The Simplicity that is in Christ

 

Simplify: (transitive verb) to make something easier to do or understand

It has been nearly a decade since I started this blog.  It owes its existence to Smicksburg, a small, quaint village in the Amish country of rural Indiana County, Pennsylvania. My wife and I visited there one day in the summer of 2011. While rummaging through a tiny gift shop on the village’s main street, I discovered a small, heart-shaped wooden Christmas ornament decorated in tole painting bearing the word, “Simplify.”  

The ornament got me thinking about the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle compared to my own. Despite their lack of cars, electricity, television, the internet and many other modern conveniences, I find the Amish lifestyle attractive in many ways. I long for a simpler life myself, one devoid of planning committees, investment portfolios, tax returns, oil changes, tire rotations, weed killing, student loans, long term care insurance, social media, Netflix and the like. Researcher, author and Cato Institute Fellow, Brink Lindsey has written extensively on human capital. He has noted about Western societies, “…as we get richer, the personal choices we face keep multiplying from the most trivial to the most profound and life-altering.” The mental capacity to deal with an ever-increasing onslaught of important information and decisions differs from person to person, but everyone has a tipping point where mental overload leads to some degree of cognitive incapacitation.

I purchased the ornament and placed it in a prominent position in my home office, to serve as a constant reminder of life’s simpler possibilities.  I started this blog a few months afterwards. At first my topics focused on simplifying one’s lifestyle. However, the discussion gradually drifted towards Christian topics associated with simplicity, where it remains today. As a wannabe theologian, I know I miss the mark on many things when composing my blog entries.  But there is one thing I’ve learned about Christianity over the years and I’m certain of it—the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is really quite simple!

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

Everything in Jesus life, death, and resurrection points towards one thing—the cross.  This is spelled out clearly in the first chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul said, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

From the outside looking in, the cross is nonsense. The Romans of the time could not have imagined that Jesus’ crucifixion would be the defining moment in human history and lead to a social and religious revolution in the Empire. The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were seeking a powerful Messiah who would lead a military overthrow of Roman rule in the area that was once the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus didn’t fit their job description. Of His agonizing death on the cross, Jesus says in John 12:27, “…it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

We are nearing the end of the Church season of Lent, where we commemorate Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem to suffer torture and death on the cross. Tomorrow we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem—not as a powerful military warrior, but as humble, unlikely Savior-servant riding on a donkey.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. On Good Friday we will commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And on the following Sunday we will celebrate Easter, when all Christendom rejoices over Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead. 

Jesus’ crucifixion and death on Good Friday was the defining moment when He defeated death and opened the doorway leading to eternal life for all who confess their sins to God and accept Jesus as Savior. As he breathed his last breath, Jesus said “It is finished.” His reason for being—to bear the burden of our sins—was accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. Acts 10:43 tells us, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate on Easter, reminds His followers of the promise of their own resurrection, when they will see their Lord face-to-face. That’s the Gospel story in a nutshell. It’s really simple! 

“Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848) as performed by Yo Yo Ma on cello, with vocals by Alison Kraus.

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed

To turn, turn will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Dust in the wind: a Lenten reflection

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As I began writing this post it was the first Sunday in the church season of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter day. The blessing priests pronounce at the Ash Wednesday service is a solemn reminder of our mortality—the priest draws the sign of the cross with ashes on one’s forehead while saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On the surface, this seems like an odd sort of blessing—a reminder that you’re going to die someday.  Death is an inevitable part of life, but it’s a contradiction because it wasn’t part of God’s plan for us. The Lenten ashes on one’s forehead reminds us that we are dead in our sinfulness and that our only hope is God’s saving grace, a gift offered freely through Christ’s death and resurrection.   

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where he bore the sins of the world, revealed God’s limitless love for each of us. Death has a way of revealing love. Over the past 100 days I’ve lost three dear friends and Army pals. For me, their deaths are also a reminder of my own mortality. I miss them all and will miss them always.  It’s easy to take someone for granted while they’re alive, but their death provides a stark reminder of how much they meant in one’s life. Though I miss them all, I take comfort in the knowledge that they were all Christ followers and they will see the Lord face to face on Resurrection Day.  

Lent is a somber season. The focus on penance, fasting, and one’s mortality is like living Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem and His crucifixion. The beauty of the crucifixion is that it isn’t the end of the story. It is the chapter in Jesus’ life leading to the season of Easter and the celebration of His glorious resurrection, which brings a gift of eternal life to those who accept him as Savior.  Lent is my favorite church season.

“(Lent) is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”  -Pope Benedict XVI

If you come from a church tradition that doesn’t celebrate Lent, I encourage you to learn more about it. There are many free resources available online from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Please visit the “Gift of Lent” link below. 

Lent
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent,
So it leads us to Easter Day.

The tough work of prayer

Prayer is like a battle. The enemy is constantly placing barriers in your way to keep you from reaching your final objective.

Life is a series of continual distractions that make it difficult to find time to commune with God. Even if one manages to slip away to a quiet place for a few minutes, odds are they will find themselves distracted by thoughts about what lies ahead in their day or week. I’ve heard so many people complain, “My days are so busy I just can’t find time to pray.”  In reality, if you have a busy day ahead you can’t afford not to pray. Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

This is tough advice!  Who, after all, is not anxious about something, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?  And how difficult is it to present your prayers to God with thanksgiving in every situation? “Dear God, I thank you for allowing me to crash my car into that tree yesterday.”  Prayer is tough work indeed.

The nation has just gone through a painful, extraordinarily divisive presidential election process. The political rhetoric is still turned up to near the boiling point. Political disagreements have resulted in many friendships ending and have even caused divorces. Sometime it feels like the entire world has gone mad amidst the name calling, threats, riots, burning and looting. Many politicians will tell you that they have the answers to all our problems, but they don’t. Only God can fix this mess!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  —Psalm 121:1-2

More than any time in recent history, America’s Christians need to join together in praying for our nation and those whom have been elected to serve. So, what about that politician from the “other” party?  Should you pray for him or her?  “God, please help this idiot to see how wrong he is.”  Well, not exactly.  You can certainly pray that the Holy Spirit would convict the individual politician to make decisions that honor God, especially politicians who profess to be Christ followers.   

If you have a beef with a particular politician—get over it.  I don’t mean this in the traditional fashion that contemporary culture says “get over it.”  I mean that, as Christians, we are obliged to forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as we pray to God to forgive us our own sins.      

“In Jesus, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven” —Patricia Raybon, Our Daily Bread

Now here’s where it really gets difficult.  Not only are we told to “forgive as we’ve been forgiven,” but in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. —Matthew 5:43-45

Is there a politician or other leader whose behavior absolutely disgusts you?  If so, think of that person, then pray for him or her. Really!  Pray that God will soften their heart.  It they profess to be a Christian, ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit.

Since 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has been the source thousands of Americans have turned to for encouragement and inspiration to pray for America’s leaders. It is a non-partisan organization.  I encourage you click the “About Us” link below to visit their website and sign up for the daily prayer alerts.

A Prayer for Good Leaders

Father God, good leaders, come from you. Lord, this nation needs leaders with discerning hearts and wise minds. I beseech you today asking you today to give us wise leaders that will lead this nation in the right direction. Remove wrong people that are corrupt and living against your word from influential positions. Let our leaders be people who honor your holy name for it is only from you that they will get true wisdom. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we believe and pray, Amen. —Anonymous

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

Saying goodbye to a brother in arms

Until this year, Veterans Day had become a relatively mundane affair for me.  As a 24-year veteran of the US Army, I’ve had my share of “Thank you for your service,” free meals from a special menu at (name your restaurant), and 10% discounts “for one day only” at various stores.  However, after this year Veteran’s Day will never be the same, as it is henceforth the day I said goodbye to a brother in arms.

In 1981 my wife and I were assigned military quarters in a duplex on a hilltop overlooking Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was a young captain serving in the Field Artillery. The couple living on the other side of the unit was approaching the end of their tour of duty at Fort Knox. It wasn’t long before they were gone and a new family moved in.  Although we were unaware at the time, God’s hand was moving in our lives by giving us these new neighbors.

Bill and Susan were a unique couple.  Susan was a former Army officer and a member of the last generation of the Women’s Army Corps—the women’s element of the US Army. The WAC, as it was called, was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units. Bill, or “Flip” as he was better known to many of his friends, was a figure larger than life. He was a soldier’s soldier—what every professional soldier aspires to be.  Commissioned as an Infantry officer, Flip was highly decorated in Vietnam, winning a Silver Star for valor in action against the enemy, two Purple Hearts in recognition of his status as a twice-wounded soldier, the Legion of Merit, and two Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. He also earned the Ranger tab and a coveted Combat Infantryman Badge, or C.I.B., in recognition as his service as an Infantryman in combat. When I met him, Flip was an officer in the Army’s Aviation Branch, a helicopter pilot flying Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, better known as “the Huey.” I was in awe!

Despite my being 10+ years younger and of lesser rank, Flip never let that stand between us.  He quickly became both a friend and mentor. Most importantly, he was a man of God.  Flip had a deep faith that he was not shy about sharing with others. He and Susan introduced my wife Linda and me to the Anglican form of liturgical worship, which eventually led to us becoming Anglicans ourselves. What a wonderful gift!  Bill and Susan would later become the godparents of our two daughters and, in turn, their two children would become like daughters to us.

My friend Flip died on August 21, 2020. During this time of pandemic, we were fortunate to participate in his online memorial service on Veterans Day.  Like too many Vietnam veterans, late in life Flip suffered numerous ailments connected with his military service.  The brave men and women who served in Vietnam are quickly declining in numbers today—many have reached their 70’s and 80’s and there are even a few in their 90’s. They deserve our thanks and admiration, as well as the Veterans Administration’s medical support and other services that a grateful nation owes them.

For those who might have served as Army officers at Ft. Knox, KY in the early 1980’s, you’ll understand when I tell you that Flip and I often shared time together at the Fiddler’s Green.  But unlike forlorn cavalrymen in the poem by the same name, who are eternally destined to quench their thirst at an old-time canteen, the passing of my friend is no cause for sorrow or melancholy.  It’s a time for celebrating a life lived for God, family and country.  As with the passing of every Christian brother in arms whom I’ve bid a similar farewell, I rest assured knowing that I’ll see Flip again on that day when Christ restores all things on Earth to the original order that God intended. His departure leaves us with an emptiness which only Flip could fill, but we take comfort in assurance of the glorious reunion to come. Until that day, rest in peace brother!

In Memoriam

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) William John Filippini

August 26, 1944 – August 21, 2020

Fiddler’s Green

Feed My Sheep

The Good Shepherd (C.1650-60) by Philippe de Champaigne

My recent work with a struggling young man in my community has provided me a stark reminder of the reality of hunger in America. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “having access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  According to USDA figures, 10.5 percent of American households in 2019 lacked proper food security. While the government’s 2020 food security figures are not yet available, indications are that this year’s numbers will be much higher.  The primary reason for this is the sharp increase in national unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the map below shows, the food insecurity problem is widespread.

As a state workforce developer in Pennsylvania, I worked with hundreds of clients who had recently lost their jobs.  Food security was often a major concern of these displaced workers. Many had small children at home, making their situations even more dire.  More recently, as a volunteer job coach working with the elderly, I discovered that food security is a major concern for many of my clients. My typical client is age 70 or older, dependent upon a Social Security check of less than a thousand dollars a month as their primary income, and frequently has to decide between purchasing expensive prescription drugs or food, as they lack sufficient income to pay for both with what remains after paying the rent or mortgage.  

While the mission of Christ’s church is to spread the Gospel, it’s difficult to convey the Good News to someone with a growling, empty stomach. Jesus clearly recognized this. By feeding the five thousand in the miracle of the loaves described in John 6, Jesus provided for the physical needs of the crowd.  The very next day, he called Himself the “Bread of Life.” (John 6:35). Clearly, one needs food in the belly in order to be more open to partaking of the Bread of Life.  The level of involvement in feeding the needy varies significantly from church to church.  Many get involved in collecting and distributing holiday food baskets for the needy.  While this is a wonderful thing, such baskets only cover a few days of the annual 365 that people need to eat. Much more is needed.   

Food banks and pantries exist across the country to help support food security. Typically, a food bank supports a region (such as a county), while local food pantries serve small towns or communities within larger towns/cities. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, a food bank is a non-profit that safely stores thousands to millions of pounds of food for bulk distribution to local food programs, like food pantries. Food banks come in all different sizes. In contrast, food pantries receive food shipments from food banks and run food distribution programs where hungry families can receive food directly. Pantries feed hundreds of people per week! Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries. It is common for a food pantry to operate from inside a community school or church. Some areas even have mobile food pantries to serve seniors with limited mobility or rural communities with little transportation.  Some pantries require the clients to demonstrate financial need, while others serve anyone who shows up. Some communities also have food kitchens, where the needy can eat a hot, nutritious meal.

Churches and individuals can help their local food banks, pantries and kitchens in a number of ways by donating money and by volunteering their time. Check directly with your local organizations to ascertain the best way to help each. A general rule of thumb is that monetary donations are preferable to food, as it enables the organization to spend where the need is greatest. Another general rule is that volunteers are always needed; this is particularly so during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many food banks, pantries and kitchens have adopted special precautions for COVID-19.  Those who might wish to volunteer should check with their local organization(s) to determine if they are comfortable volunteering in light of the precautions that have been adopted. In any case, I encourage you to reach out as you can to support food security in America. As James 2:15-16 tells us, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Jesus feeds the five thousand, John 6:1-13 (NIV).  Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Do not let your hearts be troubled

Jesus Watches Mary of Bethany Weeping at His Tomb

In John 14, Jesus’ disciples are troubled by the Lord’s words and behavior.  In John 13, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them that one who wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all.  He informs them that he is going away to a place where they cannot follow, foreshadowing his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus tells them that one of the disciples will betray him. Finally, he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times. By this time, all the disciples are pretty shaken.  But next Jesus reassures and comforts them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) *.  He then goes on to explain that He is going away to prepare a place for them in heaven.

Such comforting words are needed today. The entire country is politically supercharged over the upcoming election.  Harsh words are spoken on both sizes of the aisle. Violent protests fill the streets of many major cities nightly. I continually hear people from the left, right, and middle expressing fears and worries over the future of America. This shouldn’t be a concern for Christians.

Here’s a news flash. The upcoming election has already been decided. The future of America has already been decided. Despite the hate and chaos, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as he wills it. The Father’s plan for Christ followers is the same as Jesus plan for His disciples.  He is preparing a place for Christians in Heaven. This plan was established before the Earth was created. It may seem to sometimes that God is moving slowly, but he isn’t.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter:8-9

Time is a perception that humans use to help wrap their minds around what occurs in life, but time is meaningless to God.  We see this clearly in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moses that God’s name is “I am.”  We see this in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Mike Bennett, who writes for the Christian website Life, Hope and Truth, explains it like this:

The Bible tells us God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). In other words, God’s plans are so sure that it is as if they had already happened. So, when the One who became Jesus Christ volunteered to die for our sins from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), it was as if He had already been slain. Jesus also described other things that were planned “from the foundation of the world,” and they are just as sure. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).

“My spirit shakes with terror. How long God, how long? from Psalm 6

Rest assured that God is in control and nothing can change that. No matter what appears to be happening, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as He conceived it before creation. For many this is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus is the key to God’s plan.  This is stated plainly in John 1:1-5, where John describes Jesus like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you are a Christian and find yourself fretting over the coming election or other events occurring in the nation, I encourage you to read (or reread) the Gospel of John.  I guarantee you will find great comfort in its words.  Even if you are not a Christ follower, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John and carefully consider its words, for it is a guide to eternity.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” –John 6:68.

* All Bible passages are NIV.

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

Pressing Towards the Goal

Pressing Towards the Goal

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  —Philippians 3:13-14

Aging provides a multitude of reality checks, reminding one they’re not the same person he/she used to be. These reminders come in many forms, for example waning physical strength, dimming eyesight, thinning hairlines, dental challenges, gaining unwanted weight, and a host of other complaints.  I recently received such a reminder when my Medicare card arrived in the mail. I started feeling older when people began automatically offering me senior discounts at restaurants and movies.  But a Medicare care? Yep, I’m getting old.

When young it’s easy to be carefree.  Just look at the videos of college students frolicking on Florida’s beaches during spring break 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.  Many of those interviewed in the media appeared to have no cares in this world.  Acknowledging one’s mortality is an important step in life. Realizing there’s an end in sight encourages people to take stock of what they’ve done and what remains.

Leaving a legacy behind is important. I believe my greatest accomplishment is having helped instruct my children in the knowledge of Jesus Christ as their personal savior.  However, I fear that when history judges me and my generation, we will be most remembered for abandoning Judeo-Christian values and leading the United States into the post-Christian era. These values shaped the great experiment we call America. As the values go, so goes the country.  The Christians of my generation have let our values be replaced by a cultural relativism that says “anything goes.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. –Psalm 5:9

The violence and rioting we’ve seen in many American cities in the wake of the George Floyd murder sadden me, because these acts will not lead to greater social justice. The most successful social justice movement in America was exemplified in the teaching of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated peaceful change.  The divisions in American society today are caused not as much by racial injustice as by sin. Today’s racial injustice is one of many symptoms of our sin. 

As I have written in the past, most people are repulsed by being called a sinner.  Yet sin is a condition we all live in. Martin Luther described it eloquently in a letter to his fellow theologian Philip Melanchthon on August 1, 1521:

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

I wish more of our church leaders would speak up about sin and forgiveness.  Rioting and tearing down statues cannot heal our country—prayer, repentance and turning back towards Christ can. President Mike Pence recently spoke at the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  He said, “Even when things don’t seem like they’re going the way we expected, they’re going a way [God] expected.” He continued, “if we will but hold fast to Him, we’ll see our way through these challenging times, we will restore our nation’s health, we will renew our freedom, and we will inspire people across this land with our witness of the love and compassion and strength that comes in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” 

While the past is important, what happens today and beyond is what matters the most in our lives. I pray that every Christian in America would strive to lead a Christ-like life—one reflecting the glory of our Savior. This is the surest and shortest path to healing the nation.  

Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.  Psalm 71:17-18

Please see: Undermining Racism, a talk by English theologian N.T. Wright.

*All Bible quotes are NIV