We often break the wrong rules

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

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

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

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

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

In this country, we frequently break the wrong rules.

“Must” and “should”

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

DI

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

“Must” and “should” are not synonyms.

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

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

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

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

If only life was that way.

Non-negotiable vs. interpretation

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

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

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

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

God understands me.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Romans 1:26-27

 

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

Bible

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

 

Jesus took that to another level. He added:

 

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

Matthew 19:6

 

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

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

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

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

Gulp.

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

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

“Discernment”

stop 2

We hold fast the wrong rules.

And we break the wrong rules.

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

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

I’ll let you answer that one.

We often form opinions without thinking them through

Garth Brooks helped expose the true heart of our country.

Not by his music, but by the T-shirt he wore.

He donned a Barry Sanders jersey during a Feb. 22 concert at Ford Field in Detroit. That shouldn’t have been controversial: Barry Sanders is the best football player ever to wear a Detroit Lions uniform.

Those of us with strong ties to the state of Michigan know this, even if we aren’t diehard football fans. Apparently many people outside of Michigan are clueless.

We assume, wrongly

Instead of researching who wore No. 20 on the Detroit Lions, many people on social media assumed something else – and then wrongly judged the country singer for wearing a “Sanders 20” jersey.

Thankfully, Barry Sanders and Garth Brooks – both Oklahoma State University alumni – had fun where others had hatred. Sanders tweeted to Brooks: “Hey @garthbrooks, want to be my VP? #20For2020.”

Brooks tweeted back: “I would run any race with you! #Number20for2020 HA!!!”

The reference, of course, is to Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist seeking his party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency.

The source of our divide

Why are we so divided politically these days? This is a relatively recent phenomenon. We used to get along with each other, at least tolerating each other even when we disagreed. As a newspaper copy editor, I often disagreed with the political views of many of my co-workers, but I didn’t hate them for it – and vice versa. In fact, I’ve never seen better teamwork, before or since, than I did in that mid-Michigan newsroom for the two decades-plus I worked there.

We had a common goal: Put out the best product we possibly could, every single day, weekends and holidays included. We were good, and our circulation figures showed that.

Until the Internet came along and took away the bulk of the newspaper industry’s income. The newspaper where I once worked now is a shell of what it once was.

Social media, in the minds and pocketbooks of many, has replaced newspapers as the primary news source.

The “media” is us

Not only that, everyone now thinks he or she is a journalist. And every one of us has a platform – often multiple platforms – to display our work.

Except that you’re not a journalist. You aren’t. Expressing an uninformed, judgmental opinion without researching or thinking the issue through is not journalism.

Far too many of you hated on Garth Brooks without knowing what you were writing about.

That’s what this country has lost with the decimation of newspapers.

Polls routinely show that most of you distrust “the media” today. “Media” has many platforms. “Media” is you.

Yes, you. We like to say there’s no such thing as government money; it’s taxpayer money, which is your money and mine. Same thing with “media.” The media you hate is created by you.

The newspaper media, which continues to shrink in volume and influence, isn’t around much anymore to ask the tough questions, to play the watchdog role on local (city, township, school board), state and federal leaders. Our politicians can say whatever they want with few repercussions.

So can you.

What’s to stop you?

Only the truth.

A little research goes a long way

News flash: Barry Sanders and Bernie Sanders are two different people. Barry Sanders wore No. 20 in a Lions’ football uniform. Bernie Sanders is running for president in 2020.

Why is this rocket science? Have we become that illiterate?

We judge everyone and everything far too quickly these days. Our political narrowness has even entered the sports world.

Referees are judged. Rather than try to let them do their jobs, we judge everything they do. Video evidence many times is inconclusive, especially in NFL games – which means the reviews last several minutes and still can’t figure out the correct answer. We’re judging inches for a first down. And pass interference. Seriously?

Getting sick over a virus

News flash: NFL refereeing is not an exact science. We are ruining the game by trying to make it one.

And we are ruining the country trying to turn all of life into one big science experiment.

And we, on our social media platforms, can’t even get science right.

We panic over the coronavirus because we think it’s out to get us, that it’s going to take over the world. Travel and tourism are disrupted. The stock market just had its worst week since 2008. Any human being of Asian descent is suspected of carrying the virus.

Wash your hands, people. We’ll get through this. Don’t be so quick to go into panic mode, judgmental mode.

For example, just a little research on the virus, from Live Science, reveals this:

 

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that includes many different diseases. SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, which is the current scare), does share similarities with other coronaviruses, four of which can cause the common cold. All five viruses have spiky projections on their surfaces and utilize so-called spike proteins to infect host cells. However, the four cold coronaviruses — named 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1 — all utilize humans as their primary hosts. SARS-CoV-2 shares about 90% of its genetic material with coronaviruses that infect bats, which suggests that the virus originated in bats and later hopped to humans

https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-myths.html

 

I learned a few things just from that paragraph. There are many coronavirus viruses, and it appears the current scare originated in bats. And while the death rate from COVID-19 (2.3 percent, subject to change as more research is done) is higher than from the flu (0.1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it’s still not worthy of panic mode.

Precautions, yes. Panic, no.

Not all of life is science

When we react to science, sporting events and a Garth Brooks concert in the same way – well, Houston, we have a problem.

Sports should be – and once were – an escape from real life. Concerts also are a time to lift our spirits and enjoy an emotional high. Illness is real life, with scientists doing their best to find real-life solutions.

Anger, finger-pointing and panic are not appropriate responses in any of those arenas. We’ve lost our moral compass.

You may not agree with me, but a big part of that moral compass came from newspaper reporters and editors. We kept your emotions in check by pursuing facts that our 50,000 readers, including you, could judge for themselves.

That moral compass is nearly gone. With it the moral compass of our country is fading, replaced by the vitriolity of social media.

I’m not sure how to solve this one. But of this I am pretty sure: The solution won’t be found on the Internet.

Sometimes the old stuff is still relevant

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

I had to memorize this before I joined a church for the first time in high school. It’s an ancient statement of Christian beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.

I grew up in formal Protestant churches that were liturgical. We recited the Apostles’ Creed frequently. It’s not a perfect statement of faith, but it’s pretty good. There’s a lot of excellent theology in it.

I attend a non-liturgical church now. We don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer or any other liturgical statement, ever. Well, hardly ever.

I miss it. We want to be all modern and new, but sometimes the old stuff is still relevant.

What is a Christian supposed to believe, anyway? Do we even know any more? Every denomination, every church (whether denominational or not), every group of believers of all types, issues a statement of beliefs. Based on what?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Well, OK. The Apostles’ Creed wasn’t around at the beginning. The first version was written about 390 AD. It’s old, but not quite Bible-times old.

Is the Apostles’ Creed worth remembering today?

I think it is. There’s plenty of good Biblical truth in there that often gets lost in 21st century America.

 

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

 

Can we agree on the opening line? Do all Christians believe God made Heaven and Earth? The Bible begins, in the first words of Genesis, with this truth. If we disregard this, we disregard everything that follows it – both in the Bible and in the creed.

Did God create the Earth in six literal days, or did those six days represent a longer timeline? We weren’t around then, so we have to study evidence we discover about the Creation. Whatever your interpretation, God created Earth – and all that’s in it, including us. That’s ground zero.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

 

Yes or no. Is Jesus God’s only Son, and is He our Lord – which means we serve Him with our daily lives?

 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

 

Was Jesus both God and man? If he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, then the living God is his father. If he was born of Mary, then he was a man, a human being.

This is an impossible concept to fully grasp, and yet it’s true. God himself came to Earth to connect with us on our level, as one of us.

 

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.

 

Many versions of the Apostles’ Creed omit that last line, because it’s controversial. How could the living God descend into hell?

Here’s the best explanation of that I’ve heard (I don’t remember where I heard this first):

In Heaven, we are fully with God. In Hell, we are completely separated from God. (We experience parts of both on Earth, which is why we have such a struggle between good and evil.) When Jesus took our sins, yours and mine, on his shoulders on the cross, God the Father abandoned his Son there – because God cannot even look at sin, much less accept it in any form. Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1), was a literal question. At that instant, when the Father and Son were separated, Jesus descended into hell.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.

 

On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

God the Father forgave all the sin that Jesus had become on our behalf – and by extension, God has forgiven us of all the sins we have committed, are committing and will commit. This is mind-blowing, life-changing, and absolutely true.

This is the definition of unconditional love.

zoo lights 8

All we have to do is accept it, and our sins are forgiven. We can’t earn forgiveness. It’s a gift. We have to say yes, and thank you.

And one day, Jesus will judge us, not for all the good or bad we’ve done or not done, but only on whether we’ve accepted the gift of his forgiveness or not.

Our present and future lives should reflect our thanks to God for this gift. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t talk about this, but if we think we have encountered the living God and our lives don’t change at all because of it, then we haven’t encountered the living God.

This is basic Christianity.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

The creed ends with several theological statements:

  • The Holy Spirit lives in each believer. The Spirit is God, giving us insight into the Father and Son. Again, this is impossible to fully understand, but we will one day.
  • The holy catholic Church refers to all believers around the world. “Catholic” is lowercase; it does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Communion of saints refers to the universal salvation of all believers past, present and future. We are all brothers and sisters, “saints,” in Christ.
  • God forgives sins. He does not excuse or ignore them. Forgiveness requires a huge cost: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Our bodies will be resurrected one day – as perfect heavenly bodies. Again, I can’t explain how this will happen, but the Bible says it will, and Christians look forward to it.
  • Everlasting means forever. We have a beginning, but no end. Earthly death is a temporary thing, a transition to a better life that will be everlasting. This is our hope. Death is hard, especially on those of us remaining on Earth, but we all will face it one day. No exceptions. Are we ready?
  • Amen means “so be it.”

With all kinds of ideas out there about what it means to be a Christian, sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. The Apostles’ Creed is based on the Bible itself.

It’s a good refresher. Hope this encourages you.

The solution for a bleak world

Why me?

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

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

Why me?

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

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

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

Real life encouragement

Mercy is receiving something we don’t deserve.

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy lets us look up, and look beyond ourselves.

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

The best gifts

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

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

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

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

‘We cannot remain insensitive’

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Vatican Pope Migrants

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

 

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

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

A third article offers this assessment:

Afghanistan Elections

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

 

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

The only game plan that works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God does.

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

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

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

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

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

One person at a time.

 

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

 

The need is obvious, is it not?

So is the solution.

A great ending

The new earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The new Jerusalem

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls; each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The river of life

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

The promise of Jesus’ return

“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evil doer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

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

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

 

  • Revelation 21 and 22

The nation’s answer

Change comes from the inside out

Where are You, Lord?

It’s hard to see You sometimes. We just had a weekend with two – count ’em, two – mass shootings. As usual, emotions flared on both sides. Control guns. Improve mental health.

Where are You, Lord?

When we focus on our own issues and point words at each other, we miss You. We scream and yell. We blame. We get angry.

We despair, because we’ve seen it before.

Yet mass shootings are like plane crashes, aren’t they, Lord? They are few and far between, but they are dramatic and deadly, so they get the headlines.

Vehicle crashes happen far more often. People commit suicide far more often. People even kill each other, one-on-one, far more often.

Those situations may get a mention in the media, or they may not. They often are not front-page news.

Yet vehicle crashes and suicide affect far more people than mass shootings do.

I personally knew two people who committed suicide, one a few years ago and one about three decades ago. What if I had said something … if I only knew … perhaps …

Are You there, Lord?

You are.

People have reasons for doing things, good and evil.

Taking away the gun may prevent the mass shooting, but would it save the man’s soul? Would it change the trajectory of his life?

Are You there, Lord?

Is there a bigger picture here?

Can we change what we have become?

We can’t legislate that, can we, Lord? That’s what we want to do. Gun control. Improve access to mental health treatment. Let someone else fix it. Create a program that people can avail themselves of to improve their lives.

That will solve the problem, right?

Many mass shooters are loners, quiet people with few friends who stay in the background of life, exploding at the worst possible moment. I saw a report that 26 of the last 27 mass shooters were fatherless.

Is that the trigger, Lord?

We’re all about personal rights now, individuality, non-conformity, breaking the rules, love (my way) … we don’t hold each other accountable anymore.

Not even in our families.

Our broken families.

Or our churches, many of which are no different than society at large.

Where are You, Lord?

If following You doesn’t change us, what’s the point?

If I can believe whatever I want, then why believe anything?

Is there no right and wrong, Lord?

If mass murder is wrong, then what else is wrong?

Who decides?

That’s why we can’t agree on anything, Lord. We have no foundation in our lives anymore. No good vs. evil. That’s all fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Cinderella and the Evil Stepsisters. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Fairy tales.

No respect for authority. No respect for people of a color or ethnicity different than us. No respect for people not born here.

We’re all just visitors on Planet Earth, aren’t we, Lord? We’re not as different as we think we are.

We say hi to our neighbors but we don’t take time to know them.  Some of us move around more than others, so we have to work harder to meet people.

We’d rather do our own thing.

And then we wonder why we can’t get along with each other.

Even if we follow You, Lord, that doesn’t guarantee that we will get it right.

Reading the book of Acts, the early church had just as many issues as the church in America does today. They had to call their leaders together to hash out some very divisive issues.

But they did it, Lord.

And the church grew because they followed You and Your Scriptures. They rejected the belief that “they have to do it our way.”

Why can’t we get this right, Lord?

In Your last prayer on Earth, You prayed for unity among the believers. You knew how crucial that was, and still is.

We blew it, Lord. Again.

Both sides think they have the right answer, but neither does.

Only You do.

Unconditional love is a phrase we don’t hear very often. Not love (my way). Unconditional love.

What You want.

What the other person wants.

Not my will be done …

Who prays that anymore? Truly prays that?

I’ve been involved with a Tuesday morning prayer group for a year now. (See photo above, taken by Jason Russ. Used by permission.) Not that I’m a “prayer warrior” or anything. But we cry out to You.

Imperfectly, because we are imperfect human beings. But we pray.

We ask forgiveness.

We have our wants and needs, and we pray for those, too.

We pray for healing. Our own healing. Our city’s healing. Our nation’s healing.

Again, we pray imperfectly.

But we pray.

Prayer changes not only our city and nation; it also changes us.

One person at a time.

Where are You, Lord?

That’s where You are.

You are just waiting for us, that’s all.

Waiting for us to pray to You.

To seek Your will.

Not my will, but Thy will be done.

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, how we need You now, Lord.

We are lost as a nation. We can’t save ourselves.

We don’t need You as a policymaker, Lord.

We need Your unconditional love.

We know You love each of us that way.

Help us to love each other that way too, to follow Your example.

Nothing else works. We’ve tried.

Oh, how we’ve tried.

I can’t go to Dayton or El Paso and make everything right.

But I can do something right here, right now, right where I live.

Show me, Lord.

Lead me.

What my neighbor does is up to him (or her).

This isn’t rocket science, Lord, but it is radical.

Unconditional love.

Only You, Lord, know what that truly looks like.

Show us, Lord.

Because that’s the only answer than will work in the long run.

Repentance is a practice, and other truths

 

Nuggets of truth I learned in a year-long study through several Old Testament books:

 

  • God’s definition of success is to be faithful, and we do that by meditating on His word.
  • We are on God’s team. He is not on our team.
  • Sometimes, we don’t understand God’s directions. But He sees the big picture.
  • The Christian life is a marathon. Jesus has already finished the race, and returned to help us through it.
  • What are my gods? Where do I spend my time? What do I think about during the day, and at night? What do I worry about?
  • God sometimes empties us before He can fill us.
  • Kindness leads people to repentance.
  • Christ redeems us, even if we are foreigners (as Boaz did for Ruth).
  • What do we do with our idols when they don’t work? We often prop them up, and keep using them – to our destruction.
  • Repentance: Turn away from sin, turn to God.
  • We have to ask for deliverance continually. This is sanctification.
  • I need to lead with confidence where God has given me influence.
  • The Psalms are like a waterfall. Singular verses are good, but they aren’t a waterfall.
  • The Psalms have the power to realign our hearts to God. They are cracking the vault of my buried emotions.
  • God used both success and trouble to shape David’s life.
  • Do I want to let God write my story, or do I want to write it for Him?
  • Hopelessness is pervasive today. We look in all the wrong places for hope.
  • Am I looking for relief, or relationship?
  • David inquired of the Lord …
  • I don’t know God’s timing.
  • We are living our lives in the middle of God’s throne room. We get to join God in what He is doing.
  • Win or lose, I should worship God.
  • Do I reflect on how merciful God is in my life? What do I dream about? Probably about me, not God. He rested on the seventh day to reflect on what He’d created.
  • Israel is a great nation because it has a great God.
  • Am I willing to trade my plan for His, even if I don’t see it fulfilled?
  • Many of our battles are internal – lust, greed, pride, self-centeredness. But the victory has already been won.
  • Repentance is a practice. I have to get rid of sin. Otherwise, the pain stays.
  • Obedience brings blessing. Disobedience brings judgment.
  • Church attendance isn’t enough. A personal encounter with God changes lives.
  • Israel trusted in the ark of God, instead of the God of the ark.
  • God will not be mocked. He expects His people to live differently than everyone else does.
  • God intends us to build each other up, even if others hurt us – the way David respected Saul.
  • God rested on the seventh day – not just to rest, but to reflect on what He’d done.
  • When a prophet shows up, usually there’s a reason and it doesn’t go well.
  • We can choose to sin, but we cannot choose the consequences. Stop before it starts. The longer we wait, the harder it gets.
  • God is just. We blow off sin. God does not. (For example, when David took a census of Israel toward the end of his life, he wanted to celebrate Israel’s size, not God’s power. God’s judgment for that cost 70,000 people their lives.)
  • God limited places of worship to keep pagan practices out, but Solomon worshiped at high places of pagan gods.
  • The focus is not what I need, but who I need.
  • God’s gifts do not ensure that we use them wisely.
  • We do not create wisdom. We discover it.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have to experience everything to learn lessons.
  • Even when we are distant from God, we can call out to Him for forgiveness.
  • The central Temple building is no longer needed. Our bodies are God’s temple.
  • Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligation; that was not devotion.
  • Leaders are to execute justice and righteousness.
  • Each day presents new opportunities to trust God or go our own way.
  • Not all adversity is because of sin, but if we face adversity, a heart check is a good idea.
  • Pleasure is only for a moment. God is forever.

 

 

 

A day in the life of …

Driving in the middle of three lanes on the Ohio Turnpike the other day, I was coming up on the exit before the one I wanted. Semi-trucks filled the right and middle lanes as we approached the exit. The trucks in the right-hand lane left the turnpike, then one of the semis in the middle lane slowed down, crossed two lanes and also exited. I braked to 35 mph on a 70 mph highway.

I’ve seen cars do that a number of times, always because they were driving too fast before cutting in front of me to exit. I hadn’t seen a semi do that before. He probably just couldn’t move to the right lane because of the traffic already there.

Last night I avoided the highway because it snowed during the day and the roads were bad. I heard reports of numerous wrecks. Some roads I traversed were clear; others were snow-covered. Keeping alert, I reached my destinations without a hitch.

As I’m typing this, I’m thinking I need to make my picks for this weekend’s NFL wild-card playoff games. I’m in a family football pool; during the season, I finished in the middle of the pack. I got some picks right, and missed badly on many others. If I was a fanatic, maybe I would have done better. No biggie. It was fun.

A Monday vacation

I had Monday off this week for the New Year’s holiday. My wife did not, so I got a day to myself. I went for a jog in the morning. I don’t have an exercise plan; I just go when I feel like it. I like the fresh air, and it energizes me when the blood starts pumping.

On Wednesday morning, I was tired and had a headache. I get time off midday, so I went for another jog. It felt good. I still was tired afterward, so I downed some aspirin and an extra cup of coffee. Something worked, because I felt better that afternoon and evening.

Oh yeah, back to Monday. After the jog and a shower, I headed to Crocker Park in nearby Westlake to spend a gift card I got for Christmas. Bad move. It was a holiday. I couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere, even in a four-floor garage – with dozens of other drivers looking for a spot in there too. I never did spend the gift card. I’ll go back another day.

In the (not) bleak mid-winter

I saw a Facebook post that nothing good happens in January. It’s cold and snowy in the upper Midwest. I like the cold and snow, although 10 degrees is a little much to be outside for long.

But January is not all bad. I started my last two jobs, including my current one, in January. We moved to Elyria three years ago – in January. During a polar vortex, by the way.

A couple of days ago, I took a package to the post office. There were seven or eight of us in line, and only one clerk. She buzzed the back for help, but none came. The line kept growing. The clerk worked quickly, but professionally and efficiently. When it was my turn, I told her she was doing a great job. I worked in a call center for 2.5 years; compliments are one in 1,000, literally. A little encouragement goes a very long way.

I hope the clerk was encouraged.

A typical day

I start my mornings in a La-Z-Boy with a cup of coffee and my Bible, often with one cat on my lap and the other cat on the headrest. What a great way to begin the day. It’s quiet and warm. Definitely worth setting the alarm a few minutes early for.

At work, I drive a wheelchair-accessible van to pick up several individuals with special needs and bring them to our “socialization center” for the day, then drive them home late afternoon. I have a wide-ranging route that takes me into the next county. Most of my folks are non-verbal, so I talk to them and they don’t talk back.

The first guy I pick up likes to empty the storage bin above where he sits. There’s an umbrella, ice scraper, two rolled-up blankets and couple of other things up there. He likes to play with them while I’m driving. Whatever. Except that sometimes he’s slow getting out of the van when we arrive because he won’t let go of what he’s playing with at that moment.

The next guy I pick up most days is verbal, so we’ll talk about his family, the Browns or Cavaliers, or whatever is on his mind that day.

I also regularly pick up two non-verbal ladies, one of whom likes to unzip her coat and take off her shoes in the van even though there’s snow outside.

These folks are my second family, and I enjoy being with them. My co-workers at the center are wonderful to work with, too.

Picking (a very few) battles

Why am I rambling on like this? To prove a point, actually. My life does not revolve around Donald Trump or Barack Obama. I suspect this is true for most Americans.

We can argue politics all day long and may not ever agree on the major issues. Or the minor ones. Or which issues are major and which ones are minor.

I value your friendship, and I’d rather not ruin it by getting dogmatic about things I can’t control. I can vote and write letters if I’m passionate enough; if that’s your thing, go for it. We each do have our issues.

I have a life to live. I pick my battles. My battles may or may not coincide with yours. If they do, I may or may not agree with you.

Ultimately, each of us will have to stand before our Maker and defend who we are, what we’ve done and what we’ve stood for. I’m not your judge. You are not my judge. Let’s not play that game.

Speaking of games, time to make those NFL playoff picks, then get some lunch. Then relax for an hour or two before returning to work.

Have a nice day. Let’s keep in touch.

A day in the life of …

Driving in the middle of three lanes on the Ohio Turnpike the other day, I was coming up on the exit before the one I wanted. Semi-trucks filled the right and middle lanes as we approached the exit. The trucks in the right-hand lane left the turnpike, then one of the semis in the middle lane slowed down, crossed two lanes and also exited. I braked to 35 mph on a 70 mph highway.

I’ve seen cars do that a number of times, always because they were driving too fast before cutting in front of me to exit. I hadn’t seen a semi do that before. He probably just couldn’t move to the right lane because of the traffic already there.

Last night I avoided the highway because it snowed during the day and the roads were bad. I heard reports of numerous wrecks. Some roads I traversed were clear; others were snow-covered. Keeping alert, I reached my destinations without a hitch.

As I’m typing this, I’m thinking I need to make my picks for this weekend’s NFL wild-card playoff games. I’m in a family football pool; during the season, I finished in the middle of the pack. I got some picks right, and missed badly on many others. If I was a fanatic, maybe I would have done better. No biggie. It was fun.

A Monday vacation

I had Monday off this week for the New Year’s holiday. My wife did not, so I got a day to myself. I went for a jog in the morning. I don’t have an exercise plan; I just go when I feel like it. I like the fresh air, and it energizes me when the blood starts pumping.

On Wednesday morning, I was tired and had a headache. I get time off midday, so I went for another jog. It felt good. I still was tired afterward, so I downed some aspirin and an extra cup of coffee. Something worked, because I felt better that afternoon and evening.

Oh yeah, back to Monday. After the jog and a shower, I headed to Crocker Park in nearby Westlake to spend a gift card I got for Christmas. Bad move. It was a holiday. I couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere, even in a four-floor garage – with dozens of other drivers looking for a spot in there too. I never did spend the gift card. I’ll go back another day.

In the (not) bleak mid-winter

I saw a Facebook post that nothing good happens in January. It’s cold and snowy in the upper Midwest. I like the cold and snow, although 10 degrees is a little much to be outside for long.

But January is not all bad. I started my last two jobs, including my current one, in January. We moved to Elyria three years ago – in January. During a polar vortex, by the way.

A couple of days ago, I took a package to the post office. There were seven or eight of us in line, and only one clerk. She buzzed the back for help, but none came. The line kept growing. The clerk worked quickly, but professionally and efficiently. When it was my turn, I told her she was doing a great job. I worked in a call center for 2.5 years; compliments are one in 1,000, literally. A little encouragement goes a very long way.

I hope the clerk was encouraged.

A typical day

I start my mornings in a La-Z-Boy with a cup of coffee and my Bible, often with one cat on my lap and the other cat on the headrest. What a great way to begin the day. It’s quiet and warm. Definitely worth setting the alarm a few minutes early for.

At work, I drive a wheelchair-accessible van to pick up several individuals with special needs and bring them to our “socialization center” for the day, then drive them home late afternoon. I have a wide-ranging route that takes me into the next county. Most of my folks are non-verbal, so I talk to them and they don’t talk back.

The first guy I pick up likes to empty the storage bin above where he sits. There’s an umbrella, ice scraper, two rolled-up blankets and couple of other things up there. He likes to play with them while I’m driving. Whatever. Except that sometimes he’s slow getting out of the van when we arrive because he won’t let go of what he’s playing with at that moment.

The next guy I pick up most days is verbal, so we’ll talk about his family, the Browns or Cavaliers, or whatever is on his mind that day.

I also regularly pick up two non-verbal ladies, one of whom likes to unzip her coat and take off her shoes in the van even though there’s snow outside.

These folks are my second family, and I enjoy being with them. My co-workers at the center are wonderful to work with, too.

Picking (a very few) battles

Why am I rambling on like this? To prove a point, actually. My life does not revolve around Donald Trump or Barack Obama. I suspect this is true for most Americans.

We can argue politics all day long and may not ever agree on the major issues. Or the minor ones. Or which issues are major and which ones are minor.

I value your friendship, and I’d rather not ruin it by getting dogmatic about things I can’t control. I can vote and write letters if I’m passionate enough; if that’s your thing, go for it. We each do have our issues.

I have a life to live. I pick my battles. My battles may or may not coincide with yours. If they do, I may or may not agree with you.

Ultimately, each of us will have to stand before our Maker and defend who we are, what we’ve done and what we’ve stood for. I’m not your judge. You are not my judge. Let’s not play that game.

Speaking of games, time to make those NFL playoff picks, then get some lunch. Then relax for an hour or two before returning to work.

Have a nice day. Let’s keep in touch.