Of Prayer and Predation: Part 1*

Wow! Unless you’ve been entirely off the grid for the last few weeks you know there are new sex-related scandals in the headlines. No! I am not speaking of some new accusations coming out of Washington, D.C. Those things have lives of their own, and anyone who believes sexual misconduct is not a regular occurrence throughout all levels of government is not in touch with reality. Unfortunately, it appears the same can be said for organized religions.

The latest scandal in the religious arena came from a splinter group within the Baptist faith or tradition. Of course, sexual misconduct related to religion is nothing new. From David and Bathsheba to this latest investigation and scandal, Judaism and Christianity have suffered from the sinful acts committed within the church community. In some cases, the problem is sexual misconduct. In others, it is the conspiracy to conceal the misconduct.

That is the bad news. There are sex crimes in churches, and like other organizations churches may attempt to conceal those crimes. The good news is many churches have taken steps to reduce the risks of misconduct. The sad news is churches and those advising them are leaving a gaping hole in the fence erected to protect their flocks.

Many churches and church organizations nationwide instituted or are instituting programs to protect children in their ministries. Organizations such as Ministry Safe provide training and screening services designed to help churches protect the most vulnerable within their congregations.

Are those programs completely effective? Probably not. Still, they are good faith efforts to keep children, youth and counseling ministries as safe as possible. These efforts include procedures to restrict access, rules to reduce the chances of one on one contact, and background checks. Still, there is a hole in their protective net.

Churches have made great strides in securing their facilities against one class of sexual predators. In spite of their efforts, according to publicly available information, sex crimes in churches appear to be on the rise. The reported numbers are still relatively low in some ways, but given the fact most sex crimes are under-reported, the trend should be concerning. What should be the most concerning, but is the least discussed, even within church security circles, is the overlooked vulnerability alluded to above.

This particular vulnerability came to my attention many years ago when a member of my family became a victim of a predator hunting within a church. This predator did not volunteer in the children’s ministry. He was not on staff. He was not a volunteer in any capacity. He was not counseling anyone or leading a group of any sort. He was just a smooth-talking pedophile hunting within the singles ministry.

Singles ministries can be a fertile hunting ground for predators. Whether the predator is interested in sex, money, or control a singles ministry is a target rich environment. And, just for the record, this piece focuses on male predators. Female predators exist, especially when one speaks of financial predation.

At this point, I have a choice to make. I could turn this into a long-winded, or even longer-winded some might say, piece on why this is or should be a concern. Instead, I choose to go against my academic nature and cut to the chase. After all, this piece is not about anything more than sharing my concerns. If it rings true to you, I would suggest you take steps to deal with the possibility in your own church before some investigative reporter comes snooping around.

Predators who target children must deal with the adults responsible for the children. Experts in this field label the adults as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are parents, older relatives, teachers, day care workers, or child ministry staff. Predators become experts at “grooming” gatekeepers. Their goal in this process is to build trust to the point they have unfettered and unsupervised access to their prey.

If you take, or took, the time to refer to some the links concerning grooming, you will see the primary focus is on schools, children’s ministries, and the like. While that is logical, it also supports one point of this piece, groups such as singles ministries are not considered an issue. To be fair, there are reasons for that oversight.

One reason singles ministries and similar group activities are overlooked is distraction or misdirection. A pickpocket is not successful because he or she has excellent skill and quickness. A pickpocket is successful because he is a master of distraction and misdirection. Such a thief makes sure something else has your attention while your wallet is slipped out of your pocket.

In the case of predators, they are not creating a distraction. Some of them are the distraction. Everyone is so focused on children’s ministries, they forget that a single mom is a gatekeeper. Everyone focuses on a pastor becoming too close to someone needing prayer and emotional support, overlooking the fact other congregants have shoulders upon which a person in distress can lean.

It is not possible to know how many children or adults have been victimized by predators working through a singles ministry. It is not possible because no one is looking carefully, victims will be afraid to report the situation, and it may be years before the truth comes to light. That does not mean it is not a problem

*This post was originally a standalone piece written after the Fundamentalist Baptist report broke.  Due to the timing of the reporting on the scandal, it was ready for publication at Christmas.  I postponed posting it until after the first of the year. In the meantime, another matter came to my attention which will be discussed in part 2 next week.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

Posted in family, Religion, sin | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tales of Christmases Past

AnOldSinner is not what one might call a sentimentalist. There are reasons for that, including my childhood, three decades in law enforcement and many years helping others deal with the world they created for themselves. Yet, there are tales from all of those eras that can make AnOldSinner tear up and OneOldCop choke up a bit if not cry. For example, the year my brother and I received our first new bicycles.

Our household was not the most economically stable place to live as a child. Dad was a bit of loose cannon. Jobs, business ventures, income streams, and home addresses came and went on a semi-regular basis. Still, he loved Christmas, and he did everything he could to make Christmas special for our little family. My tenth or eleventh Christmas was one of his best efforts.

For reasons likely related to our nomadic lifestyle, my brother and I never had bicycles.  We had tricycles, dad made us a near life-sized rocking horse one time, and there were other fun toys over the years.  Having our own bikes were not in the cards until that Christmas. Talk about a surprise! Of course, there was a bit of catch.

We lived in a rural area on a gravel road. We had these beautiful new red bicycles, and could only ride them up and down about a quarter mile of gravel road. Keep in mind this was long before the days of BMX and mountain bikes. These were Schwinn street bikes, and gravel roads were not their friend.

Still, the ruts in the road were relatively smooth, and in a year or so we moved back to a town with paved streets. One of my fondest memories is of us riding as fast as we could up the gravel road to try out our new bikes. It was a typical Texas Christmas, shorts and tee shirt weather, making the day even better.

Fast forward a few decades and bicycles were still a part of my life. I was a street cop in Denton, Texas, and I became a bicycle cop before bikes became standard in U. S. law enforcement. Of course, I was not patrolling on my bicycle as officers started doing later, I was commuting on my bike.

We’d just built our first house, which cost less than most economy cars today. Yet, even with both of us working money was tight. Commuting to work by bicycle kept me in shape and saved gas money. It also got a lot of stares when a police officer cycled by on his red ten-speed in full uniform, but bicycles are not part of my Christmas story for that period of my life.

One evening just before Christmas the dispatcher called me to the office. Someone was there asking if Officer Jackson still worked for the department. Those sorts of calls came in occasionally, usually because someone wanted to know about an incident or wanted to complain about something. This one was different.

A nice looking young man was sitting in the lobby when I arrived. It turned out he was home for Christmas break from his studies at Baylor University. It also turned out I met him and some of his friends when he was in junior high school.

Some of them filched different sorts of alcoholic beverages from their folks, and they were sneaking out to have a party at another kid’s house whose parents were out of town. Instead of a party, they had a ride in a squad car, and an awkward wait at the PD until their parents could retrieve them.

At the time, I gave each of them a business card and told them they could call me if I could help them in the future. This young man kept the card. He also remembered the little bit of a lecture I’d given them. Unfortunately, he said, some of his friends did not keep my card or heed my advice.

He came by that evening to wish me a Merry Christmas and thank me for the way I handled them. He said I changed his opinion of police officers, and the incident was a wake-up call. He was confident it helped him make it to college. It was touching, and nice to hear until he told me he was studying to be a lawyer. Oh, well! You can’t have everything.

I wish all of my Christmas memories were like the bicycle story and the visit from the young man. That would be nice, but that is not the way life works. As I wrote in Ghosts of Christmas Past and Not So Silent Night, police officers and other first responders know holidays, even Christmas, can be anything but blissful at times. Which brings me to the point of this piece.

The Christmas my brother and I received our first brand new bicycles I was a newly baptized Christian. I had a crazy home, but I knew Jesus loved me. He loved me so much, he gave his life just so I could come to faith in Him and be saved. Between that Christmas and the Christmas when the young man dropped by to see me, life, family, and the reality of what police officers see and do every day drove the faith of that boy on the bicycle into hiding. By the time, the young man came to see me, God was a childhood fantasy like Santa Claus.

Decades later in December of 1993, I was given a gift that put all my other Christmases into the proper perspective. I had done my best to abandon God, but He had never forsaken me. Instead, He waited until I was in the right place, and in the right frame of mind to listen. Then, He put people in my life who helped make Christmas 1993 the best one in almost forty years. It was the Christmas I went to my knees in prayer. I let down the walls and asked Him back into my heart.

This Christmas, please remember there are others like I was at that time. They are lost but think they are in control and too strong to need God. They have seen too much pain, and cannot trust a God that would let those things happen. They did things they believe can never be forgiven, and they are afraid of being rejected by the God they once thought loved them.

This Christmas pray for those who lost their way, and if you have the chance, reach out to one of them. You might be the one touch needed to bring them to their knees.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2018

Posted in Faith, Religion, sin, Spirituality, Testimony | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday After Church

Not long ago the pastor of a large evangelical church spoke on the topic of hypocrisy. His sermon defined hypocrisy, the charge that Christians are hypocrites, and discussed the truth of that charge. It was, to say the least, an interesting sermon. For many, It was likely an uncomfortable sermon as well.

For AnOldSinner, it was nothing new. Hypocrisy within the Church was one of the excuses I used for years to justify my skepticism concerning churches and those who called themselves Christians. I wrote about my position on the subject some years ago in Seeking an Excuse, but the pastor’s sermon on this day brought another question to mind. What makes so many people see Christians as hypocrites?

No! I am not speaking of those Sunday Christians who turn into pushy, possibly not so honest business people when they go to work Monday morning. Nor, am I speaking of the Friday night partier who will be front and center on Sunday morning. Neither am I speaking of the individuals or couples around whom gossip swirls regularly. Though I might be speaking of those contributing to the chatter.

Of course, one might consider the people in the previous paragraph to be hypocrites if the charges or perceptions are valid. On the other hand, hypocrisy is not defined solely by a Christian’s sinful behavior. The Bible teaches we are all sinners. If we are all sinners, we are going to sin. It is one’s denial of sin or condemnation of others who sin that can push someone across the line from simple sinner to sinner and hypocrite.

My argument to this point may or may not make sense to you. It may or may not fit with your view of theology, religion, Christianity, or the world in which we live. However, the question at the moment is not whether Christians are hypocrites. Instead, it is why they are so universally viewed as hypocrites.

In this writer’s opinion, it is not the way one conducts his or her business dealings. It is not the way one wind’s down on Friday night or celebrates the end of the week. It is not when people violate their wedding vows. Yes, those things can contribute to the way Christians are perceived, but even the harshest critic should realize not every Christian behaves in that manner, sins in those ways.

As noted above, I was one of those folks who took every opportunity to find hypocrisy in the actions of those who claimed to be Christian. Yet, I have come to understand there is more to the matter than whether someone decided to have one too many on a Friday night or commit some other act that many would consider a sin.

Big sins are a problem. I am not attempting to minimize the impact of significant inappropriate behavior on the part of a Christian. Instead, I would like to emphasize what I have noticed over the last few decades of attending church regularly. It is the little things that make us look bad.

Whoa! That sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? What do I mean the little things make us look bad? I mean exactly that. It is things we do without thinking. The things we regularly do that may not even to be sinful to anyone but a Pharisee. Still, they are the kinds of things that raise an eyebrow, make someone look petty, or project an image that does not match the image Christians want to project. In fact, it was a little thing, that triggered this piece, a spoiled Sunday lunch.

The details of the lunch are to some degree unimportant. Suffice it to say, there was a group in a small neighborhood restaurant acting in a less than civil manner. Oh, they were not being foul-mouthed or having a drunken, ribald time. They were merely allowing, in some cases inciting the children in the group, to yell, laugh at the top of their lungs, run around the restaurant like they were in their own backyard, and make it almost impossible for those around them to enjoy their Sunday lunch.

Yes, this sort of disturbance can be caused by people who are not churched. Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Scientologists, and Wiccans can all be guilty of failing to control their children. Still, the folks who go out to lunch on Sunday looking like they just went to church are likely to be seen as some form of Christian. Based on that perception, those around them expect them to behave in a somewhat civilized manner. That was not the case on this particular Sunday. Everyone around the party above likely went away with a less than positive feeling for them.

Of course, unruly kids are not the only possible blemish others may see in Christians. Consider a Sunday lunch conversation in which this writer was a participant, not just a witness. In this case, there were no unruly children. Instead, there were adults, discussing a mutual acquaintance. None of us thought there was anything wrong with the discussion until I noticed an eavesdropper. To be fair, the individual did not have to work very hard to hear us. We were not secretive about our discussion.

The person’s face and body language radiated a level of disdain that was impossible to miss. I realized immediately that from the eavesdropper’s standpoint we were a bunch of gossips. Not only were we gossips. We were gossiping about a fellow Christian. At first, I was amused, if a bit put out that the individual was judging our conversation. Then I remembered a conversation I overheard years ago while attending a Bat Mitzah.

A group of older ladies sat around a table commenting on every person walking by. It could have been a comedic skit on television or a scene in a black and white movie. A group of matriarchs sitting around critiquing the children, cousins, and other relatives of the ladies sitting at other tables. They did not think a thing about what they were doing. It was just part of their culture. Still, to a non-Jewish guest, it spoke to every stereotype I’d ever heard.

Christians are supposed to be “the light unto the world.” (Matthew 5:14) That does not mean we will be perfect, but it does imply people will be watching us. Accordingly, on Sunday after church, we might want to be a little more considerate of those around us in a restaurant. We might want to avoid topics of discussion that might be misunderstood or intentionally twisted. We might want to be a little more forgiving of the harried server who forgets to bring a tea refill in what we consider a timely fashion.

I could go on, but you either get the point, or you don’t. It sends the wrong message when Christians, or any group identified by its faith, occupation, culture, or ethnicity, engage in behavior that can allow others to see them in a negative light.

Are we going to make mistakes? Are we going to be hypocritical at times? Of course, we are! We are human, and humans are not perfect. Still, Christianity holds itself out to the be the hope of the world. If we’re the hope of the world, one would think we could manage to behave in a way that leaves a good impression with those around us on Sunday after church.

© sinnerswalk.com 2018

Posted in Faith

Engage Your Brain

There is an old saying about engaging your brain before putting your mouth in gear. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to know or give credence to this bit of folk wisdom. Instead, many of us, including this writer at times, have the tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind.

Sometimes, that tendency makes one seem quick-witted. At other times, it has the opposite effect. This seems to be especially true in social media. There it seems unthinking responses often rule the day.

For the most part, unthinking comments via social media or across the dinner table are not a major concern. Yes, someone’s feelings can be hurt. Yes, someone can feel foolish for making such a comment. Yes, someone can find him or herself socially ostracized for a time. Still, it is normally not a big deal, with one or two exceptions. The exception of interest here is when someone claiming to be a Christian fails to heed the wisdom of thinking before speaking.

This point was driven home not long ago after the death of a police officer in Texas. The officer responded to a disturbance call, only to be murdered upon his arrival.  The report of the murder generated a massive social media response. Messages expressing sympathy, support, and prayer were everywhere. Everyone it seemed was coming together to support the fallen officer’s family, friends, and department. Then someone shared “The Final Inspection” on the PD’s Facebook page.*

It seemed the poem was poignant, appropriate, and thoughtful. At least that seemed to be the consensus of those responding to it. There were a string of thoughtful, sympathetic comments, and then someone felt moved to post something less positive.

Given the atmosphere in the United States today it would not have been surprising for someone to use the post to bash the police or promote a cause of some sort. Also, given the nature of social media, a tacky comment from a self-appointed poetry critic or grammarian would not have been surprising. In this case, the comment came from a self-appointed Bible expert.

I say self-appointed because no one posted a comment asking if the poem was theologically correct.  There is no indication this person was asked to comment on the poem or the post in general.  The comment just popped up in the thread stating,  “That sounds good, but look again, God’s Word just doesn’t read that way.”

Let that sink in for a minute. This poem was not posted as a theological or exegetical statement. It was clearly posted as an homage to the fallen officer, expressing the hope that his sacrifice had not been in vain. Yet, this individual felt it was necessary to claim the poem was misrepresenting God’s Word.

Truthfully, one can argue with some thoughts expressed in the poem. It may have taken some liberties with God’s Word. Still, it did not seem to call for castigation or a snotty comment. The person making the comment may disagree with me on that point, but in all likelihood, the comment was more of a knee-jerk reaction than a well thought out critique.  Either that or this individual is exactly what the remark seems to indicate, a zealot or boor.

Is there a time and place for someone to respond directly, even bluntly to the misuse of God’s Word? Certainly! This was not the time and place. People in mourning, in crisis, or simply confused, do not need a legalistic, sanctimonious lesson in Bible knowledge. They need to hear a message of hope and support, or they simply need to know we are praying for them.

Criticizing the poem served no real purpose. Most people likely ignored the criticism or shook their head while thinking something less than complimentary about the author of the comment.  One person did reply to the comment, politely noting it was unnecessary. Everyone else simply expressed their thoughts and prayers for the officer’s family, colleagues, and friends.

Admittedly it is hard to know exactly what triggered the naysayer’s reaction to the post.  The poem did not claim the officer considered himself a Christian. On the other hand, it did not say he wasn’t a believer. It simply gave the author’s image of what it might be like when the officer faces God. Possibly, that was the trigger. One can have a fairly lively debate about who will face God, what will happen, and when it will happen.

It might be that the critic felt the poem claimed one can earn his or her way into Heaven with good works. If that is what the author of the poem meant, it is certainly not sound New Testament theology. On the other hand, there are those who believe good works will be rewarded in some fashion. Whatever one reads into the poem, it is, theologically speaking, more than a little ambiguous. Still, was that the place and time to criticize the theology of the writing?

Attacking the poem in this setting simply reinforced the negative stereotypes many people hold about believers. It made the person making the comment seem legalistic and insensitive. I would hope that was not their intent, but intent is of little consequence in the modern world of instant communication. Perception counts, and it is likely this comment was perceived negatively by many.

In conclusion, allow me to offer a couple of thoughts. Proverbs 29:20 says, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (NLT) The aphorism used to open this piece seems to echo this bit of scripture. Thinking is how one engages his or her brain before putting the mouth in gear.

My hope, no my prayer, is that anyone who considers him or herself a Christian will keep 29:20 and my little saying in mind. This would be even more true, for those of us who hold ourselves out openly as churchgoing or practicing followers of Christ. When we express our faith openly, we are making ourselves targets for every skeptic, unbeliever, and modern-day pharisee around. Let’s not give them any more ammunition than necessary.

So, the next time someone feels the urge to explain how something is biblically inaccurate, it might be wise if he or she counts to 10 or 100 while considering if it is the right place and time to discuss the matter. In the case of social media, it might be appropriate to wait until the next day, or even later to comment. The post and comments causing the offense will still be there, and after a good night’s sleep and a little prayer, it might be clear a direct response is unnecessary. If some response or comment does seem to be appropriate there are other options. This piece, for example, is one such option.

I decided, as I normally do, to share my thoughts here. Readers then have the option to accept my thoughts, discard my writing as drivel, share them with others, or reach for the aspirin bottle. Another and biblically correct approach would be to reach out to the person directly, opening a dialogue of some sort.

The bottom line, to AnOldSinner, is something else I heard quite often as a child.  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  That is not in the Bible, as far as I know, but there is a verse I feel touches on that thought.

James 1:26 says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” (NLT)

*An internet search found this poem in many places with the annotation “Author Unknown.” However, it seems to be an adaptation of a poem written by Sgt. Joshua Helterbran some years ago.

© sinnerswalk.com 2018

Posted in Faith, Religion, sin, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , ,

The Face of Jesus

Whose Jesus?” and “Which Jesus?” discussed the questions or problems one can encounter when people see Jesus differently. In both instances, the problem, as this writer saw it, was people seeking a persona in Jesus that they could accept or to which they could relate. A persona limited to the individual’s particular needs or concerns. Here, I want to focus on the burning question many seem to have, what did Jesus look like?

The question of Jesus’s physical appearance is nothing new. Anyone with a lick of sense knows it is unlikely Jesus was a fair-skinned, blue-eyed blond as some artists have imagined Him over the centuries. It is much more likely He was somewhat brown-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed, but, in the words of a former Secretary of State and later presidential candidate, at this point, what difference does it make?

In reality, the exact physical appearance of Jesus is of less importance than what this writer ate for breakfast on my sixth birthday. Still, the question continues to be raised, with the most definitive answer in the minds of some coming from a picture created through the work of a medical artist.  This artist used forensic anthropology techniques to develop a likeness that some believe is “closer to the truth than the work of many great masters.”1

There is little doubt the picture developed through the use of forensic anthropology is a fair likeness of a Semite male from the time Jesus walked the earth. Yet, experts in the field acknowledge facial reconstruction is not an exact science. Sometimes, a reconstruction can resemble the deceased person very closely, and other times, it more closely resembles other work by that particular artist.

In this case, the reconstruction is based on some number of male skulls from the period. That means, the picture making the rounds allegedly depicting Jesus is simply a general representation of a man from that period, as interpreted by the artist. Therefore, it likely resembles Paul’s face, Peter’s face, John’s face, and possibly any number of Pharisees.

So, as stated earlier, what difference does it make? Does it really matter if Jesus was of average height for His time, around 5′ 1″ according to most sources, or nearer to 6′ as the Shroud of Turin seems to suggest. Does it really matter if He was dark complected with dark curly hair? The answer is still no. It does not matter in an eternal sense. What matters is why the questions continue to be raised.

This seems like such a strange little fixation in so many ways. One could write it off as simply the insatiable curiosity of humanity. Humans want to know things, and we want to know them so badly we will spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, other people’s dollars in most cases, studying everything from the mating habits of garden snails to the possibility of cloning a Wooly Mammoth. Therefore, developing a more accurate picture of Jesus the man is simply another aspect of our curious nature. What if it’s not?

No! AnOldSinner is not heading off into the land of conspiracies. As the current political debacle in the United States clearly illustrates, it does not take a conspiracy to cause problems. When enough people believe something, feel something, or want something, conspiracies are unnecessary. Throw in social media, and conspiracies, in large part, become something in which our ancestors engaged.

Christianity has been under attack in many ways since the time of Jesus. Since the moment He stepped forward and proclaimed Himself to be one with the Father, His teachings have been under attack. Yes, in His time and in times since conspiracies have been involved in those attacks, but for the most part, the attacks were not conspiracies.2

Many Christians believe the opposition to Christianity is part of the war between good and evil. Others may believe it is simply man’s nature to question and rebel against authority. Still, others may believe there is no real opposition to Christianity, simply opposition to the way some people want to interpret Christianity. Whatever one believes about opposition to and persecution of Christianity, the debate over the physical appearance of Jesus is a concern at some level. It is a distraction at best. At worst, it is another way to attack Christianity.

Some might read those last two sentences and think they are a bit over the top. If that is how one feels, it is understandable, but possibly misguided. There are, according to a number of sources, in excess of 32,000 variations of Christianity in the world. Some sources claim there are 1,200 variations within the United States alone.

Each of those sects, denominations, orders, persuasions, whatever, started because someone questioned something about Christianity. In some cases, they questioned the understanding of what exactly Jesus was. In others, it might be the question of baptism. In others, it may be questions concerning who can lead the church, who can teach, who can be a member, who can serve as an elder, or when and how to take communion. And that is only a partial list of differences that have divided congregations, communities, and believers.

As anyone who has taken the time to read this blog in the past knows, I could go on, and on, and on. In this case, I’ll take a breath and get back to what I feel is the point of this piece. The question, what did Jesus look like, is not the problem. Certainly, people will be curious about His appearance. The problem is that it can play into the ongoing attack on the Bible and Christianity.

As a former skeptic, AnOldSinner knows how easy it is to attack the faith of many people. Simply using the rough statistics noted above gives one ammunition to challenge the faith of some people. Throwing in the argument that Christ was really a dark-skinned, short-haired guy instead of the majestic or tragic looking Caucasian portrayed in most Christian art opens the door to questioning other aspects of the faith.

After all, just how much did the Bible change during each of those translations, and manual reproductions of the Bible. Did Jesus really say, “I am the way?” Could it be possible He said, “I know the way,” and someone made a mistake or changed it to make Him more important?

The bottom line is this. What Jesus looked like is immaterial. What is important is who He was and is. After all, His body only existed for a few years. He has and will exist for eternity. Also, as the Bible teaches in more than one place, He could be recognizable or unrecognizable, as suited His purpose.

So, if someone brings up the question of Christ’s physical appearance on this earth, have your answer ready. Give him or her the only answer that makes sense, “At this point, what difference does it make?” Then, share what He means to you and His other followers, regardless of his height, weight, hair, eyes, or complexion.

1. Quote from a Popular Mechanics published in 2015.  A critique of the article is planned, but if you wish to see it earlier, search “The Real Face of Jesus.”
2. Admittedly, there were conspiracies within the opposition to Christ and Christianity, but the opposition to Christianity, and later between differing groups within the faith, were openly hostile.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

Posted in Faith, Religion, Testimony | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

In His Time: A Bible Story

Some folks call them God taps. Others call them God signs. Still others call them God sightings. Whatever one calls them, many believers feel they are evidence of God’s active presence in the world today. Of course, skeptics and others may feel they are simply coincidences, random chance, or imagination.

The reality is some people see God personally engaged in almost everything. Others see the majesty of His creation, but do not think He is orchestrating every sunrise, sunset, magnificent rainbow, or incident that someone sees as a sign. Still others wouldn’t acknowledge Him if He appeared before them as a pillar of fire. AnOldSinner falls in between the extremes.

This summer marked the third time in four years that my home church sent a group of men to the fishing village of Abreu Do Una, Brazil. We support a small church there, and have been helping the church develop a men’s ministry.  I have been fortunate enough to be part of all three teams.

On my first visit to the village I wrote “Truly Blessed.” That piece was partially a follow-up to an earlier piece on blessings.  Also, it looked at how God can bless those who go in His name to help others, as well as those they go to help. Here, I want to share a story from our latest mission. It is a story in which some might see the hand of God and others might simply see a happy coincidence.

The purpose of the trip was to help train local men in several areas of discipleship and leadership. Their little church is working to develop a group of Christian men intent on helping change the future of the village. The current culture is morally bankrupt, and the traditional churches in the area seem to have abandoned any thought of evangelism or outreach. In fact, the predominant church practices a form of legalistic Christianity that leaves most people on the outside looking in because they do not meet the church’s standards. The result is a community wracked by crime, drug use, promiscuity, poverty, and fear.

We were in the village a week working with three different groups of men. Each group was studying a different aspect of what it meant to be a Christian man, and how such men could reach out to others. As part of the outreach aspect of the teaching, each local man was asked to bring a friend who was not part of the church to a cookout and celebration on our last night in the village. The men accepted the challenge, and a number of men from the village joined us.

Seating was set up to assure each table of visitors included one of our translators and at least one team member. I was seated at a table with two of the visitors. They were sitting across from me, stern-faced and not eating. It was clear from their body language and expressions they were not there for dinner and a celebration.

The translator and I attempted to engage them in conversation and invited them to grab something to eat. Only one would talk, and he advised they had already eaten. They claimed they were not aware dinner was part of the invitation. As the evening progressed, I came to realize that might not be completely true.

Eventually, I discovered they were members of the church actively opposing the new church. One finally admitted the only reason they came was to check out the church. His wife and children were now attending this church, and he wanted to see just what kind of church this was.

Finally, the talkative one said he could not understand how we could all come together at church for a party. He seemed serious and made it clear his church thought we were not Christians because people got together and had fun at church. He also let it be known he did not understand a church inviting outsiders to come to these parties.

In his view, Christians were not supposed to hang out with non-Christians or members of other churches. That helped me understand why he and his friend simply sat there most of the time. They were spies in the enemy camp. I also realized they likely believed breaking bread with us was a sin.

It was then I realized I had not ended up at the table by chance. I was there because they were there. It was my opportunity to witness to them. I was able to let them know we were happy they came, and we thought of them as brothers in Christ. I emphasized an important part of being a Christian was being in fellowship with other believers, which is why we could come together in celebration.

Certainly, any of the other team members could have interacted with them in this fashion.  The fact I was the one who ended up at their table was a blessing to me, but that was not the most significant part of the encounter.  The most amazing part of the encounter was the Bible.

Each man on the team was given two Portuguese/English New Testament Bibles. We were asked to highlight our favorite verses or verses we thought might be important to new believers. We were to write a personal note of some sort in the Bible, and we were to put a picture of our family in it. Then we were tasked with presenting the Bibles to someone in the newest group of men in the training. If that was not possible for some reason, we would try to give them to some man in the village when walked the village in prayer. I still had one of my Bibles.

I had been somewhat upset that I had not given both of mine away. I feared I would be forced to leave it with the church to hand out to someone in the future. Suddenly, I realized I still had it for a reason. I had it because this young man was supposed to receive it.

I will not take the time here to detail what happened from that point forward. Suffice it to say, he seemed stunned about what I said, and the Bible. In fact, the rest of the evening, I saw him turning through the Bible, or looking at the picture of my family. At the end of the evening, he sought me out to say goodbye.

Earlier I told him I would pray that he make a good decision for him and his family.  When he came over to say goodnight, I told him again I would be praying for him. I also told him I hoped to see him next year if I was able to come back to the village. It was clear he had no idea what to make of the situation.

Read into this story what you will. It could have been just one of those things. It could have been random chance I was seated at the one table with two such visitors. It could have been a coincidence that my duties on the team were changed at the last minute, and the new duties interfered with my chances to give away both Bibles.  It could have been a lot of things, but I think God had a hand in it. I was not supposed to give on the team’s time frame, or my time frame.  I was supposed to give it away in His time.

© AnOldSinner – 2017



Posted in Faith, Missions, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Blessed are the …

Almost three weeks ago, I posted from a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Brazil. My post mentioned my location, apologized for not having something new to post, linked to a piece from several years ago, and stated I was trying to write another piece on blessings or being blessed.

Since returning from Brazil, I have tried mightily to write an essay triggered by something said during the mission to Brazil. As it turned out, I was at best tilting at windmills. At worst, I was completely misunderstanding what I was feeling called to do.

In trying to write something, anything actually, on this topic something kept interfering. I suppose one could write off what I saw as interference as a form of writer’s block or procrastination. Yet, that did not seem to be the case. I was hitting serious roadblocks, from computer problems, to schedule conflicts, to completing my responsibilities related to wrapping up the mission trip. I was thinking, what is going on here? Then the light dawned!

I was thinking I was supposed to write and publish something about a new, to me at least, idea of what it meant to be blessed. Consequently, I was scrambling around attempting to do research, and make sense of what I heard. Then it hit me. The person leading the discussion which inspired me to start this piece had already done the research. In fact, he had probably written something about this particular concept.1

I was not supposed to write something new. All I needed to do was share what he had already written. It was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders and a veil being lifted from my eyes. Click on the link below and see if you find anything different in Ken Miller’s discussion of what it means to be blessed, and what one normally thinks it means.

The Benefits of God’s Approval

1. It is embarrassing enough to find oneself unable to write intelligently on a subject. It is even more embarrassing to think I should have made the connection to this pastor’s blog more quickly. I serve with him all the time in our men’s ministry.

© AnOldSinner 2017

Posted in Faith, Missions, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , ,