When real life gets tough …

Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.

Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.

A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people/?gclid=CPPh5OWPz9MCFQMcaQodpsAP4g#gsc.tab=0

I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.

Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”

It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.

But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.

So, we set up alternative worlds:

  • Pokémon.
  • Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
  • The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
  • Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.

Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.

But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.

I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.

My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?

Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.

That’s real life.

Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.

In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.

Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.

I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.

They don’t need me.

I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.

I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.

Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.

Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.

I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.

What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.

Time to get real.

Saturday

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

  • Habakkuk 1:2-4

 

I ask this question of God all the time. Maybe not in those exact words, but the question remains.

When will good prevail?

I know it will eventually, but what about today?

We just celebrated the holiest week on the Christian calendar. Such wide-ranging events, such wild swings of emotion:

  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in a surprising act of servanthood. (Have you ever washed someone’s feet, or let someone wash your feet? It’s humbling, almost degrading.)
  • Jesus crying out in anguish to his father, asking for the unfolding scenario not to happen. “… yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
  • An unfair – and illegal – trial in the middle of the night. Jesus remained silent through most of it.
  • The horrible crucifixion on Friday.
  • Jesus’ life-altering resurrection on Sunday.

Wait a minute. There’s one day in that week where nothing seemingly happens. Only silence.

Saturday.

The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Habakkuk wrote his essay about 600 years before Jesus lived, but he easily could have written it on that Saturday. Jesus promised that he would rise on the third day, but it hadn’t happened yet. There’s only the sorrow of death. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. What about today? What do we do now?

In a very real sense, the year 2017 is taking place on Saturday. Yes, the resurrection has occurred, but the final victory hasn’t come yet. The Bible promises that it will. Eventually.

What do we do in the meantime?

In my personal journal, I concluded a Good Friday entry with this paragraph:

 

“It’s a nice day today, Father. I don’t feel it. Birds singing, flowers growing, window open, sun shining. A beautiful spring day. Where You die, and I sin. Sunday is coming. Eventually.”

 

When will good prevail? It already has, and still is. I often have a hard time seeing it, though.

It’s easy to focus on the negative, personally and globally, and live my life there. Sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, perhaps. Knowing that Sunday is coming, but not seeing it.

Our church gave us a Holy Week devotional that I found helpful. The Saturday entry includes this thought:

 

“The promise is clear: Jesus will rise. But the grief and pain are so overwhelming, nobody can hear the promise now. Nobody can remember the promise. Saturday is the day of such emotional pain, that it seems impossible to remember the promises of God. Isn’t it true that much of life is lived on “Saturday?” We’re so beleaguered by our circumstances that we forget what God has said … We doubt in the dark what God has said in the light … We cry out for help, but God does not listen.”

 

I get that. I put my head down when I’m jogging to watch for potholes and dog poop on the path, but I don’t see what’s ahead of me: a curve in the trail, deer in the woods, other walkers or joggers coming towards me. How far to the bridge over the river or to the overpass I’ll cross under? Am I paying attention?

My life expectancy and health give me another 30 or 40 years here on Earth. That’s a lot of Saturdays. Can I wait that long for Sunday?

The devotional continues this way:

 

Learning to live on Saturday is learning to exercise faith despite the pain, and clinging with all we’ve got to God and the promises he’s made. God will make good out of evil. God will bring joy out of mourning. God will bring light out of darkness. There will be a Sunday. Lord, I believe.

 

Habakkuk gets an answer from God to his plea:

 

“Look at the nations, and see!

Be astonished! Be astounded!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe if you were told.”

  • Habakkuk 1:5

 

Wow. Is that message relevant in 2017? Why not?

Sunday is coming. Sooner or later.

That gives me hope. I don’t have to live with Saturday’s pain.

None of us do. Sunday is promised. The resurrection is proof, and Jesus’ second coming is undeniable. No one knows when that will happen.

Until then, it’s Saturday.

Good and evil co-exist. We need discernment to discover which is which. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Searching for good when evil often reigns is the definition of Saturday.

It can be done, but it’s hard.

I’m ready for Sunday.

I’ll conclude this essay with the final thought of the Bible:

 

“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Revelation 22:20

At Easter: Why Jesus?

Even if I could prove beyond doubt that Jesus Christ not only existed but was – and is – the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, some of you, perhaps many of you, still would not accept that.

I heard a conference speaker say recently that the evils of smoking are well documented, but millions of people do it anyway – with the full knowledge that they are harming their bodies. Smokers have their reasons. I don’t judge them; it doesn’t bother me one way or another, as long as no one smokes in my car or house (where the effects will linger, proving that no one lives in a vacuum; every decision we make does affect others).

So, if proof isn’t enough, why follow Jesus?

Because it works.

Abundant life

Jesus wants the best for us.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Why would we not want that?

Because having “abundant life” means giving up things that do not benefit us. We don’t like being told we can’t have something or can’t do something, even if it might hurt us.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

How antiquated is that in American society? And yet God put that in the Ten Commandments for a reason. Marriage is supposed to be the highest form of relationship, when done right, when the husband and wife want the best for each other.

Many of us have screwed that up, so we look for validation in other places. But we’ll never find a deeper relationship on Earth than we will in “holy matrimony.” There are plenty of effects of relationships gone sour when we don’t want the best for each other.

We are inherently selfish. I want the best for me, even if that hurts you. But if I hurt you, I won’t ever find the best for me, because I’ll feel sadness when you are hurt. We are inherently that way too.

The Ten Commandments are a list of dos and mostly don’ts that we are to follow. All of them are for our own benefit. Our common laws are based on them (do not steal; do not commit murder; do not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor).

Whether the Ten Commandments are posted on the Courthouse lawn or outside a school doesn’t matter to me. They’re just words on paper, or stone. When they are written on our hearts, then they mean something.

The ACLU has no jurisdiction over my heart.

Head and heart

My heart. That’s where “faith” meets “prove it.”

I had a lonely, insecure childhood. My family moved around some in my elementary and junior high years, including out of state a couple of times. Getting uprooted meant I never formed deep friendships. I’ve never been more afraid than the first day of ninth grade, in a new town in a different state where I didn’t know a soul, except my seventh-grade sister in another part of the building.

The following summer, we attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania, again someplace I’d never been before. I was accepted immediately. The counselors and even other campers noticed me – not because I did anything, but just because I was there.

They made it clear they did that because Jesus loves them as much as He loves me. We don’t have to earn His love; He gives it away freely.

This was new to me.

I wanted what they had.

I didn’t ask for a theological discussion. I didn’t know the history of the Bible then. I didn’t know what the Bible said about marriage, money, pain and suffering, or the End Times. I just knew that Jesus loves me, because I saw it and felt it in the people around me.

That was my starting point.

As I’ve studied the Bible since, on my own and in groups and with Sunday morning sermons, I’ve learned more about Jesus’ love for me, and how to live that way. Mind and heart. Jesus connects in both places.

Good and evil

Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a big stumbling block for many. If God wants the best for us, why do we all suffer?

My wife and I just attended the funeral of her cousin. She died a week ago of a heart attack at age 56. Left four children and 15 grandchildren. No warning. Totally unexpected. Why?

I can’t answer that.

But none of us is exempt from that kind of story, are we? Who do I think I am that I am above pain?

If we lived life happily ever after on Earth, where would we find meaning? Seriously.

We find meaning in helping others. We fundraise to fight cancer or world hunger. We provide clothes and other necessities to victims of fires, earthquakes or floods. We mentor in schools. We raise awareness for autism or diabetes. We do a myriad of things to serve those less fortunate than us.

Why?

If life is only about making me happy, why should I care about you?

God put a deeper purpose in our hearts than the “pursuit of happiness.” There’s nothing wrong with being happy, of course, but how do we do that? Really?

God: yay or nay

Here’s the kicker, the real reason most people don’t follow Jesus: He demands a response from every one of us. “Faith is fine for you, but not for me,” you might say. Or, “What makes you so certain that your faith is the right one?”

Because Jesus is the only “god” who wants the best for us. No other god can offer salvation from anything. There’s no bigger picture.

Jesus is inclusive and exclusive at the same time.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The invitation is open to every person, but not everyone will accept the invite. There are rewards and consequences either way. No exceptions.

Good Friday is the most horrific story ever told. What makes it so compelling is that Jesus died on that cross willingly, because He wants the best for us: relationship with His Father.

Jesus overcame even death on Easter.

We do not want the best for our own lives. I say and do things I know I shouldn’t, but I do them anyway.

I ask forgiveness, and Jesus forgives. Every time. He knows the human heart. He created it. I reach out to Him again. He smiles. I walk away, then return to Him. He smiles again.

This is relationship. This is the way life is meant to be.

It’s the way we should treat each other as well.

Think how much nicer America would be if we did.

If we let the God who wants the best for us lead us.

Take a deep breath. Could it happen?

Theoretically, yes. In practice, no.

Because we cannot know good without evil.

So, we live with both.

Which side will you choose?

A psalm of my life

Praise You, O God,

For your goodness though all the Earth.

Your steadfast love has endured through all generations

From the beginning of time until now.

Your love, as you promised,

Will continue to the end of time.

 

I’ve seen your glory

And felt your love

From the day of my birth.

You blessed me with a strong family,

A prosperous home

With parents who gave and a sister who cared.

Mom and Dad continue strong,

57 years of marriage and counting.

 

You touched me at camp as a teenager,

Revealing yourself in a special way

Through the unconditional love of counselors and, especially, other campers.

You entered my heart as Savior

And I’ve been learning ever since what it means to call you Lord.

 

At college I learned the ways of the world;

You opened my eyes to new ideas and thoughts.

You introduced me to my future spouse there,

And other friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

 

Off to the working world you sent me,

Young and naïve, but willing to learn.

You revealed my passion,

Then led me to a job where I could use it

For more than two decades.

 

We raised a family, three boys,

Our pride and joys.

Good health you blessed us all with,

A home of our own

Where we could lead a strong family.

 

You gave us servant’s hearts

Through our church and community,

Where we could love others

And praise you.

 

O Lord, why did it not last?

We could have served you forever there.

But life was too easy, was it not?

You had lessons to teach us,

New people to meet,

New opportunities to pursue.

 

Out-of-state moves, two of them, Lord.

I have no home on this Earth.

Like your son, I wander,

Seeking to do your will

Wherever you take me.
You lead us to brothers and sisters

Wherever we land,

Those who love you, Father,

Whom we can worship with side by side.

 

We see you everywhere.

Even in the struggles, Lord,

And those are many.

If all is sunshine, where is the rainbow?

 

But Adam and Eve knew good, and only good.

It wasn’t enough for them.

The serpent tricked them.

Their gain? They learned evil.

 

I know evil too, Lord, see it firsthand every day.

It’s easy to see it in your people, God,

But I see evil in my own heart as well.

I cannot place blame

Because I am not innocent.

 

In the midst of this you came to Earth, Lord:

To offer a return path to goodness,

A road to your heart.

I am not a worthy traveler, Father,

And yet you invite me along.

Who am I that you hold my hand?

 

I stumble and fall, bruise my knees, every day.

My hands are bloodied with sin.

And yet you wipe them clean

With your own blood.

 

I still seek my place on this Earth, Lord,

Still pursue you.

On Sundays and Wednesdays, yes,

In gatherings of your people,

I find rest in you.

 

But I seek more, Father,

Because you want me to seek more.

Are you among the tax collectors and sinners?

That’s where you live most days, Jesus.

Outside the walls of the church,

Where the people who need you reside.

 

You send me there, Lord, so that’s where I go.

Good health you’ve blessed me with

So I’ll use it for your glory.

I’ll serve you in the morning when I wake up

And find ways to serve throughout the day.

Not because I’m anything special, Father,

But because you deserve it.

Thank you, Lord, for saving my sins,

Even my sins.

 

It’s easy to get pessimistic in this life, Lord,

Looking only at worldly pleasures

And worldly troubles

In my own life and in the news.

So much to complain about, isn’t there, Father,

And yet what do you say?

 

Rejoice always, and again I say, rejoice.

That’s what you say, Lord.

Can I do that? Is it possible?

It’s a choice, isn’t it, Lord,

I can see life through my eyes or through yours.

 

Your eyes are beautiful, Father.

You see the good in all people

All have sinned, and yet you desire mercy for each one of us.

You said that too, Father.

 

I’d rather sit at your judgment seat than in the defendant’s chair on Earth.

You know my deepest heart, Lord,

While man knows me only a little.

You’ve given me acting skills, Lord,

That I can hide behind.

I tell others what they want to hear, and no one questions me.

No one.

But you know me, Father. You know my secrets. I cannot hide them from you.

 

I fall before you, Father, a broken man,

Sinful, weak and impure.

Yet I carry on.

This life is a marathon, not a dash; your road is long,

Longer for some than others.

I’m ready to get off now, Father,

To fall into your arms.

If today is the day …

But if tomorrow comes, I will rise and serve you again.

Such as I am

Because of who you are.

Until you call me home, Lord,

I will rise and serve you again.

 

You give life meaning, Father;

Why else should I awake in the morning?

This day will pass,

But your steadfast love lives forever.

Even for this sinner,

Your steadfast love lives forever.

Praise you, Father.

It’s why I live.

Doing what Jesus would do …

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh in 2017, where would He go? What would He do? Who would He spend His time with?

I wonder about that every so often.

In response, I turn to the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which describe the life He lived among us. There isn’t much in the Bible about the first 30 years of His life, but His three-year ministry offers plenty of evidence about what and who were important to Him.

Inside the church

Jesus spent some time in the synagogue, the church of His day. He spoke there on occasion as a visiting preacher. He did a healing or two there. He overturned the money changers’ tables there when He discovered they were overcharging the parishioners who needed to buy sacrificial animals.

Most often when He visited the synagogue, He was not there to worship. He was there to confront the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who ran the synagogue and knew the Old Testament Scriptures inside and out, but still didn’t understand them. The leaders missed the prophesies about Jesus in the Scriptures. They also added a whole lot of rules to the Books of the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe in detail how a follower of the living God was supposed to live.

Jesus called them blind guides and hypocrites. When He claimed to be God and to have an intimate relationship with His Father, they went berserk. They killed him for that.

Christians, beware. Jesus attacked religious leaders hard. They didn’t take it well.

Should Jesus visit the United States in the flesh in 2017, I fear He would give a similar message to the church today. And we would give Him a similar fate. Not every local church would reject Him, but many would. This scares me.

Does it scare you?

Outside the church

However, my reading of the Gospels tells me that Jesus spent most of His time outside the synagogue, with tax collectors and sinners. He gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. He was all compassion:

  • The woman caught in adultery.
  • A Samaritan woman at a well. (The religious leaders of His day treated women like second-class citizens. Jesus treated them like the daughters of God they were – and are. Jesus could be considered a radical feminist, if you read the Bible that way.)
  • Matthew, a hated tax collector, one of the 12 in His inner circle.
  • Zacchaeus, a religious leader who asked the right questions.
  • All kinds of people who came to Him for healing, both physical and demonic.
  • Hungry people. (He fed 5,000 of them with five loaves of bread and two fish.)
  • A couple getting married who ran out of wine. (Jesus liked to party, by the way.)
  • And on, and on.

Doing time

As Christians, we so often spend most of our free time inside the walls of our churches. We worship there, we study the Bible there, we offer social programs there and invite the community in.

That’s not what Jesus did.

  • He prayed on mountainsides.
  • He healed people in their own homes.
  • He ate at their homes, too. Matthew is a great example. He wanted his friends to meet Jesus, so he invited them to dinner, then invited Jesus to join them.
  • He traveled the countryside, visiting cities and towns along the way. He counseled his 12 disciples as they walked and as they served those they met.

I think this should be our pattern, too. We need to worship; Jesus did not avoid the synagogue, even though He wasn’t very happy with most of the leaders He met there.

But Jesus spent most of His time mingling with unbelievers on their turf. He was comfortable in crowds; He was comfortable in one-on-one settings, and in groups of just a few people. He traveled. He had a hometown, but He didn’t claim it. He knew Jerusalem was important, and He did spend time there (and died there), but He visited other places as well.

WWJD

A few years ago there was a bracelet in Christian circles that was all the rage: WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? It was a fad question that most Christians didn’t take seriously, but that’s the question I’m asking. What would Jesus do? Really?

Are we prepared to do the same? He said we should.

Perhaps big fancy church buildings aren’t a good witness. I’m not sure Jesus would be impressed with them. He’d rather those resources – money and human time – be spent elsewhere.

Jesus said full-time Christian workers should be paid a fair wage. This is important.

Taking the job home

But our leaders should be equipping the rest of us to do the work of the church – outside the church, in our spheres of influence. That’s what Jesus did with His 12 disciples. He gave them His heart, then told them to go make disciples of all nations.

I meet people every day who would never set foot inside a church. If I call myself a Christian, I am Jesus to them. How do I wear that “job title?” Do I represent Christ well?

Do you?

Is your church equipping you to be the church to those outside the church? If not, what’s the point of church?

Yes, we worship God and praise Him for what He’s done for us.

So what? Do we leave our praise on the altar? Or do we take it home with us?

That’s what Jesus did.

And what He’d continue to do in 2017.

 

Faith and America: Judge others carefully

Is President Trump a Christian, or should he be? Is he attacking Muslims as a religion with his travel ban on people from certain countries? Can Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully?

Many Americans say church and state should remain separate, and they offer some good reasons. As a Christian, my faith is a lifestyle, a major part of who I am. My faith affects the way I think and the way I live. In that vein, “church” and “state” cannot be separated, unless I don’t participate in our democracy in any way, including voting.

So, where to draw the line?

Co-exist: Yes and no

Can Christians and Muslims co-exist? Let’s start there.

The answer depends on what you mean by co-exist.

If we mean that we can respect each other’s views and beliefs even if we disagree, then yes, we can co-exist peacefully. Our co-workers, parents we meet at our children’s schools, people we meet at athletic contests, people we volunteer with, the waitress at the restaurant … we meet people outside of our religious boundaries all the time. Can we get along?

We certainly should.

But if co-exist means Christians and Muslims (and people of other faiths) worship the same God, then no – we do not and cannot co-exist. The sacred writings of both faiths prove this.

More on that in a minute.

Church and state

But first, let’s discuss whether “church” and “state” should co-exist.

 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

Amendment I, The Constitution of the United States of America

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted …

Declaration of Independence

 

I had a lengthy Facebook discussion with a former co-worker awhile ago about this. We did not agree, because he and I do not have the same “supreme authority” in our lives. His primary focus is on the United States. Mine is on God. They are not the same.

Congress – and by extension, in my opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court also – are not allowed to restrict any religion in any way. So, if President Trump is trying to restrict Muslims as a faith-based people from entering this country, the First Amendment does not allow him to do that.

The Declaration of Independence does assume a Creator. But different faiths worship different Creators, so we need to keep this discussion general, politically speaking.

Faith and violence

Trump says he is targeting terrorists, not an entire religion. Terrorists around the world and in the United States have claimed allegiance to the Islamic God during their terrorist acts. Is Trump’s response a knee-jerk reaction that goes too far?

 

Therefore, when you meet the Unbelievers (in fight), strike at their necks; at length, when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them); thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom; until the war lays down its burdens.

Qur’an, 47:4a

 

I imagine not all Muslims read the Qur’an literally, just as not all Christians read the Bible literally. And yet, these words are in the Qur’an. Fighting words against any who oppose “God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.”

Are there such fighting words in the Christian Bible? Yes, there are. Here’s an example:

 

As soon as (Joshua) stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky … When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai … until no one was left who survived or escaped.

The Bible, Joshua 8:19-22

 

Why would the Christian God order Joshua and his troops to obliterate an entire city – men, women and children? Because they worshiped pagan gods, and the God of Israel did not want his people to get distracted by teachings of false gods.

This is what the book of Joshua is all about. Israel did not follow directions, and the book of Judges describes the consequences in detail.

Incompatible faiths

According to the Qur’an and the Bible, then, these religions cannot co-exist. Both worship a jealous God.

 

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary …

Qur’an, 5:17

 

They say: “(God) Most Gracious has begotten a son!”

Indeed you have put forth a thing most monstrous! …

That they should invoke a son for (God) Most Gracious.

For it is not consonant with the majesty of (God) Most Gracious that He should beget a son.

Qur’an, 19:88-89, 91-92

 

 

Jesus said to (Thomas), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The Bible, John 14:6-7

 

Muslims and Christians cannot worship together, obviously.

Can they live together peacefully?

That depends on how passionate we are about our faiths – and also how passionate we are as Americans. Do we serve the U.S. Constitution, which allows for free expression of all faiths, or do we serve our God, who is a jealous God and who ultimately will judge everyone – everyone – outside the faith?

This is why the current debate is so hot, with no resolution in sight.

Cultures and faith clash. Do our faiths allow us to get along with each other?

Faith and America

This is why many Americans reject Christianity (and Islam as well, I imagine). God forces us to take sides.

Both faiths have a peaceful side as well. After all, no one can “convert” dead people. Both faiths have to give others a reason to follow their God.

The U.S. Constitution is a wonderful document. One of the reasons the Pilgrims reached our shores was to worship freely the way they wanted to.

Are we at a crossroads now? Are we truly willing to accept “Congress shall make no law …” or has that been eroding over time, and Trump has brought the debate front and center?

Should God provide justice, or should we do it for Him?

I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt the other day that said, “No one is my judge.” Again, it depends. I cannot judge your faith. That’s God’s job. But if you molest a child or run a red light, we have laws in this country about those things, and the U.S. court system very much can judge you for them.

I wish we could leave it at that.

 

A couple of other perspectives:

The Qur’an and U.S. Constitution cannot co-exist:

http://louderwithcrowder.com/5-reasons-the-quran-can-never-coexist-with-the-constitution-ever/

Christians and Muslims can get along:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/nov/18/christians-muslims-co-existed-general-synod-religions-allies

 

The journey and the destination

Is it about the journey or the destination?

A friend posted this scenic saying the other day about the journey, and I questioned it. I said life is about both – the journey and the destination. If there’s no destination, what’s the point of the journey?

My friend’s response:

 

So can you tell me what your destination is? And once you get there, then what? I know I have goals set to get me places, but the goals will never stop; otherwise I wouldn’t feel like I was growing as a person. Therefore, I don’t really have a destination because it’s so much bigger than that.

 

I see what she’s getting at. I have goals as well that will never stop. Even if I achieve a goal, others will remain. That’s how we grow as individuals. I’m with her 100 percent on that.

But the destination is the big picture. We need to think big thoughts sometimes. What is our purpose? What are we doing on this Earth, anyway?

A goal is a desired outcome. A destination is a place where someone is going.

We can have many goals. But where are we going?

John Maxwell, a leadership expert I respect greatly, offers this perspective:

 

What matters more, the journey, or the destination? If you only focus on the journey, you lack direction and motivation, and if you focus solely on your destination, you can miss the life lessons and memories along the way. Plus, you often discover through your journey that your final destination isn’t exactly the same as it was when you started.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-journey-you-john-c-maxwell?trk=v-feed&lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_feed%3Bhg6PJcNa16FIVgVp5FKDOQ%3D%3D

Interesting. The destination of our lives may change as we continue the journey, Maxwell claims. As we experience life, we discover new paths and journeys – and perhaps a new place where we want to go.

For most of my adult life, my journey was smooth and relatively easy. I had a secure job that paid the bills with money left over, my wife and I raised three healthy and active sons, we all were involved in a few extracurricular activities – life was full, fun and worth living.

Then, as our boys were heading off to college, my job was eliminated. Since then, I’ve held six jobs in seven years in three states.

The journey got bumpy.

god's plan

I never would have met the friend I quoted at the start of this article if my life had not taken those unexpected twists and turns.

 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24)

 

Every runner runs to win the race (unless you’re in the Boston Marathon, in which case you’re just trying to finish – when the finish line becomes the destination).

My friend poses an interesting question: Once I get to my destination, then what? When I reach the finish line, what comes next?

Her first question gets to the heart of the matter: Can you tell me what your destination is?

I can.

My destination is heaven. As long as I am alive on Planet Earth, I won’t get there. So there’s no chance of reaching my destination while I’m still on this journey.

Why, then, pursue an unattainable place?

Because the destination is attainable. Just not in this life. And if I don’t pursue heaven, I won’t get there.

 

Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

 

This doesn’t mean I have to earn salvation. No, salvation is a gift from God. But if I am “saved,” then my life will reflect it. My goals will change. My journey will take a different – and better and more meaningful – course.

I have to pursue God continually.

 

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? (Romans 6:1)

 

This earthly life is not about me. I’ve written about that previously in this blog. I am a tiny piece of the puzzle that God is putting together. But God thinks I’m an important piece, worth having around.

This is true for you too.

The least we can do in response to God’s love – even when those closest to us hurt us, or even when we don’t feel worthy of God’s love – is to say thanks and try to do things He would enjoy. That’s the way we treat those we love on this Earth, isn’t it? We try to do things they enjoy.

This is the journey.

The destination is to live not only for God, but with God.

The alternative?

To live without God. Ever.

There’s no middle ground. We might think there’s a purgatory or something like that, but there isn’t. God is tapping on our hearts. We say yes or no.

That determines our ultimate destination.

We can’t pursue anything bigger than that. Destinations we pursue here on Earth will end someday. Each of us will die one day. That’s a guarantee.

We don’t like to think about that, but the end is coming. Hopefully later rather than sooner, but …

Maxwell profiled a husband and wife who spent a lot of time studying their purpose in life. They offer this conclusion:

 

To those starting out on their own personal journey to find their purpose, the couple gave this advice: “Know that this is your journey. It’s a path to follow, not a destination. Once you realize that you are on a journey of your own, you can stop comparing yourself to others and celebrate their wins, knowing that yours are coming. Someone else winning helps you, it doesn’t take away from you. There is more than enough for all of us to win.” Are you winning in your life right now? Or are you too busy comparing your life to others and feeling let down? The journey, and the destination, are yours to choose.

 

Enjoy the ride. Pursue your destination. See you at the finish line.

2016 wasn’t all bad

There’s so much focus on what went wrong in 2016 – celebrities who died, the political landscape, escalating (so it seems) death and destruction in the Middle East, just for starters – I think we need to focus on what went right this year.

Speaking of sports …

Here in the Cleveland area, there’s a couple of easy success stories to begin this essay. The Cavaliers won their first NBA championship, ending a major sports drought of 52 years in this city since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964. LeBron James is the star. His decision to return to Cleveland after four years in Miami sparked the championship.

In the fall, the Indians took the Chicago Cubs to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series before coming up short. Still, the Indians won the American League pennant with a group of young players who have us Indians fans excited for the future.

And for my Chicago-area friends: The Cubs ended more than a century of misery by winning their first World Series since 1908. Good things happen to those who wait. And wait. And wait …

Across the country …

The National Park Service turned 100 years old in August. There’s a good New Year’s resolution: Let’s get outside more.

Thanks to vaccinations, measles was eliminated from the Americas in 2016, and global malaria deaths have dropped 60 percent since 2000.

The United States had a successful summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Let us count them one by one …

Personally, it’s easy to be pessimistic, to think about what I don’t have instead of counting my blessings. So, let’s count a few.

  • I started a new job in January. As a driver for REM Ohio, I work with people who have “developmental disabilities,” adults who need assistance with their daily lives. It’s not an office job. I’m on the road a lot, picking them up at their homes and bringing them to our day program center, then taking them home late afternoon. It’s rewarding and fulfilling on many levels.
  • My health remains very good, something I hope never to take for granted. I walk/jog a couple of times a week. I donated blood several times this year (although I passed out twice, so I’m not sure I can continue – and those were the only sick days I took this year).
  • Because of my full-time job, I don’t volunteer as much as I’d like, but I find time to assist at American Red Cross blood drives on the occasional Saturday and with special projects through our church. I’ve been volunteering with Destination Imagination, an after-school creative problem-solving activity, for 10 years and will lead one of the activities in our region this winter.
  • My wife’s part-time job evolved into a full-time position this summer.
  • My mom celebrated her 80th birthday this fall. We took her and Dad to a show at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland and dinner afterward. Mom and Dad have been married 57 years.
  • I reconnected with some of my high school classmates in the Pittsburgh area at a picnic this summer. I hadn’t seen them since we graduated in 1978.
  • We are blessed with a wonderful landlord. We’ve been in this house three years. We eventually plan to buy our own, but we’re in a great situation right now.
  • Our three sons are healthy and have good jobs. We are blessed to see them often, including our middle son who moved to Denver in the spring. Closer to home, we’re grateful for our two cats, healthy and as affectionate as cats can be.
  • We live in the United States, where we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. We have money in the bank, and two dependable vehicles (even if one of them is 20 years old). So often we overlook such things. We shouldn’t.
  • Most of all, we have our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives life meaning.

I’m glad there’s something better than this earth when we die. Especially in 2016, I don’t see many “year in review” stories like I usually do. We aren’t thankful for much these days, especially how the year is ending. So, I look beyond 2016, beyond the day-to-day struggles of life, to a time when all the bad stuff will disappear and life will be perfect. Literally.

That day is coming. Possibly in 2017, possibly much later.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hassles of our lives, but there is a bigger picture.

In 2017 …

In 2017, I plan to focus more on things I can control.

So much of what we argue and complain about belongs to others: celebrity news, Washington politics (if they didn’t take such a big bite out of my paycheck, I’d ignore them completely), professional sports. How much influence do you and I have over those issues, really? That’s why we argue so vociferously without any resolution. There is no resolution. At least, not one that belongs to you and me.

So, what can I control?

How I relate to my family.

What I do with my time.

How I approach my job, and how well I do it.

What extracurricular stuff I do.

How I treat people, both friends and strangers.

The music I listen to, the TV shows I watch and the books I read.

How I treat my body – the food I eat, how much I exercise. How I respond to illness/injury should that happen.

The way I drive. The way I react to the way other people drive. (I nearly caused a collision yesterday, lest I think I’m a perfect driver. Lord, give me patience.)

Happy New Year. Hope it’s a special one for you.

The most controversial man who ever lived

jesusthe-passion-of-the-christ

Who is Jesus Christ, really?

Everyone has an opinion about him. He lived, he didn’t live, he died, he was resurrected, he did not get resurrected. He was a good guy. He was a liar. He was the promised Messiah.

Our pastor just preached an excellent (although long) sermon on this topic.

https://www.opendoor.tv/sermons/misunderstood/

It matters what we think on this issue. As our pastor said, Jesus is the most polarizing figure who ever lived. And our answer is literally a decision of life and death.

Jesus’ message was (and still is) love. He wants the best for us. He wants us to care for each other.

What’s so controversial about that?

Love has limitations. We can do whatever we want, but that doesn’t mean everything is good for us.

That’s where we often disagree with Jesus. Who does Jesus think he is that he can tell us what to do, or not to do?

                                                                         

Two sides of Jesus

Let me explain the two photos I chose to illustrate this blog. The one on the left is typical of Jesus photos you’ll see. He is calm, compassionate, loving, gentle, beautiful, patient, kind … yes, Jesus was all those things.

But that Jesus wasn’t crucified.

The other photo, from the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, shows Jesus being crucified. We don’t like this Jesus because it represents confrontation, loss, torture, suffering and death.

Both of these photos represent the real Jesus. To grasp who he really was (and is), we need to understand both photos.

                                                                       

The Ten Commandments are written as a list of “don’t do this” – don’t put other gods before the one true God, don’t commit murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, etc. Why the limitations? Because God knows these things will hurt us.

Our experiences prove this correct. When we commit adultery, relationships die. When we covet what someone else has, people get hurt. Sometimes literally. Where’s the good in that?

When talking about murder, look at Chicago. Yet, why can’t we stop doing it?

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/us/chicago-homicides-visual-guide/

My life revolves around me. No one else. That’s the way each of us is wired.

Love is a choice. It’s not automatic.

Good vs. evil

There’s a huge battle going on inside each of us. Good vs. evil. Love vs. hate. Me vs. you. God vs. Satan, if you will.

If my way clashes with your way, my way is right.

Right?

We may not say that in so many words, but we live that way.

Which side do I choose?

Tomorrow, I will have to make the same choice again. It’s a never-ending battle.

Looking at the struggle this way, how can we ever get it right? How can we ever choose love, and choose it – with its freeing limitations – over and over?

Who is Jesus?

That’s where Jesus Christ comes in.

People who say he’s a good guy, a prophet perhaps, miss the point. They believe that’s all he is. Just a man who healed people and did a lot of good deeds.

He did do those things. But he did more than that.

Jesus said things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

He healed people because he truly cares about our needs. Why? Because his Father does, and Jesus was introducing us to a personal God who loves us. Who wants the best for us.

Become like children

As parents, we have to put limits on our children sometimes. Don’t cross the busy street. Share your toys. Listen to your teacher. Eat your veggies.

But we get upset when God tries to put limitations on us, such as the Ten Commandments. We’re adults, after all. We can make our own decisions.

Right?

Jesus also said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mat. 19:14)

Jesus was not saying that only children can become Christians. He was implying that, like children, our hearts need to be willing to learn new things, try new ideas, to realize that other people might have a better idea, that God might actually be right.

We focus on politics. Taxes. Road construction. Vacations. Cute family photos. Whether it will rain this weekend. Global warming (ie, how hot it’s been this summer).

To what end?

Is there an end?

Of course there is. All of us will die one day. That’s a guarantee. We don’t prepare for it very well. It hurts deeply when a loved one dies. Perhaps that’s why we avoid the subject until we are forced to face it.

But why wait until death, or near death, to discover what life is really all about?

Limitations

It’s because of those limitations, isn’t it? We don’t like being told what to do.

We won’t admit that right and wrong even exist, because that means we might be wrong sometimes.

Right?

Jesus is very clear that right and wrong do exist. For our own benefit.

But Jesus picks far fewer battles than we think he does. Jesus honestly does not care who becomes our next president, for example.

In Biblical times, Rome ruled Israel with an iron fist. The Jews were oppressed. They weren’t looking for a spiritual Messiah to get them to heaven; they were looking for a political Messiah to rescue them from Rome.

Jesus refused to play that game. He talked a lot about the kingdom of God, and very little about the Roman empire.

The spiritual battle

Jesus saw a bigger picture.

The United States is one of hundreds of countries in the world. Our next president will lead for only four years, maybe eight. He or she will make decisions that last longer than that, certainly, but there are checks and balances in our system of government.

There’s a spiritual battle going on here. We can’t physically see it, so many of us pretend it doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist.

Even demons know who Jesus is (James 2:19).

Most of us believe in angels. We love the idea of a heavenly being looking out for us. Why, then, are demons so hard to accept? Demons are nothing more than angels who have rejected God’s authority.

The war between angels and demons takes place in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. Every single one of us. Across the world. Across time – past, present and future.

Whose side are you on?

That’s not a political question. It’s a spiritual one.

Your answer will affect how you live today. In eternity forever, yes, but also today. Here on Earth.

No one else can answer this question for you. Or me. Others can give you advice, but the choice is yours.

Choose wisely.