Real life

bangladeshRescuers today search for survivors and bodies after Tuesday’s massive landslide in Rangamati district, Bangladesh. (The Associated Press)

It’s hot outside this week.

That’s been the lead story (or close to it) on the six o’clock news every day. Glad they told me it’s hot. Wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise.

I did learn something, though. We’ve had an official “heat wave,” which is three consecutive days of 90-degree temperatures. We tied a daily record here in the Cleveland area twice this week, with 93 on both Sunday and Tuesday.

We’ve long had a fascination with weather in this country. TV stations hire as many meteorologists as they do news reporters. (That’s an exaggeration, but probably not a big one.) The news radio station I listen to in the morning gives a weather update every 10 minutes (because listeners tune in and out quickly, and the station wants to ensure everyone hears a weather report).

Weather effects

Does weather change our plans often?

The people I work with like spending time outside, but when it rains, we don’t do that. When the sun shines, we use sun block – lots of it. When it’s humid, we limit our time outside to short stretches. In the winter we don’t sit outside because it’s too cold. We enjoy indoor activities.

So yes, weather does affect our plans.

Personally? Not so much.

I like being outside in all types of weather. I walk or jog year-round. In winter I wear layers of clothing. I don’t don a scarf because I like the fresh air on my face. There have been days I’ve chickened out because I didn’t want to deal with the cold, mostly because of my fingers – the first part of me to get cold, even with two pairs of gloves on.

In the summer, I like being outside when it rains. On a hot humid day, especially, rain feels good.

I’ve been out a few times when it’s rained so hard my shorts and T-shirt get as drenched as they do in the washing machine.

When a thunderstorm passes by, I’ll sit on the front porch and watch it. Lightning and storm clouds are cool (as long as nothing gets hit and catches fire).

We are blessed in the Upper Midwest that we rarely get severe storms. The occasional tornado or damaging thunderstorm is about it.

In the extreme

Extreme weather makes the national news frequently. Severe tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, the occasional rock slide or mudslide affect various parts of our country and world.

Wildfires are another story. Some occur naturally; some are the work of humans, either intentionally or not. They can and do cause severe damage. I can’t imagine being in the path of an out-of-control wildfire.

Fire is wonderful when it’s confined to the barbecue grill or backyard pit. It’s essential to operate a stove, furnace and your car. We need to treat those flames and sparks carefully, as we all know.

Weather makes the news internationally, too. Just now on https://weather.com/ I see a story about a Bangladesh mudslide that has killed at least 140 people and caused massive destruction. Wow.

Bangladesh, east of India, is a densely-populated country of 161 million people. Poverty is deep and widespread. Formerly East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being in 1971, when the two parts of Pakistan split after a bitter war.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12650940

Because of its poverty and population density, weather events frequently have extreme consequences there. This is yet another reason that those of us who live in the United States can be grateful.

While weather dominates the local news this week, we can give thanks that it’s not nearly as severe as Bangladesh is enduring right now – or, perhaps, other parts of the U.S. We do need to take precautions, though, as the newscasters repeatedly tell us: Stay hydrated (water is best), don’t overdo the sun (skin cancer and sunburn are real) and watch out for bikers and pedestrians on the road.

‘Real’ life, ‘real’ power

Why talk about the weather when there’s “real” news to talk about, such as ongoing – and new – intrigue in Washington, D.C.? Because not everything in life demands controversy. Not everything is a life-and-death matter. (Although the weather can involve deadly situations.)

Politics is a game that some people play well, and most people play poorly. Depends who you ask who plays politics well or not.

Weather, on the other hand, is what it is. Weather is real life. Today, it’s hot. Tomorrow, we might get thunderstorms. Sunday, it’s supposed to cool off. (We’ll see if that weather front actually reaches us on Sunday.) We plan accordingly, and adjust as needed. We compromise. We make it work.

We enjoy the weather, we avoid it or perhaps we endure it, if we work outside and it’s uncomfortably hot, for example. We delay children’s ball games when lightning strikes nearby, because we fear the worst.

We spend too much of our lives that way. We fear the worst, so that’s how we live. We expect bad things to happen. Even regarding weather.

I’ll stay on my porch when thunder and lightning dominate the sky. Storms reveal nature’s power, and our helplessness, in a way. There are forces out there bigger than us. Much bigger.

We respect them. Because we have to.

Because with weather, we deal with life as it really is.

Jesus not running for office

They say that in polite society, we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion. Well, let’s break all the rules and talk about both. At the same time.

No, I’m not going to talk about Donald Trump and the Christian vote. Let’s tackle something bigger, with longer-lasting consequences.
Jesus Christ is not a political figure. He had – and has – a much wider purpose than that.

Some people try to politicize Jesus, claiming that He stands for their political or social viewpoint. He hates gay marriage and abortion so He must be Republican, right? He’s all about love and wouldn’t judge anyone, so He favors the Democrats, right?

You and I can make the Bible say just about anything we want it to. We do that by emphasizing certain parts of it and ignoring the rest.

But God doesn’t work that way. If we decide what parts of God we like and which parts we don’t, then we are making ourselves to be God – and the true God is just our puppet, whatever we want Him to be.

No wonder God says He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

God has a much higher calling than to play these games. He is God, after all.

Jesus is God. This becomes clear in the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …” (John 1:1-3,14)

Therefore, Jesus also has a much higher calling than to play political games.

Let’s take a tour through the gospel of Matthew, written by that disciple of Jesus to an audience of Jews, to show that Jesus is not a political figure, even though other people tried to turn him into one.

First opponent: King Herod

Not long after Jesus’ birth, King Herod saw him as a future political enemy. Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem to pay homage to Jesus. “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened …” (Mat. 2:3) As a result, Herod tried to kill Jesus: “… for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mat. 2:13)

Why would King Herod care about a baby, unless he saw the child as a threat to his own power?

In response, his parents, Mary and Joseph, fled the scene (Mat. 2:14) until Herod died and the threat was over.

First adult opponent: Satan

As an adult, Jesus could choose His own path. First up: Satan himself tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Mat. 4:1). Among other things, Satan offered Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, “if you will fall down and worship me.” (Mat. 4:9) If Jesus wanted political power, He had the chance right there to be the greatest ruler this world has ever seen. Jesus turned him down cold: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Mat. 4:10)

Blessings and faith

The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in chapters 5 through 7, records nothing political. He talks about blessings, salt and light, fulfilling the law, anger, lust, divorce, vows, retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, money, worry, criticizing others, asking, heaven, fruit, and building our house on rock or sand.

These are spiritual issues. Jesus has a much different take on anger, lust, divorce and money, for example, than politicians do. Read the Sermon on the Mount and discover this for yourself.

Faith trumps politics

Next, Jesus encountered a Roman centurion, a military figure in that time period. Jesus praised this centurion for his faith (Mat. 8:5-13). Faith rises above politics in Jesus’ eyes.

Soon after, Jesus called Matthew, author of this book, and challenged him to “follow me.” Matthew was a tax collector (Mat. 9:9), a Jewish person employed by the Romans to tax the Jews, often unfairly. We think the IRS is evil; the IRS is nothing compared to the cheating, traitorous, overcharging tax collectors of Biblical times.

When Matthew left his job to follow Jesus, he made a permanent break. He lost his tax booth permanently. Faith trumped politics big-time in Matthew’s life.

Something old, something new

Next, Jesus told the disciples of John that the Holy Spirit is an entirely new game, not even a new take on the religious/political system of the day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Mat. 9:16-17)

Jesus brought an entirely new way of thinking and living to this Earth. It didn’t fit in with the old system; it required a different mindset and lifestyle.

This was radical then, and it’s radical today.

For example, the religious leaders had turned the Sabbath into a do-no-work-under-any-circumstances day, with a couple of loopholes. Jesus threw all that out and changed the game. Jesus let his disciples pick wheat on the Sabbath because they were hungry, and he healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath because He could (Mat. 12:1-14).

Next comes a chapter of parables, none of which are political: four soils, weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure and a fishing net. Jesus is changing the mindset and lifestyle of His listeners, nothing less.

Misunderstanding the parade

Let’s jump to Palm Sunday. Jesus orchestrated a parade for His entrance to Jerusalem, even though He knew the religious leaders there wanted to kill him. He did not hide from his accusers at all.

Most interesting is the response of the general population. Those attending the parade shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mat. 21:9)

Why “hosanna?” They wanted a military leader to overthrow oppressive Rome.

Hosanna, according to http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/hosanna/ is a joyful Aramaic exclamation of praise, apparently specific to the major Jewish religious festivals (especially Passover and Tabernacles) in which the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) was recited. Originally an appeal for deliverance (Heb. hosia na, please see Psalm 118:25), it came in liturgical usage to serve as an expression of joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated. When Jesus came to Jerusalem for his final presentation of himself to Israel, the expression came readily to the lips of the Passover crowds. (emphasis added)

Hosanna is a military term of deliverance from oppression. Later in the week, when the crowd realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that, they ordered Him crucified (Mat. 27:15-26).

Jesus’ real purpose

One footnote during Holy Week: Jesus supported paying government taxes. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mat. 22:21)

Jesus even supported the government leaders and their taxing authority as they were finalizing details to crucify Him. He did not change his “morals” just because His life was threatened. Who has that kind of moral backbone today?

Jesus had one purpose in coming to Earth: to make His Father personal, to offer intimate relationship with Himself to us. That’s it.

Jesus’ mission and ministry were 100 percent spiritual. Politicians and religious leaders could not kill him or defeat him, although they tried. Jesus had – and still has – a much higher calling.

This is good news! As Jesus taught, we are so much better than what we’ve become. It’s time we started living like it.

 

For further reading:

http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/blog/19069-jesus-is-not-political

Faith and America: Judge others carefully

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

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

So, where to draw the line?

Co-exist: Yes and no

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

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

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

We certainly should.

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

More on that in a minute.

Church and state

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

 

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

Amendment I, The Constitution of the United States of America

 

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

Declaration of Independence

 

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

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

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

Faith and violence

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

 

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

Qur’an, 47:4a

 

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

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

 

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

The Bible, Joshua 8:19-22

 

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

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

Incompatible faiths

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

 

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

Qur’an, 5:17

 

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

Indeed you have put forth a thing most monstrous! …

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

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

Qur’an, 19:88-89, 91-92

 

 

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

The Bible, John 14:6-7

 

Muslims and Christians cannot worship together, obviously.

Can they live together peacefully?

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

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

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

Faith and America

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish we could leave it at that.

 

A couple of other perspectives:

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

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

Christians and Muslims can get along:

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

 

We get what we deserve

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

 

This quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, graced the entrance of a high school I entered recently. It’s a good reminder for all of us in these days of political firestorms.

President Trump is an easy target for finger-pointers these days. He’s making dramatic policy changes, including The Wall and an immigration ban, two related decisions in an attempt to keep potential terrorists out of the United States.

There’s collateral damage. Innocent people are affected. That’s all the rage these days.

Explaining Trump

The questions for me are: Why does Trump feel these decisions are even necessary? And if his policies are so bad, why did we elect him president in the first place?

The second question has a deeper answer than most of us are willing to admit. All of us are responsible for Trump, whether we voted for him or not. All of us created the atmosphere that has allowed him to take charge. Even those among us who oppose him.

The role of the media

One of Trump’s first actions as president was to attack the media, saying he would control the information that comes out of certain government agencies. His tweets bypass traditional media outlets. These are two separate but connected issues. He’s our oldest president, but also the most social media-savvy. He’s changing the rules.

As a (former) journalist, this worries me. The media are a necessary watchdog on government. But the media are among the groups that have created the atmosphere that allows Trump to thrive.

Television newscasts are little more than political commentary and reports on extreme weather, with an occasional feel-good story thrown in for good measure. Newspapers have – and continue to – gut their staffs to the point where they aren’t able to attend local city council or township board meetings, or ask the tough questions even when they do. The last newspaper I worked for is more concerned with winning peer-driven plaques and trophies than it is in writing and editing news that matters to its readers.

Beyond the fatal crash

On Jan. 24, a Cleveland police officer was killed while directing traffic around two previous accidents on Interstate 90 on the city’s west side. Once the officer died, emotions took over and that’s all the media – and everyone else – has talked about.

There’s nothing wrong with memorializing a fallen officer, of course. He was killed by a hit-skip driver who was arrested several hours later in a city west of Cleveland. If this driver faces trial and is found guilty, I hope they throw the book at him. Officer Fahey died a tragic, untimely death.

But no one talks about the beginning of his end.

There was a single-vehicle crash on westbound I-90 near Hilliard Road reported at 5:04 a.m. Jan. 24. Police responding to that accident requested medical assistance, so a Rocky River fire truck was dispatched to the scene.

At 5:33 a.m., a Chevrolet van crashed into the fire truck, killing the driver and sending a passenger to a nearby hospital.

Officer Fahey was setting up traffic flares around the fire truck at 6 a.m. when a white Toyota Camry hit him and fled west on I-90.

I saw one brief newspaper article naming the Chevy van driver who died. I never saw anything on the original crash, the single-vehicle wreck that started the whole thing.

And that’s my point. Details, people. No one cares about details any more. Including the media.

Once Officer Fahey died, that became not only the main story, as it should have been, but it became the only story, which it wasn’t. There were two other crashes that preceded it.

If either did not happen, Officer Fahey most likely would still be serving among us.

Because (presumably) no one died in that first wreck, no one cared about it. Even though it started an escalating sequence that culminated in the death of a police officer.

Small things often lead to big things.

Distorting facts

Not only does the media miss details, sometimes it misrepresents them. Sports Illustrated in its current issue wrote an article about “The Super Bowl sex-trafficking myth.” The magazine presents evidence that sex-trafficking statistics have been skewed to showcase a problem that isn’t nearly as severe as the manipulators want it to be.

Sex trafficking is a major issue in this country, but it’s year-round in numerous cities and places, Sports Illustrated argues. It’s not a one-time problem that goes away once the Super Bowl hoopla ends. By misrepresenting the issue, proponents are actually undermining efforts to stem sex trafficking across the nation.

Why does President Trump attack the media so hard? Because the media, in general, is no longer doing well the job it’s supposed to be doing.

Instead of getting all emotional about Trump’s actions, how about a focus on details and accuracy?

Terrorism was a major issue in 2016. There were a number of attacks around the world, including on U.S. soil. Trump campaigned against this. We elected him. Here we go.

How do terrorists get into the United States? Is Trump targeting the wrong countries? Would a different strategy work better?

Instead of soundbites and one-liners, how about a little research to make your point?

Since the media aren’t doing much of that research now, and since the Internet has opened up the world of information to all of us, we each do our own research. Nearly all of it is slanted. We pick the sources that make the points we want to make. The other side picks the points it wants to make. Trying to sort it all out is a difficult game.

Rise above the firestorm

In this information overload and fact vacuum, enter Trump. He’s the result, not the cause, of what this nation has become.

Instead of firing off hateful one-sided diatribes, perhaps we should take the advice those high school students offer. Be the change.

I saw this LinkedIn post the other day:

 

Apart from the ballot box, philanthropy presents the one opportunity the individual has to express her or his meaningful choice over the direction in which any society will progress. (author unknown)

 

My comment on that post:

 

Philanthropy is throwing money at the problem, which is good. A better word is volunteerism, which is actually doing something.

 

We’re good at pointing fingers. Those of us who have money are good at spending it.

Let’s get off our rear ends, myself included, and get back in the game. Whether it’s through traditional media or other means, we need to discover the truths about life, why things happen as well as how. Let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s be more objective. More open-minded. More sensitive.

If Trump is a bull in a china shop, it’s because we are, too.

Too much destruction going on. Time to build up.

And I don’t mean a wall.

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.

The most controversial man who ever lived

jesusthe-passion-of-the-christ

Who is Jesus Christ, really?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s so controversial about that?

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

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

                                                                         

Two sides of Jesus

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

But that Jesus wasn’t crucified.

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

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

                                                                       

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

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

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

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

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

Love is a choice. It’s not automatic.

Good vs. evil

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

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

Right?

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

Which side do I choose?

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

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

Who is Jesus?

That’s where Jesus Christ comes in.

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

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

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

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

Become like children

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

To what end?

Is there an end?

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

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

Limitations

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

The spiritual battle

Jesus saw a bigger picture.

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

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

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

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

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

Whose side are you on?

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

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

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

Choose wisely.