Over the past few weeks this email has been absent from your inbox for various reasons, the most notable being my increased workload during the holidays. But while I was on hiatus from penning these emails, I came to a place where I knew that I needed to make a decision for the New Year, namely, either to continue or discontinue writing. After much thought, I have chosen the latter.
My reason for choosing the latter has everything to do with time and yearnings. At present I don’t have the time to do what I yearn to do. Therefore, to make time, I am going to forego writing these emails in order to free up time to take on another hobby for which I have long wanted to engage. I would tell you what it is, but it is top secret, and therefore, if I told you, I’d then have to kill you.
So please forgive me for ceasing this project in favor of a new one, which will be broader in scope and hopefully, more fulfilling in the end. My yearning is to write a story that I will seek to publish in the distant future. When and how are questions that remain without an answer for the moment. Suffice it to say that it will address one of the most basic issues of society in novel form from a Christian perspective.
If these emails have been a great blessing to you, I apologize for calling a halt to their production. I just happen to be one of those guys who can’t do two things well simultaneously.
My prayer is that God will bless you and keep you and cause his face to smile upon you in every way possible. I thank you for understanding.
The most recent Where’s Waldo puzzle that I tried to solve had no less than 500 different colorfully drawn characters that created an almost impossible maze of obstacles to keep me from locating Waldo. The picture puzzle involved people visiting a fair where men, women, and children of all sizes and brightly patterned clothing were included to make hiding the red and white striped Waldo that much harder to locate. I cannot recall how many times my eyes scrolled up, down, and side-to-side painstakingly searching for the guy wearing the red and white bobble hat and blue pants. Theoretically, with an outfit like Waldo’s, it shouldn’t be that difficult to locate him. However, when hundreds of red herrings are created within the same drawing, Waldo becomes almost impossible to find.
Imagine for a moment that the infant Jesus is Waldo in a portrait of the Christmas season. Your task is to locate the infant Savior just as if you were trying to locate Waldo on a picture puzzle. Everywhere on the portrait puzzle are people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Their clothing is festive. Decorations of Christmas trees, candles, lights, gift-wrapped presents in brilliant colors fill in the scenery to confuse the solver. Churches, storefronts and houses are decorated to the nines. In one section a choir is singing carols to a street crowd. Thousands of people are portrayed in every nook and cranny in various stages of celebrating the sacred holidays. As you take a deep look at the puzzle, the question remains: Where’s Jesus?
In today’s glitz-filled holiday season, discovering the whereabouts of Jesus can be as tricky as finding Waldo on a picture puzzle. From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, our lives are spent searching for Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, Christmas parties, Christmas gatherings, Christmas food, and Christmas outings during the holidays, not to mention Granny’s homemade special recipe Christmas eggnog. Finding the reason for the season is almost as difficult as finding the infant Jesus on a picture puzzle.
An analytical puzzle solver might conclude that the infant Jesus would be found in the puzzle’s manger scene erected on the church lawn featuring Joseph, Mary, the stable animals, and center stage, the infant Jesus nestled in a wooden manger. Unfortunately, this is another red herring, for the baby in the manger scene is nothing more than a beautifully painted porcelain model.
As the search continues, an amazing anomaly pops out as if one is finally able to see the individual trees within the forest. All over the picture puzzle, various adults and children alike are portrayed carrying a baby in their arms next to their hearts. The baby is unique from all the other characters in that the child is drawn with the same drably colored clothing in which to keep warm. In each portrayal of the child, he is smiling. So also is every person carrying the child! Those not carrying the homely clad child in the picture puzzle are portrayed as hurried, worried, burdened, and lost. It’s as if they were in a maze of Christmas without the Christ.
So, where’s Waldo? The infant Jesus is to be encountered in every heart that has been converted into a manger for the Savior to reside. Has your heart discovered him yet?
From today’s smartphone age, the history of the telephone retreats to the ordinary cellphone. The cellphone was a huge break from the digital land-line telephone that evolved from the rotary dial land-line single party telephone. The precursor of the single party land-line was a similar unit connected to a party-line system where more than one family shared a line.
The party-line system was a step up from the candlestick style telephones that were dependent on operator assistance, such as when Andy Griffith picked up the receiver to speak to Sarah, the town’s operator. The invention of the in-home candlestick telephone was a vast improvement over community telephones that were operated out of businesses and required a single-use fee. While the designations used here are not exact, they serve to loosely illustrate the road backwards in time from the present to Alexander Graham Bell and others who had a hand in the invention of the acoustical telegraph in the 1870s.
For those of us who’ve lived through several variations of the telephone, whenever we see a man talking on a cellphone in a grocery store to ask his wife which type of detergent to buy, or where the onion salt is located, we pause to ask ourselves how we ever survived without the convenience of cellphones. The difference between then and now is that if we came home with the wrong brand of detergent or garlic salt instead of onion salt, we knew that our lives were not in mortal danger. Our spouses would simply make do with what they had on hand.
Perhaps the greatest ill brought on by the rampant dependence upon smartphones is that everything has graduated to the level of an emergency because convenience breeds necessity. They are convenient because they travel with us. The necessity is our imagined importance of accessibility. Once upon a time if you needed to get in touch with someone you called the house or the business and left a message. Then you waited. While you waited you went on to accomplish something productive. Now that cellphones travel, we expect an immediate response as if every last decision or piece of information we seek is a life and death situation when it isn’t even close. Cellphones have succeeded in elevating the status and expectations of the user. With this elevation comes a false sense of emergency.
In today’s world, we get bent out of shape if we miss a call, or someone calls and doesn’t leave a message. Immediately we return the call because we believe we might have missed an emergency. The problem is that when every call rises to the level of an emergency, then life has lost its meaning as well as its context. Suddenly there is only the emergency and nothing else, not even the person with whom we're seated across the table from on a romantic dinner outing.
When the cellphone becomes more important than life itself, it’s time to get a life. It’s time to turn to prayer and reconnect with the only One who gives us meaning in the first place. No technological device can provide us with what only God can give. And just in case you’re interested, here’s the secret to a far better life: God communicates with us unencumbered by technological devices, no matter how smart they may be.
GRASSHOPPER: Master, what will you do if your candidate does not win the election?
MASTER: The same as I am doing now.
GRASSHOPPER: But Master, won’t the world come to an end if your candidate loses?
MASTER: It hasn’t ended in the millennia before it. Why should it end now?
GRASSHOPPER: Because the worst of the candidates will lead the country to gloom and doom.
MASTER: And what exactly did we have during the Great Wars? What have we experienced over the past few years? How will one person lead us into a place we’ve already been?
GRASSHOPPER: But Master, it has never been like this before. Never this bad!
MASTER: Has it? Can you substantiate that claim?
GRASSHOPPER: Well, uh… I mean… You know… Think about…
MASTER: Yes, think about it. Like the weather, countries go through cycles of good and bad. But one person winning or losing an election will not save or destroy the country.
GRASSHOPPER: But who? Who will save the country?
MASTER: There is only One who can save us. And if he chooses to give us what we deserve, then we are truly doomed regardless of who wins the election.
GRASSHOPPER: Then who is this Superhero with the power to save us? Can we put him on the ballot and vote for him to save our country?
MASTER: Well, no, and yes, my little Grasshopper.
GRASSHOPPER: Master, sometimes it is very difficult to understand you. Please explain.
MASTER: We cannot put God on the ballot. So no, we cannot vote for him at a voting booth. But we can cast our vote for God through prayer. And if we pray for that which he wants done, then he will save our country.
GRASSHOPPER: What does he want done?
MASTER: His will.
How many times as a parent have you promised your children an outing where the event you were going to got rained out at the last minute so that in no way could you fulfill your promise? The kids had been living for days with the hope of going to the zoo, the water park, canoeing downriver, or any number of things parents plan for their children. Experiences like these serve to illustrate a particular nasty addendum to Murphy’s Law, namely, that whenever special plans are made for children on their parents’ singular day off; rain, snow, sickness, or some other unexpected roadblock will inevitably nullify those well-intentioned plans.
The bad part is not rain, or that you have to explain to the children why the trip was cancelled. The bad part is hearing one of the children blurt out, “But you promised!” That hurts, because the one thing you can’t do is to make it up to them. The last thing you ever want to do with your children is to lie to them, or to create a situation where they think your word can’t be trusted. When that happens, the bond between parent and child weakens considerably.
In the broader scheme of life, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that the outing got rained out, for several reasons. One of those reasons is that when God cancels the best laid plans of a parent with a child, that cancellation becomes a teaching moment. Nobody ever gets what he or she wants all the time. By sending rain and snow and traffic jams that keep us from our planned destinations, God informs us all that he might have other plans for us. One of those plans is to learn early and often that we are not in control of our destinies, regardless of how hard we fight to reach the end of the line by the power of our own devices.
The key to the contented life is to learn the unbelievable lesson that when a trip to the water park gets rained out; God has something better in store for us. How well I remember the story of the parent who was taking his son to an event when a tire went flat on the way. On the side of the road, the father and the son got out and proceeded to change the flat. Due to the young son’s help, the process of changing the tire proved to be much longer than necessary, which rendered continuing on to the planned event useless.
The father was heartbroken that they’d missed the promised event. The moment his wife saw his crestfallen demeanor, she knew something had gone very wrong. But what? She turned to her son only to discover that for the next hour or so, he regaled her with a fascinating tale about the most exciting time he’d ever had with his Dad, just changing a tire.
The author of Proverbs said, “do not lean on your own understanding [when things go wrong]. In all your ways acknowledge Him [and especially so when you meet an unexpected dead end], and He will make your paths straight [to something much better and nearer to his heart].” (3:5-6) The sooner we learn this; the better off we’ll be, not just as kids, but also especially as adults.
I’m sure you’re acquainted with the expression, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Regarding Christianity, a play on this expression might go like this: “All works and no faith makes Jack a dull Christian.” According to the half-brother of Jesus, we might extrapolate one step further to say, “All faith and no works makes Jack a dull Christian.” The point to be made here is that in Christian circles, faith and works are inseparable.
In our culture there is the danger of separating faith and works. On the one hand there are those who seek the hyper-spiritual where people meet on Sundays to experience ecstatic worship services and promote the expressions of jubilation throughout the week without actually ever sacrificing anything for the sake of God or others.
On the other hand there are those who seek the hyper-social where the cause of social justice and social welfare are promoted almost to the exclusion of faith. In fact, a specific faith in Jesus is not required when promoting the causes of social action.
James, in his compact but poignant letter to the church at large, seeks to put paid to the notion that someone might separate faith from works, or vice-versa. For the Christian they are inseparable. Here’s why.
Can you imagine Jesus becoming incarnate and then beginning his ministry of crisscrossing Israel with a message of faith for three years only to then forego the works of sacrificing himself on the cross? Or, can you imagine Jesus undertaking a ministry of compassion whereby he did everything in his power to help the disadvantaged and harangued others to get involved in his campaign of social justice without any mention of his belief in God?
Neither one of the hypotheses is conceivable. In Jesus we find both faith and works. In fact, he had such great faith that his works were the proof in the pudding that his faith was authentic. For this reason when the disciples of John the Baptist came to question whether or not he was the real Messiah, Jesus referred to his works as proof that his faith was genuine. (John 7:22)
Genuine faith in God produces works. Faith gives, forgives, goes, shares, loves, sacrifices and dies for God and those he loves. In the words of the Apostle Paul, faith produces fruit. The “…fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
All faith and no works nullifies Jack’s claim of being a Christian; likewise, all works and no faith. A Christian is the embodiment of someone whose faith works.
Bethany was a problem child. She started off problematically with a taste for Spanish coins since she was born in Spain. Her tendency to swallow coins of various denominations made life very interesting for us. On several occasions I had to pick her up with my left hand and pound her back with my right in order to perform the toddler’s version of the Heimlich maneuver. As she grew she exhibited a daringness to walk into a pool of water without hesitation. She just assumed someone would rescue her as if she were a princess. Life continued in this vein for years to follow.
In the movie, The Sound of Music, nuns pose the question in song, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” For us it was always, “How do you solve a problem like Bethany?” The Mother Superior solved the problem by sending Maria into the proximity of a good man.
A blues song by Eddie Green asserted in 1918: “A good man is hard to find.” Yes, finding a good man to solve a problem like Bethany proved to be very difficult. We tried and tried to find one but to no avail. The candidates either didn’t measure up to her standards, or they wouldn’t stick around to solve the problem. The axiom proved true, at least until the moment Bethany introduced us to Logan.
Once we got to know Logan, we began reasoning with the same logic of the creatures in the house of the Beast, who wondered about the presence of the mysterious Beauty suddenly wandering into the castle by asking, “Could this be the one?” He was the one!
This realization brought me back to Eddie Green’s song, which made the point that a good man is hard to find. It went on to reveal something even more difficult when it declared, “A good woman is even harder to find!” I can’t be sure how long or how hard Logan searched the world over to find true love, but I’m convinced that when he found Bethany, he discovered a rarity: a good woman.
Now a good man and a good woman are entwined as one in the beginning of a life-long pursuit to build a family. A family not just of husband and wife and children, but also of their extended families and all that they will entail. To survive the onslaught of everything society and culture will throw at them to destroy the goodness of their relationship, they will need the goodness of God. God will have to become the center of their beings, their family, and their adventures together.
A good man may be hard to find. A good woman may even be harder to find. But a good life with a Good God isn’t nearly so difficult. As the Scripture implores us all: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6, NIV84) In doing so, he will bless your marriage just as he did the couple at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. (John 2)
As weddings go it was a simple affair. Held on a grassy lawn, the accouterments consisted of a white chairs and a country arbor. Out to the side a violinist and a cellist played softly, lending a dignified atmosphere to the event. Approximately one hundred people were in attendance to witness the union of a beloved couple. I was the minister officiating the ceremony who was about to be taught a great lesson in faith.
As per custom, I processed from the rear of the setting down the aisle created by the divide in the placement of chairs leading toward the arbor where I was to position myself. The groom followed and took his position at my left as I faced the audience. The remaining retinue filled their positions to await the bride’s arrival. Moments later, she presented herself and was just about to make her entry when the groom looked at me to whisper, “Do you have the rings?”
When I replied that I did not, he thought I was pulling one of those awful wedding pranks. I had to look him hard in the eyes to reveal the reality: I did NOT have the rings. When the truth of the situation hit him, to his credit he did not panic, but he did get nervous. Fortunately the soundman was standing about twelve feet from us, so I motioned for him to approach. The groom told him what to do and then we turned to watch the bride process toward the arbor. Thankfully all eyes were on the bride instead of us.
Not knowing whether or not the soundman would locate the rings or be able to bring them to us in time, we proceeded with the service as if we had them in hand. In my mind I quickly concocted Plan B, which would mean excusing myself at the appropriate time to go to the parents of the bride to borrow their rings for the ceremony. The ceremony began.
“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” “…Will you have this man… this woman… to be your [spouse]?” Then I saw what came next in the ceremony, “The ring….” What I said was, “Here we have a conundrum,” thinking I was going to have to excuse myself, knowing we didn’t have the rings. At that moment the groom touched me and motioned for me to look to the soundman. Silently and quickly he handed me a box that contained two rings. Then I proceeded with the ceremony as if nothing had happened and no one in the audience had any idea what a great step of faith had just occurred.
This ceremony taught me a great deal about faith, and particularly the matter of trusting God to work things out in his time and his manner when all seems hopeless. When God has something for us to do, there are times when he doesn’t make it possible until the so-called eleventh hour. He asks us to go and do and then to trust him to make the accommodations necessary for the completion of the task. Oft times those accommodations aren’t realized until the very last moment. But when we walk with God, the figurative wedding rings will magically appear when needed, and the step of faith (of getting married or whatever else God wants us to do) can take place at precisely the right moment. And in the end we all may testify that God is good! Amen!
The subject of elections is currently dominating conversations across the country. This year, as in any Presidential election year, debates are ongoing between local, state and national leadership contenders. Occupying the top of this year’s election conversations are candidates for Gran Poo Bah who offer a not so intriguing choice between a spectacular hotelier hairdo and a serial secretarial e-mailer. One can only hope that the candidates who win the various posts for which they’re running will be the gifts of God and not the officers we deserve.
There is, however, another election going on simultaneously with the political elections that merits far more attention, but unfortunately, it is overshadowed by the political arena and overlooked by the vast majority of the voting public. In this other election, everyone has a vote. Ironically, whether one casts an official ballot or not, everyone will vote because an abstention from voting is the same as voting in the negative. So, what is this election in which each of us are required to vote? It is the election of our eternal salvation. Here’s how it works.
According to the Bible, everyone on earth has sinned. The consequences of being born in sin and committing acts of sin are eternal death and separation from God. In other words, sin renders every man and woman incapable of entering either the presence or the blessings of God. Fortunately, God decided to change the dynamics and make it possible for each of us to vote in an election that would determine our destinies. In order for anyone’s destiny to change, an election to salvation and eternity would be held requiring a majority of affirmative votes. The election proceeds first with God’s vote. Next, the devil casts his vote. Finally, you and I cast the deciding vote for the future and status of our respective souls.
As much as sin destroyed us, God sent his Son into the world to die for our sins and to take the punishment for our sin. By doing so, God cast his vote for us. He let us know that he’s for us and that he wants us to be with him eternally.
Unfortunately, our immortal adversary, the devil, casts his vote against us each and every time he reminds the Lord of the sins we’ve committed. He is ruthless in waging his campaign on two fronts, first by arguing before God that we are unworthy of consideration, and secondly, by doing everything in his power to convince us that the election isn’t worth our participation. He knows that abstaining is voting to remain in the devil’s camp and a life of sin.
At this point the election is tied. The deciding vote is left for you and me to cast. The question we must answer amidst all of the noise and the hoopla of the election cycle is whether we are going to vote to stand with Jesus or the devil. So, the question is, how will we vote? If the election were held today, how would you vote?
Let’s consider the election from a Biblical perspective. Joshua, the leader of Israel, described it like this: “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) For whom will you vote?
Wouldn’t you hate to be Gus? The difficulty of Gus’s life has everything to do with the aphorism, “Don’t cuss, call Gus, and he’ll cuss for both of us.” For those who abide by the Scriptural command to “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth,” (Eph. 4:29) calling Gus is an imperative. It is also the blessing of Gus’s existence.
Imagine the following situation. A handyman employs an old fashioned hammer to pound a nail into a board when he’s distracted and he hammers his thumb instead of the nail. The pain reverberates from his thumb all the way to the nerve centers in his brain in less than a nanosecond. The brain signals a call for a verbal reaction in the form of a curse word, but the moment the cry for a dirty word arises, the moral side of the brain recalls the command to let no unwholesome word exit one’s mouth. Therefore, the injured man reaches for his cell phone to call Gus, whose number is on automatic redial. Once the request is made of Gus, the handyman goes to recover from his pain without having uttered a single dirty word. Unfortunately for Gus, his contractual obligation calls for him to curse loudly and often on behalf of the injured handyman. It’s his job to sin in behalf of the handyman and everyone else who calls.
Fortunately for Gus, he does have days when the telephone is as quiet as a mouse stealing cheese from the pantry shelf. These are the days when the people who should call him, don’t. It’s not that they’re successful in holding their tongues and thus have no reason to call Gus; it’s just the opposite. Instead of phoning the man who should be their best friend, they choose to leave Gus alone and curse for themselves. While they’re abandoning the command of Scripture, Gus is walking around with nothing to do. You might say these are Gus’s good days, but they’re not. His good days are the days he gets to save someone from letting his mouth get him in trouble.
Gus is a rather odd type of individual. Believe it or not, Gus yearns to be called. He wants to cuss. He knows that if others are cursing, then they’re placing their lives in spiritual and eternal danger, for the man who is cussing is definitely not letting the words of his mouth be acceptable to the Lord. (Psalm 19:14) Gus knows that his one great purpose in life is living sacrificially so that all others might enter the Lord’s presence without offending the Lord in anything they say. (Job 2:10)
If you’re prone to cursing, don’t. Your words can get you in deep trouble. Instead, call Gus. He’s willing to cuss for both of you. His great sacrificial calling is to save you from allowing the words of your mouth to become unacceptable to the Lord. And for heaven’s sake, put his number on speed dial!
Let the metaphorical act of calling Gus save you from allowing your tongue to place your spiritual life in eternal jeopardy.