Holiday Dots

cmas-dotsTwo of Rome’s great cathedrals are St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls and St. John Lateran Cathedral. They contain the remains of two of the church’s most famous apostles: Peter and Paul. The tomb of Paul is located in St. Paul’s, but his head is not there. For a view of the reliquary containing the head of Paul you must go to St. John Lateran. Above the High Altar is the canopy or baldacchino, a Gothic structure resting on four marble columns. Near the top the heads of the apostles Peter and Paul rest in separate but equal golden reliquaries. Although great treasures, the greatest treasure to God is when places of worship are filled with the praises of living people.

Advent is the forty days of preparation to celebrate Christmas. Other than Easter, there is no more appropriate time of the year for praise. As the Psalmist wrote, “Let us come before him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him.” Sadly, there are dwindling numbers of people giving private thanks or joining in corporate praise to God for His goodness whether in the great cathedrals of Europe or the town and country churches of America.

Some social critics theorize that modern life has become so easy and comfortable that people can avoid facing the big issues of life and death. Says Michael Chandler, a priest at Canterbury Cathedral, “You can get to age 50 or higher without ever facing the death of somebody close to you.” What a contrast to the original Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Forty-five of the 102 Mayflower passengers died the first winter of 1620-1621. The survivors were thankful just to be alive. Everything beyond survival was an occasion for praise.

More and more, it seems that a sense of gratitude is fading from both our church and our culture. Given the prosperity of modern life, many of us have the sense that wealth and well-being are a right. This starts with young children, who, as John Sandel points out, are often showered with presents by their parents, so that the gifts they receive at holidays and on birthdays “are not recognized as gifts but are viewed instead as their due.”

Of course, children aren’t the only ones caught in this trap. Working teenagers and young adults increasingly use their earnings to load up on the latest TVs, computers, clothing and cars in a race toward a level of prosperity that previous generations took years and years to achieve. Living at home for longer periods, often free of any responsibility for room and board, they end up with an illusory sense of material well-being, a phenomenon social scientists call “premature affluence.” Once out in the world on their own, they are more likely to feel disappointment than gratitude as they adjust to a lower standard of living.

We’ve come to see the good things of life as an entitlement, rather than a gift, and we’ve lost the sense of wonder and surprise that gives birth to true thankfulness. Consequently, people come to church today with a different set of expectations. Instead of seeking out opportunities to express gratitude, many are looking for comfort, inspiration, stimulation and community. Now these are not bad things in and of themselves, but they line up more with self-improvement than with thanksgiving.

On the whole, we have developed a blindness to our blessings leading to a scarcity of gratitude attended by a paucity of thanksgiving which results in greatly diminished joy in life. If this world is to experience deep and abiding joy this Christmas, each one must seek to give thanks for as many of life’s blessings as possible, e.g. plain food but plenty of it, those fun Christmas socks, any car that is warmer than walking or riding a bike, a job instead of unemployed no matter how bad it seems, etc. The act of giving heartfelt thanks will warm a cold heart transforming it into a grateful heart. And gratitude, eventually always leads to joy. It is just a matter of connecting the dots.

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There is no longer Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative

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Did the presidential election encourage you? Christians should be encouraged by the concern for the character and moral reflection of the candidates vying for the office of President of the United States in the recent election.

Over the last six presidential elections I can not remember a time seemingly marked by more comments relating to the candidates character which seemed to overshadow even the statements of policy they would enact should they be elected.

Character, integrity, and moral compass are crucial indicators of a person’s future actions. Did you think as you read just now I was referring to the Democratic or Republican candidate? The answer is both plus the independent candidates.

Followers of Christ are called to remember if you were baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27) you are neither Jew or Greek, male or female, conservative or liberal, black, Asian, or white, or Democrat or Republican.

As Timothy Merrill said, “What matters is that we’re citizens of another country, with a different agenda and different mission. We are ambassadors for a Regent, and this transcends whatever is happening politically in the United States of America.”

Discouragement enters when Christ followers forget who really reigns—Jesus. God puts people in power and removes them from power. God promises to take whatever they do and work it together for the good of those who love Him.

It may take generations to understand his workings. It may take until we enter heaven. Faith, however, is not conditional upon understanding.

Is there an additional option to preening or protesting following last weeks elections? Yes. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy urging “intercession and thanksgiving be made for…all those in authority”.

This is extraordinary considering Nero was the Roman emperor. This cruel and demented ruler used Christians as the scapegoat for the fire that destroyed Rome; a fire he likely was responsible for. Even as fellow believers were butchered, burned, or fed to lions, they were encouraged to pray for government leaders.

Prayer would help restore the peace and calm enjoyed before persecution. Prayer, even more importantly, would help lead others to find and follow Jesus Christ as friend, counselor, and savior. In addition, they would then receive the Holy Spirit as the first fruit of their salvation and to enable their complete restoration from sinner to saint.

The instruction to pray for those in authority are but one example of Paul’s encouragement to pray. His words highlight “for all people”.

Constant prayer is a powerful weapon against Satan’s deception and domination. It tills the ground for the seeds of true reverence, serious purpose, and moral earnestness affecting not just a person’s private life, but their public faith.

The election is over. Now is the time to work together and pray together! Forget the labels. Pray. God is in control.

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Government reflects people

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It is over and it is just beginning. Yesterday a new president was elected. Today, some believe the world is coming to an end as a result. I am writing this before the election. Regardless of the candidate who wins, many who voted for the other person will see only gloom and despair.

Several pastors gathered last week for the Siloam Springs Ministerial Alliance meeting in the Back Forty restaurant. They reminded themselves it is God who lifts up kings/rulers and it is God who brings them down. God is in control. He will work all things together to accomplish His purpose. Pain results from ignoring His wisdom, guidance, and leadership, but His plans ultimately are never thwarted.

Pray for whoever is elected the president of the United States and all the remaining officials voted into office. In some ways it does not matter whether they are godly or not. If they govern well, our country and our lives will be the better for it. Through God’s prophet Jeremiah the Hebrews in Babylonian captivity were instructed to pray for those in authority so it would go well for them. During the reign of the notorious Roman emperor Nero, Paul told his disciple and son in the faith, Timothy, to pray for those “in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

A hard truth to receive is that government reflects people. Constituents complain about their elected officials, but the genesis of blame usually lay not with them, but within us. In the 1980s the Moral Majority sought to elect godly moral women and men to public office. The belief was that godly leaders would grow a godly society. Their mobilization of conservative Christians as a political force, however, did not live up to expectations. A decade after it’s founding it dissolved.

Godly people will elect godly leaders. My friend Dave Flack from Outreach Center articulates this topic better than most. We in Christian fellowships need to repent of what is wrong in me. Dave asked last week in a gathering of local pastors what the definition of somebody is. The answer? “Anybody but me.” We want God to do something in the other guy, to change them and so usher in revival and renewal. Change, however, must begin in my sinful heart before I can be effective in the ministry of reconciliation. We want revival that is convenient but it is messy and hard.

Which is more important; a great nation or a great God?  People who not only believe in Jesus Christ but also serve and seek daily to transform more into His image will create a great nation. Such is the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14.

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History & History Making

allsaintsday“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Nicholas Clairmont asks, “really”?

He notes “Over our history, wars ended with confiscatory terms of surrender inevitably breed more wars. Revolutions that give an individual absolute power inevitably end up as brutal dictatorships. Even individuals are subject to this advice. Couples who do not learn from their fights break up.” The proverb appears true.

On the other hand, knowing history and not repeating it do not reflect the plain historical record that people often do what they know from past experience or teaching leads to negative results. Positive results follow a more complicated method than simply learning history.

To learn means to acquire knowledge. One who teaches imparts knowledge. Telling means to announce or proclaim, which does not necessarily lead to learning or teaching. To state the obvious, smart good people often do what they know better than to do. What is the solution?

Another well known proverb, this time from the Bible, says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Training includes but goes beyond telling, teaching, and learning. It makes a person fit through instruction and discipline. It requires dedication first on the part of the parent, and, to be effectual, on the part of the student or child. For example, a child is not trained in bed making once they know how to make their bed. Rather, they are trained only when they know how to make it and choose to do so on their own when no longer under compulsion.

Much may be learned from those who have lived before us. A great place to begin is Christian History Magazine’s “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”. Be inspired. There is something for everyone. The back cover notes the diversity of the lives explored: “Menno Simons, a pacifist, and the Roman emperor Constantine, a general. Leaders of the Reformation—Luther, Calvin, Zwingli-and the Counter-Reformation-Ignatius Loyola and Teresa of Avila. Men and women. Teenagers such as Joan of Arc, and the aged saints like Polycarp.” Remember, acquiring knowledge is the first step. Training is the process. Success is a higher quality of life.

This coming Sunday is All Saints Sunday. Many churches commemorate the lives of those believers who died the previous year and are now living with Jesus on that day. Maybe there is one you know; one who had qualities you wish to make part of your own. Dedicate your life to acquiring knowledge about that quality and how to make it your own. Then take the first step on the journey to proficiency with discipline and practice.

Why repeat past errors when you can learn from the past in order to create a better tomorrow through training and dedication?

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Sleeper Awake

shameDo not equate behavior (what you do) with personal value (who you are). No one lives who has not done things they wish they could take back. Is there anyone who cannot think of a few episodes in their past they are ashamed of? Shame is a painful emotion that follows an awareness of inadequacy or guilt. For example, not studying for an exam often leads to shame when the grades are posted. Or, the pain a person feels after lying about their friend in order to garner attention at the expense of their friend is known as shame.

Dictionary.com says it is the “exposure of unworthy or indecent conduct or circumstances”. This presumes there are accepted standards of morality and justice from which to fall short of. Are there? Are all laws subjective or only some? Which ones? Is it okay for individuals to set their own standard?

Shame is a built in warning that something is wrong. You can disconnect the various warning lights in your automobile such as gas, tire air pressure, engine oil and engine temperature, but it does not mean there is not a problem. It only means you chose to ignore it and do not wish to be reminded of the probable bad result which looms.

John Wesley similarly described a person’s spiritual condition. They may walk, sleep, dress, eat and visit yet suffer from a deep sleep. “His [soul] discern[s] neither spiritual good nor evil…He has no conception…of the happiness which they only find whose life is hid with Christ in God…. Because he is blind, he is also secure.”

There are two responses to shame. Ignore it and feel secure by equating behavior to identity is the first. It is difficult to find many willing to defend the actions of kleptomaniac’s and pyromaniac’s because that is who they are. It is not difficult, however, to find a plethora of supporters for the practitioner’s of many sexual behaviors once considered shameful. Their behavior is not distinct from their personal identity in their eyes. They hear “hate the sin, but the love the sinner” as “if you hate what I do, you hate me because what I do is who I am”.

The second is to admit there is a problem and seek a solution. The problem began when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The consequence was more than their ejection from the Garden of Eden. Their ability not to sin was lost. This does not mean God ceased loving humanity. Quite the contrary is seen in the lengths he undertakes to preserve humanity through the work of Noah in the great flood, Moses delivering the Hebrews from slavery to the Promised Land, and the sending of his only begotten son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for all our wrong doings past, present, and future.

The second option values every life just as God does. So much, in fact, its practitioner’s are not content to stay imperfect, but seek God’s help to heal their spiritual, and eventual moral, disease.

In the end, the latter brings a far better result. Is it better to ignore the sound of home fire alarms, allow the smoke to overcome, and die securely in your bed as the house burns up or awaken to the disaster at hand? O sleeper, awake!

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Thinking about clowns, bad clowns, and bad bad clowns


bad-clownClown sightings are up. It started the last of August in South Carolina when a clown appeared to be attempting to lure kids into nearby woods.   Since then communities across the country have been disturbed by scary clowns, clown-related threats, hoaxes and actual credible events. Is this the normal marketing run-up to Halloween? It is possible, but it seems likely there is more.

Stephen King — whose 1986 novel “IT” depicted a supernatural being that takes the form of a clown — recently felt compelled to weigh in: “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria–most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.” You know it is serious when King feels the need to weigh in.

Clowns have cheered children in hospitals, delighted them at birthday parties, and come between angry bulls and fallen cowboys for generations. However, the annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears found that clowns were a cause of significant anxiety for 6.8 percent of Americans in 2015. Perhaps clowns are an expression of human anxiety, “specters of anxiety and discomfort, bogeymen that personify our deepest fears”.

What is a person to do? How can a parent or teacher reduce the anxiety in a young person? A small percentage needs professional help and counseling. The majority, however, would benefit greatly from the centuries old admonition to think less on scary clowns by choosing to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Lovely in this context embraces thoughts of great moral and spiritual beauty, not of evil. “Admirable” points to “things that speak well of the thinker—thoughts that recommend, give confidence in, and, if heard by others, should be admirable, not embarrassing.” Few single thoughts will create an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual Grand Canyon. Like drops of water gathered into a steady steam, however, thoughts lead to great destruction or remarkable beauty.

Clare Boothe Luce was once our ambassador to Italy. While she was living in a beautiful 17th-century Italian villa, she began to notice that she was always tired. She lost weight, and seemed to have less and less energy.

She sought medical care, and after a period of intense testing it was discovered that she was suffering from arsenic poisoning. Everyone on her staff was given a security check, but it was soon established that none of her staff was trying to poison her. Which left the question: Where was the poisoning coming from?

Finally, they found the cause: It was the ceiling of the bedroom. There were beautiful designs of roses, ornately done in plaster relief, and they were painted with an old paint that contained arsenic lead. A fine dust fell from the roses, and Mrs. Luce was slowly being poisoned in her bed by the dust from the ornate roses.

What kind of clown should we focus our thoughts about? Are your thoughts lovely and admirable or laced with deadly elements of fear, falsehood, and evil? Little things, over time, add up.

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A Most Exquisite Pain 

victorydefeat     “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Do you remember Jim McKay delivering this line on ABC’s Wide World of Sports? [https://youtu.be/P2AZH4FeGsc] For years millions watched video clips of both emotions as they played out in a variety of sports. Watching a skier spin out of control off the jump and crash into the ground below was always cringe worthy.

Can you know the full thrill of victory without knowing the agony of defeat in at least one part of life?

Victor Parachin tells a story about a man who was a politician and a member of the New York State Assembly. He left home following the birth of his first child thinking all was well. Later in the day he was called home to find his wife dying of unforeseen complications. He held her pleading for her life until he was told if he wanted to see his mother before she died he should come downstairs. She died at 3 a.m. and his wife at 2 p.m. the same day, Valentine’s Day 1884. His friends wondered if he would ever recover.

He did, in time, following a two-year retreat from politics to a ranch in the Dakota badlands. Eventually, he would marry again. Professionally, he would serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York and President of the United States. His name was Theodore Roosevelt, a man whose zest for life became legendary following his crushing agony.

He was not the first to experience these twin emotions. Centuries earlier a man lived in the capitol of Israel among the wealthy, educated and political elites. Later he lived in prison after being whipped, on ships before they wrecked, and left for dead after stones were hurled at him. He experienced life as thrilling and agonizing before writing, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” His name was the apostle Paul.

Has your life experience been more about “the thrill of victory” or “the agony of defeat”? Do you wring the last ounce of joy from the good things that come your way or has the nearly endless stream of agonizing defeats beaten the life out of your living? We cannot always control what happens to us. We can, however, choose how we respond. Take the pain, disappointment, and despair from the past and let it magnify the experiences of victory, joy, and fulfillment when they come your way.

Remember this. Not Theodore Roosevelt, the Apostle Paul, or you will ever be abandoned by the living eternally loving Jesus Christ. Believe it. Live it. Know it. Share it.

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