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?

Hope rising from the pain

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

Galatians 6:7-8

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

listening 5

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

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

Recent stories. Current stories.

We have such a long way to go.

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

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

We reap what we sow.

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

 

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

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

 

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

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

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

Selfishness is that easy. I need a heart change.

Time to breathe.

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

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

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

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

Righteous anger? Yes, far too often.

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

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

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

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

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

None of that happens without a heart change.

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

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

We have such a long way to go.

But we have to start somewhere.

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

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

Priorities unmasked

The novel coronavirus has changed our lives. And the changes keep on coming, daily, almost by the minute.

How to analyze this?

Take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. That seems to be the best approach.

No one wanted the NCAA basketball tournament to get shut down. No one wants restaurants to close, offering only takeout and delivery. No one truly wanted schools to close for an extended period. Worship services, gym classes, libraries … all closed.

Why now? Why not during previous pandemics?

Contagious and deadly

Perhaps the nation wasn’t ready for such a response previously. Or, perhaps, earlier pandemics didn’t have the potential far-reaching consequences. For example, during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic:

 

From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus.

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html

 

From what I can tell, the COVID-19 virus is much more contagious and deadly than H1N1. If 60.8 million people get the coronavirus this spring, our hospitals would get overwhelmed, and some people could die waiting for care.

Also, according to the same CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) article, most of the H1N1 sufferers were younger than 65, which “differs greatly from typical seasonal influenza epidemics, during which about 70 percent to 90 percent of deaths are estimated to occur in people 65 years and older.”

The fact that the COVID-19 virus appears to inflict minimal damage on children is crucial. Schools were closed to prevent young people from becoming carriers of the virus to the rest of the population, as well as to keep them from getting it.

Senior citizens older than 70 and those of us with medical conditions are at greatest risk from suffering and/or dying from the new virus. Although I am healthy, I am not allowed to visit my parents, ages 86 and 83, because two weeks ago they moved into a senior living facility in Michigan, which now is under quarantine.

How do I know I’m not a carrier? From what I can tell, we can be carriers for several days, perhaps up to two weeks, before any symptoms show.

This is why nearly all public gatherings – of any size, now – are being canceled. We unknowingly could transmit the virus to each other, spreading it further around the country.

The hope is to isolate the virus, that it will die because it’s not being transmitted anywhere. That’s why we are asked to stay home or practice “social distancing.”

Is this overreaction? Maybe, but probably not. If very few people die in the United States because of all the shutdowns, then it will have worked.

Some will say that would prove the shutdown was overkill. Actually, that proves the opposite. Look at Italy, which did not meet this virus head-on early and is suffering escalating casualties:

 

Italy on Sunday reported 368 new deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as the country’s death toll hit 1,809 while the number of positive cases rose to 24,747 from 21,157 on Saturday, the country’s civil protection authority said.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/spain-france-tighten-curbs-coronavirus-fight-live-updates-200312054153018.html

 

In China, where isolation measures have been implemented, very few new cases are being reported now:

 

Hong Kong (CNN)For the first time since the novel coronavirus was first identified last year, there are now more reported cases outside of mainland China than inside, marking a new milestone in the evolution of the global pandemic.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported 16 new confirmed cases and 14 deaths, as of end of Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 80,860, of which more than 67,000 patients have recovered.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/16/world/coronavirus-covid-19-update-intl-hnk/index.html

 

 

This is our hope: By isolating the virus, we can reduce and eventually eliminate its severe impact on society.

Time for …

How long will that take? It’s anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, many of us have a lot of free time on our hands. No NCAA basketball tournament – the best television of the year, in my opinion – means the TV is turned off. I volunteer at a food pantry – it’s closed, because many of the clients (and volunteers) are vulnerable.

canceled

What are our priorities in life? Sports? Politics? Family? Faith?

This virus is testing us, big time. Strip away most of what we do with our lives, and what’s left?

In my regular Bible reading, I’m going through the Old Testament minor prophets these days. Yesterday I read Haggai, both chapters. My study Bible offers this commentary on the prophet’s message:

 

We find ourselves rushing through life, attending to the necessary, the immediate, and the urgent. Too often, the important is left in the dust. Our problem is not the volume of demands or lack of scheduling skills, but values – what truly is important to us.

 

That commentary was copyrighted in 1989. Haggai itself was written in 520 BC. The prophet Haggai chastised the Israelites who had just returned from exile to a destroyed Jerusalem and were building their own houses and living it up while ignoring God’s temple, leaving it in ruins.

Your priorities are wrong, Haggai told the Israelites.

They got the message and rebuilt the temple.

How about us? What are our priorities? We may not have to rebuild a temple, but are there family or friends we should reconnect with?

Crisis shows our heart

This is not about politics, but real life. President Trump hasn’t done much to stop the spread of the virus, but the governor of my state of Ohio – also a Republican – has. Indeed, Mike DeWine was first in the nation to close public schools, and was first in the nation to close bars and restaurants (except for takeout and delivery).

Are DeWine’s orders extreme? Maybe, but other states are following suit quickly. So, perhaps he’s just being proactive.

DeWine has no desire to shut down the state of Ohio. He does have the desire to halt the spread of COVID-19. His top public health official is a medical doctor, and she’s playing an active role in state policy.

The sooner public gatherings are stopped, hopefully, the sooner they can resume – without a huge number of illnesses and deaths. This is the goal.

It’s not politics. It’s real life.

Rather than fight it, we need to respond to it. Schools and pantries are closed – how will children and families get fed? How will parents go to work when their children, normally in school, now are home? How will bartenders and waitresses, gym workers and others provide for their own daily needs without a paycheck?

We are at war with a deadly and very contagious virus. Each of us must play our part in fighting this battle.

When we come out the other side, I think we will be a better country for it.

We find out what our true values are in a crisis. We’re in one now.

Some battles should never be fought

As Christians, we are constantly urged to persevere, push ahead, keep striving, don’t give up, take the narrow path, do good, fight the good fight … get back up when we fall.

Is there ever a time to, as Elsa sings in “Frozen,” let it go?

Um, yes.

Jesus and his family did this soon after his birth.

Not a fair fight

After the wise men visited Jesus, an angel told Jesus’ father, Joseph, to pack the family’s bags and get out of town – immediately – to avoid the wrath of King Herod. They did, landing in Egypt, as the angel ordered.

What’s up with that?

Yes, the gospel writer Matthew is all about Jesus fulfilling Old Testament Scriptures, including Hosea 11:1, where the writer says, “Out of Egypt I will call my son.”

But I think there’s another reason as well. Herod, angry when he discovered the wise men tricked him by skipping town, ordered the slaughter of every male child in and around Bethlehem 2 years old and younger (Matthew 2:16).

Jesus was God, but this wasn’t his battle. Jesus, at this moment, also was a helpless toddler. Herod was the king, with a strong army and the authority of kingly leadership in his grasp.

It wouldn’t have been a fair fight. Jesus had no chance. A toddler against a powerful king, on the king’s stomping grounds with his rules?

Not happening.

So Jesus and his family fled to Egypt.

They lived to fight another day.

Herod won that round, because hundreds, maybe thousands, of young boys were brutally murdered in Jesus’ stead. And Jesus could do nothing about it.

Are there times when I’m in over my head, when the fight is not fair, when God’s message to me is get out of Dodge, back off, let the bad guys have this battle while the bigger war rages on?

Battlegrounds

I spend more time than I care to admit on social media. Many of my friends aren’t online at all, because for them the battles there aren’t worth fighting. They have a point.

Many of you who are on social media aren’t listening. Trying to spread truth is futile, because you have your own version and you won’t hear anything else.

Don’t point fingers at the other side and say, Bill, you must be talking about them. No, I’m talking to you. Well, not all of you. You know who you are. (Actually you don’t, but you should.)

Let it go, I say. Many times I do. Sometimes I pick a wrong battle. I discover that quickly. I don’t face the consequences Jesus would have with Herod, which proves I’m not as careful – or as in tune with God – as Jesus and his parents were.

There are certain battles we shouldn’t fight at all.

A few chapters later in Matthew, after Jesus had grown up, he offered a few insights on human behavior that emphasized this. For example:

 

“But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment …”

Matthew 5:22

 

Don’t go there, Jesus told his listeners. That’s a battle we won’t win. Let it go.

And another:

 

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Matthew 5:28

 

Guilty as charged. Been there. Done that. There’s a reason Jesus emphasizes repentance.

Did you watch the Super Bowl halftime show? I did. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are excellent dancers, but they sexualized their performance. In prime time. Okay, the Super Bowl itself is a violent event, which we take for granted, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been watching in the first place, but we were, and then …

Jesus kept going:

 

“But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.”

Matthew 5:34-36

 

Ouch. Pretty self-explanatory. It’s been awhile since we’ve read the Sermon on the Mount, hasn’t it?

Jesus had many other things to say in that sermon, but he began his message by discussing a few things to avoid: anger, lust, cursing.

Just don’t go there.

Those are losing battles. Every time.

Practical living

If we didn’t get angry, we wouldn’t need to keep expanding our police forces to pick up the pieces. If we didn’t lust, abortion wouldn’t be an issue. Neither would sex trafficking, divorce, adultery, etc. If we didn’t curse, we wouldn’t get angry in the first place – we’d respect everyone we met, including the living God.

Jesus knew what he was talking about. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky preaching, but practical living.

Can you imagine what this country would look like if we didn’t get angry with each other? If Republicans and Democrats actually got along? Gasp.

What would this country look like if sex crimes weren’t an issue? Dream about that for a moment.

And what if no one cursed God?

Our broken hearts

All three of these issues are matters of the heart. The human heart. The imperfect, fallible, woefully self-centered human heart.

We need repentance, which is more than saying I’m sorry. It’s a lifestyle change. Every one of us needs this. I do. So do you. (It’s not a one-and-done thing, either. We need to keep repenting, because we are fallible.)

Some battles are not meant to be fought. We have no chance of defeating anger, lust or cursing. Can’t do it.

We need a heart change. We need to come back from Egypt, and return to the Promised Land.

The solution

First, perhaps we need to escape to Egypt. If we’re still living in a place where the battle is too strong, we need to get out.

I’m not saying we need to physically pull up stakes and leave town. There’s sin anywhere we go; we can’t avoid it.

This is spiritual warfare. It’s very real. First, we must acknowledge this. The battle is far beyond our ability to win.

Second, we must realize that the living God has already won the war. Not all the daily battles we face; some we win, some we lose; but Jesus has already gone to Egypt and back on our behalf.

Literally and spiritually.

If we understand this, we’ve won. Or, to use a Christian term, we are overcomers.

Overcome what? Our own weaknesses and shortcomings.

We all have them, whether we realize it or not.

Some battles aren’t worth the fight. We have no chance to win them. Read Revelation, the last book of the Bible. You want violence? Look out. But read it to the end. You’ll see why Christianity will never go away.

Why, indeed, Christ is the hope of the world. The only hope.

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 …

We cannot escape

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

baby-growing

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them – they are more than the sand;

I come to the end – I am still with you.

 

osr 4

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me –

those who speak of you maliciously,

and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Psalm 139

Change inevitable

Some change is forced on us.

I was downsized from a job I held for 24 years. I was given a choice: Accept a buyout or a 40 percent pay cut along with an increased workload. My job was eliminated.

Some changes we choose.

I volunteer with an organization called We Care We Share in Lorain, Ohio. It offers a food pantry two afternoons a week. I learned from a friend that volunteers were needed there, so I showed up one day and began volunteering. I didn’t have to do that, but I chose to.

Some change is inevitable.

Some of the hairs on my head are turning gray. My eyes also change over time; I’m due for another check-up one of these days. I’ll probably need a new eyeglasses prescription. The joys of aging.

If there’s one constant in life, it’s that there’s nothing constant in life.

Moment by moment, we change

No two days are exactly alike. Change is the name of the game.

The car I drive is 23 years old. It’s still running pretty well, but the mechanic recommended $1,600 in repairs to keep it up to speed. I’m not sure the car is worth that, so we’ll probably replace it in the near future.

I’ve attended three funerals in the past two months. All were for senior citizens, thankfully, but still: People wear out, just like cars do.

There’s no anti-aging pill that lasts forever, much as science has tried to find one.

We make choices literally every minute of every day. To get up in the morning, or not. What to eat for breakfast. Or not. Whether to show up for work or an appointment on time. Or not. Whether to look for a new job, a new relationship, a new residence (including a new location sometimes) …

We bought a house a year and a half ago, after renting for 3.5 years. We did some remodeling in the kitchen last fall because my wife wanted to put her touch on our home. That’s certainly a good thing. But what to remodel and how to do it were choices we had to make – and you’d do it differently, I’m sure.

I won’t even get into politics. We all know the contrasts between our current president and the previous one.

Think big picture. We change presidents every four or eight years. Change is inevitable.

The U.S. Constitution is more than 200 years old, but even that has been expanded. And new laws are passed all the time, federally, at the state level and locally.

Change changes us

Hearts and minds change too, sometimes dramatically.

At my last job, I worked with adults with developmental disabilities. Some of those folks were born with their disabilities, but others received their mental and/or physical disabilities through trauma. One guy fell off a roof. Another was abused terribly as a child.

Even those born with disabilities can learn to overcome them, to a degree. Those folks can accomplish a lot more than we often give them credit for. Even if they can’t communicate well, they often see and understand quite a lot. And they can communicate – with sign language, facial expressions, nodding yes or no, and in other ways.

I left there because not all change is good. And some changes I felt were necessary weren’t happening.

Choices.

Some people quit smoking. Some people conquer a drug or alcohol addiction. These things aren’t easy, but they can be done.

It’s easier if we make the choice to avoid those substances before we even start. But we need strong grown-ups to lead their children away from those temptations, don’t we, since most addictions start when we are young.

Addictions are not inevitable. Broken families are not inevitable. Some of us are exposed to these things earlier than others of us are, but each of us is responsible for our own choices.

Fighting change, or embracing it

If life doesn’t go the way we’d like it to – and it won’t, sooner or later – we have choices to make. Dozens of my former co-workers got downsized at the same time I did. A few got jobs in other career fields right away, or a short time later. A couple of them retired. Some stayed with the company, with new responsibilities – and in some cases, a new location. I took the buyout and sat on my hands and knees for awhile until the buyout ended, then took a $9 an hour job while I figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Same scenario, different choices.

Different results.

Many of my former co-workers are still in the same city. Some of us aren’t.

Here in northeast Ohio, Republic Steel and U.S. Steel factories are idle, the result of layoffs. One of those plants may resume production soon on a limited basis. General Motors Corp. just closed a factory in Lordstown, a little more than an hour’s drive from here, putting 1,435 workers in the unemployment line.

The cycle continues.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes we choose it, sometimes we don’t.

How we respond to change determines the course our lives will take.

We can fight change.

Or we can embrace it.

Even that is a choice.

The one constant

Are there any constants in life, besides change? Any at all?

Only one.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

 

That’s it.

Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

Jesus speaking, in Matthew 7:24-25

 

No foundation on Earth lasts like that. All of them will eventually crumble, whether a physical building or a moral or spiritual truth that we base our lives upon.

Even as the winds of life  blow – and they certainly will – we have a foundation to fall back on.

That’s why I’m a Christian. When the storms of life threaten to carry me away (you know what I mean), I have a home base that will protect me.

I change, certainly. I learn and grow, hopefully. I am not the person I was 10 years ago, when I was downsized. Or even last year.

But even as my job situation fluctuated and my location changed, the God I worship did not change. He supports me when all else fails me.

Sometimes, we don’t discover how much we need a rock until change threatens to destroy us.

Climb on the rock. You’re never far from it, no matter who or where you are.

That’s your sanctuary in the storms of life.

How to apologize

Public apologies are just that.

Public.

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

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

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

Whatever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None of your damn business.”

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

Then, apologize.

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

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

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

The right way to apologize

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

 

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

2 Chronicles 7:14

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our part

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s part

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

Does that matter?

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

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

I can’t wrap my mind around that.

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

Yesterday’s sins are gone too.

That’s what forgiveness is.

Is it possible to live like that?

Yes.

I’m still working on it.

Once our sins are forgiven, then healing comes.

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

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

On a deep, deep level.

Changed hearts, changed lives.

That’s what an apology is all about.

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

 

Only one source for peace

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

John 14:27

 

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a gift.

We must receive it.

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

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

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

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

After that, other gifts, including peace, follow.

So, what is peace?

Shalom

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

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

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

Peacemakers

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

Matthew 5:9

 

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

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

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

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

Losing peace

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

Isaiah 48:22

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart and mind

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

Philippians 4:4-9

 

Rejoice.

Gentleness.

The Lord is near.

Prayer.

Thanksgiving.

Peace of God.

Hearts.

Minds.

Christ Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is my priority?

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

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

Paddock’s possible motive: loneliness

Stephen Paddock was married previously and currently had a girlfriend. He bought 33 guns in the past year, USA Today says. He was a real estate developer, but his full-time job was gambling. He was wealthy.

Paddock had no apparent ties to any terrorist groups, no political animosity or religious zealotry that might set him off.

So, what made him kill 59 people and injure more than 500 others in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history?

Understanding why

There’s one nugget in there that many people have overlooked, but that may provide an important clue.

As a gambler, according to The Associated Press, “his game of choice was video poker, a relatively solitary pursuit with no dealer and no humans to play against. And while neighbors described Paddock as friendly, he wasn’t close to them.”

Police still have no answers to Paddock’s motive. Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sheriff who has become the face of the investigation, questioned whether anyone would ever truly understand why the shooter did what he did, Yahoo reported.

Even his girlfriend apparently saw no warning signs of the mass shooting.

Perhaps that’s the way Paddock wanted it.

No clues. No warning. No history of hatred or violence.

The sheriff is likely correct. We never will fully understand why.

Loneliness

But it began in his head. His heart left him long ago.

He was a loner.

Even though he had relationships, he kept secrets.

Las Vegas Shooting

Many men keep secrets. We’re good at that. Especially those of us who struggle mightily to share our thoughts and feelings with someone else, even a spouse or close friend. Some of us never figure that out.

I understand loneliness very well.

It’s hard to describe or explain. Loners by definition do not share their deepest thoughts, desires or fears with anyone. When we feel injured or wronged, we internalize our feelings, twisting the pain over and over in our brains, most likely increasing the hurt and convincing ourselves that the person who wronged us had motives that he or she most likely didn’t.

In other words, we make the problem bigger than it really is. But that becomes our reality.

Crossing the line

What pain did Paddock suffer that affected his brain and/or damaged his heart so severely that he buried it?

It may not have been one thing. Perhaps little things just added up over the years, until he crossed a line.

Most loners don’t kill people. We react to internal pain differently than that. I’m sure we hurt the people closest to us by not opening up to them, not sharing our feelings and seeking help or at least a different perspective.

Paddock apparently had anger issues. I saw reports that he berated his girlfriend in public numerous times. Perhaps he was a control freak.

Perhaps he just didn’t know how to relate to a woman.

I wonder how prevalent that is in American society. Probably more so than any of us would care to admit.

Paddock didn’t care about people. He didn’t understand the human soul. If he did, he wouldn’t have destroyed so many.

The answer

How do we overcome loneliness? Can we discover that it’s enjoyable to be around other people?

Many of you won’t understand that question. You do enjoy the company of others. Affection and joy come naturally to you.

I envy you.

Some of us prefer to be alone. Even if we are in a long-term relationship, alone time is valuable to us. That’s not a slight against our significant others; it’s not their fault. Even though that hurts them. Deeply.

So, what’s the answer?

Communication.

Talking about our feelings, wishes and desires.

I know that.

But that doesn’t mean I do it.

It’s not natural. I daresay more men, especially, than we think understand this.

No precedent

I’m 57 years old. I’ve never in my life had an “accountability partner,” someone I can share my deepest secrets with.

Opening my deep heart with a man I trust would cross a line.

This line is worth crossing. Indeed, it’s necessary for inner peace and healing.

I should intentionally step out in faith and do it.

Trust does not come easy, however, when we’ve never done it.

So we continue to hurt ourselves, and we hurt those closest to us.

What was Paddock’s dark secret? Was it the gambling? If so, why did it turn lethal?

Or was it something else, something he never told anyone?

Did he keep a journal? I’m sure the authorities will find it if he did. That’s a place to write our deepest thoughts, yet keep them hidden.

We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings forever. I think we all know that.

Motive

manalay bay

We rent a hotel room, as Paddock did, for a myriad of reasons. Motive isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

My wife and I rented a room in Glendale, Colo., recently. The motel clerk did not know why, nor did she care – as long as we gave her our credit card to pay for it. We were there to visit our son who lives there, certainly a legitimate reason to rent a motel room.

Paddock spent thousands of dollars a day at the casino tied to the hotel where he rented a room last weekend. Over the years he gambled so much at that casino, they gave him the room for free. He was there to gamble, the hotel staff thought, I’m sure. Or, perhaps to see the country music festival, since he requested a room overlooking the venue.

We now know he had a different motive. Even his girlfriend was unaware.

Motive.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we think the thoughts we think?

We cannot hide

Some of us prefer to keep those answers to ourselves.

But we will get found out.

Even if I hide my thoughts from you, the living God knows everything about me. I cannot hide from Him. That’s why you cannot judge me, but He can. You don’t know my motives. God does.

We may never know Paddock’s true motive. But God does.

Justice will come.

For you and me as well.

Ultimately, we cannot hide. We will get exposed.

Sooner or later.

Sooner is better. Let’s talk.