The compassion we’ve lost

The hands of compassionate women

have boiled their own children;

they become their food

in the destruction of my people.

Lamentations 4:10

 

Where has compassion gone?

As our country divides over three unforgettable issues (COVID-19, racism and a presidential election) in 2020, we have lost our heart. We are destroying ourselves from the inside out.

Right and wrong are irrelevant. We have lost the ability to convince others of our values.

I’ll say it again: Right and wrong are irrelevant.

Without compassion, all of us are wrong.

Compassion, according to the Webster’s dictionary on my bookshelf, is sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Instead, we ignore the distress of others. We not only have no desire to alleviate it, we add to it.

How do we regain compassion – a desire to alleviate distress in other people – in our once-great nation?

COVID-19

We’ve drawn battle lines over wearing a mask. It’s become a political “freedom” issue, not the public health issue that it truly is.

A good friend inhaled a toxic gas while serving in the Army a number of years ago, ruining his lungs. He does not wear a mask because he couldn’t breathe if he did. But he also does not pick fights with businesses that require a mask to enter.

Why is compassion so difficult? People are dying, people are getting sick. It’s a highly contagious disease. Do we want huge numbers before we acknowledge its seriousness? Whatever happened to prevention?

Countries where COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat locked themselves down for eight to 10 weeks, with nearly everyone wearing a mask and social distancing. Countries where residents think of other people – that’s compassion – bit the bullet for a time. Then, as cases waned, those countries gradually and safely opened up.

The United States is a country with 330 million individuals who aren’t willing to do that, even for a short time. Some of us did this spring, but not enough to make it work. As a result, we won’t view much college football on Saturdays this fall, and our education system is a mess trying to figure out how to begin in the next month.

There are consequences for our actions, or lack thereof.

But let’s not get tyrannical about it. If a store requires a mask to enter and you won’t wear one, respect the store’s policy. If you wear a mask and you see others not wearing one, keep your distance. Let’s not scream at each other. That solves nothing.

Racism

When George Floyd was killed this spring in Minneapolis, a firestorm of protest ignited, figuratively and literally. There are extremists on both sides, and often those are the voices we hear.

metro health

Instead, can we learn compassion for each other?

This is a hard one, because the history of racism is long and deep. It’s ingrained. I’m sorry to say that, but it is.

We whites flippantly say, well, slavery ended soon after the Civil War, so get over it. Legally, maybe, but our hearts did not change, and still haven’t in many of us.

Compassion is sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. This starts with listening to each other, to your story and mine. Without anger. Without prejudice. Without judgment.

On both sides.

Do you have friends of other races and ethnicities? Can you work together on the job, and take instruction from each other? Be honest.

If not, do the rest of us a favor and keep silent (including on social media). If you do, let’s show compassion for each other in our leisure activities and our work spaces.

In the words of a song I learned as a child, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Presidential election

­Neither side has the full truth.

Democrats are not anti-life. Republicans are not narrow-minded Bible thumpers.

While Democrats support abortion as an option to end life, they do much better than Republicans do in the public arena should that baby be born. Dems know that all of us have immigrant backgrounds, some more recent than others. Guns in rural areas are used for sport or for hunting deer and other animals, generally. Guns in cities are used to kill other people (unless you’re into skeet shooting, or something similar). There are problems with mail-in voting, sure. So, fix them. Don’t throw out the whole system, or ruin the U.S. Postal Service over it.

Black lives do matter. Again, both sides have extremists on this issue. Let’s learn how to share leadership (a huge issue for white people) with respect, not resentment, on all sides.

With compassion.

Scripture clearly opposes same-sex marriage, but be careful how you apply that. Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman at a well who had five husbands and was living with a sixth man. In another scene, Jesus was introduced to a woman caught in adultery. Did he cast the first stone? He did not.

Do these stories mean Jesus supports divorce and adultery?

No. Jesus cares about people, since all of us have issues. By meeting our deepest needs, Jesus helps us understand the difference between right and wrong.

Jesus showed compassion in the face of sin. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11)

That’s compassion.

Where is that standard of righteousness, with forgiveness and empathy, today?

I’ve seen people bash the ethics of either President Trump or his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. We’ve been finding fault with our leaders for generations. I’ve often wondered why anyone would even want that job.

Where is empathy?

Compassion has not been a strong suit of Americans for a long time.

Except, perhaps, on the athletic field.

When a player suffers a serious injury during a game, it’s not unusual to see athletes from both teams gather together, kneel and say a prayer for healing. When the athlete is placed on a stretcher and taken off the field, the fans in the stands – whether the player is wearing a home or visitor’s uniform – clap as a sign of respect.

It often takes a tragedy to draw us together.

Sept. 11, 2001, united us as a nation against a common enemy.

COVID-19 should have brought us together in a similar way against a common enemy, even though a coronavirus is unseen. But at some point in recent years, we lost the desire to fight for each other.

When four police officers killed George Floyd, we stopped for a moment and listened. Some of us did, anyway. But we as a nation won’t acknowledge racism as a common enemy, so that’s not a fight we’re prepared to win at the moment. (Respect goes both ways. There are deep, deep issues here.)

And the presidential election has turned into an ugly social media battle.

We must get beyond tweets and memes. We must listen to each other’s distress, then seek to alleviate it. If I do that for you and you do that for me …

We will be showing compassion for each other. And we will be a United States of America again.

Why we should wear a mask

   People who don’t believe that masks make a difference believe so because they CHOOSE not to believe that they do make a difference. No matter how much evidence you present to them proving that their way of thinking is incorrect, they will continue to disregard any and all information that contradicts their chosen mindset.

This is one of those times where SCIENCE, the BIBLE and COMMON SENSE walk hand and hand.

One of my friends posted this comment last week on social media (he gave me permission to use it). I’m discovering the truth in those words.

Those who don’t get it won’t get it.

Despite that, let’s do a little research and check it out. I’ll be preaching to the choir, because anti-maskers are going to leave this post right here.

SCIENCE

In an editorial published (July 14) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), CDC reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities. There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Masks work best when “used universally within communities.” Those of you who say masks don’t work are a self-fulfilling prophesy – you are the reason that masks aren’t working as well as they should.

Here’s a case study that proves masks work:

Among 139 clients exposed (in May) to two symptomatic hair stylists (in Springfield, Missouri) with confirmed COVID-19 while both the stylists and the clients wore face masks, no symptomatic secondary cases were reported; among 67 clients tested for SARS-CoV-2, all test results were negative. Adherence to the community’s and company’s face-covering policy likely mitigated spread of SARS-CoV-2.

A study led by a Texas A&M professor, reported June 12 in Science Daily, found that using a face mask reduced the number of infections by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6-May 9 and by over 66,000 in New York City from April 17-May 9 …

“We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission,” wrote Renyi Zhang, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M.

“This inexpensive practice, in conjunction with social distancing and other procedures, is the most likely opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work also highlights that sound science is essential in decision-making for the current and future public health pandemics …”

Zhang said the results should send a clear message to people worldwide — wearing a face mask is essential in fighting the virus.

The BIBLE

Jesus silenced some Pharisees and Herodians with this admonition: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

The apostle Paul agreed with Jesus when he wrote, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities … (Romans 13:1)

The question regarding masks and governing authorities gets tricky, because we as Americans received (and still receive) conflicting advice from our political leaders.

In Ohio, ironically, the conflicting advice came from two Republicans. Which to believe? That is the source of our political divide over this issue.

Gov. Mike DeWine hired a medical doctor, Dr. Amy Acton, as his public health director. During the early days and weeks of the COVID pandemic, DeWine, leaning on Acton’s reports, was one of the first leaders nationwide to recognize its severity. He was first in the nation to close public schools, for example.

DeWine and Acton held daily press conferences to explain their motives and decisions. Dr. Acton, especially, emphasized wearing a mask – over and over and over, she pleaded with us to wear a mask in public. She and the governor offered charts, graphics, statistics and case studies to prove their point.

(I randomly picked a press conference from May 11 if you’d like to see what those conferences looked like.)

In contrast, President Donald Trump offered no such press conferences, and no such advice. I have nothing to show you here because he didn’t offer anything. Indeed, Trump has repeatedly disagreed with his own medical director, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The latest clash came today, Aug. 2. According to Market Watch:

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades (and) who worked on the front lines of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s, the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016 and the anthrax attacks two decades ago, testified before Congress last week that the U.S. should have taken speedier and more comprehensive action to close businesses when coronavirus first appeared in the U.S. earlier this year.

On Twitter, Trump on Aug. 1, which Market Watch quoted, wrote this:

Wrong! We have more cases because we have tested far more than any other country, 60,000,000. If we tested less, there would be less cases. How did Italy, France & Spain do? Now Europe sadly has flare ups. Most of our governors worked hard & smart. We will come back STRONG!

CBS News responded:

Dr. Fauci explains (in a posted video) why the U.S. has continued to see a surge in cases while European countries have seen a sharp decrease. He says most European countries shut their economy by 95%, while functionally the U.S. only shut its economy down by 50%.

Did Europe’s economy collapse? No, because the 95 percent shutdown didn’t last long – thanks to widespread use of masks and social distancing. We in the United States still haven’t opened back up fully, because we won’t comply on a widespread basis.

What does this have to do with the Bible? Truth. Accountability. Loving other people. Serving other people.

That’s the point of wearing a mask – to protect other people as well as ourselves, which is a Biblical principle. Our Republican governor understands this; our Republican president does not.

COMMON SENSE

The COVID-19 pandemic is worldwide. It’s not a hoax perpetrated by Democrats to oust President Trump. The United States ranks eighth in the world in COVID deaths per million population, even though our actual numbers are higher than any other nation now. As of July 31, the U.S. has nearly 152,000 deaths from COVID, and is averaging 1,339 deaths per day. Closest on the chart in actual numbers to us is Brazil, with 91,000 cases and 1,129 deaths per day – with about two-thirds the population of the United States.

COVID is highly contagious and spreads quickly. It’s skyrocketing throughout the South and West, and disproportionately affects Hispanics and Blacks in this country.

Despite that, fewer people proportionally are dying from COVID, but Americans keep not only testing positive for it, but are suffering from the illness – sometimes for months.

The long-term effects of COVID, of course, aren’t known yet. But they are, and will be, very real.

Unlike many other nations around the world, we continue to suffer the consequences of not taking this virus seriously. It eventually will peak and we will return to “normal,” but at what cost?

The fact that we are an individual-rights country instead of a team-player nation is costing us dearly.

We just don’t care, do we?

Photo: Protesters sit in Father Duffy Square in Times Square on July 28 as New York City enters Phase 4 of reopening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans, and media production. (The Associated Press)

Acting out our faith

A quick run through the New Testament, featuring the book of Acts:

The Holy Spirit

  • The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus first, because the Holy Spirit and Jesus both are God. This is beyond our ability to understand – but it’s true anyway. Our God is that big; in some ways, we cannot understand Him. But because He was as human as He was divine, there are plenty of things we can understand about Him.
  • Living in the Spirit is moment-by-moment fellowship with Jesus. We can pray deep prayers in scheduled “quiet times,” and we also can hold a conversation with Him as the day rolls on.
  • The same Spirit who lived in the apostles lives in you and me today. Which means we have the same power and authority that the apostles did.
  • The same Spirit in Christ lives in me. Since the Spirit is God, and Christ is God, therefore Christ – the same Christ who died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago – lives in me.

Deception, trials, sin

  • The apostles had no idea Judas would betray Jesus. They asked: Is it I, Lord? Judas, without the Spirit, deceived them. (Later, Ananias and Saphira tried to deceive over material possessions, and were found out – Acts 5).
  • Simon (Acts 8) wanted Jesus and his own magic at the same time. God and … doesn’t work.
  • Trials are like taking our faith to the gym. That’s how we grow. The flood meant Noah and his family could never return to their old life.

The Gospel

  • The resurrection is fact, not emotion. This means our faith is based on fact, not hearsay or feelings.
  • The most hated truth in the Bible is hell. This is what we are saved from.
  • We cannot save ourselves. And the world cannot save us, either. Only Jesus can.
  • We are to share our faith, not consume it. We are not sponges; we need to be wrung out.
  • Christianity is more than doctrine or beliefs. It’s a way of living. Who are you, Lord? – is the most important question we can ask.
  • Salvation requires no action on our part – only to believe. It’s 100 percent a God thing. It’s inward, not outward.
  • Jesus is the message. The apostle Paul, a scholar, claimed to know nothing except Jesus and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • Jesus rose to live forever – not like Lazarus, who rose on Earth for a short time.
  • Christianity is not behavior modification. A changed heart is the result.
  • Why do some people discount the Gospel? For several reasons: We don’t want to face our sins or be held accountable; we want to do something for it; and/or resurrection is not logical.

Living the Christian lifestyle

  • Jesus said rivers of living water will flow from believers’ hearts (John 7:37-39). Living water, by definition, gives life, comforts and soothes. It moves. It quenches thirst, permanently.
  • The first believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (about Jesus), fellowship (sharing life), the breaking of bread (communion) and prayer (Christ-centered). This modeled unprecedented unity, which Jesus prayed for in John 17.
  • No one in Acts prayed for safety or good health – only for courage to share the Gospel boldly.
  • God can use anything – peace or trials. With trials, passion and purpose will come into sharp focus.
  • “Rights” are not for me, but for others, to promote the Gospel (1 Corinthians 8-9).
  • We are to keep ourselves unstained from the world (James 1:27). We are to live in the world, but not be consumed by its values.
  • If my heart is right, my words and actions will come out naturally. I don’t have to “practice” evangelism. I need to know the basics and how Jesus has changed my life. I need to live that way, and talk that way too.
  • Sin distorts the message of the Gospel. We must acknowledge this and seek forgiveness – first from God, then from others. Not just once, but repeatedly.
  • God’s will benefits everyone. Sin is not God’s will. He allows sin so that we can accept forgiveness, then change our lifestyles.
  • We do not follow people who point to Christ; we follow Christ Himself.

Servants of God

  • Abraham and Moses’ ministries began when they were old. God takes the long view.
  • Stephen did not defend himself, but defended Jesus and His crucifixion and resurrection. Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Stephen did not worship the temple itself, but the living God.
  • Stephen had no fear of death – he was already dead to sin and alive in Christ.
  • Stephen personified all of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  • Cornelius, a non-Jew, and Peter both had lessons to learn (Acts 10), even though Peter was an early church leader.
  • Peter escapes from prison but the apostle James, one of Jesus’ inner three, is killed (Acts 12). The believers undoubtedly were praying for both, with different “answers” from God. We can’t understand all of God’s answers to prayer.
  • Paul valued serving God over his own safety.
  • God allowed Paul to remain in prison (Acts 25) for several reasons: he was safe there (many people wanted him dead), he wrote epistles there, and his friends were allowed to care for him there.
  • The people of Malta judged Paul twice after he was bitten by a viper (Acts 28:1-10). He was a murderer, the gods were bringing justice; then, when nothing happened, they worshipped him as a god. Both judgments were wrong.

Hope

  • Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.
  • We could lose our wealth or health overnight. Hope in God is not like that; once Jesus changes our hearts, we are sealed for heaven forever.
  • Hope is confident expectation, not wishful thinking.

Who God is

  • The law shows our need. Jesus meets our need.
  • The church fails, people fail, things fail, but the word of God never fails.
  • God sits on a throne of grace (forgiving us for our sins), not wrath (Heb. 4:14-5:10).

Faith

  • Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11). It’s outlandish: Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, his promised son, on faith that God would keep His promise of many descendants. Abraham obeyed, and God honored that (by stopping the sacrifice before it actually happened).
  • The Bereans tested Paul’s words with Scripture (Acts 17), then believed Paul when they discovered his words matched what they read about the living God.
  • Faith requires some belief.
  • Faith is not knowledge – even the demons know who Jesus is (James 1-2). Faith is living by knowledge.

WWJD is not a cliche

If Jesus Christ was to visit the United States in the flesh today, where would he go? What would he do? Who would he spend his time with?

I’ve been pondering this question for many years, and try to pattern my life after the answer. Here’s what I’ve discovered.

Jesus spent a fair amount of time in the synagogue, the church of his day. He preached, taught and argued there. He healed people there (despite the over-abundance of rules of the Pharisees and Sadducees). He toppled money tables in there.

Jesus was out there

But as I read the gospels – which is where we learn what Jesus did on Earth – I see that he spent most of his time on the road, outside the walls of the church. He met in homes, including those of Mary and Martha, and Matthew. He taught the masses on hillsides. He healed a demoniac near his own home (a cave). He spent time on the Sea of Galilee, preaching from a boat, walking on water and calming a storm.

He walked. He talked. He prayed, alone at night on mountains and in gardens. He poured into his 12 disciples, especially to his three leaders – Peter, James and John.

He healed people. Lots of people. Gave sight to the blind, and healthy limbs to the lame. Raised one or two from the dead.

He met people where they were. A Samaritan woman at a well outside her village, a place no self-respecting Jew would dare go. Nicodemus at night. Family and friends at a wedding.

Jesus didn’t wait for people to come to him. He went to them, spoke to their deepest needs, then told them, “Follow me.” Some did, many didn’t. Jesus did not chase after those who walked away. He let them go, and headed to the next town.

Truth, not judgment

But everyone who met Jesus was forced to choose. Will I follow him, or will I walk away? A rich young man turned away when Jesus told him to sell his possessions, since the young man had made his wealth his god. Did the young man ever repent and turn to Jesus later? The Bible doesn’t say.

Jesus didn’t judge. He put himself out there, claiming to be God, and let us choose.

And got himself killed for it.

What would Jesus do in 2020? He would follow a similar pattern that he followed when he walked around Israel and neighboring areas, I’m sure.

He’d visit our churches. He’d listen to what we were teaching about him. If we’d let him, Jesus would preach about himself to us. He’d shock us with his radical message. Yes, even though we have access to the Scriptures, we’d be shocked not only at what Jesus said, but the way he said it. He spoke with authority, after all. He’d get our attention.

We’d plot against him, because he likely would say things that anger us as church leaders. We are caught up in our own egos and power surges, just like the scribes and Pharisees were.

Jesus would teach, and equip

Therefore, Jesus would hit the streets.

He would visit our houses and apartments, teaching us in small groups. He’d show up in public parks and preach in fields and on hillsides. He might even do an evangelistic crusade in a big football stadium (once COVID-19 passes on, of course).

He’d challenge us, as his followers, to feed his sheep. He’d equip us to do his work, then send us out.

He would not judge our hypocrisy – unless we know better. Then, he’d let us have it.

He might heal some physical infirmities, but probably not do a lot of that. We’re too good at explaining that away. Instead, he’d reach for our hearts – our lost, broken, sinful, searching, damaged hearts. That’s where Jesus would do his greatest work.

And where he’d challenge us, his followers, to obey his commands.

A deep connection

Jesus would visit inner cities. Lots of people there, plenty of searching souls there. He’d stop in rural places too, like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I used to live. He’d get there, eventually. Jesus understood farming and growing plants, common activities in the days when he did walk the Earth.

He’d adapt to modern technology. He’d drive a car, maybe fly in an airplane to meet people in airports and in the skies.

Would he avail himself of social media? I wrestle with that one. Jesus is much more personal than that. He never preached to masses from a living room – he preached face to face. He wanted to see our reactions. No mumbling under our breath out of sight. No scrolling. No hiding behind memes. Jesus wants our hearts, and he knows how to reach them.

In the United States, Jesus would meet us where we are. In our workplaces. In our theaters and sports arenas. In the grocery store.

Again, he’s not judging any of our choices – of entertainment, food or anything else. He’s seeking our hearts.

When we encounter Jesus, we know intuitively what he would do. We know right away what good and bad choices are. We can judge these things for ourselves. The decision is yours and mine. Will we follow Jesus, or not?

Our challenge

This is what Jesus would do if he were here in the flesh today. He’d draw us to himself, and to his father, the living God. He’d give us the Holy Spirit so we could understand these things.

As his followers, he’d challenge us to draw our friends, family and other people we meet to himself, and to his father. If we explain the Holy Spirit to someone, Jesus is right there to give it – that is, to give himself.

That’s why Jesus is not here right now, actually. If Jesus was everywhere, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t be necessary. But Jesus was a man. Men (and women) can be in only one place at a time. That’s why he sends his followers out, so God can be everywhere at once.

But because we haven’t seen him in the flesh for about 2,000 years, we’ve grown complacent. We’ve misrepresented him. Even in our churches. Especially in our churches.

When Jesus walked the Earth, he was all compassion for people outside the church. He gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. He didn’t compromise his theology, but he explained it and showed it in ways that made it attractive.

Our shortcomings

To believers who knew the Scriptures, Jesus wasn’t so patient. He explained to them how the Scriptures were being fulfilled in their hearing, in his very presence. They didn’t buy it. Instead, they eventually crucified him.

If Jesus visited the United States in the flesh today, we’d crucify him again. I have no doubt. We think we know better.

This is why I never have been, and never will be, an ordained pastor or employed church worker. Bless you if you are; you have a wonderful calling. But Jesus spent most of his time outside the church, and so must I.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, inside the church and outside. We have the same message today that Jesus presented in the four gospels. Let’s take it out there, share it – and live it.

Let’s make it attractive.

Jesus is not very attractive these days. That’s our fault, as followers. Jesus isn’t here in the flesh to right our ship. He has already given us the blueprint. Let’s open our eyes and ears, listen and follow.

There is no Plan B.

The greatest miracle

When Jesus comes back – and he will, he promised – it will be too late for many of us.

Heart change is not instantaneous; that’s not how God works despite today’s instant-gratification society. We need to be different. A good different. Attractive. Appealing.

I won’t change your mind about anything. That’s God’s job. All I can do is show you God, in my sinful, pathetic way.

And yet, that’s often good enough.

When Christians talk of miracles, that’s the biggest one, right there. Jesus uses fallen, sinful people to share his message – and if you are paying attention, you’ll understand. You’ll see it. You’ll get it.

This is the Jesus we worship, the Jesus we live and die for.

If Jesus visited your town today, would you welcome him?

‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’

A few thoughts and observations as I try to make sense of these unusual times:

 

Selflessness is something that you’re in control of. Unity is not. It requires other people. You can be selfless, but you can’t force people to be unified. What people have to see is why it’s good for them to be unified.

sunset 1

Bill Bradley, former NBA player and U.S. senator, in “AARP Bulletin” July/August 2020, p. 39

 

***

 

Two elementary-age boys I was watching enjoyed time together on swings at a local playground. I sat on a nearby bench, keeping an eye on them and daydreaming.

After a few minutes another family came to the playground – three children, about 8, 5, and 3, I’d guess, with their mom. Speaking Spanish. Girl-boy-girl. After some time climbing and ringing the bell, the boy came up to me and gave me a hug. I’ve never seen this family before; they have no idea who I am, what my name is, what my background is.

A little later, the youngest girl ran up and also hugged me. Their mom, on another side of the playground, called out, “Sorry.” In English. “They’re fine,” I responded.

Jesus said we have to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Another time, He scolded His disciples for preventing children from coming to Him. These Puerto Rican children showed me what Jesus was talking about. Unconditional love. Who I was didn’t matter to them. They hugged me anyway.

Even in these social distancing COVID-19 times. They hugged me anyway.

 

***

downtown 7

Very few (black people) had died in bed, like Baby Suggs, and none that he knew of, including Baby, had lived a livable life. Even the educated colored: the long-school people, the doctors, the teachers, the paper-writers and businessmen had a hard row to hoe. In addition to having to use their heads to get ahead, they had the weight of the whole race sitting there. You needed two heads for that. Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging

lorain4screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.

Toni Morrison of Lorain, Ohio, in “Beloved,” a Nobel Prize-winning novel, page 234

 

***

mural 2

As I said about the other attributes of the Deity, mercy is not something God has but something God is. If mercy was something God had, conceivably God might mislay it or use it up. It might become less or more. But since it is something that God is, then we must remember that it is uncreated. The mercy of God did not come into being. The mercy of God always was in being, for mercy is what God is, and God is eternal. And God is infinite.

 

A.W. Tozer, in “The Attributes of God, Volume 1,” page 77

 

***

 

I went for a jog this morning. Too hot. Got a little light-headed. I walked more than usual. It’s happened before, so I wasn’t worried. Said “hi” to everyone I passed on the path, as always. A few dog walkers, a couple of bicyclists, many other walkers of all ages.

A few wore masks; most of us didn’t. We social-distanced. I jog/walk alone. Prefer it that way. Go my own pace. Just me and God. Don’t have to keep up with anyone else.

 

***

 

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 7:15-25

 

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***

 

This couldn’t be happening. I had studied for this. I had put in the hours. I was paying my dues and was absolutely certain the Lord had steered me toward doing this for a career, for a livelihood. Obviously, then, I had either heard Him wrong, or He had set me up to fail. What does a singer and broadcast professional do when nothing she feels called to is working out? I was barely in my twenties. And already feeling washed up.

I wish I’d known then what I know now.

Priscilla Shirer, in “Life Interrupted,” page 3

A lesson from 1968 we still haven’t learned

Racism and the National Anthem are not new issues. They go back a long way.

I re-discovered this as I re-read a book by, of all people, the great Detroit Tigers baseball announcer Ernie Harwell, who I grew up listening to with his partner Paul Carey. Best baseball radio duo ever.

Published in 1985, “Tuned to Baseball” includes a chapter titled “Jose’s Song.” Harwell, in addition to being a longtime sportscaster, was a songwriter and musician as well. In that role, the Tigers asked him to choose the National Anthem singers for the city’s three World Series home games in 1968 – games 3, 4 and 5.

Racial sensitivity

In Harwell’s words:

For the third game (the first in Detroit) my choice was Margaret Whiting. She was female, white, and represented the establishment. Margaret had strong Detroit ties. Her father and uncle, both famous songwriters, were Detroiters, and her sister Barbara still lived there.

For the second game, I picked Marvin Gaye – male, black, and a top star with a tremendous following. He also lived in Detroit.

Detroit race riots in 1967 and 1968 were still fresh in the minds of many at the time. Harwell proved his sensitivity to the era by choosing carefully his first two singers.

His choice for Game 5 on Oct. 7, 1968, revealed his deep concern for people of all racial and social backgrounds. Yet many who heard it were not happy with this musician’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

To sing the National Anthem for Game 5, Harwell chose a relatively unknown but up-and-coming blind Puerto Rican singer: Jose Feliciano.

Feliciano stood by himself in deep center field, with only his guide dog and his guitar to accompany him. Wearing dark glasses (because he’s blind), Feliciano sang a bluesy rendition of Francis Scott Key’s battle song.

The intense reaction

The public’s response? In Harwell’s words:

That evening in my apartment, the phone was ringing off the hook. Radio men for interviews, newspapermen, TV men – all telling me that a furious reaction was sweeping across the country.

A couple of pages later in his book, Harwell discussed why he thought the response was so intense, and negative:

Riots were still taking place. The war in Vietnam was a major issue of the day. Drugs and crime-in-the-streets were causing even more unrest. The campuses were restless, and the chasm between young and old was deepening.

Into this vortex stepped Feliciano. The establishment reacted violently toward him. His wailing, bluesy, rock-singing style was different. Because he played a guitar and didn’t have a crew cut, the establishment equated him with “long-haired hippies.” Yet, his hair was not long. And (as his own statements later proved) his attitude toward the song and America leaned, if anything, more toward the establishment.

Even the dark glasses (worn because of blindness) prejudiced some against him. All his critics seemed ready to find something to protest. And they let him have it – full volley.

The plot deepens

What have we learned in the past half-century? Not much, it seems.

The establishment today is still fighting differences among us. It’s not Vietnam, but Russia or China. Racism, including riots and protests leading to death, destruction and plenty of publicity. Judging differences, including physical (and mental) disabilities.

We are ready to protest. And counter-protest. Full volley.

I think there’s a deeper issue in 2020 even than racism, even than COVID-19. Another issue set the stage for those crises to turn vitriolic. President Donald Trump is the lightning rod, but the issue goes deeper even than him.

The one non-negotiable issue in this country today is abortion.

The Republican Party is unabashedly “pro-life.” The Democratic Party supports abortion rights.

My opinion: Republicans are more anti-Democrat than they are pro-Trump. They cannot support any platform that allows abortion. Period. No other issue rises to the level that abortion does in the minds of staunch Republicans.

The wrong forum

The president of the United States, it should go without saying, faces many more issues besides that one. Foreign policy. The economy. The federal budget (and deficit). Education. “All men are created equal.” Public safety. Working with Congress. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He’s commander-in-chief of our military. And on and on.

That’s why abortion is the wrong issue to stake our nation’s soul on.

Here’s a better idea. If abortion is the engine that drives Republicans, the presidency is not the correct venue for that fight. Shutting down abortion clinics doesn’t solve the problem either; it just drives it underground, out of public view.

The number of abortions performed in 2017 was less than half the number performed in the peak year of 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which calls itself a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally.

Even still, at 2014 abortion rates, about one in four (24%) women will have an abortion by age 45, the institute says.

Abortion is a complicated issue, with women who undergo the procedure listing several reasons – not just one – for doing it. Issues include not being financially prepared, an unplanned pregnancy, partner issues, focus on other children, and interfering with educational or vocational plans, according to a verywellhealth.com report updated last December.

Let’s focus on those issues rather than the procedure itself. In today’s sex-saturated society, that’s a tall task.

The right issue

Republicans, especially the evangelicals in the party, should realize that faith is a bigger, much bigger, issue than abortion – or politics itself. No, the Democrats don’t have all the answers. Republicans don’t either.

The Bible, and the savior who claims the Bible was written about Him, do have the answers. Again, not the Republican version of Jesus Christ. Please, no. Jesus is so far ahead of them.

The Bible talks of unconditional love, which is love that asks nothing in return. Sex of any type does not offer that. Politicians don’t offer that. Even churches themselves can’t provide that – and Biblical churches know it, and preach Jesus and not themselves.

Ernie Harwell, in his book on baseball, understood this. In addition to being a Hall of Fame broadcaster and songwriter, Harwell was a “born-again” Christian who let his faith shine, humbly, through his microphone and in the way he lived his life. He participated in the Major League Baseball Chapel program, which offers a faith message on Sunday mornings to ballplayers who can’t attend church because of time or they are away from home. He was married to his wife, Lulu, for 68 years. He visited clubhouses and heard the rough language, but he didn’t participate in it. He understood people, that we’re all sinners. We aren’t to judge anyone, but are to love them and serve them.

That’s Harwell’s legacy. As Christians, that should be our legacy, too.

A question to wrestle with

My mind clears in one of two places: in bed in the wee hours when I’m not really asleep or awake, or while I’m walking/jogging. While on my favorite jogging path this morning, a thought came to me after I passed a large group of cross-country middle and high school students. If I had a chance to speak to them, what would I tell them?

Why I run

I’d start by connecting with their story. I started jogging about 15 years ago when I connected with a group of adults who played Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday mornings year-round in Saginaw, Michigan. Before I began, I had no idea how much running is involved in Ultimate. I nearly puked.

To keep up with those guys, I needed to get in shape. There’s a recreation center a mile from our house with a walking track, so for the next four months I spent a lot of time there, building up some endurance.

I was never a great Ultimate player, nor was I ever the one with the strongest lungs. Far from it, in fact. But Saturday mornings were fun. The exercise was worth it, and I still keep in touch with a few of those guys even though we haven’t lived in Saginaw for eight years.

I found other benefits to jogging. It’s a great stress reliever. About that time, the job I held for 24 years was eliminated. Without hard exercise, I might not have survived that time period.

And I discovered I enjoy being outside, year-round. I enjoy working up a good sweat in summer (which happened this morning), and in the winter, cold air on my cheeks is invigorating. Give me four seasons, and I’ll spend them all outside.

What we control

Then, my mind wandered to another question. If I could give those students a word of wisdom, what would I say?

Here’s the thought that came to me:

The only things you can control are your body, mind, soul and spirit. That’s it. You can influence other people, and we do, but control? Only ourselves.

Get some physical exercise all your life long, not just now on the cross-country team. It will help you feel good about yourself, and it’s a great stress reliever. It will help keep you healthy.

Mental health is a major issue these days, as I’m sure you’re aware. We all know people who are suffering from mental health issues, and others who have overcome them, right? Read books. Learn things. Take care of your mind.

Your soul, your emotions, needs your attention too. Do things you enjoy, things that help you relax. There are times to get serious and buckle down, but we need to breathe as well.

And don’t forget your spiritual life. We all have one, you know. This world is not about you. There’s a Creator who designed and built this world, and who designed and built you. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Just open your eyes and look.

What we don’t control

Recent events prove this, too. Some people don’t want to wear a mask, saying that COVID-19 doesn’t affect them. They miss the point. It’s not about them. It’s about protecting other people.

The systemic racism we continue to learn about after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis also proves that the world does not revolve around you. Other people have experiences that you and I know nothing about. If anything good has come from that horrible death, it’s this: We are learning how to listen to each other. To understand each other in ways we didn’t before.

It’s not about you.

I’ve heard personal stories from black friends, outstanding citizens who I’d trust my life with, who have experienced racism in recent months – before this issue became a national story. I thought we were beyond systemic racism. We’re not.

lorain2

There’s a bigger picture here that many Americans don’t want to see, but you need to see it. It’s not about you. It’s about us, about us learning how to get along with each other. Respect each other.

Systemic racism rears its ugly head in our public education system. My sister and I grew up in a household where we were expected to attend college. My wife and I raised our three sons the same way – a college degree was an expectation, and we took steps to ensure that they got good grades and had other opportunities that paved the way for a good college life.

Many minorities don’t have all that. Perhaps the best teachers stay in the suburbs, where my family has always lived. Suburban communities can afford good schools, which many inner cities cannot. The state offers minimum state funding to all districts to try to ensure a good education for all, but it doesn’t play out that way, does it?

My wife works at our local community college. We’ve learned that that is an excellent option for many of you. You can live at home and take courses for far less cost than a four-year university will charge you. And there’s an excellent vocational school in the county as well, if you’d like to learn a trade. These are all great options.

But then, even if a black student earns a good degree or trade certificate, he or she might have a hard time finding a good job. There’s an article in today’s local paper that says while white college graduates are getting good jobs, the unemployment rate for black college graduates is actually rising. Why, why is that?

So you see, young people, the world does not revolve around you. The color of your skin makes a difference in your opportunities, as does your health. And other things.

Reconciling

If you’d like a homework assignment, I’ve got one for you. I said earlier that the only thing you can control is yourself – your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. That is absolutely true. Then, I just said that the world does not revolve around you. It was here before you were born, and it will be here after you are gone.

So, how do you reconcile those two thoughts? You control yourself. The world does not revolve around you.

If you can figure that out, you’ll go a long way in this world. I wish many adults would wrestle with this question as well. This country would be a lot more hospitable if we could figure this out.

Best of everything to you. Good luck on your season.

Hope rising from the pain

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

Galatians 6:7-8

 

If we sow violence, we reap violence. If we sow finger-pointing, we reap finger-pointing. If we sow anger, that’s what we reap. If we sow peace, we receive peace (in the Spirit, if not in practice).

We don’t get this. If we raise a Bible outside (or inside) a church, we think God is automatically on our side. If we defend every lifestyle under the sun, we think that defines love.

If we actually opened our Bibles and tried to understand its meaning, we’d see that both sides have missed the point.

All is not lost, however. Many of us do get it.

Especially in the past week or so. As George Floyd is laid to rest, we as a nation are taking a collective breath.

Perhaps for the first time since the Civil Rights Act was passed after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, we are learning to listen to each other. Equality, justice and mutual respect are gaining traction, but we still have a long way to go. A very long way.

We see violence on cell phone and store camera videos, but racism goes much deeper than that. An offhand comment here. A derogatory word there. A promotion not received. Educational disparities. Housing discrimination. A look in a donut shop or grocery store.

listening 5

I attended a listening event last week in my city, where I heard about two dozen people share stories, many stories, including young people facing racism from peers, teachers and administrators at school; parents who did not receive justice in the courthouse next door; people who suffered silently from random events around town …

I’ve heard stories from friends with a different skin color than mine, people who are successful in life, people full of caring hearts and kind words. Even they have stories. I had no idea.

Recent stories. Current stories.

We have such a long way to go.

We focus on institutional changes, and those need to happen. Accountability in our police departments. Changes to our educational systems. Prosecution of looters and vandals – and how to prevent those people from showing up at future demonstrations and riots. Hires and promotions earned regardless of skin color.

These are big-picture, long-term issues that our nation must address.

We reap what we sow.

And yet … we cannot legislate morality. Changing laws will do only so much.

 

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

 

Even more than new (or better) laws, we need new (or better) hearts.

The human point of view is selfish, me first, I’m right and know what’s best. This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Every human, man and woman, who has ever lived understands this. Myself included. Every time I run a red (or pink) light I’m saying that my values and purpose are more important than society’s values, that the light has to turn green for someone else and I have to stop and wait while other drivers pass through the intersection.

I roll my eyes, get impatient. Especially when traffic clears and the light stays red.

Selfishness is that easy. I need a heart change.

Time to breathe.

Society does not revolve around me. I have to keep reminding myself of that, and still I don’t learn.

We wave the Bible in public, making a mockery of God’s written word because we won’t open the pages and actually read what’s inside it.

Those who condemn our president’s recent Bible-toting photo op in front of a Washington, D.C., church often aren’t modeling Christian values either.

There’s plenty of anger and finger-pointing on both sides. The anger and, yes, hatred on both sides have simmered for years; George Floyd’s horrific death was the lightning rod that triggered our hearts to act on our anger.

Righteous anger? Yes, far too often.

As a white man, it’s not up to me to analyze what’s going on and decide how to fix it.

White men have run this country since it was formed. Let’s be honest. In all other societies throughout history, the only way a minority group takes power is by force – figuring out how to overthrow the ruling oppressors.

We in the United States are working to share leadership, power and authority. It’s not natural, and it’s certainly not coming easily.

It requires a heart change. We can’t legislate morality. We can write in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal …” but until we actually treat each other that way, such statements are nothing more than pipe dreams.

This requires humility. The willingness to listen. To let others lead. To respect opinions and decisions different than ours.

None of that happens without a heart change.

I am encouraged. In the midst of police brutality and destruction of small businesses despite our not-quite-over-yet isolation from COVID-19, I see many people listening. I see police chiefs and officers marching with protesters, not against them. I see many people helping clean up broken windows and stores. I see blacks, whites, Asians and others talking, listening, meeting together, seeking to find similarities instead of differences.

In the midst of struggle and pain, I see hope.

We have such a long way to go.

But we have to start somewhere.

Will history look back at this moment as a turning point in our country?

This is my prayer.  Let’s make it happen.

Healing starts by listening

Our nation’s heart is exposed. And it hurts. Deeply.

Perhaps this is where the healing starts.

COVID-19 isolated us. In mid-Michigan, many of my friends are cleaning up from the worst flooding in their lifetimes. Last week, a police officer’s brazen killing – on camera – of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis ignited firestorms of protest that continue across the country.

Underneath it all, politicians far too often continue to divide us, even in these times of crisis.

Our pastor in his sermon this morning said what I’ve been feeling for the past few days: We need to listen. It’s not about judging the injustice, the anger, even the protests.

Racism still pervasive

I read a couple of stories last week unrelated to the protests that sickened me. In one, a white woman called the cops on a black man who was doing nothing more than pumping gas in his wife’s car. In another, a black man wrote that he takes his daughters and his dog with him on walks through his neighborhood – to protect himself, because as a black man walking alone, he is stereotyped and worse.

In his own neighborhood.

I thought we were past those days. We’re not.

I’m sorry. For all of it. As a middle-aged white man who so often is the cause of such racism and injustice, I’m sorry.

The solution?

Look beyond yourself. Get to know your neighbor.

My next-door neighbor is African-American. We chat when we’re both outside doing yard work or when she’s walking her dogs. We get along just fine. This is not rocket science.

Why does it take a man’s death to understand this?

Do not lose the message

Peaceful protests haven’t worked. We tell Colin Kaepernick to stand up. We quote and mis-quote Martin Luther King Jr.

What changes? Anything?

The Minneapolis officer wasn’t charged with murder until violent protests forced the issue.

Who is listening?

In some videos I see white people destroying and stealing things, and I’ve heard that out-of-town people caused at least some of the vandalism. The protests have become about more than racism.

But let’s not lose the message.

America is divided. Our heart is breaking.

Or, should be breaking. I’m not sure we white people get it, still.

Sharing leadership

As white Americans, we will not get involved in anything – education, politics and government, church, business, or anything else – unless we lead it. We will not submit ourselves to leadership of any minority group.

This was the main message of a conference I attended 18 months ago in Chicago on forming inner-city churches. Several African-American speakers made that point, politely, to us.

We will hire an African-American on staff and call it a diverse church. But that African-American has to “do church” the “white” way.

That’s not diversity.

White preachers use a three-point outline that congregates can take notes on. Black pastors don’t preach like that. White choirs use the hymnal and sing the notes as written. Black choirs sing with passion – and their directors dance while leading the congregation as well as the choir. I saw this during the conference when a gospel choir from a nearby church led worship one evening. It was very different from what I’m used to, and very powerful.

The church I attend has several campuses, and this spring opened up its latest in Lorain, Ohio – an economically struggling city (steel mills were the main employer once upon a time) with plenty of minorities, blacks and Puerto Ricans, as well as many residents living below the poverty line. Are we ready to serve a community that many of the leaders of the church can’t relate to?

Would we allow dancing during Sunday morning worship? What about Puerto Rican music?

Perhaps. We shall see.

‘Looted every single day’

We try to tell minorities how to protest. Do it peacefully, but don’t kneel. Don’t cause trouble, or don’t damage anything.

“There is no right way to protest because that’s what protest is,” said Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the same way that you might have experienced more anger and more visceral disdain watching those people loot that Target—think about that unease you felt watching that Target being looted. Try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day.”

I can’t imagine what that’s like.

White people destroying stores and looting are taking away your message. Making the violence worse drowns out your cries for justice, for respect.

The effects of white power

And I have to say this: Our president is supposed to be a voice of calm and reason during a crisis. President Trump is not. In fact, he’s making the problem worse.

“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted – borrowing a racist phrase from 1967.

He’s given no leadership on the worldwide coronavirus crisis – indeed, making that situation worse by dropping out of the World Health Organization, instead of uniting with the rest of the world to seek a vaccine and other answers to solving this pandemic.

He even rejected the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on reopening the economy. And contrary to all reasonable medical data, he wants to hold the Republican National Convention as normal – even though mass gatherings will likely be the last bastion of social distancing.

President Trump is not a listener. Never has been.

Instead, the rest of us must listen. That’s how we can lead.

If a man can’t even walk in his neighborhood because of his skin color, that’s on you and me. If a man can’t even pump gas, jog or ask that a dog be put on a leash in a public park because of his skin color, that’s racism. Pure and simple.

I’m stunned all these things are happening. Still.

Let’s not let the violence happening in our cities overshadow this message. We must listen.

Then act.

We must defend our neighbors, all of them.

We must let other people lead us. White people haven’t done a good job, especially recently, of leading our country. Too many Jeffrey Epsteins in this world, using his power to prey on other people.

Epstein isn’t around anymore to face punishment for his crimes. His Maker will have to take care of that, and He will.

But Epstein has left a trail of broken lives in his wake, more even than we know about.

This is what we have become as a nation. Divided, broken, dominant and repressive, man to woman, white to black.

Let’s not explain this away by saying there are good white people and oppressive black people. Of course there are, but that’s not the norm.

We must listen, and learn

As white people, let’s acknowledge what we’ve become.

I’m sorry.

As the country starts opening up again, I’ll keep trying to reach out to those of you less fortunate than I am, racially and economically. That includes most of you, actually. Through my inner-city church. Through a food pantry that has been closed for two months, but which is reopening this week, in a limited form. Through my neighborhood.

Not just today, but going forward.

When the next crisis hits and this former police officer is relegated to the inside pages, we will have to keep listening. Or this will happen again.

It’s time we started learning some lessons from what’s going on around us. No more defending ourselves. No more trying to explain things away.

Listen, people. Just open your hearts and listen.

Who is God, anyway?

“We try to promote religion, forgetting that it rests upon the character of God. If I have a low concept of God, my religion can only be a cheap, watery affair. But if my concept of God is worthy of God then it can be noble and dignified; it can be reverent, profound, beautiful. This is what I want to see once more among men. Pray that way, won’t you?”

The Attributes of God, volume 1, by A.W. Tozer, p. 195

 

So, what is the character of God?

According to Tozer, it’s infinity and immensity, grace and mercy, justice and goodness, everywhere and inside us, holy and perfect.

All of those things together, beyond measure, full and complete, the very definition of each of those attributes.

How can we comprehend that?

We can’t. Not with our finite minds.

This should be our concept of God.

God is …

God is not measured by time or space. He cannot be measured by anything at all. He is outside of space. God is as intimate with the farthest galaxy as he is with you and me, and our deepest thoughts, here on Earth.

When the apostles wrote in the New Testament that they were living in the last hour (1 John 2:18), they weren’t exaggerating. We are living in the last hour too. So were Adam and Eve. Time, from beginning to end, is a blip on God’s radar screen. A thousand years are like a day to God, the Psalmist says (Psalm 90:4).

God is grace. God is mercy. God is justice. All the time. God has never been more full of grace than He is now, and He will never have more grace in the future than He does now. He does not have more grace now than he did when He created Adam and Eve.

book A

To say God is full of grace is to miss the point. “Full” is a measurement; it assumes that at one point, God was not full. Which isn’t true. That’s why God is grace. He’s never not been full of grace.

Or mercy. Or justice. Or holiness. Or perfection.

We are sinners, which is why grace, mercy and justice are needed. God has done the work to provide them to us. If we accept His gift (Jesus’ death and resurrection), we are forgiven and can look forward to an eternal home in heaven. If we reject His gift, God honors that too. With a home in hell.

If you reject God, you wouldn’t be happy in heaven living in God’s presence all the time, would you? So you won’t be.

Unless you change your mind.

We cannot attain the attributes of God on our own. Not the way God has them, or is them.

We are …

In contrast, God gives us Solomon as an example. We Americans could learn a lot from him, by reading the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon, considered by many to be the wisest man who ever lived, wrote this as his life’s goal: I said to myself: “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)

If Solomon had been satisfied with wisdom, he’d have been all right, I think, in his pursuit of God. But he also wanted to know madness and folly.

monopoly A

God granted him both wishes. He had great wealth, wives and slaves, great cities under his control, any pleasure he wanted … and none of it satisfied him.

 

Is this not what the United States is all about? Life, liberty and the pursuit of (my) happiness – exactly the things Solomon sought. Wisdom and madness.

We pursue a fast-food hamburger that leaves us hungry a short time later and miss the rainbow that reveals God’s timeless beauty and love.

At the end of his life, Solomon had a revelation: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

All his life, Solomon took his eyes off of the great, eternal God, and focused on cheap, imitation earthly things. That’s why he was never satisfied. He kept searching for what was with him all the time: God’s presence. And he missed it.

God does …

While God is outside of time and space, He also is intimately involved with us. He knows our every thought and deed, whether good or evil. He even knows how many hairs are on our heads (Luke 12:7).

God is not three parts. He is one, in different forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I can try to explain this, but I can’t do it. Neither could Tozer.

God knew before he created Adam and Eve that we all would need redemption. Jesus didn’t come to this earth kicking and screaming like an angry parent scolding a wayward child. He came because He wanted to redeem us, to draw us into fellowship with Him. He came because He loves us, with an unconditional love that we cannot understand.

Why does God love us like that? There’s no point even asking that question, Tozer writes. We cannot know. God’s love for us is beyond our comprehension. Why the God of the universe, who has always existed outside of time and who lives outside of space, wants to invite us into His realm is unfathomable.

But He does.

And God did the work to do that when He entered a woman’s body, then lived, died and was resurrected to pay the price for my sins, which otherwise would leave me guilty when God judges the world.

To what end?

Not just salvation. If salvation was the end goal, each redeemed sinner would immediately get transported to heaven.

We do …

No, we are to live redeemed lives, that others may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.

We are to pursue God. We are to become more like Him, take on His character traits – goodness, mercy, grace, justice.

Holiness and perfection we cannot ever attain.

We can, to a limited degree, understand goodness, mercy, grace and justice – not as God understands them, but in a now-we-see-in-a-mirror-dimly kind of way.

God holds many mysteries, traits we will never understand about Him. That’s a good thing. His justice, for example, is not clouded by our version of truth, but by the whole truth – which only He knows. As a human, I can hide my motives from you, prevent you from ever seeing my secret heart. But the living God sees it. And judges accordingly, rightly, as only He can.

Which is why grace is so powerful, and so beyond our ability to comprehend.

This is the character of God.

 

“Oh God, send us out not only to make converts, but to glorify the Father and to hold up the beauty of Jesus Christ to men.”

The Attributes of God, volume 1, by A.W. Tozer, p. 196