Friday, April 30, 2010

Healing and wholeness

“God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform” … no truer words have ever been written in holy writ or out. I’ve come to appreciate them more and more, but when you are young, as we all were once in our life time, and have all the answers to life, as we all did at one time in our life, we just believed that as long as we had our life and our health we could conquer anything and anyone. And so, it was with that kind thinking that I took up my next ministerial appointment back in 1976.

Actually, the appointment kind of came as a little surprise since the cabinet had already re-assigned me to return to First UMC, South Miami as the associate minister, but a new church treasurer came on board and didn’t believe that the church could actually afford a senior pastor, an associate pastor and a Director of Christian Education – one of us had to go. The lots fell to me, the DS was called and Dr. Buell informed me that it didn’t look promising since it was just days away from the second Sunday in May when pastors and/or Pastor-Parish Relations Committees would be making the announcements concerning the next pastoral appointments. God works in mysterious ways …

My appointment was as the associate minister to St. Luke’s UMC, St. Petersburg. The senior minister was an outspoken charismatic pastor. I was advised that it would be wise for me to read up on the charismatic movement sweeping across the face of America and was making some inroads into our denomination. It had to be a quick study since I would be thrown into some responsibilities that I had received little to no training in seminary such as leading/teaching during the church’s Tuesday and Thursday morning communion/healing services. God works in mysterious ways …

I continue, to this day, to thank God for placing in my path one of the sweetest and caring people I’ve been privileged to know. She was an Episcopalian military chaplain’s widow. Her faith was deep and profound. She assisted this young, naïve associate pastor in understanding the biblical concept of “filled with the Holy Spirit,” along with the church’s traditional approach to healing. She was one of the “favorite” attendees of the senior pastor, but he would have been a little more that surprised at her depth of understanding and appreciation for what was really taking place at the church on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Little did I appreciate just how much her tutelage would come into play in my family’s life just in a couple of months. God does work in mysterious ways …

That fall we began a terrible and spiritually challenging journey as we moved our son from All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg to Shands Hospital in Gainesville. It was journey that would last 18 months, bring us into a personal relationship with a fantastic, caring physician from what is now called the Czech Republic and into a long lasting relationship with some unusual individuals who were (and are) willing to share every ounce of their personal lives with their new pastoral family. Nothing against the good people at First UMC, South Miami, but we couldn’t have been at a better church to go through what we had to go through. God really does work in mysterious ways …

I came to appreciate a full biblical understanding of prayer as it relates to healing. Usually most individuals go to God in prayer expecting the Almighty to instantly perform whatever they might be requesting via the instrument of prayer. As they pray they are very specific as to what they think God needs/should/ought to do in the area of healing instead of just lifting the person(s) or situation up to the Creator to bring about his best for the parties involved. I began to understand that healing comes in many forms – physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, as well as the most complete healing that can be offered by heaven – death itself. God does work in mysterious ways …

Through this painful process I also began to understand and appreciate the founder of my denomination, John Wesley. What a great teacher with a tremendous grasp of the biblical truths. One of his approaches is the Prayer of Relinquishment – as in the case of our son we simply prayed, through our tears, that since Tim was a baptized child of the kingdom, he was God’s child not ours. At his baptism we became only his caretakers. Tim belonged to God – fully and completely. Therefore, whatever God wanted to give to him in the form of healing we were willing to accept it since we had already relinquished into God’s care Tim’s life and soul – in life or in death God works in mysterious ways...

And so, just shy of his ninth birthday Tim received a complete and total healing as he entered into life eternal. As we drove back from Gainesville late that evening we were greeted by members of a loving church family and caring neighbors. We were close to them then and are still close to them today. They are part-n-parcel of our family who were also able to celebrate with us when our adopted daughter was baptized by the district superintendent in the same sanctuary in which that same district superintendent was the celebrant in holding Tim’s memorial service. And thus, you can see that God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform …
Thank God for the performance of all of his miracles … and the mysterious ways which he uses to bring them about. If it was up to me I would probably just mess it all up!

Quote for today: The Ladies Home Journal (September, 1981) asked, "In whom do you trust?" Responses were: Walter Cronkite 40% of the vote; Pope John Paul 26%; Billy Graham 6%; God 3%

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Understanding the meaning and purpose of life

Understanding the meaning of life … a purpose driven life … is like trying to nail down air. The task is hard, but not impossible – it just depends on what form the air takes. The choices which confronts us is that we can either think that we are defeated before we even try or we can believe that, even though the problem seems impossible, there just might be a solution out there somewhere – all we need to do is continue to look and try.

There are numerous authors who have written volumes of literary works with their suggestions as to what can give definition to ones life. Some of you probably have accessed those works in an attempt to discover a purpose, meaning, reason for daily existence. Dr. Peale, Dr. Schuller, The Rev. Rick Warren, and the study, “Experiencing God,” are but a few which grace the shelves of my library.

There have been times that I have felt like the Dunkin Donut man. Remember the commercial with the tagline “It’s time to make the donuts”? My favorite was when he reached his front door and opened it up there he was meeting himself coming in. We get so caught up in our daily routines that any meaning simply escapes us in our attempt to understand and embrace the full scope of purpose and meaning ... and making it through another 24-hours.

It doesn’t help when the only thing we bring to the “table” is a naïve understanding of the impact our words and actions have on others. Or even worse, a deep seated belief that everyone will simply accept our understanding of a situation and the solution(s) which are required … or appear to be required to bring about a satisfactory conclusion.

Here are a few quotes from individuals who have struggled with discovering a purpose in living. These quotes were included in an article written in Morning Glory, May 29, 1993: H.G. Wells, famous historian and philosopher, said at age 61: "I have no peace. All life is at the end of the tether." The poet Byron said, "My days are in yellow leaf, the flowers and fruits of life are gone, the worm and the canker, and the grief are mine alone." The literary genius Thoreau said, "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." Ralph Barton, one of the top cartoonists of the nations, left this note pinned to his pillow before taking his own life: "I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, from house to house, visited great countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day."

Maybe Jesus had it right when he shared, “As you have done it unto the least of these …” As individuals and married couples have turned to me for guidance it has always been my practice to refer them to helping agencies in the community with the tagline: “Go give yourself away and in so doing you just might find yourself.” The rewards are not found in getting, but in giving.

Quote for today: From Richard Foster’s excellent book, Celebration of Discipline: Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside … Self-righteous service is impressed with the "big deal." True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service … Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness … Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results ... Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry ... Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need ... Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a life-style ... Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it ... Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And the dominoes fell ...

And the dominoes fell …

A volcano erupts in Iceland. Air traffic is stopped. Three hundred farmers in Africa, who depend on selling their produce to an importer/exporter who in turns sells the farmers goods throughout Europe cannot find a buyer since the planes are not flying. These 300 farmers are dependent on the daily income from selling the harvest from their labors … and the dominoes fall …

An oil rig explodes off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers on the oil rig are lost. 42,000 galloons of oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico’s waters – every day. The oil slick is 1,800 square miles and is threatening the economic mainstay of Florida – its beaches. All of this for the precious black gold in order to supply our ever increasing need for a domestic source … and the dominoes fall …

Twenty-nine miners are remembered after losing their lives working miles underground mining coal so that our homes might be heated and our power plants might continue to supply us with the energy to run our cities … and the dominoes fall …

An anti-immigration bill passes and is signed into law in Arizona which in turn threatens the major fern industry in Florida. Known as the Fern Capital of the World – an area stretching from DeLand to Palatka – an industry which supplies 90% of the world’s ferns used in floral arrangements – an industry that is dependent on Hispanic workers – legal or illegal – because the farmers cannot find American workers who are willing to do the hard, backbreaking work and often dangerous job - thanks to the poisonous snakes that seek out the cool, damp areas under the ferns – of a fern cutter. And the dominoes fall …

And hope looms on the horizon for the country of Haiti which is trying to emerge from the horrific earthquake which destroyed much of the country. Textiles with the label: Made in Haiti could/should be hitting our stores in the near future. 200 – the estimated number of jobs created in Port-au-Prince to fill an order for 50,000 “Choose Haiti” T-shirts; 70% - estimated unemployment rate in Haiti; and 69% - percentage of Haitian exports sold to the U.S. And the dominoes COULD fall …

The world in which we live is rather small. What happens in part of the world does effect – often drastically – what happens in the rest of the world. The biblical question is asked, “Am I my brothers (and sisters) keeper?” and the answer is … YES! It really depends on us which way the dominoes will fall …

Quote for today: “Toomey's Rule: It is easy to make decisions on matters for which you have no responsibility.” Source unknown

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back in the groove after surgery

To my regular readers – never really sure how many for the count varies between 4 to 89 - I apologize for not posting anything on the blog for the last several days. This past Friday I had foot surgery and though, it was initially going to be an out patient procedure, it turned into an “over-nighter” thanks to my usual violent reaction to receiving general anesthesia (never have done well with this). Plus, my guess is that I reacted extremely badly to the stuff that they gave me to keep me from trying to turn my stomach inside out. But I am now home, with specific instructions not to put any weight on my left foot for 6 to 8 weeks. OUCH!

All of this does remind me of an old sign seen on a church billboard which read: "Minor surgery is all surgeries experienced by others!" Amen to that!

For the first couple of days I was using a walker … I have a new appreciation for all those senior citizens who are forced to use that piece of medical equipment. Just a note – when you see someone using a walker be kind by giving them the right away, open the doors for them and offer assistance whenever possible. And please, never use a handicap parking space … Yes, I now have a temporary sign for my car. What I’ve discovered is that walkers are real hard on your shoulders (especially if you cannot put your weight down on your feet) and moving just a yard or two can be a real chore. You want to talk about getting your heart rate going this little exercise should be included at the YMCA! Yesterday, we picked up a little scooter for my left knee ... much, much better.

The other thing that I have discovered is sitting around with your foot 6-inches above your hip is very hard on someone who is active. Having a type-A personality hasn’t made it any easier. The other thing I am having a horrible time with is keeping my calorie intake under 1,200 per day. It doesn’t take much for your count to zoom past that important threshold for an inactive person.

But, anyway, I am back and with all that is happening in the world I have many thoughts and ideas to share. See you tomorrow … and thanks for reading!

Quote for today: “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.” Malcolm Muggeridge

Friday, April 23, 2010

National Day of Prayer

I find the discussion surrounding the National Day of Prayer interesting. Is our country to be saved, brought back to its central purpose, made to be moral and ethically correct, if we have this ceremonial ritual every year? Based on a casual observance over the last 10 years or so, it doesn’t seem to have helped. Much like repeating the Lord’s Prayer when I was in school. The kids that had bad behavior still had bad behavior and the bullies were still bullies. Nothing changed because us students went through this morning ritual in school.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do thinking observing the National Day of Prayer is a good thing and saying (not repeating) the Lord’s prayer is also a good thing, but having the president declare a particular day as a Day of Prayer? I always found the practice more in the realm of “civil religion” than a “mountain moving faith” practice … and what we need as a nation is some mountain moving. Don’t you agree?

Then comes a e-mail. I had seen it before. The subject line was ONE MINUTE EACH NIGHT.

During WWII, there was an advisor to Churchill who organized a group of people who dropped what they were doing every night at a prescribed hour for one minute to collectively pray for the safety of England, its people and peace. This had an amazing effect as bombing stopped.

There is now a group of people organizing the same thing here in America.

If you would like to participate: each evening at 9:00 PM Eastern Time 8:00 PM Central, 7:00 PM Mountain, 6:00 PM Pacific), stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the up-coming election, and for the revival of Christianity in this great country.

Someone said if people really understood the full extent of the power we have available through prayer, we might be speechless. Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have.

The e-mail ends with my sentiments: Thank You. Please pass this on to anyone who you think will want to join us.

Maybe, just maybe if we all took this message seriously and truly practiced the ONE MINUTE EACH NIGHT we would have our National Day of Prayer … and mountains would move … people would change … I would change!

Quote for today: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Baron Alfred Tennyson

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day

And then God, looking at the vastness of space said, “Let there be…” and Brother Earth and Sister Sea brought forth all sorts of living things. The abundance and variety was beyond a person’s ability to catalog and count them all. And God said, “That is fantastic! Great job Brother Earth and Sister Sea. I like what has happened. What you have done is beautiful, but I’m lonely still.” And so, this mighty and powerful creating God, like a mammy bending over her baby, knelt down in the mud of the river bed and began to play with some clay until he had fashioned him a living being. Then he blew the breath of life, his life, power and mighty life, into the lungs of the Adom – the human being, male and female, became a living soul and it was morning and evening the first Earth Day. And it was very, very good!

Then God took the male and female Adom to the edge of the universe showing the humans all that he had created. This male and female marveled at the beauty of it all. Their breath was almost taken away by the lushness of the greens, the blueness of the sky and the wonder of the variety of all the living things. Then God said, like a playful child with a new plaything, “It’s all yours! You can have it all! I’ve made it all for you. I hope that you like what I’ve done for you? Go forth and have dominion over all that you see.”

“But wait,” said the Adom, “I don’t want to have dominion! I don’t like the responsibility. Actually, God, I really, really do not like the job description that you’ve written for being your created Adom. Is it possible to renegotiate the terms of this agreement? After all God, you didn’t consult us when you created everything. We didn’t have a say in the matter AND NOW WE ARE IN CHARGE?!? I don’t think so. Thanks, but no thanks! Here you can have it back!”

And yet, as God presented the beautiful Brother Earth and Sister Sea with all of their rich abundance to the male and female Adom he simply smiled saying, “Enjoy!” and shock his head at the silliness of the Adom’s refusal to accept the magnificent gift. God emphatically stated, “I have faith in you that you will grow into your responsibility. I am trusting that you will give it back to me in better condition than you received it when your time on Brother Earth is finished. I’ve created you with a tremendous mind and a caring spirit … use them … use them wisely. It’s all yours now!”

And it was morning and evening that second Earth Day and God said, “That’s good!” And he meant it, but the male and female Adom wondered at the wisdom of the creating God. Dominion? Wow, being a steward over all the creating God had made. Hmmm, they wondered, had the creating God lost his mind? Truly this most be some kind of cosmic joke, but the creating God just smiled and his laughter could be heard throughout the vastness of space. And it was morning and evening the third day …

Quote for today: “I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God. If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time or eternity.” David Livingstone

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Amazing Grace - God's Grace

The theologian Helmut Thielicke is quoted in Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing about Grace?
Jesus gained the power to love harlots, bullies, and ruffians … he was
Able to do this only because he saw through the filth and crust of
degeneration, because his eye caught the divine original which is
hidden in every way – in every man! …First and foremost he gives us
new eyes….
When Jesus loves a guilt-laden person and helped him, he saw in
him an erring child of God. He saw in him a human being whom his Father
loved and grieved over because he was going wrong. He saw him as God
originally designed and meant him to be, and therefore he saw through the
surface layer of grime and dirt to the real mean underneath. Jesus did not
identify the person with his sin, but rather saw in this sin something alien,
something that really did not belong to him, something that merely chained
and mastered him and from which he would free him and bring him back to
his real self. Jesus was able to love men because he loved them right
through the layer of mud.

We cannot get through “the layer of mud.” All we see and/or remember is “the layer of mud.” When the individual is a child there is forgiveness and understanding, but when the child grows up we expect something different in their behavior and when it isn’t forth coming forgiveness is withheld – the mud just keeps getting in the way. Unfortunately this is magnified a hundredfold when the individual is identified as a part of our family. Much like the child that dives into a huge pile of horse manure with the declaration, “With this much s..t there has got be a horse in here someplace!” And so, God dives into the mud and muck of our lives and states, “With this much s..t there has got to be a person in here someplace!” and, the best part, is that he doesn’t stop looking until he finds the person he created. Yeah, God!

The unique power of Grace – God’s grace – is the power to forgive and to love the person, mud and all. Carlo Garretto writes in The God Who Comes, “Only the love He diffuses in me, through the grace given by Christ, can enable me to see ‘things of above’.” Because of Grace Jesus saw and loves the harlot, bully, ruffian – he loves in spite of the mud … regardless of the act … apart from the behavior … Grace enables love to be expressed as only God can give it expression. Yeah, God! Yeah, Grace! Without this divine grace we would be unable to love because our eyes would be anchored to seeing only the earthly person and action, but by being freed to see “things of above” we are released to see and receive others as they were originally created to be – whole, unblemished, clean, untarnished … “layer of mud” free.

G.W. Knight illustrates it this way: When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day's pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award--yet receives such a gift anyway--that is a good picture of God's unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God.

Gracious God, help me to see others as you see them and then empower me to love them as you love them, mud and all. Amen.

Quote for today: “God's mercy ... goes before the unwilling to make him willing; it follows the willing to make his will effectual.” Augustine of Hippo

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Providence of God

It goes by numerous names or phrases – predestination, fate, destiny, kismet, appointment with destiny, by accident, chance, and predetermined course of events - I prefer to call it the Providence of God. Further, I like to embrace the concept that nothing good happens in life outside of God’s providence … not in that God manipulates people, places or things simply to make certain things happen, but God is capable of using the circumstances of our lives to bring about divine blessings beyond our understanding.

I look back over my life and simply marvel how God, in his wisdom, caused me to be where I was or in association with certain people, because of the challenges I was facing at the time. Or, for some unexplained reason I felt the urge to just “swing by and pay a visit with someone” or “just pick up the phone can call a person” only to hear them declare, “God must of sent you” or “How did you know that I needed my pastor” or “You are just the person I needed to see or hear from” or a thousand other similar types of statements – the Providence of God? Or chance, fate, a random accident of events? Has this ever happened with you, to you?

It is possible to accept the concept that we are just kind of traveling through time and space with God simply being entertained by our activities with little concern with what happens to us or if God was concerned not having the ability to get directly involved. It is possible to believe this and many do, but for me I would much prefer to believe that God really cares about me and my life to the point that he desires to get directly involved via the means of other people and/or events. To quote the Holy Book: “All things work to good to those who love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28).

When I relaxed enough or got spiritually connected and started to pay attention – some interesting things began to happen … good things, great things, happy things, life-fulfilling things … providential things – God events! Listen to your heart, pay attention to the people who are being brought into your life and you just might begin to discover what God is doing in your life – it is amazing!

Quote for today: “The story of my life – I was finally in the right place at the right time but they lost my reservation!” The Born Loser comic strip

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The lighter side of life

This "lighter side" humor came with the subject line of: YOU'VE GOTTA LOVE DRUNK PEOPLE. If your life has ever been touched by alcoholism you've discovered that it really isn't a laughing matter. Over the years throughout my ministry I have seen lives, families and jobs destroyed by this horrible disease. So I offer this story as a "lighter side of life" painfully aware of the destructive nature that alcoholism can bring into a persons life.

A man and his wife were awakened at 3:00 am by a loud pounding on the door. The man gets up and goes to the door where a drunken stranger, standing in the pouring rain, is asking for a push.

'Not a chance,' says the husband, 'it is 3:00 in the morning!' He slams the door and returns to bed.

'Who was that?' asked his wife.

'Just some drunk guy asking for a push,' he answers.

'Did you help him?' she asks.

'No, I did not, it is 3:00 in the morning and it is pouring rain out there!'

'Well, you have a short memory,' says his wife. 'Can't you remember about three months ago when we broke down, and those two guys helped us? I think you should help him, and you should be ashamed of yourself!'

The man does as he is told, gets dressed, And goes out into the pounding

He calls out into the dark, 'Hello, are you still there?' 'Yes,' comes back the answer.

'Do you still need a push?' calls out the husband. 'Yes, please!' comes the reply from the dark.

Where are you?' asks the husband.

'Over here on the swing,' replied the drunk.

Quote for today: "Even when people just think they are consuming alcohol, their behavior changes." G. Collins

Friday, April 16, 2010

God invitation to THE Dance!

In his weekly e-mail newsletter to the congregation our pastor, Jim Rosenberg, included the following statement:

Every week, Pam and I watch Dancing With the Stars. Since I am not a dancer and don't know the Fox Trot from the Rumba, it is fascinating to watch people that can't dance learn to dance. Some learn better than others! For some, it is like teaching a fish to walk on dry land. As the weeks go by, some get it and become dancers and others just never get it. The surprise is that the popularity of the star keeps a person dancing beyond the time when they should be voted off. It reminds me of Easter and the gift of grace. Even when we don't get it about God's love and our part in the drama of life, grace abounds and we don't get voted off. God keeps saying, "You can do better." I am thankful for a God that shows us grace and sends Jesus to take our place. When we deserve to get voted off, he brings us back for another week ... God wants you back and he has the big vote to cast in the decision.

This took on an entirely different meaning for me because of one of favorite hymns, “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter. It is an Easter hymn. It is a hymn that I have tried to teach various congregations with mixed results. Usually the youth, young adults and a scattering of musicians loved it and the older adults shared their difficulty in singing it ... but, oh may, what a powerful message.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

I danced for the scribe & the pharisee
But they would not dance & they wouldn't follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on:


I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!


I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I'd gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!


They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that'll never, never die!
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!


God invites each of us to dance the dance of a lifetime … even if we think we don’t have the rhythm or know the tune. It actually is rather easy because our dance partner is Jesus, the Lord of the Dance!

Quote for today: “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?” Lewis Carroll

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Income Tax Day

Today is Tax Day … April 15th … I remember too many late night runs to the post office so that I could make the midnight deadline. One year I had to drive down to the Tampa Airport because it was the only post office still open just minutes before midnight. Go figure and thank goodness those crazy days are over. Over the years I’ve collect some stories and quotes concerning taxes. Most of the quotes are by unknown authors.

A man on vacation was strolling along outside his hotel in Acapulco, enjoying the sunny Mexican weather. Suddenly, he was attracted by the screams of a woman kneeling in front of a child. The man knew enough Spanish to determine that the child had swallowed a coin. Seizing the child by the heels, the man held him up, gave him a few shakes, and an American quarter dropped to the sidewalk. "Oh, thank you sir!" cried the woman. "You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctor?" "No, ma'am," replied the man. "I'm with the United States Internal Revenue Service."

From David Harbaugh: IRS auditor to taxpayer, as nurse prepares a syringe: "She is going to numb the area around your wallet."

In a newly created nation in Africa, an elderly native was told that he was going to be taxed to support the government. "Why?" he asked. "To protect you from enemies, to feed you when you are hungry, to care for you when you are sick, and to educate your children," he was told. "I see," said the old man. "It's like I have this dog, and the dog is hungry. He comes begging to me for food. So I take my knife, cut off a piece of the poor dog's tail and give it to him to eat. That, I believe is what this taxation is."

From Jim Fiebig: All the taxes paid over a lifetime by the average American are spent by the government in less than a second.

As reported by Clyde Haberman and Albin Krebs in The New York Times: John L. Swigert, Jr., the Apollo 13 astronaut who went to the moon in 1970, recalls how his job almost interfered with filing his federal income-tax forms: "On the second day of Apollo 13, April 12, I asked Mission Control to begin work to get me an extension of the filing date for my income tax. Since I had been a last-minute substitution on the Apollo 13 flight, things had moved so fast that I didn't have a chance to file my return." The IRS didn't have to make a special ruling to grant Swigert a two-month extension because of his I'm-on-my-way-to-the-moon excuse, though. There was already a regulation that provided an automatic extension for anyone out of the country.

When you made out your income tax return this year, we trust you remembered that it's better to give than to deceive.

As shared by Shlomo Maital in the March, 1982 issue of Psychology Today: An IRS funded survey showed: 1/5 of filers admit to understating income, 1/10 to overstating deductions, 1/6 claim dependents illegally, 50% said they thought everyone would cheat if they felt they could get away with it. The more tax evaders a person knows, the more likely he is to cheat.

Personally, I believe that there ought to be a better way then our present system of the IRS. Reading about the “Flat Tax” idea and the “Value Added Tax” idea has been interesting and somewhat confusing. As one who has traveled overseas and have experienced the “Value Added” up close and personal I think that it is a good idea worth a second look for our country especially when you consider that many Americans do not pay anything via the Income Tax system. In one community we had a notorious crime figure. His gated house with the two helicopters and large speedboats was always on the “community tour” when guests would visit. He was known to state that he didn’t pay any taxes on much of his income. A VAT would have brought income into our nations treasury because he sure bought his fair share of “stuff”. It is just a thought … besides with a VAT there wouldn’t be any April 15th deadline with all the headaches produced by the confusing forms to be filled out!

Have a happy Tax Day!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Global Warming

It was a simple little news item buried deep within in the newspaper … and yet it just might be another little signal of something larger.

The New Moore Island is small by any standard, just 1.4 square miles. Nothing more than a tiny little speck of real estate sitting several feet above sea level and yet it has been the focus of a long standing dispute between India and Bangladesh. Both of these countries have claimed sovereignty over this uninhabited island.

The dispute has been settled by climate change. The sea levels in that region has risen dramatically and the island is no more. Gone. Vanished. Buried under the sea. Much like the waters of the Gulf of Mexico that is taking Big Pine Key, FL inch-by-inch so New Moore Island stands as another example of global warming.

We can continue to deny that this phenomenon is happening or we can become better stewards of all that God has placed in our hands. The choice is ours.

Quote for today: “God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth.’” Genesis 1:26 (The Message)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Live life like you never have lived before

The church sign read, “Live as if Christ died yesterday, rose today and will be returning tomorrow.” The words that cause pause were the ones – “live as if …” because they reminded me of a pastor during my formative years who was constantly asking the question, “If you had only one day left to live how would you live it?” That is a rather sobering thought … just one more day!

We often revisit the concept about what we would do different if we had our life to live over again. This process usually includes a list of decisions that had been made that turned out less than we had expected. It is like playing the game, “What if …” What if I had gone to college? What if I had majored in a different subject? What if I had moved or not moved? What if we had more children? What if I had taken this job and not that one? What if … What if … What if … It can drive you crazy.

But the church sign, like my home church pastor, seems to be asking a different question totally. Live as if the total reality of Jesus’ death, resurrection and second coming was real, totally here and now. Live as if you really believed the story. Live as if it meant something to you. Live as if it makes a difference.

After Easter it is just too easy to slip back into our daily routines … as if the entire Easter story was just that – a story – with having little to no impact upon our lives. But, in further review of the church sign, I am beginning to wonder what would happen in a community or church if just one person would begin to live their life “as if Christ died yesterday, rose today and will be returning tomorrow”? Just wandering … just wandering with a hopeful heart and an expecting spirit …

Dear Lord, may I be that one individual in my community and church. Amen.

Quote for today: “Well, what did you make of it?” The one and only question that Studdert-Kennedy believes God will ask when we stand before the Almighty

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Righteous Anger

Anger seems to be the defining attitude for today. At every turn it seems that we are encountering individuals who are angry about something. From road rage to the service counter at the local Wal-Mart … people are angry about something or at someone. Maybe it is simply the “sign of the times” – what with the down turn in the economy, people out of work or underemployed, the fear factor being released by the various political figures, and any number of properties either in foreclosure or simply cannot be sold – which is producing the unrest that we are witnessing.

My Christian Ethics professor in seminary had the class do a field experiment on the issue of anger as he was trying to help us understand the issue of Righteous Anger. He sent us out to various locations on campus to observe people “discussing” the Viet Nam War – especially from the standpoint as to when the emotion of anger was introduced to the “discussion.” What we all observed is that the first person who got angry was the person losing the argument or was failing to win the discussion.

I listen to a lot of news programs from a wide number of sources – ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, plus a full range of conservative radio talk programs. I find it interesting that under the present political landscape the more conservative the political pundits are they getting very angry. One particular individual becomes so angry that he literally is shouting and screaming at the top of his lungs at least once every half hour while calling people he disagrees with some rather awful names. Which causes me to turn once again to the issue of righteous anger.

Righteous anger is another matter totally. St. Augustine liked to define a virtue by expressing the two extremes and suggesting that the Christian virtue is in the middle. With righteous anger he defined the extremes as “always angry” and “never angry” – thus the Christian virtue of angry would be “sometimes being angry.” So, when is it a Christian virtue to be angry? Following the example of Jesus it would be over the wrongs suffered by others, especially those who the disenfranchised of society – not when you are losing an argument/discussion or when your idea is being discounted (i.e. the talking political pundits).

How the present climate of anger can be changed is anyone’s guess … it probably is going to have to start with each of us as we seek to change the tone of our discourse. Speaking personally it is difficult and quite the challenge, but it has to begin … doesn’t it?

Quote for today: “It is he who is in the wrong who first gets angry.” William Penn

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A lighter side of religion

God has got to laugh at some of our narrow thinking ... I know that I do. We simply get caught up in the small things of our religious interpretations instead of seeing the larger scope of the Kingdom of God. But, you do have to laugh at some of silliness. One person has interpreted this silliness in the following way:

How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

Charismatic: Only 1 - Hands are already in the air.

Pentecostal: 10 - One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Presbyterians: None - Lights will go on and off at predestined times.

Roman Catholic: None - Candles only.

Baptists: At least 15. - One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.

Episcopalians: 3 - One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

Mormons: 5 - One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.

Unitarians: We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

Methodists: Undetermined - Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Bring a bulb of your choice to the Sunday lighting service and a covered dish to pass.

Nazarene: 6 - One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.

Lutherans: None - Lutherans don't believe in change.

Amish: What's a light bulb?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Get Excited!

It was an unbelievable statement. I had just complimented the senior minister on his Easter sermon. It was delivered with great enthusiasm and excitement – which was outside of his normal style of preaching. His response is what stopped me: “Well, it is Easter. The resurrection is almost something to get excited about.” Almost? Unbelievable!

A song by the Gaither Vocal Band states it best: “Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King, get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King, why don't you get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King, Jesus Christ is still the King of king's … You talk about people you talk about things that really they aren't important at all you talk about the weather you talk about problems that we have here at home and abroad. Well my friend I'm excited about a solution......? Jesus Christ is still the King of kings.”

It is interesting what we get excited about – Tiger Woods returned to golf and people got excited; Duke won the National Championship in basketball and people got excited; Jimmy Johnson won another NASCAR race and people got excited; Sandra Bullock won an Oscar and people got excited; a politician wins a race, a great dinner is experienced, a good movie is seen, a pay raise is given, a compliment is offered, a child is born, a marriage is performed, a new car is purchased, warm weather returns, a trip is planned, house guests are received … and people get excited as they should … because life is filled with exciting moments to celebrate.

Each excitable moment adds something of meaning to one’s existence. They lift the spirit, warms the heart, and somehow, makes us feel special … important … unique … different. The Sun shines brighter, there is a new spring in our steps and life is a little bit sweeter … filled with joy and happiness.

Could it be that all of these “excitable moments” are a direct result of Jesus’ resurrection? After all it does say in scripture that Jesus sits at the right hand of God and “holds all things together.” I like to believe that it means that nothing important or special – nothing at all – could happen and have meaning without his presence holding it together. Now, that IS something to get excited about! And thus, we are Easter people and Allelujia is our song!

Quote for today: “Enthusiams is more contagious than the measles or chicken pox. Once you have it, it will spread to your family and your church.” Zig Ziglar

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Remembering the life of Cheryl Smith

Every now and again something happens that causes a reflection on life – its purpose, meaning and impact on others. Such was the occasion yesterday afternoon.

The sanctuary at Van Dyke UMC was nearly full and it is a large sanctuary. We had gathered to celebrate the life of Cheryl Skipper Smith – beloved, mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, teacher, Gator fan, and a dynamic Christian – who entered into life immortal on Saturday. She was only 48 years old. Cheryl was only 4 feet 11¾ inches tall, but powerful in personality, faith and impact.

Besides the unusually gifted pastor of the church, Matthew Hartsfield – he’s been the pastor of this dynamic church for 17 years – the others who spoke were a representative from the elementary school where she had taught, her twin brother, and her three beautiful children (two sons and one daughter). It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone how articulate they each were, from the youngest son who is in elementary school to the oldest daughter who is away at college, since Cheryl was recognized by GROUP magazine as a Ministry Writer of the Year at one time, but we were. Each gave a testimony to their love for their mom and the assurance that even in death their relationship with her will continue until the time comes for them to be reunited in eternity.

One of the Christian thoughts that were shared was what Cheryl would shout down from upstairs every day as they headed off to school from kindergarten on – “Remember the Armor of God … remember the Armor of God!” It was a direct reference to Ephesians 6:10-18 – “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’ schemes …” (NIV) or, the translation from THE MESSAGE which reads this way: “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet …” What a tremendous impact in such a simple, daily reminder!

The sanctuary was nearly full in part because of her age, in part because there were children involved, in part because of her profession, in part because of her involvement in her community … but was there something more? As I got into my car to drive home, I turned off the radio and contemplated on life – both from the perspective of impact and legacy.

Cheryl’s life will long be remembered and will continue to influence everyone who comes in contact with her husband Don and/or anyone of her children. The influence will continue not because of the number of children she taught in school – where she cared more for the student than the subject matter – nor because of the various activities that demanded her time and energy willingly given with enthusiasm, nor because of her beautiful spirit and smile, nor because of her family. The influence … and her legacy … will continue because Cheryl followed her own advice … she put on the full armor of God each day and won the battle of life! Amen and Amen!

Quote for today: “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” Mark Twain

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Resurrection morning ... again!

It was early that first morning of the week when one of Jesus’ dearest friends comes to the tomb. Mary came with certain expectations. Her soul was already wrapped in grief. This was a difficult journey at best. She came expecting to find the body not a person … she expected to anoint a dead friend not encounter a risen Savior. Because of her expectations she couldn’t understand, couldn’t perceive a different reality.

“He is not here,” was the news that greeted her. You can almost hear her shout, through the agony of tear filled eyes, “I can see that he isn’t here. I’m not stupid! Somebody has come in the night and stolen the body. Who would be so cruel as to rob a grave? Help me, please, help me!” She felt so lost, abandoned, forgotten, angry over his death and now this! It was just too much to handle emotionally.

So deep was her grief that when she was encountered by Jesus she couldn’t see him. Engulfed in her pain Mary Magdalene was emotionally and physically distraught. What would it take to cut through this fog of the spirit? “Mary,” he said and it was instant daylight. It wasn’t until he called her by her name that she came into the reality of resurrection morning.

It was in the aisles of a Tampa K-Mart that the salvation story was played out once again. The little girl was maybe 4 years old. She was wandering through the various racks of clothes as she desperately called, “Mommy!” But mommy wasn’t there. “Mommy” she cried out again. This time louder and more desperate she felt abandoned, forgotten and very much alone.

A salesperson came to the rescue and brought her to the service desk. Other store personnel and security staff quickly surrounded her. Now came the grief and tears. “What is your name?” they asked. “Where is your mommy?” Somebody produced a teddy bear while somebody else came with an ice cream cone. Nothing could stop the ever-increasing flow of tears and grief.

All of a sudden her head jerked up … her eyes widened ... from the farthest reaches of the story came the faint call … “Susan?” The adults involved didn’t hear the call, but Susan did. “Susan!” It was a little louder now. Susan sat straight up … the tears stopped … her ears were listening more intently now. “Susan!” … the caller was closer … everybody heard it now. “Susan!” and with that the little lost 4 year old girl jumped off the counter and ran into the arms of her mommy. There, by a flashing blue light, in the aisle of a local K-Mart, in the most unlikely place of all, the salvation story was played out. It was resurrection morning all over again!

Somebody knew her name! Somebody important was calling out for her! Somebody was looking for her! “Susan!” “Mary!” … your name … my name … and resurrection morning happens once again!

Quote for today: “The best news the world has ever had came from a graveyard near Jerusalem.” Author unknown

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maybe next year

They almost did it – like David slaying Goliath – the Butler Bulldogs almost did the impossible. While Coach K and the Duke basketball team is to be congratulated nevertheless Butler will long be remembered. Like the little engineer who dared to believe that he could make it up that step hill these young men dared to believe that they could pull off the unthinkable. Maybe next year!

In Jewish homes across the world, during the time of the Passover festival, there is the desire to celebrate it in Israel. Maybe next year!

The Easter worship service was a real celebration. The music was fantastic, the pageantry glorious, the flowers spectacular, the pews filled, and the sermon was better than any other Sunday. But, then came Monday morning and the world simply returned to its same old self. Maybe next year!

Life seems to be filled with a lot of “maybe next year” desires. Some of the “maybes” we cannot do anything about, but then there are others. Well, maybe next time it will be different because the desire to make a difference will be different.

Quote for today: "Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been on it." The grandfather of Edward Bok creator of Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The American Dream

Employment issues have been in the forefront of the news recently. The need to have more jobs created, to put America back to work, etc. … and yet, signs are posted throughout the city stating “taking applications” and I began to wonder. Opening this morning’s newspaper an article on the front page, below the fold, declared, “A man with a degree and a dream” … a partial answer was found.

His name is Martei Plange. His homeland is Ghana. His dream was to come to America. His desire was to earn a college degree. His hope was that the degree would result in a job. The journey began at the age of 16. He is now 25 years old, has a degree in electrical engineering and he is still working to realize his American Dream. A sub-title to the article states: “Even in underemployment, Martei Plange works, and works, to realize his American Dream.”

Martei’s story was told by Michael Kruse, staff writer for the St. Petersburg Times. Mr. Kruse changed my understanding of just what it means to hold an American Dream. Most Americans equate the American Dream with financial stability. Mr. Plange, along with a large number of nonwhites and immigrants, see the American Dream as simply having the opportunity. Martei holds down two part-time jobs – one stocking shelves at a grocery store and the other as a valet parking attendant – and he holds onto the American Dream.

I quote … “’In a lot of countries, you’re restricted in some way, but here you don’t have that,’ (Martei) said after all the cars were parked. ‘You can pretty much do whatever you want to do. You can pretty much get anything you want.’ Anything, you suggest to him, except a job in his chosen profession. ‘But I have a job,’ Martei said with a smile. ‘I have two.’”

Mike Ford, the founding director of the Institute for Politics and the American Dream at Ohio’s Xavier University, says, “The American Dream is such a core part of our national lore, and yet it was created by and is sustained by non-native Americans. It’s not a dream by America. It’s a dream about America. It’s about values that people bring here not that they get here.”

Mr. Plange’s desires and needs are simple. He lives off his income from the part-time job at the grocery store and saves his part-time income from parking cars for graduate school. Those who he works for and with share that Martei is “reliable, professional and dependable” … “He works.” As Martei shares, about parking cars, “I actually love it. You get to meet a lot of people, you drive great cars, and you go to so many places. And you’re always running and moving. It’s like a free workout.”

The bottom line is that he is willing to do anything to make the American Dream a reality - regardless of the hours or the demands on his time and energy. He is willing to work and work hard long hours to seize the opportunities that are presenting themselves. Maybe it is the world from whence he came ... a world where the average yearly salary is $670 ... or maybe it is his work ethic or maybe, just maybe, it is something much deeper that is buried in his soul.

This one thing I do know, because of his humility and “surviving spirit” that he inherited, learned, witness and received from his father the American Dream will become a reality … is a reality … for Martei Plange and for all those who dare to dream, work, and hope for a better tomorrow. To quote a little red-haired girl, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow … you are only a day away.”

Quote for today: “All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to the day to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible..." T.E. Lawrence

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's about an empty tomb

Easter stories abound, but some become all time favorites … and then there are Easter stories which get used over and over and over again by all strips of individuals. Such is the story of Philip who was born with Down’s syndrome participating in an Easter Sunday school exercise.This particular version appeared in a church periodical called, Leadership.

Little Philip, born with Down's syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday school class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in Leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully. The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that looks like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, "That's stupid. That's not fair. Somebody didn't do their assignment." Philip spoke up, "That's mine." "Philip, you don't ever do things right!" the student retorted. "There's nothing there!" I did so do it," Philip insisted. "I did do it. It's empty. The tomb was empty!" Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class.

He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg.

What a message of hope! What a message of promise! What a message of love! As adults sometimes we miss the obvious, but then there comes a child like Philip who understands well beyond his years and capabilities. Thank you Philip for helping us get it right!

Quote for today: A poem from the great Episcopal bishop Phillips Brooks …
Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right;
Faith and Hope triumphant say,
Christ will rise on Easter Day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Waiting in the darkness

Sinister becomes the world as darkness engulfs it. Human psychoses are enhanced as the veil of blackness descends upon the world. The shadows begin to play tricks with our minds. Evil becomes the imagination. Weird things start to lurk within the back alleys of life. Children are brought in, doors locked, curtains drawn and if a knock comes we are suspicious. Nothing good ever happens in the night.

The Saturday between the Crucifixion and Easter morning is often called Dark Saturday for the hope of the world has been killed and now lies within a borrowed tomb. Sadness over takes the believers. The followers cannot believe what has just happened. Evil seems to have won.

In Abundant Living, E. Stanley Jones shares a story. “A father was about to be operated on, and the mother and son would not sleep through worry and anxiety. They sent word to a Christian layman: ‘Please come down and stay with us at night; we are afraid. Can’t you come and talk to us? For we have nothing to hold on to in the dark.’” A doctor stands in the hallway of the pediatric wing of Shands Hospital and wonders out loud, as she witness’s parents trying to handle the news that their precious child has died, “How do people handle this horrible news without faith?” … “nothing to hold on to in the dark” … evil seems to have won ... fear takes hold ... the human spirit is defeated ... all hope is gone.

And yet, there is a surprise waiting. Just as loving parents hide the bright colored eggs for discovery come Easter morning, God is waiting in the wings of human history to pull the biggest surprise ever to be realized. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (from 1 Corinthians 15). And so, we wait in the darkness of Holy Saturday for the dawning of a new day … for the “joy that comes in the morning” … for the news “he is not hear for he is risen” … we wait for the good news that evil doesn’t win, not this time, not ever!

Quote for today: “Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Source unknown

Friday, April 2, 2010

About the Crucifixion

The following was adapted from C. Truman Davis, M.D. in “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. I’ve read long accounts, but Dr. Davis’ is the most concise that I have found. I hope that it helps in an understanding as to what transpired on Calvary that Friday afternoon.

What is crucifixion? A medical doctor provides a physical description: The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain--the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.

Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over--the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level--the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues--the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He can feel the chill of death creeping through is tissues. . .Finally he can allow his body to die.

All this the Bible records with the simple words, "And they crucified Him." (Mark 15:24). What wondrous love is this?

Quote for today: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” John 15:13 (The Message)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools Day

Today is April Fool’s Day. There have been times when I sought to pull off a practical joke or two on this day. The best April Fool’s joke pulled on me was when I was in Jacksonville. As you probably know I love chocolate – anything chocolate. This sweet dear lady brought me a large box of chocolates. Interspersed among the legitimate pieces of chocolates were a few chocolate covered pieces of Styrofoam … but she was such a sweet dear lady. What I hadn’t noticed during this event was the church staff collected in the corner of the Fellowship Hall to see the preacher become the “catchee” instead of the “catcher”.

April Fool’s Day does not have any religious overtones except for those words which appear in 1 Corinthians 4:10 – “We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”

There is the belief dating back to the 18th century that this festival, and it was observed as a festival of sorts throughout Europe at one point, was in recognition of the act of Noah when he sent out the dove for the first time only to have the dove return because the waters hadn’t receded … thus a “foolish” thing to do or “only a fool” would have sent forth the dove in expectation of finding dry land when all that could be seen surround the ark was water.

There is a big difference between being a fool and being foolish. Jim Fiebig explains the connection this way: “You are not a fool just because you have done something foolish--only if the folly of it escapes you.” To be the April Fool is to be the butt of a joke or prank, to be the “catchee,” and there are those who say the whole of the Christ event is just a practical joke or prank played on the human race by the gods of the universe or, even worse, by those who actually believed that this wandering preacher from Nazareth was who he claimed to be ... that his “followers” just don’t understand the folly of it all – it simply escapes them.

One of my most favorite devotional books is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. I think he had this idea in mind when he wrote: “The marvel of the Redemptive Reality of God is that the worst and the vilest can never get to the bottom of His love.” We are “fools for Christ” when the world laughs at us instead of with us … they simply do not get the wonderful and glorious good news of Christ. The Resurrection is God having the last laugh in the face of a world that thinks they can get rid of a loving and caring God on a cross – thus the phrase, “He who laughs last, laughs best.” God always has the last word … or the last laugh!

May we each go forth to be the biggest fool for Christ that we can be!

Quote for today: “If a man wants to make a fool of himself he will always find plenty of help.” Source unknown