Friday, July 18, 2014

The Real Word of God

My congregation is very fortunate. Last year we lost our long-time pastor and shortly after, our associate pastor, but in their place, we acquired an interim pastor who is a Biblical scholar.

I have taken advantage of his knowledge to ask a few very tough questions. Some were expected answers and others were quite provocative. Some answers, he suggested, are better left to non-speculation because we really have no specific direction. I'm okay with that. Someday, I'll know.

But one thing stood out for me in one of his recent sermons - the word of God. Many people believe  it's the Bible, but our Biblical scholar supports that it is Jesus Christ himself. So much of the Old Testament was contradicted by Jesus (no animal sacrifices, no profound rituals, no cursing of generations for the sins of the parent, etc.), and a new introduction to God was given - one of love and compassion.

Our previous pastor had mentioned there is one big difference between Christianity and other religions. It is relationship. Of the major religions in the world, only one offers a true relationship with God, and one which parallels that of child and parent. It's Christianity.

While all religions purport to teach love, Christianity resonates with me. I love the enlightenment of what Jesus brought to humanity. You won't find hate in the New Testament, and it drives me crazy when other Christians try to speak for God and cite the OT to support their tunnel views on various matters. Besides, I don't think being zealous and shouting words at people will gain the converts they hope to acquire. Examples of outward peace and light, however, "speaks" volumes.

Although I have read the Bible through several times, this will most likely be the last time for the OT which I'm currently reading. I think it's important to know what was taught when Jesus came into this world, but now I want to focus on what he brought with him in thought and deed. There are many good things in the OT (I know because I cited some of them in my book, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place), but I want to now attend only to what I believe is the updated word of God.

I'm personally glad that there are different religions because we each need and seek something different on a path to finding and allowing God in our lives. For me, it's Christianity because Jesus introduced and provided a way to a God of love, and one to whom I can have a personal relationship. For non-Christians who also love God but seek another path, well that is one of those things about which our Biblical scholar has suggested might be best not to speculate. And I'm okay with that, too.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Little Miracle

A miracle of sorts happened today. I call it a miracle because it was an expected break-through.

A homeless man, who often attended my church more than a year ago, returned to church today. As usual, he took residence in the front pew on the opposite side of where I sit. In the past, he never conversed or made eye contact with anyone other than the pastor. He always left before the passing of the peace and communion, and I suspect it might have had something to do with embarrassment when the offering occurs.

As I was reading the bulletin this morning, I didn’t notice his arrival until I heard a voice from across the aisle. He began asking about our new pastor and even shared that he just saw his four grandchildren for the first time – two boys and two girls who reside in Wisconsin. I also learned that, just like me, he was a Lawrence native. In our discourse, we exchanged last names and I told him that it was good to see him return to our church.

I noticed that friends who came to talk with me before the service completely ignored his presence. I think the only one who spoke with him was the pastor who always sits in the first pew for quiet preparation before the service begins.

There are probably many who did not witness the easy conversation between the homeless man and myself, but it brought home something that I’ve heard pastors preach about many times. Church should be the most welcoming place on earth, yet we often segregate ourselves.  We, like many congregations,  often have subtle derision by color, age, gender and even economic status. If we truly believe that we are all equal and the loved in God’s eyes, this is not acceptable.

Often, I wished to make eye contact with the homeless man when he attended in the past. I would have gone over to where he sat just to welcome him, but mobility issues prevented me from doing so. But today, God intervened and opened the mouth of this visitor, and I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that God chose me to show that all are valued in His sight. I admit that I’m often guilty of failure in that regard. But while others may have ignored the man, he at least knew that he was welcomed by me and by the pastor.

He did slip out as usual, but I hope he returns again. I plan to ask his first name and to be able to greet him as I do others with whom I am acquainted.  What a privilege it is to connect with others who are different and then discover that we are really more alike than we know. That discovery is also a little miracle.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Food Bank Visit

A friend with some special needs issues asked me to go with her as support to one of the many food banks in our community. She wasn’t sure of the location and it was her first visit.

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived and were greeted by a nice young woman who was doing check-in for the scheduled appointments. When she asked our names, I quickly responded that I was not there to receive food. (I thought that was interesting because it told me that those in need are indistinguishable from those who aren’t). My friend gave her information and one of the volunteers ushered her aside to make selections from a list.

As a few other recipients entered the reception area, I noticed how nicely the interactions were handled. There was nothing to embarrass anyone in need of the services, and the entire shopping experience was handled efficiently and competently.

I’m not aware of how other food banks operate, but after selections were made by my friend, she gave a bag to the volunteer who then disappeared to shop for her. In only a few minutes, the volunteer returned with a bag full of food.

My friend was grateful and excited to know that she could make the visit once per month. Since the food given to her would not even last a week, she will probably need to visit other community food banks to supplement her needs.

I was grateful, too. I was grateful that such help is available to those who might go hungry, and grateful that I was not one of them. That clearly defined again what my responsibilities are because of my blessings.

I had some donations already prepared to give to a local food bank, but decided this time that they could be best used by my friend. I also asked for a list of needed items from the food bank we visited, and I will purchase some of those items when I shop again. Additionally my church collects food for a local food pantry so there are many opportunities and options to donate.

I am saddened and astonished that statistics show that hunger could be eliminated world-wide if we, who have, only shared. Luke 12:48 states “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Since most people living in the U.S. are among the top 5% richest in the world (even our poor are better off than most), there are expectations.

Individually we can’t even make a dent in the total need, but collectively, we can make a difference. We can make a difference by giving to local food banks and pantries. What does an extra dollar mean to most of us to buy a can of soup or canned fruit? One can is seemingly nothing, but added to items that others have donated, it could become an important part of a meal for someone in need.

My eyes are opened even further because of my visit to the food bank with my friend. While I periodically made food donations to various agencies, now I will do so consistently. And when I thank God for my blessings, I’ll remember to thank Him as well for all the people who donate food and serve others with this most basic need.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Can Giving Be Addictive?

I'm not one to read advice columns, but since I had recently finished every puzzle on the page of the newspaper that also includes one of the aforesaid columns, the title caught my eye. A woman's generosity was so out of control that she began borrowing to satisfy her "addiction." I can certainly think of worse addictions, but I don't think that is what God intended. 

Romans 12:6-9  states: "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

I think the idea is to share what you have, not what you don’t have. Being generous is admirable by human standards and expected by godly standards. Tithing is the expectation at 10%, but certainly giving more is showing true generosity.

Perhaps what the woman really needs is to know that it is right to share with others less fortunate, but that can come in many ways in addition to monetary giving. Volunteering at a food bank or meal site for the homeless could be a way to supplement fewer food donations or less money to purchase food. Helping others perform tasks could also be a supplement to giving money for certain fundraisers.
I would never oppose anyone trying to share as much as he/she can. In fact, when I shop, 4 out of 5 times I try to extend my giving by finding something for others in need. I should never be praised for doing so and I don’t want to be. I do it because I can, and I should share what blessings I have.  My only purpose in mentioning that fact is to encourage others to think about doing the same.

So, whatever we have been given, the Bible also says we should use for good. I think true happiness only comes when we care for others more than ourselves, and that means that whatever possessions we have should be gratefully shared.

Friday, May 30, 2014

With a Little Help from My Friends

Yesterday, two friends met me at Home Depot to do what we've done the last 4 or 5 years. It's become a ritual for us to purchase 3 or 4 air conditioners to donate to a local organization. I say this not because I want everyone to know what great people we are, but to encourage others to do the same. After all, one of my favorite Biblical quotes is Hebrews 10:24: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (NIV). You have to know about the example before you can follow it.

Purchasing an air conditioner can be expensive, but when you divide it several ways, it's doable. For $135 each, we will bring comfort to 4 individuals or families. In the past, we know that an air conditioner helped a woman facing surgery who was also concerned about recuperating in a sweltering mobile home. In any case, recipients are grateful for the gift, but it is we who are blessed to give it.

I would like to acknowledge management at Home Depot for helping us by giving a generous discount because of what we were doing. Good responds with good more often than not.

As someone who is affected by the heat, I cannot imagine life without air conditioning, yet many live in that reality. In fact, heat-related deaths are a major concern for older or disabled adults and children. In the past we have even purchased fans and cooling towels. So whatever blessings and resources one has to share, there is a way.

Our donations went to the same agency as last year, but we are planning to make the donation elsewhere next year. Different organizations serve different populations and we want to reach as many diverse individuals and situations as we can.

None of us can do it all, and we can't save the entire world by ourselves, but with a little help from our friends, we just might make the world a little better place for at least some of those in need.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Welcome Difference

Today, I see a far different attitude toward military personnel than was present during the Vietnam War, aka conflict. In the late 60s and early 70s I especially felt terribly sorry for the individuals who were drafted, made sacrifices, and then were treated with disdain upon their return to the U.S.

Even as a high school sophomore, I knew whether or not you agreed with what was happening in Southeast Asia, it was not right to look upon those who, by choice or not, served our country. In fact, for four years I coordinated an annual Christmas event to collect incidentals to ship to soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Initially it was sponsored by a young men's Christian group at school, but then later by the local American Legion. It was my way of trying to combat an injustice and let those in the military know that many people did appreciate their sacrifices. Many others felt as I and quickly joined the cause.

Thanks be to God that things have changed from contempt to appreciation of those who serve our country! On every airplane on which I've flown in the last few years, if a military serviceman or woman is present, they are met with clapping and the honor of deplaning first. I think that is most fitting.

Our local paper also includes a Memorial Day advertisement sponsored by a local bank which lists the names of the fallen from each war through Vietnam. Although citing incompleteness as the reason to omit, I still wish they would list those who have fallen in the Middle East, too. In any case, I don't think it's possible to look at the names on the list without feeling both sadness and gratitude. Most of us would not voluntarily choose to enter a dangerous situation, and we should be thankful for those who are.

A justice league has recently formed in Lawrence, made up of a number of churches. The Bible speaks of justice many times, and John 13 states: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (NIV). Although that was meant in another context, it can be equally applied to those who give their lives to keep others free.

So, on this day, I honor our servicemen and women who protect our freedoms. I will think of them as I exercise my right to vote in upcoming elections, and I vow to intercede when possible if I see an injustice being done to my fellowman. We are all  both privileged and obliged to do that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Final Question

Most of us don't like to think about death, or at least until we have to do so.While the subject no longer bothers me, I have an inkling about how I might face it because of a recent event and a past dream.

From previous experience, I know how quickly things can go south when your body starts doing weird things. Last Thursday, I discovered that I again have high blood pressure. That was a surprise because I felt well and had not needed medication for hypertension for a couple of years. (Yes, I'm one of the few who has been able to go off the medication). This was discovered during a routine visit to my neurologist, and he suggested that I see my Internist this week, but watch it in the meantime.

On Friday, I became nauseated every time my blood pressure would become high, and it fluctuated greatly throughout the day. On Saturday I attended a meeting in the morning and after a while, became very nauseated again. I decided to leave and go home, but within just a few minutes, some very strange additional symptoms occurred and my friends finally called an ambulance to take me to the ER.

Although I didn't think I was dying, I knew that it could be a possibility because of the tremors, strange numbness spreading in my hands and up both arms, and breathing issues that were beginning. And, it was  still unknown what was causing the high blood pressure which now registered 214/136. So, the thought of dying did cross my mind. As I expected, it did not frighten me. I was communicating with God (like most of do in times of peril), but it was to ask for a smooth transition if it was my time. I felt myself wanting to cry, but that seems to be normal when one is really sick (but not sick enough to die). That was actually a good sign! In any case, all my affairs are in order so no worries there.

I've also had one very rare type of dream where I dreamt that I died, and all was well. Not to be morose, it just follows that a strong belief in the afterlife certainly makes one a lot more comfortable with the idea of one's demise. Now that isn't to say that I wouldn't be fearful if someone pointed a weapon at me, or if there were some type of rapidly approaching painful event like drowning or accident, but I am a bit more comforted by the fact that it doesn't seem to be the big issue that it could be.It just makes me even more grateful to have my particular Christian beliefs.

There are many religions and seemingly many paths to God that others follow, but I find more and more how important my faith is to me, and what it means. It seems our journey is rooted in a verse from the Old Testament, Joshua 24:15 " for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." It truly does a body good!