Grace and Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking long and hard about grace and forgiveness. I’ve watched friends and family dish these gifts out capriciously. In my mind I was pretty sure these wonderful things were reserved for those who were lined up with God’s standards of goodness. I was sure these favors were reserved for people whose lives followed the goodness rules established by the Methodist, Baptists, Presbyterians, or even Catholics. These have to be limited to those who’ve completed a prescribed set of guidelines or rules or even scriptures?

Over the years I’ve watched what I thought were well-meaning Christians apply the grace and forgiveness gifts in reserved ways. They’ve been doled out to some and kept back from others who both appeared to have needed them. At times it’s seemed that the ones who may have received these blessings needed it much less than the ones prevented from receiving them.

After careful thought I’ve come to the conclusion that neither camp should be giving or getting any grace or forgiveness at all. Those who’ve been giving or applying grace and forgiveness have no right whatsoever to be giving away something reserved for God who sits in heaven.

There’s a reason it’s called God’s grace and forgiveness because it’s His alone to dispense. And when he casts those gifts over his children he does so with such lavishness that it almost seems unfair, doesn’t it? God owns it all and owns us all. He decides when, where and who gets the salve of his love.

I have family and friends who have severely fractured relationships. Some are heartbreaking. Broken relationships are always hard to understand and even harder to decipher and accept. People claiming to know and serve our gracious God have become judges, juries and executioners. Husbands, wives, fathers, sons and daughters have been given what seems like death sentences with no possible reprieve. If I’m grieved about it, can you imagine how God must view this mass destruction and hatefulness?

I write this in the hope that someone reading might realize this error and end any war that you are a party to – this very moment.

Love and forgive as God has loved and forgiven you. Anything less is a hurdle and hindrance in your pursuit of God. You cannot serve God completely when something is so openly wrong in your life.

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They Had No Clue

And when his friends had gone away and night had fallen they took him and ridiculed and slandered him. Charges were trumped up against him in late evening when few were aware or present. He was alone with his enemies. And things got terribly worse for him. The wounds inflicted on him seemed more about hate than retribution.

Yet he gave no defense because he’d done no wrong. The world didn’t understand him so they viewed him as a threat to their own politics and power. They had no clue who they were really dealing with. He allowed them that night to do with him what they wished. He didn’t fight back or rail. He knew his purpose. He paid a heavy price that night. He carried a weight beyond measure. 

The next day there was surely a hush over the landscape. The preacher had been put down and silenced. He would not longer be able to gain the attention of the masses. His friends, no doubt, would now be quiet and go away.

How or why did this escalate to the end of the gentle healer? Through a blurred and salty vision this man that night saw past the offences of his revilers. He saw them with a compassion and love that they couldn’t know or ever embrace.

Unbeknownst to all, those darkest hours were ushering in a new light that would never fade or fail. Waiting, hoping, longing – they all waited in silence not knowing the direction of the future for all. They all just had to wait.

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.

 

HO HO HO Holiday Relief 2016

Having survived a devastating EF4 Tornado the evening after Christmas 2015 I find that I’ve learned a lot of things from being displaced from our home for 9 months. But what I’m writing about now is not about me or any losses we incurred.

In the months following a huge and deadly storm I’ve participated in a number of social media groups that have offered up support and resources for people who’ve suffered loss as a result of losing homes, personal belongings of every kind and just about every sense of safety and security that one might have.

These groups have pointed people to Relief Centers, Red Cross Offices, State Insurance Offices,  and a myriad of places for help with every possible need. People lost lives that warm and humid winter night in North Texas  (miraculously only 8 died). Of those lost they were all in vehicles traveling on the highway when this massive twister rumbled through south Garland headed northeast to Rowlett and beyond. The track went 13 miles with wind speeds up to 180 miles per hour.

With all of the loss that night there are items you wouldn’t normally think about losing at a time like this. You think food, clothing, furniture, cars, and personal belongings of every sort. But something lost because of being immediately following Christmas Day is peoples holiday decorations (both indoor and outdoor).  One big howl of the wind and your house is gone and everything in it is blow to parts unknown.

Having had great insurance and a very competent and trustworthy contractor to rebuild our home we feel especially blessed. Fortunately we only lost what little outdoor decorations we had. Our inside items (with the exception of the Christmas Tree damaged by the move and storage) didn’t sustain loss. So our tons of crates of decorations remain intact.

So as we are now back home I feel inclined to give back to our community that continues to suffer as a result of a fluke storm that changes many people’s worlds.

I am in the Christmas business 365 days a year as a buyer for a Lighting company. So Christmas lights and decorations are not a seasonal item for me. It is something I do year round. And you wouldn’t believe how many people will buy these products year round!

Currently I am soliciting the help of some of my vendor/suppliers for donations of Christmas lights, greenery and any other product that they are willing to send me. I’m also soliciting items from the local community as well via social media and other means. Then whatever we come up with we will assemble and distribute to those in need for this 2016 holiday season. We even have crews of men standing by ready to serve by installing displays as needed.

I heard a story last week of a lady who had just installed Christmas lights for the first time in a fairly new home. Her 2 year old son loved them. But they were all blown away and destroyed in a span of about one minute. She’s already told her son that they won’t be able to decorate their home this year. (oh, by the way her home was destroyed). They’ve since rebuilt but there have been plenty of expenses for every other imaginable thing besides holiday decorations.

Hearing stories like that propel me to action. Knowing people might not have such a normally festive time for lack of Christmas lights, presses me to do all I can to meet those needs. “The need is great but the supply must be greater”. I may capture that phrase as our motto in the project we are calling HoHoHo Holiday Relief 2016.

See our Facebook page for detailed donation and distribution locations and times. https://www.facebook.com/hohohoholidayrelief2016/

 

Time to Pay Our Respects Again

Our founders started out as a ragtag group longing to be free at any cost. They fought the good fight against insurmountable odds. The crown of England surely had a strangle-hold on our fledgling nation. Those brave men who came before us marshaled their determination to beat back the oppressors who were determined to crush us. Our patriots were really the underdogs in that fight. But they had something the king did not have – RESOLVE.

In the process of forming our wee nation our forefather worked tirelessly to forge a document to seal our republic into a strong bod. That document has surely stood the test of time thus far. Our constitution became a framework so we’d have a government that was FOR, WITH and BY the people. It’s mission was to insure balance between the power brokers so we’d be governed, yet not dominated. Have strength, yet be kindly bridled.

Each year about this time we’re reminded of the sacrifices made to secure, protect, and keep our freedoms. Throughout our history we’ve made our share of enemies, most of which were borne completely out of a burning thing called jealousy. Our nation was designed to give the commoner a share of the pie. It was also designed to allow someone (anyone) and an ability and a passion to become great, even with little.

Our foes have historically be people in other nations. From time to time we’ve had haters of freedom within our own ranks. Detractors of freedom will always be nipping at our heels. Kings, princes and tyrants can’t stand to see the common man have and utilize opportunity, and then succeed. It makes them look bad. It also diminishes their own ill-placed hunger for power.

For the brave men and women who’ve stood for our ideals in the middle of a blinding rain at 3 a.m. And for the patriot whose risen early and stayed up late training in order to serve. And for the servant warrior who has spent tireless effort standing watch over our republic and protecting our ideals.

For all of those who’ve even given the ultimate sacrifice for us – we salute and honor you this Memorial Day. We revere you. We’re humbled at your effort as you’ve stood in our place and given your all so that we can sleep at night with that joy of freedom in our hearts. To the servicemen and women of every rank in every generation and in every location – we stand up in honor of your memory and your service. We wave old glory in your honor.

God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America!

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!

They Took Him Down Alright

The Lord Jesus Christ had an excruciating week leading up to his death. The religious leaders couldn’t take him any longer. He was a threat to their way of life. They thought that the laws they so carefully tried to follow were being mocked by this man. Yet he looked beyond the detail of the law and saw people and he saw their need. He knew people didn’t need a strict adherence to a set of rules and regulations. They needed a kinsman redeemer.

They found a judge in that Thursday night who probably owed them favors. And with a trumped up trial after hours they brought their so-called charges against this man Jesus. With the help of a kangaroo court this sinless man fell in the hands of an angry mob. They handled him as if he was less than a human. Little did they know he was much much more.

Yet this man who’d loved others beyond explanation submitted himself to torturous pain. He could have ended this horror with a single word or thought. Yet in the dark of this night he would allow his mocking crowd to do their bidding. In the crowd that night there were possibly some of the very people who’d witnessed him heal a blind man or raise his dead friend from a tomb.

Anguish and humiliation continued through the night. This man was not getting away with his crimes of passion. A determination had been made to end him, once and for all. So they took him down alright.

They probably wondered how this man could’ve endured the beating that he’d already taken and still be alive and conscious.  In his final hours he still had the compassionate thought to reach out to another condemned man. The doomed soul beside him realized that this man Jesus had to me more than just a common man, not just by the way he lived by by the way he was dying. Even in his final agony this common thief received the passion of the Christ, and he believed.

So under the watchful curious eye of bystanders the execution of this Galilean carpenter came to an end. Even in his final gasps of breath he was asking his father to forgive his executioners. This was evidence enough to show that he was more than just a man. So they had their way took him down.

This story must be over.

Passion Week – What Does that Really Mean?

By many, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is referred to as Passion Week. For some the word passion might be a confusing term, especially in the world in which we live.

For me that word has a much deeper connotations than just a sensual human response. One definition of passion says “having a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something”. Another is “intense, driven, mastering a feeling or conviction”.

I admire musicians who have true passion in the way they display a total surrender in the the way they perform. They can convey a message with such force that you are left with little doubt about the importance of the message. They just lay it all on the line with unfettered emotion. If you cannot sing with passion, why bother?

People are passionate about many other things in life too. They can encompass the entire spectrum of humanity. Even in the realm of business there are those who are totally engulfed with a passion for their goods or services. The truth of the matter is, if you bring a passionate zeal to your work or avocation, you will excel and exceed in whatever you do. Regardless of your craft, people will follow and respect you because of your depth of commitment.The intent of my writing today is to examine a passion that far outweighs all other human pursuits or desires.

There was a lowly man who took up residence on earth and walked among us. He was from humble beginnings and led a simple life. This gentle man of whom I speak had a calling and a purpose. He may not have been a master builder or a great musician of ability or craft. But his goal and purpose pushed him to the ultimate level of passion. His resolve was born out of who he was. He was bred as a servant. His DNA fully tilted him to love people with a unique passion unknown before he came. His strong resolve led to his ultimate demise very early in his life. You’ve probably guess that I am speaking of Jesus, the Christ.

When he looked people in the eye, his gaze went directly to their core. He saw them where they were, yet loved them in spite of who they were. He was a magnet to those around him. He exuded a passion for life, but it not his own. The compassion he had for people was powerful enough to make rugged fishermen drop their nets and follow him without reservation. He just commanded a presence about him that was inexplicable. And he still does now.

For those of you who know and follow this man Jesus, he still has that magnetic draw and power. To become like him empowers you. To walk with him encourages you. To know him changes you.

As we ponder this week of “passion” we should be reminded how far his care and concern took him. It led him to to an early grave as “religious” leaders declared him their enemy because he obviously had a greater influence than they. Those same people took him down, or so they thought. There’s more to this story. Stay tuned.

Celebrating a Birthday – Especially in Heaven

He was my sounding board and confidant. And spiritual younger brother/friend. We pulled each other back from despair a number of times when life just didn’t make sense. He was Encourager-Par Excellence. He was the “get it done” person in the room. If you told him “Sorry that idea or project just isn’t possible” it was his signal for “watch and see it happen”. He’d go into high gear and make things happen. That thought process wasn’t just a human determination. It was coupled with the understanding and belief that our God is bigger than our problems or any obstacle we might face. The word “no” was just not a valid answer to my friend. He simply wouldn’t accept failure or defeat. He had a zeal for life that many will never attain. The enthusiasm and determination he exuded had a way of rubbing off on you.

One day he wanted me to come over with my pick-up to help him with a chore. It was one of those cold and blustery North Texas days late in the winter. I was sort of in a mess at that time because I was recovering from a broken arm and torn rotator cuff. The plan was to load a horse into a trailer and then take that horse to a breeder somewhere down close to Tyler, Texas. Because of my injuries I was still in a sling, but I could still drive.

We (bride and I) arrived at the land across from Jeff’s house and one of the guys who lived next to  the pasture had captured the horse in question and was trying to load said horse into a single stall horse trailer. After some wrangling, the horse finally reluctantly complied and they tied his bridle to the inside of the trailer, with what I thought was a flimsy rope. While watching being loaded I noticed that this little trailer had seen better days and I was a bit skeptical of the road worthiness of the wheels and tires for a 90 mile trip. But knowing Jeff, we were going to at least try.

Before I could back the truck up to latch onto the now loaded trailer and leave, this horse starting bucking and kicking in the trailer. I really thought the horse (and trailer) were about to start rolling down the hill. But while Mr. horse bouncing around in that trailer the rope with which he was tied broke free. So now this horse was confined, but loose, inside that little trailer. You are not going to believe this next part.

This horse was not happy and was not going to have any part of this trip or this trailer. His eyes were bugging out and then his head was sticking out the window of the trailer. Believe it or not, that horse proceeded to come out that side window. I was certain this whole thing was about to get really ugly with a horse half in and half out of a trailer window. But somehow he came out completely and then headed for the hills! It was the craziest thing I think I ever witnessed.

Horses became one of Jeff’s passions during the final chapter of his life. He left us way too early. But we are only given so many days on this earth by our creator. God’s purposes for Jeff had obviously been accomplished. During our friendship some great spiritual lessons were learned by both of us. In the pursuit of trusting God we both witnessed God’s hand in our lives and in lives of others too.

Jeff Thompson would have turned 52 years old today. He left an indelible mark on those around him, especially me. I might have a few impossible tasks in my path, but those are not really obstacles in my estimation, thanks to my buddy Jeff. Happy Birthday in heaven little brother and friend!

 

Survivors

There are times in the human condition when life throws stuff at us that we’ve never dealt with before. Illness, financial woes, strained or broken relationships, co-workers that make your life less than perfect and a myriad of issues that test the very fiber of your soul. Even the most balanced and grounded person can lose equilibrium and find themselves flat on the ground. It is just a reality that life is never perfect.

I’ve witnessed family and friends go through what seemed insurmountable pain and suffering. There were times that the only thing they could successfully do was cry. Every season of life seems to bring its share of heartache, yet humans just keep on going. Kids and family and even friends depend on us. We have bills to pay and lawn to mow. We just keep on keeping on.

We were blessed with a desire and a will to succeed. And if we find a true passion for something we can  even excel in what we do. Although created from the smallest of cells and molecules we somehow ended up with everything needed to become persons of value and worth.

There is a hope that each of us might become productive citizens one day after adulthood comes crashing into our worlds. At conception we were lavished with so many amazing potentials by our creator. Among the many wonderful things He gave us the ability to think and learn. He also gave us an innate need to love. Even when selfishness clouds our way we seem to find something down deep inside that causes us to have empathy and compassion on the other sojourners around us.

Most of us have been blessed to be parents. Once that happens we practice for years to get that right, or at least close. We scrimp and save and finds ways to provide, when there seems to be no way. And it all just comes natural for us to love and care for our mates and the broods entrusted to our care.

So if you are reading this I must assume you are a survivor. You’ve faced things that made you want to quit. You’ve given up so many times, only to wake up with a new resolve to putting your shoes in a forward direction.

Was it the cry of your child after a bad dream that gave you wings to keep flying? Was it the hoped promotion at work that pushed you? Did the strings of your heart renew your desire when you finally found that someone special? Did your best friend kick you in the teeth or lovingly lead you to renewal? Or maybe you were such sick of your position in life?Regardless of the reason you dusted off your boots and you just kept going.

Whatever make makes us survivors, it is must be a powerful force?