Friday, September 25, 2020

Joy

Joy is my maternal grandfather’s name. He came from Northeastern Iowa, born into a farming family in the late 19th century. He became the County Clerk and walked to work and church down the block from their bungalow type clapboard house with a swing on the front porch.

I only saw him three times. The first was when they visited our home in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin in the 1950s. This bedroom community off of Lake Michigan had side-by-side single-family homes with small yards. Ours had a single apple tree in the back. My grandfather took me there when I was perhaps seven to show me how to peel and core an apple. The photo with this essay is of his father in his own apple orchard in England many decades earlier. Our own small apple orchard now reminds me of this simple and fruit-filled time. He also taught me to play cribbage, a card game I hope to teach my own grandchildren when I see them soon in their Oregon home surrounded by the vast orchards of Harry and David.

The next visit was to their Iowa home in Estherville. That time, my grandmother Elsie, baked donuts and cookies with the black walnuts from the family farm they showed us. On this same farm we hunted pheasants that day. I must have been about 12, but I still vividly recall sitting on a red anthill that taught me another kind of lesson. I would not return to Iowa until graduate school for healthcare administration many years later.

Our final visit was for their 50th wedding anniversary when Joy and Elsie came to see us again in our new home on Lake Michigan. I recall their love of the flower gardens my own mother cherished to cultivate. The summer sun brought a bright memory to the cutting of their cake in the porch beside our sizable apple orchard. Joy found great memories in picking apples with me for the last time. By then his whispy red hair barely covered his balding head. It is from my maternal grandfather that I have received the same hairline.

It seems that it is the simple and common moments that I remember most. They bring a warm joy to me now as I write of these short-lived times.  As I close this story I also recall with fond memory when I visited my own mother for the last time in her closed memory unit for dementia. For some reason known to God, I had carried my Iowa grandmother’s Bible with me. As I opened the Words and shared them with my own testimony of salvation, God opened her now Alzheimer’s closed mind and mouth as she spoke for the first time in two years. My mother asked to find this same joy in redemptive faith that I had. And so I read the words of the “Roman Road” to salvation with her and she repeated them as she received Jesus into her heart as Savior. These were to be the last words I would hear from her, as she died two days later with a peaceful smile on her face the nurses tell me. So I can say like the Apostle Paul of these times.


  I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Nothing

Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love. – Mahatma Gandhi

Recently I wrote about abiding or clinging to the vine of life- Jesus. John 15:5 says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.Other versions say that you cannot produce or yield anything; you can do nothing at all. We must abide, cling to, live in, and dwell in the vine or the Lord. He is our source of power and life. We cannot do anything on our own. John said, “Remain in me.” Do you want to bear fruit?  I suspect you do, but you can’t on your own. Bible teacher Beth Moore said you can do stuff, but not the “things you cannot do.”  You cannot do miracles or supernatural things. These are the things God created you to do through Him.

Elsewhere in Scripture it says that God created you and me to love. This is hard for me. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…we love because He first loved us” (1John 4:11,19). Why did I move from bearing fruit to loving? Because “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love(1 John 4:8). Love is a key of life. Agape love is the love of God that is supernatural, selfless and from God, impossible to give without His power and love within us. The love chapter that many people can find if they have attended a wedding recently, is about love. It speaks about being a clanging cymbal without love. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). There it is again, “nothing.”  Paul is saying that our motivation must be the love of God in us in all things we do. So, whatever we desire or try to achieve, we must rely on God and His love to achieve it. Apart from Him we can do nothing. He will provide for us to bring about reconciliation, or other God given missions. But we must trust in God to do it.

Gandhi’s quote above is that love is a tool or better yet a weapon.  As Ephesians 6 tells us, we must put on the full armor of God, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This is Spirit power, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If we take and use this power in love we can do it. “For with God nothing will be impossible(Luke 1:37). 


“Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing(Psalm 34:9). Without Him we can do nothing, but if we revere Him all things are possible and we will have all we need.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Make My Joy Complete

The gospel of John admonishes us to abide in the vine of Christ. “I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  This is a pretty clear teaching. How much is “nothing?” It probably has befuddled many through the centuries. But this morning I heard a clarifying teaching on this command from a favorite Bible teacher. Yes, you can do things, everybody does. But those things you can do you could have done anyway. We can turn to the left or the right; we can walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.” We can serve Lattes at Starbucks or run a corporation without knowing or being in Christ. Many people wander around even helping the poor and oppressed without Christ, even though they were created by Him and He is watching. But as Bible teacher Beth Moore said in one of her programs, we cannot do the “things we cannot do” without Christ. With Him we can do miracles and things beyond ourselves that we cannot do without Him and His Holy Spirit working in us. I would take this a little further and say that we cannot do the will of God without God living inside us. That should make some sense too.

So why would we care about doing the will of God? Because that is why we were made, to do what pleases God. I know that this already has the hackles of you independent types waving in the wind. Go ahead and do what you want. This reminds me of the Dirty Harry line by Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make my day.” So do you want to make someone’s day?  Good question. Who’s day do you want to make?

The gospel goes on to say, “If you obey my commands you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down your life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:10-12,13,14). Now there in lies a life charge. I want the Joy of the Lord to me in me. Nehemiah says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). I want this joy to be “complete.” Joy is the knowledge that not only are you doing the will and commands of the Lord God, but you are His friend and He is bringing you “complete joy.” That sounds like a perfect deal and it is. However, you need to lay down your life for a friend. Now that is hard and maybe impossible to do without the power of God in us.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). There it is. God demonstrated His love for us by dying on a cross for us that through Him we might be able to do “things we cannot do.”  When we do then our joy will be complete. And that is good!



Friday, September 4, 2020

Locker Room Banter

I go to the YMCA several times a week to swim and to connect with the philosophies and theologies of the men. I hear a lot of, “how ‘bout ‘dem Packers.” However today is Martin Luther King’s birthday or Holiday. Remember, that word comes from Holy day. I heard a little bit of the ‘I have a dream speech.’ But I heard some comments about spirituality versus religion too. One guy said something like “Religion is for those who have fear going to hell and spirituality is for those who have seen hell.” Wow, there is some truth in that. Religion is for a community of believers and is manmade. Our spirituality is our essence from God, our center, and our eternal nature.

I for one am not religious, even though I am an ordained minister of the gospel. I find the 3,000 plus denominations of Christianity as a stick in the eye of God. Jesus Christ said that there should be one holy catholic or universal church, not Roman, but all believers meeting in community wherever. Then came the Reformation led by Martin Luther in 1517. This schism from Roman Catholicism brought a movement based on a different commentary of the theology of “good works.”  Christianity is the only religion wherein God reaches down to us, not us trying to reach up to Him. God Himself did the work for us on the cross to overcome our sins and schism from God. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you were saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not of works, so that no one can boast.” God has done the work and has prepared work in advance for those who would believe it to do. This is about ‘Sola Scriptura,’ or Scripture alone. It is the living and dynamic word of God directing us.

But religion would apply its own manmade interpretations to both Scripture and how, when, where and by whom it would be applied. Over the last 200 years, primarily in America, has come the proliferation of denominations, I believe often because of some man or men’s personal opinion. I do not believe this pleasing to God. I have detractors on this thought who believe that God likes it as it takes out the gospel. However, I believe it divides and brings differences in interpretation that do not bring community in Christ, but diversion and division. My friend’s thoughts are that at least they are getting to some church.

I find that the truth is in God’s Word, the Bible, not in sacraments or religious ceremonies or dogma. There is a guidebook in the Bible for dealing with all circumstances and trials. Interestingly, my YMCA friend’s thought about our spirit lives potentially becoming more alive when we have trials or go through hell so to speak rings true to me too. You have heard the thought that there are “no atheists in foxholes?” I do indeed believe that, as much as I do not believe that there are really atheists. It seems to me that they are folks who have turned to themselves to deal or have control in life. Many have the coffee mug like one of my secretaries once had stating, Life is a bowl of crap (….) and then you die. Life is indeed hard, yet God is good, as you trust in Him. Then why are there murders, illnesses, fires, and deaths? Because we live in a post-Eden world gone chaotic by man’s disobedience and choices. I know that I have many turning off now saying they don’t deserve it. Well we deserve much worse because of our behavior.

Religion will not solve these things. Our spiritual lives will not solve them either, but will give us a place and person in whom to put our trust when the wheels are falling off. “You will keep in perfect peace whose mind is steadfast, because they trust in You” (Isaiah 26:3). Peace is hard to find when we are going through “hell.” But that is when we need it most. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy when you come into diverse trials, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”  This is a very hard verse and one that non-believing friends of mine laugh off as absurd. It is a spiritually discerned verse. This one requires us to have faith in asking God for wisdom, which the next verse says He will give generously, “if you don’t doubt.” Why, because then he says you will be like a wave blown around by the wind. It may be hard but I pray to keep my center during hardship. “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Crist, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 4:10). This is a promise, one in which even hell cannot overcome.

So, the locker room banter continues. And sure there are comments like the one’s taken out of context by newspapers during the last campaign. By themselves they are ugly, but in context of the whole, they are not very meaningful. I look at total character if I can. I cannot judge motivation like the news people continually do, no one can. I try to look at the “whole counsel of God” in the Bible.


How is your locker room theology doing? Are you above repute, or are you still throwing those “Hail Mary’s” on forth and 25? It’s OK to be a Monday morning quarterback, we all are. But look inside and see if your motives are good. Are you angry, feeling mistreated or just afraid the world is going to hell because it is not the way you want it? The truth is that it is, and the answer is that there is truth outside the locker room. Look for it, as it is not illusive.