Speaking Gratefully: God is in Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© sinnerswalk.com – 2021

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A Question of Leaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Seeking . . . an excuse; revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Seeking … an excuse

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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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

Posted in Faith, Politics, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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