Of Signs and Messages: Music

Some years ago, I decided I would no longer ask God for a sign, at least about certain things. I do pray, as do many I hope, that He will reveal things to me or help me see things more clearly. I feel He has been very generous over the years, engineering little “coincidences,” which helped me see things differently or confirmed something I was feeling. The most recent of those little happenings concerned the title of this piece.

Many believe there is power in music. In fact, some very learned people over the years have claimed music can be more powerful than laws when it comes to shaping or controlling a nation.1 I first heard the claim in a lifeskills or self-help seminar years ago. It made sense in many ways, but I did not fully understand the power of music until I returned to Church.

Certainly, like many others over the years, I thought certain forms of music were suggestive of behavior that might not be the healthiest. Sex, drugs, rock, and roll had more meaning than many wanted to admit a few decades back. In more recent times, certain forms of music again seem to spread unwelcome actions and agendas in some areas.2

Originally, this piece was going to focus on the power of worship through song. As a long time choir member, I had been suffering through virtual services. Singing along in the living room while streaming a service was not the same as being in the choir loft or congregation during worship in song.

Thankfully, we returned to in-person services for limited numbers a few weeks ago. Even in a mostly empty sanctuary, singing with others was great, even if worship was led by a few singers and a small number of instruments. Feeling the meaning of the hymns and relating that to one’s relationship with God almost nullified the disaster that is 2020 for a time.

That was to be the sole focus of this piece initially. How great it felt to be back in a congregation, worshiping in song with other believers. Then, as I was preparing to write, I made the mistake of checking to see what others said about this aspect of worship, as I know there are differing opinions.

The first focused article I found was from a young man with excellent credentials, including a Ph.D. in theology. He was downplaying the importance of music, especially traditional hymns, as part of worship. He actually said he got very little from most hymns and felt more contemporary music would help engage attenders more meaningfully.

His writing did not change my opinion. However, it did make me wonder if I should do more research, find more resources, and read the views of others. Then God arranged one of those little coincidences for me. It came as text from my daughters wanting me to join them the next Sunday at their church for a special music program in place of the traditional service.

My daughters attend Denton County Cowboy Church. I have become a fan of their church, and the country music spin they put on worship songs and traditional hymns in some cases. As I’ve mentioned to many friends, you’ve not really heard “The Old Rugged Cross” until you listen to it accompanied by a steel guitar. I decided I should take the time to see my daughters and my grandkids, as well as check out this special service.

The special service was led by Alvarado Road Show. This is two brothers originally from Alvarado, Texas. They started this ministry years ago, and they were great! Their ministry is traveling the country, performing their country music worship songs, and sharing their testimonies. On this day, their message nailed me.

It was a great service and was as close as one can come in modern times to a message written on the wall, for me at least. In fact, there were two messages.

The first was the Ph.D. was wrong. Songs definitely can be a big part of worship and understanding. Anyone truly listening could hear the faith and heart of these two brothers. You could hear it in their stories, and especially their music. All anyone had to do to get closer to God that morning was listen.

As I have written at other times, we as believers can block His messages if we choose. It seems many do, especially when it comes to music. They either feel it is superfluous or simply to entertain. Sometimes it is, but not every time, and not if the worship leaders have their hearts right.

The duo’s story about the way they were dealing with the pandemic spoke to me as well. I have been procrastinating about the next step in my efforts to have a ministry of my own. This blog was supposed to be the starting point, not the primary attempt. Yet, I seemed to be blocked for one reason or another at every turn, and I began to wonder.

I wondered if I was stuck because I was not the right messenger. I wondered if this was the right time. I wondered if pursuing what I felt was my calling would be too costly or too time-consuming. Would it interfere with family life, much less my ability to produce income for said family?

I wonder no more. It is time to take the next step. If I am making the right move, God will let me know. If I am wrong, He will make that clear as well, but He will not take me by the hand and do the work for me. He expects me to stand up for what I feel and believe.

1 This idea is most often attributed to 17th century writer and politician, Andrew Fletcher.

2 Any student of history can understand the way music was used by those in power to breed sentiments and attitudes designed to inspire submission to a cause, or stoke the embers of hatred or superiority.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of Faith and Fear

Fear is an interesting concept in Christianity. We are to “fear” God, but that does not mean we should be afraid of God. Okay, that may be a bit simplistic, but the more poetic or academic descriptions or contrasts can be just as simplistic in some ways. In other ways they may be simply confusing. At least they were to me when I reviewed the writings of several different pastors and theologians concerning fear.

My problem however, is not with fearing God. At least I do not think that is the problem. My fear is misinterpreting or misunderstanding what God is telling me. Whether one is speaking of understanding God through Scripture or understanding God through signs, visions, or an “ah ha” moment during prayer, I wonder if I am deluding myself when I think God has given me a sign.

A human being is the only creature in God’s creation that can lie to itself.* For example, some of us stand in front of the mirror in the morning and see physical or other flaws where none exist. Then there are those who know flaws exist, especially character flaws, yet convince themselves they are just fine.

King David was an excellent example of this trait. David spent a great deal of time asking God’s forgiveness, because of his wrongdoing. Some might argue David did not understand what he was doing when he sinned against God, but if that is true David had to be the dumbest king who ever existed. Take the example of David’s plan to build the temple.

David’s decision that he should build a temple was the height of arrogance and stupidity. Yes, David was a man after God’s own heart, but he had sinned in numerous ways including murder. Yet, he was able to convince himself and Nathan he was the man to build the temple. The result was God admonishing them both. Thankfully, He still loved David, and it was from the line of David God brought Jesus into the world.

Currently, I seem called to do something in God’s name. If He is calling me, then I will have the opportunity to help others find their way back to their faith, or find their faith for the first time. The problem is, like David the sins in my life are numerous. Yes, I found my way back after straying far from the path I started walking as a child. Yet, am I like David? Is God wanting to use me as a messenger, or are my arrogance and pride pushing me to do something that He would not want?

It is in moments such as this one’s faith is tested. Fear of both God and man can convince us we should not take risks such as David almost took. Yet faith should lead us to believe whatever happens is part of God’s plan. If we suffer for a decision, He is trying to teach us something. Our job is to learn from those mistakes, not hide from them.

Still, I lay awake at night wondering if in my own small way I am a David, pushing my agenda not His. Then I wonder if I am allowing my fear of those who may attack me keep me from following God’s plan for me. Which way am I lying to myself, and what do I do?

In the end, if my faith is strong, I will move forward and see what happens. If I succeed, that was God’s plan. If I fail, He was teaching me another lesson. And there lies the question, just how strong is my faith?

*Some nitpickers may argue humans are the only part of God’s creation that can lie at all. Anyone believing that defines the term lie too narrowly, and has little knowledge of the rest of God’s creation. Other creatures may not be able to speak or think a lie, but they can certainly be untruthful and deceptive in their appearance and actions.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Monastically Speaking: Rationalization

In “Monastically Speaking,” I expressed fears concerning the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on believers coming together to worship. In “One Slice at a Time” I stated those fears were becoming more of a probability than a possibility. Now, I am seeing signs church leadership may be surrendering to the powers that be without so much as a fight. Instead, they may be seeking ways to rationalize what is becoming an all-out assault on church attendance.

Before going further, let one point be clear. The following is not a condemnation of a pastor or minister who urges his flock to accept the governmental mandates interfering with corporate worship. Christians are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when dealing with the virus crisis, for at least two reasons.

First, Christians are expected to submit to the government unless the demands are so outrageous God’s Word demands action. So far, the COVID-19 crisis does not seem to justify flaunting government dictates or other legal concerns. Still, it seems some Christian leaders are bending over backward to make current government interference more acceptable.

Over the last few weeks, my wife and I have attended three traditional services at our home church. By traditional, I mean they were held in our church sanctuary, and the ones we attended featured traditional worship music. The services were far from traditional when one considers the hoops everyone is jumping through to come together in worship. From only a handful of worshipers to the steps taken to keep that handful safe, it was not Sunday services as usual.

Of course, the church’s desire to keep everyone safe while still allowing some believers to attend is understandable. From a personal standpoint, I am thankful they are making the effort. It was refreshing and meaningful to be in the sanctuary, worshiping in song with other believers. Also, it was great to see familiar faces and know your brothers and sisters in Christ were upright and moving. Yet, the comfort factor was shaken by the apparent acceptance of this being the new normal.

The most unsettling aspect of the current experience was not with the limitations on attendance, wearing protective equipment or social-distancing. No, those can be understood, and are not necessarily precursors to the cessation of traditional worship experiences. Comments made not directly related to worship are what seem forboding.

It was troubling to hear church leaders justifying the interference in the worship experience. It was troubling to hear leadership speak of how successful the ministry still seemed to be, without members and visitors coming together as a body. It was even more troubling during a virtual gathering of believers later to hear the minister leading the discussion appear to downplay the need for traditional corporate worship. In fact, he quoted scripture he believed supported a more individualized worship experience.

Without saying it, the minister was endorsing a modern version of monasticism enhanced by virtual gatherings and online Bible lessons and studies.

As I’ve noted previously, humans are creatures of habit. Additionally, many of us have very short attention spans, and as any life coach or psychologist can tell you keeping someone focused on a goal can be difficult. Whether you are talking about weight loss, breaking bad habits, or studying the Bible, we have a tendency to take the path of least resistance, and often that is the path to failure when it comes to our goals.

The ministry of Jesus was based on bringing people together to hear the Word. It was not based on lone individuals studying the word in private or listening to the word while in isolation.

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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One Slice at a Time

Reportedly, the old saw, “Death by a thousand cuts,” came from an ancient form of torture. Today, it is often used to describe the destruction of something or someone, one small attack at a time.

Christians with any knowledge of history know they and their faith face an enemy practicing this philosophy. The attacks on Christianity throughout the centuries range from crucifixion to stoning to modern-day genocide. The victims of those attacks range from Jesus to modern-day children in countries dominated by anti-christian politics or religions.

Today, Christianity faces a new form of assault, one that seems logical, even justified. Still, it is just another part of the same process. Atheists, other faith systems, and even different traditions with supposedly Christian foundations are slowly chipping away at the faith of believers.

In Monastically Speaking, I suggested some forces within this country were attempting to drive a stake into the heart of Christianity; corporate worship. The COVID-19 crisis gave them the perfect opportunity to prevent Christians from coming together to hear God’s word.

In some ways, my fears were theoretical. As with the pandemic’s impact on traditions such as handshakes and hugs as forms of greetings, the idea that believers would stop coming together on the Sabbath was just a possibility. Over the last few Sundays, I realized it is more of a probability.

These were the first Sunday services at my home church since the pandemic shut everything down. In one way these were great experiences. In another, it was a frightening confirmation of my fears.

In a sanctuary capable of seating 1,200, attendance averaged fewer than 200. Yes, two of these Sundays were the beginning and end of a holiday week and government guidelines limited capacity to 300 or so plus staff and volunteers. Still, the number of reservations and the number in attendance dropped for each new service.

Humans are creatures of habit. That is why we face so many challenges when we need to change behavior. We may know eating too many sweets is adding inches to our waistline, and shortening our lives by months, if not years. We may realize our sedentary lifestyle increases our risks even further. Yet, changing how we go about our days is just as difficult as changing how we eat. The same can be true about beliefs and the practice of one’s religious traditions.

It is so easy to justify pulling away from corporate worship and fellowship. Watching the church service online is so convenient. In some cases, virtual attendees can chat with each other. Also, they can grab a snack or take care of personal issues without disturbing other worshippers. Heck, they can text, email, or rearrange a calendar without disturbing the others watching the service.

Of course, there are other perks as well. If friends want to do brunch on Sunday, it is possible to meet them, and catch the service later, at your convenience. That’s a lot more fun than driving to church and sitting in the pew for the whole service.

Sadly, I believe there are forces at work counting on exactly that. They hope to make it difficult to attend church with other believers. They want to force believers to transition to virtual attendance, virtual small groups, even virtual Kid’s Camp or Vacation Bible School. Then, it is only a matter of time before many believers will be far removed from the feeling of inclusion, fellowship, support, and love one can feel at church.

Even a congregation seated in a way to conform to social distancing guidelines, and minimize fear of contagion can feel a sense of community that is impossible via the internet. Without that feeling, that camaraderie, that proximity to other believers, our faith may become what it was to me, and many others I’ve known in the past, something I used to feel.

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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Of Faith and Politics

A young pastor recently received a heartbreaking message from someone close to him. It was not what one might expect from a member of one’s flock. It was not directly related to personal tragedy, problems within the church, misconduct within the church, or disagreement with a recent sermon. Also, it came in the form of a simple statement, “Because you were slow to speak, I didn’t know if you cared.”

As anyone listening knew immediately, the pastor’s remorse over the situation was honest and heartfelt. He had a reason for failing to speak into the situation immediately, but that comment made him realize sometimes there are no good reasons for waiting to take action.

The details of the pastor’s mistake are unimportant to the discussion or thinking I hope to start here. It was as you can easily imagine dealing with the current turmoil in the United States, and one horrible incident in particular. Still, the situation placed the pastor in a terrible quandary. How did he lead the church into a politically charged situation without crossing the boundaries that are supposed to exist between faith and politics?

Personally, I feel he did a great job of making it clear this church was not going to involve itself in political activity. He also made it clear the church had a role to play in the problems facing this country today. In fact, the church already plays a role in helping detail with societal issues. Not a political role, but a spiritual leadership role.

The problem of course is that many within churches across this land have preached a different message. Though the message may have been indirect, it was clear. Paying attention to current events, especially politics, is detrimental to one’s faith. It could also endanger the church’s standing as a religious entity.

I cannot tell you how many of my church friends almost brag about their lack of interest in current events. They seem to feel they can withdraw from that aspect of society and let God take care of it. Either that or they just don’t want to be bothered with the realities of daily life. Of course, there are a few who seem to feel politics is part of their religion. It is likely both sides heard something different in the pastor’s remarks that Sunday.

The problem many seem to have is understanding faith and religion are not the same thing. One can have faith in God, believe the Bible is the Word of God, and still be political. This will sound very judgmental of me, but I wonder about the faith of anyone who feels politics and societal conflicts will damage their faith in some way. To me, my faith leads me to believe there is a purpose to all of this mess, and it is all part of God’s plan. Our job is to pray, work, and believe He is in control.

My church considers itself a church without walls. It also tries its best to teach lessons that can be “Monday morning relevant.” True in most cases, those lessons are how we should present ourselves to the world in ways that bring glory to our Father. In some cases, that means being involved in the mess out there. Yes, prayer works, but sometimes the answer to our prayers requires us to get a bit sweaty and get our hands dirty.

By getting our hands dirty and working up a sweat, I do not necessarily mean working a kids camp, leading a small group, or mowing a widow’s lawn. Those are great acts of service, but when we do those we are in a way preaching to the choir. Even when we reach out to organizations as my church home does, supporting activities in minority communities, or economically depressed areas the effort can be more about feeling good than really being the hands of feet of Jesus.

Whatever outreach we do, should bring about change in us as well. The purpose of serving is not to make us feel good. Hopefully, that is one of the benefits, but another benefit is to bring about change within us or strengthen are faith, enhancing changes made in the past.

People must be able to see God in us if we are to make a difference in the world. They cannot do that if we hide from the problems.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Monastically Speaking

In Traditionally Speaking, I suggested the coronavirus pandemic may change traditions that many, me included, feel are essential to human interaction. Other traditions may develop to replace handshakes, hugs, and other forms of personal contact, but that is a subject for another time. Here, I want to speak of something looming on the horizon that may change more than traditional forms of physical greetings and mutual agreement.

Specifically, we should be concerned about the current and future crises such as COVID-19. As we have seen, governmental and medical entities have been quick to press for limitations on what some would call liberties. The powers that be instituted guidelines or regulations involving social-distancing, quarantines, and outright banning of some activities and traditions in the interest of public health.

One can only imagine what the world will look like in a few decades. Viruses, murder hornets, civic unrest, and outright terrorism may turn the United States and other modern nations into societal and cultural equivalents of some third world countries.
Yes, that last paragraph may make me sound as if I am a bit of an alarmist. If that is what you think, fine, but do yourself and me a favor.

Take another look at what has been happening throughout the country this spring. We have seen isolation-induced increases in some classes of crime and mental disorders. We have experienced rioting in the streets, which are direct threats to our society. Now, one of the most stabilizing forces in society is being threatened as well.

A ruling by the United States Supreme Court concerning the states’ authority to regulate certain businesses and activities should scare the hell out of us all. In a case brought against the State of California, the high court equated churches and church services with “lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances.”

Essentially, the supreme court ruled believers had no more right to assemble in worship than patrons attending the local cinema. Tangentially, the court is saying church members have fewer rights in the area of assembly than protestors. Apparently, protestors have the right to assemble, despite social distancing orders. If you doubt that consider how protestors are being handled.

Protestors are not being arrested for coming together. Instead, they are being arrested, if they are arrested, for violating curfews, blocking streets, destruction of private property, assaults, and other crimes. Heaven forbid they should be arrested or even cited for standing shoulder to shoulder when the rules were “six feet apart!” Yet, in some areas of the country, worshippers are being told they will be breaking the law if they hold services, even if they practice social distancing. In closing, one final thought on this aspect of the controversy.

The governors of some states, as well as five Supreme Court Justices, have decided churches are nothing more than businesses. If pressed, on this issue, I can already hear the response from members of the court, and the officials shutting down church services. They will say, if they have not already, that worship does not require a church. They will claim, if they have not already, individuals and families can exercise their faith and their first amendment rights, without a church!

Again, I can sense the reaction of many if they have gotten this far in my thoughts. They will smile wryly and say or think something such as, “That’s right! You don’t need a church to have a relationship with God.”

My response to them, and to the supreme court is simple. Coming together in fellowship and worship is essential to followers of Jesus and others whose faith is derived from or an outgrowth of the Bible. Individual faith was tried in Biblical times, and it failed miserably. People who believed they could have a one on one relationship with God went into the wilderness and did their human best to make that work. It did not, as the monasteries and monks of today are living proof.

God did not only create a man. He did not only create a woman. Through Adam and Eve, he created a people. He did not create them to be alone with Him. He created them to come together with Him as a people.

Monasticism did not work in Biblical times. It will not work in modern times. Even monasticism supported by social media gatherings will not work. If this Supreme Court decision stands, those who want a secular society have been given a windfall. Another crisis requiring controlling gatherings may bring about further restrictions, and other, as yet unknown, reasons for controlling the size, frequency, or purpose of gatherings may create additional restrictions.

It is possible, our grandchildren or great-grandchildren may be worshipping in cellars, back rooms, or hidden locations, as is the case in other countries. Justice Roberts opened the door for this possibility by siding with the left-wing of the court.

May God help us all.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of God and Me

As mentioned in my last post, my relationship with God was somewhat tortured and complex in times past. Much of that was due to the tortured and complicated relationship my parents had between themselves and with God. After all, the first god a child knows is his or her father. Daddy is, in the eyes of a child, all-powerful, all-knowing, and, if needed, he might be able to walk on water. When good old dad turns out to have feet of clay, a kid’s faith can go south quickly.

My brother and I were raised to respect our elders, be as competitive with each other as possible, and heed Dad’s commandments. We were taught about the Bible and Christianity simply and fundamentally using a ten-volume set of illustrated books The Bible Story. For many years we prayed to our Lord, asking Him to take our souls if we should die before waking.

That little prayer and the Bible stories were all we needed at the time. In fact, some of what I learned during those years stuck with me after I rebelled against God, so-called Men of the Cloth, and people who claimed to be devout believers. Later in life, even when I was angry at God, I had a bit of peace that helped me avoid hating my enemies. I knew, at some level, we all get what we deserve in the end. I watched that play out numerous times. I was not that good at loving my neighbor, but I was able to avoid hating or dwelling on those who wronged me.

The downside to the way I believed was also one of the things I held dear; we all get what we deserve eventually. It took a while for me to get mine, but get it I did. Yes, I had done my share of less than honorable things and treated people in ways that might have appalled my mother if she had known.

God first got my attention in 1989. The details are not important here. Suffice it to say God showed me how foolish and self-absorbed I had been in a way I would not wish on my worst enemy. It was not as bad as the trials Job faced, but it felt that way to me. Also, unlike Job, I had no faith in anything other than myself. Still, at the time, I did as I learned to do as a teenager, ignore the pain, and make things as right as I could. It worked to some degree, but some of the damage could never be completely healed.

Five years later, God hit me again. Oddly enough, this time, I recognized this was a message, and I realized it was one I should heed. Yeah, I was a bit hard-headed in those days, but I was not wholly ignorant of my failings. When God arranged to give me a taste of my own medicine, I took note and knew exactly who was behind it.

It may seem narcissistic of me to think God was personally involved in my life to the degree I believe. After all, I had done everything I could to prove He was just a figment of His follower’s imagination, or they were nut-cases. Thankfully, our God does not abandon someone just because that someone is a jerk. He will give us numerous chances to recognize Him and accept His Grace.

For the record, I am not saying, as some contemporary Christian musicians have alleged, God recklessly pursues us, breaking down walls to save us. The reality is he is always there, and he is always giving us opportunities to look beyond our noses and our personal agendas. Still, if we just refuse to hear Him, He will let us fall into the abyss.

As my last post implied, we are all in the valley of the shadow of death to a degree. As we begin to, hopefully, emerge from the valley, we have choices to make. For those of us who believe, we are getting a glimpse of how dark things can be, and we need to reach as many people as possible to give them hope when the next trial comes. That means being open about who we are and what we believe.

This situation, this pandemic, this hysteria, whatever one calls it, is an open door for believers. The door may only be open a crack, but those who have strayed, those who doubt, those who fight Him tooth and nail, might be looking for hope in a way they have not in the past. The majority may still have hearts wrapped in steel, but some may have seen Him working through others during this crisis.

Those who have seen His work may be seeking to understand more than they ever would have in the past. They have been and will be watching those of us who claim to follow Him. They need to see how He sustained us and got us through this valley. If they do, they may be one step closer to walking with our Lord and Savior.

My prayer is that everyone sustained by Him during this mess will let those around them, especially the skeptics and unbelievers, know how they made it through these challenging times.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Apocalyptically Speaking?

Yes, I am coming back to the possibility that the apocalypse may be just over the horizon. I do not believe that, at least in human terms. In Yahweh terms, being just over the horizon might mean another eon or so. Truthfully, I do not believe that will be the case either, but parameters need to be set for any attempt at logical discourse.

This piece was inspired by my choir director. He asked me to say a few words of encouragement during a choir Zoom session. He also asked me to share a favorite verse that might be germane to our current situation.

When someone says favorite verse to me, two passages come to mind immediately, John 3:16 and Psalm 23. To be completely honest, Psalm 23 does not come to mind in an entirely theological way.  It was a favorite passage even when I was an in-your-face skeptic, unrepentant sinner, and a street cop. What a combination!

If you do not know why it was my favorite, you’ve led a sheltered life. People like me loved to paraphrase verse 4. We walked through the valley of the shadow of death on a semi-regular basis, and we could not be afraid. At least, we could not be fearful at the moment. We loved to say the reason we weren’t scared was that we were the meanest son of a gun in the valley. 

Years later, when I quit fighting God, I realized that was just my way of remembering Him and His presence without admitting it. Even in the depths of my depravity, I knew He was there and depended on Him. I just couldn’t acknowledge Him.

I think he put up with me because of the faith of the little boy baptized in frigid water when he was ten. The faith of that little boy survived as a kernel of belief that never left me. I just covered it up with anger and distrust.  Thankfully, I finally found that little boy again almost forty years after that baptism, but inner child stories are for another time.

My fondness for the 23rd Psalm wanted me to use it in my remarks to the choir. I thought I understood it, and I thought I knew how to use it during the meeting. Of course, I went looking for information that would contradict how I meant to use it, if any existed. Bible passages are highly debated at times, and I was sure there were differing views on this one.

I was right about the differing views. Happily, the one that caught my attention and seems to play well into the world today was by a Rabbi, who made a lot of sense. Possibly he made sense because of my feelings about one part of God’s plan and why the end has not yet come.

The Rabbi’s analysis differed from others because it focused on the transition or maturation of the person praying. He focused on one word David used in writing the Psalm. He opined translators and others were substituting the meaning of another word because they did not completely understand the term used. I will not attempt to explain his reasoning here, as I am far from a Hebrew scholar or Rabbi.[i]

The bottom line is this. Psalm 23 lays out God’s plan for us if we’ll listen and cooperate. He will take us from a sheep, totally dependent on the shepherd to a level of maturity and confidence that is necessary for our spiritual growth and understanding of our place in the world.

Today, we are in the valley.  God has us here for a reason, and we are supposed to learn something.  Whether we learn it or not will determine whether we are mature enough to sit at the table as a strong Christian, or whether we will still be sheep. We can never be equal to God, but we can come closer to Him by becoming mature and firm believers instead of sheep who must be tended 24/7.   

[i] If you like, you can read his analysis by clicking here; https://theisraelbible.com/psalm-235-since-when-do-sheep-sit-at-a-table/

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of Easters Past

It is interesting what one can learn from old memories. Some memories bring smiles, while others bring tears.  Regardless of what emotion a memory stirs, there can be something to learn or understand from those memories.  The challenge is recognizing it.

Easter is one of the holidays younger children in the U. S. love. Winter is generally on the wane, if not gone, and summer is still several months away. Of course, it is also the day the Easter Bunny comes.  Kids love Santa but adore the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny brings candy and, there is no naughty or nice list!

Unfortunately, I suppose I have very few memories of Easter as a child. Did my brother and I hunt decorated eggs and candy? I am confident we did. I just do not remember it, and any pictures from those years were destroyed decades ago.

Still, there is one Easter memory from my youth I will never forget.  It was my first time playing Easter Bunny. I was, to say the least, excited.  I was playing a part in our Easter celebration, and I was doing so for an important reason.

My aunt, Mom’s youngest sister, and her children were living with us. She was recently widowed and was looking to start a new life. Starting anew meant finding a place of her own, and a job.  In the meantime, they lived with us.  Now, she and the kids faced their first Easter without a husband and father.

Mom decided we should make it as normal an Easter as possible. That meant an Easter Egg hunt was essential. Accordingly, she set the plans in motion, asking me to hide the eggs and candy. There you go! I was proud as a peacock and as excited as a fifteen-year-old boy could be about something other than girls, cars, and motorcycles!

Everything was going great. I was up early and started hiding the goodies all around the yard. Toward the last of my task, Mom was telling me to hurry as the kids were dressed and wanting to know if the Easter Bunny came.  I hid the last little treasure, heading in to tell mom the Easter egg hunt was ready.

Yes, I placed that last goody on the ground turned and jumped up on the back porch. At least, I tried to jump onto the porch.

I was so excited, I forgot the piece of steel cable strung between a column and the wall. I remembered it instantly when I felt it slam into my mouth. By that, I mean into my mouth, all the way back to my tonsils! As I was falling back from the shock and recoil, I saw something white flying through the air.

The cable extracted my left lower cuspid as cleanly as any dentist.  It became the Easter prize we never found.  Except for that little matter, Easter went well.

Well, I hope the last couple of paragraphs lightened the mood a bit, as this is sounding pretty grim.  With that said, you have every reason to wonder why I am writing an Easter story such as this.  What does that story have to do with the reason we celebrate Easter.

Today, I know He is always there. He will let us ignore Him and build walls trying to keep him out, but he is still there. Yet, at that point, He and Jesus were just legends I read about as a child.

Looking back, I regret not having the faith I’d had a few years earlier, or the faith I found again thirty years later. I had nothing to offer my cousins and aunt other than an Easter Egg hunt.  Yes, they had a bit of fun finding decorated boiled eggs and sweets. Still, that was hardly a replacement for a lost father and husband.

If I had not been in rebellion, perhaps I could have done more. I could have explained the real meaning of Easter. I could have prayed with them or for them, but I did not believe in prayer. All I could do was entertain them or try to distract them from their grief. That is just sad.

As I know now, God waits for us.  He waited for me, and I was a lost cause for so many years. He let me do my own thing for decades before putting me in the position I could not ignore Him, or those around me who tried to lead me back to Him.

I don’t know for sure what happened to my aunt and her kids after I left home. I did hear about them occasionally from Mom. From what I heard and what I remembered in the years I was around them, faith in God was not a part of their lives.

I don’t blame myself for the missed opportunity. In those days, God’s name was never spoken in our house except in vain. Nor do I blame my dad. Even though he is the one who banned God from our home.

Instead, I remember that Easter to remind me to hold on to and share my faith.  I do not intend to stand before God someday, with any more regrets of this nature.

Do you have notable instances where you failed to step up and share with someone for one reason or another?  Do you know someone with whom you feel the need to share your faith, but find yourself afraid?  If you do think about this story.

I understand I have been forgiven. I know I was not to blame. Yet, I wonder if I could have made a difference, and regret I didn’t try. Don’t let that happen to you.

© sinnerswalk.com

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More Signs, Maybe Not

Keeping with the theme of I don’t normally write about the End Times, let me share my latest bit of inspiration. First, I do not believe we are any nearer to the End than we were last Christmas.  God made it clear the End, or the beginning of the End, would come without warning. We had plenty of warning that something awful, horrific really, was just over the horizon for decades.  Even the current crisis was foreshadowed by past events.

For instance, one of the charges leveled against President Trump is he did not take the steps needed to avoid or mitigate the crisis. He was criticized for not taking steps based on past events, even though others had ignored the similar signs in the past.

First, the president’s job requirements do not include the gift of prophecy. Even if they did, he, like some prophets in the past, would find himself in trouble. Even hinting we needed to spend billions, even trillions of dollars to prepare for a possible unknown or “novel virus,” would have caused an uproar. He might have been ridden out of town on a rail if he claimed the virus might sweep the world in the unknown future.

Yes! The same people calling for his scalp now would have gotten out the pitchforks and torches.  They would have decried the president if he called for manufacturers to begin producing thousands, if not tens of thousands of ventilators, for people who might be sickened in the future.  Still, this is not about the president or politics. It is about the reality of the Bible, the history it teaches, and the prophesies it makes. 

The people, you and me, have always turned against their leaders eventually. Whether one is speaking of Moses, Jesus, Churchill, or anyone else, the people they lead can turn on them if things do not go as the people would like.  How could one expect anything else from people who turn against God in the face of the smallest challenge at times?

Yes, challenges do sometimes bring people together, seeking God’s blessing.  Unfortunately, by the time that happens, they have usually endured much pain and suffering.  This has been true since the beginning, and it has not changed today.  Well, one thing has changed. God no longer sends the plagues or disasters as he did in the past.  Instead, He sent Jesus to give us a way to be righteous since we are unable to live righteously. He sent Jesus to provide us with a way out of this mess we’ve made of His creation, but He is not punishing us.

He is not using this virus or any disaster as a way to bring us together, as some believe.  He just allowed sin and evil to roam. They do everything they can to beat us down and push us away from Him. Sadly, that is ridiculously easy at times.  Which brings me back to signs.

No, the virus is not a sign the end times are nigh. Neither is the number of earthquakes experienced in the United States over the last few years.  Neither were the other virus scares or concerns in years past. Still, they are part of His plan in some way. Perhaps they are a way to show mankind, or should I say humankind, we’re not as powerful as we think.  Maybe they are a way to warn us we need to do a better job of spreading His word and being a light unto the world. Then again, maybe they are just the way things go as a planet slowly ages and settles. 

Whatever the truth, there are things to be learned from this mess in which we find ourselves. As a society, culture, and individual, we are being tested. We are not being tested by a god sitting at the celestial version of a gaming computer, putting us through hoops for its amusement. Instead, God set us in a place and on a course that will test us until the End Times do come. 

How well we do on this test has nothing to do with our government, our false idols such as sports stars, personalities, or expensive toys. What matters here is if we believe, we love, and we do the best we can to do what is right in His eyes. Otherwise, we are no better than those who worship at the altar of power, money, sex, and control. 

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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