Tuesday, March 31, 2015

More Grace - introducing Philip Yancey

I first met Philip Yancey in a Leper colony in Louisiana.  No, I wasn't there, but he had been there with a doctor friend and the story that came out of his experiences brought me to my senses as a Christian.  It was then, I stopped "playing" church as I began to finally contemplate my role in this greatest of all adventures in life.  It was time to stop reading about Jesus and stop studying about Him through the wisdom displayed in the countless numbers of books, explaining theology. I remembered that old phase from a Commercial class in high school, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."  I had done that.  I was there, involved in the Korean War as a teenager.  It was a great place to lay aside childish notions and become the man God had in mind when He blessed the womb of my Mother.  Now, it was time to act as a man.  That story will enfold as we move along, but now I want you to attend a play through the words of our host, Philip Yancey as expressed in one of his many books; this one, "What's So Amazing about Grace?"

"I had attended Amadeus (Latin for 'beloved of God') a play that shows a composer in the seventeenth century seeking to understand the mind of God.  The devout Amadeus Salieri had an earnest desire, but not the aptitude to create immoral music of praise.  It infuriates him that God has instead lavished the greatest gift of musical genius ever known on an impish preadolescent named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

While watching the performance, I realized I was seeing the flip side of a problem that had long troubled me  The play was posing the same question as the book of Job, only inverted.  The author of Job ponders why God would punish the most righteous man on the face of the earth; the author of Amadeus ponders why God would "reward" an undeserving brat. The problem of pain meets its match in the scandal of Grace.  A line from the play expresses the scandal, "What use, after all, is man if does not to teach God His lessons?" 

Why would God choose Jacob the deceiver over dutiful Esau?  Why confer supernatural powers of strength on a Mozartian delinquent named Sampson?  Why groom a runty shepherd boy, David, to be Israel's king?  And why bestow a sublime gift of wisdom on Soloman, the fruit of that king's adulterous liaison?  Indeed, in each of these Old Testament stories the scandal of Grace rumbles under the surface until finally, in Jesus parables, it burst forth in a dramatic upheaval to reshape the moral landscape.

Jesus parable of the workers and their greedy unfair paychecks confronts the scandal head-on.  In a contemporary Jewish version of the story, the workers hired late in the afternoon work so hard that the employer impressed, decides to award them a full day's wages.  Not so, in Jesus' version, which notes that the last crop of workers had been idly standing around in the marketplace, something only
lazy shiftless workers would do in harvest season.  Moreover, those laggards do nothing to distinguish themselves, and the other workers are shocked by the pay they receive.  What employer in his right mind would pay the same amount for one hour's work as for the twelve? 

Jesus' story makes no economic sense, and that was His intent.  He was giving a parable about Gracc, which cannot be calculated like a day's wages.  Grace is not about finishing first or last, it is about counting.  We receive Grace as a gift from God, not as something we toil to earn, a point that Jesus made clearly through the employer's response:  "Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don't I have the right to do as I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?"

Are you, Salieri, envious because I am so generous to Mozart?  Are you, Saul, envious because I am so generous to David?  Are you Pharisees envious because I open the gate to the Gentiles so late in the game?  That I honor the prayer of the tax collector above a Pharisee's, that I accept a thief's last-minute confession ad welcome him to Paradise?....

Yancey concludes this portion of his thoughts on Grace, by quoting Frederick Buechner:  "People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in the field that is more than enough to purchase the State of Texass.  They are prepared for a God who makes hard bargains, but not for a God that gives as much as an hour's work as for a day's.  They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger tha the eye of a newt, but not for the great bayan tree it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart.  They are prepared for a potluck dinner at First Presbyterian, but not for the supper of the Lamb."

That is like telling a it is.  I have attended so many church services that I long ago stopped counting as I have more often been blessed by what I have saeen and heard, more often than not.  I love it when we gather together so that we might realize that we are not alone.  But the greatest gift of all is to see the love that is being shared with the greatest as well as the least among us, no one counting and surely there is no one assessing the value of the others.  It is then I get a glimpse of what the heavens will appear to be i the future than lies just beyond the setting of that last sunset

Monday, March 30, 2015

More Grace - introducing MIchael Scott Horton

I really had never heard of Michael Scott Horton until I was breezing around a book store one day and came upon his book, "Putting Amazing Back into Grace."  I read the forward by an old friend, Dr. J. I Packer and that was enough for me.  When I got home I looked more closely at the cover and saw the sub-title that read - An Introduction to Reformed Theology and having read a lot of R. C. Sprouls on Reformed Theology, I laid this book on my shelve and never looked at again until I started to prepare for my blogs on the subject of Grace.  He makes good sense in his opening remarks on Grace.

"Medieval believers were constantly reminded of how much their relationship with God depended on them.  The  'super' saints realized it was impossible to live without sin in their lives, so they joined the monasteries.  Luther was one such monk, but he soon understood the point that Christ made to the Pharisees about sin as being inherent to each one of us as fallen sinners.  Jesus told them, paraphrased, "It is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what is already in there." Sin is not out there, in the world, but in here, in me.  It corrupts me regardless of my surroundings. Luther reasoned from the scriptures that God was no softy.  His is just and holy, incapable of overlooking our sins..  So the German monk spent hours in confession, hoping that God would notice him for his many tears.  His fear was, of course, that if he failed to confess, or failed to remember in order to confess, one single sin, that would be enough to condemn him.

Luther Knew his will was in bondage to sin, so how could he ever break the cycle of fear and be free?

Inspirational sermons aimed at motivating hearers to simply use the free will God that gave them, fell short of comforting them.  Luther knew there had to be either another answer, or no answer.

While he was teaching the Psalms, Galatians  and Romans, the gospel began to leap off the pages. As he was reading about God's righteousness, Luther was struck by what felt like a bolt of lightning. All of his life he had hated the righteousness of God, though he appeared outwardly pious.  It was that righteousness, after all, which hung above him like a sword of Damocles ad reminded him day after day that he was a sinner and must be judged.  Now he understood for the first time the righteousness which not only God is, but gives.  "For in the gospel", wrote St. Paul, "a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just a it was written, "The righteous shall live by faith."  (Romans 1:17)   God not only judges us by His righteousness, but with His righteousness imputed to our account.  The doctrine of justification  by Grace alone through faith was recovered and published in its New Testament brilliance.

I have added that as a reminder that those of us who have lived out our lives in the pews and not in the hallowed halls of theological magnificence are often mislead by the sanctimonious appeals that we are to do this and do that without ever questioning the words that appear before us as facts.  Early in my life as I became infatuated with the church as the answer to the pleadings of my heart to first go this way and then that way, merely to ease the pain that had existed from my earliest childhood.  My Father was dead, my Mother was struggling to make her way through the days and years of the Great Depression and I wound in a safe haven, my grandparents home who were faithful in their attendance at church.  But even after they had convinced us that "Jesus loves me" I still hurt.  Somehow, however, I was enabled to live with that pain until the glorious day when I learned that even though I was a accomplished sinner, all that was required was for me to repent and start walking as I had been created to walk, righteously - as a gift from my heavenly Father and experience the joy of living real life as a son, grace fully, and not as that pathetic rebel whose motivation had become the driving force in my life.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

More Grace - Welcome R. C. Sproul

I was all set to open another book on Grace when I went to the mail box yesterday and there was another package from dear, dear friends in Orlando, FL.  They subscribe to R. C. Sproul's monthly magazine, TableTalk, one that I used to enjoy when I lived there.  I have known of him for years, the first time when I applied for admission to his Seminary in Ligonier, PA, only to learn that they did not allow students who had been divorced.  Then, he moved his study to Orlando and I was working part-time as a night time janitor and cleaning their toilets and emptying their waste baskets. I got to read some of the mail he discarded and became impressed with a number of personal thoughts out of curiosity.  That was when I started subscribing to TableTalk

Enough of that.  When I opened my package, and the the first magazine, I came across the following, article so here it is in its entirety:
                                                                 WHAT IS GRACE?

"A number of decades ago at Ligonier Valley Study Center, we sent out a Thanksgiving card with this simple statement; The essence of theology is Grace, the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.  In all the debates about our role  vs. God's rule in sanctification - our growth in holiness. we would stay on the right track IF we would remember this Grace-gratitude dynamic.  The more we understand how kind God ha been to us, the more we are inclined to love Him ad serve Him.

Yet we cannot get the Grace-gratitude dynamic right if we are not clear as to what Grace means. What is Grace?  The catechisms many of us learned as children give us the answer:  Grace is the unmerited favor of God.  The first thing we understand about Grace is that what it is not - it is not what we merit.  In fact, if that is all we ever understand about Grace, I am sure that God will rejoice that we know that His Grace is unmerited.  So her3 is our working definition of Grace - it is unmerit,

Paul's epistle to the Romans sheds light on what we mean when we say that Grace is unmerit.  In verses 1:18 to 3:20, the Apostle explains that on the final day, for the first time in our lives, we will be judged in total perfection, in total fairness, in absolute righteousness.  Thus, every mouth will be stopped when we stand before the tribunal of God.  This should provoke fear in the hearts of fallen people, as condemnation is the only possible sentence for sinful men and women:  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"  (Romans 3:23)

But those who trust in Christ Jesus have hope, for we are in Him by faith, we have been "justified freely by His Grace." on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone.  Note that justification, is accomplished not by obligation, but freely through Grace on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone. There is no room for boasting for we are justified not by our works but by Grace alone through faith alone.  Paul goes on to cite Abraham as the preeminent example of one who has been justified by faith alone and therefore free from God's sentence of condemnation.  If the basis for Abraham's salvation, his justification, was something that Abraham did - some good deed, some meritorious service that he performed, some obligation that he performed - if it were on the basis of works, Paul says, he would have something about which to boast.  But Abraham had no such merit. All he has was faith and that faith was a gift.  "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.  (4:3, Ephesians 2:8-10) 

Romans 4:4 is a key passage here:  "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted a a gift, but as his due.  And to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin". 

That is Grace.  Paul could not say it any other way.  To him who works, it is debt; if your merit is something, it means that someone is obligated to pay you.  If I hire you as an employee and promise to pay you one hundred dollars if you work eight hours, I must pay you for working those eight hours.  I am not doing you a favor nor giving you grace.  You earned your pay.  You have fulfilled the contract and I am morally obligated to to give you your wages.

With respect to the Lord , we are the debtors who cannot pay.  That is why the Bible speaks of redemption in economic language - we are bought with a price. (I Corinthians 2:20)  Only someone else, Christ, has paid our debt.  That is Grace.  It is not our good works that that secure our rescue but only the work of Christ.  It is His merit, not ours.  If we merit anything, He grants us merit by His Grace. and we receive it only by faith.  The essence of Grace is His free bestowal.  As soon as it is a requirement, it is no longer Grace.

Grace should never cease to amaze us.  God has an absolute, pure, Holy standard of justice.  That is why we cling with all of our might to the merits of Jesus Christ.  He alone has the merit to satisfy the demands of God's justice, and He gives it freely to us.  We haven't merited it.  There is nothing in us that elicits the Lord's favor that leads to our justification.  It's pure Grace.

And the more we understand what God has done for us as sinners, the more willing we are to do whatever He requires.

The great teachers of the church say the first point of genuine sanctification is a increasing awareness of our sinfulness  With that comes, at the same time, a increasing awareness of God;s Grace.  And with that again, increasing love and an increasing willingness to obey Him.

When we truly understand Grace - when we see that God only owes us wrath, but has provided Christ's merit to cover our demerit - then, everything changes.  The Christian motivation for ethics is not merely to obey some abstract law or a list of rules, rather, our response is provoked by gratitude - Jesus understood that when He said, "If you love me, keep My commandments".  If I may have the liberty to paraphrase "..keep My commandments, not because you want to be just, but because you love Me."  A true understanding of Grace - of God's unmerited favor, always provokes a life of gratitude and obedience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

More Grace - welcome Bob George

A long time good friend of mine, Bob George founded Discipleship Counseling Services many years ago and my wife and I and other friends were delighted to attend a Seminar he was conducting in Dallas, TX.  He had written his first book on Grace, Classic Christianity, and it had opened my eyes to a Gospel message that my many years in church had never seemed to consider.  Now I have five of his books in my library and I love to share his insights whenever there are listeners.

Today, I chose what I believe to be his second book, Growing in Grace, to convey a small portion of his thoughts on what I happen to believe is the most important phase of Christianity.  He opens eyes with this provocative question:

"In spite of a sincere and genuine faith in Jesus Christ, have you ever found yourself acting in a stupid manner, as if you had never heard of the gospel?  If we are totally honest, we would all admit to such times.  All of us can forget who we are - especially, whose we are, and what we believe in during unexpected moments.  We have all heard the voices, either real or imagined: "I thought you were a Christian?" comes the sneer.  "I thought I was too," we respond in disgust, "How could I do such a thing?"

"Let's be a little more pointed.  Besides the "unexpected" moments, we all know that Christians can choose to live in a determined and long-term manner that is contrary to what the word of God says. In fact, we all have areas in our lives where we face ongoing struggles with temptation and failure. We sometimes wonder if we will ever begin to make progress in this Christian like.  Every believer I have ever known - with the possible exception of those who are new to the faith, has experienced what the Apostle Paul described, "I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate to do, I do... for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing."  (Romans 7:15, 18, 19)

'This same conflict has been experienced by Christians of all ages, from every denomination, and from every geographical region.  They have been put on guilt trips and brow-beaten to give it everything they can, but in spite of their most sincere efforts, it just is not enough.  Simply put, what we really need is - life.  And that is exactly what Jesus came to offer.  "I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly."  (John 10:10)

After years of walking with our Lord, I can easily endorse everything that Bob has said in those words.  We sin, we come to Christ sincerely hoping that our confession will be sufficient and then we walk back into the world from which we may have been struggling for years.  That was certainly true in my life as I had been living in a lie.  Be good, I was encouraged.  Yet, I tried that again and again and failed, again and again, as there was no goodness in those older and aging bones.  In truth, however, I heard a voice reminding me of what I trying to forget and I dared to listen. Then, as I actually listened, it seemed, something new was beginning to encourage me.  I had no idea of what it was, I just decided to get up and walk, believing I was no longer alone. 

That was nearly forty years ago, now.  Today, those doubts have been erased and a new.song has taken over my life.  "He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today, He walks with me and He talks with me, along life's narrow way.  He lives, He lives, salvation to impart, you ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart."  

Still, in my case, there seemed to be another voice within, "But I can't, I just can not."  "Of course, you can not. you are trying to live life your way".  Frank Sinatra had made these words, "I did it my way" popular and my way seemed to be, a road leading straight to Hell.  I remember what Jesus said,  "I have come that they - you, might lave life,..." and that has been His answer for all of us, for centuries.  

I had been led to believe, you don't have to do anything. merely believe and watch.  Your life will change. All you have to do is recognize the fact that you no longer believe those voices that had led you to where you were before you heard His voice.. That is partially true.

Your recognition of His life within becomes apparent when you no longer have to regard the voices designed to discourage you and reject those that would you lead you back to our own version of the "dark" ages. Your only real need is to open your eyes to reality and embrace it.  That is what this life is all about, really!

It is called Grace, the price He paid for the joy that can fill your heart to overflowing.

Friday, March 27, 2015

More Grace - out of the hearts of old friends

OK, so I make mistakes in spelling.  I work overtime to see there are none, at least not very many, in the body of my posts, but in the title???  Shame on me!

OK, let's go back to my old friend, Major W. Ian Thomas and his book, The Saving Life of Christ.

"God in righteousness has no options but to find you (us!) guilty as a sinner - by nature dead in trespasses and sins,  and pass upon you (again, us!), the sentence of death, the forfeiture of His Holy Spirit and alienation from the life of God.  But more than two thousand years ago, God in Christ stepped out of eternity into time, and there extended to us, the nail pierced hands of the One who suffered. "the just for the unjust" to bring you back to God (I Peter 3:18a)  He bore ours sins on His body on the tree.  (I Peter 2:24a)"

Some of you know that I spent a little over two and a half years, moving about in our Southeastern states in response to a question I prayerfully asked of God, "What would you have me do, now?"  I had finished the work I had been doing, had paid off debts that were long overdue and I really did want to serve Him, full time.  His response, "Go, be with my people."  The only real people I could think of were the many we employed in Los Angeles in the Labor pools.  Men so broken and down and out that they would work for us, daily, at minimum wage, so that they would have $10 to spend at the end of their day.  Some found a bed at the Union Mission down the street and paid for a breakfast the following morning.  Most of the others bought two bottles of cheap wine and slept in the alleys.  And most were - in my opinion, "good" men, so loyal to me and the company I represented that they would do almost anything, we asked them to do.   They were, again in my opinion, the actual "dead men walking."  But alas, all I knew about helping them was somehow lost in Sunday morning sermons I heard at the big Methodist church my family attended, regularly.

Nowadays I read and understand that verse from I Peter 2:24.  "He Himself bore our sins on His body on a tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness for by His wounds we were healed."  Die to sin and LIVE to righteousness, what a amazing promise!  We have a form of shorthand to describe the process, we call it - Grace, and there are those who still call it 'cheap' Grace.

Thomas goes on, "This is what makes the gospel at once so urgent  Mental assent is not enough, a moral choice is imperative - absolutely necessary.  Christ is God's last word to you and I and He demands an answer."

One of my stops in my journey that I mentioned earlier involved a Pastor who gave me a ride along the way and we got into a long talk about religion.. We stopped at his house and his wife invited me to stay and have lunch with them.  As an aside, I met lots of people like them along the way.  She mentioned they were going to have a "revival" and invited me to stay.  Her husband said he had some jobs I could do and stay with them in the meantime.  So I did.  Then, we learned the Evangelist had taken sick and could not be there, so the three of us prayed and asked God for guidance.  The Pastor announced we would go ahead without him and insisted I join him as the services began.  I think a lot of folks were curious about the "stranger" and so I was invited to give my testimony.  I did and tried to end it with those verses from I Peter.  Most of the church was very gracious after hearing my thoughts, except for one old man who immediately cornered me and demanded my interpretation of those verses.  In short, he believed, "once saved, always saved" and insisted that I agree.  I just said I did not see it that way and before we got to blows, the Pastor intervened.  To make a much longer story shorter, the Pastor invited him and his wife for lunch the next day and that turned into a debate that lasted all afternoon.  We settled our difference when he agreed with us.

I stepped in to talk about that as - since I moved here to Tennessee I have met lots of folks that insist he was right, but I have learned that one confrontation was enough.  I bowed out, grace fully. Besides I would eventually learn more about what Major Thomas and the Bible had to say,''

."..for if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled we shall be saved - in Thomas' words as a continuing process, by His life."  (Romans 5:10)

I know, I have often heard that Thomas' expression is not in the Bible, per se,   But does the thought that one can go to the altar one night, and be "saved", and head for a bar the next night, get drunk and continue on as a carnally minded person. make sense in the light of God's gracious gift to all who love Him, while ignoring his admonitions about living a life worthy of His call?  I don't think so

Thomas concludes this session with these thoughts.  "It is a divine genius that saves a person from the futility of self-effort.  It relieves the Christian of the burden of trying to pull himself/herself up by their own bootstraps.  If it were not for this divine provision, the call to Christ would be a source of utter frustration, presenting a sorry spectacle of a sincere idealist, constantly thwarted by his or her own inadequacy."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Grace - out of the hearts of my frieds

First on the list of my highly regard friends has to be Major W. Ian Thomas as he became the guiding light I needed to really explore the scriptures.  I met him once, at the First Baptist church in Orlando and we chatted together for a few minutes.  I was intent on letting him know how he had set my life on a much higher plane than I had bee travelling up until then.

Then, as I paused in the steps of the church in leaving, I noticed another man standing a few feet away and I walked over to greet him, commenting on Major Thomas'.  "Yeah, he replied, " I have heard him before.  My wife likes him."  As I walked to the parking lot, I met the fellow parked next to me and asked, "How did you like Major Thomas?"  "He's OK, but have you ever heard of James Robinson?"  James Robinson!  I had remembered James from Dallas, TX, who was on a campaign to humiliate homosexuals, in my opinion.  I had attended one of his meetings and I was astounded as to how he seemed attracted to a few verses in the Bible that I had always thought to be commentaries on the lives of people living in those times.  I knew many homosexuals and prayed for them as I would pray for others, but his words were enough to make me avoid him for years.  And comparing his message to those offered by my friend, Major Thomas, it was more than I wanted to consider.

With those thoughts in mind, I now open the pages of The Saving Life of Christ and am met with his thoughts.  "There is something which makes Christianity more than a religion, more than a ethic, and more than a idle dream of the sentimental idealist.  It is this something that makes it relevant to each one of us - right now, as a contemporary experience.   It is the fact that Christ Himself is the very content of the Christian faith.  It is He who makes it "tick".

"Faith is He who that calleth you, who will also do it."  (I Thessalonians 5:24)  The One who calls you is the One who does that to which He calls you,  "For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure."  (Philippians 2:13)   He is Himself the very dynamic of all of His demands.

Now wait, don't race on to read what else he might claim.  Those are not just idle words.  They are action words. and having done all that was needed for His readers to realize it, this is our calling.  You have a choice - to respond now.  Notice, He is not calling us to action in this hour.  He is calling - all of us to respond to His reality.  I know.  When I first actually read the words of His call, I kept on going along the path I had been following for nearly forty-five years, but it seemed as though I had missed a sign post along the way. I had.  Didn't the scriptures remind me, "...if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

Continuing on with Major Thomas's thoughts, he says, Christ did not die simply that you might be saved from a bad conscience or even to remove the stain of past failures, but to clear the decks for divine action.  You have been told that Christ died to save you.  That is gloriously true in a very limited sense.  In Romans 5:10, we read, "If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." 

Now, please, listen carefully to the thought that has it changed my entire perspective on the Christian life.  The Lord Jesus therefore ministers to you in two distinct ways - He reconciles you to God by His death, and saves you by His life.

I have met literally hundreds of people insisting they are Christian, but their reasoning is that they were "saved" at such and such church, on such and such day and they prove this by insisting they still go to church. When I remind them that I too have been "saved" by that very same process a number of times, but nothing really happened until the day I heard the Lord speak to me through the scriptures, Acts 1:8, that taught me, ".. you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be my witnesses, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth."  I like to say that since I knew I probably would never be in Jerusalem, nor Judea, not even Samaria, I would concentrate my "ministry" in the remotest parts of the earth.  So far, I have spent most of my time in Florida and Tennessee.  Some tell me, that should qualify me.

As we travel this road together, I have much more of Major Thomas's thoughts to share with you, but as we move along, I will continue to share with you how his thoughts have enhanced my life and in the process, proves to me that - contrary to so many reports, the church of Jesus Christ is more relevant today than it ever has been.

As they used to say, "Cya later, alligator."  Maybe they still do.  This is do know without a doubt, The Saving Life of Christ has set there idle on too may bookshelves for too long.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More talk about Grace

I had never paid much attention to thoughts about Grace until I had decided to stay in Orlando, was married and we were living in the cutest little cottage, behind the home of two ladies, sisters, who were as close to being "polar" opposites as any two people I had ever known.  Someday I may tell you about them as their life stories were fascinating.

But today, I need to talk about two really "real" ladies before they came to be, two of my "most favorite"  people.  Well, one was not quite the "lady" in those days.   She was what we used to call - a teeny bopper" and she raced in and out of our cottage like someone who was possessed.  I guess it was because she really did not want to exercise patience as her mother described her experiences at a retreat she had attended in Dallas, TX.  We tried to ignore the "whirling dervish" as her mother was so intent on encouraging us to attend another of those Seminars.

Eventually, we did, in the company of another guy who would become the "best friend forever" I have ever known.  The Seminar was led by Bob George and the subject was - Grace.  For three days we lived and breathed - Grace.  It was fascinating to me and as I returned to Orlando, I opened my Bible to all of the scriptures with the word, Grace, and copied everyone onto a legal pad.  I studied them as if my life depended on them and I still had those papers, years later, after moving away from 

But during those days, we were introduced to another fellow by the name of MaJor W. Ian Thomas who has become my personal, greatest purveyor of the gospel I have ever known.  If you were to ask me what I have learned about Grace, I would refer you Zondervan's, Clarion Classic Series and Thomas' two greatest books on the subject of Grace, The Saving Life of Christ and The Mystery of Godliness.  If I had my "druthers" I would have you stop, now, call your book store and order your own copies.

I had every intention of becoming an "ambassador" for Grace as peering into the scriptures, I discovered in absorbing all that those two volumes had to say, I was a man on fire.  Then, I moved to Tennessee and learned that far too many of my new friends and neighbors were far more intent o rescuing their friends from the horrors of Hell than seriously considering the "abundant" life that Jesus offered to virtually everyone of the scripture passages in which He was directly involved.

So, I chose to continue along the pathways of life He had opened to me and it will soon be forty years since that eventful day when He chose to take over my life.   My only confession is that "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly,"  (Galatians 2:20-21)

There will be more, much more as I trust that in reading this that you will join in with the legions of angelic beings who long to see, what Jesus came to provide - as a gift.  Every time I pick up my copy of the Constitution, I am drawn to the spiritual references and I realize more than most, it seems, we have divided the word of God into various sects, each claiming to be a bit better than the others.  That would be OK - considering the hundreds of tribes that existed in Jesus' day.  The problem is, there is one God. one Savior of mankind, one Holy Spirit to guide us along the pathways leading to salvation and we tend to waste away our hours debating with one another.  How sad it is to see when one has found rest - not in our divided opinions, but in the life of the One who came to seek and save the lost.

Stay tuned - your responses will be appreciated

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Change of pace - let's talk about Grace

Of course, it is capitalized.  It changed my life.  It continues to change my life.  You don't need to capitalize the word love, but you should.  Maybe, for the same reason we bandy those two words about as it they were as common as dirt, but you can find dirt everywhere you go and never realize that grace and love were meant to be that common.

Can you possibly see this world that we live in being changed by these two words?  Do you realize all of the activities that would have to go out of business if only, we were to be infected with love and empowered by grace?   Oh my, I am getting closer and closer to that life, but I don't want to see this life of mine pass by without more evidence of infectious love and empowering grace.

They have been around for over 2,000 years now and writers more clever than I and poets more creative have attempted what I am trying to do.  Listen up.  Observe these twins.

Love came first as it was present in the beginning.  Grace followed as our loving eternal Father knew what we did not seem to know, love was more than just a word.  It was a eternal calling.  It is as vital as the air we breathe.  But it was missing on that day when they dragged that beaten and bruised very Son of God up a hill called Calvary in a futile attempt to erase love from our vocabulary.

Little did they know that the God they professed to know, had known of their treachery from the moment that the serpent persuaded the woman to inspire against her Maker.

I can almost hear His thoughts as He pondered the challenge offered by the enemies of God.  "So", He thought, "they want to erase love from their vocabulary.  I will provide them with a even greater challenge.  Let them deal with grace, My redemption at His expense."

It may have threatened His opponents when they realized the tomb had been opened and it no longer provided evidence of their power.  They had yet to realize that a greater power had been released.

We mention it in sermons, we use the word as a blessing before our meals, seldom understanding that this word, grace, changed eternity from the day it was made evident.

You sin, I sin, we all sin.  As such we are doomed.  Doomed to what?  Don't bother to ask as our Father wants us to fully grasp all that the word, grace, was meant to convey. It is power, personified.

I have it on good authority that it involved the life of a man whose friendship I cherish.  Born into this word as a black man, to an unstable family, raised on the streets of Memphis, left to find his own way through life.  He chose the wrong way.  He killed a man, a white man.  His sentence was easy to accept for most of the rest of humanity.  Death.  And so it was.  Then along comes a preacher man and a belief that God knew more than the prison authorities.  My friend accepted God's redemption at Christ's expense.  They gave him a Bible to read, only he did not know how to read.  He learned how. Along came a white man with a history of sin, worse than anything that could happen to black men, eve when raised on the streets of Memphis.  They had two things in common, grace.  It bound them together as if they were born of the same womb.  The day is fast approaching when the two will meet on this side of the prison walls, embrace, and move on to the different worlds in which we were raised.  I will stay here writing, he will mount the pulpit in a brother's church and remind his brethren, God is still in the "grace" business, providing life where there is no life, real life known to all who have grasped, grace.

Please do't tell me that grace is too easy.  First, it cost the mortal life of God's Son.   It cost me almost forty years in the mistaken belief that after reading the Bible a few times, I knew all I needed to know.  And my friend, he went to prison as a young man and will leave it as a old man.

We both know that we know, while love opens the door, it is grace that sustains our lives.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

10 Behaviors of Genuine People, continued

OK, let's see where we ended up yesterday.  I know where I did - in a fog, as suddenly my computer started to rebel.  Fortunately, I have this very good friend who helps me though such problems.  

Anyway, here is a recap - the first five on Steve Tobak's list of - behaviors of genuine people:

1.  They don't seek attention.

2.  They are not concerned with being liked.

3.  They can tell when others are full of it.

4.  They are comfortable in their own skin.

5.  They do what they say and say what they mean.

For the record, I used to ignore all of those qualities.  My thought then was, well,  no one helped me to get started  along the way.  I was wrong.  My grandparents were God sends, but I either did not know that or, I was unwilling to admit how truly blessed I had been.  Enough of that, let's move on.

"They don't need a lot of stuff."  Well, I was raised in the thirties and early forties.  Stuff was not something we coveted.  A used bicycle was good enough.  Being the oldest child, at least I did not have to learn about wearing clothes that others had grown out of, such as were worn by my grade school play mates.  My best friend had two older brothers and his first new clothes were provided by his bride's parents.

"They are not thin-skinned."  I was extremely proud of my service in uniform and had yet to learn that there are other people who could care less for the military.  I recall the parades and the parties that were held for the veterans of WWII, but there was no attention paid to those of us returning from the Korean War.  And so, whenever anyone bragged on how brave the veterans in WWII had been, I ached and when no one noticed,... well, that is better left unsaid.   

"They are not overly modest or boastful."  After I graduated from college and for years afterwards, this was certainly not among my qualities.  "Speak up..." was my general response when I would hear others being put down by people who had never earned the right to criticize.  I thought I had learned to tamper such thoughts as the veterans of Vietnam began to appear among us, but as I felt impressed with an opportunity to brag about my so-called accomplishments, I just simply opened my mouth ad let the tirades rage on.

"They are consistent."  I will never forget when a man I would soon be calling my best fried offered this advice as we were planning on working together on a project.  "Have you ever realized how very inconsistent you are?  You tend to jump from this to that subject without ever pausing to let others offer comments on what you started to say,"  It was a good thing - for me, that he had chosen to be my friend before he realized the flaw in my character.  The best thing I did was realize how accurate his assessment of me had been.  We were just about to complete the project on which we had been working and he was killed in a auto accident.  At his funeral, I was in tears as I embraced his wife and daughters and she whispered in my ear, "He really loved you, Sherwood, let that become his greatest gift to you."

'"They practice what they preach."  That struck home.  For too many years, I came away from Sunday sermons with the impression, the speaker was really helpful as a guide for my life,  I would attend the next week and hear him speak and he would be talking  about some other subject.  I was confused.  I was looking for him to become a mentor, but that would never be the case.  I became confused about preachers and their role in our lives and to me, I was expecting to realize a return on the investments I was thought I had been making in the church.  

And then my whole life collapsed. Quite obviously, I was expecting the experiences in my life to begin pay dividends as well and I was about to learn, I was not just bankrupt according to the monies I had accrued, I was bankrupt in ever other aspect of my life.  I wound up in a faraway city with $10 in my pocket, not knowing personally, another soul, nor even one in the whole State, I had no job prospects, but something had happened on that bus that was far more important than even my next breath

I was on a bus and I had my Bible and as we rode along so I used that opportunity to read it, possibly thinking of studying it - for a change,   Not knowing where to start, I decided to start where Jesus started - in the red letter pages,  Matthew 4:17.  Jesus speaking, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at had."  I wondered what that meant as I really did not know, so I turned my eyes heavenward and "asked" God, "What does that mean?"  My advice, don't ever try that, unless you are as desperate as I was to learn the truth.  God responded.  He did!  You don't have to believe me as you were not there, but His answers pierced my soul and for a moment I was frightened.  But I have to believe, He knew that I knew and in those moments I was washed, clean.  You don't have to believe that either, but for the past forty years I have "walked" in that faith, that assurance, and He has never - as in not ever, failed me.

Repent - for me, it means taking a 180 degree turn along the path you are travelling.  You don't veer off, you turn completely around, putting to rest, the problems of the past.  You start with a clean slate and when you make a mistake, you repent anew and keep moving on, alone, except for the One in whom you have placed your faith.  That He is faithful is a understatement.  I could tell you of incidents that have happened, over and over again in the almost forty years we have walked together, but I have already challenged you, if you need a challenge,

When I first read Tobak's article, I looked closely at each of the ten items and I came away pleased at the changes that have taken place in my life.  I will not claim that I am genuine in each of the issues he raised, but I can tell you this, He - that is my Lord, Jesus Christ, is and always has been genuine in dealing with my life.  Obviously, I encourage you to allow Him permission to examine yours.

Friday, March 20, 2015

10 Behaviors of Genuine People

I spent a lot of my yesterday wondering what to say today and unfortunately, just realized I should have spent some time observing the giant goof I made in not taking a second look at my previous title.  See, I can spell International, I already have, twice today.  So let's see what I learned yesterday.
I get inputs into my life - and a lot of pure junk, from my faithful computer.  I have gone out of my way to make friends with people who obviously, love to write as I do and they are a daily blessing to me, but this morning I got more than I was prepared to receive. Typical of my life these days.  So after reading the article (Note the title above) that was forwarded by the good folks at Entrepreneur magazine, I decided this was a good place to start,  Steve Tobak was the contributor and I have no idea of who he is, but I am indebted to him for his thoughts on - "10 Behaviors of Genuine People."  I could spend days writing about just these three words - behavior, genuine and people.
Most of you who know me best probably believe that I have spend most of my latter days trying to be genuine, after years of being far less than.  But what was is no longer.  What has been is in the past.
I have often referred to my past by starting with to the fact I was not born into a genuine family.  I was blessed, however, to have been sent to live with the most genuine folks (my grandparents) I have ever know in all of my many years, but that did not ease the pain of a reality that they did not seem to understand.  Their thoughts seemed to be, I was a child to be loved and they went out of their way to love me as they had with their own four children.  So, I did what would become a pattern for my life for far too many years, I ran away.  And I became good at that.
Being genuine was a quality that escaped me for a long, long time.  For example, Steve's first thought on folks being genuine escaped me for decades.  "They don't seek attention." So, what did I do?  I joined the Air Force and learned that if you do not seek attention, no one will ever notice you.  It took me a couple of years to learn that fact of life in the military, but I learned it well and was amply rewarded - I thought.  When I came  home to be with my family, I cannot recall anyone with any interest in my experiences, even though I had spent four years in the Far East and I ached to tell others of the wonderful world I had discovered, just beyond our shores.  Steve is right, I was developing an ego that needed constant reinforcement.  I had yet to learn that genuine people are filled with self-confidence - AND, self-awareness.  I was as he suggests, "wasting my brain".
"They are not concerned with being liked."  In my early years, I was overwhelmed with the idea that being "liked" could be accomplished merely by an ability to overwhelm others, especially the opposite sex.  Having girlfriends became my idea of success at my age.  Then, I met a truly genuine girl who had the kindest way of showing me how much I had to learn.  I was stationed on the Gulf Shores and she returned from a visit with her folks to tell me how much she loved me.  I was overwhelmed.  She took an apartment on the beach and spent her days, waiting for me to get back to her.  One day I was delayed because an important person had arrived from the Pentagon and was there to examine a proposal my group had sent to his office.  I was four hours late in getting to the beach and when I asked her apartment manager where she might be, I was told they had taken her to the hospital in Pensacola. They had discovered her unconscious on her blanket after taking in those deadly rays. They were that day.  She was DOA when she arrived at the hospital. 

"Being liked" was no longer possible.  I hated myself and took on a attitude that others should share in my assessment.  Narcissism was not my problem, self-hatred took hold of my life and thoughts of relationships went out of the window,
"They can tell when others are full of it".  I was not just naive, I was living in a world of my own - where only fools dared to tread.  My last assignment in the USAF was under a Colonel who I had come to greatly admire when we were stationed together in Japan.  Six months later, I detested almost everything I knew about him and the die was cast, I had better move on.  I had discovered that I was the one who was full of it.
I was definitely not "comfortable in my own skin" as Steve offered as the next attribute of genuine people and it was't going to get any better.  I headed for Georgia and college in Atlanta where my mother lived and little I did realize at the time, the attitudes I held about her love for her son rose anew.  I began to realize I was not "comfortable in my own skin" and I did not consider that I was my problem.  I had served seven years in the military and I knew it was my "duty" to move on, plow ahead, always assuming I was in charge of my own life, all others take notice.  Steve quotes Thoreau's famous dictum, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  The first time I had read that was as I was preparing for a college exam and there were tears in my eyes.
I graduated from college with high honors, had been married along the way - as a way of getting away from my mother and her boyfriend, and it seemed that I had recovered from my past.  The only problem was that I was violating Steve's next thought about genuine people.  "They do what they say and say what they mean".  I don't even know whether others were onto me, but I was doing just the opposite.  I was doing what was best for me and meaning was not a factor in my life.  Commitments?  That was for others to believe and for me to ignore.
Well, I am about halfway through an excellent article that I wished others would take to heart as I am committed to do.  There's that word, commitment!  OK, I have given you no reason to read on, but please do.  I have a miracle to share with you, tomorrow.  I promise, the "real" me, promises!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rejoice! Tomorrow is Internatioa Happiness Dayl

Seriously, I was just informed that third annual report from the Gallop organization is in distribution. I have to wonder if anyone else will notice. For shame! We ALL ought to be interested in the happiness of others, shouldn't we?  I know this, I finally have become a sincerely "happy" person in recent weeks and it is a joy to see the response from others.  But enough about me!

You might be surprised to learn that the top 10 countries for positive emotions are in Latin America. You might be surprised, but I was not.  I have visited in Paraquay (the country with the highest positive experiences). Peru (briefly) and Panama when the troopship carrying us to Japan eventually, had to dock to an examination of the "screws" that propel the ship, and in the years when I visited Mexico, often, I thought they might have been included.  Probably, the ongoing drug wars have tampered the positive expressions of their people with whom I had conversations.  I came away from each visit with memories of people who seemed to thoroughly enjoy our visits, but the less positive me (in those days) harbored the impression, it was an act, their real interest was in our "dollars".

Those nations with less positive emotions ratings came as no surprise, at least to me, were Sudan, Tunisia, Bangladesh and this one surprised me, Turkey.  Before I left the USAF to enter college, I was briefed on the peoples and politics of Turkey as I was under consideration for a posting there with our missile bases.  I was impressed with the reports on their people and politics and held that feeling for years.  More recently, I have often wondered why Turkey has been able to stay out of the conflicts that seem to rage all around them.  An interesting aspect of this survey is that it does not include GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations such as United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.  No explanation.  Perhaps, they were not given permission to conduct surveys.

The report on these surveys included this quote from Robert Kennedy.  "...the gross national product (GNP) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play... it measures neither our will nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."  Can you imagine what he might be saying these days?  Unfortunately, he is gone and we never had a opportunity to witness the impact his Presidency might have made on our nation.

This I do observe, however, based on the news reports we learn about almost every day.  The health of our children appears to have become an obsession with many of their caretakers, their education continues to be a ongoing debate with most politicians and when was the last time you heard the word, joy, mentioned in discussions concerning children?  It appears that the word, courage, is no longer a matter of interest to our media, having been replaced by continuing reports on the murders of "blacks" by white policemen and the riots that follow too often.  Courage is an expression reserved, appropriately, for our service men and women, fighting in faraway places, the location of which is unknown, except in the constant thoughts of their folks and frieds back home. 

Had the survey been conducted here in Putnam county, Tennessee, we might well have competed for a place in the Gallop reports with nations such as Sudan, Tunisia ad Bangladesh.

Fortunately for me and those with whom I associate more often than not, we embrace the thought of joy and happiness, not as something to be lauded, but as an opportunity to serve others and bring joy into their lives.  I had spent my 85+ years searching for such a feeling only to discover that it comes from within and is only becomes apparent as we share it in the marketplace of life. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Let's talk about prayer

I had thought of reviewing the article which will follow, but I really I did not know if I wanted to - prayer is something that most folks don't seem to want to talk about, personally.  But then, two "news" story appeared as I was eating my breakfast and it seems to me, we really do need to talk about it.

Of course, this is the day that President Metanyahu of Israel won his re-election bid and we watched as he stopped to pray at the "wailing" wall and then stuck a note into one of the many crevices.  I really do not understand why, but people I know who have visited there seem to believe that it is part of the modern day Jewish religious rituals.

The other was a TV picture showing some of the survivors of a raid on a Libyan museum, well known for its collection of historical artifacts.  The body count has yet to be determined, but most of the visitors were from European nations.  We should all be able to understand the angst of those in prayer, for the families of the deceased and of course, for their own good fortune in escaping the carnage.

But what about everyday prayers?  Do we have a ritual?  I do and I will explain that further on.  For now, I want to introduce you to Heather Havrilesky, the author of an article that appeared on my computer yesterday morning, courtesy of my friends at Aeon who visit me everyday with fascinating explanations of many subjects. most of which have never, before, entered my mind.  I ignore most of them, but Heather's offering started with these fascinating words, "I don't believe in God."  How refreshing as most of my time is spent talking with others who say they believe in God, but can offer no proof.

Heather was in search of a prayer to "repeat" when things go haywire, such as dealing with the "several unruly dependents" under her roof.  "Each day", she explained, "was like a roller coaster, a crap shoot, an exercise in uncertainty."

Then, she offers, "I need a belief system," and I wrote in the margin, "Hello, welcome to my world."

One of her many problems that she confesses to her readers was "My soul, if I have one, which is still up for debate - is an angry misfit type of soul."  She admits, she is a atheist.

Further on, she caught my attention with these words, "I am a writer, so I don't need to make me the most important thing in my life.  I am already there."

Now, she begins to talk about God, the God created by others to boost their ratings, promote their books and publications, the smooth talking, straight walking, purveyors of enthusiasm and positive thinking, folks I had followed for years, before I came to the truth about God.

Eventually, she gives in to herself and decides to start praying in the morning

As I read that, it was as if the God that I know, the One who I have embraced for nearly forty years and believe in with all that I am, It was as if He smiled.

I did not know that He smiled as I started "walking" with Him.  I really did not take prayer seriously until one day I realized He is more than just the God mentioned in the Bible.  I don't mean to offend anyone, but as I took into account the absolute complexity of His creation, I wanted to have a more intimate relationship with Him.  Some call Him, Father God, but I had never known my father and I began to realize how much I missed him.  So, God became very real to me.  So real, that at times it seems as though He is right here beside me.  I don't have prepared prayers.  I just start talking with Him about how grateful I am that he rescued me when I was so very lost.  I offered a deal that day, if He would come along, I would never move away from Him.  He has been true to His word.  I have not always been faithful, but He has never failed me and when I don't really understand, I open the pages of my Bible and find Him there, waiting for me.

It is called faith and in my eighty plus years of the life that He has provided - in the beginning, my Bible continues to affirm the truth that "..without faith, it is impossible to know God."  A wise man once offered this thought that - "just beyond our troubles, no matter how dire, if we\would just reach out, He will always be there.

My prater for my friend, Heather, is that as she continues her prayer time, He will make His presence known and erase even the most dire of circumstances.

I believe that, do you - my reader?  If not, let's talk.  If you need my phone number, let me know

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It may be time for a confession...

Those who know me and there is only one who really knows me (Good morning, Shirlee), know that I am semi-addicted to TV, not the TV that has all those new stations, new this and new that, just "old fashioned" TV as I started loving it back in the 50's.  You might remember that I was stationed in Japan in the late 40's and learned about TV when new guys would come in from the States and try to explain this new phenomenon that was starting to show up, everywhere.

Anyway later on, I had just got married, we could not afford TV as I was a student at what has become Georgia State University and then we learned, the Today program (NBC) was coming to Atlanta and they would be broadcasting from Hurt park, across the street from our newest building, after years of occupying a former parking garage.  Wow!  "We" were going to be on TV.  For some reason I was chosen to be one of the students to be interviewed, so I was there from day one.  Dave Garroway was the host and had a chimpanzee whose name I have long since forgotten, was the star. And what an obnoxious star he was!  He was, in a word, nasty.  There was a female co-star and I seemed to be of interest to her - mainly because, I was a veteran of the Korea war.  And she invited me to her hotel room for an interview, she said.

Remember now, I was married, somewhat bashful, a former farm boy who was trying his best to learn how "city folks" lived.  She was about to demonstrate one version of that scenario.  All I had to do was look at her attire and there wasn't much to see and I knew I was in the wrong place, about to do something that was beyond my ability to imagine.  "No,.. excuse me, but I am a married man." She laughed.  "You might be missing the opportunity of a lifetime."  I guess I did.  With an apology, I was out of there and wondering, should I tell anyone about that experience?  I finally have, if my fading memories don't tell me otherwise.

All of that to explain why I have a long term attraction to the Today program.  I have tried others, I like the crew on ABC's competitive effort, but I keep going back to Channel 4 here in Middle Tennessee.

And this morning, they were interviewing Kyle Chandler who will be starring in a new program, Bloodline. on Netflik.  Is that how they spell it?  I have no idea.  Only time I have ever seen or recall hearing about this "new" programming phenomenon was when friends suggested we watch one of the Netflik movies on their latest entertainment gadget - and it didn't work as they had promised.

Anyway, I was attracted to one of the lines I recall from the promo.  A straying son had just returned home and the elder brother says, "You have to be responsible for the family name."

Did that ever strike home!  I still recall my grandfather telling his only son, those very words.  I had no idea of what he meant at the time.  His name was Cheeseman and he was the only other Cheeseman I had ever known.  My birth name said McRae and I was the only McRae I knew of other than my sister until she married a Bell.  My mother of course became a McRae until she became a Joy and I will stop there.  Eventually, I would get an idea of what my grandfather meant when he allowed me to take their family car on a date.  "If you have an accident, they won't blame you.  They will blame me for letting you use my car.  So you be careful!"

I had never met a McRae, nor a MacRae, which I prefer.  I knew my father had been married before he met my Mother and I had heard that he had two sons.  Years later, I was sitting next to another man at a Bible study and he told me he had known two McRae brothers in Saginaw, MI, where he had lived previously.  I asked for their first names and it turned out to be, Don and Ed, the names I had heard of earlier in my life.  To make a longer story shorter, we discovered they were, in fact, my half brothers and I had the opportunity to talk with one of them on the phone.  They knew about me, but more about my sister as they had heard, one of the reasons for their parent's divorce was his desire that they have another child, a daughter.  The whole truth was, they really did not want to know about me as it merely opened old wounds they had suffered in losing their Dad.

So much for my bloodlines.  You need to know, that knowledge stuck with me for years and when I would try to blame God for some of my misfortunes, I would wind up blaming my father - and, my mother.  I lived in that world for a long time, longer than I care to recall.  One of the reasons I married my first wife was because she had a intact family, father, mother, three brothers and a sister. Then, the mother died suddenly but left my wife with a curse that eventually destroyed our marriage, not that I blamed her openly, but it became a convenient excuse.

My "family" would eventually become my sister and she and I have helped each other to heal.  It was not by intention, simply that I needed a new home one day, I thought of her and she welcomed me in and we didn't need to talk about the pains involved, all we did was love one another.  

The miracle is not complicated, as we learn to love each other, we learn to love others as it was meant to be, in the beginning.  I have never heard this mentioned before. but it seems to me that God knew that today you and I and seven plus billion others would occupy this place we call earth.  To me it ought to be obvious, that as Shirlee and I learned to love one another, we can all learn to love one another.  If you don't believe me, then you have never observed the actions of babies as they meet for the first time.  There might some apprehension at first, but then as they learn to share, they learn to love with no understanding of how the process works.  Is it any wonder then that when God decided to visit our planet, He came as a baby out of the womb of His earth mother.

Think on this until I get back to you......

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dealing with reality - e.g., the so called "race" problem

As you may know I am not getting any younger and having lost my transportation recently, I dared to walk a few blocks to get a "C" battery so that my constant companion, my wall clock, could get "her moves" on again.  It was easier than I had feared.  Then, came tomorrow.  It felt as though my shins were frozen in place.  Ache?  You really do not know "ache" until both shins are cramped and literally, screaming, every time you try to walk.

Fortunately, time heals all wounds (and also, wounds all "heels") and as my pain had reached a stage where I could walk about, I found my favorite chair and turned to MSNBC on the TV, hoping to hear what might have happened while I was asleep.  Instead, I watched as Melissa Harris-Perry initiated a conversation on race, referring to the recent Oklahoma University ban on students from the SAE fraternity because of a recording of members singing a song about blacks - something I have to believe goes on behind closed doors on many campuses.  It did in my years and since the college students of today so closely resemble my compatriots, I have to believe OU is not the only place we could hear similar chants.  Such is life.  At least in my day, the chants might have more closely resembled the "my Daddy can whip your Daddy" boasts of our younger years,

Nevertheless, here we go again  What do we do?  Ms. Harris had gathered a group of interested others and the discussion began, at "warp speed" according to my ancient ears, and her listeners had an opportunity to hear opinions on the subject.  Opinions!  Educated opinions, obviously, but as they spoke I heard the same kinds of impassioned comments that were popular in the late '50's.  At least, those thoughts brought about reasoned legislation out of Congress and the rest of us moved on. hoping as I did, the matter would resolve itself.  There are indications that it helped as today, our nations's minorities have many more opportunities in the work place, and the market place, to demonstrate their qualifications.  Still, behind closed doors, we can believe the chants and the insults continue.

I was and am today, a white kid, born and raised in an environment where "nice" people used "gentile" tones in our conversations in the open.  At home, we tended to resemble those OU students when the subject of race was raised.  Then, I left home and soon found myself in the military in another nation and heard the words of our Commander regarding our relationships with native citizens. We were to "love" them.  That is the word, I heard.  I knew about love I thought, because I had been raised going to Sunday School every weekend.  As I would meet some of the natives, I followed the Colonel's orders.  I loved them to the best of my ability and I am pleased to say, in the four years I would serve in Japan and Korea, we had a excellent record.  That included the integration of black Airmen into our all-white ranks and I was privileged to be the "lead" Airman for our base as that process unfolded.  I met black men for the first time in my life.  Proof that we got along well is the fact that three of them and I became life long friends.  I was present at each of their funerals, dead too soon, because of the lack of sufficient health care in their youth. 

Then, I left the USAF and enrolled in college in Atlanta, GA, and it was't long before I experienced race relations, from a Southern perspective. I was witness to an action where the ushers in the church I attended in downtown Atlanta, refused the admission of four, nicely dressed and very polite in their demeanor, black couples.  They turned around and walked off as the tears began to well up in my eyes.  I had made a choice to live there, attend college there, live where Mother lived, and I said nothing.  Why?  Because I was merely one and the others were my peers.

I stayed in school during the days when the blacks arose and supported by many more gallant than I, they re-wrote our history.  But the whole truth is, many are still involved in the wars.

That was made evident when someone made a video of college students singing their songs on a bus headed for a party.

It clearly personified the days in which we live.  There were innocents on that bus, but they will pay a price that far exceeds the costs of just "being" there.  The name plates on the fraternity house have been removed, but the stigma will linger for years.  The national fraternity will survive as the truth is, they stand for excellence in every aspect of college life except for the key words, acceptance of others.  That problem is not just the problem of that great university in a great State.  It exists every where in our great nation.

It exists on the streets where I live, where you live and others live.  Just beyond our borders, there are millions hoping for, indeed praying for, an opportunity to live here and many of them are "colored".

That is not the problem, we have invited and enjoyed the lives of those who have fled from the turmoil in their native lands.  There have been a few problems, but they been few and far between.

The problem is, and I waited patiently for that panel to get to it, only to be disappointed.  I doubt that in the years I have left, I will hear the conversations that needs to address our real problem.

I know about it as when I was just a youngster. along with the sons of a neighboring farmer, we acted to burn down an old abandoned bar.  We didn't mean to, of course, but we ran and hid and the other boys' father was quick to get them to admit their guilt.  No one ever mentioned the possibility that I was involved.  If they did, I don't recall.  My play mates never mentioned it.  I have never forgotten my part.  I lived with that guilt for years and yes, many years.  Had it not been by the grace extended by my Lord, Jesus Christ, years ago, it would still be eating me alive.

Because I know personally, how guilt can extend beyond one generation, as mine did, so the guilt of our nation in not dealing with the "black" problem centuries ago, still eats the life out of of those who cannot recall the guilt of those who went before us.  Am I responsible, this white boy who  became a mam before I even knew of this problem?  Yes, I believe I am.  Certainly I have been remiss in not sharing what I have just  revealed.  We can be healed of that guilt, but the fact is, the only way we will ever recover from it will come in that day when all of those who harbor - make room for it, stop setting the stage for youngsters who claim they did not understand, only because their parents did not understand. .We are a great nation, we will become a great people, if and when we hear what I heard, nearly forty years ago, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,"

Friday, March 13, 2015

A quick look at our future

Many years ago, I heard others try to convince me that listening to predictions of the future were - in their words, .."a fool's errand".  It made sense to me in those days as I certainly did not have the facts at hand that might even suggest, I could look into the future and based on my limited knowledge, help others to see that the path they were following were merely subtle tricks to ensnare their future attempts at success as the world knows it to be..

I have changed my mind.  The day came when I had the courage to lay aside any thoughts about the future - for others.  I came to that realization when I was confronted by the word of God, specifically involving the way I had been living  I was drawn to our Lord's command in the verses we like to call "The Sermon on the Mount."  I was confronted by His command, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."  Trying to reconcile that thought in my mind, I suddenly became aware of the many ways in which I had rebelled against my own Mother, ignoring the conditions that were, in fact, affecting the decisions she was confronted with at the time.  It was the heart of the Depression years, her husband, the father of her children, was dead and somehow, she had to make a living for her own self and the two of us, hardly more than mere toddlers.

Repent?  Oh yes, I had many reasons to repent and did, right there, right then.  His response was more than just His acknowledgement.  I was riding on a Greyhound bus and it was time for us to stop for breakfast.  As I walked through the door to the cafe, I was greeted by the waitress insisting we were a good looking crew.  My immediate response was, "I think I have been 'born again'" and she immediately replied. "Well, praise the Lord, let's get my brother a breakfast" and she was gone. Soon, she returned with a huge plate of eggs, toast and sausages.  "Oh, I can't afford all of that," I protested and she as quickly. she responded, "My Brother, our Father- has taken care of the bill.  Eat up!"

I will never forget those moments.  I had been attending church for most of my life and now, I had a hard time reconciling all that was happening to me.  Difficult, yes, but I was now determined to follow His lead..  Almost forty years have passed since that wonderful morning.  A couple of weeks passed and I was sitting in a church pew and listening to a choir of older folks singing, "It gets better and better as the time flies by, oh what a love between my Lord and I."  Perfect, I thought, this has to my theme song.  It still is!

God has blessed me over and over and over again and I say that in spite of the fact that two women I have loved and married are now gone on before me.

Life does seem to take strange turns, but I have discovered that around every corner I have seen our Father standing there, encouraging me to move on, to stand up and declare His victory over sin and yes, death itself, had been accomplished at a place called Calvary, through His Son, our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

What seems to fascinate me so often is the tendency for others to predict the future as if they had proof positive that their thoughts include specific evidence as to what will, or will not happen.  I have long since had it proven to me, the more accurate wisdom we find in the scriptures.  "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may brig forth."  (Proverbs 27:1)

Recently, a man was in my apartment fixing a stove burner and before he left, I discovered he was even eager to tell me the "real" story about that day we refer to as, 9/11.  It was not foreigners who had carried out their deadly mission, but our own government's plot to deceive us.  He believes that. He had seen evidence that this story was in fact, a fact.  Well now, I did not, but I should have reminded him of the scriptures that teach, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord."  (Jeremiah 17:5)

Even better, I should have offered my testimony as evidence of my belief and commended to him a measure I have used to guide my own steps as I have progressed through the years of my life, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear to be, lights in the world."

I have lived long enough to recall the voices that were also raised after Pearl Harbor, suggesting that too was evidence of our government's manipulation of the truth  More proof that the Bible is accurate in its examination of the truth that is often, manipulated to serve the purposes of the enemies of God and frustrate the lives of those who have yet to realize His love for each one of us.