Listening to God In A Teachable Moment

The weatherman called for rain by midmorning today. We all know the weatherman’s forecast is always right. I start work at 7:00 am so I convinced myself that midmorning should be 10:00 am. One of my jobs is to distribute our pallets to our customers. I had one delivery today and the plan was to go early before the rain started. The trip usually takes twenty-minutes. I got the truck loaded and was on the road by 7:30. Plenty of time to get there before it rains by 10:00, I thought. The morning sky was increasingly filled with rain clouds. I increased my speed to try and beat the rain. I prayed a small prayer to God, hoping he would hold the rain off before I arrived. Then it happened, a car pulled out onto the highway reaching speeds of nearly fifty miles an hour. You know how I was feeling and the frustration that was building. Doesn’t this always happen when you are in a hurry to get somewhere. A Sunday driver taking a ride on a Thursday. There were frustrated drivers behind me who could not wait another moment. They passed us like we were sitting still. So I am thinking, should I follow the others and pass the slow vehicle. Then the Heavens opened up, and it began to rain hard. It was about time to pass. I had followed this person long enough. Then the Spirit spoke and told me to be still and trust him. So as it rained, I stayed behind this person until I reached my destination. Reaching the Town’s edge, the rain began to stop thankfully. I made it to my destination and managed to stay dry while unloading. Looking around, it had rained hard. I asked the gentleman unloading the truck if it rained and he told me that it rained hard about twenty mins ago. If I didn’t listen to the Spirit, the rain that I ran into on the road would have been waiting for me when I was unloading the truck. God is always in the business of teaching if we would open our ears and hearts to listen. So I listened to the Spirit and did not follow the behavioral norms of our human nature. I participated with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in staying dry and answering prayer.

God’s kindness in Trying Times

As many of you know my wife Anita is on a journey with Breast Cancer. We have many family and friends who are praying for her and we truly appreciate you participating with us in this journey. I work with special needs adult individuals and the other day at work one of the gentlemen stopped and told me he was praying for Anita. I told the man that I would go tell Anita that he was praying for her. I was excited to go home and tell Anita that he was praying for her. Anita was happy to hear how the special needs individuals were involved in this journey with her. These individuals have a lot of different disabilities yet they always seem to impress me with their good-heartedness and kindness. Most of the time they come to work with a smile on their faces and joy in their hearts. On one occasion, the gentleman that prayed for Anita was having a bad day. I was so excited to tell Anita that this gentleman was praying for her that I forgot to tell this man how much we appreciated it. So on his bad day, I could tell he was irritated about something and I didn’t know how I could get him back to his joyful self again. Finally, God got through my thick skull and told me to tell the man how much Anita appreciated his prayers. I wish you all could have seen how his face lit up and how his demeanor changed completely around. After God’s intervention, his day became a joyous one. I was just happy that I got to participate with my God in bringing a little joy to this man. God is always working for the good of mankind. God has blessed me with Anita. Through her and her journey, I have grown closer to him because of what I see God doing in her life. God is not the creator of cancer but he will and does bring good from it. Even in our time of need, God’s Kindness flourishes in us if we are willing to participate. I hope and pray that God will heal my sweat Anita in her time of need and I hope and pray that he will continue to use her journey for his will. I only hope that I get to participate with God in her healing and sharing kindness during times of trial.

The Signs/Miracles of Jesus Christ

There are Five Greek words used to describe the miracles or signs that Christ used to demonstrate his deity. Terata (Wonders), erga (works), thaumasia (Wonderful things), dunameis (powers), and semeia (signs). The synoptic gospels use dunameis because it emphasizes the power of Christ.

In John 2:1-11, we find one of the first of his sign/miracles. This miracle is where Christ turns the water into wine, and it is a clear picture of Christ having power over his creation. It also gave glory to God the Father and was a way to show the power of Jesus and the start for a new beginning. The water has no taste, and it cannot compare to the wine, a move from rituals and rules to a unique relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These pots that they put the water in were made from stone, not clay, as John explains; they used them for ceremonial cleansing. The Jews would use them over and over again. We were cleansed by the blood of Christ once and for all. There now is no need for this ritual cleansing.

The second sign/miracle that Jesus performed was the healing of the Noble man’s Son.
Miracle two was a demonstration of power Jesus has over space. Instead of Christ going to Capernaum, he went ahead and healed the Son at that moment because of the great faith of the nobleman. It is an example of the power of Christ over death and is showing our freedom from it. It is a discourse of the divine Son, the living bread, and the life-giving spirit. He is the light of the world.

John 5: 1-9, talks about the healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethesda, where many afflicted individuals hoped for a cure. It is Jesus having power over time. The man had been afflicted for thirty-eight years and was still willing to be healed.

Jesus was willing to heal him even though his affliction lasted for such a long time. It shows his power and deity by healing him. It did not matter how long he had the affliction; it had no power over Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fulfilling the true purpose of the Sabbath by showing mercy to the lame man and healing him on the Sabbath. He was explaining to the Jews that they circumcise on the Sabbath, which is an act of concern for one body part; he was willing to heal this man’s whole body. It shows his lordship over the Sabbath and the claim for his deity.

The man had many excuses that we duplicate in our relationship with God during our daily life. The man blamed his condition, on circumstances, geographic place, and on other people.

The people were waiting for the Angel to move the water to heal their bodies, but Jesus proclaimed that if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture said, rivers of living water will flow from his inner being. Christ is higher than the Angels, and we should look to him for living water. He is the Son of God.

The fourth sign/miracle is written in John 6:1-15, and it is the feeding of the five thousand; Christ having power over food. There is a gathering of men coming to listen to Christ, and there was no food to feed any of them.

This sign/miracle is the only one that corresponds to the other books of the synoptic. Jesus recognized the needs of the people. We can see many principles in this miracle.

It shows God is the God of order. Jesus gave thanks before giving out the food, emphasizing the need to give honor to God. It shows the division of labor and reserves the things that only he can do with his power and shows his deity.

Jesus proclaims deity by using I AM; I AM the bread of life. Bread is the most important food for the people of that time, so it made the miracle and the message of this particular sign more meaningful. We need him more than the physical needs of our lives.

In John 6:15-21, we find the fifth sign/ miracle, where Jesus is walking on water. We can see the deity of Jesus through his power of controlling the natural law.

He calls out to them it is I, this is an Old Testament sign of the Jehovah; I AM. It could also be an example of salvation because when the disciples received him, the storm stopped. When we receive him, we trust him to calm our storms, and to be there when we go through them.

The sixth sign/miracle occurs in John 9:1-12. It is when Jesus heals the blind man. Neither the man nor his parents sinned; the disciples wanted to know why he was born blind.

Jesus explained that his blindness was to show his Father’s work through him. Jesus preached how imperative it was to fulfill his commission. Jesus wanted to bring glory to his Father and to follow his commands.

Jesus came as a representation of the Father, and what he did in his humanity is true for us, and what he did in his humanity is ours. He was acting in our place. Christ’s power and deity are visible in this sign/miracle having control over physical laws. Jesus is the light of the world, and he is the only one who can bring us from darkness into light, and this sign/miracle depicts this.

John 11:1-44 tells the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead after being in the grave for four days. It is the power of Jesus that triumphs over death. The disciples were afraid that Lazarus would die.

They did not have faith in Jesus to raise the dead. Jesus was not happy that Lazarus died, but he was glad that this would be an opportunity to build the disciples’ faith and glorify Him as the Son of God. Jesus’ statement I AM the resurrection and the life, shows his equality with God the Father, that he is God. It is the fifth I AM statement in the book of John.

The last and eighth sign/miracle is the story of the miraculous catch of fish. This sign/miracle is brought to our attention in John 21:1-11. It was on the sea of Tiberias; the disciples were out fishing, and Jesus appeared standing on the shore.

This sign/miracle was the chance to reveal himself to the disciples and to suppress some of the doubts and misunderstandings that they might have.

Jesus came to strengthen the disciples. While the disciples were in the boat all night, they did not catch a thing, and they were likely to be discouraged, depressed, hungry, and tired. They had lost hope and were backsliding possibly.

It pictures our union and communion with him and is a reminder of his presence during the tough times of our lives. He is always with us.

There are eight I AM statements in the book of John. In the Old Testament, Jesus new this signified the Jehovah, so he used it to show his equality with God the Father and for us to see his deity as God in the flesh.

The purpose of the book of John, in my opinion, is to explain the Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relationship and his deity. Each of the signs/miracles is proof of this fact that Jesus Christ is God. and that he is the second person of the Trinity.

It is a book that brings light to what God is. God is love, and this is the reason he became flesh and dwelt among us.

Ephesians 1:4 explains what the intention of God is for us before we even existed. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ.

What I think is interesting is that believers now believe in him without seeing these types of signs/miracles. I do not know why this is. Maybe it is because of the Holy Spirit and that Jesus sent him to be our helper. He gives us his faith to restore and strengthen ours. What are your thoughts on the miracles of Jesus? Are they signs for his deity?

Sink or Swim in the Pool of Relationships

I didn’t know how to swim when I was a young child. I was very fearful of the water, especially the deeper end of the pool. I would wade in the shallow end up to my neck, where there was a rope that divided the shallow end from the deep end. I never was able to cross that rope on my own.

My mother got this bright idea for my sister and me to take swim lessons. I made sure my Mom knew I would not be crossing that rope to the deep end of the pool, not realizing to pass swim lessons you had to jump off the small diving board into the deep.

It was time for the final test, which I didn’t know until that day. I was terrified and full of rage towards everyone who was trying to force me to jump off the diving board into the deep end of the pool. I was splashing around like a fish who was trying desperately to get out of the shallow water back in the deep water (except my position was to try and stay in the shallow end).

After screaming, I wouldn’t do it; I finally got the nerve to climb up on the diving board and slowly walk out to the end of it. Overcome by fear, I stood frozen on the board. My mother started to yell at me to jump off, but it was impossible. With a determined look in her face, my Mom got up from her chair and came towards the diving board, throwing me off the diving board at the deep end of the pool.

She did not know how I would respond, would I sink to the bottom, or would I start to swim. She didn’t know what I would have thought of her after she did it either. She just did it knowing that it was the right thing to do, even though I had the right to deny her the love that she deserved.

I had the freedom to choose whether to receive this as a learning experience to overcome my fear or a mother trying not to be embarrassed. Since I knew my mother well and knew how she felt about me, I knew it was for my good, and yes, I didn’t sink to the bottom of the pool.

How did I know the heart of my mother? How did I know she loved me? We spent time together, and she enjoyed being around me. My Mom wanted to know me, and being together, I got to know and respect her. She was compassionate and a good listener. Even though it didn’t look like it at the time, my Mothers heart was hurting with me. Does my Mother remind you of anyone?

Love isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t feel right or good sometimes. There are times when love doesn’t feel kind. In love, sometimes you don’t get what you want, but you get what you need.

How do we get to know a person, what they have been through in their life? If we don’t spend time together and listen to one another and grow in our relationships, we will stay suspicious of one another, fearful, and unable to trust.

Our person to God relationship isn’t any different than our person to person. Jesus became a man for all of us to know the Father’s heart. He did this by fellowshipping with his fellow man, living a perfect life, dying a horrible death, rising again to eternal life, and ascending as a man. We all know how hard it is to live a perfect life. He did it because he loves his Father and us. He died knowing how difficult and painful it would be because he loves us.

Jesus’ life was hard, but he continued to live it because of grace and love for us. He confronted the Pharisees and leaders of his time because he loved them and those they oppressed. He knew loving us would cause his death. It was important for the world to know the Father then, and it is important to know him today. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. God loves us, spend time with him in prayer, in reading his word, and be with his people.

Love isn’t easy at times. Sometimes our needs are not easily seen, and we need someone who loves us to give us 20/20 vision to grasp what we can’t see and to push us off into the deep. We also need to self-evaluate our selves in every situation when it comes to relationships. We sometimes need a push or a hit on the head by someone to get started on that journey.

When we look at ourselves first, we begin to see what holds us back to listen, to build relationships without fear, and to trust. Love goes deeper than just being kind. Sometimes it requires sacrifices, sometimes discipline, and a willingness to put away our pride and be humbled. Sometimes the hurt can’t be healed, and the relationship has to be severed to save one another.

The problems we have in relationships today, including race and racism, are deep, and jumping in to solve it can be scary and painful, but it is necessary for the healing of both parties involved. We should never forget being hurt by someone, but we need to forgive. We can’t forgive without knowing the deepest pain, anger, and fear that we have in our hearts. This is why prayer and self-evaluation are important.

The first humans lived in unity and harmony with each other and with God until the Devil tempted them with the idea of power. They ate the fruit so they could be like God and have independence from him and have power over one another. Here is a quote from Thomas Torrance’s book Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ.

“Then we discover that the bond of fellowship between God and man is broken by rebellion and sin. It belongs to the nature of sin to divide, to create disorder, to disrupt, to destroy fellowship. What are the consequences of sin? Not only is the bond of communion between God and man broken, issuing in man’s guilty fear of God, but the bond between man and woman is impaired: guilt and shame come in between them, and even the symbol of wearing clothes is interpreted in terms of the hiddenness of man from woman and of woman from man” (pg. 39). 

So, division in our relationships, between Man and Woman, Parent and child, and even between black and white are caused by sin. Both parties are to blame because of our sin nature.

Torrance also says, “With the bond between them broken, man and woman are individualized, and each is turned in upon himself or herself” (pg 39).

We are turned inward in a negative way. Our needs become the focus when we look inward.

A lot of times in relationships where there is a conversation, (some don’t have any), but when there is, there is no empathic listening. We are so turned in upon our selves that the only thing we can think of is our response to the person and not to hearing or feeling what they are going through.

I could have sunk but I chose to swim that day with my Mom. She helped me to overcome my fear and to develop the courage to fight the good fight, the courage to know myself and my God. The courage for me to look at myself and say I was wrong and I am sorry.

Thank you, Jesus, for showing us the Father and for putting people in our lives to teach us about love and relationships. Thank you for giving us ears to hear Amen.

Why trump? America Today

Why would anyone vote for Donald Trump? Well, I think it is because a lot of people lost hope in the government, in politicians to follow through on their promises. He is raw, not very glamourous, and says things that will piss you off.

Politicians make a lot of promises, but nothing changes. A Strong America for every American is important to those who voted for Trump.

Americans who voted for Trump believe in the Constitution. They believe in equal rights for all Americans. They believe that every American should have the same opportunities.

Some Americans feel that our freedom is diminishing. They believe the government is telling them how to think, and if they don’t listen to them they are criticized for having a different opinion.

Americans who voted for Trump are very Patriotic. They believe the flag is a symbol of freedom for all Americans and a reminder of the sacrifices by all Americans who died to keep them free.

Americans who voted for Trump believe that there is still work that needs to be done,
like equality. Americans like how he stands up for what they believe in and he doesn’t buckle under the pressure to change, like most politicians.

They like his energy, feel he is a hard worker and that he understands the difficulties of the average American. He listens more to them than he does the Elite.

Americans who voted for Trump believe in a strong economy that the economy is the cornerstone for helping make America great again for all Americans. The economy is the starting point. They believe a strong economy will bring opportunities for the individual as well as those living in poorer communities.

They believe in the community, are faithful to their faith, and believe that all faiths should be protected. Yes, they believe that the police should be respected if they serve and protect. If police officers do not serve and protect, that they were sworn to do, then they should no longer be police. They believe in a strong military to protect them and to defend their freedoms.

They believe everyone should have the opportunity for a good education by allowing Americans to have choices.

The Media wants to divide America, but it is growing closer. Americans who voted for Trump want a lot of things that the protesters want. They want all Americans to be free. They want justice for all, equality for all, an opportunity for all, quality healthcare, good education for all.

They want Americans to think for themselves, to reach new heights. They want an opportunity for all races in America to be entrepreneurs and small business owners.

They want to stamp out racism and injustice. Americans who voted for Trump have seen this problem, it has been around a long time but past politicians have never fixed it.

Some of our fellow Americans feel like the American flag is a symbol of oppression and they have the right to believe it. Because they were oppressed and in some ways still are.

We have to do better, we have to find solutions, and we have to pick one another up and listen to one another. I want this country to be better for everyone. Is that so wrong?

For us to be great, we have to help each other out and strive for what America stands for. We aren’t there yet, but I believe in her and I believe in Americans. We have to listen, hear and stand up for the oppressed.

This country is a strong country and because of it we can work this out. We can create opportunities but for them to work we must teach individuals to believe in themselves and believe that by working hard you can achieve your goals.

I pray for this country and I pray for my black brothers. I pray they will feel good about their country and not feel downtrodden. I want them to be happy and strong and prosperous. I want them to feel safe when they walk out their front door. I want them to suceed in every endeavor. I believe in you and love you.

Joy that Overwhelms

As I write this, it seems the world is falling out of control. Covid-19 cases and deaths grow worldwide every day. So, can an individual have joy in a world with new viruses with no cure (so far)?

Life can be difficult; we have despair and doubt. We live with anxiety and depression. We trust less and hate more. Gratitude is seen less in the world while self-gratification more. Religion creates a painful reminder that we are not perfect and pushes a legalistic agenda on us, making the problems worse. With the world, the way it is, is it possible to have joy? Can a person have joy and despair at the same time?

We use social media to show others our opinion about all kinds of subjects, including joy and how to get it. We use catchy phrases to make our point.

I have to tell you I have problems with people using quotes that have to do with positive people and their need to stay away from negative people. Like this quote, “Some people are like clouds. When they disappear, it’s a beautiful day.”

This is heartbreaking, and it is hurtful to individuals who battle depression anxiety and bipolar disorder. Being diagnosed with one of these symptoms can cause a negative attitude throughout one’s life. Christians who are negative can feel despair; they also can have doubts. Please don’t tell me they’re not Christian, or they don’t have enough faith.

My mother has dealt with depression and anxiety all of her life. God is the one who gives her the strength to get through it. There are days she doesn’t believe in God’s abilities to bring her out of it, but he is still working in her none the less. She has the freedom to choose.

We find our eternal joy our overwhelming joy in our knowing and doing. Many Christians believe that Jesus’ act of atonement was vicarious (substitutionary). What about the rest of his life? There are many Christian theologians past and present, who believe that Jesus’ whole life was vicarious. You may ask what this has to do with joy, but it has everything to do with it.

In the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, the Son became man and took on our humanity. We participate with Jesus in his despair and joy because we share in his humanity.

Jesus is the God/man, yet he emptied himself to be a servant (Philippians 2:7) and was dependent on the Holy Spirit. What we know from the Bible is that Jesus felt despair (Luke 22:44) yet was obedient to the will of God the Father to the end, even to a terrible death on a tree.

Jesus did not live a perfect life only to show us an example but did it vicariously for you and me. This is the Grace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the incarnation of the Son, who emptied himself and lived a perfect human life by the spirit, knowing we were incapable of doing it. Our reconciliation is complete in him. He shares his life with us, and we participate in it

We participate by believing (knowing) and believing (doing). We participate in his loving of the Father and loving of his (our) neighbor (Matthew 25:45) (1 John 4:21). We love with the help of the Spirit. This isn’t a duty or an action to get reconciliation, but recognition of who we become by the Grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Joy and despair seem to be dualistic, but one is champion over the other. Joy is a gift (John 15:11), it is eternal, it is overwhelming, and it lifts us out of our despair. Joy overwhelms our despair in our most desperate times, and these are desperate times. I do think that despair can co-exist with joy.

Christ felt despair in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross when he felt abandoned, yet he followed the will of the Father. Even though he felt great agony, the resurrection was coming. Doing the right thing can be hard, but it brings joy to the doer and the receiver. We participate in Christ’s despair and joy, remembering that the joy overcomes.

We can have joy in the present because we have a future. Please don’t let your guilt, caused by the idea that since you are Christian you can’t feel despair or doubt or even fear, which ends up adding to your anxiety. It is not as important to be a God as is it is to be with God. Remember that Jesus took away all of our guilt and shame by hanging on the cross. Our participation and our union with Jesus bring us joy in the present. We participate in his suffering and rejoice in his rejoicing. During this tough time in our lives, Jesus is sharing in our suffering, and we are sharing in his.

It is Holy Week; it is a time of despair (death) and rejoicing (Resurrection). It is a time, as every day is, to reflect on how life overcame, and overwhelmed death. Remembering that Jesus is the resurrection and life.

Joy is a gift that we freely receive, and in our time of need (this time), Jesus is where we will find it. Yes, the Corona Virus is real and it brings anxiety, but Jesus is with us. He has overcome the world, and we have great participative joy in the Good News that he has risen.

The joy that comes by hearing and knowing that he has risen is much greater than the despair and doubt caused by Covid-19. The joy that we participate in, is Jesus’ joy that he shares with the Father through the Spirit. Yes, you will feel despair throughout this ordeal but take heart you live in the joy of Christ

Book Review: Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader

Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader was written in a way to help Western Theologians better understand Eastern Orthodox faith with regards to the liturgy, sacraments, tradition, and the mystical encounter of man and God. The book uses many writings from writers of the Orthodox faith like Timothy Ware and Vladimir Lossky, which helps to establish an understanding of this faith. It gives the perspective of individuals who lived this faith. The writer takes a look at a lot of the traditions in the Orthodox faith, and it finishes with the last five chapters explaining the relationship between Eastern and the Western church.

This book is being reviewed based on the idea this book can be beneficial in understanding the Eastern Orthodox faith. The main book’s goal is to establish in the mind of the reader whether or not an understanding of east and west can be recognized.

Orthodox Church believes that there is earthly heaven, which they consider to be the church. They think of their churches as a worshipping community (p 13). So worship comes first, then doctrine and discipline are considered second (p. 13). The Orthodox Church uses images that are called icons that they believe are an important part of the salvation plan because they are the visible knowledge of the invisible truth. It helps to recognize the glory to come; the transfiguration of the body described by Paul (1 Cor.15:35-44).

The book explains Orthodoxy’s understanding of the god-man and how important that is too corrupt humanity. The church has love and veneration of the Virgin Mary the mother of God (p. 66). Without this veneration of the Mother of God, the incarnation is weakened and the sanctification and glorification of human nature are nullified into a means to redemption (p. 66).

The book explains the saints, that they are friends of the believer, and they help the believer in prayer and their Christian walk (p. 70). Angels are also venerated, but they are lower than the saints (p. 73).

The Orthodox Church uses the sacraments; baptism is the regeneration of the sinner by the Holy Spirit. According to Clendenin, the second sacrament is Chrismation when the believer receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit (p. 25). The Holy Eucharist, repentance, ordination to the priesthood, marriage and the Holy Unction are all of the sacraments that are followed diligently in the Orthodox Church.

The strength of this book that is considered prevalent is that it uses the writings of Eastern Orthodox writers. This gives the book more credibility in explaining the Orthodox teachings to the Western World. The book explains each important doctrine of the Orthodox faith in great detail.

The description of the incarnation and the Hypostatic union is brilliant. It gives meaning and life to this doctrine and the importance of it in the understanding of the salvation of man from sin and death.

Strength number two is that it attempts to bring east and west closer in relationship to one another. There must be a dialog between both sides. West and Eastern Churches must communicate so that Christianity can be more prominent in the world, and this book exemplifies that.

A weakness of the book is that it explains throughout its pages the numerous beliefs in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it seldom compares it to that of the Western Church’s doctrine. If this book is to be used for scholarly purposes then it should compare each belief. The majority of the book talks about the east, and if there is to be a dialogue between East and West, then there should be shared theologies.

The second weakness is that if the reader does not have some education on the history of the church or some understanding of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s belief, then they will not have any understanding of what liturgy or sacraments, or anything mentioned in the book means.
This book gives a clear understanding of the Eastern Orthodox faith if the reader has experienced other literature that helps pertain to an understanding of it

To the scholarly, it would be a good read if it were in their particular field. The book gives the reader a clear understanding of the differences between East and West if the person knows the Western Church. The book does accomplish what the author sets out to do in a contemporary way.

Softly Spoken

Speak softly. It is far better to rule by love than fear. Speak softly. Let no harsh words mar the good we may do here. Isaac Watts

We assume the world is an evil, violent place. We watch the evening news and see violence.

We say, “Why can’t the news show more good stories?”

Maybe the reason the news reports so many bad news stories is because we continue to watch them. The ratings go up when people watch. If we want the news to stop reporting these types of stories, maybe we should stop watching and reading. In entertainment, Hollywood produces movies with violence because it creates profit. The news and movies are popular because of our attraction to violence.

In my opinion, we do not become violent by watching violent movies or playing violent video games or by watching the news. It is much deeper than that. My belief is our fallenness and brokenness are the triggers for violent behavior. Video games and movies didn’t influence society to murder Jesus in his day, their fallenness and brokenness did, and our fallenness and brokenness are the cause of our violent behaviors.

The difference between then and now is Jesus has risen, and we have a helper, the Holy Spirit. In the incarnation, God entered our world. It is a big deal. In some, it creates joy and peace, but in others, it creates anger and violence.

Violent behavior can be a reactive, spontaneous response to stimuli or a well thought out plan for revenge to the stimuli. Theologically, hate and violent behavior are an act caused by going it alone, ignoring the helper, and manufacturing moral decisions based on personal choice and not adhering to a moral code created by a higher power.

There are good stories in this world where individuals have responded to the Holy Spirit.

My son called the other day to tell me that he had been in a fender-bender (a small vehicle accident). The streets were snow-covered; he was hurrying to get his son to basketball practice. While trying to come to a stop, he slid and hit the vehicle in front of him. Thankfully there were no injuries in the accident.

The Holy Spirit led my son that day, and he softly spoke to the angered man that he hit. He didn’t raise his voice or get into a shouting match with this man, he kept apologizing to the man, but the man was not listening. He continued to yell, “this is all I need”

The police arrived and found no damage to either vehicle, so there was no reason to fill out an accident report. They exchanged information, and my son apologized again and told the man he would pray for him.

My son felt the man was struggling with other issues that caused him to explode during this minor incident.

About a week later, the man contacted my son and apologized for getting so upset after the accident and thanked my son for praying for him because he needed it at that time in his life.

Proverbs 15:1 points to my son’s life story. It defuses the situation quickly when one pauses and listens before reacting to a confrontational person or situation and speaks with gentle, soft-spoken words. Applying Proverbs 15:1 not only defuses the situation but also helps us look beyond ourselves to think deeply about others more relationally and selflessly.

A lot of times we react negatively to situations that need discernment, a quick prayer, and an open ear to the Holy Spirit. In these situations, we need to slow down quiet our minds and listen.

When we listen to the Spirit, we are participating in the work of the son Jesus. When we act alone, with knee jerk reactions, we are following the flesh. When acting alone, we listen to what we need and want. These situations bring out the ugliness from within our hearts.

The desire of the flesh is against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). We can’t live selfishly for ourselves; we must seek things from above and not from this world. Situations, life for that matter, go awry when we follow the fruit of the flesh.

I have seen both sides of the truth from Proverbs 15:1 through experience. Being married thirty-three years has helped me to realize that listening to the Holy Spirit, who persuades me to speak softly in confrontations and disagreements, is the best way to defuse the sparks.

I have been on the wrong side of this truth where my selfish pride and competitive spirit have brought on hurtful feelings and an “I am right and your always wrong” attitude. This way is disastrous for a relationship. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 warns us to “Resist revenge, and make sure that no one pays back evil in place of evil but always pursue doing what is beautiful to one another and all the unbelievers” (TPT).

Our new life is to participate in Jesus’ life. Loving others is not a duty or a burden or way to save our souls.

Arguments can be with the people we love or with total strangers. The best way to prove your love is to speak softly in confrontational situations before the confrontation gets out of control and becomes abusive and violent. We need to have empathy for our fellow human beings. Always seek first to understand before your need to be understood.

Participating in Jesus’ life means being courageous and compassionate at the same time.

We always have free will but the devil is always tempting us to overreact to every tough situation. In every difficult situation, Jesus wants us to choose life.

We do something in our worship at Church that I think is unique. We call it God sightings. It is awesome to listen to brothers and sisters, telling stories about individuals who are participating in the life of Jesus. I believe that there are many more God good stories out in the world than bad stories.

We are programmed to think the opposite because of the enemy. He doesn’t want anyone believing that the New Creation has begun, that Jesus is making all things new.

The best advice I can give you is to be a peace-maker and speak softly in the messy parts of your relationships.

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

I enjoy watching movies, and while I am watching the movie, I can’t help but try to find connections in the story with my Christian walk or a correlation with stories in the bible. One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump. I hope that you have seen this movie. It is about a Special needs person named Forrest Gump, who lives his life as if it were a feather blowing in the wind. Forrest doesn’t set goals but things get done; he takes one day at a time. Where ever life’s circumstances take Forrest, he follows.

Our lives are like Forrest in some ways. We can plan our futures, set goals, but we can’t control everything. I believe in planning our futures but I am a realist; circumstances can change our plans. We can get sick or lose our jobs and our family members. All of these tragedies can wreck our world. Many of Forrest’s tragedies, the Vietnam War, the loss of his friend and mother, all seem to work out for the good in his story.

During his life story, Forrest befriends three important characters, Lieutenant Dan, Bubba, and Jenny. Forrest personifies what true love is through his relationship with his new friends. Forrest constantly pursues a relationship with his friends. He meets up with Lieutenant Dan while serving in the Vietnam War.

During a battle, Lieutenant Dan loses his legs in a mortar attack and Forrest carries him out of the jungle to safety. Lieutenant Dan resents Forrest for saving him. He is angry with Forrest for not allowing him the dignity to die on the battlefield with honor as his family members have done in past wars. How many times have we blamed others or resented them for our problems? How many times have we blamed God? Lieutenant Dan feels unworthy, but Forrest continues to pursue him. Lieutenant Dan’s pain is great, but he is nudged ever so slightly by Forrest’s invitation for renewal. Lieutenant Dan begins to believe in Forrest’s shrimping operation and accepts his invitation to participate, and like God, Forrest believes in Lieutenant Dan’s potential and values it. He is reconciled to Forrest redeemed and renewed (Romans 5:10)(John 3:16). At some point in the story, Lieutenant Dan repents and has reason to believe in himself again. The Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of the lost(Lieutenant Dan) to hear and believe the Good News.

Bubba is a poor southern black man that Forrest meets at boot camp. He has a great dream to one day start his own shrimp business. Bubba’s dream is to bring his family out of poverty but is cut short by his tragic death in Vietnam. Forrest honors Bubba’s dream and creates his shrimp company helping Bubba’s family out of poverty. In the end, Forrest brings good out of the tragic death of his friend Bubba. God creates good out of our tragedies. Like Forrest, God runs into our battles to save us; some reject his salvation like Lieutenant Dan, while others embrace it.

Now Jenny’s father molested her as a young girl, and it has messed her up ever since. She feels unworthy of love and lives her life trying to forget her past with sex and drugs. I know individuals who have lived through this pain of abuse. When life starts with an abusive beginning, it can make life difficult. How often does God rescue us from our mess? God is with us in our struggles working in our lives to redeem us. God does this because his love is unconditional, sacrificial, and enduring. We think of God’s love as foolish and reckless compared to our understanding of love. We give up on love to quickly, and we guard ourselves in relationships when trouble arises. Without God, humanity is helpless to love the way God meant us too.

Like most of us, Jenny doesn’t believe she is good enough to be loved unconditionally. Jenny runs from love because of her past. Love is what she needs to get over the pain of the past. She feels lost because of her past, and because of her past, she can’t trust relationships. Jenny can’t find her way back to love. The lost in this world are like Jenny. They can’t find their way back to God. They alienated their minds from God (Colossians 1:21), and this separates them from God (Genesis 3:8). God doesn’t separate himself from us. Just like God, Forrest never stops loving Jenny or pursuing her (Luke 15:4-7 Lost sheep). It doesn’t matter how many times Jenny runs away after returning home to Forrest; he still welcomes her home each time. He never gives up on her, no matter what she has done. We see grace at this juncture in the story. Forrest saves Jenny when she comes home for good. I am reminded of our eternal destination when we finally have rest from all that pains us. Our lives also can be renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Continuing in the story, Forrest buys a beat-up shrimp boat, and what does he call that boat? He calls it Jenny. The boat goes through a hurricane and survives. Whatever storm it goes through Forrest stays on board. This broken boat represents Jenny and her brokenness. This is how God relates to us in our brokenness. We may not know he is there, but he is there in every storm that we go through.

In the movie, we see a man who does not let life determine his attitude and behavior toward others. His compass in life is love; it is his driving force, his gust of wind. We see a similar man led by love, Luke 19:1-9. Jesus enters the wealthy town of Jericho, where a large crowd had gathered around him. There was a particular man who lived in the city named Zacchaeus, who wanted to see Jesus. Zacchaeus was a short-statured wealthy man who was hated in the community because he was a dishonest tax collector. He wanted to get in front of the crowd, but they prevented him from seeing Jesus. So he climbs a tree. He sees the forest amongst the trees. Jesus asked him to come down and tells him he would stay with him.

Jesus did not ask him to change first. He didn’t preach to him, didn’t judge him, and he didn’t moralize or ridicule him; he just reached out to him and loved him. Zacchaeus responded to that love. By the power of Christ’s love, Zacchaeus realized that he was wrong and repented of any wrongdoing. Zacchaeus responded to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by giving half of his possessions to the poor. Zacchaeus, Jenny, and Lieutenant Dan were blind by trees (temptations, their wants, pain, and tragedy) and not focused on the forest (Jesus). It isn’t always the lost who can’t see the forest from the trees.

Our churches must have an attitude of unconditional love for the hurting and lost as Jesus had for Zacchaeus and Forrest had for his friends. Christians have to continue to tell and show people that God loves them unconditionally and is with them in every storm that they go through. We have to tell them and show them that the resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything. That he is Lord of creation, and he is in the process of making it new. Our churches have to stop focusing on the trees (the inner circle) and look to the forest (the world).

At this time, I want to point out that we can teach our children we bear the image of the almighty God, and we can see that image in creative activities like the arts, Architecture, and our love of reading. Movies are entertaining, but they also can have value as well.

At the end of the movie, Forrest realizes that life is like a box of chocolate. I fully agree; you never know what you are going to get in life. As Christians, we know this is true, but we also know God is with us through it all. Our hope comes from knowing where our final destination will be. God’s plan has always been grace. He is restoring all things and making them new through his son Jesus. So, we need to stay focused on the forest (Jesus) and not get lost in the trees (our problems). We must not let our messy life overshadow the joy found in him. I enjoy watching movies with my family and looking for signs of our journey in the story. Let me know what movie effects you the way Forrest Gump effects me.

Performance of a Life Time

 Performance what does it mean to you and how does it relate to our relationship with the Triune God? All of us at some time in our lives try to perform to the best of our abilities to be someone other than our true self for reasons we only know hidden deep in our hearts. Most of us are trying to fill a hole in our heart and we use performance to fill that hole. We lie and hurt others to achieve a performance rating that does not slip below our own expectations, but we are only impressing ourselves.  

 We end up hurting those relationships that help to fill in our hole. When performance is realized and we are still feeling empty inside, our hole in our heart continues to grow bigger. In some instances, we try to impress others (as our other person) to show that we are good enough to be loved and accepted by them.  

 Many of us try desperately to have a performance of a lifetime knowing behind every corner there is someone judging us. Judging by their standards on how we should be as a person. We labor in vain, needing to be loved, liked and to live, only to feel not good enough. Feeling unworthy, unloved and unaccepted. It is not wrong to have goals or to be successful, but It is wrong if we stomp on others to achieve those goals.   

 This is about our spiritual state in relationship with God and others and the love and acceptance that we yearn for. Many Of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, (including myself) have fallen into a distorted theory or theology of God. Our eyes have been veiled from truth. Has the Triune God turned his back on us? Do we have to jump through hoops to get his attention? Are we performing at the top of our game? The Father sent the Son to save the World. John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. The Son saves us, not our performance.  

 We do not have to have a performance of a lifetime to be in his presence or to be accepted and loved by him. The Father has been revealed through the Son. There is no Jekyll and Hyde or good cop bad cop. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and God is love. God’s judgment and wrath are worked out in his love. I always felt that God did not accept me unless I did this, this, and this. I never felt I was good enough. Sadly, there are many hurting people who think the same way. They are always living in fear that if they slip up once all hell is going to fall on them. Paul says in Romans 8:1 [ Life through the Spirit] “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.  

 The Triune God wants to share with us the fellowship, relationship, and community within their oneness and help us realize our freedom from our burdens Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Sin no longer has hold on us. We do not have to perform to earn anything.  “We are not judged by our previous performances (on that basis, nobody would go anywhere but to hell); rather, we are judged by what Jesus did on the cross.” (Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and vindication in the parables of Jesus).   

 Life certainly has its bumps and bruises and no matter how hard you try to shake them those bruises continue, or new ones begin, but Joy can be found in our pain. Jesus the son is always with you in your joy and pain. He is there when you are feeling like a failure and when you are feeling all alone. He is there when you think you need to use performance to get acceptance. He is not only there for you, but he lives in you. Galatians 2:20 says ” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

 We must trust this truth and not fear what are religions are feeding us. Jesus Christ is our righteousness. We are accepted, we are loved, and we are redeemed. There is no need for a performance of a lifetime or a lifetime of performing. We are a new creation that is adored by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Robert Farrar Capon puts it this way (loved baking) “we are as good as baked to perfection right now. We have been accepted in the beloved.” (Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and vindication in the parables of Jesus).   

 If we all knew who we truly are there would be no need for our substitute. Would we not have a different paradigm of others if we saw them as they truly are? Would we not see our self in a different light? Would we not stop judging ourselves? Would not relationships be a whole lot easier? The walls that held everyone out would be torn down, we would be free to be who we are in Christ.      

As a child I always enjoyed singing the children song  

“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Truth comes in small packages.  We are all in the arms of our creator. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit will never stop he is relentless in his pursuit of you. Performance of a lifetime what does it mean? It means nothing in attaining a relationship with God; a relationship that already exists whether you believe it or not. 

It is not about trying to do good on our own, because Jesus has transformed and is continuing to transform us. Jesus is our Justification and our sanctification. We are a New creation in him. Live out of that truth and good will flow out of you like living water.

We are accepted and loved by the Triune God and no performance, good or bad, can change this truth. The hole in our hearts can’t be filled by trying to be something we weren’t meant to be. Goodness and our ability to do good comes from God.

Truth comes in many shapes and sizes. Don’t be fooled by Fake News into believing you have to try to be perfect to be loved. Jesus is our perfection. Go and live life in the freedom of knowing that you are loved.  Trust God to transform you and live a life worth living.                                                               

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