Of Worship, Fellowship and Music

I’ve written previously about the power of music. Whether one is speaking of Hip Hop, Country, or Church, there is power in music. It may be how the beat makes one’s blood race, or the emotion conveyed may bring up memories of past mistakes or triumphs. Music may also draw those hearing it closer. Whatever the case, music can move people, including those performing. Sunday, May 2, 2021, was a hallmark day for my church, my wife, many of my friends, and me.

After months of remote-church, limited church attendance, and quartets or small worship teams leading streaming congregants or small numbers maintaining social distancing in the sanctuary, we took the next step toward normalcy. We held a traditional worship service with a nearly full choir loft, most of our regular orchestra, and a sanctuary filled with members and guests.

I feel I can speak for most of those present on that morning. It was magnificent! It was especially magnificent for those of us in the choir, as we were able to lead part of the worship service en masse for the first time in more than a year. If you have never worshipped in song as part of a choir, it may be hard to understand, but the feeling is amazing.

As you are singing, sometimes fighting back tears because of the feelings the hymns bring up, you can see the congregation singing with you. You are part of a worship experience including the voices of hundreds of people, many of whom are feeling the power of God in the words of the hymn in a way that is hard to duplicate in the rest of their lives. It is especially meaningful when the hymn is one such as “In This Very Room.”

In this very room there’s quite enough love for one like me,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for one like me,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power
to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

And in this very room there’s quite enough love for all of us,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all of us,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power
to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

In this very room there’s quite enough love for all the world,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all the world,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power
to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

Choosing this song, on this day, was especially meaningful, because we were all together again, with Him, in that very room. To experience a bit of what we felt that day, click the link below to hear “In This Very Room.”



© sinnerswalk – 2021

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Of a Gift Unaccepted

Some years ago, the story that follows made the rounds of family and friends. Recently, the story came to my attention again, and I felt called to share. The story is a bit long, and neither its veracity nor the identity of the author is known. Still, it is well worth reading.

According to this tale, a small college in the west required all first-year students to take a Christianity survey course. Since the course was not tied to a major field of study, the professor responsible for teaching had a tough job convincing the students to take it seriously. The professor loved teaching the course but felt he was not getting through to most of the students. He did his best to communicate the gospel’s essence, but the students seemed to think the course was sheer drudgery.

One year, a special student turned up in the class. The student’s name was Steve, and he was a good student. In fact, he planned to study for the ministry at seminary after his undergraduate work. Steve was also the starting center on the football team, and physically he looked the part. Some might say he was an imposing figure. To top it off, he was the best student in the professor’s class.

One day, the professor asked Steve to stay after class. When the others were gone, the professor asked Steve how many push-ups he could do. Steve replied, “I do about two hundred every night.” The professor thought that was good, and let Steve know it. Yet, the professor asked Steve if he thought three hundred push-ups was a possibility.

Steve thought for a moment before replying. “I don’t know. I’ve never done three hundred at one time.” The professor did not take that as an answer. Instead, he asked, “Do you think you could?” Steve replied, “Well, I can try.” To which the professor responded, “Could you do three hundred in sets of ten? I have a class project in mind, and I need you to do about three hundred push-ups in sets of ten for this to work.”

When Steve hesitated, the professor insisted, “Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it.” Steve finally agreed he thought he could do 300. The professor was happy and told Steve he needed to be ready the next Friday. Then he told Steve what he had in mind.

Friday came, and Steve got to class early, sitting in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a large box of donuts. These were not normal donuts. They were BIG, extra fancy, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone seemed excited! It was Friday and the end of the semester. Now, they were starting the weekend early with a class party.

The professor went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have a donut?” Cynthia said, “Yes.” Turning to Steve, the professor said, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?” Steve replied, “Sure,” jumping down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve sat back at his desk, and the professor placed a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

Moving to the next person, the professor asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.” The professor looked at Steve, asking, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups! Joe got a donut, and so it went down the first aisle. Steve did ten push-ups for every person before they got their donut.

Walking down the second aisle, The professor came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team and in good condition as well. He was very popular and never lacked female companionship. When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own push-ups?” The professor responded, “No, Steve has to do them.” Scott replied, “Well, I don’t want one then.”

Shrugging, the professor turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience, Steve started to do ten push-ups. Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!” The professor said, “Look! This is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” He put a donut on Scott’s desk.

By this time, Steve was slowing down a little. He stayed on the floor between sets. It took too much effort to get up and down. You could even see a little perspiration on his forehead.

The students were beginning to get a little angry. When the professor asked Jenny if she wanted a donut, she sternly replied, “No!” Of course, Steve was asked to do ten more push-ups so Jenny could have a donut that she didn’t want? Steve did ten and Jenny got a donut.

By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No,” and there were uneaten donuts on the many desks. Also, Steve had to put forth a lot of extra effort to get the push-ups done for each donut. A small pool of sweat formed on the floor beneath his face. His arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the effort.

The professor asked Robert, the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push-up to make sure he did the full ten push-ups in a set. The professor explained he couldn’t bear to watch Steve work so hard for donuts people did not want. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could watch Steve closely.

When he started down the fourth row the professor realized students from other classes had wandered into the room. They were sitting on the floor watching. Realizing this, the professor did a quick count and saw there were now 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it. Yet, he did not stop. He continued asking students if they wanted a donut, and the strain on Steve was really beginning to show.

Before the next student was approached, Steve asked, “Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?” Thinking for a moment, the professor replied, “Well, they’re your push-ups. You are in charge now. You can do them any way you want.” Then, he continued to the next students.

A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the door and was about to come in. All the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Yet, Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come.”

The professor said, “You realize that if Jason comes in, you will have to do ten push-ups for him?” Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.” “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?” Jason, new to the room, hardly knew what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.”

“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.

Finishing the fourth row, the professor started on the visitors sitting on the floor. Steve’s arms were shaking each time he pushed himself up from the floor. The force of gravity was taking its toll. Sweat was dripping from his face, and there was no sound except his heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two students in the room were two young women. They were cheerleaders and very popular. The professor looked at Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a donut?” Very sadly, Linda said, “No, thank you.” Quietly, the professor asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow push-ups for Linda.

Turning to the other cheerleader, the professor asked, “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Why can’t I help him?” The professor, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone.”

“I have given him this task. He is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me shoddy work.

Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up, he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push-ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”

“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled beneath him, and he fell to the floor.

The professor turned to the room and said, “And so it was that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, cried out to the Father, ‘Into Thy hands I commend My spirit.’ With the understanding He had done everything required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”

Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat. He was physically exhausted but wearing a thin smile. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding, “Not all sermons are preached in words.”

Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He spared not His only begotten Son but gave Him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price was paid.” “Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying like a donut on a desk?”

© sinnerswalk.com – 2021

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Sunday After Church: Public Prayer

After church on Sunday is one of my favorite times to dine out. Usually, Sunday lunch is with church friends, and many others in the restaurant will be enjoying a similar time of food and fellowship.

Of course, as I wrote in an earlier piece, Sunday after church is not always a good time. It can be a less than positive experience for the churchgoers or those around them. On the Sunday discussed here, our fellowship time and dining time took a bit of a serious turn when an old friend asked a theological question. Our friendship goes back decades, and sometimes we enjoy jerking each other’s chain a bit.

Thankfully, this conversation was relatively low-key, and others could not easily hear. That kept this from turning into a situation such as those I wrote about previously concerning Christians’ behavior in public. On the other hand, there was a bit of judgment that it wouldn’t hurt to discuss.

Church services that day included a segment our pastors refer to as “open church.” That is a time when congregants may share a story or a bit of their testimony to address a matter of interest in a spiritual or biblical sense. On this Sunday, the pastor asked people to share something inspiring they had experienced or knew about during the February freeze debacle in Texas and other parts of the south.

As will sometimes happen, some of the shares were more about the person sharing than what they saw God or the Holy Spirit do during the freeze. Still, some were moving, others were a bit muddled, but, being a tad judgmental, only one or two were overly self-serving. It was the somewhat self-serving shares that caught my friend’s attention.

He felt the sharing fell into the same area of Christian behavior as public prayer. As I have a seminary degree and have spoken on various matters, including public prayer, he wanted my opinion on the sharing.

To this moment, I do not know, nor do I care, if he was attempting to get under my skin a bit or check my consistency. Either way, the question was legitimate. In the opinion of many, the Bible clearly teaches that public prayer can be undertaken for the wrong reasons. Pharisees and others stood on street corners to pray publicly for less than honorable reasons.

The rich young ruler might be another example of being full of oneself. He seemed to believe his actions made him worthy of salvation, as he kept all the commandments. The way he handled his meeting with Jesus was likely because his claims were a bit hollow.

I believe my friend was right in thinking some of the shares were a bit Phariseetical in nature. On the other hand, he implied that my position on not making a habit of praying in public might be cut from the same cloth. While that is a possibility, I certainly hope that is not the case.

I do not routinely pray, openly at least, in public. On the other hand, I will happily pray in public if it seems appropriate or if someone asks me to do so. Also, I am touched when I see a family bow their heads in prayer over a meal in a restaurant. While I do not know the motivation of the person leading such prayer, I will assume he or she is doing so out of conviction. On the other hand, I realize a percentage of those bowing their heads may be doing so for less than noble reasons.

The bottom line is this. If you bow your head in prayer in public, do it for the right reasons. Do not do it to make yourself look faithful or religious. If you are a follower of Christ, you do not need to pray publicly to prove it. Your life, demeanor, how you handle yourself, and how the rest of your family acts say more about you than a prayer over a burger and fries or patting yourself on the back publicly for something you did during a crisis.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Letting God?

Recently, I was moved to write a piece with the title “Speaking of Karma?” It discusses the concept of free advice is not worth what you pay for it and was targeted primarily at a secular audience. Still, there is a biblical aspect of it I thought others might appreciate. The problem is I could not publish two pieces simultaneously on this platform. So, if you’d be interested in my thoughts on the concept of “let go and let God,” as it might apply when it comes to personal or professional conflict, click here: Speaking of Karma?

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Of Action and Prayer

I ended Of Prayer and Action rather abruptly. Some might even believe I ended it in a heavy-handed way, sort of a “my way or the highway” thought. My real purpose was to make readers think about what I said. If you’re reading this, I might have succeeded. If you have not read the previous piece, you might want to before reading further in this one.

My feelings on the topic of prayer and action, or action vs. prayer, are the result of my Christian Walk. I first learned about God and Christ as a small child, but I did not learn at church. I learned from stories my mom read to me and let me read. They were Bible stories for children, and most of what I knew about our Father in Heaven could be summed up in the Lord’s Prayer and the child’s prayer I was taught to recite before I went to bed.*

In both of those prayers, I was praying for God to do the work. He was asked to supply my daily bread. He was asked to keep my soul and take it if I died, and in at least one version of the bedtime prayer He was asked to guide me should I live. It seems these themes have become mainstream thinking within much of Protestant Christianity at least. We pray! God does!

In the modern world of social media and evolving politics, the pastor’s message discussed in Of Prayer makes a good deal of sense. Modern communication systems, and the stress many feel today, make it easy to do something we will regret once we are no longer blinded by rage or hurt. Praying is something in which we should engage before responding to an insult or position that one cannot support. Prayer is certainly much better than counting to ten, or more, as many suggest before responding. Yet, prayer is not a substitute for action.

God would not be much of a deity if He expected us to pray simply so He would know what we wanted. He would not seem very omnipotent if waited for our permission to act. He would not be a very good Father if He treated us like puppets instead of letting us learn. He expects us to take action, not simply pray and wait for Him to fix things.

If that was not the case, why did Jesus send the Apostles out to build the church? He did not say sit here, pray for where you want people to believe, and I’ll take care of it. He sent them forth to spread His message, sharing the truth of His birth, death, and resurrection.

The Bible contains our marching orders. It gives us the blueprint of how we are to live, what we are to do, and how we are to accomplish our tasks. Prayer is our way to consciously reach out to God. Prayer, like talking to an old friend or confidant, is a way to process our thoughts and articulate what God knows we are thinking. He will, if He thinks it necessary, respond in some tangible and clear way. My experience in this area leads me to believe He only has to make His position obvious when we are lying to ourselves, but that is a discussion for another day.

For today, here is the bottom line. If we feel strongly we should take some action, move in some particular direction, or feel strongly we should not do something, we should pray about it. If God does not send us a sign, and in most cases that is the last thing you might want, we have to decide what to do, using the counsel and resources available to us.

If we are attempting to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, God may not stop us. That is the price of free will, and it is also the price we pay for lying to ourselves. The vast majority of us know when what we are thinking is wrong. On the other hand, He may stop us, but there will still be a price to pay.

If we are doing the right thing, for the right reason, God will see us through, even if our efforts are not successful. Sometimes failure is the only way we learn. Yes, even failure has a purpose.


* I was only taught the short version of this prayer as a child. Some sources say that was the “original” version, but no one seems to know for certain. Also, as with anything relating to religion, other traditions or denominations have variations of which I have little knowledge. One of the best pieces I found concerning the origins of the prayer was in a newspaper, the New Haven Register.

© sinnerswalk.com

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An Old Preacher’s Sermon*

While watching a little TV one day instead of going to church, I watched a church in Atlanta honoring one of its senior pastors who had been retired many years. He was 92 at that time and I wondered why the church even bothered to ask the old gentleman to preach at that age.

After a warm welcome, introduction of this speaker, and as the applause quieted down, he rose from his high back chair and walked slowly, with great effort and a sliding gait to the podium. Without a note or written paper of any kind he placed both hands on the pulpit to steady himself and then quietly and slowly he began to speak….

“When I was asked to come here today and talk to you, your pastor asked me to tell you what was the greatest lesson ever learned in my 50-odd years of preaching. I thought about it for a few days and boiled it down to just one thing that made the most difference in my life and sustained me through all my trials.
The one thing that I could always rely on when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear and sorrow paralyzed me… The only thing that would comfort was this verse…….

“Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
We are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”

When he finished, the church was quiet. You actually could hear his footsteps as he shuffled back to his chair. I don’t believe I will ever forget it.

A pastor once stated, “I always noticed that it was the adults who chose the children’s hymn ‘Jesus Loves Me’ (for the children of course) during a hymn sing, and it was the adults who sang the loudest because I could see they knew it the best.”

Here is a new “senior” version just for us who have white hair or no hair at all. For us over middle age (or even those almost there) and all you others, check out this newest version of Jesus Loves Me.

JESUS LOVES ME

Jesus loves me, this I know,
Though my hair is white as snow
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.
(CHORUS)
YES, JESUS LOVES ME.. YES, JESUS LOVES ME..
YES, JESUS LOVES ME, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.

Though my steps are oh, so slow,
With my hand in His I’ll go
On through life, let come what may,
He’ll be there to lead the way.
(CHORUS)

When the nights are dark and long,
In my heart He puts a song..
Telling me in words so clear,
“Have no fear, for I am near.”
(CHORUS)

When my work on earth is done,
And life’s victories have been won.
He will take me home above,
Then I’ll understand His love.
(CHORUS)

I love Jesus, does He know?
Have I ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear me say,
That I love Him every day.
(CHORUS)

If you think this is neat, please pass it on to your friends. If you do not pass it on, nothing bad will happen, but you will have missed an opportunity to “reach out and touch” a friend or a loved one.

God Bless Us All!!!

Author Unknown


*Someone shared a version of this with me on FB, and then it disappeared because the original post was apparently not shared publicly. I found the story in multiple sources on line, but I was unable to establish the origin of this piece. I cannot tell you if it is just a great story or the truth. Either way, it I wanted to share.

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Of Prayer and Action

One of my favorite lay pastors was a retired doctor with a sense of humor. He often used his sense of humor during his Sunday morning remarks at our Adult Bible Study. Occasionally he crossed a line or two with some in the study. You see, he was the Life Stage Pastor for the believers fifty and above. Many were well into their seventh decade, and in some cases, their sense of humor seemed to have disappeared in the annals of history.

One joke, in particular, brought a scathing rebuke from one of the group matriarchs. Standing at the podium one morning he was attempting to make a point similar to the one I hope to make here, prayer without action is sometimes not the answer. The joke goes like this:

A young woman, a strong believer, prayed regularly. She prayed for all the things one would expect, but she also prayed she would win the lottery. One morning during her prayer time she stopped and looked up toward the heavens. With a sigh, she raised her arms and said, "Heavenly Father, I have prayed for years to win the lottery, so I could use that money to do good works in Your name. Why have I never won?" As she closed her eyes and lowered her head again in prayer, a voice whispered in her ear. "First, you've got to buy a ticket."

Okay! If you saw the movie “Bruce Almighty,” you have a pretty good idea of how many people are praying to win the lottery. As a believer you, just like the lady in the class, likely do not think God would answer such a prayer, and if He decided to grant her wish she wouldn’t need to buy the ticket. Still, the idea of taking action is the topic here, not the lottery or winning scads of money.

The point the pastor hoped to make was prayer alone is not always the answer. Sometimes believers must actually do something. We cannot sit back and wait for God to supernaturally print a winning lotto ticket and place it in our hands. The lady in class may have been right when she told Pastor Jim God would never answer such a prayer. If He did, the recipient’s lesson might not be what they expected, but that discussion will need to wait for another day.

Sincere prayer is a necessity in any believer’s life. It is important as it is an expression of one’s submission to God’s power and authority. It is important as it helps us focus on our relationship with God. It is important, because He expects us to ask for what we want and need, not simply be bystanders waiting for someone in the parade of life to throw us a candy bar.

Sadly, the pastor delivering the Sunday sermon which inspired this essay may have left some who heard him believing that is exactly what a believer should do, pray and wait. I do not feel he meant it that way, but that could have been the message many heard.

The mistake, if he made one, was tying the message to the debacle that was 2020. He was attempting to preach a message of hope, by admonishing us not to become so wrapped up in the world that we forgot God is in control. He specifically, mentioned the tendency to lash out at others or express our views on subjects via social media. He encouraged us to fall back on our faith, pray and trust in God.

What made the message so ironic in a way was the opening message from another member of the pastoral staff. In his opening remarks, he shared how much our congregation had done through tithing to help saints around the world fight for the unborn, fight to stop human trafficking, and take other steps to help believers deal with the world. Yes, as a church we prayed for God to do something about these issues, but we also took action to do what we could to deal with the matters.

Prayer is essential to a mature believer’s life. Yet prayer in and of itself is not all God calls us to do. He calls us to support, financially and otherwise, those called to the ministry and mission field. He also calls us to be a light, to let others see Him through us. That is very hard to do if all we do is pray and expect God to do all the heavy lifting.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2021

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Speaking Gratefully: God is in Control

One of my little vices is listening to talk radio in the car. It allows me to keep up with the local news, the national hysteria, and the latest celebrity fund-raising gimmicks for one charity or another all at the same time. One local show is very entertaining and informative, as well as somewhat objective.

To make things even more interesting, the host claims he is a Bible-believing Christian. Mixing religion, politics, and current events can lead to interesting confrontations, as it did recently.  The topic, of course, was President Trump’s attempts to stop the president-elect’s confirmation.

At one point, the host claimed he would be grateful to God for President Trump regardless of how things went. He elaborated by making the point, President Trump’s Supreme Court choices made him grateful, even in the face of rulings he might not like.

A short time later, a caller challenged the host on his comment. The caller was upset about the court’s decision to refuse to hear the Texas litigation designed to overturn the 2020 election. The caller wondered if the host would still be grateful if the court made other decisions that conservatives did not like.

The host took the easy way out. He said he could not know what decisions the court might render.  I say he took the easy way out because answering the question to most people’s satisfaction would be impossible.

The true answer would be, “I will be grateful because I believe God has a plan, and whatever the court rules will further that plan.”  Of course, the vast majority of the people hearing such an answer would find it unsatisfactory. Not only would they find it unsatisfactory, but they would also charge the host with trying to weasel-word his way out of the situation.

The problem facing the host, or anyone, trying to answer such a question reminds me of the Jack Nicholson line in an old movie. While testifying in a court marital Nicholson’s character explodes, “You can’t handle the truth!” His response is to Tom Cruise’s character shouting, “I want the truth!”

If one is a believer, there is truth in the belief that God has a plan. There is also truth in the statement that everything, including Supreme Court rulings, may be part of that plan. The problem is we may not always like God’s plan, and the old quip, “in His time,” is something we may not like either.

The Bible teaches many bad things will happen before God’s plan is fulfilled. Someone understanding that is one thing; being okay with it is another. That is why attempting to use God’s plan in a discussion such as the one mentioned above may not go the way one would hope.

I made this point some years ago in a piece titled Of Job and Ants.  In Biblical times people understood their relationship with God.  They knew His plan was to be fulfilled. They also knew they might not appreciate everything that happened in the interim. Still, they would believe it was part of God’s plan. They would understand things, court rulings, laws, elections, crimes they did not like would take place, but that did not mean He was not in control.

Unfortunately, the phrases “In His Time” and “God’s perfect timing” are not understood by many believers, much less skeptics, and others. If that were not bad enough, many so-called Christian leaders today distort the idea of a “Loving God,” especially those in the health, wealth, and prosperity pulpits.

God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years because they were not ready to enter the promised land. He allowed, and still allows, Christians to be looked down upon in some countries and persecuted mercilessly in others.

If Job were alive today, he would know what the host meant. A few years, or decades, of questionable Supreme Court decisions, should not cause great despair. Job would know, as would Paul, Stephen, and many others in New Testament times, that suffering and disappointment are inevitable. Still, they would be grateful that God is in control because of what awaits believers in the future.

There are reasons for the trials, tribulations, and disappointments we all face on Earth. That is the point that needed making. That is the explanation the caller needed to hear. Unfortunately, that is a bit much to explain in a few minutes on the radio. 

© sinnerswalk.com – 2021

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A Question of Leaven

The image to the right may bring mixed reactions from people of faith. Some might find it amusing, some might find it offensive, and others might find it insipid. Pilsbury might find it a violation of their trademark rights. I found it interesting.

Without knowing its origin, one might have trouble interpreting it. For example, one user attempted to show it as a celebration or acknowledgment of Easter and Passover, two religious traditions, or beliefs.

Others made only tongue in cheek references to Easter, but none that I found were horribly offensive. Of course, some people can be offended by almost anything, especially something that has fun with a spiritual or biblical belief.

In my mind, the intent is of little concern. Intentionally or not, this cartoon’s creator and subsequent play on words humorously point out a major difference between Christianity and Judaism. At least the difference between the two faiths for the last 2,000 years or so. Of course, as with any analogy or simile, the danger of oversimplifying or skewing the point is possible.

For example, this cartoon is playing with the concept of leavened and unleavened bread to compare the Christian and Jewish beliefs in Jesus. One belief is Jesus was the Messiah, who died and was resurrected. The other is the Messiah is yet to come, and the claim Jesus was resurrected is folklore bordering on blasphemy.

Leaven has nothing, or at least very little, to do with the resurrection of Jesus. “He is risen” does not mean He, like a lump of dough, grew larger because of yeast or some other substance. So, comparing the resurrection of the Christ with Passover is a poorly worded way of saying Jesus was a Rabbi, possibly a prophet, but not the Messiah.

Part of the problem may be in translation, as well as tradition. Yes, the Old Testament prohibits the eating of leavened bread in many verses. Still, the reasons may seem unclear or confusing at times.

The New Testament repeats the prohibition in a few passages. Some believe mentioning leaven is a way of remembering lessons or commands from the past. Yet others believe the lesson of leaven in the New Testament is related to the purity of Jesus.

This is based on the primary argument about the meaning of leavening agents in biblical terms. Leaven, or yeast for simplicity, is invasive, infecting if you will, the entirety of the dough. In doing so, it releases carbon dioxide, which essentially makes the dough swell or blow up as if it were a balloon. Of course, the best analogy might be it creates millions of tiny balloons in the dough, causing it to grow larger.

The most common understanding of why such ingredients should be avoided is that it spreads out, infecting the dough. In this sense, it is thought to represent sin, which will permeate one’s life or the greater society. Today, we often speak of sin or the manifestations of evil as a cancer or virus spreading throughout someone’s body or a world. The idea is the same, however one chooses to illustrate it.

However, I will argue that whoever first crafted the cartoonish comparison above hit upon another meaning that should be considered. Perhaps, leaven is not all bad. Instead, how it is used matters. After all, most of us would agree sourdough or whole wheat bread is better for making sandwiches than a piece of matzah. Matzah and other flatbreads or crackers are great for some things. They just fall short if you want a nice juicy sandwich.

Some believe the prohibition concerning leaven in the Old Testament was another sign pointing to Jesus, as Jesus was without sin and was the Bread of Life. Also, the Last Supper was celebrated with unleavened bread, which is considered Jesus’s body. The idea that yeast or other leavens are bad in a symbolic sense seems logical.

Yet, some scholars point out Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to leaven in the New Testament, which causes disagreement over the question of goodness vs. evil. At least goodness and evil when it comes to leavening agents. That brings me to the point I think the cartoonist likely missed.

From a spiritual standpoint, the act of leavening is not as much about rising or puffing up as it is the invasive nature of leaven. A small bit of yeast, a leavening agent, can cause a much larger amount of flour to rise. One source states one teaspoon of yeast is enough to make four cups (144 teaspoons) of flour rise. That is an excellent ratio of cause to effect it would seem.

What if we are the equivalent of spiritual leaven. All believers are charged with carrying the good news to the world. We are supposed to be the one infecting others with our faith. We may not be as effective as yeast in bread dough, but we are still charged with sharing our relationship with Jesus. Which brings me back to the cartoon.

Judaism does not spread the good news, in the sense of evangelism. Some within the Old Testament faith say they did reach out centuries ago but stopped during the Roman persecution of Christians and Jews. Whatever the reality, the cartoon illustrates the difference beautifully. One system is trying to infect the rest of humanity with the love of Christ, the other is stuck in the traditions of the past.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Seeking . . . an excuse; revisited

An Old Sinner’s Place debuted nine years ago today with a piece titled “Seeking … an excuse”* Given what has transpired in the world in the last nine years, and 2020 especially, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit the problem discussed in 2011. 

Pre-COVID-19, Sunday was a special day to most Americans and many others worldwide. Whether it was the day to go to church or watch your favorite professional sport, it was a good day. Believers and seekers entered churches across the land and in many other countries. Hopefully, believers came to worship, and seekers often entered simply to see if there was anything to this church thing.

Yes, seekers, believers, skeptics, even atheists might be in a congregation on any given Sunday. Beginning in early 2020, that changed. Relatively suddenly, gatherings of more than a handful of people were either banned or discouraged. As with schools, movie theaters, sports venues, and many businesses, churches shifted to alternative forms of accomplishing their mission, with decidedly mixed results.

Some, such as the mega-churches with satellite campuses, found it easy to make the change. Smaller or more traditional assemblies found it difficult and expensive. In one case, a small church resorted to recording the service on a smartphone until they could afford a more professional system. Friends shared the video was marginal, and the audio was horrible, yet they and the church persevered. Now, as we enter the fall of the strangest year, anyone alive can remember, churches are attempting to return to pre-COVID normal.

The lessons I tried to preach in “Seeking … an excuse” may be more important today than back then. Whether one wishes to believe it, or not, there is more going on in the world than a virus. As many know, some politicians live by the code of “Never let a crisis go to waste,” and they are not alone in this belief. Today, it should be clear a battle between good and evil is playing out before our eyes.

Atheists are attempting to destroy organized religions. Governments want to make believers more dependent on them than God. Faiths that teach destruction as a way to paradise are working overtime to turn believers and seekers alike. The world is a mess. 

As we return to corporate worship. As we return to outreach ministries within our communities and around the world, we must remember. Some are coming with open minds and hearts. Others are coming seeking excuses to avoid admitting God exists. Others are coming to destroy the faith of the weaker brothers and sisters.

We must not allow our human frailties to be used against our Father, our Church, or our work. Do your best to avoid being someone’s excuse for turning away from a Walk with our Lord and Savior.

*Seeking … an excuse

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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