Of Kings and a President

When it was clear Donald Trump would be our president, I was more than a bit concerned. Specifically, I told friends, “I pray he is our David and not our Saul.” As it turns out, he is a bit of both, and history will decide which reign his presidency most resembles.

If the paragraph above has you wondering what I’ve been drinking, let me assure you that is not the case. The only thing influencing me at the moment is my knowledge of biblical history, and it was the influence leading to the comment invoking the ancient kings. Consider the reference to Saul.

Saul was the first king of Israel. He was chosen by God when the Jews cried out to Him for a king. They were not happy with the leadership of judges. They wanted a king, just like all the other countries and tribes. They wanted someone who looked like a king, talked like a king, and acted like a king. God gave them Saul because he met their criteria.

The same can be said about President Trump. Many Christians and others were calling out for a change in leadership. By that, they did not mean a shift from one party to another. They wanted someone different, someone not part of the political swamp, and in stepped Donald Trump. He was precisely what the people were asking for at the time, which is why I referenced Saul in the first place.

In some ways, Saul’s story is a cautionary tale. Similar to the old adage, be careful what you wish for. Saul was a decent king for a time. Then he got himself into trouble with God. As the Bible teaches, crossing God was a risky business in Old Testament times, and Saul paid the price for his hubris. In fact, God sent Isaiah to anoint Israel’s new king long before Saul fell on his sword, which brings us to David.

The Bible teaches God ordered Samuel to anoint David as the future king when David was a child. He was chosen by God when he was still living at home with his family, and it would be years before David the man became king. In the interim, David did many good, even great things, and stayed faithful to the Lord God. After Saul killed himself to avoid being captured by his enemies David assumed the throne.

David was a man after God’s own heart and did God’s will. He also did a few things that were not God’s will, such as taking another man’s wife and orchestrating that man’s death. Later, he, as had Saul, decided he could move forward without God’s blessing. God chastised David for that move.  Yet, there was a difference between Saul and David.

David was allowed to live a full life. It was not without trials and turmoil, but in the end, he was still God’s chosen king. In fact, Jesus came from the line of David, which is a significant statement about how God can use a sinner to produce the future King.

For the record, this piece is not about politics. It is about the origin of one’s faith as a Christian, and how that faith leads you to see the world around you. Some people believe God appoints or allows certain people to come into power, as in the cases of Saul and David. Others believe God has no hand in such worldly matters, either because He chooses not to meddle, or He does not have the power to interfere. It is that divide which triggered this piece, and an article to be posted in the future. Either way, my comment stands.

I still pray President Trump is our David and not our Saul. At the moment he displays characteristics of both, and only time will tell if he falls on his sword, or marks the beginning of a new and better era for our nation.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Trailer Hitches, Latigos, and Christ

I thought I’d heard every allegory, comparison, or simile one could imagine when it came to preaching. I’ve heard a pastor use M&Ms to make a point about generosity, and I’ve heard a Bible study leader equate Job with ants. Those may not be at the complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are certainly a far stretch from comparing Jesus with a lamb or a shepherd.

Still, when a preacher starts talking about trailer hitches and latigos on Easter Sunday you can be certain of two things. First, you are in a Cowboy Church. Second, you are going to experience an interesting sermon, and when he brought belt buckles into the equation the humor made a point that was hard to miss. If you are wondering how these items can be used in an Easter message, you are in the same place I was Easter morning.

Before going into the sermon itself, I must make another point. If you’ve never heard traditional hymns performed by a country group with a steel guitar, you have missed something. My only regret about this Easter morning was they did not do “The Old Rugged Cross.” They did last year, and it was unbelievable. This year, one of the group did a solo of “He’s Alive.” His voice was not the best, but it was still amazing.

All right. Let’s get back to the message. To keep this as short and sweet as possible, the message was simple. Cowboys, boaters, and campers trust their expensive trailers, equipment, and livestock to a simple little steel ball every time they hook up their treasure to a truck. In the words of the pastor, a cowboy will trust tens of thousands of dollars worth of his stuff to a twenty dollar trailer hitch ball. He went on to use a “ten dollar latigo” and a fancy belt buckle to emphasize his point.

You don’t want the trailer hitch to break. You don’t want the latigo to break while you ride, and you certainly did not want Pastor Tim’s belt buckle to fail during the sermon. The pastor is a bit on the hefty side if you get my drift. Cowboy humor aside, the pastor used these examples to good purpose.

As with the items mentioned above, we seem to treat the resurrection as one small part of the story. After all, Jesus raised people from the dead, and the Bible tells stories of others being called back to life, at least temporarily. Even today, we hear stories of people being clinically dead, but coming back to life due to modern medicine or miraculous means. In reality, the resurrection is one of the most important aspects of the story. Without it, we have nothing.

That was the point of Pastor Tim’s sermon. Without the resurrection we have nothing. The crucifixion of Jesus was horrible. He suffered greatly, and as the Bible teaches, he was a substitutional sacrifice for humankind. However, many creatures were sacrificed to atone for sins in the past, and none led to a guarantee of salvation and eternal life. By itself, the death of Jesus was not enough.

The question then becomes why was his sacrifice not enough. As the pastor saw it the resurrection was necessary because Jesus said it was necessary. He said he would be crucified, buried, and rise again in three days. If he had not been resurrected, he was either deluded or a liar. At best, if he were not resurrected, he was simply another prophet. Another teacher, spreading a message. A message with no more validity than the preaching of others attempting to ride His coattails.

The resurrection is the trailer hitch to which we can hitch our future. It is the latigo that will keep us riding toward eternity with the Father. It is the belt buckle that holds our faith and hope together.

As with any sharing of a pastor’s message, these are my words, not necessarily the pastors. This the message I heard him speak. To hear the sermon yourself, click here. It is well worth a listen.

© sinnerswalk.com

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Convenient Barbarism?

Can a writer visit the same topic too often?  I suppose it depends on the issue, but as some politicians are learning, hammering the same point over and over is not as effective as in the past. We just have too many sources of information today.  Still, some topics are too critical not to revisit. Abortion is such an issue, and I was reminded that was the case just a few days ago.

On the Altar of Convenience” was written in response to the celebration surrounding the passage of a law legalizing late-term abortions in the State of New York. This piece is the result of an effort to read the Bible cover to cover instead of hit and miss.  One-third of the way through the book of Ezekiel the message was loud and clear. I was not through with this late-term abortion thing.

The convicting passage read, “On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood.” (Ezekiel 16: 4-6, NLT)

All right! I can almost hear the naysayers arguments. First, they would say, what does the Old Testament have to do with the modern world.  Then, those with any knowledge of the OT would complain this is an allegorical piece, as God is speaking of Israel, not a baby. Of course, the passage is not saying God actually found a baby left to die in a field!

On the other hand, the author of Ezekiel, inspired by God or merely trying to make a point, would not use something utterly foreign to his audience.  Everyone in that culture was familiar with unwanted babies being abandoned in this manner. If they were not, the simile would be meaningless!

In “Convenience” I wrote late-term abortion laws placed our society dangerously close to the practices of such ancient cultures. Those cultures I opined, treated unwanted infants as if they were trash, and the Bible seems to confirm that thought.

I am sure any pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights person reading my comparison considered it to be stupid hyperbole. I do the same thing when an open borders advocate claims walls are medieval. After all, for many people the idea of child sacrifice, placing unwanted babies in the woods to die, and other such claims about ancient societies are the stuff of myth, legend, horror movies, and scary bedtime stories.

Whatever one believes about the scripture, it got my attention. That is precisely what is, or will be, happening to babies who survive abortion under the laws currently being passed or discussed in many areas. No! They will not be abandoned in a field to become part of the food chain for microbes, ants, and scavengers. They, to paraphrase one governor, will be made comfortable until the decision to dispose of them humanely is made. Then their bodies will go into hazardous waste containers.

Folks, the only difference between disposing of the unwanted newborn humanely and dumping it in a field to die is the methodology used. I take that back! As advanced, well-meaning, open-minded humans we can sleep better knowing the newborn died without suffering a slow and agonizing death. Of course, as with the ancients, if we really cared about the baby, it would not be dying in a field or being tossed out with bloody gauze, used needles and yesterday’s uneaten snack.

By now, some readers are ready to string me up for making such vile comparisons between the humane termination of an unwanted potential burden on society and a poor helpless baby left to die in a field.  While I understand their disdain, it is they who are missing the point.

Both the modern and ancient versions of societally accepted infanticide make the same statement. The life of a newborn, or soon to be born, human being has no value.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Reckless Worship?

AnOldSinner is blessed to attend a church which does its best to be a true place of worship, fellowship, and spiritual growth. It teaches from the Bible, ministers to the community as well as its flock, and seems, within the limits of sinful humanity, to fulfill its mission as a house of God. That is why I was more than a bit concerned by the message of a contemporary worship leader one Sunday.

Unlike many larger churches these days, ours has not gone entirely contemporary. It is one of the few in our area with a traditional, traditional service as well as contemporary services. By that I mean our traditional service includes an orchestra and choir leading the congregation in traditional Christian music. In the interest of clarity, the worship led by the choir and orchestra does include more contemporary or upbeat music at times. When that is the case, the tone is traditional worship, not guitar riff driven tunes written to raise the heart rate and adrenaline level of the congregation.

Please do not read that last sentence as a condemnation of contemporary Christian music. I happen to enjoy contemporary Christian music, and a well written, well executed high energy praise song can make my heart beat faster.  I admit I am not ready to embrace Christian rap and hip-hop, but my exposure to those genres has been limited. Regardless of my personal taste in Christian music, this piece is not about the music. Rather it is about the way the new generation of contemporary worship team or band leaders are using the music.

It seems, admittedly based on limited direct experience, that contemporary worship team leaders see themselves as a distinct part of the service. By that, I mean traditional worship teams, in my experience, tend to choose music that fits the mood of the sermon, when possible. In the contemporary arena, it often seems the music may be a stand-alone message, at least to a degree. For example, consider the service triggering this piece.

The message was “Do Not Lose Heart.” The set up for the sermon in the traditional service was “Press On.” This hymn was specifically chosen to fit the message. The most memorable of the contemporary pieces at the evening service, the anthem if you will, was “Reckless Love.” It is possible to split hairs, and many have, over the message of “Reckless Love.” I feel it is safe to say it is not the same message as “Press On.”

One emphasizes the believer’s strength through faith. The second highlights the writer’s belief that God will go to any lengths to chase the sinner down. Another way to differentiate between the two is “Press On” emphasizes what we as believers are to do to stay on the path, and “Reckless Love” seems to emphasize what God will do to drag us back to the path.

Both of these messages may be true in some circumstances. I am sure one blogger I read when researching “Reckless Love” will consider my comments pharisaical and legalistic, if he should read them. However, the theologies of the songs are not the point here. The point is the power of music.

Music is a powerful part of worship, and contemporary worship leaders seem to feel and are allowed to feel, their message does not need to support, or even parallel, the pastor’s message. That was not always the case at my church, but I noticed that trend at other churches. Also, I found a similar attitude in seminary students and others involved in or studying contemporary worship music.

Perhaps I am behind the times. Perhaps contemporary worship music is supposed to be the draw, instead of the teaching. Maybe it is the newest aspect of the “get’em in the door, let’em learn the hard stuff later” school of evangelism. Even if that is the case, the messages should not clash, and here, they did.

The message of “Reckless Love” seems to be God will hunt you down and save you at all costs. The song goes so far as to claim He “leaves the ninety-nine,” to chase the lost sinner down. Our church and the Bible makes it clear God will let you harden your heart to Him. In fact, some verses in the Bible clearly state God hardens or chooses not to soften the hearts of non-believers.

Yes, Jesus said a man will leave his flock, the ninety-nine, to find one wandering sheep. He said it in a parable that has been interpreted to emphasize three different aspects of the story.[i] Regardless of the exact meaning of the parable, other messages make it clear the apparent message of this song may be a bit off base.

Those passages do not imply He will force those with hardened hearts to listen. Neither do they say the Father would knock their walls down to save them. In fact, He seems to be telling the Apostles to move on and ignore them when He says, “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” (Matt 10:14, NLT)

Again, the point of this piece is not disagreement concerning the meaning of Scripture or the theological accuracy of the song mentioned above. On the other hand, the worship team presenting this song as its anthem for the service is to some degree teaching a message that did not clearly support the sermon for that Sunday and was in direct conflict with past lessons taught from the pulpit.

Please know, the previous paragraph is not meant to condemn the song, nor the worship team for singing it. The song was for a time the number one song in the Christian Music category of a major rating service. It teaches a feel-good message that many seek, and there is some truth to the idea that getting seekers and skeptics involved through music opens the door to their salvation. Unfortunately, that school of thought can lead to problems.

It seems, at least to this crotchety old writer, seminaries and churches may be giving too much autonomy to worship team leaders, especially when the team is leading the worship for the Sunday sermon. If that is the case, the confusion within the church between doctrine, theology, and message will grow, if the message of the music and the sermon are not on the same page.


[i] In Matthew, Jesus is using children as an example of those who many overlook as being important, while in Luke he uses it, according to some, to highlight the way undesirable elements may be overlooked or forgotten. The Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic text, seems to promote the idea that the lost sheep is the most important of the flock.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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A Tortured Path … one small step

A Christian testimony may be defined as the story of one’s walk with God. On the other hand, some may consider it a statement of how one accepted Jesus the Christ as his or her savior. Either way, there is a problem with a tightly focused or simplistic definition of the term. A testimony limited by such definitions may have little, if any, life in it.

For example, consider my testimony. I accepted Jesus as my savior at ten years of age. For the record, I believe that act was as honest and heartfelt as my ten-year-old soul could manage. I still remember how great it felt to accept Him, and then publicly announce my acceptance through baptism.

I also remember how quickly the world intervened in my life and began pushing me farther and farther away from the path I should follow as a Christian. By the time I was married and had kids, I was so far from the walk I started at ten the hope of finding my way back was slim.

The fact you are reading this is a testimony to the power of a God who can make even slim chances become a reality. He allowed me to wander, but He was always there keeping the faith of that ten-year-old alive in one way or another. In His time, I came back to Him.

In some circles, those last three paragraphs could be my testimony. For example, one of the criteria for mission work I do in South America is a compact testimony. It needs to be short and to the point, or as some call it, a one hundred word testimony. Anyone feeling like a wordsmith today should give that a try. I’ve been attempting it for years, and I still have a hard time saying anything meaningful in one hundred words. The example above used one hundred and fifty- eight words.

This does make some sense when speaking of mission work. Often, you are sharing through an interpreter. You don’t want to be long-winded and hard to translate. Still, there are problems with short and to the point testimonies. For one thing, they can lack nuance and feeling. Also, they can leave out details that let the listener know God was at work behind the scenes. For instance, consider an incident from my early days in law enforcement.

It was what I remember as a slow Thursday night. Most cops, especially young ones, love late nights. Ask them why, and they will fall back on the “That’s when real police work happens” mantra. If they truly think that, it is likely, they spend a good deal of time being disappointed.

In years past, the standard response for the question of what it was like to be a cop was the old 90-10 shtick. You know, 90 percent boredom and 10 percent sheer terror. While there was some truth to that, most nights, especially Thursdays, the terror part was when someone dozed off in the patrol car, and the watch commander caught them. Okay! That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my drift. Whatever the reality, there are those nights a cop never forgets.

One of mine was the graveyard shift in a patrol district of single-family homes, a school, and a strip of retail businesses. It did have a section of Interstate 35 running through it, as well as an intersecting state highway. During the day and early evening, it could be a busy district, but after 11:00 PM it was snoozeville.

Shortly after midnight, about the time I thought I could get away with taking a break at Denny’s, the radio blared, “Sixty-three! Signal two, 380 and I35.” Just what I needed, a major accident near the interstate.

Rolling up on the scene, I realized this was a major, major accident. A late model sedan was sitting in the middle of 380. It was torn almost in half. A hundred yards or so west of it was an eighteen wheeler with flares laid out around it. As I rolled to a stop, I called for ambulances and got a good look at the car in my headlights.

The driver’s side door was gone. The passenger side door was either torn off or almost torn off, as I could see through the car. The rear of the car, fenders, and trunk, were missing, probably dragged further west by the semi. Nothing was moving, and there was no sign of passengers. There was also no way anyone walked away from that mess, so I bailed out looking for bodies.

In those days, LED tactical lights were unknown. I had the standard issue two D-cell flashlight. It put out slightly more light than a birthday candle. Still, between it and the lights on my car, I could tell the passenger compartment was empty. Walking around what was left of the back of the car, I still didn’t see anything other than the truck driver standing down the road signaling he was okay.

As I rounded the car, I could make out something just past the passenger door, which was sprung open until it almost touched the front fender. As I walked to the front of the car my feeble light revealed something I’d never seen before.

At first glance, she looked like she was sleeping. She was laying on her stomach, face turned toward me, with legs spread like she was sprawled on her bed at home. Her left arm was laid out as if she was cradling a pillow with a black pillowcase.

The beautiful little girl looked to be six, maybe eight years old. Her blond hair was spread out gracefully behind her head. It was almost like a picture of someone dreaming, if you can imagine someone sleeping peacefully, on a bed of gravel and rock.

Then I realized the “pillowcase” was a pool of blood, and her blonde hair was beginning to turn dark in spots from the blood. She was asleep, in a biblical sense. It was a sleep from which she would never awaken.

For a moment, time stood still. All I could do was stare at her. Then, I heard someone call out, “Officer! Officer! Is she okay?” It was the girl’s father. I ran to him, and he again asked, “Is she okay?”

He looked awful. He was bloodied, and one leg was bent under him at an unbelievable angle. It was clear he was in shock, so I did the only thing I could. I lied. I told him she was okay, and the ambulance was on the way. I told him to lay back if he could and rest until the ambulance arrived.

I was not a complete rookie. Then again, I was not a hardened veteran. I had seen dead people before. I’d even seen people who died in horrible fashions. This was the first dead child I’d seen, and she was a little girl, just a few years older than mine.

My first thought concerning this matter was to be mad at the trucker. It was clear he was speeding from the damage and debris field. Then I was angry with the father who either ran a stop sign or pulled out without looking. Not only that, he did so with his little girl in the car! Then I was mad at God.

Why would God let a beautiful little girl like that die in such a horrible fashion? How could anyone trust a God who allowed something like this to happen? The truth was I was more scared than mad, and that made me even angrier. If God could let this little girl die, he could let mine die, and I was pretty confident I was not on God’s list of good and faithful servants in those days.

Looking back from today, I know the saddest part of my feelings that night, and in many instances in the years to come, was because of the emptiness I felt. Yes, I had a beautiful wife, and even more beautiful little platinum haired doll sleeping in her bed at home.

Sadly, I’d let my father, a couple of bad church experiences, the world in general, and the death of my brother in Vietnam convince me God was for the weak, both in mind and body. I did not need Him or anyone who claimed to believe in Him. Thankfully, as I now realize, God can use even the darkest of incidents to accomplish his will.

I am not claiming I had an epiphany that night. I did not start the next day looking for the good I could find in such a tragic incident. On the other hand, I was much more aware of my status as a father and husband. My armor when it came to protecting myself from loss was still fully intact, but for a time I knew that had that been my daughter, my armor might not have protected me. In my own way, I was thankful, and I did ask Him to protect my little girl.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? A hardcore skeptic, rebel, and dyed-in-the-wool jerk praying, even superficially, to a God I fought tooth and nail. I now realize it was His plan all along. I am not the best student in the world in some ways, and He put me at that accident scene for a reason. The guy who usually worked in that area was a believer, and there would have been no lesson for him to learn.

He is still teaching me today. I pray I continue to be a willing student, as I do not need any more lessons such as the one I experienced that night.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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In His Time . . . without warning!

In January my alter ego OneOldCop penned a piece titled Of Signs and Coincidences. It discussed why I wound up spending much of the Christmas and New Year holiday period contemplating something not so festive, funeral arrangements. No. I am not kidding. Read the piece if you want the full story. The only reason I mention it is another sign or coincidence popped up recently. One that reminded me of The Parable of the Rich Fool.

The Saturday after Valentine’s Day my wife and I spent the evening with friends. It was a delightful evening filled with laughs, great food, and a bit of the game people in our generation play, “who has the latest and most bothersome story about growing older.” It ended with the promise of another dinner in a few weeks, after our friends returned from a Caribbean vacation.

Seven days after we parted company a phone call from a stranger delivered tragic news. One of our friends drowned. He swam into dangerous waters and was pulled out to sea with his wife and other vacationers watching helplessly from the beach.

This guy led a great life. He was a retired professor who served as a dean at two prestigious universities. He was respected in his field, he traveled the world, and was an interesting guy to be around. He went on vacation to spend a few days exploring a new place, and now he is gone.

Yes, it is a tragedy. It is also a message to anyone who will listen. First, as the story in Luke so clearer shows, none of us are guaranteed the next breath. None of us know that when we make a dinner date for two weeks from next Saturday, we will be around to keep that date.

My friend’s death is tragic for several reasons. First, it did not need to happen. He was warned, and people reportedly tried to stop him from getting into the water. The waters off this beach were known to be unsafe. He chose not to listen, or, as many of us might, assumed he could handle anything the sea threw at him. Also, it appears he made few if any arrangements in preparation for his passing, after all, he was in good health. He had years left to make his final arrangements, just like the rich farmer in the parable.

Of more concern to me at the moment is where he stood with God. I knew the man for the better part of four decades. Yet, I never had a discussion with him over his faith. I had shared my faith, and he was aware of my involvement in several ministries. Still, I never tried to have an in-depth discussion with him about what he believed.

I did know he and his wife were raised Catholic. I also know she talks about him being in a better place now, and that she believed there was a reason for his death. Still, I do not know if he had a relationship with Jesus, a believer’s baptism, or was simply relying on the fact he was part of the Catholic Church for his salvation. As I sit here writing this, I can tell you those are uncomfortable feelings.

For the record, sort of, I do have a reason or excuse for not asking those questions over the years. He was a life long academician, with a doctorate. I worked within the higher education environment for many years. Faculty members are often hesitant to admit any belief system beyond tenure, collegiality, and the pursuit of grant money. Even those I knew who were Christian did not “come out” to the rest of the academic community easily. Evangelizing within higher education could be a masochistic pursuit, and a lot of us wimped out when it came to approaching others in the university setting about faith.

As I sit here attempting to bring this piece to a close, I feel convicted in two ways. First, from what I know at the moment, his planning for his passing was not much farther along than mine is now. Even though I started pulling things together and arranging things to make it easier for my family if I should not come back from a trip one day, there is much left to do.

Second, and more important, I should have directly approached my friend about his faith. Even if he rebuffed me in some fashion, I would have known I tried. I also might have a better feeling for the reality of his wife’s belief that he is in a better place.

The moral of this story? None of us know when the end will come for us or those around us. Take nothing for granted, and assuming you can address important matters the next time you see someone is dangerous. There may not be a next time.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Holy (sounding) Crap!

This writer finds himself caught between two forces in a bit of conflict, his OneOldCop persona, and his AnOldSinner persona. What is a poor old ex-cop sinner to do? In this instance, I decided to punt. I published the piece on oneoldcop.com and added a link here in case sinnerswalk.com followers wanted to take a look. The title above gives you an idea of the message to be found at An Old Cop’s Place.

Holy (sounding) Crap!

 

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