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.

 

The “New” Morality

 

It seems that almost every day now we are faced with some new moral dilemma.

Regardless of the issue, the foundations of traditional moral value can be heard creaking and cracking beneath our feet. Many of the truths we’ve always accepted as the basis for our society are being challenged like never before. More changes have taken place in the moral arena in the past decade, than in the two hundred years before. The values that have been the support strings in the fabric of our country are now being condemned and disposed of like smelly trash.

The methods of presenting these “new ideas” on us is done now with the straight and bold  “in your face” and “shove it down your throat” style. The new villains are those if us who cry foul . Whatever new change being railroaded on our society is done so with no remorse or regret. Changes are proposed and changed many times with no regard for finding the majority opinion about the subject. For the 99 percent of us who do cry out (publicly or privately), we are quickly labeled and dismissed as fear mongering hateful right wing extremists.

The NEW morality is in actuality NO morality at all. The definition is amoral – meaning having neither right or wrong values but landing somewhere in the misty haze of nothingness. It is comparable to noxious fumes that have little or no odor. But nonetheless any deadly gas will put you in an early grave.

With each new day we hear the flush handle jangled as our Judeo-Christian way of life swirls round and round the toilet bowl of the America we once knew as it washes down the drain. To say our country is sliding into an abyss is such a great and powerful understatement. Whether we like it, or admit it, our very way of life is being torn from side to side and top to bottom.

Complete censorship is on our doorstep. We face a future where our every word will be subject to the cry of the microscopic vocal minority. We soon will live in a world where we cannot have or express an opinion about any person, place or thing unless that point of view is dripping in acceptance and inclusiveness. As a free people we designed our society to have the ability and liberty to think the way we want yet without trampling on those same rights of everyone else. We can and should have the right to differing views and be able to express those views without fear of reprisal and condemnation. Rather than having majority rule, we are being plunged into a time where each and every special interest group self proclaims that they are in control and will take the reins of power if left unchecked. And the land that we will live in will be wide open, wild and grisly.

History has shown clearly that governments ruled by dictators, tyrants and self promoting fools does not work. A democratic world view is very different in every respect than a socialistic kingship ruling class. The governing ways of the latter repress free thought and seek to force on the masses a viewpoint held by such a small percentages of the populace.

The above mentioned plan has been perpetrated before. It does not work. And the saddest part of this story is that sane and civil people seem to be sitting idly by while our society crumbles before our eyes. The oldest group of our ranks know what is right and what is wrong. They can articulate those values and show the flaws. But that generation of people is already being shut down and silenced. Their views are not valued or respected.

The under 30 crowd really don’t know who to believe. They seem to be swayed by every new populist idea that comes along. They’ve been told lie after lie so many times that believe and embrace them. In reality, they don’t have experience enough or the wisdom to separate truth from fiction. One day they will wake up and realize that the things they expected from life will not even remotely resemble what they had in mind for the new world.

God help us!

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.

 

Light Bulb Moment today

I had one of those light bulb moments early this morning.
It came to me as a single word – Mission.
What does Mission mean?
Webster defines this as: an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation, or an important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed: or sending or being sent for some duty or purpose.
 
For a number of years I felt like I had several missions in life. Among those were to be the provider for my family and to be the man God called me to be, for the protection and nurture of the wife  and brood he blessed me with. Another mission was to raise our kids in the “right” way. That mission was a joyous and rewarding endeavor.
 
A little later in my adult time I had a mission to be a leader among, and with, men of faith. That became a passion that was shared with other like minded guys who were in various stages of their lives. It was also a rewarding and fruitful experience and watch as God blessed and prospered that deepening faith experience. 
 
All the kids are gone now. They are pursuing their own missions now. So, for the most part my fathering mission is pretty much accomplished. My provider mission and role of provider has changed to being the provider for my wife and myself. The men’s ministry mission waned in recent years, as some of my closest allies and comrades left this place for a better land.
 
A discussion began last evening with my bride about the frustration we feel as believers in that the population at large are very much different than we are. Our society is very much “into themselves” and searching for happiness in things and events that we personally find no joy or purpose in. We sort of feel out of touch with the mainstream. We want to be and attempt to be relevant and “part of the crowd” yet we just can’t embrace many of the activities and attitudes that make the multitudes happy nowadays.
 
So, as often happens early in the morning, the Holy Spirit speaks. Not with great detail but with single words like MISSION. In the “mature age” of our lives I think we need a new mission. We need something that we are jazzed about. We need to throw ourselves into something that makes a difference in the lives of other people. And we need to be on the same page as a team for this mission. At this point I have not a clue what that might look like or be? But the same spirit that injected this new word into my thoughts, will also bring something to us that will energize our batteries and give us new meaning and purpose.
As we allow our spiritual gifts to be employed openly in the mighty hand of God, there will be purpose and drive and success. There will also come with that the fulfillment of knowing that what we are about is something that makes our creator smile.
I’m ready to find my new calling, whatever that might be. Stay tuned for further mission news!   

James – Faith that Works Even in my Pain

Pain. We all experience it.
 
I’ve been following a book study about life’s trials. As I glean new things from this study I am reminded of things that I’ve learned in the past from personal experience about pain. New and unlearned things are objective and not yet understood fully until experienced. Learned things are events or seasons in life when we’ve experienced personally the truths that this study reveals.  

Here’s a question for you. Do you believe that God has a purpose for pain or trials that we experience in this life?

In the New Testament the book of James it tells us in chapter 1 that God wants us to bear up under trials. Trials in our lives come in many forms. Family, work, marriage, and financial issues, just to name a few all seem to find their way to our doorsteps. There are normal human responses to the various pains or pressures we are dealt. Faced with serious challenges, one of our first responses is to run or escape. Seems to be the best thing we can think of. Just run.

Secondly we often just moan and complain about our plight. For those of us who believe in the creator God, we usually file a complaint directed him. We ask him why he’s letting this event or situation happen?

A third common response to trial is to blame someone else or some other circumstance for our trial. We just can’t accept that we are stuck smack dab in the middle of trouble, when the trouble may have been brought on by our own wrong decisions. Deferring or projecting our pain onto someone else seems to ease our pain, but it then creates a bitterness in us that is projected to others.     

Humanly speaking we have these normal responses. But in the spiritual realm we can choose a supernatural response, as the book of James tells us to employ.  The passage from James tells us that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. Steadfastness is a big word for a number of things. The result of taking God’s route is that difficulty in our lives can “do its full work”. That means if we hang on, God will use the problem for our good. It seems to go against our nature. But following the advice from James will produce good is us.

 Benefits of staying the course include learning loyalty, faithfulness, commitment and dedication to completing tasks. Staying the course makes us stable and complete. I don’t know about you, but many times I don’t feel stable and far removed from being complete! The end result, James says, is that we can perfect, complete and lacking in nothing. That’s what it says! Read it.

Now for something from my own life.

I’ve had two separate and distinct seasons when I was in severe pain. Not physical pain, but emotional distress and tons of accompanying worry, fear and doubt.  These periods persisted for extended periods of time. The first was not of my own choosing and seemed to take on a life of its own that took me through very dark days. Regardless of how I tried to change or escape it, the problems just kept going and going. It seemed that my life would be changed forever and the pain would never stop. 

My second season of trial and pain was of my own doing. I just plainly took a wrong path. I wiggled, squirmed and tried everything I could to remove myself from the situation. But it seemed the more I tried to escape, again it only got worse. This trial lasted for an extended period of time too. My own devices and plans to change and escape did not work. God had to pry my fingers from this trial so that I could finally rest in his provision and grace.

Peace can be found in obedience. God gave us a book of instructions. But many times we just don’t take the time to find the answers already provided for us. We can have more fulfilling and complete lives when we turn to the book of the ages for help in times of need.

Life is hard, but God is good. He has a perfect plan for us, if we will only allow him to work. We must learn to remove our hands from the wheel and let our God drive and direct us. Seems only fitting that the God who created us, could be able and willing to lead us to a life of fulfillment and joy. Living like this is another example of Living Life to the Full.    

Trying to Understand the Liberal View

I’m trying to understand!
My upbringing in Dallas, Texas was smack dab in the middle of the so-called bible belt of the United States. The Bible belt was and is a microcosm with a diverse mix of cultural values that have been embraced for a number of generations in the south.
My wonderful parents instilled in me a basic understanding of right and wrong. Also instilled in me was a basic respect for authority at every level. I knew instinctively that I would always be subservient to someone, and many times that would be applied to my relationship with an employer or other authority over me that controlled some part of my life. I would be lying if I didn’t say some of the required submission to authority didn’t stick well in my craw and I mumbled about it every chance I could, at times. But the facts remain that I was and still am subject to the authority of greater powers than myself.

 

I think about a lot of different issues just in the course of any day. During our most recent election cycle I was deep in the mire of keeping abreast of every event or newsworthy tidbit related to the election. I listened to a lot of facts about both sides and sifted through the facts and disseminated fact from fiction the best I could, and as carefully as I could.

Although the candidate on the “right” side of the debate was not my first choice, I resigned myself to the realization that he was the better choice of the candidates we were given to vote for. My guy was not as conservative as I would have liked him to be, but he had faith and family values and virtues that I admire and embrace in my own life. But the rest is now history and we know the outcome didn’t appease the conservative voting block of the nation, of which I count myself a part of.

As I’ve surveyed what’s happened in the past few years I’ve learned some invaluable lessons that I didn’t think I would ever be faced to learn. Like the fact that our society has changed. And in my own opinion these changes have happened in rapid succession in recent history, perhaps over the past 10 years. Having lived through the many changes of the 1960’s and the social revolution that took place then, I compare what’s happened in the past several years to the 60’s in some ways, yet in a deeper more drastic and dramatic way.

Until the past decade I didn’t really think of myself as a true conservative, until I realized what a large difference there is in my own values contrasted to the “new” way of thinking about everything. And, dang it, I find myself really as far right as you might be able to swing. This thinking is really deep seated and very dogmatic.

I’ve tried to think about and embrace, in some way, the thinking of those who have turned the apple cart up on its side to include morality, trustworthiness, and the overall view of fiscal matters at every level. I know that in every generation some of the accepted practices and beliefs are altered, toned down or even flat ignored and changed. Some of this is a generational cycle that bucks the norm, but at some point that pendulum swings back in the other direction, at least to some degree.

But from what I’ve observed (and this is open to debate) I think our society has been and continues to make significant changes to what I call the “liberal way”. What troubles me greatly is the fact that there no longer appears to be middle ground. No serious debate occurs between both sides with any negotiable outcome, left or right. It seems that when the majority view (or voting block) leans to the left, there is a complete and utter ignoring of any alternative view or proposition toward the right. In previous generations this was called “stonewalling”. But stonewalling happened so as to prove a point, so that middle ground could be achieved.

The atmosphere of our current age (liberalism) is that “they” will change things to “their” way of thinking and will not compromise or take any part in the “right’s” positions or view. They will not even consider them, whatsoever. If this is really true, we have a serious problem in our society that is not easily remedied. From the view of the right, it appears that we are on a collision course and even though every red flag, bell, whistle or other warning signal is being used, the course of our destinies will not be changed. It is utterly and ignorance of truth.

That is what I see. I would hope that this is only my view of things, but I’m afraid that we are perilously close to a full collapse in our society on every level. Unless the powers in control do not come to some place of discussion and serious debate and concession we will be forced to take a road that will not be a fun or smooth ride. Considering the great and many strides we’ve made as a people in every form of our society might be greatly diminished or destroyed. What Americans love and expect could be gone.

Think through and decide you own convictions. Give future generations a chance to carry on our precious liberties. Speak the truth to those you know and car about. Stand up and be counted. Vote in every election and vote for people who share your values and convictions. Don’t waiver and give up. Stand strong and be counted.

Tough Week…..Tender Family

…..Well my reflective and sentimental mind awakened me again very early for the second Friday morning in a row. Last week I was up early reflecting on my Mom’s life and passing and remembering what she did for me and I shared many of those thoughts at her memorial service. But today it is about Jeff.
I could not fall back to sleep as my mind was reeling with thoughts and memories of Jeff Thompson and family. I knew that I had to get up and jot down my thoughts or I would not be able to remember them or I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep completely.
So here goes, from a restless mind.
Could this family possibly have started with a Toga party? Not 100% sure if that is correct but I think I recall Jeff telling our Tuesday morning guys when we were all telling about how we met our wives. DeeAn, if this is not true I apologize! We all have our unique stories of how we met our spouses, huh? Some are just more amusing than others.
When I first met Jeff his family was still in what I would call the “fledgling stage”. His kids were still pretty young. And Amy (the youngest) was a very young duckling and cute as pie. They were all small, innocent wide eyed and cute.
Just so you’ll know what kind of folks I’m talking about, this portion of the Thompson clan began with a special needs child. Families with special needs kids have challenges that most of us will never face. It takes people of true compassion and care to intentionally have a child with many needs. And then to add five more gifts to their quiver makes this story even more special.
Jeff was a learner and observer. He watched how others were parenting their kids and was always curious about how to deal with the challenges of raising kids, especially once they reached the dreaded teenage status. For those of us a little further along in that process, we gave Jeff what advice we could and then we would all pray together for God’s direction and the grace to be the kind of husbands and dads that our families needed.
I remember a few extra special times where Jeff was doing things for or with his kids. Like when he went to church camp for a week. Reports were that he was the kid that was very close to being kicked out of camp for speeding on a golf cart around campus and “other things”. He was just one of the kids. But he wanted to be with his kids any time he could. So he went to pre-teen camp.
Then there was the time of the surprise gift of two four wheelers that were hidden in my garage until Christmas morning when I delivered them for Jeff to his driveway. The looks on those kids’ faces were something. And the excitement Jeff had was equal.
I recall a Colorado trip when the family van broke down and it took almost a week to get parts for repair. They turned that potentially bad experience into a memory, as they sort of camped out in that little town and even went to the local church there that week.
Jeff intentionally took his kids individually on trips to wherever that child wanted to go. I guess living in a large family, you can at times get lost in the shuffle. Well that is not the case here. He planned for inclusion and always made it fun and directed to that child. From NASCAR to Mexico to Mid America Mall to rescuing dogs or rescuing friends, he always included his kids and taught them by example.
Besides Jeff’s wife and kids that he cherished, he loved dearly his mom, his sisters and their extended families and had many funny stories to go along with them all. I could extract some hush money from them, I’m sure!
There were others that Jeff considered family as well, like Andrew and Lori Spurgeon. He opened up his home and his life to their family and supported every international mission effort they were involved in with compassion and care. He very much respected Andrew’s spiritual wisdom, squeaky laughter and his love of rutabagas. Go figure.
From my view Jeff keyed on strengths, not weaknesses with respect to his family. He always told them he was proud of them and affirmed them every chance he got. He taught them hospitality, by on many occasions having groups into their home for meetings or welcomed anyone into his home.
I could go on for much longer but I will end this now. These are not just random thoughts, but reflections screaming to be released from my feeble mind.
Jeff was not a superman. He had feet of clay. He was broken at times and deeply remorseful for any errant thoughts or actions. And he knew he was forgiven by and relied fully on God’s mercy and grace to keep going.
This wild and crazy guy poured out his life into his family.