know. Society has changed a lot in the past 15 years.

For all of us.

And not always for the better. Right?

Depends how you look at it.

I’ve met many wonderful people in the past decade or so since my life got bumpy. I’ve joined Facebook and LinkedIn, meeting new people and reconnecting with long-ago friends. I’m in a job that tests my patience sometimes, but that’s how I learn patience.

 

It really comes down to that: God loves us. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s relentless love for us.

Let him love you. If God was willing to wrap himself in rags and drink from a mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for you are off the table. You might question his actions, decisions, or declarations. But you can never, ever question his zany, stunning, unquenchable affection.

Pages 134-5

 

This thought is timeless, for all people, for all seasons.

It’s why I get up a few minutes early every morning and spend a little time with God, just me and Him, before the day begins. Get right with God before punching in at work, before reading all your Facebook emotions, before doing yardwork or exercise or whatever else I’ll do today.

Start the day right, and the rest of the day has a better chance of turning out well.

Whatever that means. When something goes awry, there’s a lesson to be learned, a trial to endure or patience to reveal. God’s affection never wavers.

That’s the point of Christmas. And we don’t have to wait until December to experience it.

Immigration not open to all

As the immigration debate rages, with emotions running high, with children separated from their parents at the border, with illegal and legal immigrants often lumped together in the same discussion, with nationalism (build the wall) vs. we all were immigrants at one time (unless we are native Americans by definition) …

I ask myself:

Is the process for legal immigration really that difficult? Are the border clashes really necessary?

The answers are: It depends. And yes, probably.

For those trying to enter illegally, the process is complicated, if not impossible.

Immigrants who are educated and/or have family members already legally here have a much easier time entering the United States.

Everyone who plans to live here must have a valid reason for doing so. Future citizenship often is one of those reasons.

According to usa.gov, the citizenship process requires time and effort:

https://www.usa.gov/become-us-citizen

U.S. Citizenship through Naturalization

Becoming a citizen through naturalization is a process in which a non-U.S. citizen voluntarily becomes an American citizen. U.S. citizens owe their allegiance to the United States and are entitled to its protection and to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

Review this visual overview (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) about the general naturalization process.

To become a U.S. citizen, you must:

  • Have had a Permanent Resident (Green) Card for at least five years, or for at least three years if you’re filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen
    • If you apply for naturalization less than six months before your Permanent Resident Card expires, or do not apply for naturalization until your card has already expired, you must renew your card.
    • You can apply for naturalization before you receive your new Green Card, but you’ll need to submit a photocopy of the receipt of your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, when you receive it.
  • Meet certain eligibility requirements including being
    • At least 18 years old at the time of filing
    • Able to read, write, and speak basic English
    • A person of good moral character
  • Go through the ten step naturalization process which includes
    • Determining your eligibility to become an American citizen
    • Preparing and submitting form N-400, the application for naturalization
  • Taking the U.S. Naturalization Test and having a personal interview

Helpful Resources For Citizenship

Take the United States Naturalization Test

One of the requirements in the naturalization process is taking the United States Naturalization Test.

To prepare for the naturalization test, check out these resources:

Certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization

Certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization are proof of your U.S. citizenship.

Get a Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization

Apply for a Certificate of Citizenship if you were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents and they did not obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for you before you turned 18.

Foreign nationals receive a Certificate of Naturalization when they become American citizens. Get certified copies of a Certificate of Naturalization.

 

How hard is it to become a U.S. citizen? Here are three answers to that question from quora.com, an online question-and-answer site:

https://www.quora.com/How-hard-is-it-to-become-a-US-Citizen

Overview

Once you are a permanent resident, then becoming a U.S. citizen is surprisingly straightforward and painless.  It’s getting an immigration visa and permanent residency that’s the hard part.

How difficult that is depends a lot on who you are and where you are from.  If you have money or skills, getting the U.S. visas and permanent residency is not difficult.  If you have neither, it can be impossible.

Joseph Wang, Chief Scientist, Bitquant Research

First, become a permanent resident

This depends largely on how difficult it is for you to first become a permanent resident (i.e., get a green card).  If you’re highly educated and can find work with a sponsoring company, you can expect to attain citizenship in just over five years after becoming a permanent resident.  If you marry a citizen, you can apply for a green card and then attain citizenship in only three years.

However, if you are less educated or cannot find work with a sponsoring company, there’s often no obvious path to becoming a permanent resident.  In the worst case you have little education and no way of getting a sponsoring employer.  In this case, the choice is to either stay out or enter/stay illegally.

The process is … quite tedious and drawn out.  The most difficult part is finding an employer who is willing to work with a candidate throughout the entire process.  The employer will incur substantial costs which serves as a deterrent for many.  Add onto this government-imposed limits on the number of green cards granted per year and you get an immigration system that is tricky to navigate for even those that best equipped to do so.

Christopher Pinchak, permanent resident from the land up north

Several options

Becoming a U.S. citizen is certainly a process, but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable. There are several moving parts that will influence the best strategy for each individual to obtain citizenship. Let’s break down the core ways that you can become a U.S. citizen.

  • Green Card

If you select the Green Card option, then there are basic requirements you must meet. You have to be at least 18 years old and had your Green Card for at least 5 years.

  • Marry a U.S. Citizen

To qualify under this arrangement, your spouse must have lived in the U.S. for at least 3 years and you must be a Green Card holder for at least 3 years. Additionally, you have to indicate that you have been living as a married couple during this time.

  • Spouse of U.S. Citizen Employed Abroad

If your spouse lives and works in the U.S., but you are employed abroad, you may be able to gain citizenship. There is not minimum time requirement you must meet as a Green Card holder, but you have to prove that you will immediately depart from your abroad location once naturalization occurs.

  • Join the Military

Current military members or certain veterans may be eligible for citizenship due to their service to the country. There is a residency requirement for at least 30 months out of 5 years unless you were stationed abroad due to your military service.

  • Automatic Citizenship Through Birth

The requirements are that both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth and your parents were married at the time of birth, and at least one parent lived in the U.S., or its territories, or both, prior to your birth. If you were born after November 14, 1986, one parent must be a U.S. citizen at the time of birth and your parents were married at the time of birth.

Many people feel incredibly overwhelmed by the citizenship process. It’s lengthy, tedious, and at times discouraging if you don’t have proper resources to guide you.

Raad Ahmed, Founder of LawTrades

These discussions help me understand why Mexicans and others are trying to enter our country illegally. They likely don’t have family members already here, and they don’t appear to have an employer sponsoring them.

According to news reports, many are trying to escape unsafe living conditions at home. They see the United States as a place of refuge.

I’m sure the issue is much more complex than this. Why arrest farm workers already here, people who are trying to contribute to society and working at jobs that tax-paying Americans won’t do?

Is there a way to expand the immigration process to allow for these types of people to enter the United States legally?

How many illegal immigrants want to arrive just to claim welfare benefits? (How many U.S. citizens play that game as well, legally?) Those type of illegal immigrants may get the publicity, but are they a majority?

Make the process easier

Citizenship rules require immigrants to know basic English, among other things. Can our schools, colleges and universities offer this to those who need it? Perhaps community colleges are a great place to teach English as a second language. Many schools already offer this, but perhaps those programs should be expanded.

My point: Can we make the citizenship process easier for those who truly want to become contributing members of our society? Can we enable, encourage, support, assist, offer a hand up (not a hand out) to those who need it?

The United States has 300 million people. There’s room for more here, I’m sure.

The United States is different than other countries. We are newer than most, not much more than 200 years old. Some nations in Europe and Asia have been around for thousands of years. Most Americans are immigrants.

We can’t compare our brief history with the lengthy past that other nations enjoy.

We are our brother’s keeper.

I wish we lived that way – in our daily lives, in addition to our overall status as a nation.

Then, needy people wouldn’t have to break laws to get in, and people with a conscience wouldn’t have to break laws to try to keep them here.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Jesus, in Matthew 7:1-2

Prepare before the battle comes

O Lord, there is no difference for you between helping the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you.

2 Chronicles 14:11

 

This verse caught my attention this morning during my quiet time. Judah’s king, Asa, was facing a major battle with Zerah of Ethiopia, who had an army of 1 million men. Asa’s army was about half that size.

Asa had several options:

  1. He could have relied on his own wit to try to out-maneuver the stronger Ethiopian army.
  2. He could have raised a white flag and quit before he started.
  3. He could have asked God to fight the battle for him.

Asa chose option 3.

It worked. “… the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.” (verse 12)

Asa didn’t ask God to play a genie’s role – come save me from my crisis, then I’ll go on my merry way. I know some people who treat God like that.

I wonder if that offends God.

Instead, Asa rallied Judah to follow God – all the time.

Getting ready

Previous kings had set up worship centers to foreign gods. God’s chosen people had rejected Him and worshiped gods that didn’t exist, or a golden calf or wooden idols that couldn’t do anything.

Asa destroyed all of those.

Then, he built fortified cities that included protective walls around them that enemy armies couldn’t penetrate.

He prepared for battle before the battle came.

When the Ethiopians attacked, Asa was ready. He didn’t know ahead of time that the battle was coming from that particular army, but he knew he would face a battle from somewhere. So, he prepared for it.

He built fortified cities and talked with the true God who actually answers prayers.

If we want to defeat the temptations and sins that threaten to overtake us, we have to prepare ahead of time and be ready for battle, as Asa did. This isn’t an easy lesson to learn.

Missing the message

In 2000, I had a great job, a wife and three growing children, and vibrant church and community involvement. I could not ask for anything better than the life God had given me at that point.

My job as a copy editor at The Saginaw (Mich.) News was wonderful. Great co-workers, great bosses even, a salary that paid for the lifestyle our family of five enjoyed, and a job pledge.

Yes, a job pledge.

The pledge – which the company mailed to us every year in January, in writing – said that as long as The News published seven days a week, we had a job for life. The company retained the right to change our job descriptions, of course, as needs changed, but they promised us jobs until we reached retirement age.

Talk about blessed. I’m sure many of you, even if you have a great job, don’t have a pledge like that.

But in 2000. I received a surprise. God put a bug in my ear.

At the height of our prosperity, He told me that I was trusting that job pledge more than I was trusting Him. I was too comfortable, and my faith wasn’t as passionate as it should have been.

That startled me.

Really, God? You’ve given me so many blessings, so many ways I can serve You … so what’s up with this?

God persisted, so eventually I prayed this prayer:
“Okay God, I give the job pledge to You. I trust you more than I trust the job pledge.”

God knew something I didn’t.

The battle arrives

The newspaper industry, which had thrived for decades, was going to crash in the near future.

God was trying to prepare me for that moment.

When The News cut back to three days a week in 2009, the job pledge went out the window. I got downsized, as did many of my co-workers.

Even though God gave me a heads-up years earlier, I still didn’t handle it well. I sat around home for nearly a year and didn’t do much of anything. My wife didn’t appreciate that. I made no effort to re-train for a different career or to seek any job.

The News offered a nice buyout that continued my salary for a time. I should have taken advantage of that by preparing for my future, but I didn’t.

Unlike Asa, I hadn’t built my defenses up and prepared for battle.

When the battle came, I didn’t know how to handle it.

I didn’t prepare my family, either. I internalize things, which means I don’t talk things out with other people. Including my wife.

Learning the lesson

We attended a marriage retreat a few months ago – in 2018, nine years after the buyout – and talked about some things we should have begun talking about 10 years ago.

We worship a God of second chances, so the Ethiopians in my life don’t have to defeat me, even if I don’t prepare well for them. I’m sure I made it harder on us than it should have been.

Sometimes we bring pain on ourselves. That is not God’s will, nor is it His fault.

Unlike Asa, I tried option 1: to figure out my career plans on my own. That didn’t work out too well.

My newspaper career is done now, for several reasons. We’re here in Elyria, Ohio, doing other things. My wife has a very good job that she enjoys, and I have meaningful work where I can build relationships with people who need that.

My job has its frustrations, but I try not to focus on those (too much). I’m trying to rely on the living God for my job and for our future, like Asa did.

Temptations are much easier to defeat with this mindset, with this way of living.

Thanks, Asa, for reminding me to rely on God.

It makes no difference whether I’m strong or weak. If God fights the battle for me, I’ll win.

How to apologize

Public apologies are just that.

Public.

Celebrities apologize only when they get caught. Which means they aren’t sincere.

Samantha Bee apologized for cussing out Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Roseanne Barr wrote a racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Roseanne’s show was canceled by ABC. Samantha’s show was not canceled by TBS.

Whatever.

The apologies themselves took place only because public outcries forced both celebrities to do so.

If Samantha and Roseanne were sincere, they would have measured their words in the first place. Instead, they revealed their true hearts.

Even former president Bill Clinton was interviewed harshly the other day on whether he apologized to Monica Lewinsky for their sexual encounters 20 years ago.

If Bill would have said yes, I did apologize, that would have satisfied the reporter, but would it have satisfied Monica?

Instead, Clinton beat around the bush and wouldn’t answer the question.

He should have, in my opinion, given a direct – and crass – answer:

“None of your damn business.”

Seriously.

That’s between him and Monica. The reporter was out of line for even asking.

On a different level, I’ve always wondered why parents sometimes force their children to apologize for doing something bad. I suppose it depends on the situation.

If a young boy hits another boy or girl, for example, should he be forced to apologize?

First, he needs a lesson on how to treat other people. He needs to be taught that people – and animals and other living things, for that matter – deserve respect. He needs to learn WHY it’s wrong to hit someone else.

Don’t assume the obvious. Many adults haven’t learned this lesson yet, either.

Then, apologize.

And hopefully, there won’t be a next time.

“I’m sorry” means nothing if no behavior change follows.

If I truly am sorry, I won’t commit that act again. I know it was wrong, and I feel bad for doing it. Enough so that I won’t do it again.

The right way to apologize

I read a Bible verse recently that offers a great formula for how and why to apologize. The verse often isn’t used in that context, but it works:

 

“… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

 

We have four responsibilities. If we do all four, then God will follow up in three ways.

Our responsibilities, and I think they are in this order for a reason:

  1. Humble ourselves.
  2. Pray.
  3. Seek God’s face.
  4. Turn from our wicked ways.

If we do those things, God promises that He will:

  1. Hear from heaven.
  2. Forgive our sin.
  3. Heal our land.

This is what an apology is all about, isn’t it?

Our part

First, we humble ourselves. We discover that we screwed up. We aren’t happy about it, and we don’t blow it off. We admit our mistake.

We pray. We ask God for forgiveness. When we hurt another person, we also hurt the God who made him or her. That’s what sin is: Doing things that God hates.

I understand this to some degree. My mind goes places it shouldn’t. I say something or do things that I know are wrong. Temptation is not sin, but if I don’t dismiss it immediately, then it becomes sin. Because I won’t let it go.

God gets hurt when I do that. So do other people.

So, I pray. I ask God for a change of heart.

The third responsibility might be the hardest one for me: Seek God’s face.

I know God is pure, holy and perfect, and I know that I am not. How can I seek God’s face? How can I stand before Him, guilty of evil thoughts and/or actions literally every single day?

This is the God we worship. His promises make this possible. More on that in a minute.

Once we encounter the living God, it should not be difficult to turn from our wicked ways. We want to be like Him – pure, holy and perfect. Our hearts change.

Because we live in a fallen world, we have to ask forgiveness repeatedly. A changed heart does this. We turn from our wicked ways, and keep turning. It’s a process.

We mature and do the right thing more often as we get to know God better.

If we truly do humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways, we become more like Him.

We should live differently than the rest of the world does. And not be afraid to apologize – from the heart – when it’s warranted. It’s a process, after all.

If the people I interact with can’t tell whether I’m a Christian or not, then my apology is no better than Roseanne’s or Samantha’s. What’s the point of being a Christian if it doesn’t change me?

Salvation is a worthy goal, yes, but God promises immediate results hear on Earth too.

God’s part

If we do our part, God will hear from heaven. Our prayers and changed hearts will be noticed. Even if other humans don’t see an immediate change in us, the God who created us sees it.

Does that matter?

Oh, yes. This is huge. God promises to forgive our sin, and to heal our land. Whoa.

Forgiving our sins means He doesn’t see them anymore. He knows us as perfect human beings. He sees only the best in us, because He’s forgiven everything else.

I can’t wrap my mind around that.

God doesn’t bring up sins we committed 20 years ago and say, “What about that?” It’s gone. Erased from His memory.

Yesterday’s sins are gone too.

That’s what forgiveness is.

Is it possible to live like that?

Yes.

I’m still working on it.

Once our sins are forgiven, then healing comes.

Between people. Between nations too, according to this Bible verse.

“Heal our land.” And all that is in it.

On a deep, deep level.

Changed hearts, changed lives.

That’s what an apology is all about.

And that’s what it means to live as a Christian.

 

Majoring in minor issues

My outlook on life is changing a little bit these days.

I’m much more detached when reading or watching the news. Politics, especially at the national level, doesn’t interest me much anymore.

I’d rather deal in real life.

Politics

For those of you who live and die by what the Democrats and/or Republicans do, I’m sure you won’t understand.

As a newspaper journalist for about three decades, I followed politics closely, because it sold papers.

Does it still?

Perhaps that’s one reason why what newspapers print isn’t the talk of the town anymore. Their editorial pages, as they have always done, focus on politics and not much else.

Not even government. Politics.

There’s a difference.

I rarely read any editorial page columns. They are so predictable. They say the same thing every day, using the issue of the day to promote their agenda.

Most of them these days slam President Trump. I get that.

But how many times do you have to say it?

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seemed to have an actual discourse leading to a summit, where they would talk about nuclear weapons, among other things.

The summit apparently fell through.

That was interesting, though.

But decades of mistrust can’t end in a few short weeks.

Maybe someday.

For the most part, the national discourse majors in minor issues.

Is kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games really an issue worth dividing the country over?

Are school shootings really about gun control, or is something deeper at work there?

Do thoughts and prayers actually work? Do they change our outlook on life?

Sex

What’s the point of the #metoo movement, actually? Is it women’s rights, or is there something bigger at work there as well?

We are a sex-crazed society. We are massively messed up, and we all know it.

Exhibit A: #metoo.

Exhibit B: The divorce rate.

Exhibit C: Sex outside of marriage, including among teens, is not only normal, it is expected.

Exhibit D: Pornography is out of control in this country.

Exhibit E: Rape, sexual bondage, date rape …

Exhibit F: Clothing choices. How much cleavage is too much? Only for women, of course.

Exhibit G: Gender identity. Just the fact that we’re talking about this means we don’t know who we are anymore.

I don’t even have to quote statistics. You understand all of this because you experience it, or you know people who do.

But we won’t talk about it.

Not in a way that actually solves anything.

How do we expect to resolve the #metoo movement without talking about the role of sex in society? If sex outside of marriage is normal, why are we surprised when many men (and women) push the limits?

Nearly every song on the radio is about sex, some more blatantly than others. That’s been true for decades. I frequently listen to an oldies’ station that plays songs from my teen years. Talk about politically incorrect …

And yet we still play them. And listen.

Escape

Why are video games so popular? And illegal drugs? And porn?

Those are escapes from real life.

Real life is full of anxiety and stress. We don’t know how to solve real issues. Relationships. School. Jobs.

I’ve done the whole job search thing, and it’s not designed to bring out the best in anyone. It’s not even designed to connect passions with talent with careers. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

Some people say there’s no jobs out there. I see “now hiring” and “drivers wanted” and “positions available, all shifts” signs all over the place.

On the other end of the spectrum, highly technical jobs go unfilled because not enough of us are trained for them.

Most of us would prefer a job/career somewhere in the middle, something more than minimum wage and something that doesn’t require an advanced degree that we don’t have time for or can’t afford to get.

Are most of us left behind?

Dreams

I mentored a fourth-grade student in inner-city Cleveland this spring. He has no concept of a long-term future. All he thinks about is getting dissed by a classmate, for which he gets in trouble. He lives with his grandfather. His mother and two older sisters also are in Cleveland, but he doesn’t see them often. His dad is in Arizona, and my student hopes to move out there with him this summer. Cleveland is too violent, he says.

People are people wherever you go, I told him.

If he leaves Cleveland, will his life magically get better?

I doubt it.

How does arguing about President Trump’s tweets solve my fourth-grader’s lack of focus and maturity? How can he learn not to respond in anger when things don’t go his way?
His family is broken. His school is trying, but isn’t reaching him. His teacher can do only so much.

He got suspended recently for cussing out the school principal. Seriously.

Seriously?

A good friend of mine is a Big Brother to a teenager in another nearby city. That teen also lives in a broken home. Some days, he doesn’t feel like going to school, so he doesn’t.

Is there no big picture in this life?

No goals to aspire to?

No dreams?

Respect

In the mentoring program I’m involved in, we’re not allowed to talk about politics or religion. Too divisive. Yes, they are.

But is that how we solve problems, by saying that certain subjects are off-limits?

I thought democracy meant all issues are on the table. By discussing, even debating, issues, we understand what’s too radical and what actually works.

We don’t know how to talk issues without talking personality. How can we talk about sex without condemning those who practice sex differently than we do? Can we disagree and still respect each other?

That’s what we’ve lost in this country. Respect.

For teachers. For parents. For the boss. For the mayor. For the police.

For ourselves.

I’m right. You’re wrong. The world revolves around me. I can set whatever rules for my life that I want.

And we wonder why we’re so messed up.

A motorcyclist passed me the other day in a right-turn lane. Another vehicle and I were stopped, waiting for traffic to clear before proceeding on to state Route 57, a 45 mph highway at that point. The motorcyclist passed us in the turn lane and roared onto Route 57 before the other driver and I could move.

So much for “look out for motorcycles.” It goes both ways, you know.

Or, I wish you knew.

Faith

So, what is the big picture? How is my outlook changing?

While I can’t talk about my faith in school (unless my student brings it up first, of course), that’s where the answer lies. Not in your perception of faith, or mine, but in real faith.

In a God who wrote the big picture. Who wants the best for us.

Discipline is good, sometimes. My student doesn’t understand that. Most adults don’t either.

Good parents do understand that. Children need boundaries. If you’ve had children, you know this.

So, why do we think that we don’t need boundaries as adults?

Political boundaries change all the time. You and I think differently, so the boundaries I set may not work for you, and vice versa.

If we don’t like them, we can change them.

Why will we not look up? Put the video games down, look away from the porn, turn off the music. LeBron James and Steven Spielberg make far more money than you and I will ever see, but are they the best role models? Do they have all the answers?

When I talk about faith, I don’t even mean in a pastor or the Pope. Their interpretations of faith aren’t always right, either.

The best role model? Jesus Himself. And we killed Him.

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh today, we’d kill Him again. I’m sure of it.

We still don’t get it.

We’re searching for love in all the wrong places.

Haven’t heard that song in awhile.

Am I good enough?

I am not good enough.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

I am the least in my family.

“I will be with you.”

This is the story of Gideon, starting in Judges 6.

It also is my story.

If I choose to believe it.

An angel of the Lord called Gideon into battle. Instead, he found excuses. He hid. He wanted the angel to choose someone else, I’m sure.

Satan has told me this same lie for years, and I believed it. I’m not good enough. No one cares what I think. No one is listening, so why barge in?

Send someone else, God.

My thoughts don’t matter.

No one has ever actually told me that.

Why do I believe it’s true, then?

Because very few people try to draw me out, to seek my thoughts on an issue. It’s easy to remain unnoticed.

Sometimes, I don’t have anything to say. (I pick my battles, far fewer than many people do.)

Other times, I’ve thought about speaking up. Occasionally, I actually do.

But that’s why I write. It’s easier for me to share my thoughts with a keyboard than verbally.

My thoughts frequently are off the wall anyway. They would make you uncomfortable. I’m sure of it.

Iron sharpens iron, they say. But iron is hard. It hurts if someone gets hit with it.

So, like Gideon, I make excuses.

But sometimes, God speaks to me too, as He did to Gideon.

No more excuses, Gideon. I’ve got a plan for you.

Go do it.

“I will be with you.” (Judges 6:16)

Does God have a plan for me?

He does.

God talked with me over the weekend, several times. I attended a men’s retreat with about 40 men from our church.

Actually, it wasn’t a retreat. Our leader called it an “advance.” Men don’t retreat. We move forward.

We advance.

Like Gideon did, despite his low self-esteem.

At one point during the weekend, I watched a Canada goose for 40 minutes. The goose swam peacefully on a small lake for awhile, then came ashore to find some breakfast.

Until one of our men walked past. As he approached, the goose sensed danger and retreated to the safety of the water. When the man continued on and the perceived danger was removed, the goose returned to the shore in search of breakfast.

This happened three times, as three men passed by, one by one.

Men are not supposed to retreat like this goose did. If we perceive danger, we are to face it.

Perhaps the danger is real. Perhaps not.

None of these men had any intention of harming the goose. In fact, all of them ignored it. Didn’t even notice what the goose was doing.

The goose didn’t understand that. It perceived danger, and removed itself.

We are men. God gave us minds and hearts to make sense of the world around us.

We are to live in the moment, not retreat from it.

We are to engage. We just might learn something. Or solve a problem.

Perhaps I might get hurt.

Or, possibly, a man and the goose might help each other. Companionship. Assistance finding breakfast, for example.

How do we know unless we engage?

At another point during the “advance,” God told me I need to change my heart towards two people in particular. A specific challenge.

With one person, I’m not good enough. I misunderstand and I’m misunderstood, because I don’t share my thoughts and feelings nearly enough.

I need to engage much more than I have done.

With the other person – who has developmental disabilities than make him unable to understand life the way I do – I need patience and love. He is an adult physically but not mentally. I should not expect him to respond as an adult should.

It’s hard to treat an adult with respect when he acts like a child. He is a child in an adult’s body.

Patience.

Getting angry hasn’t solved anything yet. Frustration doesn’t work either.

Patience.

One of our “advance” speakers challenged us to say yes to God, even when He asks us to do impossible things. And God will ask us to do impossible things because we are men, and we are given opportunities to glorify God – because we are worth that much to Him.

We are good enough, our speaker said. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Despite our failures in the past.

This is the God we worship.

“I will be with you.”

On Saturday afternoon, seven of us men descended a couple of hundred steps (I didn’t count them, I’m guessing here) to the top of a beautiful waterfall that emptied into a gorge. We saw some flat rocks in the gorge that we could stand on, so we bushwhacked down the hill to reach them.

No steps or path there. It had rained the day before, so the leaf-covered hill was damp and a little muddy.

And steep.

And slippery.

We descended anyway.

Once the first couple of guys started down the hill, the rest of us followed.

The waterfall was beautiful from down there. We hung out for a little while, enjoying nature’s beauty.

Eventually, we had to climb up. We joked about calling for a helicopter to rescue us, but that was a joke.

Grab a tree branch here and hope it holds my weight. Pull myself up. There’s a big root over there; I grabbed that next. My shoes got muddy and I got a scratch or two, but I made it up to the stairs.

All seven of us did.

It took us a minute to catch our breaths.

On my own, there’s no way I would have trekked that hill. Such a thought never would have crossed my mind. When the steps and the path ended, well, that’s where I stop.

See what men can do when we work together? Encourage each other? Push each other, even?

I’m not good enough.

Oh, yes I am.

Now that the “advance” is over, I need to live the rest of my life that way.

Those men won’t be with me day by day, but the living God is.

“I will be with you.”

I need to say yes to God.

Today. Moment by moment.

Let the adventure begin.

 

Only one source for peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

 

We all long for peace, but it’s elusive.

Why? Because most of the time, we don’t know what peace is. It’s so much more than the absence of war. People can hate each other and not fight, if they think their enemy is too strong.

We can’t legislate peace with a treaty. Treaties, like most rules, are made to be broken. So it seems.

Peace comes from relationship with the living God, and from nowhere else. Look around you if you don’t believe me. Where else do you see peace?

Jesus said, “My peace I give you.” Peace is a gift from God. We can’t earn it; we can’t find it with willpower or by trying harder to attain it. Peace doesn’t come that way.

It’s a gift.

We must receive it.

That’s the only way we will find peace in this world.

My pastor, the Rev. Jim Mindling, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Elyria, Ohio, put it this way:

“Before there can be peace, there must be grace.”

Grace is a relationship with the living God. Because Jesus Christ is God, He not only teaches us but shows us by example what relationship is. Grace means God gives us gifts we don’t deserve, starting with salvation.

After that, other gifts, including peace, follow.

So, what is peace?

Shalom

The most common Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament is “shalom,” which refers to relationships between people (Genesis 34:21), nations (1 Kings 5:12) and God with men (Psalm 85:8). It’s a traditional Jewish greeting for hello and goodbye.

The most common Greek word for peace in the New Testament is “eirene,” which means rest and tranquility. These also are attributes of peace.

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-peace.html

Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

 

In this verse, Jesus is not referring to mediators or political negotiators, but to those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is available only through son-ship with God. In the biblical Hebrew understanding of shalom, there is a point at which you have so much shalom that it spills out from you, and is repaid or rendered to others.

And so, as you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

Jesus said these peacemakers will be called sons of God. Jesus was called the Son of God. By sharing God’s uncontainable peace with others, we become just like Jesus.

http://firm.org.il/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/

Losing peace

“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 48:22

 

With evil in our hearts, we cannot know peace – inner peace (in our hearts) or outer peace (in the community). This is true moment by moment, as well as our overall view of life.

Some of us argue constantly. We don’t have to physically fight to be “wicked.” Our general nature is confrontational. We don’t get along well with others, because we don’t get along well with our inner self. That happens because we don’t get along with the living God.

Even those of us who do know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, who have relationship with Him, can get frustrated or angry at other people, losing our peaceful hearts in that moment. When that happens, we need to ask forgiveness and re-center our hearts on God.

I face this struggle constantly, many times a day in fact. On the road. At the office. With family, sometimes. Even at church. It’s easy to lose peace just about anywhere, if I take my eyes off of Jesus.

So yes, I can be “wicked” too, in the moment.

Like my pastor said earlier, grace comes before peace. This is what he was talking about.

Heart and mind

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests by made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

 

Rejoice.

Gentleness.

The Lord is near.

Prayer.

Thanksgiving.

Peace of God.

Hearts.

Minds.

Christ Jesus.

All of these ideas are connected. The peace of God is not just a heart thing; it’s not just a state of mind. It involves both, completely.

It involves rejoicing. How can we be angry at someone if we are rejoicing?

It involves gentleness. Righteous anger is a thing, but that should not be our lifestyle. We should be known as a gentle people. In today’s America, we Christians should stand out because of this. You know what I mean.

If peace involves relationship, it involves prayer, which is nothing more than communicating with God – both ways, talking and listening. I confess that I do not pray nearly as much as I should. My relationship with Him can be so much better. So can my peaceful lifestyle.

Instead of complaining about what we do not have, we should be thankful for what we do have. Many years ago I saw Third World poverty in southern Mexico. Each of us should take a trip like that at least once in our lifetime. I met people who don’t have running water in their homes. I saw people living in shacks on the side of inner-city buildings, or on top of inner-city buildings. Many didn’t have electricity. (I was surprised how many such people had televisions, even if they did not have a refrigerator. Everyone needs some form of entertainment, I guess.)

Our tap water is good. I can take a shower or wash the dishes whenever I want. We have a solid roof over our heads. We have money in the bank. I have good health.

I never want to take any of these things for granted. Like Job learned, all of those things are temporary and all can be taken away from me at any moment. When I die, I won’t be able to take any of that stuff with me to the next life anyway.

So, what is my priority?

Relationship with the living God. That will continue in the next life.

That also will give me peace in this life, right now. As long as I keep my eyes on Jesus.

A search for joy

When we talk of joy as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we aren’t talking about a worldly concept, or an idea that the world even understands. Joy hardly isn’t even in the world’s vocabulary.

We talk more about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Happiness and joy are not synonyms. Happiness is temporary; joy is forever. Happiness is the result of doing something that makes us happy, such as eating a good meal.

My wife and I enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Red Lobster after church yesterday. But we had a light supper that evening and breakfast this morning. The happiness we felt from yesterday’s dinner didn’t last; we got hungry again.

Joy is constant. Even when I don’t feel “joyful” – and I don’t consider myself a joyful person – joy remains in my heart. Joy, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is something that only Christians can understand. It’s deep in our hearts. It comes from relationship with Jesus Christ. It involves knowledge as well as feelings.

Let’s look at this a little further.

Good news of great joy

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11

 

For the shepherds, that night started like any other night. With no warning, an angel showed up. The shepherds received the shock of their lives. But the angel had a wonderful message to deliver: Don’t be afraid. The Savior was born today.

This news is “great joy.”

Jews had waited for that moment for hundreds of years. Their prayer, their hope, their longing were answered. Expectation and silence were replaced by great joy.

That joy is the Savior, the Messiah. His parents named him Jesus.

Temporary pain, permanent joy

Jesus … said to them (the disciples), “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me?’ Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.

“When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.

“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16: 19-22

 

Just a few hours before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples that their pain would be temporary, and that it would turn into permanent joy – that no one could take from them.

Pain comes first. Perhaps we have to feel pain before we can understand joy.

The world will rejoice in their pain, Jesus told the disciples. He knew the disciples would run away from Him when He would be arrested soon after this conversation took place. The world did not understand Jesus’ pain, or that of His disciples, nor can the world understand the joy that followed His resurrection.

This remains true today.

Lost and found

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

 

Luke 15 describes three parables with the same theme: one lost sheep in a flock of 100, a lost coin and a lost son (prodigal’s son). In all three stories, something valuable was lost. When it was found, the owner in all three parables threw a party for his friends and neighbors to celebrate.

That kind of joy is uncontainable. It bubbles over. It has to be shared.

It’s not “happiness.” Finding something meaningful that was lost brings out a much deeper response in us. A joy worth celebrating.

Reading the law

All the people (about 50,000) gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.

He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

Then he (Nehemiah) said to them, “Go your way … and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And all the people went their way … to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 10, 12

 

After Nehemiah and Ezra led the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem and, despite opposition, rebuilt the wall around the city, they read the book of the law of Moses (the first five books of our Old Testament), which was God’s word to them. Because they had been exiles, they hadn’t heard God’s word verbalized for decades.

When the people discovered through the law how much God loved them, they rejoiced. They found joy in God’s promises to them, and in His faithfulness despite their sinfulness.

Do we have the same response when we read the Bible?

Joy while suffering

Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

 

Can there be joy in the midst of pain? When someone is suffering from cancer and is given a short time to live, can that person rejoice despite his or her pain? When a loved one dies, can those of us who remain find joy in the eternal rest our loved one is now enjoying? We miss the deceased person terribly, of course, but can we find joy in the midst of sorrow?

I’ve seen it happen. Such times are never happy. But they can be joyful.

A friend of mine in his early 80s has suffered from severe, often debilitating, headaches since he fell down a flight of stairs when he was 14. He has suffered for decades, literally. He and his wife just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. She has suffered alongside him all those years.

Yet, they rejoice in God’s goodness. Like Job in the Old Testament, they accept the bad with the good.

They persevere. Even more than that, they overcome. They continue to live life to the fullest as best they can.

If that’s not joy …

And yet I can’t explain it. I have never experienced anything like that. When all is taken away, we discover what we truly need.