Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Letting Scabs Heal

Healing Scab
The following was posted as a status update on Facebook April 30, 2012. It well describes what I believe God is doing with me at the present moment. Trying hard not to pick at the scab.

I was thinking today about scabs. No, not those who cross picket lines, but that crusty stuff that forms over a wound. Our tendency is to try to remove that scab before its time. We don't like that ugly, itchy patch of clotted blood, and want it to go away.

But scabs indicate that healing is taking place underneath. It is needed to cover the wound until the body has completed the job of healing.

When we are wounded emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually, healing takes time. Remember that Jesus did not always heal people immediately; sometimes there was a process involved. (Mark 8:22-25) We like to try to force the process to an early completion, but, like picking at a scab, our efforts can end up making things worse and hamper what God is trying to do.

Even after the scab has loosened and the wound has healed, there is often a permanent scar. Scars can be a reminder not to repeat stupid behavior so an accident is not repeated.

Scars can also be an indication that something good has been done to you. Those of us over 45 or so have a vaccination scar from when we were inoculated against smallpox. The healthcare professional who gave us the injection didn't do it because she wanted us to have an ugly mark on our shoulder. She did it in order to prevent a fatal disease.

God sometimes allows us to be scarred for our own good. He allows certain circumstances into our lives because He is trying to lead us in a certain direction which will avoid greater heartache, because He wants to create an empathetic spirit within us... or for a myriad of other reasons that might never become apparent to us.

Is it obvious that there is a "scab" or "scar" in your life? Be patient. Let God use it for the purpose for which He allowed it.

"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves... and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." Romans 8:26-28 in The Message

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King and racial intolerance

The following post was published on the new-defunct on this date in 2010. I reproduce it here for posterity, for whatever it's worth.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wikimedia

Although Friday, January 15, 2010, was actually the 81st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth, the official holiday will be observed throughout the United States Monday. The South Bend Tribune lists a variety of activities which will mark the occasion.

The activities include free admission to South Bend’s Center for History, which will show three films from the 1960’s with racial themes:

10:00 a.m. – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
12:30 p.m. – A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
3:00  p.m. – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Even as we remember his birth, there is a debate about whether King was a true Christian and believed the Bible. There has been talk for years about his moral lapses. (See The 'Truth' About Martin Luther King.) But who of us is without sin?

One website has an article which purports to show King’s doctrinal position was heretical. It quotes two papers written while King was attending Crozer Theological Seminary. Although the contents of these papers would cause most conservative Christians concern, it must be remembered that these were written when he was a young college student, and do not necessarily reflect his beliefs as he got older.

On the contrary, an article by Charles Gilmer on indicates King had a very high regard for the Bible and its teachings. Gilmer points out that the civil rights activist did not teach racial “tolerance,” which is often based on moral relativism, but love.

 “At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality. A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is the creator, sustainer, and conserver of values....In contrast to the ethical relativism of [totalitarianism], Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable.”
 “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Strength to Love, p. 51) [Cited by Gilmer.]

That Martin Luther King understood the message of the Gospel is clear in another passage quoted in the article.

 "Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities." (Strength to Love, p. 126)

As we remember Martin Luther King this weekend, remember these words. He was not striving for us to just “tolerate” each other, but to let God’s love transform us so that we would truly love one another.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Treasures of snow from God's storehouse

Where I live, 2017 has come in with most of the snow cover melting, and there are prospects for only light snow this coming week. 2010 was a bit different, and I wrote this piece for "inspired" by the weather. Although I probably would have gone a different direction if I had written this today (even if we currently had heavy snow), the themes of God's provision and providence are still near to my heart. 
Photo by Mark Sommer

Many places in Michiana have already seen close to a foot of snow since the New Year rang in, and there is still more lake effect snow on its way. This area had been spared much of the wintry weather this season, but, if the weather forecast is even close to being correct, there is plenty more to come this week.

Although snow can be a nuisance, there is also a beauty about it that cannot be denied. And in the land of the Bible, mountain snows can bring refreshment as they melt and form streams which provide water for thirty plants, animals and people.

In Proverbs 25:13, the refreshment of snow is compared to a faithful messenger.

Like the cold of snow in time of harvest
Is a faithful messenger to those who send him,
For he refreshes the soul of his masters. (NKJV)

To appreciate this verse, the reader needs to understand something about messengers, and the harvest, in Bible times.

If you needed to get an important message to someone, you couldn't just pull your cell phone out of your pocket, or send an e-mail, or use a phone. You couldn’t even put a letter in a mailbox. You would have to send someone you trust to deliver the message in person.

The harvest time was the hottest and driest part of the year, so the reference to snow pictures quite a contrast. Some scholars interpret the reference to “the cold of snow” as meaning cold water from a snow-fed stream. Thus the American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version translation of this verse:

A messenger you can trust is just as refreshing as cool water in summer.

Winter snow was designed by God to give refreshment to us during the rest of the year. It melts in spring, giving added moisture to the soil. Snow-fed streams provide water throughout the year.

God’s ability to control the weather is a major theme of Job 38, where God answers Job’s complaints about how he was being treated. Verse 22 talks about the “treasury of snow” – a figure of speech used to show how God in his wisdom reserves the snows for the time which will suit his purposes. The whole point is that God knows how and when to direct the forces of nature. We often do not understand what he is doing, but his wisdom always assures that the timing of the weather is always for the best.

If we are to live biblical lives, we need to trust that God knows what he is doing even when we don’t understand. That is much of what faith is all about. His wisdom and understanding is beyond description. Remember that as you shovel out your car for the umpteenth time this week.

The verse in Job about the “treasury of snow” was part of the inspiration for the song Indescribable by Chris Tomlin. A video of that song with the lyrics is available on YouTube. Take some take to listen and reflect on God’s wisdom and power.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fighting over Christmas and missing its meaning

I originally posted this to the now-defunct seven years ago today. The supposed "War on Christmas" debate continues to this day. Donald Trump declared recently that we are going to hear "Merry Christmas" in stores again. My thoughts on the subject are pretty much the same today as they were in 2009. Why are so many obsessed with political power instead of spreading goodwill?  

Blessed are the Peacemakers Wikimedia
You find it in articles, message boards, e-mails, and all over the blogosphere: “Don’t say ‘Happy Holidays,’ say 'Merry Christmas.’" We are being told that there is a “War on Christmas,” and it is implied that people are trying to undermine Christmas by using the generic phrase.

But using the phrase "Happy Holidays" does not necessarily mean the well-wisher is consciously avoiding the term "Christmas." The generic greeting is, first and foremost, shorthand for "Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." And when we talk about the "Holiday Season" in today's culture we are usually including Thanksgiving as well.

Not everyone who says "Happy Holidays" or "Holiday Season" has insidious motives, as some might have us to believe! This time of year good cashiers used to mix up their closing remarks to avoid sounding stilted: "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" or even "Have a great evening." But with the attitude of some today, retail workers are afraid to say "Happy Holidays" lest someone thinks they are heathen!

On the other hand, some of the nonsense from the other side of the issue is just ridiculous. Calling a Christmas tree a "Holiday tree" is just silly. One ad even went so far as to say that their item would cause joy when it was unwrapped on "Holiday morning." Come on. Have we really come that far in this culture that we are afraid to call things what they are lest we offend anyone?

In the 1960's and 70's the big deal was X-mas. Don't put X-mas on your store signs--that's blasphemy! That's X-ing Christ out of Christmas. Well, not exactly. Christians have been using "X" for Christ since the first century. The letter X looks exactly like the Greek letter Chi (pronounced khee), which is the first letter in Christos--Christ.

A ladies singing trio from the late 50's and early 60's, The White Sisters, sang a song titled "Keep Christ in Christmas." Whether the whole X-mas controversy "inspired" the song or not is unclear. Part of the song speaks about letting "Christ have first place" at this time of year. But it does not seem that Christ is having "first place" in most of the complaining about and campaigning against "Happy Holidays." When Conservative groups send out e-mail newsletters saying "Send us money because we’re getting Christmas back into the stores," is Christ getting first place? When the average person sees "Christmas Tree" instead of "Holiday Tree" is he more likely to think of the "true meaning of Christmas"? These questions should give the Christian pause.

Christmas is about giving, not winning. Christ himself was the first Christmas gift. If Christians spent their time giving themselves to feed the poor, visit the sick and generally spread goodwill among men, instead of organizing boycotts and sending threatening e-mails, wouldn't that better reflect what Christmas is all about?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Manger and the Swaddling Bands

The following was originally published on the now-defunct on December 22, 2009.
Modonna & Child Ambrogio Lorenzetti 1319 Wikimedia

Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger….

So begins a traditional Christmas song. In a few words which seem almost an afterthought, Luke 2:7 tells us why Jesus was placed in a manger: “because there was no room in the inn.”

Bethlehem was so crowded there was only room in a cattle trough for the Child. Much has been made of the five small words “no room in the inn,” and rightly so. These words picture what the Apostle John tells us in his Gospel.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1: 10-11 ESV)

Sweet little holy Child,
We didn't know who you was.

But there were two at the scene, Mary and Joseph, who did know who he was. They didn’t understand everything, but they had been told by God through his angels who the child was. They only had a manger to lay him in, but they received him.

Luke 2:7 tells us Jesus was placed in a manger. Why? Because there was no room. But what they did before they laid him there is significant.

Mary "wrapped Him in swaddling cloths." Swaddling cloths or bands were a tradition that had been handed down for centuries. When a child was born, its skin was rubbed with salt and oil, and cloths were wrapped around it. It was thought that this would also insure the child’s limbs would grow straight. In Ezekiel 16:4, a baby that had not been wrapped in cloths is used to describe an abandoned child.

With this in mind, note the paradoxical scene. Here is a baby in a cattle trough, probably cut into the wall of a cave used to shelter domestic animals – not the place you would normally find a baby. There is a horror in the sight of a child so treated.

But there are also the swaddling bands – an indication that the child was loved and cared for. Mary and Joseph made the only room they had available, and cared for the child as best they could. His own people had not received him, but Mary and Joseph did.

The scene of Jesus lying in a cave wrapped in swaddling bands is reminiscent of another scene – Jesus wrapped in grave cloths lying in a tomb. Again we have a picture of horror, and yet of the love which prepared the body for burial. It was another Joseph, the one from Arimathea, who had provided the tomb and had wrapped the body in linen.

The only room for Jesus according to those who rejected him was in the grave. He was there because the religious leaders of the day had no room for him. But even in his death there were those who cared.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 ESV)

Do you have room for Jesus?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Labor Day Rest for Your Souls

I don't know about you, but my Labor Day weekend was way too short. Last year today's date fell on a Sunday, so we were right in the middle of the long weekend at this point. On September 6, 2015, I posted the following article on Since Examiner has closed their cyberdoors, removing their content,  I replicate the post here for posterity.

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Many laborers are enjoying some well-deserved extended rest this weekend as the United States celebrates Labor Day Monday. The FOX28 website gives some recipe ideas for you to use this holiday, and the South Bend Tribune lists some activities in the area.

Labor Day isn't considered a religious holiday, but the words of Jesus come to mind as many workers take an extra day off.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

Jesus was not just talking about physical rest. He was offering spiritual rest—rest for your souls. This rest doesn't involve inactivity, either, as implied in the phrase "Take My yoke." A yoke is a device used by farmers to link animals together when working the fields or pulling a wagon or cart. Jesus invites people to join his team, and promises to pull together with them and refresh their souls.

Jesus' words end chapter 11 and lead up to a confrontation with the Pharisees in chapter 12. Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field and gleaning some of the grain and eating it. The Pharisees are incensed – not because they are stealing; the provision of leaving grain for the poor to glean was part of the Jewish law. The Pharisees objected because Jesus and the disciples were "working" on the Sabbath. Jesus responds first by declaring his authority. But even if the Pharisees do not recognize his authority, their legalistic response goes against the spirit of the law. In verse seven (NKJV) Jesus asserts, "But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless."

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to show the Pharisees they had the wrong spirit in how they applied the law. In the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus adds, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." [Mark 2:27 NKJV] God's law was made for our benefit; to use it in a merciless way so an individual is not benefited, or is oppressed, is not God's intention in giving it.

Jesus came to give us rest. Not by putting a yoke on us which we are unable to bear (See Acts 15:10.), but by working with us and in us to help us be what God intended us to be.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Notre Dame Football and Fundamentals

Notre Dame Stadium
Public domain photo from Wikimedia

Last night, Notre Dame lost a heart-breaker to the Texas. Both teams were up for the game, and neither gave up. It should be an interesting season for Irish and Longhorn fans. Back on this date in 2010, I wrote an article for Since Examiner has ceased to exist, and their posts have been removed from the internet, I am re-producing that article (slightly edited) here. Although dated, the themes I discuss are relevant today.

2010 Notre Dame football - the fundamental difference
Notre Dame's overall impressive 23-12 win over Purdue Saturday come down to one word: fundamentals.

People are talking about it all over the Internet, expressing what this Examiner was thinking all through the game. It was obvious. The team has been concentrating on the fundamentals.
Do a basic Google search for "notre dame football fundamentals" and you will see it over and over. Three replies left to Al Lesar's South Bend Tribune article stressed it. Matt Mooney and Eric Murtaugh both mention it in their articles for Keith Arnold wrote about it for I could go on and on.

No matter how good your coaching on game day, if you haven't gone over and over the fundamentals during practice, it will show during the game.

At about the turn of the Twentieth Century, a movement began in American Christianity called Fundamentalism. When we hear the term "Fundamentalist" today, it is usually said in derision. But, just like football, getting back to the basics can be a good thing. 

The early Fundamentalists were not concerned with political power. They were not interested in building huge monuments or enterprises. Their focus was on the need to restore Christianity to the "fundamentals of the faith": such as the deity of Christ and the authority of the scriptures. The movement crossed denominational boundaries, building bridges instead of creating secluded islands.

Whatever happened to Fundamentalism? Where did it go astray? Perhaps Jesus gives us a hint in his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-28 (NIV):

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

The Pharisees were the strict Fundamentalists of their day. They were very particular about how they followed the scriptures. That was not the problem. The problem was that they replaced mercy and love for others with a lot of outward ritual. They thought they could think and act toward others any way they pleased as long as it looked like they were outwardly following all the religious requirements.

Those of us who claim to follow the fundamentals of Christianity need to examine ourselves whether we have replaced love and mercy with keeping a list of do's and don'ts. It's not that we should abandon the fundamentals, but we need to relax a bit and not become a bunch of killjoys.
After the win yesterday, the team was not exactly exuberant. Especially late in the game there were some mistakes that could have lost them the game, and their focus was on the mistakes instead of the win.

It's not that they should abandon the fundamentals this coming week in practice. You can be sure there will be some intensive drills related to securing the football. But Coach Kelly told the media that the team needs to lighten up and enjoy the win.
Christians are on the winning team. Do the drills, but lighten up and enjoy the victory!