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?

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.

The messenger matters more than the message

“Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”

Faith takes time

I claim a strong Christian faith, but I’m not one to beat you over the head with it. I’ll probe here and there, make a comment, give you a look, write one or two sentences, engage in a respectful conversation if you’d like, and let it go at that.

My faith is a lifestyle, not just a list of rules and regulations to follow or not follow. So, it (hopefully) permeates most of what I write and how I talk and act, even if I’m not explicitly mentioning God by name.

Planting seeds, Christians like to say. Or, maybe watering seeds that someone else has planted.

God gives the growth. God changes hearts. I do not.

I will not change your mind about anything. I know this.

If I want to plant seeds of change, I must learn how to listen first. Because that’s all I can do: Plant seeds.

The fruit belongs to the living God.

The fruit of mentoring is …

When I connect with a young person through school or church, I’m giving my time, and not much more. In formal mentoring programs, I’ve eaten lunch with a youth for up to a year, perhaps played a game or two that he enjoys. We talk about his life.

I’m not allowed to discuss my faith, unless he brings it up first. That’s OK. I’ll listen to his story, because his story matters – whether I can relate to it or not.

Is that planting seeds of change? I’ll never know, actually. One year with the student, then he’s gone. Or, I’m gone. Or, the program is gone.

I’ve experienced all three scenarios.

One student moved to Arizona after the school year ended to be with his dad. Another time, I accepted a job out of state and had to leave a wonderful situation where I was reading one-on-one with students during class. Twice, the mentoring program itself ended – one with no notice at all, the other with a formal letter.

Did any of those young men gain anything through the time we spent together? Only God knows.

If no one else watered the seeds, or if I didn’t plant deep enough or water enough, perhaps not. But that is in the living God’s hands, not mine.

I donate blood regularly. I never learn who receives my blood; it’s done anonymously. They tell me the process saves lives; I take their word for it. That’s in God’s hands too.

That’s enough for me.

What seeds are you planting?

Societal change

During this time of COVID-19, we are seeing many changes. The virus is a silent killer, pervasive and unseen. It attacks certain people more readily than others, but not uniformly – so it’s impossible to predict who will get sick (and potentially die) and who will escape its effects.

Changes happened literally overnight because of the coronavirus. Schools closed. Businesses were shut down. Nursing homes became de-facto prisons – no one in, no one out. Social distancing became the norm. We wear masks and, in certain situations, gloves.

These changes did not happen slowly. Perhaps that’s why we’ve fought them so much.

Proportionally, the vast majority of us will not die from COVID-19. Or even get sick. But because it’s very contagious, we might be carriers without knowing it.

This is all old news.

We are gradually opening up our country again. It’s not fast enough for some, but we don’t want the virus to spike. Mass gatherings still won’t happen anytime soon.

The next town over just announced their very popular pool won’t open at all this summer. There’s no way to enforce social distancing and keep the pool and surrounding areas clean and sanitized, city leaders said.

The return to normal will take time. We must be patient. Americans have trouble with this. We are a fast-paced, immediate gratification society. We drive fast. We work long hours. We’re all about production and measurable results. We eat on the run, and pay for it with obesity and other health issues. We love our concerts and ballgames.

COVID-19 feeds on all of that.

We are forced to slow down. To be patient. To cook at home. To think of the health of others before ourselves.

I hope we don’t lose these lessons as we ramp up this summer and beyond.

We are seeing the best of our society during these days, and the worst of society too.

We deliver groceries for neighbors. Make and deliver masks. Call, text and/or Zoom with people we can’t visit right now, some of whom we haven’t contacted in quite awhile.

Since this also is a presidential election year, we’ve retreated to our social media platforms and dug in. I have friends on both sides of the political aisle, and I’ve had to un-follow several of them because of the vitriol they keep posting.

Political patience

Progress and change happen slowly. In the political arena, are they happening at all?

I think so, yes.

Extremists run both political parties now. But most Americans live somewhere in the middle. Most of us, I’d say, lean one way or the other, but we’re providing for our families, working and living life in our communities, not basing our day-to-day decisions on the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling or tweet from the President or bill passed by the state Legislature.

Our governments should serve the people, not the other way around. Government, especially at the federal level, these days seems to be about selectively restricting who it serves – keeping immigrants out and reducing welfare programs, while allowing abortion clinics and gun shops to remain open.

Are there seeds of change we can plant politically? Can we learn to get along with each other, despite our differences?

Well, let’s see. I haven’t told you yet who said the quote I began this blog with. Actually, I read it in a book. I didn’t want to tell you right away, because a certain segment of you would dismiss it and not read this blog just because of who wrote it.

The messenger matters more than the message.

That’s how judgmental we’ve become.

Planting seeds of change means listening even to people we think we don’t like. No one on earth is the Devil personified. Truly. There’s good (and evil) in each one of us. You and I included.

I wish we not only understood this, but lived like we understood it.

That quote about progress, change and patience was written by Michelle Obama in her book, “Becoming.” Page 370. If anyone understands those concepts, it’s the former First Lady. She’s lived them, and continues to live them.

Are we listening?

 

Photo: Max Wolf spikes plants in a greenhouse of the August-Heyn gardening school on March 17. Berlin’s oldest gardening school has existed for 100 years. Every year it brings nature closer to about 30,000 children. (The Associated Press)

We often break the wrong rules

As a driver, I roll through stops signs all the time.

I look both ways of course, and if there’s no traffic, why stop? It wastes the brakes and gasoline. I slow down; I don’t speed through stop signs. With no traffic, I roll.

But I won’t speed through a neighborhood, ever. Other drivers frequently come up to my bumper when I’m going 20-25 mph. I raised three sons in a neighborhood. I’ve seen young children cross the street. I’ve seen basketballs and Frisbees sail past driveway boundaries. I’ve caused that myself. I see kids riding bicycles in the street. I see dog-walkers all the time. I occasionally see kids playing hockey in the street.

I will not speed through a neighborhood, mine or any other. Period.

I’ve been called out for rolling through stop signs. And impatient drivers wish I would kick it into gear when I’m driving past your house.

In this country, we frequently break the wrong rules.

“Must” and “should”

Last weekend I was challenge master for Region 16 (northeast Ohio) of the Fine Arts challenge of Destination Imagination, an international after-school creative problem-solving program I’ve been involved with for many years. I love “DI,” as it’s called.

DI

One thing I appreciate about DI is its willingness to stretch boundaries. The Fine Arts challenge this year centers around an “existing, publicly available photograph.” In the explanation of what that could be, the writers of the challenge sometimes used “must” and other times used the word “should.”

“Must” and “should” are not synonyms.

If the bullet point says “must,” that’s non-negotiable. Each team (of two to seven young people) must do that particular requirement as it’s written.

If the bullet point says “should,” then the team members can think outside the box. They don’t have to follow that rule exactly. There are limits, but the rule is not hard and fast.

How far can the team go? How creative can they get? That’s the fun part of the challenge.

We’re teaching our young people that some rules cannot be broken, and others are open to interpretation. In the written challenge, we tell them which is which.

If only life was that way.

Non-negotiable vs. interpretation

I claim a deep faith in God, in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I’ve written or alluded to my faith in this blog many times. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. The living God wants the best for us, and He describes for us, in detail, the best way to live. He created us, so He gets to do that, right?

When a contractor builds a house, he knows the purpose of each room, so he builds it for that purpose. God does the same with us.

We like to stretch or break God’s rules, don’t we? (Good thing contractors don’t do that.)

As a journalist by trade, I’m an out-of-the-box thinker. I’m not going to do what you say just because you say so. Show me why. I might know a better way.

God understands me.

The Bible actually has very few hard-and-fast rules. Our pastor this week told us that Jesus gave his disciples about 60 commands in the three years He spent with them. That’s a lot, actually. He’s going to preach on them for the next couple of weeks, so this will be interesting.

How many of those commands are open to interpretation? When Jesus commanded us to “love one another,” for example, what exactly does that mean? We have to read and understand all of who Jesus is and what He did to answer that question. The interpretation isn’t as wide-open as we often think it should be.

Let’s pick one example that’s relevant to today’s America: homosexuality.

The Bible calls it sin (a crime against God, basically) in multiple places. For example:

 

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1:26-27

 

But those are the apostle Paul’s words, you say. Jesus Himself never talked about homosexuality, so it must be acceptable, right? I’ve heard some of you make that argument.

Bible

Jesus did talk about marriage and divorce, however – and raised the bar for both. In response to a question from the Pharisees (religious leaders who tried to justify themselves), Jesus quoted the book of Genesis, where God said that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

 

Jesus took that to another level. He added:

 

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19:6

 

Jesus assumes marriage is between a man and a woman, because that’s the way God designed it from the beginning.

Marriage was a big deal in Jesus’ day, and followed a lengthy process. Joseph and Mary were “betrothed” during Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. For all intents and purposes, they were already married, even though they didn’t live together yet and hadn’t had the ceremony. That’s why Joseph planned to quietly “divorce” her even though they weren’t officially married yet.

A homosexual relationship is one of those rules that is not meant to be broken.

But, as with many of His commands, Jesus takes sexual sin to another level. All sex outside of marriage, including heterosexual sex (the Bible calls that fornication), is forbidden. We tend to focus on homosexuality because that takes the focus off most of the rest of us, who are just as sinful in our sex lives. Jesus called lust adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).

Gulp.

Worship styles? There’s plenty of leeway for that. Serving the poor and needy? That’s a command, but there’s many ways to do it.

Churches and denominations have split over worship styles and other non-essential issues. White American worship is not, by any stretch, the “right” way to do church. Despite what some would have you believe.

“Discernment”

stop 2

We hold fast the wrong rules.

And we break the wrong rules.

So, which rules are the non-negotiables, and which ones are open to interpretation? The Bible has a word to help us with that: “discernment.” It’s a fancy word that means understanding what truth really is, what right and wrong truly are, and which issues are mere shades of gray. It’s something God gives to people who try to understand Him.

Discernment is not a bad trait to have in secular society, either. Is rolling through a stop sign at a deserted intersection the same as speeding through a neighborhood where children might be playing?

I’ll let you answer that one.

Mixed signals

Weeds can ruin a beautiful garden or farm field.

A tiny mustard seed can grow into a big tree.

A little yeast can make bread rise – or can contaminate it, if it’s bad.

Hidden treasure is a good thing, if it’s discovered.

A fishing net nabs good fish and rotten ones at the same time. They must be sorted.

Got it?

In Matthew 13, Jesus runs through a bunch of parables, includes most of these, with his disciples.

“Have you understood all this?” he asked them in verse 51.

They answered, “Yes.”

I wonder if they really did.

Parables

At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus told them the parable of the four soils, which the disciples then asked him to explain. Jesus did that, in detail.

The four soils describe people who aren’t listening to God, those who turn away from God when bad things happen, those who get distracted by the things of this world, and those who follow God completely.

Jesus also explained the parable of the weeds, pointing to the coming Judgment Day when God will send angels to “collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire …” (verse 41).

Jesus didn’t explain the other parables.

Contrasts

In Matthew 13:33, Jesus told his disciples that a little yeast leavens an entire loaf of bread. Soon after, in Matthew 16:6, Jesus said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In other words, a little false or deceptive teaching can ruin good theology.

We shouldn’t mix good and evil. Nowhere in the Bible does God allow a middle path. Follow the narrow path of salvation, or we’re on the wide path of destruction. There’s no third path (Matthew 7:13-14).

Good and evil. Heaven and hell. Male and female. Obey God or disobey God. Grain or weeds. Life and death. Light and darkness.

Whenever I read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), I see that every person Jesus encountered was forced to make a choice about him. Follow, or walk away. You’re with me, or you’re against me (Matthew 12:30).

Many walked away.

Jesus did not pursue those who rejected him. Do you notice that? He let them go.

Mixed signals

But everyone who met Jesus changed, and that still happens today. There are ramifications either way. We reap what we sew (Galatians 6:7-9).

If we don’t want God in our lives, God will honor that. He’s not an arm-twister. But as with every decision we make, there are consequences, good or bad.

This life often sends us mixed signals. Go or stop? Depends which way we are going.

lights 1

Soon after moving to Elyria six years ago, a policeman stopped me at this traffic light at 1:15 in the morning. I was weaving between lanes in my big white Grand Marquis. New to town, I didn’t know immediately which lane I wanted to be in.

The officer thought I was drunk. He engaged me in conversation and quickly discovered that I wasn’t under the influence of anything; I was just confused. After giving me a warning, he sent me on my way. (I turned left at this intersection, by the way.)

Life shouldn’t be this difficult to navigate, but often it is, isn’t it?

Almost 11 years ago, I got downsized from a job I enjoyed for more than two decades. What was my next step? It wasn’t clear. Indeed, I didn’t do much of anything for a long time after that. Lesson learned: Doing nothing is not a good next step.

Eventually, I took a job out-of-state. Many changes and consequences followed. Unexpectedly, the job didn’t last. Another out-of-state job relocation took place. That job didn’t last either.

If only every signal was either a red light or a green arrow.

I thought I saw green arrows, but the light changed. Frequently.

Everything changes on this earth. We all know this. We graduate, then have to do something with our lives. We get sick. We grow old. Many of us marry, and have children. They grow up. Spring follows winter. (Not all change is bad, right?)

Green light go

With that backdrop, I read this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

There are days I literally have nothing else to hold on to. Change is the one constant. I’ve seen plenty of it, especially in the past decade: New jobs. Getting fired. New friends. New volunteer opportunities; some of those don’t last either. Our church opened a satellite campus last week, so I’m worshipping in an entirely new place now, leaving behind (but not forever) some very good friends.

When we moved to Rockford, Illinois, we did not know a soul. When we moved to Elyria, Ohio, less than a year and a half later, we did not know hardly a soul here, either (my aunt lives 20 minutes away, so that was cool).

But because Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever, once we found Bible-believing churches in both locations, we had instant friends. The path might be narrow, but there are quite a few people on it. Really.

Anyone is welcome to travel the narrow path, but only a few find it. That’s what Jesus said.

That narrow path extends to just about every place where people live. I find great comfort in that. While life changes all around me, there’s one constant: Jesus Christ. He is the solid foundation, which remains in place even as the storms of life rock it (Matthew 7:24-27).

That’s why I’m a Christian.

Choices

The Bible makes sense. It fits together. Its signals are not mixed.

That’s why so many of you have trouble with Jesus. He forces a decision on you. Yea or nay. No third option, much as we try.

For those of us who follow Jesus every day, his singular love for us helps us keep on track, and he brings us back when we fall off track – which happens often. We shouldn’t, but we do.

Yeast works both ways. Ugh.

I want the good yeast in my life, not the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

If only I could keep my eyes on the green light all the time.

How (and why) God works

With Christmas activities taking place every day, it’s easy to forget “the reason for the season.”

I find three ways to connect, learn and grow closer to Jesus, for whom the holiday was named.

All three are crucial.

Year round. Including in December.

Personal quiet time

I’m a morning person, the first one up in my household. Always have been. When our kids were young, my job started before they got up for school. Even today, I’m up before 6:30 a.m. – without an alarm.

I start the coffee. I feed the cats. I pour a cup of the morning brew. I sit down in my living room chair, the cup in one hand, the Bible in the other, and often a cat on my lap.

That’s the best part of my entire day. It’s dark. It’s quiet. It’s warm (thanks to the cat).

God often speaks to me there.

Today I read the first three chapters of 1 Peter. “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit …” (1 Peter 3:8) In church yesterday our pastor talked about the deepest longings of our hearts. A magazine did a survey on that recently, he said, and the most common longings were happiness, money, a relationship, peace and joy.

My deepest longing, however, didn’t appear on the magazine’s list: unity. I wish with all my heart that we as Americans and as citizens of the world would learn to get along with each other. I’ve written about this many times.

Most of our deepest longings are selfish. Mine is for unity among all people. That’s selfish too, I suppose; I wish to be understood as well as I wish to understand you.

These thoughts ran through my mind in my quiet time this morning.

This happens frequently. A verse I read resonates, and my mind probes into it. What does it mean? What would it look like if we (I) truly lived this out?

Unity among believers is the last thing Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified (John 17:20-24). Unity mattered to Jesus, too.

Many of you discredit the Christian faith because we Christians can’t get along with each other, much less with you. Our message to you is fragmented. Some so-called Christians mis-lead you.

This is why we must read the Bible for ourselves. What’s in there? I’m a journalist; I’m a cynic by nature. I’m not going to take your word for it. I will double-check you.

I will read it for myself.

Small group

Having said that, I can learn from you, and you from me. The best churches are organized with small groups of a dozen or so people who get together on a regular basis. My wife and I also attended Sunday School classes for many years. And we participate in Wednesday night men’s and women’s groups to study the Bible and issues of the day, with a Biblical perspective.

I have plenty to learn from you. You have insights into life that I don’t have. I’ve experienced things that I can share with you as well. As we get to know each other better, we discover that we aren’t as different as we thought we were.

We also can support each other through our struggles and trials of life. When someone in our group has a dying relative, others understand because they’ve been there. When someone new joins the group because he and his family just moved here, I can relate right away, because that’s my experience too. When someone talks Browns-Steelers … well, I have ties to both cities, actually.

All these issues can unify us. We connect at this level in a group setting.

The best groups challenge me to learn something new about myself, to step out in faith and do something, to help me understand a truth about God in a different or deeper way. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable. For guys, that’s not normal. And even in a couple of men’s groups I’m in, that doesn’t come easy.

But it’s necessary. I can learn things from you that I cannot learn on my own.

Preaching

Uh oh, here it comes. Yes, there’s a reason to attend a Sunday morning service every week.

The pastor, if he (or she) is inspired by the living God, has done his homework on his message for the day. As a general rule, the pastor dives deep into a verse or small section of the Bible. He offers insights and background that his training and study have taught him. And then he gives practical applications on how we can live out the truths that he is teaching us.

If this is the only Bible learning we do each week, we miss so much. Even if you hear one sermon a week for your entire life, you’ll miss reading most of the Bible. That’s why we must read the Bible on our own, and study it in small groups. We learn truths in different ways, and at different levels.

Real-world application

Does God speak to you when you are alone? Does He speak in your small groups? Is He speaking through your pastor?

I daresay that most of you who are critical of God or the church aren’t participating in it at all, but are criticizing as outsiders. We in America are good at that. We Christians are good at criticizing you too.

All of us would do so much better if we got to know each other better. Find out what makes each of us tick. How each of us thinks.

On Facebook I follow a prominent expert on poverty, who travels the country seeking to alleviate or even end poverty. She commented recently about a library forgiving fines.

Are library fines a poverty issue? Yes. She explained how she grew up in a home with more than 20 relatives. She avoided libraries because if she took a book home, it would get lost in such a crowded place. She missed out on all a library offers – chances to discover new ideas, improve reading skills, learn history and other subjects from those who have lived it – because she was afraid of getting punished for using a library.

I had no idea.

The point of a personal quiet time, small groups and weekly preaching is to learn and grow closer to God and to each other. Is poverty a God issue? Absolutely, yes. It’s easy to judge people who don’t pay their library fines as lazy or thieves – until we understand why.

Unity. My deepest longing. Which I realized in a sermon. Then meditated on in a personal quiet time. And read about online.

I’m trying to live it out. It’s a worthy goal.

This is how God works. Alone, in groups and in church. With real-world applications. It’s all good.

And it’s all necessary.

Thankful for the big picture

Public praise, private critique.

Perhaps that’s a New Year’s resolution. Oops, wrong holiday.

But maybe not. Thanksgiving is a good time for public praise.

(Private critique will remain that. Social media aficionados, take note. Chill out and be more positive. End of rant.)

In my first full year of retirement from paid work, I jumped into three significant volunteer projects. All three are worth a little public praise.

After-school basketball

First – and no doubt, the toughest – is an after-school basketball ministry organized by the youth director at our church’s new Lorain, Ohio, campus (which hasn’t even opened yet).

boys pray

In the spring, Joe sought volunteers to help him reach neighborhood youth through basketball. I’ve played pickup ball – never in a league – and our three sons all played recreation basketball as children, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. I try to keep myself in somewhat decent shape, so I decided to give it a shot.

The church building is an old YMCA that is still being transformed into a church, but we’ve been using the big gym all along. We enter through a side door now while the rest of the building is under renovation.

Sometimes, I wonder why I’m there. How does a retired white guy from the suburbs connect with inner-city kids of multiple races and ethnicities?

The answer: Slowly.

As the weather turns cold, I’ve been taking one or several of them home after the hoops is done. That might be where “ministry” is beginning to form. I’m seeing a window into their lives outside of the formal basketball program.

Some of them are hungry. Some of them have broken families. Some have values that I’m not comfortable with.

I don’t judge. I’m just listening at this point. Not probing too much – I’m not aggressive that way.

But I’m thankful to connect with these young men (and the occasional woman who comes with them).

This is a long-term ministry. Hearts don’t change overnight. First, we have to connect. That’s not in my comfort zone. But this is the kind of thing that the living God is doing.

I don’t have to do this. Yet here I am. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to serve You.

Food pantry

wcws 2

Also this spring, I began volunteering at a food pantry in South Lorain. I’ve always had a soft heart for hunger issues – I’ve never been hungry in my life, literally. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Many people can’t say that.

crop walk logo

In Saginaw, Mich., I was treasurer and off-and-on coordinator for the Saginaw CROP Hunger Walk, an annual walk that raises funds and awareness of hunger issues, for more than 20 years. We lived in Rockford, Ill., for a little over a year and I connected with the CROP Walk folks there too. Here in Elyria, the CROP Walk leaders have no passion for the ministry and I wasn’t up to the effort of trying to fire them up, so I looked for other opportunities.

Enter We Care We Share, a 12-year-old food pantry on a shoestring budget that serves thousands of needy residents every year.

The pantry’s volunteer coordinator attends the same church I do. He invited me (and others) to participate, since more volunteers were (and still are) needed.

He didn’t tell me he was going on vacation, so one Tuesday I just showed up. Didn’t know anyone there. Told them who I was and why I was there. They invited me to stay, so I did – for four hours that afternoon. Then, they invited me back.

So I came back. And I’ve been coming back, two afternoons a week, ever since.

We’re family. We laugh, pray together, rib each other, volunteer together, serve together, pitch in wherever needed. We’re on the front lines of fighting hunger. We hand out dozens of food boxes each day – non-perishable goods, meat, bread, fruits and vegetables – whatever Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio delivers to us on Monday afternoons.

Young families just getting started. Senior citizens in poor health who can’t even carry their food box to their vehicle. Many adults with kids and grandkids in their household. Some say, “I wish they’d leave” – not to be mean, but to get out on their own and learn to support themselves, and to give the older adult a little peace. We are there during the transition.

Residents get evicted, and frequently change addresses. A few are homeless.

We serve them all, face to face.

As with the basketball kids, I can’t relate. I don’t have to do this.

I never want to take the material things of life for granted. God has given me a heart to serve folks down on life, struggling to make it.

There’s no quick fixes here, either.

All we can do is serve. And pray.

So that’s what we do.

I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Bible study group leader

Third, I was asked to be a group leader this fall for Bible Study Fellowship, an international in-depth Bible study that this year is studying Acts in the New Testament. I attended the 30-week class for the previous two years, and the leadership there thought enough of me to invite me to step up my involvement.

bsf photo

As with basketball and We Care We Share, BSF is a major time commitment. There is “homework” for each class member to do before we meet on Tuesday evenings.

I’m at a satellite class in Avon, Ohio – one of three satellites around the main program in Parma Heights, just past Cleveland International Airport from where I live.

The leaders of all four areas – about 40 of us total – gather at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays to go over the upcoming week’s lesson, and to receive leadership training. I set my alarm at 5 a.m. to ensure I get there on time.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We begin our time literally on our knees in prayer.

I’m shepherding a dozen guys in my class every week. I keep in touch when they miss. Some have health issues of their own or of family members, and some travel for work. We pray for each other.

This week, three guys attended who had missed two to four weeks each for various reasons, and all three said they missed our discussions. They want to come every week. Circumstances sometimes prevent that. Life happens.

Again, relationships take time. As a leader, I have to be pro-active. I’m learning as I go.

The big picture

2019 has been a year of beginnings for me, changes and challenges. The honeymoon periods soon will be over, if they aren’t already.

That’s when ministry will begin.

Time to take the next step. Next steps, actually.

Hope you’re as thankful for the big picture of your life as I am of mine.

All mind, no heart

If you don’t oppose abortion, you can’t join the Republican Party.

If you don’t support the LGBTQ community, you can’t join the Democratic Party.

That, right there, is why this nation is so divided these days.

Both political parties have become one-issue parties. They may say otherwise (or they may not), but that’s the bottom line.

No one asks about the root causes of either issue, because no one wants to dig deep for truth in our shallow, social media-centered society.

Root causes

Why do women want an abortion in the first place? All we hear about is rape victims, but I’m guessing the issue is far more widespread – and complicated – than that.

Why are LGBTQ people not attracted to people of the opposite gender? They’ll say, publicly anyway, they were born that way. I’m not buying that. What, gay or lesbian, in your past caused you to reject intimacy from a person of the opposite sex?

In my unprofessional opinion, both issues have the same root cause: the breakdown of the nuclear family.

We are looking for love and acceptance in places that don’t give us, deep down, what we truly need.

We live life through our minds, and not through our hearts. Or vice versa.

We either bury our hearts deep inside our psyche (this is what I do), or we expose our hearts in unhealthy ways on social media.

Some issues are not meant for public consumption. We need to deal with them at home or in a counselor’s office.

Democrats and Republicans have seized on different parts of our sex-saturated society and turned abortion and same-sex relationships into political issues. Where can we compromise on either issue, that is, find common ground?

By pursuing the root causes.

By digging deeper than our culture permits these days.

Meaningless, but pretty

So far, this is a shallow post, and that’s my point. It’s easy to sit in my La-Z-Boy and point fingers at people who hold different views than I do.

Before we bought our house two years ago, I noticed there’s a star prominently placed on the front. I did a little research on that to make sure it wasn’t making a statement on an issue I couldn’t support. It’s not. It’s harmless.

barnstar4

According to Wikipedia, a barnstar (or barn star, primitive star, or Pennsylvania star) is a painted object or image, often in the shape of a five-pointed star … used to decorate a barn in some parts of the United States, and many rural homes in Canada. … They are especially common in Pennsylvania and frequently seen in German-American farming communities. … Barnstars remain a popular form of decoration, and modern houses are sometimes decorated with simple, metal, five-pointed stars which the makers describe as “barn-star.”

I’m glad the star didn’t have a subliminal meaning. It’s just pretty.

We are pressed to construct our lives that way, too. Meaningless, but pretty.

Don’t offend anyone. Don’t get involved.

If you want to show your courage, join a political party. Just not a church. That’s off-limits, because churches are narrow-minded and judgmental. Except the ones that aren’t.

Actually, both political parties are more narrow-minded than any church is. Did you know that? No, because your mind is already made up.

Exactly.

Both parties want one-issue voters. That’s as narrow as you can get.

News flash: There’s more to life than sex.

But maybe not. As a friend is describing in short social media posts, pornography is pervasive, especially in the United States. It’s also a silent sin. We can, and do, hide it very well.

Sex and intimacy should go together. But often they don’t. That, in my opinion, is why pornography is so prevalent. We’re looking for intimacy in the wrong places.

And we aren’t finding it.

In response, we hurt ourselves and others. In many ways. Deeply.

We retreat or lash out

To protect ourselves, we stay shallow. We bury our hearts. We don’t risk emotional pain.

Either that, or we go too far the other way – put our emotional pain out there for all to see.

It’s numbing.

I’d rather hide. The #metoo movement just confirms for me that women are unapproachable, that they don’t want a deep relationship with a man. Women have been burned too many times, so they push us away.

As men, we either retreat or lash out. Neither response is healthy, but those are our options.

I’m oversimplifying, of course, but maybe not by much.

How do we reconcile? How do we overcome our differences, as men and women, introverts and extroverts, Democrats, Republicans and independents?

I listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music, and while the tunes are catchy, most of it is pop psychology and not true faith. It’s shallow.

Dear Abby and Ask Amy are shallow.

Social media is shallow. Does our president even know this? Why does he get so bent out of shape by what he sees there?

Where do we find true meaning in life? Is there a way to pursue root causes, to seek our purpose, without consequences that hurt other people?

I know the answer to that question, but that doesn’t mean I’ve found it yet.

The answer is the living God. Not your God or my God, or what passes for God in our culture (or any other culture). Truth is truth, whether anyone believes it or not.

The living God has our best interests in mind. And in heart.

God sees the big picture, which we do not. Many of us refuse to accept this. We want the big picture too. But we can’t have it. If we could, then we would be gods controlling the universe. But we aren’t, and we can’t.

We don’t want to admit this, so we stay shallow. We won’t seek truth because we don’t think we’ll like what we’ll find there.

Truth hurts. My heart has been bleeding for a long time now. I keep my deep thoughts private, so I won’t give you details. God promises healing, but am I willing to open myself up to that?

It’s not a simple question. It’s a very deep question, actually.

Maybe someday, I’ll have an answer.

Some of you have found the answer, and are living it. Most of us have not.

This is the struggle our world gives us.

One day …

The solution for a bleak world

Why me?

I ask this question every so often, in a positive tone.

We like to portray God as a cosmic king who sits on his throne and judges the world. Actually, he’s just the opposite.

Why me?

It’s easy to find fault with anyone and everyone, including me. We’re all guilty of something, actually lots of things. God doesn’t need to judge us. We’re very good at doing that ourselves.

No, God’s specialty is not judgment, but mercy. Despite the fact that we’re all guilty of lots of things, God chooses to save some of us, even though not one of us deserves it.

Why me? That’s why I ask this question.

Real life encouragement

Mercy is receiving something we don’t deserve.

It’s a Bible word, but it works in “real life,” too.

One of the youth directors at our church offers a three-times-a-week after-school basketball program for inner-city high school students. Sometimes, two dozen of them show up.

Joe doesn’t have to do that. But he does, because he wants to give these young men something they don’t have.

Hope. Encouragement. A safe place to play ball (this is not as easy as it sounds). A father figure. An introduction to the living God.

Most of these young men have no church background. They might be experiencing this side of “real life” for the first time.

Mercy lets us look up, and look beyond ourselves.

The apostle Paul wishes mercy for Timothy, a young pastor he mentored. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy that are included in the New Testament, one detailing the qualifications of church leaders, the other a personal letter of encouragement.

The best gifts

Paul wished two other things for Timothy as well: grace and peace (1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2).

Indeed, Paul wrote more than a dozen letters to New Testament audiences (and to us), and in all of them he wished his readers grace and peace (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Titus and Philemon).

Some of these letters were written to churches, others to specific individuals. He prayed for grace and peace for all of them. Those themes are repeated throughout his letters.

Grace, mercy and peace are gifts to us from God. We cannot give any of them back to God. If we give grace, mercy or peace to each other, we learn how to do that from God.

‘We cannot remain insensitive’

We need those desperately in our world today.  We don’t have to attend church to see that.

In today’s local newspaper, there are several articles – just today – that bear this out.

In one article, Associated Press writer Ted Anthony summed up the world scene this way:

 

There are those mornings when you come into work and everyone seems cranky. That’s how it felt at the United Nations this past week during the annual gathering of world leaders. Speech after gloomy speech by leaders from all corners of the planet pointed toward one bleaker-than-thou condition: Humanity clearly needs a spa day.

 

A spa day. Actually, the world needs more than that. It needs a new direction. Grace, mercy and peace would go a long way toward the world’s people – ie, you and I – learning how to get along with each other. Just saying.

In another article, Pope Francis offered this take on the world:

Vatican Pope Migrants

“We cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our group.’ We cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond.”

 

Is the Pope correct? Why do we reject the Scriptures, when they have the answers to what the world is longing for? We learn to not be indifferent to poverty and other struggles of fellow human beings because God placed a caring heart inside each of us. Are we listening?

The issues of life on Earth are that basic and universal.

A third article offers this assessment:

Afghanistan Elections

The latest election seems unlikely to bring the peace sought by Afghans tired of an increasingly brutal war, or an easy exit for the United States, seeking to end its longest military engagement.

 

Many of these issues don’t have easy solutions. Fighting in Afghanistan has gone on for what seems like forever.

The only game plan that works

Where is peace? When will we understand that the benefits of peace far outweigh the disadvantages?

When we submit to God, that’s when. No human being or government can bring lasting peace.

We’ve tried in our own country, and done pretty well at it over the past two centuries, actually.

But look at us now. Even the U.S. Constitution can’t guarantee peace.

If we can’t get along with our neighbors, how can we possibly get along with the rest of the world? If our own families are in disarray, how can we promote peace elsewhere?

By returning to God, that’s how. The God of the Old and New Testaments has the game plan for grace and peace, not just in the next life, but right here, right now.

The key is not judgment, but mercy. Every one of us is guilty. We need to look beyond ourselves and seek a higher truth, since none of us – no, not one – has the ultimate truth in and of ourselves.

Your truth may not work for me. My truth likely won’t work for you. We argue on this level all the time.

We’re missing the point. Neither of us has a truth worth defending.

God does.

Men and women struggle to implement God’s truths. We screw it up. That doesn’t mean God, or His truths, are wrong. It means we humans are messed up. That’s all.

News flash: We’re all messed up. We’re all messed up.

Grace, mercy and peace are possible. They are available to us, today.

We have to ask the God of the Bible for them, because none of us is capable of offering grace, mercy and peace to anyone.

It’s not about us. We can’t earn grace, mercy and peace. The other world religions – all of them – do not understand this. That’s why Jesus said, in no uncertain terms, that His way is the only way to meet God.

One person at a time.

 

Speech after gloomy speech … We cannot be indifferent … seems unlikely to bring the peace …

 

The need is obvious, is it not?

So is the solution.

The futility of trying to explain the unexplainable

A woman comforts a man who cries after discovering his shattered house and not knowing anything about his 8 relatives who lived in the house, missing in the aftermath of hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

 

Why would an all-powerful God allow hurricane Dorian to decimate the Bahamas?

An excellent question.

A friend posted that question, and got various responses. Here’s my comment:

 

Would you rather God be a robot? The fact that we don’t understand why things happen proves that God is God. He is much bigger than the human mind. Perhaps that is the point.

 

That didn’t change my friend’s viewpoint, or anyone else’s, for that matter.

But sometimes, as Christians, we try to explain the unexplainable.

It confuses people – including ourselves – when we do that.

Why does a hurricane act the way it does? Even more to the point, why did Dorian destroy the Bahamas and then bypass Florida?

Did our prayers to protect Florida get answered? If so, does that mean no one prayed for the Bahamas, or that God didn’t hear anyone who did?

No one can answer these questions. So, why do we even try?

Let’s acknowledge that God is God. We don’t understand everything He does. We don’t see the big picture of life the way the living God sees it.

We just don’t.

A family’s tragedies

A guy in his 50s at the church I attend died about a month ago. He was a strong Christian. He left a wife and four children, none of whom have a strong faith. He was their witness, their example, their leader in so many ways.

Why would God take him?

Then, I found out this week that one of his children, who had medical issues, also died.

What must the wife/mother be going through at this moment?

Where is God in this family’s situation?

Perhaps here is an opportunity for our church to be the church for this family. But is that really an adequate answer?

Perhaps we truly do not know why two family members died suddenly within a month of each other. But we try to explain the unexplainable.

This hurts our faith, and our witness.

Lifting up our hands

We think there’s an explanation for everything, don’t we? We can’t admit that we don’t know. That we can’t know. That God might allow something to happen for reasons we can’t fathom.

If there is an explanation for everything, then why believe in God?

We are our own gods, if we can wrap our minds around everything that happens in the world.

Yes, God gave us curious minds to learn new things. We discover new ideas and ways to live all the time.

By studying hurricanes, perhaps one day we will understand how and why they move, and be better prepared to survive them.

But will we ever have the capability to actually guide a 185-mph hurricane away from land and into the ocean, preventing severe flooding and loss of life and property?

Why do some parts of the world see more hurricanes, while others face tornadoes and still others severe earthquakes? And while we know where these weather catastrophes often hit, we still choose to live in those places. Is that God’s fault?

We love our tropical islands and beaches, sure. Nothing wrong with that. We live in New Orleans, even though it’s below sea level on a coastline. We live in Houston even though it’s solid concrete, and then wonder why it floods so badly during severe storms.

Our fault

Were severe storms part of God’s original plan for Earth? I don’t think so, actually. The Garden of Eden was a perfect place in every sense of the word. Adam and Eve didn’t even need to wear clothes to live there. Temperatures and the climate were that comfortable.

Except for that wily serpent, who spoiled the party.

The serpent forced Adam and Eve to make a choice.

The choice they made got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden. There were consequences. Man was forced to work hard. Woman was given pain in childbirth. The serpent was forced to the ground, and to be trod underfoot. Many other bad things followed.

Why did God allow so many bad things to happen? Because that is what we – Adam, in particular – wanted. God said, Fine. Have it your way.

Seriously.

All the bad stuff in the world is our fault, not God’s.

That’s a simplistic explanation, I know. There are spiritual forces at work that we cannot see. Very strong spiritual forces. For good and for evil.

And we can’t fix it. As humans, we don’t have the power to get rid of all the bad stuff that happens in the world, much less the spiritual world.

We try. We legislate morality, whatever that is.

We have no answers

We can’t even agree on what good and evil are, so there’s no way we can do anything about them.

That’s why some of us believe in Jesus Christ.

Not only did He tell us what good and evil are – I came not to abolish the law (the Old Testament), but to fulfill it, He said – He showed us what good and evil are by the life He lived.

And died.

However, even Jesus Himself, while He could explain the unexplainable, couldn’t bring it about in His own life. He died a horrible, painful death on a cross, and that would have been it.

Except that the living God, His Father, kept the story going. He resurrected Jesus, not only with a physical resurrection, but with a spiritual one. That allows Jesus to forgive our sins and mistakes.

If only we will accept that gift of forgiveness from Him.

This just might be the best explanation we get about how God works in this world.

But even that is above our comprehension. How do we explain death and resurrection? How is forgiveness of sins rational? Why can none of us find meaning in life unless we understand the reasons Jesus lived, died and lives again?

Even my friend who questions why an all-powerful God would allow a hurricane to devastate a country doesn’t have an answer for how the world works. He can’t explain it any more than I can.

Perhaps it’s time for us to acknowledge what’s real. How does the world work? That question doesn’t have a complete answer that we can know.

Our Florida friends are grateful, certainly. And they should be. Our friends in the Bahamas need help starting over.

Life happens. We can find God everywhere. Our responses to God, and to each other, are different in Florida and the Bahamas this week.

Because we worship a God who is bigger than we are. Much bigger. Sometimes we have to trust Him, because there’s no other way to understand Him.