I Hate War

I can truthfully say that I hate war.  There are no good wars and I would have to ask if there are just ones.  Why am I saying this now during the time of Christmas?  This is a season for Joy and Love at the celebration of the coming Christ Child, so why talk about war.  Yes, Christmas is a time of Love and Joy, of giving and sharing, family and friends.  But at this time war is occurring, people are suffering and dying.  Militaries stand opposite each other seeking the opportunity to defeat the other.  Many will not come home at all and many will come home injured and maimed, physically, mentally and emotionally.  Families will not be together and even though it may be the troops in a faraway land who are threatened with physical harm the families back home suffer as well not knowing whether their loved ones are safe or are in harm’s way.  And all look for hope during their time of despair.

Christmas, 1970, was spent on a firebase in South Vietnam.  There was no joy there because a few hours earlier in setting up for a Christmas Eve cease fire there was a friendly fire incident where 12 of our fellow soldiers died.  Talk about rip the heart out of Christmas that will do it.  For the soldiers involved the exact cause is still unknown but the cause does not matter.  What matters is that 12 of our brothers did not come home to celebrate.  The ultimate gift man can receive is the gift of a Savior, the ultimate ruin is to have blood on your hands.  How, or rather, can they coexist?

Right now it is two weeks until Christmas 2015. Two Thousand and 15 some odd years since the first Christmas occurred, the actual Christmas Day.  We hold so strongly to that event so long ago and pull meaning out of the story even today.  At the same time, at least in America, most everyone is going nuts with shopping, lights, tinsel and general madness.  How much can they spend, how much says I love you, can I have as many lights on my house as the Griswold’s (yes, I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas and laugh).

So Christmas is coming once again and here I am talking about hating war.  Our nation’s fear level is increased about possible terrorist attacks within our nation, disturbing our peace at this time we hold dear.  Halfway around the world the military is fighting actual war and we are having to be prepared for more wars in different places, all combined with fears of possible threats around us.  If people cannot see the tragedy in this then they are blind.  If they cannot hear the cries of the suffering then they are deaf.  If they will not join and say that they also hate war then they are dumb.

I hate war and would choose to not go again to war.  But, if I must I will and if I could go in place of a young person and spare them the pain thus allowing them to know the fullness of life without seeing war I would go in their place.  And on top of it all this Christmas I will worship and rejoice at the greatest gift man has ever received, the Christ Child, born for you and for me.

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We Need Only Look

Has anyone ever told you “You need only look?” All around us life itself is screaming out that it is. Life is alive, there is more than the mundane and it is there for us to see it. I am constantly amazed by the work of astronomers and particle physicists. On one hand they are reaching out and seeing life billions of light years away and on the other they strip away the layers that build life like that of an onion, getting ever smaller and finding more wonder.

Astronomers say that the universe is 13 billion lights years across. I would like to go to the very edge and stick my hand through and beyond the boundary to find out what is beyond. Particle physicists say they have found the “God particle” that is the basis for everything. I wonder what they will find when they build a bigger super collider and split that particle, something even smaller I should wonder.

But what about you and me, what can we see if we look around us? One of my favorite books is “The Little Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (add an apostrophe above the e). It is a whimsical tale for children of all ages (even age 64). He was a French pilot both before WWII and during it, where he died. Another book he wrote is titled “Wind, Sand and Stars” in which he talks about his time as a pilot over the deserts of Africa, the Andes Mountains and the Pyrenees in Europe. This was all during the time flying was in its infancy and was very lonely and dangerous.

The last two and a half pages tell of his traveling by rail on a long journey. At one o’clock in the morning he had the urge to tour the rail cars throughout its length. When he came upon the third class coaches he found them full of Polish workmen being sent home from France back to Poland. The book was first copyrighted in 1939 so this was on the eve of WWII and was a time of great turmoil throughout the land. De Saint-Exupery noted that they all looked like they had lost half of their humanity. He sat down and observed a couple asleep and noticed a child wedged between them. The thought that struck him upon looking closely at this child was that they had the face of a musician, that this child was a Mozart, a life full of beautiful promise. Yet, De Saint-Exupery concluded, this little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the common stamping machine. He would grow up to love shoddy music and that this Mozart would be condemned.

We need only look and we too shall see this life around us, the lives stamped out by what is accepted as okay, never reaching the highest levels each of us can achieve. At the same time we can go out and see a sunset, the stars at night or any one of hundreds of different things that show forth the wonder of life and all that are good. We need the vision of each end of the spectrum to keep us in balance and that keep us striving to improve our world and all that call it home.

Less than a half page later De Saint-Exupery ends his book with a statement that really struck home with me in several ways. His statement, “Only the Spirit, if it breathes life upon the clay, can create Man.” I love that statement. Yes, we are clay, from the dust we can and from the dust we shall return. It is only when the Spirit breathes upon us that life is truly created. We need only look and we need only bring the life of the Spirit with us to find life.

Flawed Christian, Pt. 2

This is part 2 of “Flawed Christian” and I would like to expound on what I meant in part 1. I said I was flawed and that is just what I meant. I am not perfect (I already said that) and I do not meet the standard Jesus set to be perfect as the Father in Heaven is. How am I not? Consider how you and I are created, we are tripartite beings, body, mind and spirit. Maybe you want to say body, soul and spirit, to me that is minor. We are three part beings.
First we are body, flesh, organic, we bleed and we sweat, we physically feel pain and pleasure. That is body. It is physical and it is what some people think is all we are. Further we all decay and eventually die. No getting around that except for one possible exception. A concept in Christianity is stated born once die twice. Born twice, die once meaning that once we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we only die physically but we will live forever with God. I am not going to debate that concept here as it is not part of this story.
The only possible exception is Lazarus. Jesus raised him from the dead. It is written there that Lazarus was good and dead and ripe for several days when Jesus raised him. So, if Lazarus died then he died the death we all face and Jesus brought him back from the dead to live again. So did Lazarus die a second time? Now that is an interesting question to me. Could it be that in Israel right now is a little old 2,000 year old man who has a very bad attitude because Jesus brought him back from the dead and now he has to wait on Jesus coming back again. I know I would not be a happy camper. That is just some food for thought for the theological types.
I am 63 years old and not getting any younger. My body is physically decaying and beginning to break down. Is that a sin? No, that is the normal process of life. If the super Christian crowd prays for me to be healed what would it look like? Would it be the body of a young, healthy male or would it be the current state I am in being more comfortable and better able to perform normal routine activities? My point for this post is that I am flawed. I can no longer do many of the things I once could. Flawed is normal and I don’t have to try and be something I am not. Last summer I tried something I can no longer do. I was at the big city pool doing my water exercises and was watching kids jumping off the diving board with another lady who was doing the same thing as I was. She says that looks like fun, I think I will try it and she did. Nice dive lady. So I thought I would also and got up there on the board. Tested the board out for spring and distance of the steps with no problem. Planned on doing a simple jackknife and started to go up on one leg when the leg I went up on said “no you don’t.” I collapsed under me and I went off the board at a 45 degree angle on my shoulder in a complete belly flop that I sure was amazing to watch. No more going off the board for me.
We are mind, we have a brain (yes that is part of the body) that contains our learning ability. By this age mine should be chock full of knowledge and to an extent it is. 63 years of history and study and all kinds of stuff in there. Do you know the name of Dudley Do-right’s horse? I have that piece of wonderful knowledge stored away. But here comes a major factor in being a flawed Christian. The mind is where choices come in and quite often I choose that which is not pleasing to God and which He calls sin. I am flawed by my being weak in will and the choices I make. In Romans, chapter 7, Paul says that he does the things he does not want to do and does not do the things he should do. The great apostle Paul is saying he too is flawed. Puts us in good company I suppose.
How does Paul answer this dilemma? The answer is actually easy; the accepting of it is the hard part. In Romans, chapter 7, Paul goes on and says: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then in Romans, chapter 8, Paul ices the cake saying: “God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”
This is Christmas folks, the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God made man. God came down from heaven and became flesh and blood, just like you and me, an baby infant, helpless and totally dependent on his mother to bring him into the world. Further, God came down in the lowliest of places to the most humble of people, poor and in a distant land from home, alone.
Yet they were not alone by a long shot. Who did God send to bear witness of this miracle? Shepherds that is who. Guys working the graveyard shift minding their own business, nice quiet evening out looking at the stars and making small talk about the local camel races. And lo, an angel appeared to them and the glory of God shone all around them! Hey, I am awake, okay. Fear not, for I bring tidings of great joy. Go down and look for the son of King David (really dropping names here) born this day. Oh, and by the way you will find him in the stable, in a manger, a feed trough if you will. What, the son of the great king David in a stable, in a manger, for shame, for shame. But that is how God comes to you and to me, humbly, poor, not lifting Himself up. He comes as a babe, helpless, willing to just “be” himself, no being anything special. That is our King, willing to serve.
Therein lies the key, are we willing to just be a servant, nothing special? That is all Jesus asks of us. Will you and I give Him our flawed selves this Christmas and allow Him to use us as He sees fit. I know I am not worthy, that I am flawed and am a sinner of the highest order (there is actually only one order of sinner and that is chief) yet God still chooses to occasionally work through me.
I hope and pray our new priest (Rev, Dr.) is a shepherd who is will to be approached by angels who come proclaiming good news and I hope he knows where the best grass is for his sheep because I am needy. This Christmas, his first with us, I hope and pray he leads us to lift our voices and hands to worship the coming of the King, son of God and son of Man. All I can say is Baaahhhh! Merry Christmas.

Flawed Christian

I am a flawed Christian.  There I said and it is off my chest.  In Matthew 5:48 Jesus Himself says “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  I am definitely not what Jesus says I am to be, and I know it all too well.  Surprise, neither are you so don’t try and pretend you aren’t.

This morning I had a revelation and it went like this. Last night I stayed up way too late, my digestive system was rumbling, did not sleep well and the alarm keeps annoying me to get up and go to church.  So I kept hitting snooze until I was just too uncomfortable to stay in bed.  During the time of snoozing my mind was not fully cognizant so deeper thoughts were able to come forth, hence the revelation.  I was thinking about our new priest (I am an Episcopalian) who is a Rev. Dr. and we all know that a PhD means “piled higher and deeper.”  But he is called to be the shepherd of our church, the flock, and we are called to be his sheep.  Then I began reciting Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makest (I love King Jimmy) me lie down in green pastures…”  I have been taught that in olden days if a shepherd has a sheep that continues to stray he will actually break the sheep’s legs to get it to lie down and learn not to stray.

It is the shepherd’s job to lead the sheep to green grass and protect them from wolves.  Lord knows the world today is full of wolves.  Over the years, however, I have learned that the priests and preachers, the myriad of teachers, evangelists, and all of the theological types are also just like me, flawed, imperfect.  The problem comes in when they try to act perfect and they preach and teach like they are perfect and that we should be like them and act the part.  It does not work.  We are all flawed and imperfect and we are all dying, some faster than others.

So much of the Christian world today puts on a front and wants to have all the answers to being perfect and doing things right.  If you brush your teeth with Pepsodent your will have white teeth, if you use Dove soap you will have clean and smooth skin.  If you drive some car in some specific color you will be an in person, and so forth and so on.  It does not work.

In the modern Christian church if you pray a certain way you can have an inside line to God and your prayers will be answered the way you want.  If you follow certain teachings then you will be living the “good” Christian life and will be counted as righteous.  And oh yes, if you give so much of your money God will rain down even more money.  It is a guaranteed rate of return.  Furthermore, you should not hurt or feel pain, that is very unChristlike.

When we are born we begin the journey to death and we begin to decay and fall apart.  Yes, at a young age we are still on the uphill but at some point the journey starts going downhill.  Maybe very slowly and maybe the journey is very quick.  Maybe the monster named cancer will strike or any of a number of other unnatural diseases and ailments.  Perhaps an accident, tragedy or your life will be taken in a senseless crime of murder.  That has been happening a lot lately.  Just watch the evening news but don’t try and keep score as it is scary and depressing.

So back to our new Episcopal priest and how he plays into this revelation I had.  What I realized is that Episcopal priests, more than any other minsters or theologians I am aware of know that they are also flawed and imperfect.  And that is of great benefit to them.  They know there are no simple answers, nothing pat to offer.  Instead they can just “be” with their sheep.  They can tend them, love them, and wash their wounds.  That, I think, is what Jesus would do and what He does do.  That is honest ministry and that is what people need to draw them closer to the Lord.

God Himself does not offer us answers except to offer us Himself.  He offered Himself so deeply that He came down from heaven as a man, a man just like you and me (I use the term man in the third person meaning man and woman).  This week we celebrate His coming, God Himself coming, as a newborn babe, totally innocent and helpless, meek and mild, borne of a woman into a harsh world.  Jesus came to be born in a stable; sorry the hotel/motel is full go away, to show us God Himself in all of His glory.  The glory Jesus revealed first came to shepherd’s, men like our new priest, people just doing a job who took the time away to go and behold Him, the Promised One.

Merry Christmas to all.  Blessings in Jesus name.

VETERAN PEACEMAKERS- Nov 11

A DEVOTED LIFE

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:10

English: Veterans Day poster issued by the U.S...

Today is the day we honor our veterans in the United States. Appropriately, ceremonies with be held in appreciation of the sacrifice that so many have given in the service of our country. These ceremonies will inherently have a melancholy mood at least for me.

As I have written before (Imagine a World without Veterans), veterans are the product of war and threats of war. I recently ran across a quote by Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones in which he asked a series of pertinent questions.

Why are there wars in the world?
Why is there this constant international tension?
What is the matter with the world?
Why war and all the unhappiness and turmoil and discord amongst men?
According to this Beatitude (Matthew 5:10),
there is only one answer to these questions-sin.

Nothing else; just sin.”

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Rev 21:1-3, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”  The Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos saw something he had never seen, something he really did not know what he was seeing, but he saw it.  We each see as we understand and we relate what we have seen in terms we know.  It is true for John and it is true for you and for me.

Tonight when I went to bed I thought about what I had been watching on TV and it included the movie Star Trek and Thor.  Now Star Trek is a 50 year old franchise of science fiction and in it man goes where he has not gone before, strange new worlds, and he goes boldly.  But the key word here is fiction.  It is man’s concept of that which does not exist.  From a logical perspective it all could be; the science of warp speed, transporters, strange new worlds and other civilizations make sense.  From a pure astronomical point of view we know there are billions of galaxies and billions of stars within each of those galaxies and that there must be billions of planets in each one so therefore there should be billions of other worlds complete with beings and some of them must be older than us and some must also be younger, some more advanced and some not as advanced as we are.  Makes sense to me and a lot of people think so.  But the bottom line is we don’t know.  What we do know is what we know and for each of us that is contained in our history.

Now one thing we do know and that is recorded in history is that there was a man named Jesus Christ.  He was born, he lived and he died.  We have records of his life and records of how he died, actually how he was murdered.  And these records say He claimed to be God’s own son, to be God Himself come down from someplace called heaven.  The records also record things that do not fit our understanding, Star Trek like things.  But how do these records get recorded?  Let’s consider the apostle John in the Book of Revelation, a book that is actually titled “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

John had been sent to a Roman penal colony on the Isle of Patmos because he would not worship the pagan Roman leaders.  This is because he, John, had met and knew that this man Jesus really was all He claimed to be, God come down to be a man like us.  When you know the truth you have to stand on it.  When you know God, when He has come into your life He changes you and transforms you as nothing else can.

So I am in bed trying to get my mind to be quiet and to drift off to sleep and to start to dream.  And Star Trek and other things want to play around in my mind and I am trying to tell my mind to think about real things, the things of God that I know are true and real, not this sci-fi make believe world.  And this gets me to thinking about this time of year, Christmas time.  Thinking about how this Christmas has been and why and what does it mean.  this Christmas season has been a hard one on me for a lot of reasons.

Christmas is always a difficult time for me.  It is both a very good time and a very bad time, very hard emotionally.  And it takes me for an emotional roller coaster ride which includes dreams and sleeping.  So I am trying to go to sleep tonight and I am trying to get a handle on reality and not some sci-fi nonsense and John on Patmos comes to mind.  Let’s take a look.  John saw a new heaven and a new earth and he wrote about it.  But he can only write in terms and words he knows and understands the same as you and I.  In a spiritual sense I have been to heaven a few times, caught up in the spirit as the Apostle Paul says.  So what did it look like?  I was in the great throne room of God Himself and the only words I can use to describe it come from the wizard of OZ because that is an image I can get a handle on.  But it wasn’t like that throne room; it was different, more glorious, more beyond description.  In H. G Wells “The War of the Worlds” the author describes these marching machines that are attacking the earth and they sound a whole lot like water towers that are walking and moving.  Again, I propose that H. G. Wells is relating what he cannot accurately describe in terms he can describe.

I submit to you that the reality is so much greater than we can not only imagine but conceive of or dream.  On Christmas Day, 2009, we took my wife to the hospital due to complications with cancer.  Lab tests confirmed her kidneys had shut down and she was in renal failure.  That is a nice clinical term for she was dying.  We transferred her to the hospice facility where on December 29th she did indeed die.  In these situations people who are going through it go into emotional overload.  During it your thought processes are numb but on the other side disbelief takes over.  This Christmas season a good friend lost his sister and another dear friend lost his father.  Christmas day I met a lady who lost her son a few months ago to a hit and run driver.  I was visiting a neighbor who had a friend over who lost her husband a couple of months ago.  Each of these individuals is grappling with what is real and what is not and is grappling with how to deal with it.

So let’s take a look at what Christmas means and let’s start with the opening announcement that something special has happened.  So it begins with Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus in a stable.  Consider the story in Luke, chapter 2, where there are shepherds watching their flocks at night, just minding their business when very Star Trek like an angel appears (complete in glory) and scares the you know what out of them.  This stuff just does not happen and this record of it is written down by a doctor no less.  And the angel says, first of all, don’t be afraid (even though you have every right to be) because I come and bring good news not just for you but for everyone on earth.  Cool, this has got to be good, really something out of this world.  So here it is, the Savior of the world is born.  Okay, sounds good so far.  Go and you will find Him in a manger (feeding trough) in a stable (where animals are kept) and oh, did I mention He is a baby?  Now the angel is surrounded all of a sudden by a large number of heavenly hosts who are all singing praises for this infant child in a stable and then all of them just sort of Star Trek like transport back to heaven.  And you, being one of the shepherds left standing wondering what just happened because it is totally outside of any frame of reference you have go down to the town and guess what?  There is a stable and in it is a manger where a baby lays, a newborn.  The story that should not make sense is actually true.  Quit having jalapeno’s for a late night snack, okay guys.  What really happened with the angel and the heavenly hosts?  We don’t know but we know that the shepherds expressed it in terms they understood and they expressed what really did happen and Israel doesn’t have jalapeno’s so that isn’t what caused it .

I know the pain of people dying and it hurts.  But there are different depths of that pain.  I have had friends and family die and some of it has affected me more deeply than others.  On Christmas Eve, 1970, I was involved in a friendly fire incident in Vietnam where 12 GI’s died.  12 men who were counting on us to support them and we failed.  God, that left scars that still sear with pain even over 40 years later.  There has been much healing but the pain can never go away.  When my wife died I never knew there could be so much pain.  My heart and mind and very soul were ripped apart.  There has also been much healing of that. But what is the greater perspective of it all?

The greater perspective is that there is something more, something beyond all that we know and understand and we have had a taste of it and we can taste of it and know that it is so.  There is a heaven, a real place where people can go when they die.  There is a God, someone beyond our comprehension, who is and was and will be to come.  One of my spiritual “visits” to heaven is tied into my wife Deborah.  After she died, and I was totally consumed with grief and anguish and pain I finally started to get out of my shell.  I worked a Kairos weekend in prison.  This is a ministry where the team of volunteers goes into a prison to bring the love of Jesus to the inmates, and it is good.  So I was on the back table during a time of singing when they sang a song I don’t recall ever hearing.  The song is called “I can only Imagine” written by the group Mercy Me (Bart Millard).  And as we were standing there singing I was taken up in the spirit to heaven and I found myself in the great throne room of God.  It was full of people and it reminded me of the throne room from the Wizard of OZ (remember that we have to fit things in our understanding).  Well, my wife Deborah greeted me and she had the biggest, most beautiful smile on her.  And she takes me by the hand and leads me to a different part of the throne room.  She takes me up to Jesus and introduces me to Him.  That is the part that told me what was happening was real.  It was not about seeing Deborah, that was so wonderful in itself and oh yes, I missed her so much, it was about Jesus.  This vision, this other worldliness was so much more than I could have ever imagined or come up with for an image to heal my grief and pain.  And it was not about me, it was about something greater, Jesus, God Himself.

I can now think of those shepherds guarding their flocks and having the night invaded by heavenly beings, angelic hosts, proclaiming there is so much more.  I can picture John on Patmos at a ripe old age, at the end of a human existence, one who has seen and witnessed so much that is beyond comprehension.  He witnessed life before Christ, before Jesus came as a babe born in a manger, having witnessed the life of Christ and the death of the Savior.  John, who had witnessed and had seen all the pieces fit together who was now exiled and alone on this rock in the middle of the ocean, a man waiting to die and to go home.

So John is there and God gives him more.  “And I saw….” is such power, power you and I cannot question or call to account.  John saw that there is more than can be seen by us, by rational people and that it is for us to see for ourselves. John goes on and tells us more of his vision and yet just a chapter later in the Book of Revelation, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, he finishes and simply says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”  Such completeness can only come in such simplicity, Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.

Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Thor, and all the other phony worlds we make believe are not just fiction, they are such a weak and far cry from reality that it is unreal.  When Jesus comes back we shall know the greater.  We shall see and know that we are so much less while at the same time being of so much more worth that anything we can dream of and conceive of.  We are God’s chosen, His holy people, called by God Himself to know Him, to walk with Him, in perfect love.

My prayer is that I might love with as much of His love as is possible for this frail, fragile human form.  My prayer and heart’s desire is that I might share some of the knowledge that He is, He was, and He will be to come.  He is here now, He lives in me and I pray you seek Him to know Him yourself, personally.  He is there, and He beckons you, even you to so much more.  Amen, come Lord Jesus.