Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Bible, concerning Abram and now, Hagar and Ishmael

One of my problems in reading through the Old Testament involves the battles and the wars that took place, almost regularly, and I have to wonder if that is why the "Preachers" of our day seem to be reluctant to oppose war.  Surely they have seen the grave markers of so many of our "the best and the brightest among others" go off to war with their futures ahead of them, only to return in caskets and be absent as we pause to commend them.  How sad.  War is such a wasteful occasion, both sides lose and our futures are even threatened by the thought of a resumption, elsewhere.  So it has been in the years of my life.  As I may have reported earlier, I was in in the Air Force  and on duty in Japan as the Korean War erupted and for reasons beyond our comprehension, it still exists, except for the temporary truce that was established over fifty years ago.

Now, we pause in Genesis, chapter 17 which opens to the saga of Abram and Sarai's illicit contract. The result will be the boy, named Ishmael, the name given to him by an angel sent by God.  Before we get too involved in the relationship between Abram, Sarai and the slave woman, Hagar, we ought not to overlook the fact that God was aware of the circumstance.  God renames Abram, as Abraham, and his wife, Sarai will become Sarah.   Ishmael is not to be circumcised, an essential for all Hebrew children, and God promises that he will become fruitful and He declares that he will multiply him exceedingly.  He will become the father of twelve princes and I - says God will make him a great nation. (v 17:20)  But now we have to wait until the 21st chapter to discover more of the life of Ishmael.

Meanwhile, we come to the situation with Lot and his family as they resided in Sodom and Gomorrah and the controversy that has sprung up in recent years concerning the fate of these cities.  I - for one, am not interested in such debates.  It proves nothing as our Gay brothers and sisters have created a community (without borders) for themselves and some say, flaunt God with their behavior.  I have an opinion, but to debate what actually happened thousands of years ago is an insult to all who are more concerned with living in peace with all persons.

Chapter 21 not only announces the birth of Abraham's heir, the boy, Isaac, but it also reveals what the Bible has to say about his elder brother, the slave woman's son, Ishmael.  "God was with the lad and he grew, and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt."  There is more to be said about Ishmael and the burial of his father, Abraham, and his generations as they are mentioned in Genesis 25:12-18. .

NOTE:  I just made a mistake here as I was looking forward.  Not that it is really important, but I wanted you to know.  Such is life....  I often wonder, how many other assumptions have made it to print in the Bibles we read.  It ought not to discourage us.  It may disturb those who believe that God actually took a pen and we are actually, reading his thoughts.  I can say this, they are His thoughts IF He has personally confirmed it to you.

Moving on from where we were, we will learn that Abraham and Sarah had another son, this one a gift from God and they named him, Isaac.  You will learn that he and his wife, Rebekah, had twin sons, Jacob and Esau, Esau being the first to be delivered and therefore, heir to his father's fortunes, but Jacob - to be hence forth described as the "deceiver", with the help of his mother, stole the inheritance.  What a burden that has placed on many twins born later.  I have never known of a father who would not divide his inheritance among all of his descendants, but then I have never known any such individual.  However, I have been to many church services and have sat through many sermons where the Pastor has often described Jacob as being the "unrighteous" one.  From the looks of the Biblical account, he was but - with the advent of our Lord, Jesus Christ, are we to offer such council? I don't think so and this is my opinion, not expressed in the Bible.

And, a reminder, I am not a theologian.  I read the Bible as it applies to me, directly, and am merely an observer of the other entries.  That should not be interpreted to mean that I won't be made aware of other instances where I should have paid closer attention, but for now, I study my Bible to make certain I have covered most of the passages that do apply.

I earnest beseech - a good Bible word, all of those who read this to make an effort to do likewise.

There is much more to be said about Jacob and that ought to be an encouragement to all of us who have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  There is one passage involving Esau that intrigues me and that is found in Genesis 28:9 and I quote, "...Esau went to Ishmael and married, besides the wives he (already) had, Mahalath, the daughter if Ishmael."  If you are reading, I have to add, here is the "bastard" son, again.  Ishmael - to me, is an extremely important figure for us to consider these days - and I will leave it to you to find the answer to that.

Now, Jacob has a dream and its account makes for an intriguing passage for many of us.  He dreams of a ladder reaching into heaven and there are angels ascending and descending upon it.  In the dream, God stands at the top and speaks to Jacob.  Heavy stuff.  Jacob saw a figure and knew it was God?  Ooops.  Moses knew God personally and yet, only saw His back side.  That raises lots of questions for many of us, but the others get so excited about what God says that they move on without thinking about this.  I am certain there are plenty of theologians and would be theologians who can explain this, but I want to raise the question for my readers so they they understand, it is far more important to study what the Bible says than to repeat what some thought it said.

Jacob moves on and meets Rachael at a well where she is watering her father's sheep.  Jacob is - in a word, smitten at the sight of this beautiful woman and bargains with her father so that she could become his wife.  He is to work seven years for her father and then the father offers another daughter in Rachael's place.  And what does Jacob do, of course, he sleeps with the replacement and then bargains for his first love.  Another seven years!  A word to the wise for parents teaching their teen-agers about the Bible, it would be good to pass by Genesis 29:10-35.

Sleeping around?  Even within a family, this is what those folks might have called, not kosher! Perhaps this account remains in the Bible for reasons far beyond my knowledge, but we read what we see and once read, the thoughts that develop find a hiding place within the mind.  One of the worst examples of life as we know it today is the fact there are so many abortions as a result of sex without an agreement to go beyond sex and live in support of one another - for a lifetime..  While living in Orlando, FL, my wife and I had been prompted by the teaching of our church regarding abortions that we decided to investigate for ourselves and we were led to a black lady living in a part of the city where blacks were the prominent people.  I will never forget walking into her office and - at first, glancing at the wall where we could see pictures of over a hundred babies.  "Yours?" I asked.  "In a sense, yes," she replied, "these are babies whose mothers had decided, it was better to abort them than to bring them into the world in which they grow to maturity."  If they were males, the probability was that they would become unwed fathers.  If females, they would become unwed mothers and thereby, eligible for government support.  We would hear that many of the young women, as a matter of fact, agree to sex for no better reason than a baby would make them eligible.  "Who helps you?" I asked and I would learn that her "primary" support came from Him, pointing to a framed picture of Jesus on a nearby wall.  She was quick to add that she did receive support from local churches and concerned citizens in her community and from others around the city.  "How can we help?" we asked and she reminded us, it was a two-step process.  First, you open your heart to this tragedy and next, open your wallet.  We did what we could, but that was thirty years ago and I would like to suggest, it is still the predominant factor in black communities throughout our nation.  Raise a child that learns hunger from an early age and you have - far too often, someone who will do "anything" to ease the pain.  I have asked many young black men why they did what they did and they are quick to respond, "What would you be doing if you were raised in a ghetto?"   I can't answer that question as I was privileged to be raised on a farm where hunger was never a problem, but sex was.  I was a shy kid and more often embarrassed when I heard sex mentioned, but when it becomes the most intriguing way for youngsters to "entertain" themselves, what can we expect?  It seems to be a problem that will not go away and I have to ask a question, "Why are we talking about sex in a Bible study and remaining as silent as we seem to do when it is not our problem?"  Am I not my brother's "keeper" - to love as we are expected to do as disciples of our Lord?   We have come a long way with regard to race relations. We still have a long way to go - ought to be obvious. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Bible, leaving the Garden and moving on....

From what I have been told over the years, not too many folks "leave" the Garden and explore what follows.   As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, we are left to wonder as the focus will be on those who followed them.   I don't know about you, but I have often wondered, why that is.

Apparently, things did not go on as planned, perhaps, hoped for is a better explanation, but in chapter seven, we are introduced to the flood.   And that brings us to another of those questions, never to be answered.  Perhaps, it is how we interpret the Bible.  Chapter 7, verse 24, tells us the "water prevailed upon the earth".  Most interpret that to mean, it covered the earth.  Now, some want us to believe, it only covered what was known in those days as the earth.  Not a question to be dealt with unless, of course, a person reads the Bible and wants to support claims that this is merely the opinion of man's interpretation.  Why does it matter?

The next "event" in the Bible is the question of what happened at Babel.  Now we are introduced to city builders and those who constructed Babel imagined that they could build a tower that would reach into heaven.   The Bible does not say that the tower was destroyed, but that He scattered the builders and confused their languages throughout the whole earth.  No real answers other than the obvious, that God was disappointed in the His creation and this was His response to their futile efforts.  Have you ever realized that He continues this practice to this very day?  Man's goal - at least from the days of my youth, has been to bring about the peace on earth that was suggested when Jesus was born, but it hasn't happened because the nations cannot agree on a common language.  Now, we are asked to believe the interpretations of some and most of us are not comfortable with that.  So, apparently, we accept the killing of those others, while railing against the efforts of those who would kill us.  All you have to do to understand this is pick up a newspaper, or listen to a radio or watch TV, searching for the word, ISIS.   Or is it, ISIL?  Why not leave  it as they prefer the term, IS - interpreted as Islamic State.  My experience with Muslims dates back to years before the so-called Gulf wars and to two youngsters I was helping to find employment in the Los Angeles area, They let me know that there would be wars between the Arab states as the powers-to-be are not searching for "nation" states, but an Islamic Nation.  And when another voice, this one a potential employer who had returned from a visit to Indonesian in search of oil drilling sites, his "big" news was that the Muslims had all but reached the point where they would truly govern that area.  Now, it is a fact.

And we continue to ignore the lessons that were practically defined for us - centuries ago.

When did such thoughts occur to me?  A Japanese friend (while I was stationed there in the late 40's) introduced me to a "grand" leader of the Samurians who laughed when he thought I had boasted of our victories in World War II and declared that in the "great" war to come, we would be allied, not only with the Japanese, but also the Chinese.  Try to tell that to the average American.  I did not believe him then, but as the years, and now the decades have passed away, and I will also soon pass away, I cannot help but believe I had heard the voice on histories to come.  I pray that this will not be, but I pray more for my grand children that they might embrace history and prepare themselves for what might truly become inevitable.

Reading on, we now come to Abram and you really need to take note of this individual as he will be the most prominent figure in Christian history, prior to the advent of our Lord.  Some will ridicule that statement, but this man will be - very much like you and I, and not end up his life like the people's choice - of David, as their hero.  God asks him to pick up his belongings and his family and follow God's direction to what we now know was their "promised" land.  It would be a long journey with many twists and turns along the way, including one in which he lies about the fact that Sarai is his wife and allows another to take her for no better reason than to save his own life.

At this point, I must confess that I had never even read the Old Testament before the day I finally met our Lord on a personal basis.  It was He who opened my eyes - to life as it was meant to be.  One incident in my life came to me as I read of an encounter in Genesis 12:11.  Abram was fearful of his own life when they met up with Egyptians and told his wife, then known as Sarai, to claim that Abram was her brother do that he might not be killed.  An interesting story. you need to read it.

In an earlier marriage, my wife - the mother of our children, stole some money for reasons beyond my own comprehension.  We were doing well, with the birth of our first son, I could not have been more pleased with our life as it was.  But she took the money and now we had to face the court.  For reasons unknown to me at the time, the court had mercy on her and offered probation rather than prison.  It made me happy to see what happened and I moved on without a word.  Eventually, I would pay a price that was far more than I could handle at the time.  What I failed to do was understand why my wife would steal that money and not care to explain why to me.  In fact, she lied to me and I was just happy that she was not in prison.  Now, I understand, that I was very much like Abram.  I did not lie - nor did he.  He merely asked his wife to lie.  The truth was revealed in Abram's case.  It was never revealed in ours and I let it ride.  Who was the one who failed?  I don't know about Abram, bit I do know about me and the future would eventually reveal my failure.  The truth is - as I came to know it when I asked for forgiveness of our Lord, I learned how powerful, the so-called simple act of asking for forgiveness was in fact.   My sin was far more grievous than I had ever realized. Thank God for His mercy and I have to believe, Abram felt the same way.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Bible - and, Cain and Abel and - you!

And me, of course.  I have often been concerned about these two, the first sons of Adam and Eve as you may recall.

So, we come to Genesis, chapter 4, and we are introduced to Cain, the elder son.   Then, comes Abel. He became a keeper of the flock and Cain, a tiller of the ground.  Abel offers as a sacrifice one of the first born in his keep and Cain, from the fruit of the ground.  God accepts Abel's sacrifice and rejects the offering of Cain.  Cain gets angry and God cautions him, "...sin is crouching at your door".  We know the rest of that story, Cain murders his brother.  In the next chapter in his life, he moves to the land of Nod where he finds his wife, they have children and he builds a city.

End of story?  I really have a problem with this.  The Bible records that Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, to "replace " Abel. 

My resources, well known Bible scholars, make no further mention of the man, Cain, nor his lineage, nor his accomplishments, all of which prompts me to ask about Cain's wife - no mention of her in the Bible.  I have to wonder, where did she come from?  Who were her parents?  The "land of Nod" - I am confused, according to my exhaustive concordance of the Bible, there is only one mention and I have already noted it - the land, the place, the people, where Cain found a wife.

The reason I ask has to do with the fact that I am a Father, two sons, two daughters.  According to the teachers I have listened to over the years, these relationships are important, even the fact I had a wife and she came from a family as I did.  These matters ought to be of great importance to us.  According to the lessons I have learned from others and my own study of the Bible, families are important to God.  Pages have been written with nothing more that the lineage of families

Surely, Cain's wife was as important to God.  She married a murderer.  Did she know?  If she ever found about his past, did she stay with him?  What about their children?  Did they know?

And you ought to wonder why I am raising these questions.  Here is my answer.  I was the first born of my parents.  It was 1929, desperate times, but happy times for my father as he married a much younger woman and they talked about their daughter, which he certainly expected.  He divorced his first wife after they had two sons and I don't know if this had any effect on him as I know very little about him.  I do know he and my mother expected to have a daughter and they already had a name, Shirley - after the movie star, Shirley Temple.  That would have to wait.  She was born three years later and because of the circumstances of the times, I went to live with my mother's parents - except for a school year when I lived with cousins.  In the interim, my father died and that was the last I ever heard of him until after my mother died and I discovered letters he had written to others and pictures of me when I was little more than an infant.

Family should have been important to me.  My grand parents were wonderful and their children would become close friends, but I would leave the only family I would ever really know when I joined the military, shortly after my seventeenth birthday.

Don't get me wrong, I have lived a good life in spite of the anger that used to rise up in me when I saw my friends involvement with their parents.  Although I don't recall the incidents, I have proof of my feelings in a few of the pictures as our family gathered together, but I was nowhere to be found. As others were being asked to "smile", I simply stepped behind the group an no one seemed to notice.

I have spent most of my adult life counselling others, more often about their careers, and one of the most intriguing facts I have discovered is that the futures of most of the others were dictated by the family in which they were raised.  We have reams of literature on future possibilities, but far too many of those in need are haunted by their observations of their families and their limited prospects.

Speaking of the Christianity in which I was raised, we talk a lot about the "family" of God but usually we are talking about church members, unfortunately.  I have been a member of a number of churches as I have traveled around our nation and you might suspect, one of the first observations I have taken away is the limited numbers of "real" families I have noticed.  It has always made me wonder why we spend a lot of time considering lineages and a relatively limited time dealing with family dynamics. I do recall leaving one church as the Pastor continued to make fun of the antics of children in the congregation which, far too often - for me, seemed to ridicule parental efforts.

I trust you may recall the lessons we could have learned from the story of the so-called "prodigal" (a word that is not mentioned in the Bible) son.  He learned a very difficult lesson, one that we might want to believe is true, but it is more often nothing more than our imagination.  I have heard that lesson discussed more often that I care to recall.  It typically is referred to as the joy that is in our Father's heart when a person accepts His free gift of salvation.  That is a nice idea, but - as usual, there is another side of a story that has more reality than a fictional account.  Typically, we wind up blaming the son.

What about the father's sin, the one that destroys far more of us than youthful transgressions?  It is easy for me to see as I am guilty of that father's sin.  There are four children I sired who have had to spend many more hours of grief than I ever imagined when I left their home - for good.  But I was angry, really angry, at their mother for the crimes in which the authorities had uncovered, and I was led to believe, there had to be something very wrong with - me.  I sought counsel but God intervened and opened my eyes to my sin.  Still the fact remained, I could no longer live with her and we settled on a divorce.  Unfortunately, she was not over her antics and committed another crime, even worse than the others and that ended my relationship with my children.  I hurt, I ached more than anything I had ever imagined, but the die was cast.  We have never been able to reconcile our differences.

And the important thing that came out of my experiences was my guilt as being too proud to lay aside my needs and serve the needs of my children.  Many men I have known over the years suffer from the sin of pride, but it is embedded just as it was in the "prodigal's" father.  He allowed his son to come of age without sharing the responsibilities a parent has for the children.  Perhaps, he was too engrossed with making money to ignore the younger son's craving for a better life than he thought possible - with his father.  We don't know, we will never know, but like many parables we discover in the Bible, there is often - more than we suspect, multiple lessons to be learned.

We do need to read the Bible.  Much more importantly, we need to study the Bible.  In my years, I have known only a few teachers, but sadly, the environment in which we all live puts a lot of pressure on creating an earning potential that will satisfy.  So, we pay a price.

The real reason I have written these words is the hope that - having read of my own experiences and the "story" of the "prodigal" son and his father, that maybe someone else might give a second thought about the path they have chosen.  I pray that this will be true.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Let's start reading the Bible....

I don't know if you know anyone who talks with God, but I am one of those who listens as I believe He speaks to me.  So, I respond - a lot.   And it seems that things are happening in my life that would indicate, He is listening.  For example, as I re-read my last entry, I began to wonder why very few take the liberty to respond.  I know I often say things that ought to challenge others and in the absence of a response, I have to wonder, are they listening, do they even care to listen?  That was one of the thoughts I was pondering yesterday.

Today, I have to think, God responded.  I was at a community picnic, eating with friends and a fellow walks up and takes a seat across from me.  We started a conversation without any specific ideas in mind and I started to tell him how I used to challenge job applicants to be encouragers when I was in the recruiting business.  And since he was about to seek a new employment opportunity, I tried to challenge him when he responded, "And what is your challenge?"  Wow!  Could I answer?  I hardly knew the guy, but I began to think, perhaps that was God challenging me, using my new found friend as an intermediary.  The more I think about it, the more I believe it was.

So, here goes.... I just told a friend, my new offering ought to be, "Sherwood reads the Bible" and that is what I mean to do.  Starting with Genesis all the way through to "The grace of the Lord be with all, Amen"  (Revelation 22:21, if you were not aware of that)   And isn't that an interesting comment? Did it challenge you to think about it?  That will be the gist of what follows, day by day, the Bible as I have "seen" it through my eyes and ears and senses for nearly forty years.  Here we go....

Genesis 1:1  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." and you probably have heard what will be added in the following few chapters, at least.  Let's be aware that most people who might be reading this are aware of the garden, our first ancestors and the reason they were exiled.  I want to say something that is very pertinent to our daily lives as I "discovered" in a response from God, but first....

Let's not overlook all that is written in that first verse.  Note, it is not heaven, but heavens, plural, and I know there are those who teach the concept of heavens, but for most of us, heaven is our place of abode after this life.  But heavens, plural?  I had a glimpse of them, I believe, as I was on a troopship bound for Japan, almost seventy years ago and suddenly I was frightened at the thought of living in a nation among the very people our nation had taught me that they were, actually, blood thirsty killers. Because I could not sleep below deck with 2-300 other basic recruits, I got up and went on deck and found a place to sit and think about my future.  I was really scared.  And then, I looked up and from the East to the West, from the North to the South, there was this "blanket" of stars, there had to be millions of them, and I could see a number of the planets, hundreds of shooting stars, comets, etc.and I was amazed and it seemed to me, I heard a voice, "All of these are part of my creation" and that was it. Well, I knew about God, our Creator, I learned all of that in Sunday School, but now, I began to wonder if a day would come and we would know of life on those planets and ask myself, what about all of those stars?  I don't know how long I stayed there and whether I continued to think about all that I had seen, but this I do know, suddenly, I had found peace, there was no reason to be fearful.

And the day would come as I turned to Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" and I realized something I could not grasp while I was sitting there, alone, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."  Oh, I had heard about this as a child, but then, I had no reason to fear.  My mind was filled with other concerns.

"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, He plants His feet along the sands and rides upon the storm."  My grand Dad had taught me that while I was little and it would take me years before I would come to a full understanding of that promise.

Heaven, or heavens?  What do you think?  You have heard what I have said.

Let's go back to Genesis, chapter 3, verse 8, and God has appeared in the garden only to realize the two had hidden from Him - because, Adam said, "...they were naked."  Actually, he did not make reference to the woman and most often, Bible studies lead us into discussions of the man, the woman, the serpent, good and evil, etc., etc,, but I have been more intrigued by God's response.  "Who told you that you were naked?"  (v. 9a)   Who told you that?  That they were naked was obvious and given the fact that most of us who study these chapters are content to deal with the frailties of the two and tend to ignore the four words that form the question - I have to wonder, who told us that?

Why do we seem to be obsessed with sex and servants and not realize, in the days in which we live, this "age of information", we are prone to believe what we hear, regardless of the reliability of the sources.  I listen to Christian programming a lot and an hour hardly passes when I do not hear words and thoughts that do not conform to the truth we discover in our Bibles.  Why do we listen?Thousands, probably tens of thousands, listen to such programs and accept what they hear only because they want to believe what they hear.  That is one aspect.  Turn to the secular media and it gets worse, far worse, as people believe, obviously.  If they did not, the programs would lose their ratings and would be off the air.

Who told you that?  Four simple words that form a question that - in my opinion, ought to be foremost in the minds of every Christian as - if they have studied what is written in the Bible, they would be turning away from the media and turn to the most basic responsibility we all have and that is, to love one another.  That is the foundation stone of our belief system.

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's still in the book, and....

It's very early in the morning - half past One as a matter of fact and I cannot sleep.  I have a strange ailment in my leg that started a couple of days ago.  It was more like an irritation, but it seemed to disappear earlier yesterday.  I bowled last night and it did not bother me, but as soon as I went to bed, it started to give me fits.  I got up, opened my computer, read some e-mails and now, it feels better, Who knows what is going on?  Not I.

But I had a couple of interesting e-mails and I copied one from an Internet friend, Richard Rohr, that started me to think about what I had to say, yesterday.  I copied it.  Let's see if it works:


My Mystery Opens 
Me to God’s Mystery

Friday, October 17, 2014

Only love can know love, only mercy can know mercy, only the endless mystery I am to myself is ready for God’s Infinite Mystery. When I can stand in mystery (not knowing and not needing to know and being dazzled by such freedom), when I don’t need to split, to hate, to dismiss, to compartmentalize what I cannot explain or understand, when I can radically accept that “I am what I am what I am,” then I am beginning to stand in divine freedom (Galatians 5:1). We do not know how to stand there on our own. Someone Else needs to sustain us in such a deep and spacious place. This is what the saints mean by our emptiness, our poverty and our nothingness. They are not being negative or self-effacing, but just utterly honest about their inner experience. God alone can sustain me in knowing and accepting that I am not a saint, not at all perfect, not very loving at all—and in that very recognition I can fall into the perfect love of God. Remember Jesus’ first beatitude: “How happy are the poor in spirit, theirs isthe kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). How amazing is that? I think this might just be the description of salvation and perfect freedom. They are the same, you know.
I used to pray at the tomb of Fr. Karl Rahner (1904-1984) when I was studying one summer in Innsbruck, Austria. He is the German Jesuit who so influenced the Second Vatican Council. Rahner taught me this (in his long German sentences, even worse when translated into English): The infinite mystery that you are to yourself is alone able to accept and love the Infinite Mystery that God will always be. It is finally two mysteries of Life humbly bowing and deferring to one another. He taught me how to be patient and merciful toward both of these infinite mysteries. Thank you, Karl!"
His "not knowing and not needing to know" intrigues me.  There are lots of "stuff" I know nothing about and - to me, it's a blessing.  When people started getting up-tight about Islam and the infamous, Sharia Law, I opened up the books I have on Islam and came away wondering, why are others so concerned about people they really do not know?  Now, they are worried about ISIS.  We have the power to bomb them off the face of the earth and eventually, we may have to use that power.  But why are so many of our friends and neighbors all in a "tizzy" about these people they don't know.
I was seventeen years of age, a new recruit in what was then, the U.S. Army Air Corps and I was on a troopship headed for Japan when I began to recall all of the terrible things I had heard about the Japanese and now, I was going to live as their neighbor.  I will always be indebted to the Army Colonel who told us about our "mission" and how we were to treat the locals, as he made reference to our former enemies, emphasis on the word, former.  I listened carefully and it would be over four years before I would be heading home.  It had been the most wonderful experience I would ever have and that became more apparent when I returned to what had been my home.  No one seemed to care that part of that duty involved a real war with the North Koreans.  So?  So what?  It did not seem to matter to my former family and friends that I had been in harm's way.  I was home, they thought - or I imagined that is what they thought.  They didn't say.
Times have changed, obviously.   Today, we seem to fear the North Koreans.  And the Muslims.  And far too often, I could fear that others fear that their futures are being corrupted by government, which is, in my opinion, the most effective government known to mankind.
Before I left for the Air Force, I vividly recall our President addressing the nation regarding World War II and concluding his speech with these words, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  He was right.
My Bible has taught me that, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear, because fear involves punishment and one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because He first loved us."   (And, to continue the quote from I John 4:18-21)  ..."the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also."
We seem to be losing our way.  Another e-mail received earlier this morning went to great lengths to describe the impasse some of the churches in Houston, TX, are having with their local governing authorities.  We have already been witness to the tragedy that has become, Ferguson, MO.
We want to fear such instances even though we have been instructed to love those in authority - after all, they are our brothers and sisters.
When will we begin to learn?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's still in the book, but...

You will have to excuse me - actually, you do not have any other option, but there are times when "things" happen and you get diverted from your main course.  So it was - apparently, after the 'blog' last month (the 24th if you are keeping track), I seemed to have lost direction.

When you reach my age and find yourself wondering what might be happening - because of events in your life that don't make sense, you get a bit confused, so it was with me.

But this morning, now the 16th of October, I got piled on.... "get moving, Sherwood" appeared to be the message from many different directions.

First, there was an e-mail from an old friend of mine who I first met as a letter "to the editors" writer when I noticed one of his in Nashville's newspaper, The Tennessean.  We have never met, but when either of us had a letter printed, we send an e-mail of congratulations.  Most of us have to write three or more before the editors take notice.  This morning, my friend, Ron, wrote a letter concerning the use of the new electronic cigarettes.  Since he grew up on a farm dedicated to the production of tobacco, he was more than just familiar with the deadly power of nicotine.  He makes an excellent point; electronic cigarettes are still fueled by nicotine.  And since I had made a wrong assumption that he was mainly a church goer, I wrote a response offering my opinion that God was well pleased with his efforts.  Then, he responded with more than a couple of lines, saying "thank you".

He literally blew me away with what we used to call - in churches, his testimony.  Starting with his experience with his father's health experiences, he went on to sharing about his mother's as well and wound up specifically outlining his faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.  

I read it more than once as the first time, tears formed in my eyes as I not only had underestimated his faith, I had more or less ignored my friend's struggles with life itself.  He closed by identifying his religious affiliation and used a slang term to spell out his personal beliefs.  I just sat at my computer and read it over and over again.  Then, I decided to share his "confession" with all of my closest friends, including religious leaders that I know as well.

Part of the reason I have not been writing is because I have grown more and more concerned with the "life" of the church; most importantly, those with whom I have a strong relationship, and some with whom I have no relationship as well.  Regarding the latter, when I first became acquainted with this area, I discovered a so-called Christian radio station here and would learn that it was part of a network located in Kentucky.  What attracted me was their music - for the most part, songs that I grew up with as a youngster.  And the voice of an angel who led that part of their programming.  She welcomed her listeners to call in with their prayer needs and when she prayed for them, as she had promised, it was as if I saw heaven opening up to make certain her prayers were heard.  I was driving up I-40 one day and realized I had a prayer need and called in to the station.  She asked me a couple of questions and after I had hung up, she prayed.  I was about 40 miles East of Nashville at the time, but as I turned off the freeway and headed for the office, I suddenly realized I had an answer to the problem that had troubled me for several days.

That was years ago.  She is still playing beautiful music and praying and I have to believe, God is still responding to her prayers.  That is half of the story.  The other half is what has disturbed me.  Of course, a radio station pays for its obligations by having sponsors and most of them - at this station, claim to be Christian.  I have listened to most of them and what disturbs me is that my Bible refers to acts of love over fifty times and the word "Hell" (or Hades or Sheol) less than twenty.  And having lived for over eighty-five years and been involved in church work for most of those, I have yet to meet a "born again" Christian - one who practices his or her faith constantly, who is not a testament to the love that brought them to the faith.  To be honest, I have also heard of Hell being discussed often, but not as a motivator for the good deeds encouraged by the testaments, but as merely punishment for not doing what others told them they ought to be doing.

What I am attempting to say without naming names, as Christians, love has to be our sole motivator. Hell is merely a word and its sole motivator is fear.

And fear appears to be a main motivation for many of the talk programs - on this station, as it seems to be throughout our nation; fear that others are either doing wrong - as in waging war, or by not doing what most of us want others to do.  One of the targets on the radio station in question is our government; that it is either not doing what it ought to do - in their opinion, or not doing enough for them or those they want to represent.

There is a great motivator in the Bible that I have heard since I was a youth, most preachers know it by heart and most of us ought to recognize it at the very least.  It is found in the book of Proverbs, chapter four and verses, five and six.  It reads as follows:  "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,   In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

I don't know, I have spent most of my life suggesting there is a better way to live than to fear tomorrow.  I didn't always understand that those words were in the Bible, but they had worked for me.  I learned to listen to those with more experience and not follow in the footsteps of a fool.  I didn't even know there was a God - for too many years.  My problem was - me!   If you had asked me to fear something, I would pretend I was Captain Courageous and be on my way.

But ask me to love something and I would ask, who, what, when, where, why and how?

You may deny this, but this I know above everything else I have learned in my lifetime. the greatest need that mankind has ever experienced was made evident by the fact that - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life", the best known passage from the Bible and another fact is, we really do  not live it!   If we dared
to actually love one another, wars would cease and any thoughts of Hell would soon be relegated to its proper place - that is, in Hell.

Do so and fear would vanish as surely as the son rises in the East and sets in the West.