Friday, November 26, 2021

Thanksgiving in the Midst of Brokenness

 

Over the past week I’ve received and issued a lot of wishes for a “Happy Thanksgiving”. It’s just what people do this time of year. If they are connected to the transportation industry as I am, they may wish you a “Safe and Happy Thanksgiving”.   Some who never miss an opportunity to express their faith, or just want to assure you or themselves that they actually have faith, will wish you a Blessed Thanksgiving.  

 

Most of us would gladly sign up for a Blessed Thanksgiving or just a Blessed Day anytime we can get it.  But be careful what you wish for. In Matthew’s Gospel he reports what Jesus said about being blessed.  Jesus says we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

 

But the world equates being blessed with being happy.  And being happy means having our physical and emotional needs and desires satisfied.  So don’t be sad, find your happy place.  Dry your eyes, don’t cry. You be you.  Be loud, be proud.  No justice, no peace.  Follow your heart as long as you are on the right side of the culture war.  And persecution only matters if it’s based on race, ethnicity, gender, physical appearance, political affiliation or socio-economic status.

 

We live in a broken world turned upside down. We are most thankful for those things which make us feel good and are primarily related to pleasure and comfort. We think more about material blessings than we do about spiritual blessings. We tend to even measure our spiritual well-being in terms of our material blessings. Look how much stuff I possess. I must be doing more things right than wrong, so the Lord is blessing me with lots of good stuff. I better give thanks…and really mean it. This is a great life. And when life is not so great, we petition God to fix it…and maybe even forgive us now and then. We just want to get back to having a great life now.

 

No, that’s not the promise. It’s possible. But it’s not promised and it’s not earned. In the end, it’s really not even all that important. And it may even be a hindrance. It’s not wrong to thank God for material blessings. But these are all temporary. The material world is not only broken but it is dying. Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven. And be thankful when you find it.

 

Thanksgiving ought to be a time for reflection and repentance. A time for commitment to use whatever God has given us for his glory and his purposes, not just for our own personal pleasure. But most of us will be more committed to finding the perfect Christmas gift or planning the best party or just enjoying the holiday season. It’s what people are inclined to do in the midst of brokenness.


"And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." - 1 John 2:17



Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Hand You Are Dealt

 

Since humans began to think and reason, they have tried to gain more control over their lives.  Whether you believe this came about as a result of an evolutionary process or the actions of a higher power, human beings are unique life forms.  We have the capacity to change ourselves and our environment, at least up to a point. 

 

The big questions are what do we change, how do we change and how much can we change?  Philosophers and theologians have grappled with these questions for millennia.  Since the Enlightenment, scientists and humanists have joined them in the search for answers.  And, indeed they have discovered some answers. Today we know quite a bit about human behavior.  We know that genes and body chemistry greatly determine who we are as well as what, how and how much we can change.  We have more understanding about the impact of our environment in determining who we are and what we are capable of becoming.  

 

Yet there remains significant disagreement with regard to exactly “what” we can change, “how” we can change and “how much” we can change.  How much of our life is determined?  To what extent are we destined to live a certain life?  Do we have free will and, if so, to what extent?  For  theologians the disagreements revolve around God’s sovereignty vs human free will.  For the scientists and humanists it’s a question of physics, biology and environment vs free will.

 

So do we have free will and, if so, to what extent does it matter?  As a Christian, I believe that God is the creator of all that exists and I believe that he is indeed sovereign.  In the end, His Will shall be done.  But, I also believe that he gave human beings a measure of free will.   Certainly enough to make us accountable for where we will spend eternity.  Yet I must admit that my salvation is not of my own doing.  It is by God’s grace, a gift which I do not merit.  But while it may not be of my "doing"; is it of my "choosing"?

 

Still there are those “strings” that pull us forward or hold us back.  Ties that bind and ties that are loose.  Our lives are very much a product of our genes and the choices of our ancestors whose lives were also a product of their genes and those who went before them.  We are shaped not only by who and what we are but also by what we experience.   We don’t pick our parents, where we are born or how we grow up. If as a child you were well-loved and well-fed, that was not of your doing...or choosing. 


If you have a good education, how much credit do you deserve?  You might argue that you studied, you applied yourself, you earned it.  But where did the educational opportunity come from?  Why do you have the ability and the will to study and learn?  Why do some seize the opportunity and others do not?

 

For the Christian who has come to the faith and found salvation, how and why did that happen? And why does it happen for some and not others?  Does God speak to everyone in the same voice? Why do some hear and others do not? Why are some given so many opportunities to respond and others are not?  And why does anyone respond at all? 

 

How much free will do we really have?  It’s a question that remains unanswered and may very well be unanswerable.  We may agree that in this life we must play the cards we are dealt?  But we’ll never fully know why we were dealt a particular hand.   And how we ultimately play those cards is a mystery.  Do we play as we choose or are the plays chosen for us?  


"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known." - 1 Corinthians 13:12


Monday, September 27, 2021

Still A Game And More


These days I find myself enjoying high school football much more than pro or college.  The pro game has always been about the money, but when you see the best playing any sport it can be worth watching.  Yet I seldom watch a game in real time anymore, preferring to record and just fast forward through most of it.

 

I started to lose interest in the Cowboys when Jerry Jones kicked Tom Landry to the curb.  It was time for Tom to hang it up, but it should have been handled better.  When Jones decided he could do it all and didn’t need Jimmy Johnson around, that pretty much finished the Cowboys for me.  I’ve always liked Green Bay and Pittsburgh.  Just the fans, the tradition; it feels like it means so much to everyone connected in some way to those teams.  I’ve always liked the Kansas City Chiefs, even going back to the old days when they were the Dallas Texans (yes, I am that old…).  The Hunt family is a class act and now they have Patrick Mahomes at QB.  He’s about the only great thing that’s come out of Texas Tech football since the good ol’ boys ran off Mike Leach.  So I do like watching Mahomes and the Chiefs.  But that’s about it for me and pro football.

 

Big money has ruined the college game.  It’s always been dirty and never really been about student-athletes.  But at least we could pretend it was somehow amateur; played for the love of the sport, one’s school and fellow students; grateful alumni and adoring fans. Traditions, tail-gating, rivalries, memories, beautiful autumn days when your team won and nothing else mattered at that moment. But now, all of that is officially gone.  Drowned beneath multi-million dollar coaching contracts, transfer portals, conference realignment, NIL deals for the players and its own success as reality television entertainment.

 

So last Friday night, I went to a local high school football game. Texas high school football is a big deal and produces players for college programs all over the nation.  This game was 5A Div II and that’s a pretty good brand of football, just a step behind 5A Div I and a larger step behind the big 6A schools.  But it’s still top-notch football.  The kids played hard and seemed to genuinely care about their teammates and even their opponents.  The coaches were hands on, encouraging the players, concerned about those who got injured, whether their own or the other team’s.  The fans were enthusiastic but mostly well-behaved.  The players; black, white and brown; all stood at attention when the national anthem was played.  It was a closely contested game and our team won on a late touchdown and then a fourth down stop to end the game.  Winning made it better, but it would have been a great night even if the other team had won.  The players, the coaches, the fans, the bands, the cheerleaders, the drill teams; everyone was involved; and the communities were all made better by what went on that night. 

 

And that sort of thing goes on all across this nation on Friday nights.  Yes, I know that players get hurt, not everyone wins and sometimes it’s just not a good experience for some folks.  Human beings have a way of messing up anything if you give them enough time and the motivation to do so.  Yet still there remains something of value when young people get involved in sports; whether on the field, in the band, on the sidelines or in the stands.  We can only hope and pray (silently, of course) that such events survive the current tides of cultural change.


"I remember in September when the final stumps were drawn

And the shouts of crowds now silent when the boisterous cheer had gone.

Let us O Lord above us remember simple things

When all are dead to love us...Oh, the Captains and the Kings."

- Brendan Behan

 






Saturday, August 28, 2021

No Flowers In The Field


 

My dog saw it first.  Barney is an English Springer Spaniel and he doesn’t miss much unless it’s kennel time when he seems to have a hearing problem.  There in the freshly mowed field was a pair of wings, standing upright like flowers.  But it’s August in Texas and, other than sunflowers, there are no flowers in the fields around here.

 

Barney usually sniffs and then chews on most things he finds in the field.  But, this time he just stood there, looking at the tiny wings and then looking back at me for an explanation.  As I got closer, I realized that he had found a butterfly.  An exceptionally beautiful one at that.  It appeared to have only recently nose-dived to earth finding its final resting place in an almost perfect vertical pose, wings fully extended and intact.  Even the butterfly’s body appeared to be unharmed.  I started to pick it up for further examination, but decided such an artful passing need only be memorialized in a photo. 

 

As Barney and I walked on I had to wonder what happened to this butterfly.  They only live for a few weeks. Had its time come?  Did it just run out of fuel and crash?  Or did it fall victim to an angry wasp or some mischievous dragonfly.  Was it the ruthless, deadly herbicide I use to keep weeds and grass out of the fence row?  Or did it just fly to close to the sun?  For some reason it has remained in my thoughts, this dead butterfly suspended at the end of a perfect dive.

 

The next day we walked past the same place and it was still there, but one wing had collapsed giving way to the wind and gravity.  Another day later and the butterfly’s remains appeared to be long gone. But Barney was intent on finding a trace and there some twelve feet away from the crash site was a piece of the wing, soon to become dust, yet still shining in the late evening sun.  

 

Since that day, I have looked in vain for a butterfly as beautiful as that one.  Perhaps next spring there will be flowers in the field and another butterfly even more beautiful will appear….at least for a few days.  




Monday, August 16, 2021

CONFLICT

 


Snarky: 

Critical or mocking in an indirect or sarcastic way. - (Oxford dictionary)

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”  The Apostle Paul -Galatians 5: 14-15


True confession: I have anger issues.  Not that it is expressed by acts of violence, revenge or retribution.  Thankfully, I was not raised by violent people.  Physically hurting others never seemed right to me and, just as a practical matter, seldom works out very well for either party. And growing up, I was bigger and stronger than most kids, so my parents warned me to not be a bully.  I grew up being more of a teddy bear than a grizzly bear.

But I am a teddy bear with an attitude.  That attitude, combined with a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue can do more damage than the best left hook or right cross.  I am at my core a pessimist and very distrustful of others’ actions, intention and motives.  As a result, I tend to be coldly cynical and bitingly sarcastic in dealing with those outside of my circle of trust, a circle which is indeed quite small.   Fortunately, my sense of humor and good ol’ Texas drawl gets me a pass on many comments which if taken at face value would be very offensive if not downright mean-spirited.  

In other words, I was “Snarky” before snarky was even a thing.  But these days being Snarky is how the game is played.  It fuels social media, politics, business, sports, television, movies, music and even Sunday morning sermons.  It has become the zeitgeist, the defining spirit and mood, of our culture.  It is the shedding of blood without the blood as we bite and devour each other.

Why do we, who call ourselves Christians, play this game?  What drives us to say and do those things which defy our Lord’s command to love one another?  It’s easy to say, “Well we aren’t perfect….just poor old sinners, saved by grace, praise God. “  And then go on to act just like everyone else.

But shouldn’t we be better?  Shouldn’t we be different?  Are we just saved, clinging to some shallow faith as our insurance policy against the fires of Hell?  Whatever happened to becoming disciples and going on to make disciples as commanded by the One we claim to believe in and follow? 

As I reflect upon my own behavior, I have come to understand why Anger has earned its place as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Perhaps more importantly, I have learned that Anger is always motivated by one of the other six deadly sins: Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Pride and Sloth. 

Further on in the fifth chapter of Galatians Paul calls such things “the acts of the flesh”.  Then he exhorts us to live by The Spirit, bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

There are times when pushback and conflict are necessary.  But one must always ask, am I doing this out of Envy or Greed or Lust or Pride or any such “act of the flesh”.  Personally, I have found that most of the time, when I am inclined to say or do something in anger, it’s because someone has injured my pride or challenged my power to get what I want.  Well, I’m not perfect…just a poor old sinner…saved by grace…praise God and so it goes on…and goes on.

Since The Fall, the pattern of this world has been one of conflict and chaos.  Honest peacekeepers who truly love others have been few and far between.  Today more than ever, Christians need to be the light that shines in the darkness.  We have bitten and devoured others far too long. 

So the next time you feel anger. or even just some good old-fashioned “righteous indignation” swelling up inside, ask yourself….WHY?  You just might discover that your anger is part of the problem.  The solution will be found in love, that place where all conflicts will be settled in the end.


“I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life.” – Dallas Willard


Saturday, July 24, 2021

I Can't Imagine

 

I watched a replay of the Olympic Games Opening ceremony.  Near the end of the ceremony they played the old John Lennon classic “Imagine” accompanied by a swelling symphony of Hans Zimmer written music while different singers representing the people of the world sang those famous lyrics:

 

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

 

I am sure millions of people around the world found the singing and the moment to be inspiring. Something that might bring us all together, especially as we battle a global pandemic, social injustice, racism, sexism, violence, climate change and slow service at the fast-food drive thru.  But, I’ve never liked that song or it’s message.  It may a be a feel-good song for those who dream of a man-made earthly Utopia.  But it runs counter to the evidence and human experience, not to mention the truth as written in Holy Scripture.

 

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

 

C’mon, John.  It’s very hard to imagine no countries.  Geography alone would create countries.  Add in climate, natural resources along with the history of human civilization and you end up with countries. How’s the U.N. working out for us?  And how about that World Health Organization?  Even the E.U. can’t seem to make it work with only a few countries trying to operate just as one.  China would be on board as long as we all do it their way and to their benefit.  John, if only you were still around to explain this dream world to Left and Right-Wing extremists.  

 

And no religion?  People may not go to church.  They may not even believe in God or gods.  But human beings are “religious”.   Whether you believe we were created by a higher power for a higher purpose or just evolved to be what we are, humans are “religious”.  We have to believe in something, we must have a reason to be, to exist.  We may try to replace God with Secular Humanism, a Utopian vision, Social Justice, or some other ideology…but we all end up worshipping something.

 

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

 

Sorry John, I can’t even imagine “all the people” generously sharing highways or elevator space, much less their food and possessions.  A brotherhood of man?  Up to a point perhaps.  No need for greed or hunger?  Sign me up, just tell me how that system is going to work.  More specifically, who’s going to DO the work and who’s going to do the most difficult work, the most critical work?  Somehow I don’t really want the person doing my knee replacement to be functioning on the same level as the person washing my car when it comes to talent, skill, education, training, experience and economic reward.  

To be clear, that person washing my car absolutely deserves my total respect and to be fairly compensated for their labor.  But who’s going to determine what’s fair?  Let me give you a hint….it’s all the people…sharing all the world… and it’s called “the marketplace.   Now that’s something I actually can imagine.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Thinning The Herd

 

Back in December I made my predictions for 2021.  Two of those were related to Covid:

Covid-19 related restrictions will ease up a bit by mid-year, but are not going away in 2021.  If you are expecting “normal” to return sometime in 2021, you will be disappointed.

 70% of Americans will have been vaccinated by the end of the year, but there will still be a good deal of uncertainty.  Some will still get sick and some will die.  The fear and the testing will not go away.  Wearing masks and maintaining social distance will be with us at least through the winter of 2021-22.

The one point that stands out as a big miss so far is the % of Americans who have been fully vaccinated.  Right now that number is 50% and I think it’s doubtful that we will get to 70% by the end of the year.  Factor in the spread of Covid virus variants and the winter of 2021-2022 is not looking good.  I don’t see us going back to masks mandates in states like Texas, but I think you’ll start seeing more people wearing masks and keeping their distance as things go downhill later this year.

There is some good news in that 75% of seniors are fully vaccinated.  However, that it’s only 75% is a baffling.  Given the impact that Covid has had on seniors, why would any older person not take the vaccine.  The risk of side-effects from the vaccine is nothing compared to the risk of Covid for an un-vaccinated older person. While there is no guarantee that a vaccinated person won’t get sick, it appears that they are much less likely to; and if they do, the outcomes are likely to be more favorable.

I don’t think Americans will tolerate another full lockdown.  While football stadiums may be packed in September, by November we’ll likely be back to distancing and crowd limits.  The same is likely for restaurants and bars.  People who are working remote now will continue to work remote and some who have gone back to their office, will return to working remote.  The real wild card will be the schools.  Will they close? Will they offer both in-room and virtual classes?  How many parents will opt to keep their kids home?  And will the government subsidize these “home-schooling” parents?

There are a lot of big questions.  Will those who have been vaccinated need a booster shot this fall?  Will that depend on what vaccine they took in the first place?  If we do have a bad Covid winter, will vaccinations become mandatory? 

All of us would like to put the Covid nightmare behind us.  But Covid just keeps on coming.  And most likely, it will eventually become much like the seasonal flu which kills thousands of people every year.  A lot of people get flu shots and many will start getting their annual Covid shot.  And many will not. 

I am one of those who did take the vaccine. So did my wife.  Most people I know have gotten vaccinated, or at least say they have.  But there are plenty here in Grayson County Texas who have not.  That’s their choice.  It may put all of us, including the vaccinated, at greater risk.  It most certainly puts the unvaccinated at greater risk. Which means until we develop enough natural herd immunity, Covid will continue its march around the world…thinning the herd. 


“Throughout the pandemic, the nation lacked a uniform policy about gathering places, and there was no central authority with the power to make and enforce rules that everyone had to obey. Each community acted on its own, doing as its elected officials thought best.”
― Albert Marrin, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918