What Others Say

We use your column in our Saturday Spiritual Life section, so I always read it. The new one about Rafael is just totally cool. Again, great column. It touched me enough to email you.
- Greg Jaklewicz - Editorial Page Editor, Abilene News Reporter

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bread of Heaven

Bread has become a delicacy.  When my wife sends me to the store for a loaf of bread I stand dumbfounded in front of the shelves.  Which bread to buy?  There’s white bread, whole wheat bread, gluten free 7 grain bread, garlic bread, rye bread, and a dozen others.  Then there are bagels: plain bagels, blueberry bagels and everything bagels.  And what about donuts?  I think donuts are included in the bread family.  Okay, I choose donuts.

From ancient times “bread” has represented the staple of life.  Even today, in all its various forms, bread is still the most widely consumed food in the world.

Scholars have found evidence that people started baking bread 30,000 years ago. But the first breads were “flat.”  They lacked leaven. It is the leaven that makes it rise, light and fluffy and sweet. Historians believe that the Egyptians were the first to develop leavened bread, somewhere around 1000 years before the great pyramids were built.  The most famous “unleavened” bread was the Passover bread, cooked up in a hurry by the Israelites to escape Egypt. 

In 1917 Otto Rohwedder invented the first bread-slicing machine. He set the standard for all other inventors who searched for an idea that would be“better than sliced bread.”  In spite of Rohwedder's invention, there is nothing quite like pulling apart a fresh steaming loaf of bread and adding butter.  

Jesus referred to bread to help us understand who He was.  “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35).  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word ...”  Through Jesus Christ God nourishes our soul and satisfies our innermost emotional, personal and spiritual needs, a nourishment more important than the nourishment of our bodies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He reminded us that we need nourishment each and every day.  Just as God provides for us daily the nourishment that is necessary for our bodies He will provide for us each and every day the nourishment that is necessary to replenish our soul. 

When Moses led Israel in the wilderness, God provided bread every morning so that “he who gathered much had no excess and he who gathered little had no lack.”(Exodus 16:18).  They could not store and keep the bread. It had to be eaten when God gave it.


Like the Israelites in the wilderness, our relationship with God is daily and constant.  We cannot put our faith in a religious box to be taken out occasionally.  Just as our bodies need bread in order to live, our souls need a daily and constant conversation with God, the bread and substance of life. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Heaven and hell

I read “The Shack” several years ago, shortly after it was published.  It was an instant best seller, and I was anxious to read it. 

I wasn’t prepared for the way it affected me.  Toward the end of the book, I was overwhelmed by the powerful message of God’s love and forgiveness.  I was at home alone, reading in my recliner, my dog sitting at my feet.  Without warning, the power of God’s love and forgiveness overwhelmed me.  I started weeping, then sobbing.  I am not sure what it touched within me, but it was a powerful emotional moment.  My dog jumped into my lap to comfort me.

So, I was anxious to see the movie. 

The movie followed the book even though cinema always falls short of imagination.  Nevertheless I enjoyed revisiting the portrayal of God as infinitely loving and forgiving. Although the real message of The Shack, it seems to me, is not about God, but about us.  We need to forgive one another.  We need to stop judging one another. Jesus clearly taught these truths in Luke 6.  

But, as we left the theater, I felt disturbed.  Something seemed to be missing.

Like most people, I like to think that everyone goes to Heaven, that there is no judgement and there is no hell.  This seems to be the message of The Shack: “It doesn’t matter how you live, what you believe, or what you do, God forgives all his children and we all go to heaven.”

But this isn’t the message of the Bible. No one warned us more clearly about judgement and hell than Jesus.

Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived selfishly and lavishly and a poor man named Lazarus who suffered abject poverty.  When they died the rich and selfish man suffered hell while the poor man went to heaven. Suffering in torment the rich man begged that Lazarus might be permitted to bring him a sip of water to cool his tongue in his agony.  “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:25-26).

We cannot excuse our actions based on how we may have been mistreated by others. We are all ultimately accountable for what we do and what we say.  “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27).

We have all sinned. We have all done things we should not have done. We have judged others and we have been angry without cause. We have spoken words that will condemn us when we stand before God.  This is why God stepped into the gap and sent His Son, not only to teach us a better way, but to pay the penalty for our sins. “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).


God has made provision for everyone to go to Heaven.  But we must accept His offer of forgiveness.  “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”  (Hebrews 2:3).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

O My Soul

Most of our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy.

Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy.  United States health care expense alone passed the $3.2 trillion mark in 2015.  Most of this, of course, is corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than thirteen billion dollars.  This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous. In 2014 fitness center revenues in the U.S. exceeded $24 billion.

I can understand this.  Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it.  Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. I love Blue Bell ice cream and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog while I watch healthier people compete on the field. 

I can also understand our interest in money.  We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations. 
                                    
But what happened to the concept of the soul?  We seldom hear the word mentioned, including our churches.  Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul. 
Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  

Horatio G. Spafford,  a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to Scarlet Fever.  The next year he lost most of his holdings in the Great Chicago Fire. Suffering financial loss, he used most of his resources to feed the hungry, house the homeless and comfort the grief stricken. When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived.  Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children, the poor and oppressed.


We are more than our bodies and more than our money.  Our “soul” is who we really are whether rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Overcoming Shame

Last week Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor in “Manchester-By-The-Sea.” When the movie received numerous Oscar nominations, we decided to watch it. The movie looked romantic.  What could be more romantic than sunrise over the bay, New England houses lining the shore and boats gently resting in the harbor?

But, “Manchester By the Sea” is no romance.  It is a tragedy that slowly unfolds through flashbacks in the mind of  Lee Chandler, the main character played by Affleck, as he wrestles with his brother’s death and guardianship of his brother’s son.  To fulfill his brother’s dying wish, he must move back to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the site of his shame.

As the movie unfolds we eventually learn the depth of Lee Chandler’s shame, a shame so deep that he despises himself.  His personal sense of shame prevents him from receiving love, acceptance and forgiveness from others.  Lee Chandler is incapable of loving or being loved.  He is a tortured soul.

The Bible has 198 references to “shame” and to being “ashamed.”  We first see evidences of shame after Adam and Eve willfully disobey God’s command.  When God created man and woman, the Bible says, “Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:24).  But, after their sin, they are ashamed and hide themselves from one another and from God.

This is what sin does.  We not only feel guilt for our sins, we also experience shame, guilt’s more devastating accomplice.  This is what happened to Lee Chandler.  His shame causes him to hide in Boston, bitter, alone, cynical and angry.  Sadly, in Lee’s case, he is not able to overcome his shame to receive the love of others or of God.

God comes looking for us.  Just as He searched for Adam and Eve who trembled with shame in their hiding place.  He comes to remove our shame and restore our relationship to God and to one another. God gently and tenderly clothed them as we clothe our children.

For this reason, God sent His son to search for us and to die for us.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”   And Hebrews exhorts us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).


All our guilt and all our shame can be removed when we accept God’s redemptive love through His Son, Jesus Christ.  His sacrifice is greater than our sin. We can again love God, ourselves and others.