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Posts Tagged ‘CCV’

Recently we had a sermon in church that struck a chord with me, it hit me right in the heart because it touched on a subject that has long been a battle in the church, since the beginning of time I think. Our pastor simply compared two things, tradition against truth. Tradition has been a consistent wedge between God and us since the beginning of time and continues to be today, and as he outlined how tradition had affected him in his own early life and upbringing it brought memories of my early life to the forefront also.

He told how alcohol was never allowed in his home when he grew up, he was raised in a tight strict Kansas bible belt home and there was no doubt that its consumption was wrong and sinful. He was taught that the wine referenced in the bible was actually not wine as we would know it, but grape juice, because there is no way the son of God would defile himself with an alcoholic beverage. When he became a man and a pastor himself, he traveled to the holy lands for the first time to see the place where it all happened. It was then and there that it all became clear to him, there was no way those people were able to keep that wine cool enough from fermenting, that wine was “real” wine.

My home was the same, alcohol was not allowed in ever, we did not drink (at least not in front of family members). It was wrong, same as dancing, cursing, and even having instrumental music in the praise service. You see, there is “A” scripture, Eph. 3:16 that says “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord”, and because it doesn’t mention anything about instruments we assumed they were not allowed. If you were to mention David and the harp, we would have told you “yeah, but that’s the Old Testament, the old law, we now live under the new law”. Every time there was a marriage class we were happy to use Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) as a platform for how a couple should love one another. And every time we wanted to teach a men’s class for say “potential deacons” they would use the book of proverbs because of its great wisdom. Married women would always use Proverbs 31 as a platform for teaching how a Christian wife should be. But anything that mattered and we would cherry pick our scriptures. I am saying we, because I was right there doing it too, complicit in the problem with everyone else, although I did always wonder, but not enough to buck the system.

So I wonder where these great traditions like “drinking is wrong and un-Christian” came from? Well, probably not too hard to figure out, the bible has 19 examples of people abusing alcohol, but with that there are 145 positive references to consuming alcohol in the bible.

There is some interesting scripture to read here,  Proverbs 31:6-7    6 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

Now don’t get the wrong idea here folks, I am not trying to suggest we should all go out and start getting lit every night, especially if we are what could be considered in the poverty level, because of course the bible says it’s okay. I am merely saying we need to stop making manmade traditions and stamping them with Gods seal when that could not be farther from the truth. Ask yourself this question, how often do you take communion, and is it because you choose to do so or because it is a tradition. What day of the week is communion to be taken on, is there a day set aside, or is it tradition? These are all questions that I have asked myself, and I found that I was steeped in tradition myself, and I didn’t like it. Our pastor gave a pretty good self check though, he said it is simple, if it is in the bible, it is truth, if it isn’t, it is tradition.

God Bless-JFT

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I did my best to sit upright in the class, wishing I wore glasses, thinking that a reflection might allow me to close my eyes a bit. Oh my gosh, this stuff was so dry, they poked through the book of Acts like crash scene investigators piecing together what happened. I listened with twenty-five percent of my brain, just enough to answer a question if they called on me, but this was like shoving bamboo shoots under my fingernails.

This was how I used to feel when I was in Sunday school years ago, when we would study the Bible, I could never connect with the characters as actual people, it was more a study in forensics. Now before I go any further, I want to be clear, this site is not nor will it ever be a platform to rant against anyone or anything. I was raised up in a very legalistic background, and I believe with all of my heart that those folks think they are serving God right. But sometimes we need to step back from our comfort zone and look around, do a self check, check the pulse of our faith, etc. We get an annual physical; there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same thing with our faith.

One of the things that I remember about church when I grew up is that everyone sat in the same place every week.  Several of the old timers positioned themselves either next to or directly behind the large support pillars, depending on if they cared whether the pastor saw them sleeping or not. The ones next to the pillars would lean their heads against it and snore, while the ones behind it would nod expertly in line with the pastor. I remember one week the poor pastor saw so many sleepers that he commented that it made him feel good to know he put so many people at ease. I used to nod off then too, because there wasn’t anything to be too excited about.

Those years were so sad for me, legalistic as could be and nary a clue. If you would have asked me, I would have told you all about how bad legalism was, never for a moment suspecting that I was part and parcel. We were trained to know the bible, so we could show everyone how messed up they were, missing the part about love and Grace, and it is capitalized for a reason, because it is so amazing.

Back then, the Apostles were yellowed text, cracked with age and not pertinent to me today, Jesus was God on earth, a perfect God-Man that I know never had anything in common with the guy who back then ran a forklift in a freezer dock. But it was what my folks did, it was what my wife did, I believed in God, so I needed to just roll with things, and that is what I did. But then the most wonderful thing happened.

The yellow pages began to turn black and white, and they weren’t cracked and broken anymore, the pages became whole. The two thousand year old Apostles were no longer men from other cultures that spoke different languages, that I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with, they became what they were, a bunch of average at best guys. I felt the Saul (the Apostle Paul) trying to swallow the lump in his throat when he encountered the burning speaking bush. I felt the wretched shame tear through Peter’s soul when he heard the Rooster crow, knowing he had let the Lord down, after he had assured him that he was solid, that it wouldn’t happen. The surprise on Thomas face when he “did” find the holes in his Master’s wrists, and he would forever wear the moniker “doubting Thomas”. The funny thing is, it took me being rocked out of that environment painfully, in what would eventually prove to be the biggest blessing of my life.

Yes, these people were no longer “forensic” they were people, but the people who were at the forefront, they were there, they walked with the Master.

That brings me to the best news of all, that guy who drove the forklift in the freezer many years ago, who thought more about making a better life for his family than his everlasting soul, yeah well. Guess what, that God-Man, as hard as this may be to believe, He became a Man, and He knew my name, He had always known my name. When He came down here, He had in fact been a man, He could have left anytime, but He didn’t.  Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, He looked at that future and said “whoa, is there any other way”, but in the end, He said Father, Your will be done. The thing that is really hard to wrap my mind around, always has been, always will be, is that that God-Man cares about me, but oh man, he does.

He snatched me up and I was blessed with a knowledge that managed to escape me for thirty two years of my life. Grace, last night I sat down with my two teen-aged girls to make sure that they understood grace, the blood of Christ and that we can’t work our way to heaven. Yeah, they knew, but my dad and step mom managed to make it eighty years without knowing, just saying. Jesus knows us, every one of us, I don’t know how, but He does. Maybe when Your blood atones for someone’s sin, You just know them, but He does. If church is legalistic and forensic, if you can’t feel the indecision in the Apostle’s, the lump in Paul’s throat, then it is time to do a self check. I am not a fan of church hopping, but the church is us, and I use two criteria. If you are serving, and serving the Lord well, meeting the need well, and you and your family are being fed then you are probably where you should be. Only you can answer that. God Bless-JFT

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Steve Nash blasts around the massive forward and makes the lay-up, effortlessly hooking the ball in that unique way he does it. The ball hovers for a second above the rim, then drops through the basket. The giant forward has a look of pent up frustration on his face as the small and nimble Nash throws a “got ya” smirk over his shoulder and trots back toward mid court. This has been going on for most of the game, Nash is going to have a high scoring game, and if the Suns don’t screw it up, they are going to beat the Celtics.

She comes into the living room pulling on one pump while hopping on the other, and I am so ensconced in the game I hardly notice. She is calling to Hayley telling her that they need to be gone in ten minutes. I am hoping she doesn’t even ask, I’m obviously planning on watching the game, but she can’t help herself, she asks anyway. Doug, won’t you come with me tonight, please?

I act like I didn’t hear her, a good play is going on and I am on the edge of my seat acting as though I am so focused I don’t hear her. Doug, Honey, she says and picks up the remote, pausing the game. Why don’t you change your shirt and come with us tonight, then afterward we will go out to dinner, she says. She begins rubbing my neck and purrs “pulleesseee, for me”. I enjoy the rub for the moment then say “I’m sorry honey, but this is a really important game, they are playing the Celtics, I really don’t want to miss it. How about next week?

She stops rubbing my neck, and I can feel her whole body droop into a collective sigh of disappointment, then she says  to Hayley, come on. I stand and wrap my arms around her, come on now, I’ll go next time, this is just a really good game, please understand. She says “alright Doug, but I am going to hold you to it”. I hold up my right hand and say, I promise. I actually said the same thing to her two weeks ago, yet she shows restraint by not reminding me of it. She smiles slightly and kisses me on the cheek, “see you when we get back, love you, Hayley, let’s go. Hayley gives me a hug, then says bye daddy, and they go out into the garage and start the car. A minute later, I hear the garage door go closed, as I fast forward through a commercial to get back to the game.

The following morning, I am taking Hayley to school on my way to work. She is seven and in the second grade. “Dad, how’s come you don’t come to church with me and mommy, don’t you love God” she asks in her sweet little voice? I look over at her, and as always the freckles on her nose, and her missing front top left tooth combined just melt my heart. Of course I do honey, I answer, why would you ask me that? Because you never come with us daddy she says, and when you love God, you want to go to church, that’s what mommy says. Well honey, you can love God and not go all the time I respond, loving God is something you do in your heart, people can love God in their own way, I say, making it up as I go.

Hayley looks at me and I can see the wheels in her mind turning, then she says “Daddy, Misses Edabaum says when we are guilty of something we make excuses, are you making excuses because you feel guilty”? Exasperated, I am grateful we are pulling up in front of the school, because I have no answer for her. Sorry honey, I have to get to work, we can talk later I say as she takes off her seat belt and I give her a big hug and kiss. I love you daddy, she says as she hops out and pulls her backpack on, then picks up her little lunchbox. I tell her I love her as she turns away and scampers off to class. I stay for a moment longer, just watching her and taking in the sight of her. I watch her until she disappears through the front door of the school. I sigh wistfully, hoping she will always be so sweet and innocent. I then snap out of it and pull out of the drop-off zone and merge with the flow of traffic, savoring the tender moment with my girl, no matter how old she gets, she will always be my little………..

That is where it ends. I don’t remember anything past that. It is dark and cold where I am. I hear sounds, voices echoing through the darkness, but none I recognize. The voices are just an unintelligible, reverberating series of echoes, but nothing beyond that. I still have no recollection of what happened, wait, hold on, I think it is starting to come back a bit. I was driving, I had just dropped Hayley off, I merged with traffic, no problems. I remember thinking about her, my little girl always, and then I turned my head to the left. I know, I was looking both ways as I went through the intersection, I remember it now, as I looked to my left, I remember seeing two headlights and a huge grille right outside my window, why was it there? It was a semi, a tractor-trailer rig, and it had run a red light, I don’t know why I know this, but the driver was looking at his phone, he was reading a text, and I also know he was racked with guilt because of the wreck. I don’t remember anything else. I remember no impact, nothing. It is probably a good thing because I think it would have hurt. There is no other explanation. I must be in a coma.

I wander in a sleepy land for some time with no sense of space or time, just darkness and hearing voices far off, like train whistles echoing across a prairie night in dead of winter. One day though, or night for that matter, I hear a voice that is close in, it is a clear voice, and it is speaking to me. Doug, open your eyes, the voice says. I struggle to open them, and then to my surprise, they open. Everything comes into focus instantly, and I am surprised and happy because I had figured that I was probably blind, after having spent so much time in the dark.

I am lying prone, and the Doctor looks down at me, concern on his face. Are Melissa and Haley here Doctor, I ask as I focus on his eyes? No Doug, they are not here, he says. How bad am I Doc, I ask as I look around the room a bit, can I still walk? He looks down at me and says “yes Doug, you can walk as well as you ever could” then he tells me that he is not a doctor. “Where am I, I ask, is this a rehab center”? He just looks back at me and then extends his hand to help me up. I am surprised, I feel no pain as I stand, testing my weight on each foot. The man turns around, and I am blown away to see great wings coming out of his back, with beautiful white feathers cascading down past his knees. Although shocked at the implications of my death, I smile inside and say “are you what I think you are”, thinking that if I was with an angel, I was in the right place. Reading my mind, he said Doug, you haven’t been judged yet, the decision is yet to be made. Anxiety instantly floods my soul, “oh man, oh man, dear God” I find myself saying, He turns and says “Doug, the time for prayers is over, come with me”.

His name is Silas, and He is an angel of The Lord, charged with bringing people to judgment. We exit the room and ender a huge hallway, I look to the left and right, the walls are made with cut stones bigger than any I have ever seen. Looking at it from a distance, it would look like a  block wall, but the stones are each the size of a semi trailer. The walls disappear up into the clouds, and there is no ceiling in this hallway, I look up and the ceiling is a moving mosaic of clouds, the sheer immensity of it stuns me. At the end of the hallway, we encounter a room with huge doors made of olive wood, I don’t know how I know that, but I do. The olive wood doors have engraving across them of a huge bird like creature with broad wings spread wide. There is one on each of the two doors, and their wings touch in the middle. I look to Silas and he nods to them saying, Cherubim and Seraphim, The design is from The Lord’s temple in Jeruslaem. He then places his hand on my shoulder, and kisses me once on each cheek. Doug, this is as far as I can go with you, then he opens the door for me, and I enter.

Before me is a huge desk, the size of a house. And on each side of the desk is another figure like each one on the door. Cherubim and Seraphim as Silas called them, but these two are instead gold statues. Each one is at least fifteen feet tall, with a wingspan of thirty feet, their wingtips meeting in the middle, touching just below the top of the huge desk before me. Behind the desk sits an ominous figure. His face is aged with experience, His beard long and white, matching His long and white hair. His eyes a bright and luminous blue, beautiful and yet piercing and His entire body glows white so much so that there are no shadows near Him. I know instantly that it is not possible for darkness to be in company with Him, His brightness would prevent it. I know without doubt who He is from the moment I first looked in through the door. I knew he had created me. I knew that He had knitted me into existence in my mother’s womb. I knew He was God, and I knew He was my Judge.

The Judge opens the book and turns to the page that has my entire life recorded on it. Doug, how do you plead, He asks? Innocent I say quickly. The Wise Judge reads the book intently, studying one page, then another, turning pages as He goes. Finally, He pulls a feather from and ink well and writes with its tip on one of the pages. “You are guilty my beloved”, as he looks up at me, and closes the book. “Wait please, I shout! I was always a good man wasn’t I, I was always honest wasn’t I”? Yes, the Wise Judge said, that you were. I was always kind wasn’t I? Yes, he agreed, you were. I came to church every Christmas, Easter, I worshipped You then, and sometimes I even came on a whim when Melissa asked me, certainly You can’t boot me when I was so faithful to you, can You?

As the Judge listened to me, a tear actually rolled down His face. I protested for what seemed forever, making a great case for my clemency, and He listened. When I was done, He began to slowly shake His head, as another tear followed the first. Doug, kind you were, generous you were, with everything but me. You never missed a game the Suns played, but you only came to church when your wife wouldn’t take no for an answer, and worship Me you did not. You forget I see all, and I know your thoughts. I know you were lamenting every minute you were in church, I know you thought it was a waste of time. You refused to give Me your heart, you rejected My Son. Remember Doug, I know your heart. Finally, I pleaded “how can you condemn me, didn’t you call me beloved? “Yes, I did call you beloved, because you are my beloved” He said. I loved you so much I gave My Son for you, but you refused Him, you never took Him as your Savior, you were too busy. Yes, I love you, but you are lost. I began to protest, but my upper and lower lips grew together, muting me as the Wise Judge slowly and quietly dropped the gavel, issuing my sentence.

Two scaly gargoyles led me down into a dark cave, my hands behind my back. They placed my hands behind me, and I thought they would handcuff me, but my hands grew together as my lips had. My arms ached in the painful position, skin and bone growing together painfully. They demons walked behind me, pushing me before them into the dark. Horror filled my heart as I was pushed through giant spider webs, and I could feel creatures scurrying across my skin, but my hands were welded together behind my back, so I could do nothing. It was then that I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes either, and the jagged stone floor was hurting my feet. Finally, the deeper I went into the cave, there began to be more light and I could make out scorpions crawling across the floor, the sharp pains I felt weren’t rocks, they were stings.

As the cave opened up, it appeared that we were in the inside of a volcano, rivers of lava surrounded me, and it is so hot, how could I possibly not burn up, but I didn’t. A huge hideous creature with the body of a goat, and the torso and head of a dragon came and greeted us. Two long curved horns protruded from his head. Welcome, he said, I am so glad you could make it. I never doubted that you belonged to me. I tried to refute him, but my lips, and now even my teeth had grown together, so that I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even make a sound. Circling me, the creature appraised his prize with pure happiness. Yeah, I gocha didn’t I, after all, what God would condemn such a good, honest decent man as you? He then leaned his head back and cackled as loudly as he could. I just love it when you guys buy the lie, no need for commitment; religion is just for the weak. I remember when you read that book by Karl Marx with the quote Religion is the opium of the people“. I remember what you thought, you thought Marx was onto something, I just love guys like you who think worshipping God is a waste of time. I just love guys like you who embrace my greatest virtue, pride. Oh well, welcome to your reality, you will have only one possession that you are allowed to keep while you are here (for eternity). As a matter of fact, that one possession will actually be enhanced, who says I am not generous. Your one possession that you may keep is your memory, and it will be enhanced a thousand times, every memory of the good life you had will now be available to you. Welcome to Hell! He then leaned back and cackled in a loud booming voice that shook my entire body, and caused me to fall to the ground, partially into the lava. My skin burned but would not be consumed, and I screamed, but my mouth would not open.

I hit the floor, landing on my head first, and jarring me from the dream. I started and sat up quickly, terrified to my core at what I had just experienced. I looked around, it was six twenty, Melissa had been gone fifteen minutes. I stood up and shook my head, what a dream, what a horrible dream this had been I thought. The game was still on but I no longer cared about it, so I looked around for the remote control to shut the TV off, I had to think about things. That was when I saw it, sticking out from under the couch. I reached down and picked it up, and my blood ran cold. It was a feather, it was one of Silas’ feathers.

 I bolted to the bedroom, peeling my shirt off as I went and letting it drop to the floor. I grabbed a clean one and ran for the door, picking up my shoes as I went. One thing I knew, as I drove to church, I was going to be going slow, and looking in all directions before entering an intersection.

God Bless-JFT

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I sat in my room looking out the window, watching the sun race for the horizon, a darker shade of gray already settling down over the scene before me. Night was coming, and with it, another boring evening in my room surfing online, watching TV, or listening to my IPOD.

I can hear my mom and dad downstairs in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, laughing and talking as they load the dishwasher. I think briefly about going down there and just asking him, but what’s the point? I know what he is going to say. Megan is going, Danny is going, everyone will be there dancing, hanging out and having a good time.

The football game is every Friday night, and most everyone at the school goes. Megan says everyone hangs out on the home team bleachers and cheers the team on. Actually, she says the truth is they only cheer when the parents cheer and draw their attention to the field, most of the time she says they are talking and having fun up in the stands, not usually even really paying attention to what’s going on out on the field. The best part of the football game is hanging out with your friends, the game is secondary.

Every Friday now, all of my friends begin to talk about going to the game, what they are going to wear, what is going on afterwards. After all the home games there is a dance, and week after week, my friends ask me time and time again if I will be there. Week after week, I tell them no, my dad won’t let me go, and week after week they ask me why, and I tell them “because he won’t”. They look at me strangely, and usually let it go, but today was different, Megan wouldn’t let it go, she just kept pecking at me about it.

“Andrew, what is the deal, are you like grounded for life or something” she asked me and waited for an answer? I just stared back at her, not knowing what to say. In case you don’t know, I like Megan!  Actually, I “Really Really” like Megan and would love nothing more than to spend every Friday night for the rest of my life up on the bleachers with her. I love talking to her, I love being with her, I think I love her, and I never run out of things to talk about with her. Never that is, until now.  I’ve got nothing as she stands there looking me in the eyes, waiting for my answer. Finally, I just blurted out “because he won’t, that’s why”.

She looked back at me with concern in her eyes, and said “why, why won’t he let you”? You haven’t been to a game since you started high school, and we only have one more year left after this one, you are missing out on so much fun. I know you want to go, and I want you to be there with me, I want you to be my date, so will you ask him one more time, for me? I leaned up against the wall and considered my response carefully, and then I began slowly, measuring my words.

I looked at her and said Megan, I don’t know what the point in asking is, because his answer is going to be no. Last year, when we had the first home game, I went and asked him if I could go, and the answer was no. He said that he wasn’t comfortable with me going out in a car with other kids driving. Do you remember a few weeks after school started last year, those kids from the next town got in a car wreck and two of them were killed, well that happened the week before the first home game. So my dad said no, he didn’t want me ending up like one of them. That was the last time I asked him if I could go to the game.

Megan looked at me like I was crazy, “you haven’t asked him since then”, and I shook my head slowly side to side. He said no then, he doesn’t want me to go out, he doesn’t want me riding around with other kids, and nothing has changed, so why would I ask him again? His answer was no then, it will be no now, the circumstances have not changed. Why can’t you understand that’s just how it is I ask her? Why can’t you just leave it alone?

She shakes her head in frustration, and says “I think you are making a mistake, unless your dad is a psycho, he loves you and wants you to be happy”, don’t you think he wants you to be happy? Yes, I nod. You have to give him a chance, just because he said no once doesn’t mean he will never change his mind, that was over a year ago. You have grown up a lot in the last year, in many ways you are a lot more responsible than you were a year ago, but you have to give him a chance, so promise me you will ask him Andrew, c’mon now, promise me. I stare back at her, wanting to go, knowing he will say no yet wanting to please her, so I said okay, I promise.

The sun is beginning to turn the thin clouds a fiery red, sunset is beginning, as I stand up and turn away from the window, resigned to keeping my promise. I head down stairs into the kitchen and head towards the den where dad is watching Seinfeld. Hey pops, you got a second, I ask as he pauses the TV, muting George Costanza in mid rant. Sure son, what’s up he asks. Well, I know you are going to say no, but I thought I would ask anyway. Can I go to the game tonight, and the dance in the gym afterwards, and I brace myself for the response. He asks who is going, how late I think it will last, and then shocks me beyond belief and says “Sure, I don’t see why not”, and he fishes out his wallet and extracts a twenty and hands it to me. He hands the twenty to me and says “have a good time son”, then un-pauses the TV again, and George resumes his rant. I bolt for the door, so excited I don’t know what to do with myself; it will be the best night of my life!

Okay, sounds a bit odd for a story, right? A kid knowing his dad will say no, so he doesn’t even bother asking. For a while, I have had some questions concerning prayer going around in my head, and strangely enough, they resemble the story above. We pray for guidance in life, we pray for things like jobs, promotions, and other situational things in addition to people being ill and praying for healing. When I pray for things like this, I always will say that I want God’s will to be done, that I want Him to put me where He wants me. But am I not in fact asking Him to put me where “I” want to be. So there is the quandary, do I pray for my will, or God’s will.

A dear friend and I discussed prayer the other day, and this viewpoint, and his opinion was that God’s will is going to be done no matter what, if your request meshes with God’s will, then you’re in luck. Things are going to be as they are going to be whether you pray about it or not. While I hold this friend in very high regard, I do not agree. If this is the case, God is going to do as He wishes no matter what.

We are in fact encouraged to bring our prayers and protestations to God, He wants to hear from us, and in my opinion, He considers our communications with Him very seriously. The scriptures leave me with the thought that He craves open dialogue with those He has created, and this is why I think so. His Son was sacrificed for us, and God was the one who chose to tear the veil/curtain between us and the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. Without tearing the veil, only the priests could enter, only the priests could intercede on our behalf’s, only the priests could talk to Him. He didn’t like that, He tore the veil, He wants to hear from us. The Bible is full of examples where God has granted changes to the course of someone’s life because they prayed about it. Lazarus course was changed, the thief that hung next to Jesus, his course was changed, the woman at the well, her course was changed.

The best way for me to understand my relationship to God is as that of a Father and a child, and if the fathers mind is made up all the time, and is solid and unchangeable, then it is not an intimate relationship they have. I believe there are things that are always going to go according to God’s plan, but I believe there is also much that can be changed, if you take the time to go to Him in prayer. I can’t help but think about the example of faith, and what would be possible if our faith were only the size of a mustard seed. The problem has never been with God not being there, it has always been with getting us to take the time to just talk to Him.

God Bless-JFT

The above story is fiction, written to underscore a point.

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As I get older, the more I find myself “hanging” on the scriptures, dwelling on their content, searching for the abundant nuggets of wisdom that they hold. Now I grew up in the church, and studying the Bible was a frequent thing, and I learned the scriptures too. But it hasn’t been until I have grown older that they have really come alive to me, and things that were right before me all along never came out, because I was memorizing, or reading for distance, rather than mileage.

I just love how Jesus chose His disciples, and the wisdom behind those He chose. For different reasons, I can relate to them all from time to time, but mostly I relate to Peter, because we have much in common. He was kind of a hothead (check), he often said the first thing that came to mind (check), he annoyed his Master with his knee-jerk reactions (check). Yet, Jesus loved him anyway. Another one I am encouraged by is Paul. He was church enemy number one, and Jesus decided to turn him, bring him onto the right side. The man was amazing in the wisdom he gained after following Christ, yet he never forgot where he came from. He is another of my heroes. I have been wondering about some things lately, and today they are heavy on my mind because I think I am finally on the brink of understanding something that has long eluded me.

I once had a friend in church many years ago; he was an honorable man that I looked up to, in many ways a mentor. We were discussing faith, and he said that he was comfortable in his faith, that he was in a good place. Many times over the years, I have thought back to that time and that statement, and wondered if there was something wrong with me because I was never comfortable in my faith, never on a plateau of contentment.

Throughout my life, there has always been something, an issue, temptation or behavior that was a bit of a wedge between God and myself. Something I would feel guilty about and try to change that I might be a more acceptable servant to God. As I would stop doing something, I would assume that changing would make me a little better, a bit more acceptable. But no matter what I did, I was never able to reach that plateau of contentment that my friend was lounging on so many years ago. In fact, when I would turn away from something that I thought was keeping me from growing in my faith, I would look up expectantly and see that the summit was actually farther away. This was so frustrating to me, taking one step forward and three steps back. How would I ever be an acceptable sacrifice to God if I could not live worthy, what if I would never be able to measure up?

Today I read a very familiar scripture, one that I have read many times before, and the answer that has eluded me for so long was finally revealed. 2 Chron. 12:7  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. The Apostle Paul got it; he understood the struggle, because he was going through a struggle too. He too had a weakness that plagued him day in and day out. Now I have heard speculation about what Paul’s thorn was, everything from “he was homosexual” to “he had a problem with lust”. I don’t know why it matters, because he left no clues, and nobody really knows what Paul’s thorn was. I think the fact that the thorn was not described was intentional in that we are left to our devices to determine what it means to us. Maybe Paul’s thorn was this, since he came from a privileged background, maybe his thorn was that he liked the “stuff”, maybe he enjoyed wearing gold and now that he was a Christian he refused to do that, but every time he was in the marketplace, he would window shop and find himself becoming materialistic again.

Or perhaps it was lust, maybe he had a thing for the ladies even though he chose to deny himself and walk with Christ. But that didn’t mean he was look proof, when a pretty lady walked by, maybe he would find himself checking her out, and then the Holy Spirit would tap him on the shoulder and remind him who he was. Maybe he had a bum leg, and while he would be limping along in pain, he would see runners practicing for the Jerusalem 10K and he would be envious of them, wishing he had what they had. One thing is certain, whatever the thorn was, it was real, “A messenger of Satan, to torment me” and it caused him to be tempted, and that temptation kept even the Apostle Paul from reaching that fictional plateau of contentment “To keep me from becoming conceited.

So what does this mean for us, for you and I in our walk? It means that even Paul, the biggest hero in the new testament other that Jesus (in my eyes) struggled with temptation. But it didn’t stop there because he also dealt with sin. And not just the accidental “oops, I didn’t realize the speed limit had changed” type of sin, but the “I know it’s wrong, I knew it was wrong when I did it, but I did it anyway” type of sin that we sometimes deal with. I know this, because Paul tells us about it in Rom. 7:14-15  We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.

Now, I do not believe that we should squander the precious “Blood of The Lamb”, assuming it is a free pass to Heaven and thinking that since we are not worthy of earning Heaven, that we should not even bother trying. God calls us to be disciplined in our lives, and we must do our best to try and be disciplined. But sometimes we will be tired and world weary, and we will fail. Sometimes we will choose the easy path, knowing it is the wrong one and we will fail. Sometimes we will wake the next morning realizing we made a big mistake, and fall on our knees asking God to forgive us for whatever sin we succumbed to, and God will forgive us. He will see our remorse and He will have compassion for us, just as He did for Paul.

So when I start looking at expensive watches and begin to justify treating myself to one, because I think I deserve it, and then realize what I am doing and feel like I am back at Christian 101 again, it’s just “my” thorn, and Paul had one too. Or if I feel my eyes going places I know they shouldn’t and I catch myself too late, and I remember that scripture about “lust being adultery” (Matt.5:28)  it’s just “my” thorn again, and even Paul had one too.

I guess the “Aha” point for me in this post is this, it is not, nor will it ever be possible for me to walk worthy of salvation. On a great day, I still gotta’ have “The Blood”. The plateau of contentment on which I will rest comfortably in my relationship with the Lord will never exist this side of Heaven for me. I will never be happy with my relationship with the Lord, there will always be room for improvement. And I have comfort in the fact that Jesus chose normal people to represent Him for that very reason, that we may know perfection cannot be achieved in this life, that some thorns can “never” be removed, and that their presence in our lives keeps us grounded in our faith “To keep me from becoming conceited”. This has been fun! God Bless-JFT

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I showed up early in the greeter’s room this past Sunday to have a cup of coffee and visit with my fellow greeters before the ball starts rolling. I poured a hot cup of coffee and sat down with one of my friends at a table. He was telling me about a vacation he had booked for his family this summer that he was excited about. He had gotten it at half price, so he had scored. I noticed that many of the chairs were lined up in the front of the room, Bill must be doing an orientation for new greeters this morning, they had asked for new volunteers last week.

New faces I hadn’t seen before began to filter in and mingle, before finding their way to the front of the room, and being seated for the orientation. It seemed like there were a lot of people who had signed up, which is great, we are always short of people for the greeter corps. Just then, a face I clearly recognized came in the door, a face I would never forget, and a face I had prayed I would never see again. A face named Scott.

Scott was a supervisor at the plant twenty years ago, he was ex-navy and hard core, and for some reason I never discovered, he didn’t like me. Right from the beginning, when I started there, it was clear he did not care for me. He did his best to make my life miserable, he gave me the jobs no-one else wanted, he would slam me on my reviews every year and had even tried to get me fired without success. He would also never pass up the chance to confront me in front of others. This guy was what I referred to back then as a “Flaming Jerk”.

I know the old story about a boss who is really hard on an employee, because he likes him and expects more. This was not one of those cases, this guy didn’t like me, and there was no silver lining. One time I told a co-worker that I had purchased a three-day Disneyland package, and we would spend the rest of the week in a hotel by the beach. My girls were so excited, they were still small and really looked forward to it. Scott waited until two weeks before my vacation and then cancelled it, saying that they didn’t have the coverage, and he actually smiled slightly as he delivered the news. He was the Bain of my existence for the first seven years I was at the plant. I had been rid of the vermin for thirteen years, and now he shows up here, at my church home, but not only at my church home, but the greeter corps to boot. Was there no justice in this life?

After the orientation, the greeters who have been doing it for a while are expected to stand in a receiving line and welcome our new brothers. I reluctantly stood in line, shaking hands of our newest volunteers. As Scott approached, He looked at me then did a double take, and that old grin crept back on his face. He stuck his hand out and I did my best to make my hand feel like a cold dead fish as he shook it. He then looked me in the eyes with a serious look, and said “Jim, I realize we have a lot of history, and I wasn’t always good to you. I hope you will give me a chance to make it right. I feigned a smile and said “Sure, no problem”. He smiled again, nodded and walked to the next one in line. Another chance huh, sure how about “Fat Chance” I thought as he walked on. I tried to get my mind right so that I could finish greeting the newbies as they continued to come.

Jim, how are you the next one said as I looked toward the calling of my name. Fine, how are you I asked as I shook the hand of a guy about my age, I had “no clue” who he was. Jeremy, from high school, do you remember me he asked? He stood there smiling broadly, and then it came back to me. Jeremy was a kid in my class; he always tried to hang out with my friends and I, but he didn’t fit in. I had a group I ran with, guys who were my bud’s, but Jeremy was kind of a goof ball. He wasn’t really cool, and was kind of a cling on guy, if you know what I mean. He kept at us, wanting to do things with us, be one of our crowd. We used to like to go “cruising” on Friday and Saturday nights to socialize and meet girls, and he asked if he could come with us. We reluctantly said yes, and let him tag along. About eleven PM, he asked if we could stop at a place with a bathroom, because he had to go. We found a fast food joint, and let him out. One of the guys thought it would be funny to just leave him there and go on. I didn’t like the idea, I thought it was too mean, but it wasn’t my car so I didn’t say anything. We left poor Jeremy at a fast food restaurant in a not so good side of town at eleven PM by himself. I have thought about that over the years and felt bad. All of these memories flooded back as I shook his hand. I then looked him in the eyes and said, “I have felt really bad about that night we went cruising over the years, it was so wrong. I hope you will give me a chance to make it right. He looked at me warmly and said “think nothing of it, we were just kids, not only forgiven, but forgotten. As he walked off, I realized I was his “flaming Jerk”. I was thankful to accept the grace he extended to me, yet reluctant to extend the same grace to Scott.

As I drove home after services, I realized I was a hypocrite, I wanted to judge people when it suited me, but I didn’t want to be judged with the same yardstick by which I was so eager to judge others when it was my turn in the barrel.

Luke 6:37 NIV

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

God Bless

JFT

This story is fiction, written to illustrate a point.

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I stood at the mailbox looking at the plain envelope with no return address on it, wondering if it was junk mail or not. Real letters usually have a return address on them, so it is probably just an ad. Curiosity always gets the best of me though, so I rip it open anyway. A single letter with a small paragraph is on the page, and I catch my breath as I begin to read.

The letter addresses me by name, and goes on to tell me that this is to serve as formal notification that I am being evicted from life, my life will end Saturday morning at eleven thirteen AM. I stare at the paper thinking “could this possibly be true, who can know that? I also think briefly”This is Monday” so I read on. The letter thanks me for being a servant of Christ and the one and only true God and telling me that I have been awarded a home in Heaven with Them. The letter gets “really interesting” then as it goes on to tell me that my family are all going to join me when their time is up. But, I will have an opportunity to bring six additional people with me who are named in the letter, but there are conditions.

First off, I need to tell them about God “this week” as there is no time to waste. The letter also tells me that they are currently “not” saved and will spend their eternity in hell if I do not intervene. One is my best friend, another is a co-worker that I only really know as an acquaintance, and another is a boss that I really don’t like. One is a teenage friend of my daughters, and another is a single mother who lives next door. The last is the most frightening, it is my mother. The letter then said that the conditions are as follows. I am not allowed to tell anyone that my life will be ending or show the letter to them. I am not allowed to ask anyone to come to Christ; they must ask me how they can become Christians. I am not allowed to use any resources from the church, or bring them there. I am only allowed to use one thing, the Bible in my quest. In closing, the letter then says if I hit a snag, pray about it, sincerely, God.

I look around the neighborhood for the prankster, but there is no-one to be seen. I feel like my spine is covered in ice as I walk back to my house, stunned at the thought that this might actually be a letter from God. As I walk onto my driveway, the young single mother pulls in next door and gets out of her car. I look down at my hand, still clutching the letter and my voice quivers as I say “hello” and walk over to her driveway. I am terrified as I try to think of the words to say, but they come, and they keep coming. We talk casually for a while and I tell her about the Christ I follow, and how He has changed my life, how I have hope where there was once none, peace where there was never peace before, love for and from others that I never imagined. I managed to do all of this without even quoting a scripture one. She then looked at me and said she would like to learn more, she had never heard about any of this.

When I finally entered the house, the phone was ringing. I answered it, and it was my mom, she wanted to know if I would be available to have lunch with her tomorrow, and I didn’t hesitate to answer yes. As the week wore on, I found myself in a position to talk to all of the people on the list, and the words flowed as they had with the young single mother I had first spoken with. My mother told me that she had wanted to have lunch, because she had become more aware of her frailty lately, and she didn’t want to waste what time she had left, she wanted to know more about God.

I prayed every day, sometimes seemingly constantly from early morning to late at night, and when I would fall asleep finally, I would dream about God, my friends and the ticking clock. The week flew by, and when Friday evening came, all six of my lost friends had come to Christ; I had fulfilled God’s wishes by being available to Him. I sat contentedly in my recliner, looking at my lovely wife clipping coupons at the table, and thought to myself, “I am ready now”. That night, I went to bed and slept a deep and relaxing sleep, one without dreams and woke at eight the next morning. I sat at the breakfast table feeling healthy and fine, wondering how I would go out in three hours as my wife came in from the yard. She had a stack of mail in her hands and told me there was an unmarked letter in it for me, probably just ad’s.

I tore it open immediately and knew instantly it was from Him, same paper, and same font. I began reading voraciously through the letter, and here is what it said. Jim, you have shown Me that you can in fact be a productive worker in My kingdom. You answered the call I gave to you and have shown me that you have what it takes to be a soul winner for My Son, a fisher of men. I have decided to extend your life beyond the date written in My book, because I think you need a second chance. Being a follower of My Son is required to enter the kingdom, but to get the best seats, you have to be a worker, it is called “building treasures in Heaven”. You had seats in the nosebleed section before, but you are moving closer to the field now. While I have allowed your life to continue, remember this, every day is “somebody’s” last day, the day when the book of their life will be sealed forever. Go get em’ Jimbo! Love, God!

JFT

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