The Exclusivity of the Christian Faith

I wholeheartedly believe that the only way to gain entrance into the heavens is via experience with the Jesus of the bible. He was a real person who lived a sinless existence and died at the hands of an angry mob. Yet it was all a part of the grand plan of the creator of this universe. Believing who he was and embracing him as the only bridge from the state of human sin to arms of a holy God is what I am convinced of is what is needed to become a child of God. Every fiber of my being tells me this is true. I would hope that all who identify with the name and person of Jesus feel the same way. I guess you’d say I am ALL IN, and wonder who in their right mind would only be “partially in”?

The thought for this current writing is something that is a bit hard to write about. It shines light on a subject that “ought not be”. It examines from real life view about something that seems missing from people who are “sold out” believers in Jesus the Christ. It is in the subject of giving. But before you grab your wallet, I’m talking about giving in a different sense. I’m talking about giving of one’s self to others in a exercise of faith. I’ve noticed for quite some time that Christians, and churches, create events or “ministries” with the purpose of helping others or meeting some need that they see in the community. They plan, they recruit others for help, they spend large sums of money, they craft events for the community to participate in for little or no charge whatsoever. Yet, by design, they sometime leave you with the feeling that they are a stingy bunch. They want the outsider to come and participate, but boundaries are put in place that make it seem restrictive or even miserly.

What made this thought come to the surface is a recent event that we attended. We took our young granddaughters to a “fall festival” (Halloween substitute). The event started pretty early so we had to rush to get there in time to park, walk and then take the kids to booths set up for games. Each booth had large tubs of candy for kids to have after completing whatever challenge each game afforded. Yet each child was only allowed 2 pieces of candy. The place was full of booths and people. So busy in fact, that the kids had to wait in line for each game. This place was full and kids of all ages and all seemed to be having a great time.

But after one of the games ended my granddaughter was digging through the candy looking for something that was not chocolate (she doesn’t care for it?). The lady manning the booth told her “dear you must only get 2 pieces”. My wife was puzzled at that rebuke since the she was just looking for something other than chocolate? It wasn’t as if the kids were “loading up” at each stop. So we carried on to the next booth for the next 20 minutes or so and waited our turn in line. After about the 4th booth a man (obviously in leadership) from the church walked by and waived at the booth attendants as if to say the event was over. So when it was our child’s turn the booth people just said “sorry it’s over”. So we went quickly to three other booths hoping our girls could get a few more pieces of candy before calling it a night. But it happened several more times and the event was OVER. The tubs of candy were still half full, yet it was 7:30 and we were all done. Our oldest was not only upset by not getting very much candy but wanted to simply play the games.

I know this all sounds a little silly, but we felt like outsiders at our own church. We brought our granddaughters for a fun experience at OUR church. But it was over in a flash and we took them back home with buckets almost empty. This event underscored how I think we as Christians behave in this world at times. We have the one true answer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, yet we place so many rules and restrictions on the prize that we leave the unbelieving world still in unbelief. The true gospel is one of inclusiveness and fullness, not one that closes the gate and refuses the prize because the ending hour has come. We have a redeeming work to do as believers yet we are shirking that calling if we limit what we do to time and space, and candy.

When others see Christians like myself I believe they should see people who are givers and people who go way beyond the call of duty in serving others. We are called to serve God. I learned long ago that the only way I can honestly and effectively serve my God is by serving others. And when we serve we should do so lavishly, as if each person we serve is our own child or grandchild.  People should see and experience the grace and mercy of the cross by seeing me lay down my own wishes and desires by the way in which I love and serve. That’s how people are drawn to the love of Christ. Words can be optional, but the way in which we treat others gives us opportunity to share they hope that we have within us.

Narrow IS the gate to salvation, but everyone should be given opportunity to see the path by the way Christians love and serve.

 

How Can We Be So Foolish?

I’m often amazed at a missing depth of reason for when it comes to the word of God. Many times the lack of understanding is from well-meaning folks who’ve purportedly walked by faith for many years, even decades is hard to understand?

The scriptures were penned by human beings who were inspired by the third party of the trinity, that we know as the Holy Spirit. Woven into the words on the page is the unwritten and unseen “Word” who is the one and true God. We understand and know his heart if we honestly seek to know His purposes and plans for our lives.

The way I was taught to understand the scriptures by very learned and revered teachers is to first look at the context in which a passage is written to find true understanding of what was (is) being said. Pulling passages from within a context to make them fit something you want is called proof texting. That is extracting a portion of a complete passage out of a larger story to prove your point or wishes. That is just plain wrong. It’s very much like misquoting someone in a media interview so that the narrative fits an intended target or thought. But this is a much more serious issue because it is a twisting of the truth of the word of God. That is serious business in my book.   Erring in this can cause others to stumble and miss the true meaning and can even cause issues for generations to come as they follow a path of deception by mishandling the word of God.

When you study the bible please consider the context of the message, the intended target audience and please, please, please ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you study. And when in doubt in the interpretation or understanding of a particular passage it is wise use the scripture itself to help you with the understanding. Since the bible is inspired by one god there is a harmony throughout the scriptures. The concepts and precepts of God’s heart are penned in different ways and in different ages of historical Judeo/Christian history. So what better way to understand the word than letting the word itself be your guide.  And I should add that your ultimate guide must be the Holy Spirit. He can and will guide you into the truth.

Don’t be deceived into believing that somehow you’ve been given a “handle” or “corner on the truth” when it comes to God’s word. God is an equal provider of truth to all generations. As he is ageless, so are his immutable unchanging truths. He does not change and his word has remained through the ages.

 

God. Is He Someone I can Pray to?

God is our Father and our creator. That is my story and I’m sticking to it. That is something I was taught in my upbringing.  Since God is our Father, that makes him in essence and in character, our Dad.  Being a perfect Father, we know that he must enjoy the interaction, respect and reciprocal love from his kids.

Long ago in my life experience I gained a great respect for God. That was even before I could say that I had a personal “experience” or relationship with him. As a child, when others would pray, I was taught to bow my head and close my eyes (simple I know). But if I knew nothing else personally about God, at least I knew to respect Him and revere who he was.

When we speak God’s name, mention him in passing or even simply think of him, he is acutely aware of us and at full attention and ready to hear from us. The scriptures instruct us to pray without ceasing. I think we all know what that really means. It means that in every situation we should have God’s name on the tip of our tongue asking him for guidance, comfort, and every other thing we could possibly need. Prayer is reaching out to God. It is also acknowledging that He (and he alone) is our source and strength. I’m a guy who loves fun and find some sort of humor in anything. It’s just how I’m wired. But mixed in with my humor there is a serious side to me as I think of who God is.

God expects us to call on him in thick and thin. I think it has to be a wonderful thing to him, when we call on his name to a simple conversation with him and lovingly thank him for being who he is. This conversation can be equated to telling our earthly father – I love you daddy.

Our paw owns it all. He’s really a rich guy. He lavishes his wealth on us each day. At times I feel like a spoiled brat the way he blesses and cares for me, even when I’ve been a fool. But in his goodness he knows what’s best for us. He also knows full well when to withhold his wealth from us and correct us.

The next time to have the need to reach out to your father for advice or strength or even to just thank him, don’t hold back. Speak his name, call out to him boldly. He will hear your voice and respond to you in grace and love.

God inhabits the praises of his children, all day – everyday.

Scabs and Scars

I’ve personally been met with obstacles and challenges in my life that left me battered, bruised and broken. I bear scars of failure and defeat. Some wounds have been deep and lasting. Some battles I’ve faced seemed to have lasted for a lifetime. Then there are are those really tough events that defined my life, at least for a time.

The human condition gives us all episodes of life where we get punched and slapped and knocked down. It’s just life. Some battles leave you with evidences of your survival. Some skirmishes can leave you with nasty little scabs. Then there are those events that leave indelible marks on your life. Those seem to stay with you. Scars left behind can be reminders of failure and brokenness.

A few years ago I was at crossroads in my life. Failure and despair seemed to haunt me. That thinking seemed to be a new norm for me. I decided one day that I was far better at failure than I was at winning. Let me tell you, that is not a place you want to be. That feeling takes you captive and makes you its slave. It seems there is no escape from that dungeon.

But then I found some really wise counsel, from some very honest and godly men. They didn’t ridicule me, they didn’t shun me. They didn’t try to figure it all out for me. They came along side me in my pain. They prayed with and for me. They hounded me with compassion and care, in an humble yet strong kind of way.

It was a rather odd and new time for me. Men were taught to suck it up, take it on the chin and just deal with it. Don’t show your weakness, don’t display your pain. And whatever you do, do  not tell any other man your weaknesses or failures. If you do, your man card is cancelled permanently. Does anyone know who wrote those rules?

I can honestly say, at this point in my life, that I wear my scars as badges of honor. I know I am a survivor of the rarest kind. I’ve been in the trenches of life and am still here to tell of them. I have a marriage that has stood the test of time. I have folks around me that I’d willingly give it all up for. I’ve seen ugliness and pain yet I smile in spite of it all.

There’s nothing special or gifted about me, yet I’ve found the secret to success in life. It is not about reaching some pinnacle of fame or fortune, or reaching some lofty goal or getting some large reward.

I’ve learned to simply rest in what my God has shown me, in my pain. He’s a trustworthy teacher that takes you to the highest of places of submission and tests you to see if you really do trust him. When I’m shaken and thrown down I know that He still loves and cares about me, especially in my pain. It must seem odd to those around me, but I’ve been blessed beyond measure in some of the darkest places in life. Yet God is good. All the time.

 

A Cold and Starry Night

Do clear, cold, starry nights make you think of days gone by like it does for me? Something is mystical and magic about gazing in into the heavens on a winter night. I think it is awesome to realize that the sky we view on any given night is the same exact view that we’ve surveyed our entire lives. And on a grander scale, that sky has been the same for a really long time (like forever)!

On a cold night in a distant past most of us know of and accept the story that there were men who had a simple yet important job of tending sheep. And on that special starlit night these wranglers realized there was something different about that fluorescent sky. These stargazers had much experience with night skies. They had an intimate knowledge of the details and scope of the horizon. They had they viewed that same scene night after night for a very long time. Other than watching for predators and strays, I’m sure these fellows spent considerable time talking among themselves about a myriad subjects. But on this night they had something big and new to think about and discuss.

For them to see a new light in the sky must have more than just a passing interest. It would be equal to us hearing or seeing an unidentified object of unknown origin flying in our direction. It was, no doubt, one of those things that would shake anyone to the core. These sheepherders probably didn’t know what to make of what they were witnessing? They, along with countless other night watchers, must have been talking about this new light in the sky for weeks and months to come.

This new light in the sky seemed to somehow be focused and directional, unlike the other sparkles in the sky. The special light seemed to be shining towards a place. Even with the sky’s visual rotation, this particular light stayed in place and pointed in a direction. It didn’t lose its intensity as the night faded.

I may be spending a great amount of effort in painting a scene that would have been present in that night, and that sky. There is great reason for the concern and special wonder of this night sky, and that star. For you see the light that was burning brightly in that night sky pointed to the place where a human kind would become supernatural royalty. This great light and event was because of the birth of single child. The child of which I speak was more than just the pride and joy of new parents. The great illumination pointed to a hope for all mankind.  For you see, God became flesh that night, as the savior of the world was being born. This single event signaled to the world that something was new and different. I’ll bet there was electricity in the air and an excitement that was inexplicable.

So the next time you gaze the night sky, see if you can imagine what it might have been like to see that Star of Bethlehem that night. That star still shines but it is now visible to all who believe in the baby toward whom it pointed. He later became a kinsman redeemer and king. Jesus the Christ was born and is still our star and guide.

The Imagination of Creation

Being creative people by nature we are motivated from time to time to make our own creations. From the large array of raw materials in our natural world, we make things that make our lives easier and make us increase our productivity, and also things that are just wonderful nuggets for our eyes. We think, envision, design and craft. We cut and nail and glue and sand. We top off our creations with color and style. Then we display them proudly for the world to see. We feel that sense of accomplishment and joy of being a creator.

 

I’ve been wondering what that process was like for our eternal creator? Did he think about making us for ten million years (as if he has a calendar)? Did he make previous versions of us that weren’t quite right? Did he think the whole thing through before he started the design process? From one of the attributes about God (omniscience) I’ve learned, I believe that every step, every detail, every single aspect of his design and craft, were without flaw. The overriding influence of His every thought and action was based out of and driven by desire. He desired fellowship. He longed for the interaction we as human beings would give. The eternal genius behind it all was all about having an offspring.

 If you spend time, energy and enormous resources in building a project, you would be surprised and shocked to think that someone would take what you poured your very self into and basically rip up your design to shreds and throw it in the trash. If something I had labored on and sweated over became one day to be regarded as a piece of trash, I think the darkest deepest side of my own flawed humanity would make me horrifically angry mad and want retribution.
Can you imagine with me, for one moment, what could possibly be going through God’s mind each and every time an abortion is performed in our world? I shudder to think what his ultimate wrath might be one day for those who’ve taken his lovingly created human children and shredded them with no remorse?. This unspeakable evil will bring us ever closer to the end of time. I never want to be accused of not doing everything in my power to stop this horror.

Ready to Retire? Always!!!

Well, today we say farewell to my good buddy Curtis. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mr. Curtis for almost 4 years. When I walked into this place for the first time (through what I thought must have been the back door to the business) I was smack in the middle of the customer service department. I was there looking to interview for a new job and Mr. Curtis was the first person that greeted me.

It really helps when you walk into a new place seeking employment to find some like Mr. Curtis. Whatever fear and trembling I must have felt was tempered quickly by the ease of style and friendly character of this fellow. While waiting for the person interviewing me, it was only a few sentences in that I and my buddy were talking food and especially BBQ. Funny how God uses people and passions together very quickly, isn’t it?

Well, I ended up getting the job. And I worked in a different building but shortly thereafter we moved to another location and all of us were finally all together. It was here that I learned about the life and adventures of Curtis. And what a storied life! I thought I had done a lot of things in my time. But I met my match.

Once you meet Curtis, you will never be the same. And if you’ve met him you will understand (without a doubt) that he has a deep and abiding faith in our God. And yes we do share the same One and only God, expressed in the form of Jesus the Christ.

Speaking of Jesus, one of Curtis’s common questions is to anyone he knows is this – “Did you know that Jesus loves you and I do too?” I would kid him at times and say “I sure hope so!” Or I might tell him “I know Jesus does, but I’m not sure about you.”

He ends all Facebook or email messages with “Love Ya”. Now it takes a real “manly man” to boldly tell someone (anyone) that he Loves You. But that’s how he rolls. And it is his signature.

He told me last week that he would be moving on to greener pastures this week and move to the retirement home. Well, at least he has plans of staying home more. And fishing. And singing and whistling and humming. And doing just about anything he wants to.

But I have a suspicion that as he enters this new phase of fun that God will have some new things for Mr. Curtis to be involved in. And I’m sure it will be spreading good news somewhere in his world.

We all have “stories” to tell about our lives. But Curtis really does have a life changing story of redemption. He’d be the first to tell you that he was a real stinker in his earlier life. And it wasn’t just doing all the wrong things. He was a real life agnostic. Webster’s defines this with several flowery words. Doubter, Scoffer, Cynic, Skeptic, Unbeliever.
agnostic – a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)
It’s interesting that the descriptors of such a person seem to all be negative. But the Curtis that I know is anything but negative. So how’d that change happen?
It was a complex, yet simple, change that he attributes only to God’s “wonder working power”. Not only was Curtis ill and close to death more than once, but he was despondent, depressed and pretty much without hope. Yet in the midst of his pain, someone kept praying for and encouraging Mr. Curtis that he’d turn to God for help and healing. Finally Curtis did “simply” turn to God for his “complex and complete healing power”. I can’t recall how many years ago that was, but the main point is, it was not a temporary “fix”.
God took that piece of clay that was broken and made it pliable again. And what he reconstructed was a “man after God’s own heart”.
I didn’t know the old Curtis Shelton. I only know the redeemed man that God healed and changed. Happy Trails my friend! I know you’ll keep telling the Good News of God’s redeeming power.