Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks for What?

Thanksgiving did not originate as most of us think it did.

I have spent some time (probably not enough, though) studying this holiday that everyone remembers, and here are just some of the facts about how it started.

The first thanksgiving celebration in what would become known as "America" happened on September 8, 1565. A Spanish explorer named Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed in Florida. He was grateful to have arrived safely, and held a feast of giving thanks with a group of the Timucua native Americans. They stuffed themselves with a bean soup. In 1820, the Timucua became extinct, thanks to European diseases and invasion warfare.

In the "Commonwealth of Virginia," thanksgiving feasts and celebrations are recorded from as early as May 14, 1607. Captain John Woodlief declared, "the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God." I haven't found the reason for it, but 9 people there, and about a third of the colony population, were killed by the Powhatan Indians in 1622.

"The First Thanksgiving, 1621" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.
Pilgrims never wore such clothes, and the northeast region
natives never wore these great plains styles.
The story we all think we know from Massachusetts isn't much different. The Pilgrims were NOT Puritans. They were a political group of English Separatists. (The Puritans had settled nearby, where Boston is now, but were not part of this story.) All but about 50 of the Pilgrims died over the winter of 1620. The survivors only lived because the Wampanoag Indian tribe taught them how to plant, gather, and preserve foods. After their fall harvest in 1621, they celebrated a feast of thanksgiving. The food was deer taken in the forest by natives, fowl raised by the Pilgrims, natural nuts from the forest, seafood, and various harvested grains. The celebration lasted 3 days. Within 20 years, the Wampanoag were nearly wiped out by the combination of disease and the Pilgrims' belief that they had the right to take over the land.

Native elders rarely saw any of the true Christian settlers who followed a highly desirable "spirit-man" named Jesus. Christian leaders rarely saw natives who started every day by giving thanks to Creator for life, and celebrated every gift from him. Neither understood the other. Only a few of both sides truly loved God with heart, soul, and mind. On the rare occasions when they faced each other through the love of God, they lived in peace.

All Americans should know the truths about the Thanksgiving holiday. (And I'll tell you now, I have only scratched the surface here.) We should learn from its history, then we should let that history pass. It was good in some ways, and evil in others. But what about today?

Today, just make it a holiday of giving thanks to God for whatever blessing you have received, and for bringing you through whatever hardships you have faced. God loves every person to the point that he gave his only Son, that through the cross all could accept his love. Meet your neighbors with that love, and share your thanksgiving.

Who do we hate? Who do we ignore? If we are truly saved by and living for Jesus Christ, we can't hate or ignore anyone. What are we missing? What do we have? Whatever our conditions may be, whether the table is loaded or light, give thanks to God for the greatest gift he has given, Jesus Christ, and reach out with the love from that gift to everyone else.

"Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9.10-15)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Feeling Low, and Getting Over It

Father, this morning I'm feeling low. No, not low. Feeling so bad it would need a word that's been cleaned from my vocabulary. Why do I feel so bad this morning? I'm not hurting anywhere. I got a great night's sleep. I went to the doctor's office yesterday, and after they took their blood tests, he told me how great the numbers were. Everything going on around me is working fine (except that I have to go to work, I guess). And everything I'm being told is good news. So what's up?

I start the next wave of treatments next Monday morning, but I thought that was under control. We've been through that. The doctor told me he didn't expect I would have any problems. I took this drug for a month, and had no side effects. My blood numbers didn't go down at all, even with the radiation along with it. So now I get to take the drug for just five days. Then take 23 days off before taking it again.

Well, the stuff IS a poison after all. Yeah, I know. I've got a Chemistry degree. I've seen what this chemical is. I know what it does to cancer cells, and how it does it. I also know it does the same to a bunch of the other cells in the body. My body. The doc said that during the 23 days after taking it, the good cells will rebuild, because the body cares about them and will replace them. The cancer cells-- If they're there at all, and we know they're not.-- They won't be replaced, because they're not connected to the body. My body.

But now the dose is being doubled, since the radiation is done. And if the doctor thinks I'm looking OK, he may increase it even more. Yeah. More poison if I'm doing good.

I've been through so much with this, Father. You have strengthened me and led me through all of it.

OK. Yeah, I remember. That first message you gave me through another leader. "You'll come through it. But you have to go through all of it." When I heard it, it sounded alright, but I didn't get it right away. Then-- when my self-reliance was torn down to nothing and my reliance on you replaced it-- I understood. In everything... Everything!... I had to learn to put it all on you. Fear and courage. Worry and confidence. Pain and pleasure. Suffering and relief. Anger and attraction. Hatred and love. Sorrow and joy. All on you, Father. I learned about praying these things, and truly leaving them at your feet. At the cross of Jesus Christ. Your son. My Lord and (in ways I'll never fully understand) my perfect brother.

So Father, you're telling me I'm not all the way there yet. Will I ever be? No? But oh-- OK-- I will always grow in my faith and trust and confidence and love and all those other ways in you, for the rest of my life. Right now it's the trust thing. Yes, Father. I trust you will get me through these next six months of treatments, and the recovery time after them. And I trust that my trust and faith and trust and confidence and trust will be stronger than I can imagine. Already stronger in you now, than I ever knew I could be. Yet I know it's just the beginning of what you have in mind for me, so you can fulfill what you have called me to do for you and for your Kingdom.

So here I am, back at the Cross. I see and feel your perfect love flowing into and around me, from my loving Saviour who sacrificed himself on it, for me. I love you, Lord, with all my feelings, all my being, all my strength, and all my thoughts (Luke 10.27), weak as they still are. And you've given me a most unexpected, but blessed, answer. In my past days, I was more like that disciple Simon Peter, than I ever wanted to believe. "'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.' Peter said to him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.' Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.'” (Luke 22.31-34) And like you did with him, Lord, you are bringing me out the other side.

Now I understand. Well, at least more than when I started. So here, Lord. Take this fear and worry and emotion that I have right now. I'm handing them all over to you, and will not pick them up again. I see and accept that you're not done. Through these six cycles of treatment with poison, and recovery time after them, you are going to make me into what I never dreamed possible. And I will rely on you as my source of strength and wisdom and knowledge and everything else, far more than I do already.

Thanks, Father. I'm feeling pretty good now.

Cross image copied from "St James' Kids" blog.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Find Perfect Love

Late in July of this year, I was found to have cancer in my brain. If you want to review the story, you can read an earlier posting about the details of my cancer treatment in the hospital. And you can read about an unexpected gift, Boomer.

Since those postings, I have had six weeks of combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments. I was supposed to feel fatigue, and have an upset stomach. The radiation was supposed to cause a "sunburn" on the side of my face. I had none of those.

Here's a common sermon illustration-- When a person goes to the altar to pray, she takes the burdens off of her shoulders, and prays to the Lord that He will take those burdens away. Then she gets up from the altar, picks up the burdens again, and carries them back out. It's fairly clear-- When a person asks God to take her burdens, she should leave them there, right? Right.

Well, that illustration isn't totally accurate. What usually happens is a person takes his burdens to the altar, but never takes them off his own shoulders while he asks God to take them away. He prays while holding the burdens to himself!

The Star Trek bridge device, shooting my head with X-rays.
My head was held in place by a stiff plastic net.
Thousands of shots, from hundreds of angles,
all within 2 minutes.
When I was taking the treatments, they were shooting through one of my brain's emotion centers with high powered X-rays. What I felt coming on was depression. Now, I understand what can cause depression, but I had none of those usual causes. So I knew that it was from the radiation. I passed this information to those praying for me, and I handed the whole thing over to God my Father. I told Him that I knew there was nothing I could do about it, and asked Him to get me through it.

The result was that the depression passed that day. And each day through the treatments, my personal feelings of joy and satisfaction increased. At the end of the treatments, when I was supposed to be at my worst, I felt almost normal.

Read 1 John 4.7-21. Right now, I'll focus on verses 18-19: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us."

I had bypassed fear on all of this. When I could have been afraid, I had no emotions at all. I think that was God's gift, for His purposes. When they came back, the most powerful emotion I felt was the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and the love He had given to me.

I know many, many Christians who have disease or injury, and have not been healed. Why is that, even though they love God? It's because they don't let go! Maybe he thinks he has to do something to earn healing. Maybe she wants to be healed, more than she loves the Lord. Maybe his heart is such that if he is healed, he'll wander off some other way. Maybe she thinks she loves God, but it's just an emotion of her own. Whatever the details, they don't truly let go of the burdens they are carrying.

I also know Christians who have disease or injury, but are not bothered or afraid. They serve and love God and other people. They may or may not be healed in their lifetimes. But they aren't worried by that. They are powered by the love of Christ that lives and moves within them.

How did I get through this so far? How can I face the possibility that the cancer could return, yet live with confidence that it is gone forever? Because I  learned about that "perfect love" John talked about. Every person has love. But like everything else, it's not perfect. The only perfect love is the love of Jesus Christ, which He offers to every person as a gift. He did that by giving His life on the cross, for every person. I you don't have that perfect love, then run to the cross of Jesus Christ, and turn yourself completely over to Him.

The love I feel for God, and the love I feel for everybody, is no longer my own love, but the love of Christ that was given to me. Because I have that love, I took these burdens off, handed them over to God my Father through the name and love of Jesus Christ, and walked away from them. Now free of those burdens, even though they could still exist physically, I am strengthened to serve and love God and other people completely, with the love of Jesus Christ.

I have six months of chemotherapy coming. Not a problem.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Damascus... er, Muncie... Road

Thirty-three years ago, I was riding my motorcycle (a '76 Gold Wing, if that matters to anyone) on Indiana State Highway 3. I was a student at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis, near the end of my third year. I was student-pastor of the Springport Christian Church. I was returning from a hospital visit in Muncie.

Mine looked just like this one.
Picture from "Naked Gold Wings Club."
About a mile from the turn-off to Springport, I topped a hill overlooking farmland and forest, where one of the church members let me hunt. Suddenly, the bike's radio turned on. Strange, though, because I heard it in my helmet. Back in those days, a motorcycle radio was hung under the windshield, and there was no connection between it and the helmet. Unless you were rich. Which I certainly was not. So it wasn't the radio, but a whole other source. I brought that Wing to a halt!

This was my "Damascus Road Experience." If you're not familiar with that road, let me make reference for you. A young Jewish Pharisee named Saul was big on the literal law that kept people in line. He didn't care at all about the people themselves. His mission was to hunt down them Jesus people and get rid of'em, any way he could. Well, Saul was riding his horse on his way to Damascus, intent on having a big mass arrest, followed by a big mass execution.

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'
'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked.
'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'" (Acts 9.1-6)

Standing on the edge of the shoulder, I was trying to figure out what I was hearing in the helmet-- then in my ears once the helmet was off! I was hearing the Lord's voice. I don't think anybody else would have heard it, if they were with me. "You are finished at Springport and at CTS. Anderson will accept you. You are to be an evangelist more than a pastor."

And that was it. The gracious difference between my experience and Saul's was that I was not blinded and knocked off my steed. At 60 miles per hour.

That night, and the next two nights, I had a dream about it, telling me (by events, not dates) when the calling would truly come to life. In the meantime, I was to serve Him, however life would take me. Within two weeks, I was fired by the Springport church, because CTS told them that I had failed. Then I applied at the Church of God seminary in Anderson IN, and was accepted. I excelled there, but the falling economy pushed me elsewhere.

I accepted the call to ministry 36 years ago. After three years, the call was clarified on the road. I finished seminary (Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary) and was ordained. I was a pastor for 18 years. Then for 18 years I worked in regular-world jobs, serving the Lord however I could. My wife and I founded a world ministry for widows, still in its early stages. Then those events I had dreamed about? They happened.

This is long enough for today. Details in following articles. For now let's just say that God never forgets, and time belongs to Him. Ultimately, when we wonder what's going on, the best thing to do is "get up..., and you will be told what you must do."

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Haggard Curse

Many in the family have heard about it. We toss it around in our conversations, and try to make jokes about it. I usually say it's good luck to break a mirror, while walking under a ladder, with a black cat weaving back and forth in front of you.

But it's no joke. The "Haggard curse" is very real.

The first instance of it that I remember came when I just a kid. It came not long after Dad made the decision to go into the ministry. While driving, he passed a slower car on the highway. When he pulled back into the right lane, he was just a bit slow in getting back over. His left front tire crossed the first foot of the next no-passing zone line. A police officer was right there. He pulled Dad over, gave him a ticket and a lecture, and actually forced Dad to go directly to the court to pay his fine.

Yeah, I know. A general traffic trap. But even for one of those, just a bit too coincidental in its timing.

I've seen such strange occurrences to many in the family. And there is one very particular coincidence to them. They happen to Haggard family members and relatives ONLY when they are involved in acts of faith that can bring about great, positive changes. And the greater the possible changes, the more vicious is the "curse."

Dad's last one, the most powerful against him, brought his heart to a stop. But for a reason even Dad didn't completely understand, he was moved to walk to the hospital Emergency entrance, just before it hit him. It's pretty clear now how he was moved to walk across the lot to the doctors.

The Bible is pretty clear about the attacks that we may face. The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians, called them "the schemes of the devil."--
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6.10-12)

I've had several, too. They started right after Cheryl and I decided I would go into the ministry. After paying our rent, I stopped my '74 Chevy Laguna at a stop sign. I looked right, and three blocks away I saw a Fiat coming. I looked left, and it was clear, so I started to cross the intersection. The Fiat was 1500 pounds lighter than the Laguna, but it hit the Laguna so hard that it knocked the big car sideways into a power pole. With so much force that it knocked the rear axle completely out of the car.

From then on, when we lived and worked where we could do great ministry, we were cursed. Unexplainable accidents. False accusations. Personal complaints. When we lived out in sparse places, like the far west edges of Nebraska and Kansas, we had great peace. The last and worst curse instance was when I was accused of having a sexual affair with a woman in the church, and attacked by the elders. Turned out it was one of those elders who was having the affair. But our hearts were so broken, we left ministry. I got a job with Microsoft.

I've been making a good living ever since. I haven't been much satisfied, though. It took two major crashes to get me off the motorcycle and stop ministering to outlaw bikers. And those were also timed just before we were set to travel to care for widows.

Now finally, as my heart was being pulled back to ministry, a fast-growing tumor appeared in my head, of a type that isn't ever discovered until it's too late.

In every instance, Cheryl and I have survived, and come out well. How well should one be after hitting a deer while riding a motorcycle? On I-70? At 75 mph? Pulling a trailer?
A tumor too small to cause symptoms did just that. So small that a surgeon of God's assured it's gone, without a trace. And to top it off, feeling great at the time when follow-up treatment is supposed to be at its worst.

Our main problem was that we didn't really see what was going on. God allowed Job to be attacked by Satan. It ultimately raised Job higher than ever, and glorified God and His kingdom. God has allowed me (us) to be attacked, knowing that, sooner or later, we would finally learn to stay by His side, and depend always on Him, and follow his lead, and love Him more than anything else. Even more than each other.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6.13-18)

All those things we're supposed to put on? From God Himself. And stand where? By His side. And whose power and authority? His alone.

The Haggard curse is over, at least in this branch.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Who's the Trainer?

Many years ago, there was a poem-like story written called "Footprints in the Sand." It's a heart-warming story that makes you feel warm. Trouble is, it's not really Biblical. There are a few references that look like the Lord carrying a person (like Deuteronomy 33.27, or Isaiah 46.4), but it doesn't take much study to realize that those are all referring to carrying Israel, not individual people.

Every morning I take Boomer and Roxy for a walk. We walk down the driveway to the road, and in that section I vary the point where I apply their leashes. Boomer is now very good at healing, and most mornings I walk him without a lead on. Over a walk longer than a mile, he now stays by my side with minimal correction. I originally tried to train Roxy for Search & Rescue, but it turned out that she didn't have the right drives for that. She has become our home protection, but I realized with Boomer's training that she needs to learn the same obedience.

Anyway, about half-way through the walk, we come to our neighbor's machine shop and grain bins. In that open area, I release them from their leads, and give them my "Ça va!" command. (It's the French phrase for "OK," pronounced "sah-vah." I use several French words as commands to prevent confusion.) With that command, they know they can take off and run and play in that area.

Almost all of the time, that is no problem.

A couple weeks ago, as I walked around the end of the machine shop, I saw a cat run across the surrounding driveway. Boomer saw it, too, and ran after it. The cat ran across the road, and despite all correction I had taught Boomer not to go to the road, he went after it. I called after him, and amazingly, he stopped the chase and started to come back to me. Just as a car approached down the road!

Well, Boomer got back to me without the car getting close to him. But my heart was pounding. I brought him and Roxy back under control. They stayed by me through the walk back to home. And during that last part of the walk, it hit me.

I had said for years that in "Footprints in the Sand," the Lord told the person that the single sets of footprints in places were because the person had gone off on his own, leaving the Lord to run off after his own desires. But I suddenly saw, by Boomer's run after a cat and a car coming, that I had done this myself, many many times in my life.

Who really got trained that morning? Not hard to guess.

It's nearly impossible to find verses that talk about God carrying a person through life. I'm not saying there's nothing there about it, but I haven't found anything solid. But on the other hand, the idea of a person needing to have a loving relationship with God, and choosing to stay beside Him because of that love-- Well, that's all through the Bible. In fact, one of the top 100 most read verses in the Bible is very clear about it.

It's Micah 6:6-8 --
"With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God."

See it? It's not about offerings or fruits, which we often put out front. It's about acting justly (forgiving those who offend you, "70 times 7 times"), loving mercy ("love your neighbor as you love yourself), and choosing to walk always beside God (because you love Him).

Thanks, Boomer, for all the messages you give me-- Oncoming headache, dizzy spell, or fatigue. And oh! Yeah! That I need to stay by the Lord's side, just as you must stay by mine.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

God's Servants: Job and Me

The Bible tells of a man named Job, who was blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys. He was considered to be the greatest man among the people of the East. (Job 1.1-3) Job was favored and protected by God, and Satan challenged that.

To prove Job's quality, God allowed Satan to attack Job four times. Job's oxen, donkeys, and camels were stolen. His children were all killed. But Job did not charge God with doing anything wrong. So Satan challenged that since Job remained healthy, it was too easy for him. So God allowed Satan to make one more attack, against Job's health. But even covered with sores, and with no income, and with a wife that was somewhat less than supportive, Job still gave glory to God.

Now I understand how Job felt.

For folks who don't know me, let me tell you what I am. In 1977 I, with my wife's help and blessing, chose to attend seminary and enter church ministry. It was tough back then. The denomination that I belong to was leaning extremely liberal in its teachings, and my stand is conservative and Biblical. I served congregations of both the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Independent Christian Church. I also received a clear call from God that I was to be an evangelist. I earned a Master of Theology degree, and was ordained as an Evangelist by an Independent Christian Church congregation, elders, and several Church leaders, including a leading evangelist. I continued my studies and completed the Master of Divinity degree. Then my ordination was recognized by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I had made it! Or so I thought.

Thanks to a message given to me by another spiritual leader, I have now come to understand that I have been attacked spiritually, socially, professionally, and even physically, dozens of times. And it started the week that I chose to go to seminary. The latest attack (and the last) is the one I told about in my last blog posting.

Like I said, I now understand exactly how Job felt. A loving wife. Two daughters. (Not killed, thank the Lord!) A ministry to widows on the other side of the globe. Good income from my present job with a great company. Growing outreach in evangelistic teachings. A wonderful country home. Restoring a champion Champion bass boat and a classic sports car. Freedom and strength to fish and to hunt.

And a vicious attack came that took every bit of it away from me in an instant. To me, family and friends were gone, for I did not remember them. My job, my boss, my projects, my church membership, all gone. My education, my degrees, my authority, all destroyed. How? Because I did not know or remember any of it, nor did I feel any emotion for any of it, nor did I feel any drive to care for it. My wife survived in my mind and heart only because she was beside me. If my mind, my heart, and my soul did not come back, then all our possessions, our home, and our ministry to widows would all be torn away. The ultimate truth there was that I was exactly in Job's condition. He had pain and open sores. I had pain and full loss of mind, heart, and soul.

I was hospitalized, and doctors were able to diagnose what had happened. They explained what had happened. They never explained, though, how my memory and feelings and drive came back, because they didn't really understand it. How did all three return? God overpowered the attack. That message I mentioned earlier? It also said that I was going to come out of it all, but I had to go through it all. Just like Job.

Job and I both came to understand the same thing. We were both horribly wrong in how we felt about God. We both obeyed Him from understanding that we owed Him something, and we thought He cared about us because we were great at what we did. Job thought he owed God obedience through fear. I thought I owed God service out of obligation to the sacrifice Jesus Christ had made. We both had the same thing to say, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you." (Job 42.5) Job then continued to repent. "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42.6) Then Job was restored to a greater position. Again, seven sons and the three most beautiful daughters in the world. 14,000 sheep. 6000 camels. 1000 yoke of oxen. 1000 donkeys.

The difference with me? Not repentance in dust and ashes. I give great thanks to God that he let me keep my daughters and all my family. Everything we own was kept safe. My response was different because now I have seen with my own eyes how God loves me. I now give Him my service for no other reason but that I love Him.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Haggard Mind-- Lost, Restored, and Redeemed

Tuesday morning, July 23 2013, I got up and took Roxy and Boomer (two Australian Shepherds) for a morning walk. Good for their training. Good for my exercise. We covered about a mile. I was carrying a fishing rod, and stopped by a neighbor's pond. Just a dozen casts or so. I caught a 5-inch bluegill, then an 8-inch bass. And then a hawg bass pushing 4 pounds. Yes! A great day, and just getting started.

I got back to the house and shared the fish experience with my wife Cheryl. I turned my attention to a news story on the TV, and felt a full wash of emotion. Strange, for a road construction story. I sat down in my office chair, and leaned forward, letting my head wash out. Obviously, I needed breakfast.

So I went into the kitchen and poured a bowl of cereal and milk. With my hunger subsided, I got up and placed the bowl and spoon in the kitchen sink. As I walked down the hall, I was washed with that... feeling... again. I sat down and put my head between my legs. Cheryl came by and asked what was wrong. I told her I didn't know, but I had this dizzy, emotional feeling. Weird.

Some time later, minutes I didn't recognize, Cheryl saw me still leaning over, a blank stare in my eyes. No explanation. She dialed 911. I visited with paramedics that arrived, but couldn't tell them what was going on. No problem that I knew of with my birth date, name, stuff like that. They handled me like a stroke victim.

At the hospital, I was answering questions. Almost all of them with wrong answers. I could not remember our daughters' names, my parents' names, my brother and sisters. I don't know now if I truly knew my own name. All I knew was, they moved me to a room. In reality, the hospital determined it was not a stroke, and started running test after test. Myself, I was pretty much lost. I knew nothing. I felt very little. I did not know anybody except my loving wife, and that only because she never left my side. I had memories of events that never happened, and no memory of real life. I was totally alone and completely lost. Or so everybody feared.

There was someone else with me through it all. Day after day. Night after night. Minute to minute to minute. From the very beginning of it, I felt Him at my side, holding me in a loving embrace, warming my heart, calming my fears. With no ability to think at all-- and with all my feelings turned off-- I finally came to understand completely God's greatest command to me. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matthew 22.37)

My Lord kept me from being totally lost and alone. I forgot all my family and friends and work. I even forgot myself. But I never forgot any single point about God my Father, and Jesus Christ my loving Savior. By His grace and love for me, Jesus sat beside me; wrapped me in his arms; spoke into my ear and into my heart. And now I fully understand the real truth about being saved by Him. He saved me not so I would serve Him, but because He loves me. And now I serve Him not because I owe Him, but because I love Him.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Boomer the Miracle

I've been out for over a week. Had a big medical issue come up, with long hospital time. I'm back now. There are changes taking place, most of which I don't need to share with everybody, 'cuz while they're important to me, they won't matter to most folks. It's enough to say here that I now need to monitor a medical thing in my life, at least for a while, that isn't obvious to anybody. Most of the time, not even obvious to myself.

But here's something related to that, that I think is important enough to share. I'd like everybody to meet Boomer. If I'm able to train him fully and properly-- And I will. Dog training is one of my life-time hobbies.-- a lot of people will meet him personally. He has a role in my life now, to warn me of small medical effects. More in a moment.

Boomer was a gift from my sister Anne, who breeds Australian Shepherds. For some reason, she wasn't able to sell this pup. So last Christmas, here was my gift from Anne. I didn't really want him, but took him anyway. Family thing, you know. In Anne's heart, she was replacing my previous Search and Rescue partner Titan, an amazing Aussie that also had come from her kennel.

But Boomer's Search and Rescue drives are somewhere between none and zero. Same for his herding drives. I can't say that he has any special traits except for just being a lover. He's a big-time lover.

The Apostle Paul, writing about our present sufferings and our future glory, says this: "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8.26-28)

Why did Anne give me Boomer? I didn't know. She herself probably didn't know. Nobody knew at the time. But here we are, eight months later. I had a medical emergency that has been handled (Thanks be to God!), but has to monitored now for quite some time to come. Boomer hovered by me when it first developed. Since I came home from the hospital, he has stayed nearby. When the condition I must monitor elevates, he's nuzzling me, climbing in my lap. (And I had trained him to stay out of peoples' laps.)

Last night in my bedtime prayer, I asked God to give me some sign if I should elevate Boomer to be a true "Companion Dog." This morning, when I woke up, I was calm. I just opened my eyes. No stretch. No noise. No motion. No thoughts in my mind. Boomer stood up and walked to my side of the bed. He set his chin on the bed next to my face, and looked at me. Then he stepped back and laid down on the floor.

Boomer will be a year old in just over a month. His training involves teaching him to hold by my side and be calm no matter what, no matter where, to every person we meet. He's over halfway there already.

God knows our needs long before we do. He knows what is going to happen far in advance, either by natural flow or by His intervention. And many times, He fills our needs before we even have them. In this case, He had my sister give me a puppy who would be the exact correct age when this change in my life happened.

So say "Hello!" to Boomer, everybody. And thank-you, Lord, for meeting my needs before I even know I have them.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

A story is told of a horse who was raised from a foal by a young boy. The two were inseparable. They would run and frolic in the pasture. They walked together through the fields and forests. The boy would use the young colt as a pillow and they watched clouds pass overhead and listened to the singing birds.

When storms came, the boy would be sure the colt was safe in the stable. His stall was always clean and stocked with fresh hay and bedding. He was fed fresh oats and other fine grains. As he grew, he became strong and fast, sure-footed and confident.

The boy would brush the colt every day, He would wrap his arms around the young horse's neck and hug him with great affection. As they walked, the boy's arm would sometimes drape across his back. One day, as they lay in a field of wild flowers, the boy sat on the colt's back. While it was a surprise, the colt did not flinch or jump. It just felt right, somehow. Later, as the young horse was being brushed, standing next to a wood fence, the boy slid onto his back. The horse walked around the pasture with the boy on his back. Somehow he knew that this was what he was made for. Later, his friend introduced a bridle, and then later yet, a saddle. The two spent long, wonderful days walking, trotting, running-- the boy riding on the colt's back as the young horse carried him with joy.

One day, the colt was out in the pasture with the other horses. The others got into a discussion where they were telling about their experiences in being "broke." One after one, they told of the drama of being roped and held down, while someone strapped on a tight saddle. Someone else forced a bit into their mouths. Then  while they were restrained, a man climbed into the saddle. Each  horse told of how they bucked and jumped and ran until, exhausted, they were forced to give in to the men on their backs. Then they told of weeks of training until they behaved as they should.

Finally, one of the other horses turned to the colt, and asked him to tell how he had been broken. The colt hung his head, and nothing to say. He had never been broken.

This is my story. For years, I tried to come up with my testimony of how I had been broken and converted to Christ. But that's not how it was for me. I don't know a day in my life when Jesus wasn't part of it. I have known him from as early as I can remember. My parents each had their days of conversion, but I never did. They gave me to Jesus from the day I was born. He and I walked and talked together everywhere, every day. Oh, I could mark a date when I formally declared my faith in Him, and was baptized. But there was no need to ask him into my heart. He was already there. Always had been.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19.14)

I finally realized that my testimony is the greatest of all. No gut-wrenching sorrow drove me to Christ. He has always been in my life. I've sinned. I've strayed. I've made mistakes. I'm a man, after all. And I've been the one after God's own heart, in that I hunt for and pursue after knowing the heart of God. But I have never known a time when I was without Jesus Christ in my life. And as a bonus, I know exactly what Jesus meant when he said that the kingdom "belongs to such as these." My faith in Jesus is "just because." No other reason. Nothing else worth having faith in.

Today is my birthday, and happy birthday to me! For I was given the greatest birthday present of all on the day I was born. Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Great Salt Lake, part 2

I referenced this verse in talking about the Great Salt Lake and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS): Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." (Luke 13.18-19)

I noticed the birds flocking around the Lake, attracted by the only forms of life in the lake: brine flies and brine shrimp. At the Lake's visitor center, there is a lot of information about these birds. One thing I noticed is that every bird listed is a member of the Old Testament's "unclean" list. I tied that to the verse above. One of the most common interpretations of that verse is that it is a warning. The mustard plant is a small bush. But here it grows out of control, to be a spreading tree, which attracts many birds. Many of them can be evil. The Bible talks about many different birds. But in general, when it refers to flocks of birds, it's a sign of evil. For example, in Jesus' parable of the sower, a flock of birds of the air snatch up the seed.

I mention the birds not to make a point, but to explain how my haggard mind began to tie the Salt Lake and the Mormons together. The Great Salt Lake is beautiful from a distance. Blue water reflecting the distant mountain ranges. Closer to the lake, the haze can enhance the photo opportunities. But when you get on the shore, you smell the rot of dead brine flies. In the water you see the pollutants floating, and the dross-covered bottom. If the wind and temperature are wrong, you're choked by the heavy salt air. The beauty of the lake hides the truth. Scientists will point out that it's no "dead sea," since it's loaded with algae and bacteria, plus brine shrimp and brine flies which birds are attracted to. But for all practical purposes, it's dead. No fish. No frogs. No beaver or muskrat or otters.

From a distance and on the surface, the Mormon Church looks very attractive. They use the name of Jesus in their name. They claim to have faith in Jesus Christ, and to follow the Bible. But a closer looks reveals the truth.

The Bible isn't good enough for the Mormons. Their founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., claimed to have been given some gold plates with strange writing, which he interpreted into the Book of Mormon. They consider it to be scripture. I guess they just ignore Proverbs: Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (Proverbs 30.5-6)

In Genesis, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...." (Genesis 1:26) The Mormons teach that they can be gods themselves, and rule over their own planets. That means God must have been a man himself somewhere, and earned this planet to rule. He's not the creator of the universe. The Mormons have made God in their image.

To the Mormons, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is insufficient for salvation. It was just a beginning. To really be saved, they have to do more works, like serve as "missionaries." Be married. Be married in the Temple. And on and on. But the truth is, salvation cannot be earned by anything you do. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2.8-9)

The Mormon church officially rejected polygamy about 100 years ago, but only because they were pressured by society, and the practice was outlawed by the government. Practiced by Smith all their "elders" and "prophets" until the early 20th century, they received "new revelation" that polygamy should not be practiced. But it is still taught. They can't do it on earth, but they will in their heaven. And I have known Mormon men who "practiced" polygamy by having extramarital affairs. Officially approved or not, they justified it by their church's teachings.

The Mormon church taught until 1978 that people of African descent were of Cain's seed. Their skin was colored as a punishment and a sign. Though the LDS church didn't practice discrimination in membership, no person of Cain's seed could be a priest. This was taught by Brigham Young, one of their greatest "prophets." In 1978 they changed that position, having received "new revelation."

Throughout their history, the Mormons have claimed "new revelation" in order to change their teachings and practices. Amazingly, they only get this "new revelation" when political pressure is applied. That's OK, though, because their god is made in their image, and can change at their will. But the one and only true God doesn't change. Neither does His Word, His Law, nor His desires for us. Besides His warnings not to change or add to His Word, He said, "I the Lord do not change." Malachi 3.6. The true Church can't operate on "new revelation," but the Mormons have no problem with it.

And I'm just scratching the surface.

From the outside looking in, the LDS church can be attractive. It has a beautiful temple. It makes attractive appeals to people. But inside, it's like the Lake. What awaits people inside its walls is death.

The true Church must wake up and get out of its own walls. Not with show and entertainment as so many do, but with truth and conviction led by love. If it doesn't, the people outside are easy prey for the cults. And who will ultimately be held responsible for them?

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Great Salt Lake, part 1

Last week we had an opportunity to go to Idaho, to perform a family wedding. We chose to drive, rather than to fly, as it gave us time to be tourists along the way. Our route took us by Salt Lake City. If you go to Salt Lake City, you need to see the city's two big attractions, right? The Great Salt Lake, and Temple Square (site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' (LDS) temple).

Here's a funny thing about Salt Lake City. Wouldn't you think they would have signs up, pointing people to their two main draws? For Temple Square and the Lake, we saw one sign for each. Just an Interstate highway sign pointing to an exit. From there on, no signs. No directions. I asked local people, and they could not give me directions! Sure, you can see it from I-84, but how do you get to its shore? Is Salt Lake City, and the state of Utah, somehow ashamed of these places?

Our GPS came up with "Temple Square" when we punched it in. We drove to the site, and found it surrounded by a fence that could not be entered. The only way in that we saw was the visitor's center, where apparently you could take a guided tour. And the guided tour was the only way you could see anything if you are not an LDS member. And even then, there are areas you cannot see at all. Whether or not that is totally correct, that is the impression you get.

While the LDS temple was a beautiful structure to look at, the Utah state capital building on the hill above it was much more impressive. And it's accessible.

Then the Lake. We pulled out the atlas and found a park marker called Antelope Island. That looked like a reachable destination, so we poked it into the GPS, and followed its directions. Sure enough, there is a Great Salt Lake, and you can get to its shore. You can even swim in it. But why would anybody want to? As you drive across the causeway to Antelope Island, you are bombarded first by the stink, then by a choking sensation of extreme salt air. As you look across the lake toward other shores, the view is masked by a heavy haze. Thankfully, the breeze was from the south, so once we reached the island it was actually quite pleasant. (These are our direct experiences. Yours may be different.)

My wife has a personal tradition. She likes to dip her toes in any major body of water we visit. She has dipped in many rivers, lakes, and a couple of oceans. To keep her tradition, she wanted to dip her toes in the Lake. Water level was down, so the best place we found was a boat ramp. We were wearing shoes that we didn't want to ruin by crossing a long salt beach.

Every dark speck is a fly. And
this is a light day. (Pic byLee Rentz.
Linked from Flickr. My picture
came out badly grainy.)
As we approached the water, we saw the Great Salt Lake for what it really is, a giant cesspool. Everything runs in, but nothing runs out. Get that? Everything in. Nothing out. The water where we were was coated with a slime made up of oil and who knows what else. The bottom looks brown, but not the "clean" brown you normally think of with a sandy bottom. And there are literally billions of little black flies lining the shore, making it look black. In some places a dozen or more feet across. In the visitor's center we learned these are called "brine flies." They're harmless. They feed on an algae that grows in the salt water. The only other real life form is brine shrimp, which also feeds on that algae.

The area is proud of one thing. The Lake attracts a multitude of gulls and shore birds. Some have their greatest populations right there. Actually, it's not the Lake that attracts them. It's the flies and the shrimp.

Cheryl had to build up courage to dip her toes in this filth. Finally, she resolved to do it, but instructed me to take the picture quickly. When we got back to the car, she pulled out disinfectant wipes and washed her foot thoroughly.

Then it occurred to me. God led the Mormons to Utah. It's a sign for all of us. They and the Great Salt Lake belong together.

Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." Luke 13.18-19

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Bronco's Greatest Quarterback

No hiding it from anybody. I'm a Broncos fan, from when I first learned there was game called football, 'til my dying day. I'm not the kind of fan whose life revolves around the team, but I watch every game I can. I cheer when they're great and groan when they're not. And like every NFL team, they're capable of being not great at the worst times.

It's often said that a team is only as good as its quarterback, and from the way the media fawns over QB's, it must be true. Recent news in the quarterback arena gives me opportunity today to be what I often like to be: popular as a skunk at a picnic.

This week, the New York Jets released Tim Tebow. Les Carpenter and Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports have good stories today about how stupid the Jets have been, and what it might mean for Tim now. But as a Broncos fan, I can't get over how my team blew it when they traded Tim in the first place. And for who? Peyton Manning. Come on!

Oh, I know the reasoning. John Elway-- arguably among the greatest of the greats, and now Executive VP of Football Operations for the Broncos-- doesn't believe that a team can go to and win a Super Bowl without a strong passing game. Maybe that's right. I don't know that stuff. So when Manning came available, even though he may have only a few seasons left in him, Elway jumped at the chance.

Trouble is, to get Manning, the Broncos let go of the greatest quarterback they ever had. Yeah. I'm talking about Tim Tebow.

Lets compare the Bronco's 2011 and 2012 seasons.

In 2011, in only his second year in the NFL, Tebow was thrust into the starting quarterback position. The team had a 1-4 record, and sinking fast. Tim then led the team to the Divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost to the Patriots, who just out-played them. Not bad at all, considering the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.

In 2012, 13-year veteran Manning inherited a team from Tebow. He led the team to the Divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost to the Ravens. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, but it should have been the Broncos. Why? Because Manning literally handed the win to the Ravens. By his own admission, he let his reputation get in the way, and threw a rookie-mistake interception.

For the overall season results, Tebow matched Manning. Considering his experience level and where he started, Tebow surpassed Manning.

Why is Tim Tebow the greatest Broncos quarterback? Because he did something no other Broncos quarterback has done. Not even John Elway. Tim took a bunch of guys wallowing in their own defeat, and turned them into a team. I watched the "team attitude" of the Broncos deteriorate starting the day Elway retired. Tim Tebow turned that around.

I've never met Tim Tebow. Probably never will. But I can see in his manner, in his actions, in his eyes, what he is. He's not a great passer. He's a strong, but not particularly maneuverable, runner. But he's an amazing quarterback.

The Broncos started to win under Tim Tebow because of his attitudes of love and service toward them. Something many of them weren't getting anywhere else. As a result, his teammates rallied around him. They started to lift each other up the same way he lifted them up. They worked extra hard to make Tim successful. If he really needed to make a pass, the receivers pushed harder to get to the ball, even if it was off the mark. If he really needed to run the ball, the linemen made that hole just a little wider. Under Tim Tebow, I saw a bunch of me-first individuals come together as a cohesive, supportive unit.

Peyton Manning has rightly earned his position of leadership through his hard work, accomplishments, and standards of playing excellence. His teammates will do whatever he says. Tim Tebow earned his position of leadership by denying himself, putting his teammates first, and willingly taking up his cross. His teammates will do whatever he needs.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?" (Luke 9.23-25)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (Galatians 6.2,3)

Tim has been criticized often for liking media attention too much, because he uses it to promote the Gospel he believes in. But even without media attention, he shows the Gospel to any who will see, for he bears the fruits every day. Sometimes, the greatest is not identified by the stats.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Told You So...

Today, I need to say, "Told you so." But it wasn't me who told you. It was an American prophet that our nation reveres, but generally ignores.

So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, "I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute." Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (Luke 11.48-51)

Paul Harvey, 1918-2009
No one is guilty of killing Paul Harvey, an American prophet. But for as much as we pay attention to his words, we might as well have persecuted and killed him, as the Old Testament people did to their prophets. We honor him on the outside, but pay little attention.

Today I share the words of Paul Harvey with you. This was broadcast on American radio before any "four-letter words" were allowed on TV. Before Congress was divided solely along party lines. Before AIDS appeared. Before overcrowded prisons, Church scandals of child abuse, nation-wide lotteries, or state-sanctioned casinos. Yet his words have come true. Every one.

Notice the first target in this essay. If the Church will turn around, repent of its unforgivable sin, and turn again to Christ, there is still hope.

Paul Harvey, April 3, 1965--
     If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness.
I'd have a third of its real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree-- thee. So, I would set about, however necessary, to take over the United States.
     I'd subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: "Do as you please." To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God, instead of the other way around. I'd confide that what's bad is good and what's good is square. And the old I would teach to pray after me, "Our Father, which are in Washington ..."
     Then I'd get organized, I'd educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I'd peddle narcotics to whom I could. I'd sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I'd tranquilize the rest with pills.
     If I were the devil, I'd soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves, until each, in its turn, was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings, I'd have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
     If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect, but neglect to discipline emotions. I'd tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you'd have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.
     Within a decade, I'd have prisons overflowing, and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse, and the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I'd lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.
     If I were the devil, I'd take from those who have, and give to those who wanted, until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What'll you bet I couldn't get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?
     I'd convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, and that what you see on television is the way to be. And thus, I could undress you in public, and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.
     In other words, if I were the devil, I'd just keep right on doing what he's doing.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage is Not a Right

Pink and red equality signs are showing up everywhere. Some on the Facebook profiles of some people that surprise me. It is a variation on the Human Rights Campaign's original symbol, a yellow equal sign on a navy blue background. (HRC is the largest "gay rights" advocacy organization in the USA). The pink and red version is their symbol for their fight for equality in marriage.

Just showing the symbol,
not condoning the life-style.
Now, what I am about to write may surprise my followers. But read the whole article. Sorry, but this one will be longer than normal.

What is Marriage?

To the government, "marriage" is nothing more than a civil union. Even between a man and a woman, a marriage license is nothing more than a contract between two people and the government. Technically, marriage by itself is illegal. According to Black's Law Dictionary, the definitive legal resource for lawyers, a "License" is "a revocable permission to commit some act that would otherwise be unlawful." The marriage contract is extremely one-sided in favor of the state. Because of the marriage license, a couple gives up their rights to own and control both their property and their children. That's through an age-old legal doctrine called parens patriae ("parent of the nation") that gives the state the authority to protect persons who are unable to act on their own behalf.

Do you get this? In simple terms, if you have a marriage license, you own property and keep your children only because the government lets you. The state can take your property and your children, and you can only fight it within boundaries set by-- You guessed it-- the state.

Morality and the Government

The United States, while founded on many Christian principles, is not and never has been a Christian nation. "Religious freedom" and "Christian nation" could never go together. So, as an American citizen, I believe that if the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ("GLBT") community wants to live in government-recognized civil unions, more power to them. While they would gain the usual marital "rights" of making medical decisions and having "rights of survivorship," they would also be subject to more government regulation over their relationships. If the government wants to recognize their unions, it can. Government recognition of gay marriage is a legal issue, not a moral matter. The government is almost never concerned with morality.

By the Way -- Marriage Is Not a Right

As an American, I believe that GLBT people are entitled to all the legal rights that any American should have. They should be able to live their lives free of fear and discrimination. But don't let anybody argue that gay marriage is a "right." It's not. Why not? Because "normal" marriage isn't a right, either. The word "marriage" does not appear in the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Like driving a car, "marriage" is a privilege granted by the state, not a right.

The Word "Marriage"

But now, the GLBT community doesn't want "civil union." They want "marriage." What's the difference? Legally, there's no difference. But semantically, in the power of words, it's a very big deal. By getting to use the word "marriage," they believe they can gain legitimacy for their life-styles.

Homosexuality and Christianity

In the Bible, homosexual activity, male or female, is called an "abomination." So what is an abomination? It's just a sin, except that it that it particularly "offends the religious sense of a people." (Look it up here.) In God's eyes, sin is sin, and homosexual behavior is no different and no worse than adultery.

Let's get this straight: "Being" homosexual is not a sin. Homosexual behavior is.

As a Christian, to me a GLBT person is no different than any other person. Homosexuals say they were born with their desires, and that may be true. As a straight male, I was born with desires to have sex with every woman I can. Does that make it right and moral for me to do so? Not at all. Do I understand those drives? Absolutely. Do I understand how a gay man can be driven to have sex with other men? Yes, I do.* Does my heart say maybe it's OK because it's natural to them, and I should approve? Yes, it does.

Does the Bible tell me to think and act with my heart? NO, IT DOES NOT. In fact, following your heart is one of the fastest tracks to sin.

Homosexuality and the Church

To be brief, the Church needs to treat GLBT people the same as it treats every other sinner, that is, like every other person in the world.

Some denominations of the Church are ordaining homosexuals as ministers. Is that wrong? In and of itself, no.

Imagine a straight, single male minister. It becomes known that he is having sexual relations with women. Or say he is married and found to be having an extramarital affair? What would the Church do? He would be called before the board, and at least temporarily removed from his ministry. If he was repentant of his sin, he would be guided through a restoration process. If non-repentant, he would be removed from ministry.

Being a heterosexual is not a sin. The sin is in practicing heterosexual behavior outside of marriage.

What of a priest who has sexual relations with children? Pedophiles claim that they were born with those desires, so their behavior is justified in their own hearts. Being a pedophile is not a sin. The sin is in practicing pedophilia.

If the Church chooses to ordain a homosexual into the ministry, that is fine. Being a homosexual is not a sin. The sin is in practicing homosexual behavior. There is nothing wrong in ordaining a homosexual into the ministry. But ordaining a practicing homosexual is anathema. (Look the word up.)

Some denominations of the Church are performing gay marriage ceremonies. Can the Church do this and be true to Jesus Christ? Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5: 17-20)

So let's see-- heaven and earth have not disappeared, so everything is not accomplished yet. So the law that Christ came to fulfill still stands. So the answer is-- No. Churches who condone and bless gay marriages cannot be true to Jesus Christ. They are calling Jesus Christ a liar and committing the one unforgivable sin. They proclaim through this simple act that they do not believe the Bible, and thus have nothing to offer to people who are desperately seeking something solid to believe in.

Sin is sin, no matter how we feel about it. The sins of the GLBT community are no worse than those of any other person in the world. The Church cannot condone the activity, but must love and minister to the sinner.

My word to Christians who support equal rights for GLBT people? Support their rights as Americans, and realize that marriage isn't a right that any of us have. As far as recognizing marriages between them, the government will do what it will (especially if they can gain revenue through it). What the government does is not our mission. Love them as you love yourself. Show them Jesus Christ, and welcome them into the Church. Let Him deal with their sin.

* I'd make a similar statement about understanding a gay woman's being attracted to other women, but I don't understand what attracts straight women to most men, either.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Popular as a Skunk at a Picnic

That's what I'm about to set out to be. But then, I'm used to it. I first got wind of my future during my first year in seminary. I had been arguing with a professor, trying to get him to reconcile his theology with the Bible I held in my hand. Finally, in exasperation, he glared at me and demanded, "Why are you such a renegade?"
I'm no artist. I copied
this picture from here.
As I thought about that, I decided it wasn't such a bad thing. In the dictionary, a renegade is defined as "a deserter from one faith, cause, or allegiance to another; an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior." I never deserted my faith, but I was definitely rejecting the liberal religion that the school considered to be ""conventional."
Since that time I have often been popular as a skunk at a picnic when gathered together with other clergy or church leaders. I've got this thing about Bible authority, and how anyone can claim to be wise enough to say, "Oh, that doesn't really mean what it says," or "Well, that can't apply to this modern world." You can't pick and choose what to accept in the Bible. It's either all true, the infallible inspired word of God, or it's all just literature. I stand on the word of God option.
Developed nations, especially the United States, are wracked by increasing violent crime, more broken families, lack of moral direction. At the same time, the Church in those same nations is in a free fall. No one can say for sure when and where it started, but it's apparent now. In Europe and the United States, and every developed nation in the world, the Church's membership and attendance are plummeting.
And I know why.
So here I go-- Over however long it takes, I'm gonna raise a stink that the Church can't ignore, and individual believers better investigate.
I'll start gently.
When the Holy Spirit first moved in the first church, Peter got up and preached. And "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2.41-47)
The Church's mission is in four directions, expressed in four greek words. They all point the same way. All four must be pursued equally. For decades now, the Church as a whole (but, thankfully, not every congregation) has been failing on every point.
The four words are pronounced just like they look:
  • Kerygma - The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. "The apostles' teaching," sound doctrine, is rooted in this proclamation. This message is not for the intellect, but for the heart. The Church doesn't preach Christ-only any more.
  • Koinonia - "Fellowship" is being together by intimate participation. Every member-- young or old, man or woman, leader or new convert-- is to have a place and a purpose in the community. But outsiders feel like… well… outsiders.
  • Diakonia - We are called to give to any who have need. We are serve the poor and oppressed, contributing to their care, and building them up. The Church has surrendered this task to the governments, and how they have failed!
  • Liturgia - Worship, or "meeting together" in response to God. A group activity that reflects praise, thanksgiving, requests for need, and turning from sin. I don't know of anyone who has been bored into the Kingdom.
It's time to wake up, Church, and turn around. Oh... by the way... that phrase "turn around?" It's the definition of another unpopular word in the Church: Repent.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So... What are You Giving Up?

Lent has started. We observed the beginning of the season by participating in an Ash Wednesday service at our church. We reflected on the meaning of the season through scripture, prayer, and homily. Then all who would accept it received a cross-shaped mark on the forehead, formed by the pastor's finger from the ashes of burned palm leaves.

After all who chose to come forward were served, I stepped forward again. Being a member of the clergy myself, I believed that it was the right thing to do, to offer the same service to our pastor. As I reached for the bowl of ashes, he looked at me with surprise, as in, "What are you doing?" This was soon replaced with recognition. Then, wiping ash onto his brow, I saw gratitude in his eyes as I gave him the same blessing, "From dust you have come. To dust you will return." The reminder that in this time, we reflect on our sinful nature and refresh our commitment to Jesus Christ. (I tell this not to inflate myself, but as a reminder of what your pastor does for you, and what he sacrifices to do it.)

It's a common practice that we give up something during Lent. I have participated in this off an on over the years. The only one I actually remember (vividly) is when my mother talked me into giving up chocolate for Lent. I don't remember just how old I was, except it was when I was in grade school.

Studies have shown that chocolate is made up of a magic formula-- a mix of bitter and sweet and salty that stimulates every taste bud, plus a blend of hormones and stimulants that can touch the pleasure centers of the brain. For some people, it is highly addictive. And I have to confess that I am one of those people.

See how scared he looks? This little
guy trembled in fear for 40 long days.
Anyway, I remember that period as a time of intense suffering. Going without chocolate, under constant attack from the chocolate monkey on my back, was nothing compared to what Christ suffered for me. But in the haggard mind of a kid, it was close. And when Easter arrived-- Well, let's just say that both Hershey's and Nestle's almost went under.

Now, though, Lent has different meaning for me. What am I giving up? I'm not going to say. Jesus instructed, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6.16-18) He wasn't instructing us to fast. There's no hard instruction in the Bible to do that. But fasting has its merits, and he says that when you happen to be fasting, don't show it.

Well, giving up something for Lent is a type of fasting. So I won't tell anyone what I have given up. Partly because this isn't a show, but also because what I have chosen to give up is between me and my Lord. It is something that only He can take away from me.

Jesus gave up something for you. "Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19.30) He gave his life. For you. All he asks in return is your life. We all have areas in our lives that we have not given over to Him. Even you have some rooms in the house of your heart that are still filled with junk, because you haven't allowed Jesus Christ to go in there and clean it out. I have chosen one of those rooms in my heart-- one I have held onto for years-- to give up to Him. It would accomplish nothing to tell anybody else what it is, because only He can clear it out.

What are you giving up for Lent? This year, how about choosing something that means something, that will last forever?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Newsboys - "Born Again" - Right Between My Eyes

The lyrics you can find on-line are different, and mostly
wrong. I didn't buy the CD. I downloaded the MP3.
So I didn't get the CD insert. But I spent a lot of time,
listening and lip-reading Tait on videos, to get these words.
I'm a musician. My mother put me in front of a piano at the ripe old age of three. She kept me taking piano lessons until I graduated from high school. I had an excellent high school music director in Merlin Haukoos (pronounced 'ho-kus), who demanded excellence. His choirs and groups never performed with music! After it all, though, I'm not a pianist. For me, piano is a learned skill, not a talent. I also "played at" the guitar off and on for years. Now I've switched from "playing at" the guitar to "playing with" it, hopefully on my way to mastering it at some level. Then I might be able to accompany myself when singing. But here I go, off on a tangent before I even get started.

What makes me a musician, more than any skill or talent I may have, is my appreciation for all forms of music. (That doesn't mean I "like" all kinds.) Some song is in my head all the time. I listen more to the structure and form of the music, more than the lyrics. But sometimes the words hit me. I know the lyrics of songs affect lots and lots of people. That's the only explanation of how some really bad songs get to be hits.

I haven't found any good music commentary on-line, particularly about Christian music. So I've decided to provide that service from time to time. Christian music can have a profound effect on people's lives. Just because a song is a popular hit, is it really good?

I've picked "Born Again" by the Newsboys today. Why? Because it hit me right between the eyes when I first heard it. It expresses what I feel, but it tells me something about how I should be, too. It both confirms me and challenges me.

"Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." John 3.3.

Many times have I have examined my own life, looked at myself in a spiritual mirror, and didn't like what I saw. I have seen myself go off on my own, then wonder why God's blessings weren't following. Like the old inspirational poem "Footprints in the Sand." It's a favourite because it makes people feel good, but doesn't demand anything. Myself, I can't read it without changing the last line. It's much more real to read, "The Lord replied, 'The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when you went off on your own.'"

There is a lie that is easy to fall into, that you can go through life living like you want to. Even worse is the idea that you can live the way you want because you believe in Jesus Christ. Christ demands something in return for the life he gave for you. He demands your life in return. You can't go solo anymore. He expects you to give him the best of everything you have and everything you are, for the remainder of your life.

People who show Christ in action are frightening to others. Not only to those who don't know him at all, but also to church people who think belief is enough. Myself, a long time ago I got sick of the message of how things should be, of how easy it is to be saved. It's all a bunch of hype, exaggerated ease, that leads to hypocrisy. People see that and don't want to hear it. They want more than empty, easy words. They really want something solid to believe in, something that demands commitment. All people-- even simple believers that I call "church people"-- are sick of hearing about how things should be, with words that require nothing. The worst part is, you can download that hype into your brain and you think you're in. Then you don't want to hear any more.

Well, like it or not, I'm gonna tell you what I believe. I have to. This is what it is. This is who I am. This is where I stand.

View the official Born Again video by clicking here. Watch it. The Newsboys are telling us very directly that being Christian requires more than just belief. Please consider helping our work with widows by becoming a sponsor.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Like a Driver in a Fine Rice Burner... er... Car

I see this every time I walk through a parking lot, and I feel bad for the car's owner. But sometimes when I see it, I have to shake my head in bewilderment. Now, I'm not much on modified import cars that are called "sport compacts." But call them what you will-- tuners, rice burners, stickercharged toys-- I'm impressed when I see one that has been done right. Which isn't very often.

It wasn't this one that I saw,
but it looked this good.
(Image from Super Street Magazine.)
So last week I saw a beautiful Mitsubishi Eclipse. It had been lowered, but the rear wheels weren't splayed out at the bottom. The custom bumper covers had been tightly fitted. The side ground effects were cleanly trimmed to fit the body. The spoiler on the trunk matched the lines of the car, rather than looking like somebody bolted on a shopping cart. The paint job was perfect, with sharp-looking professional artwork. The finish was so deep it looked like you could immerse your hand into it. The wheels were over-sized, but not much that they looked like something from a kid's tricycle. It was a sharp-looking machine. And surprisingly, I wouldn't mind being seen driving it.

I could even overlook the misplaced "Type R" emblem. ("Type R" is a Honda option, but these guys love to put the emblem on anything. Why? 'Cuz it makes the car faster.)

Here was a gorgeous car, built to be driven, but operated by a Motorist. How do I know he's "just a Motorist," and not a "Driver?" The right rear tire was low. It was so low that the sidewalls were touching the pavement. And it had been low for a while, because the tire had a visible ring of wear all the way around on the sidewall. I shook my head in disbelief, and this haggard mind could only respond with this age's most overused word. "Really?" It wasn't going to be long before this car was sitting on the side of the road with a blown tire, with the owner wondering what had happened.

A Motorist may have his car maintained regularly. He may care for it meticulously. But he's unaware when the car is "telling" him something. A Driver would know right away that that tire was low, because she could tell by how the car "feels." Chances are, she could tell you which tire was low without looking, long before the sidewall touched the pavement. And she would get it fixed. A Driver is always communicating with the car. Every noise, every bump, every turn, every stoplight tells a Driver about the car. A Motorist is oblivious until something breaks.

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (Matthew 13.16-17)

A Motorist may maintain his machine, but a Driver cares for it. A Motorist worries about breakdowns, but a Driver trusts his machine. A Motorist is unaware of traffic and dangers around him. He's the only one on the road. A Driver sees and hears everything, blending with traffic and avoiding dangers. A Motorist pushes in impatience to a destination. To a Driver, it's all about the drive, not the destination.

Read that verse from Matthew again. Put it in present tense. "Many great people and leaders long to see what you see but don't see it, and to hear what you hear but don't hear it." Focused on institutions, doctrines, denominations, politics, traditions, and all sorts of distractions, Believers miss the point. They are so intent on getting somewhere, they maintain church life, worry over unimportant issues, and push, push, push. Christians look forward in hope, and care for their spiritual life, understand that life is actually all about Jesus Christ, and go where He leads. They know where He leads, because they listen to His word, feel his presence, and discern when something is or isn't right.

Like a Driver in a fine car.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Believer or Christian? A NASCAR Experience

I am a very fortunate man, in that I have a loving, nurturing wife who feeds my vices. My vices are, in no particular order: chocolate, hunting, fishing, motorcycles, and performance cars. She knows I'm hooked on all of them. She figures there are lots of worse things a man could be into, so she supports me in these good vices.

I drove this one. Had to. It had "43" on it!
So another birthday present my wife gave me several years ago was the NASCAR "Richard Petty Driving Experience." In a nutshell, it was lap time driving a NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) car. I reported to Pikes Peak International Raceway. All participants were given a tour of the track, where instructors explained the markings and key points. Then there was classroom time, to teach what was needed to know about this event. Then we suited up in fire suits, helmets, gloves. When it was (finally!) time to drive, the instructor gave us one last detail: "Now you'll forget everything I've said. But remember this: Mash the gas and turn left!"

Out by the cars, we learned how to get in and out of a car with no doors. The driving instructions were simple. Two cars at a time would run the track, behind a pace car. Maintain six to eight car lengths behind the car ahead. If you drop back too far, the pace driver will figure you're not up to it, and slow down. If you get too close, the pace driver will figure you can't control the car at speed, and slow down. Keep the right following distance, and the pace driver will lead you up to the max speed for this event as set by NASCAR.

Strapped in. TIGHT!
Can't tell I'm lovin' it, can ya?
Just like in a regular NASCAR race, the drivers don't do ANYTHING but drive. I climbed into the car, and slid myself back into the seat. The pit crew leader reached in and buckled the 5-point harness. I thought I was back in the seat, until he pulled the straps and I felt myself pulled back tight. The pit boss then attached the steering wheel to the column, and locked it in place. He tested it to be sure it was solid. The pit boss asked if I was ready. I answered yes, then he reached in and hit the switch to start the engine.

The car's full-race clutch doesn't like slow speeds and gentle engagement. I forgot that, and the car bucked like a bronco when I started out. Once rolling, I saw how the car was set up for the track. The alignment seemed wrong at low speed, because the car wanted to pull left. I remembered they told us that up around 90 mph it would even out. And it did. As the laps went by, the speed went up. (I kept the correct distance behind the pace car, and thankfully the guy behind me also followed correctly.) These cars were not tuned back for inexperienced drivers, so there were over 800 very angry horses under the hood. Near the end of my run, at the event's top speed, I decided to unleash those horses for just a brief moment. I wanted to see what they felt like. On the back stretch, I "mashed the gas." Even at something ovar 140 mph, I was instantly slammed back into the seat as the car leapt forward. All I could say, then and now, was "WOW!" Looking back, I was surprised at how easily that car ran fast, took the corners... and especially at how comfortable I was.

Back in the pits, I watched one of the runs in sadness. There was a guy in the event who came in full of bluster and confidence. He knew he was a driver. He was "gonna tear up this track," and he knew it all already as we went through the training. He came off the track with a different attitude. Somewhere around 90 mph he was suddenly wracked with fear, and never pushed any faster. It was so bad, and so unfair to the second driver, that the officials called the pace car off the track.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. (Philippians 1:27-28)

A motorist "knows" he's a driver. He doesn't need any more training, because he knows it all already.
A driver isn't sure she's a driver. She gladly accepts training to learn new skills, or to sharpen existing ones.

A believer "knows" she is saved and has a mansion waiting in heaven.
A Christian is never really sure, but holds onto the hope that he has in Jesus Christ.

A motorist isn't afraid of anything, and thinks she can do anything and can drive successfully through any situation. She doesn't need any training. But she has limits that even she doesn't know about. Funny-- When she hits one of those limits, it's fear that backs her down.
A driver fears that he may have limits, but is determined to pass them. So he looks for chances to get training. When he faces fear, he lets his training take over. When he looks back, he's surprised to see that he surpassed his own expectations.

A believer is ready to go anywhere, do anything, for Jesus. That is, until the chance arises. Then he quickly shies away when face-to-face with a stranger, or refuses to move forward, even when a clear call is made.
A Christian may be more action, and less talk. Others are often surprised when she steps forward to go into the unknown, or when she opens her mouth to witness to someone who is frightening. Later, she looks back and praises God that He took her where she never expected to go.

Motorist? Or driver?