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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Respecting Women

Our nation was deeply moved last week as Christine Blasey Ford told her story before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Her sense of terror and vulnerability were palpable.  Milliions, both men and women, were moved to tears. She represented a symbol for women everywhere who feel powerless, helpless and, often, afraid. In every culture, in every time and place, this seems to be true. Perhaps there are exceptions, but they are rare.

Jesus rose above customs and traditions to demonstrate the worth and value of women.

When Jesus came to the well in Samaria, he remained alone while his disciples went into the nearby village searching for provisions.  A single woman approached.  She came at an odd hour, when other women would not be present. She was taken aback to find a man at the well.  Refusing to make eye contact, she hoped to avoid any interaction with this Jewish stranger.  She intended to fill her bucket quickly and be on her way. 

But Jesus would not let the moment pass.  He asked her for water.  She was shocked. “You, a Jew, would ask water from me, a Samaritan woman?”  Jesus engaged her more deeply.  This thoroughly confused the woman who challenged him with the Samaritan’s tradition of worshipping at Gerazim rather than Jerusalem.  Again His response stunned her.  He did not argue the point.  He did not put her down.  He said, “I tell you a time is coming when true worshippers will worship God neither in Jerusalem nor Gerazim but they will worship in spirit and in truth.”  He offered her living water from which she would never thirst.

When the disciples appeared they were shocked.  None of them dared say anything but their body language and the look in their eye betrayed their thoughts.  It was unheard of that a Jewish man would be found conversing with a Samaritan woman, especially alone.  (John 4).

Later, another woman was dragged to Jesus because she had been caught in the act of adultery.  Her accusers stood glaring, stones gripped in their hands, waiting for Jesus to condemn the woman. Instead, he bent over and wrote in the sand.   Whatever he wrote convicted all of her accusers.  The men who were ready to stone the woman were overcome with guilt.  One-by-one they dropped their stones and slowly drift away.  Then, taking her face in his hands and looking intently into her eyes he forgave her.  “Where are your accusers?”  He asked. She responded, “There are none.”  Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way and sin no more.”  (John 8).

Following His crucifixion Jesus chose to show Himself alive first to the women and only later to the men. They carried the news to the eleven who were huddled in a secret room.  The men dismissed the women’s report as idle gossip.  Only later, when Jesus appeared among them did they realize the truth of the women’s report the He was, indeed, risen.

The Apostle summed up the Scriptural position on gender when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:28).

Sunday, September 23, 2018

When Someone We Love Dies

Sooner or later we all ask the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?”  I was 29 when the question became personal.   I sat beside the grave where they would lower the body of my father.  A few days before I held his hand as he drew his last breath.  My mind was flooded with memories of his smiling face, his laughter, his hand upon my shoulder encouraging me.  He held me as an infant, steadied my first steps as a toddler, taught me to ride a bike, coached my Little League baseball team, took me water skiing and fishing and encouraged me as I entered the ministry.  And now his body lay still and unresponsive in the casket about to be lowered into the earth.

There have been others: my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, my wife’s brothers, my college roommate and, in 2011, my mother.  The longer we live the longer the list grows.  When we are young death comes as a shock, an unexpected intruder, a thief.  But the older we become the more we accept it and expect it.  But the question persists: “If a man die, shall he live again?”

It is one of the most important questions we can ask.  The answer to that question can either plunge us into despair and hopelessness, or it can elevate us to new purpose and expectation.  If there is life beyond the grave then life on this earth makes sense.  Sacrifice and suffering are worth it.  Doing what is right when it goes against our self-interest is worth it.

Job was among the first to ask the question, “If a man die shall he live again.”  And, in the midst of his suffering he found the answer:

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron stylus and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another.” (Job 19:23-37).

It was this confidence in life beyond the grave that set apart the early followers of Christ.  It is this confidence that has set apart believers of all ages.  John wrote, “These things have I written that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13).  

Paul concluded: “But when this perishable will have put on [v]the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Jesus said, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no  man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”  (John 10:28-29).

Monday, September 17, 2018

Was Jesus Right?

Jesus is universally respected.  Even the followers of Islam claim him as a prophet.  And millions who have no use for the church still like Jesus.  But the question remains, “Was Jesus right?”  “Did he know what he was talking about?”

It is difficult to reconcile Islam’s claim that Jesus was a prophet with the clear statements that he made regarding himself: “He that has seen me has seen the Father.”  “I and the Father are One.”  “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on Earth.”  “No one comes to the Father but by me.”  Jesus clearly claimed to be more than a mere prophet or a great teacher.

It is also difficult to reconcile the attitude and actions of professing Christians with Jesus’ words and instructions.  When I was eighteen, I worked in a warehouse that shipped products to stores where they would be sold.  I worked with older workers who, like me, worked for minimum wage.  Some of my co-workers, who were professing Christians, heard that I planned to become a “preacher.”  They tried to be nice and encouraging. They told me it was a good thing for me to become a preacher, but reminded me that those things “don’t work here.” 

I interpreted their comments to mean that they believed in Jesus but the teachings of Jesus were out of touch with the real world.  They were like many Christians I have encountered over the years.  Dallas Willard called them “vampire Christians.”  They want a little of Jesus’ blood, just enough to forgive their sins and assure they are going to heaven, but they don’t think Jesus knew what he was talking about when it comes to everyday life. 

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Clearly, he thought he knew what he was talking about, and he expected that anyone who placed their faith in him would do everything they could to obey him.  It was apparently inconceivable to Jesus that someone could think they loved him, and, at the same time, ignore or disobey his instructions. 

Either Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived and knew better than anyone else how life should be lived on this earth, or he was a delusional pretender who has misguided millions for more than two thousand years.  If Jesus’ instructions for living will not work in the courtroom, the schools, the factory and the family, neither will they work to get us to heaven. 

Our personal conclusion about whether we believe Jesus was right will not be reflected in what we profess about who he is, but in what we do when we are going about our day to day activities at work, at school and at home.  Are we bringing our lives into alignment with his life and teaching?  Do we act like Jesus acted?  Do we forgive like Jesus forgave?  Are we truthful and faithful like Jesus was truthful and faithful? Do we love like Jesus loved? 

Following Jesus’ instructions has nothing to do with earning our way to heaven.  It has every thing to do with loving Jesus and living a meaningful life. If you want to know what Jesus expects, you can find his instructions in Matthew chapters 5-7. 

Jesus told us how to know whether he was right or not.  He said, “If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32. Amplified Bible). 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dealing with Rejection

Everyone has felt rejection.  For many it is first encountered on the playground.  Children choosing their friends or choosing teams until one remains, unchosen, unwanted, rejected.  We discover life can be like musical chairs.  When the music stops there is no place to sit.  All the included places are taken.

Sometimes it comes with our first applications for college. For a few, colleges and universities line up with scholarships and offers, but most must deal with rejection.  Most of us have known the uncertainty of a job search.  The series of rejections from interviews can be devastating to our ego.  Forced into a situation where self-confidence is essential, we become anything but.

Door-to-door salesmen are familiar with rejection.  It is part of the job.  So are politicians and would be writers.  How many ways can we be turned down and rejected?

Perhaps most devastating of all is a rejection by those who are close to us.  The rejection of a mother or father, son or daughter, or spouse. These can cause wounds that last a lifetime.

It might help to realize we have company. When we are rejected we are not alone.

When Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, his work was turned down by multiple publishers. It was finally accepted by Bently & Son who asked, “Does it have to be a whale?”  Nevertheless they published the classic on the condition that Melville pay for the typesetting and plating himself.  When 25-year-old Hemmingway wrote The Sun also Rises one publisher responded, “I find your work both tedious and offensive.” 

Joseph was rejection by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. Paul was rejected often, stoned and left for dead, driven from city to city and imprisoned.  Jesus’ own brothers refused to believe in Him and  His closest disciples abandoned Him.  He was “despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3).

But, when we experience rejection by family, friend or the world, we can rest knowing that there is One who will not abandon us.  “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Jesus constantly included those who were rejected:  the Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, the blind beggar, the woman caught in the act of adultery, lepers and the Gadarene demoniac.  Though others might reject you, Jesus will by no means turn you away.  If we come to Him in simple faith and confession, He will receive us.

We can say with the Apostle Paul, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.   (Ephesians 1:5-6)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Laughter is not taught.  It is part of us from birth. Within a few months, long before they can talk, babies laugh.  It is contagious.  Adults join in, doubled over with the laughter and joy of a giggling baby. The laughter of children on a playground is a balm to the soul.

No other animal does this. It is a unique human trait that God built into our psyche and our soul.  We are not sure what triggers it.  We can seldom predict when it will hit, but we know it is contagious.  When others laugh, we laugh. Sometimes without any idea of what caused it in the first place.  

We like to be around others who laugh.  It is therapeutic. When I think of my father or my grandmother, I think of them laughing even though they have been gone for decades.  I know  my wife is talking to her sister on the phone by the way she laughs, even though they are a thousand miles apart.

We will pay huge sums for comedians and performers who can make us laugh.  Television sitcoms figured this out over a half century ago. Original laughter tracks used for early TV sitcoms are still employed to accentuate humor for contemporary characters. Many of us are still laughing with generations long gone. 

But the best laughter is spontaneous. Nothing is as exhilarating and lifting to my soul as the laughter of my grandchildren.  Our youngest are five, seven and two.  When they come running out the door leaping into my arms and laughing, whatever burdens I may have felt melt like snow in the sun and I am filled with laughter and joy.

When Sarah gave birth to Isaac she said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” (Genesis 21:6).

Victory and celebration bring laughter.  Just watch baseball, football and soccer teams who achieve their goals.   We have all joined in the laughter at weddings and graduations. 

Psalm 126 refers to the joy of those who celebrated their returned to Jerusalem after years of captivity: “When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting.” (Ps. 126:1-2).

Perhaps you haven’t laughed in a while.  Perhaps you have been burdened with depression and loneliness.  Do not fear.  God will yet fill your heart with laughter.  Like Sarah, who gave birth in her old age, after enduring decades of ridicule and sorrow. Like the exiles of Jerusalem, who wept by the Euphrates River, far from their home.  God will yet restore laughter to your soul.  You will rejoice.

The Christian faith is a joyful faith, even in difficult and adverse circumstances. “Shout joyfully all the earth.  Serve the Lord with gladness. Come into His presence with joyful singing!” (Psalm 100).  “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning!”  (Psalm 30:5).
The references to joy are far too numerous to list.

Surely God takes pleasure in our laughter as mothers and fathers take pleasure in the laughter of their children. He wants to fill your heart with joy.