“Blessed are the Peacemakers… “

..It sounds so easy. It’s not.

Who or what do we think of when we think of the word “peacemaker”? Who are the people in our lives that we would consider likely candidates? They are most likely the non-confrontational, mercy people in your circle of friends.  They don’t argue or fight. They are the non-violent, pacifist types. We like them, they are safe to be around. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that these nice folk are peacemakers, based upon those attributes alone, because fear of conflict may well be a root motivation for them and while fear of conflict is natural, a true peacemaker cannot allow fear to direct or control. What is it that transforms one from being a person sensitive to conflict into a full-on peacemaker? In my humble opinion, it is not just the experience of , but “the embrace” of life’s most dynamic change agent, suffering.

It is truly one of life’s enigmas that authentic transformation of a life, it seems to me, is  always the product of tragedy, trauma, or pain on a level that overwhelms the emotional, psychological survival tools we develop along the way. It is not a suffering we ask for or can initiate. It is not an experience we can control, otherwise it would not be true suffering. However, suffering alone does not produce transformation or the whole world would be redeemed in some fashion by now. Suffering seems never to be in short supply. As has been said by those wiser and deeper than I, “In deep silence you can feel the pain of the whole world.”

The additional necessary element to transformation is “the embrace”. We must come to that place where we stop running from the fear that drives our lives, turn and embrace our experiences of suffering and/or the attendant fear. What are we afraid of? Suffering. How do we run? We are brilliant and very creative, we have created a bazillion ways to avoid facing our fear of pain and suffering. The easiest illustration that comes to mind is the concept of insurance. The U.S. insurance industry nets over $1 trillion a year in premiums! We are without a doubt the most insured nation in the history of the world. Why is there insurance for everything imaginable? Fear. Sit down and just brainstorm the number of insurance offerings available to us these days. It’s quite a social commentary.

Have you ever done a personal fear inventory? Set aside some time and consider just how much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is fear-based. Obviously, there are some real dangers that require responsible thought and action, but unfortunately, for many of us, fear plays far too great a motivation for getting up in the morning. We manage our lives driven by what might happen to our families, our significant others or ourselves if we were to let down our guard. We become OCD, schizoid, paranoid or some other newly labeled psychologically dysfunctional group. Of course, it is likely that we have been serving the fear master for so long that it has become a part of us, it is our default setting and it works… kinda.

For me, one of my most profound fears was that I would become a man just like my father. You see he abandoned his young family, sold everything out from under us and over time managed to self-destruct all the way to San Quentin. Not a great role model. My grandmother, who was one of the most merciful people I have ever known, one day said, without intending any harm, “Oh Johnny just don’t be like your daddy.” That statement, combined with the already ingrained shame by association, set me on a path that culminated in my mid-30s, when through a profound spiritual experience, I was shown quite brilliantly that I had been living most of my life driven by the primary purpose, not to be like my father. The fear of being like my father was so strong, and yet below the radar of my own consciousness, that while he had practiced transgressing the law, I became a practitioner of the law. I was paid to put people like him in prison. (I am some kind of classic psychological case study on so many levels!)

Negative examples can be very powerful, but they cannot win the day in the long run. The fear I speak of actually led me to obtain an education, supplied me with the power to endure, persevere and succeed on many levels. But, there is a price to be paid and at some level a fear unchecked can eat away at our soul and steal our lives. Once I embraced this revelation, about my father and my motivation, I was left floundering for a time, which confirmed to me the veracity of this mystical message. I began to lose motivation at work and passed it off as “burn out”. Ultimately, I had to make a change because I could no longer honestly perform the role. In reality, and only in retrospect did I realize (honestly, only as I wrote this) that my motivation disappeared once I made peace with my father. I, also, consequently made peace with myself. The fear that had driven me for most of my life was disarmed and that form of motivation cut off.

As an important aside, my foundation of faith supplied me with the necessary courage to acknowledge and face that fear. That faith was based in no small part by the manner in which the revelation came to me. I did not seek it. I was not even consciously aware that I was operating under that specific fear. The revelation was a mercy, grace manifest. Perhaps others can summon the courage to face their fears without faith in God, for me it was central to the revelation and the transformation.

Back to my thesis. Peace making is not for the faint of heart. I became a peacemaker, not of own accord, at least not of my own initiation. A peacemaker of my own soul. I had to come to terms, not a cease-fire, but a real resolution in order to disarm my fear. It started with the embrace, an honest appraisal and acceptance of what is. The truth about my dad and about me. I had to forgive him, seventy times seven. I had to come to the place where I could be genuinely thankful for those things that my dad gave me either by his words, his actions or via DNA.  He was not evil, what he did was “evil” in a sense, but there were reasons for his actions that I will never know, but as a fellow human I can understand, even without knowing what they were. Once, actually as many times as necessary, I forgave my dad and began to acknowledge the good things he gave me, the fear of being like him began to dissipate. The patently obvious truth that I was not my dad became easier to not only believe as a psychological and biological truth, but I was actually able to receive that truth deep into my soul. I could then begin to know me in a new way, to forgive me, to love me, maybe for the first time in my life. The result…   freedom, peace, wholeness. And, a hope for a future previously unknown, unconsidered, unexpected.

Incidentally, the biblical terms for peace, in both Hebrew and Greek, have to do with much more than simply the lack of conflict, rather they carry the idea of wholeness, completeness, health, welfare. A peacemaker is one who not only stems conflict, but restores life and hope.

If you care to, read the Beatitudes again sometime and you will note that there are eight groups of people who Jesus delineates, yet only one group is called “the sons of God”. Peacemakers held a special place in the list of those who would be blessed. It’s a high calling. It’s not for wimps. But, neither is it only for the “gifted”, the “anointed”, etc. Jesus wasn’t speaking to the highest caste of folks on that hillside. He hadn’t hand-picked the cream of the crop of Jewish society. It was me. It was you. It still is.

So, when we are touched by the current political and cultural civil war, a cold war that threatens the very fabric of our nation, marked by acrimony, division, even hate, consider taking up the challenge to be a peacemaker. Let’s make it our aim to speak the truth in love. To be quick to hear and slow to speak, especially with our loved ones. As we consider our own bias, and lay aside our own need to be “right”, let us consider the big picture.

We, as individuals, have no control over the machinations that drive Washington, D.C. or Wall Street. The media thrives, makes huge profits, on all the upset they themselves exist to stir up. Fear is their primary hook. The sky is always falling! They continually sow seeds of discord, division and strife and they could care less who gets hurt in the process. They are corporations. What is the primary goal of such corporations? Profits. The talking heads spew forth whatever is necessary to secure the almighty ratings lest they lose their source of income.

So what are they stirring up currently? How about the Senate confirmation hearings on the latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh? That was easy. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of energy (not necessarily of the healthy variety) and big difference of opinion as to the veracity of Ms. Ford as over against that of Mr. Kavanaugh. The talk shows are at full throttle. The network ratings are jumping. The public eats up every possible clue or hint or new angle. It would be a soap opera, but unfortunately the lives of real human beings are being deeply impacted by the goings-on.

If you find yourself supporting Mr. Kavanaugh might it be because you yourself are a male, or you have a son or a father or a brother who could find themselves in the very difficult position of defending such a charge? You fear that if this could happen to Kavanaugh perhaps it could happen to you, or someone you love. The fear might prompt you to question, “How far is this MeToo movement going to go, anyway?”

If, on the other hand, you side with Ms. Ford is there a possibility that you are a female and you or a friend, or a sister, or a daughter, have been victimized in much the same way and you are sick and tired of men conducting themselves in such a manner without any accountability? The sense of injustice and the fear associated with a culture that allows men to get away with this brutish behavior, while interrogating the victim publicly and, thus, exposing her to further shame may make it very difficult for you to hear Mr. Kavanaugh.

I understand that this is a complex issue and I don’t mean to be flippant or trite. For the purposes of this post my treatment of it is brief, but I trust you get my point.

In truth, can we absolutely know what happened 35 years ago between two people that none of us know personally? We weren’t there. The only testimony taken was from the two parties. We can listen to their testimonies and judge their respective credibility employing every tool known to mankind and come to some conclusion if we wish, but there is nothing close to a guarantee that in the end we will be right. We only know what the media provides, and, likely, only from the menu of our choosing.  Yet, we are keen to take a position, a stand, and defend that position even if it may mean an argument with a spouse or a friend. Even if it may jeopardize a relationship. Why?

Even if we knew the truth. What would it change for us? We don’t get to vote on the issue of confirmation. We get to vote for our Senator, who votes on the issue. Our remedy is to vote for or against that Senator in the next election. Or, in the alternative, vote for a different President if you don’t like the nominees put forth. Really there is not a lot more that we can do. One thing for sure, getting angry, upset and fighting with our friends and family is not going to change the result in Washington.

The senate will vote. Kavanaugh will either be confirmed or not, irrespective of what we believe. If confirmed, he will serve out a life term along with a court of eight other justices. If not, another “victim” will be led to slaughter chasing that pinnacle of lawyerly status, Supreme Court Justice. Given the political climate and what is at stake, the likelihood is that if there is another round it will be every bit as ugly.

How will this effect my life? Not much. That’s not to say that there aren’t important issues at stake. But, I will continue to live according to the principles I have carved out over six decades of falling, flailing and occasionally finding some success. I know I have a civic responsibility to know what is going on and to engage at some level, but I don’t and I won’t allow them to steal my peace or, more importantly jeopardize my relationships. You all are too important to me to let that happen.

A good friend sent me a great alternative to the current conflagration, a photo of her grandson running down the sidewalk. What better place to focus one’s time, energy and emotion? Wisdom.

If I were king of the world (let’s all stop and thank God that’s not the case!), I would call for a six month media boycott. Can you imagine? All of the crap that they have stirred up would settle to the ground. The media would go bankrupt or they would be forced to change their game. Normal folk could get back to living their lives peacefully, with dignity, no longer hating their neighbor or their brother or sister because they have the wrong letter in front of their name. No longer would we be addicted to the TV, or our phones, or our computers waiting for the next delicious, salacious crumb to fall from the media table of our choice. Outpatient rehab centers would be overwhelmed!

I know, I’m a dreamer. But, maybe I’m not the only one…

 

 

 

 

“A Hearing Heart… “

We all want to hear God. I find it one part amusing, one part maddening that most Christian teachers, authors, lecturers are want to say that we can all hear God it’s just a matter of faith and/or exercises and/or activation and/or… I believe that they are sincere and I believe that they are at least partially correct, after all they speak from their own personal experience. HOWEVER, why then are there so many who do not hear the voice of God on a daily, continuing basis?

Some to be sure aren’t listening or asking. Many of those simply don’t believe He speaks, so why would they listen. Many others believe He speaks, but not to them, only to the anointed, the gifted, etc. I, frankly, don’t pretend to know. Here is what I do know based upon my experience, my observations of the life experience of others and what I have gleaned from Scripture.

In truth, I don’t know anyone, personally, who has heard the audible voice of God. I have not read of many who have had that experience. When referencing “hearing” God what most mean, apart from dreams or visions, is an impression, a thought, sometimes described as that “still small voice”, which is really no voice at all. Sometimes it is a mental picture or seeing a word spelled out, but mostly it is just an “impression”. In the secular world it might be called intuition or a premonition or a hunch.

There is a book entitled “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell that is secular treatment of that phenomenon perhaps most of us have experienced wherein somehow we just knew what to do or the correct decision to make without knowing all of the facts necessary to act or decide, yet it turned out to be exactly the right move or decision. While Mr. Gladwell’s perspective, at least in the book, I would describe as secular, I wondered as I read how much of what he described was really the voice of God manifest in the hearts and minds of people by his grace.

Whatever we may call it, however we may experience it one thing is for sure… it is by faith. It almost always requires a risk on the part of the “hearer”, especially if action is required. And, sometimes we “hear” wrong, for all kinds of reasons. There are no guarantees in this life.

Yet, “hearing from God” is of utmost importance to believers. Did not Jesus tell us that his sheep will know his voice? The scriptures are wonderful but they will never give us the specific information need to live our lives. The scriptures won’t tell me who to marry or where to live or where to work, etc. The Holy Spirit may highlight a verse out of context to give us direction, but that is decidedly different from a strict exegesis. Purists shutter at the thought!

For me the most powerful scriptural example of hearing God is found in the life of Solomon. Law school profs still cite the “wisdom of Solomon” in reference to the case he decided by ordering the infant to be divided in half. (1 Kings 3:16-25) How did Solomon obtain such wisdom? The answer is found earlier in 1 Kings 3…

Solomon was just a youngster when his father David died and he was understandably feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of filling his father’s shoes. I find it interesting that the story is typically recited assuming that Solomon initiated the transaction with God by asking for wisdom. Not so…

“One night at Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “Ask, and I will give it to you!” God did the initiating and he did so via a dream.  According to this passage Solomon did not ask specifically for wisdom, as in commonly thought, rather … “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:5,9)

The Hebrew word for “understanding” is a word that literally means to hear, understand, comprehend, listen, obey. To the Hebrews “heart” in this context did not mean the pumping muscle in one’s chest, but rather the seat of intellect, emotions and will. So Solomon literally asked for the ability to hear God in his heart of hearts. Doesn’t that make more sense than to imagine that God somehow just injected Solomon with wisdom for every situation he would ever face for the rest of his kingship? Can’t you just imagine Solomon sitting on his throne and under his breath asking, “Well God what is wisdom on this case?” God answers, Solomon hears and what comes out of his mouth is wisdom.

Isn’t that what we want? We may not be reigning or judging over a kingdom, but don’t we all want and need to hear God? Scriptural principles are wonderful, but they are no substitute for hearing God in any particular context. I have long said that while it is wonderful that “God so loved the world”, what I need to know is that God loves me. When He communicates to me, by whatever avenue He chooses, He is really saying, “I care about you, I know all about you, I see you, in essence… I love you .” And, that is the real reason we need to “hear” His voice.

Last thought… Isn’t it interesting that God came to Solomon in a dream and while the entire transaction took place in a dream state Solomon’s request was granted and given effect in his very conscious every day experience? That’s the substance of another blog…

 

 

 

“Politics… Ugh!”

The etymology of the word as provided by that outstanding linguist, Tommy Smothers, says it all… “poly” meaning “many” and “tics” meaning “blood sucking vermin”.

It is a grievous thing to observe the media pump out hate speech 24/7. In truth it doesn’t really matter what side your on… democrat, republican, liberal/progressive, conservative, etc. Hating someone because they don’t subscribe to your political philosophy, on its face, is ludicrous. Yet, here we are, more divided than I can remember for the six decades of political history lodged in my memory bank.

Of course, one side blames the other for the hate, which somehow justifies their hate. In the meantime, the media gets rich off of the poison they pump into the atmosphere. After all it’s all about ratings and it seems the more outrageous the higher the ratings. Think about it… if everything were peaceful and quiet they would have nothing to report, nothing to exploit, no one to harangue. The media loves it when things get stirred up. All those political commentators, on both sides, only have a job because they know how to stir up their base. And how we love being stirred up, we listen to “our” side, whether it be Fox or MSNBC, hoping for another juicy morsel to confirm our worst thoughts and feelings about the “enemy”, the “wrong” side of the political spectrum. We ask our like-thinking insular group of friends, “How can they be so stupid?” Hours and hours spent in front of the tube, or on our laptops, or phones. It’s a national addiction. It’s a spiritual experience. The question is from whence does this spirit hail?

It seems to me that the current political climate is getting worse by the day, maybe by the hour. It, also, seems that this political storm will likely culminate in violence. If the President gets impeached there will likely be protests on the right. If the last President and the last democrat candidate for President are charged with corruption all hell will break loose on the left. No matter who takes to the streets the other side will no doubt have some in their ranks who feel the need to respond in kind. Essentially we are looking at a civil war which is now in the “cold war” stage, but could blossom into a “nuclear” conflagration at any time given the right triggering event.

In light of this unhappy political landscape I have a question. Do we really believe that the politics is that important? Do we really believe politicians are running this country? This world? Really?

All of history would indicate otherwise. It’s always been about power to amass wealth. The truly powerful place their minions where they need them and run things from behind the curtain. Somehow we Americans in our ethnocentric naiveté think we are different. We see America as God’s political gift to the world, the first constitutional republic complete with history’s greatest Constitution. While I would agree that we have enjoyed the blessings of the Almighty, to somehow think that the country operates based upon the principles we are taught in our high school civics classes is just beyond the pale. If you have had the opportunity to work in or around government, as I have a various times in my working career, you will see a much different side of how our country actually operates.

Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh was a political hack of the first degree. He served in the California State Assembly and was the State Treasurer for many years. He was no altar boy. He was irreverent, vulgar, but he told the truth. He was made famous in political lore by such quotes as, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” And, his view of lobbyists: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.” Of course his political career pre-dated the media as we know it. He, and his cronies, got away with much that was never reported in the newspapers or in the 5:00 news.

Politics is still a dirty business. We all know that. Why is it dirty? Because politicians are “persuaded” to act as they do because they are either bought off or leveraged in some way. Period. Look behind each of the Presidents from 1900 on and you will find lots of ugly skeletons. Some a lot more than others. Both, democrats and republicans. Yet we want to believe that the people on “our” side of the political aisle have it right and are pure in their motivations. Please. How do people get elected to Congress, making a salary of about 200 grand a year, serve a few two-year terms and retire wealthy?

I’m not conspiratist but how much do you know about the Council on Foreign Relations? Sounds like a governmental body. It is not. It was founded and funded in 1921 by the very rich and powerful to protect and forward their agenda. Since then 21 secretaries of defense, 19 secretaries of the treasury, 17 secretaries of state, 15 CIA directors (in just 70 years of existence), and several presidents have hailed from the Council on Foreign Relations, irrespective of whether they identified as Democrat or Republican.

David Rockefeller, one of the founders of the CFR, admitted the following in his memoirs:

“For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as “internationalists” and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure — one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.”

How about the Federal Reserve? Founded in 1913 via federal legislation signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. Sounds truly “federal”, as in a federal agency or department. It’s not. It’s really more like a private bank and is owned by private individuals, many of whom are not U.S. citizens, yet they set U.S. monetary policy. There is a lot more behind the Federal Reserve, but my point is that the CFR and the Fed are just two examples of agencies that appear to be very democratic, even governmental, but they do not operate as such.

Ultimately, my point is you and I have very little say in how this country operates. Am I suggesting we should not participate? By no means. Vote. Get involved, especially locally where we can make a difference. But, let’s not get sucked into the media circus that produces so much vile hatred for one another. We all know that one of the really unfortunate facets of social media is that people say and/or print things that they would not say to another person’s face. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop before we hit the “send” button and apply a simple test before we publish our thoughts to the world? “Would I say that to their face?”

Don’t get sucked into this media generated civil war. Turn off the TV and get off the internet. Think about it. How do you feel after you have spent hours, or even minutes, listening to or reading the drivel they call “news”? Happy? At peace? Warm and fuzzy? Rested? Joyful? Do yourself a favor, instead of listening to political crap call a friend or talk to your kids or have a cup of coffee with your spouse or your significant other. Go plant some flowers. Take a walk in the woods. Go ride a bike. Read a “good” book. In short, take your life back and do something healthy for yourself and those around you.

The next time someone wants to ratchet up the political rhetoric why not artfully, graciously let the air out of the balloon and refuse to engage. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Do you remember the clarion call of the hippies in the 60’s, “Make love, not war” and “give peace a chance”. Just because your brother votes for the other side he is not your enemy. And who is your brother? Jesus said, pointing to the mass of people before him, “These are my mothers and brothers.”

“Render unto Caesar… “

Section 501(c)(3) is the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations, specifically those that are considered public charities, private foundations, which includes churches and para-church organizations.

Seems innocuous enough, even benevolent. If you are a church it is neither.

As a disclaimer of sorts, I have been a church-goer on and off through my adult life, however. I no longer attend. It’s not that I dislike churches, necessarily. It’s not a philosophical issue. It’s not a religious issue. I’m not in rebellion. I am not anti-church. Like many people I know and know of, I just don’t fit.

One of things that I have long questioned is why churches find it necessary to rely on a government hand out. Jesus made it pretty clear. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” So why shouldn’t a church pay taxes on it’s income? Wouldn’t it be a good testimony to the non-believing community? Don’t the churches avail themselves of the infrastructure provided by the government via our tax dollars? Shouldn’t they pay their fair share? It’s not like 510(c)(3) is chapter and verse from the scriptures. It was passed into law in 1954.

In order to avail themselves of this hand out churches must apply and incorporate. In so doing the churches give the government the legal right to tell them how to do their business. Thus the Johnson Amendment, added in 1964, prevented churches from speaking forth on political issues from the pulpit lest they endanger their 501(c)(3) status. In other words the silence from the pulpit on issues like abortion was bought and paid for. You would think that history has taught us that it is never a good thing for the church to get in bed with the government. How many examples do we need? Yet, here we are again.

Let’s be clear. The “church” never has been about a building or an institution or an organization. This too shall pass. The day will come when the organic church will rise again, not out of prosperity, not with assistance from the governing authorities, but rather out of need, whether it be financial or otherwise. The day of using God’s name in vain by applying the “Jesus Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to building programs and man’s agendas will come to an end. Judgment will begin with the house of God. Don’t be surprised, be ready. The life of the “church” is found in its members, not in a top down organizational structure. If you’re not meeting with a group of local believers in a home, start or start your own, even if you’re currently attending a church. It’s not hard. Have a meal together and take Jesus up on his promise that where two or three are gathered… The day is coming and may now be.

A Cleansed Conscience…

Today is Yom Kippur… The Day of Atonement

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.” Hebrew 10:1-3

Otherwise stated…  “Had the Law been sufficient to ‘perfect’ those who draw near, they would have been perfected once and for all and would no longer have had any consciousness of sin.” Of course, not only did the Law fail to perfect the worshipers once and for all, but actually served as a reminder of their continual sinful state.

Or yet another alternative, by substituting “Jesus” in place of  the “Law”…  “Since the blood of Jesus has perfected those that draw near once and for all, they no longer have any consciousness of sin.” That is the good news. Those who believe that should be free from any consciousness of sin. Are you surprised? Do you object? Is it not the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin? Let Him do His work, He doesn’t need your help.

Is that our experience? We say we believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Easy schmeezy. But do we really? How often do we suffer from, or are hamstrung by, a guilty conscience? When, if ever, should a follower of Jesus suffer from a guilty conscience?

If I find myself living under guilt and shame, a “guilty conscience”, it can only be because I have succumbed. I have either missed the mark, transgressed or committed iniquity anew or I have been deceived. Those are the only two alternatives.

The first should be considered the world’s response to guilt: utilize devices in order to repress, ignore, or evade the voice of my conscience. The distractions could be sex, drugs, alcohol, money, or just general busyness. Anything to keep me from dealing honestly with my sense of guilt and/or shame. Or, in the alternative, one may simply harden their heart such that their conscience becomes “seared”, which has as its correlate an insensitivity or inability to hear the voice of God.  Over the long term that track produces “death on the installment plan”. Unfortunately, far too many who call themselves Christian fall into this trap.

The second, not surprisingly, is the far better choice and is only available to those who have called upon the name of Jesus. It’s really quite simple, perhaps so much so that we stumble over it.

Once I realize that I am laboring under a shroud of guilt and/or shame I need to ask myself a question, or perhaps I need to ask Jesus a question. Have I erred, transgressed or committed iniquity? (Those are actually distinct Biblical concepts.) If so I need to own it and respond accordingly. This may take some time, some introspection and some action depending on what I have done. Whatever it may be the Holy Spirit is faithful to convict and to lead us to a Godly repentance and, ultimately, to restoration. Jesus lives to make intercession for me and is my advocate, my lawyer if you will. Through his advocacy I can secure my pardon in the courts of heaven and then stand firm against the accusations of the evil one, freed from a guilty conscience. (Ephesians 6:13-14)

It may well be that I am merely accused, but not guilty at all. In such a case I need simply resist the evil one and he shall have to flee. (James 4:7)

There you have it. So celebrate this Day of Atonement by appropriating the work of Jesus on the cross. Live free from guilt and shame.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19-25)  Amen and amen.

“You find God in the strangest places… “

If you were to drive through the booming metropolis of Bliss, Idaho in the summer of 1973 you would have found two gas stations among the businesses plying for your patronage. I zipped through on my semi-chopped wannabe 750 Honda in about five minutes. Didn’t even stop for gas on this leg of my six state solo road trip.

My itinerary was abruptly amended about five miles out of town. I was southbound on a traffic-less two lane highway and the sun was dropping toward the horizon to my right. I was dressed in my standard travel garb: cut offs, “wife -beater” tee shirt (sorry for the ugly language, but that’s what those sleeveless white tees were called), Adidas and a helmet that I only wore over my flowing locks because it was legally mandated. As you can tell I was very safety conscious. I was flying down the road at my standard 80-90 mph when suddenly my back tire went flat and I only knew that because the bike began to swerve violently. As I fish-tailed down the highway all I could think of was how much skin I was going to lose! Remarkably, somehow I managed to stay up and nursed the bike to a stop without dropping it. My chest was pounding as I dragged the bike to the side of the road. There was nothing. No houses. No buildings. No traffic. There weren’t even any cows. Not many alternatives.

The sun was going down. So I took off the back tire and wheel, hid my bag and gear in some bushes and walked across the road hoping to hitchhike my way back to Bliss, even though there had been no traffic since I left the tiny burg. Before I crossed the road I did something I hadn’t done for a very long time. I called out to God. It was a long time coming and there is a backstory that would take too long to tell. Suffice it to say I was in a fix, needed help and it seemed like a good time to test the theory, “God if you are there I need your help.”

So I crossed the road with wheel and tire in hand. There I stood in my cut offs, my wife-beater tee shirt and my Adidas sans my helmet. At least the helmet had prevented my long hair from being wind blown into a nasty bird’s nest like it would have been in California which still had no helmet law. Nevertheless, I was not presenting a pretty picture to prospective rides. It wasn’t long before a white Mercedes came bearing down on me, so I stuck out my greasy thumb. This is the honest to God’s truth… the driver got out, he was wearing a white leisure suit, with a white shirt, white belt, white socks and white patent leather shoes. I told him my tale of woe and he told me to throw the tire in the back and hop in. I did as I was told and got into the white Mercedes, with white leather seats and white carpeting. I was very conscious of my greasy hands and what must have been a not so pleasant body scent as I had been on the road for a few days. But, my rescuer appeared unfazed and we chatted amiably over the few miles back to Bliss. We pulled into one of the two gas stations in Bliss and I retrieved the tire and wheel from the trunk of the Mercedes. The driver insisted on staying until he knew I was taken care of. I walked into the service bay and was greeted by an old guy wearing full length greasy overalls. I showed him the “5.00 x 16” wheel and explained that the tube blew out. He looked at the tire and wheel and said, “I think we might have one of those.” I had worked in a gas station and had been a bike owner for years so I knew that gas stations did not stock motorcycle tubes and tires so I’m like, “yeah, right”. The owner of the station came out and confirmed my skepticism, but kindly offered to put me up for the night and take me into Twin Falls in the morning. We no sooner finished our conversation than to my shock and surprise the old guy in the greasy overalls walks over holding in his hand none other than a “5.00 x 16” tube. I grabbed it and checked it to be sure of the dimensions. Sure enough. Unbelievable! No way!

So they replaced the tube while I advised my Mercedes friend that he could go on his way. They charged me $4 or $5 and gave me a ride back out to my bike. I slapped the wheel back on my bike and was back on the road. It wasn’t even dark, yet. I was beyond happy, I was experiencing a shock and awe of mine own. As I hit the road I sent up another prayer… “If this is what it’s like following you I don’t care if I get a flat every day!” He took me up on that prayer, too. The classic “be careful what you ask for” was about to befall me.

The next day I was driving on the main highway in Provo, Utah. It’s the afternoon. There are multiple lanes and lots of traffic. Boom! There it goes again!! This time while I am struggling to keep the bike up I am also dodging cars and trucks. Once again, somehow I managed to stay up and get the bike to the roadside. I got off the bike. I was a little excited. Not in a good way. Seems I had forgotten all about my last prayer. I slammed my helmet off the pavement and it bounced high into the air. (I had a good arm!) While cussing like a sailor I dragged the bike off the road way. I wrestled the rear wheel off for the second time in 24 hours. (I had this bike for two and a half years and never had so much as a flat tire, yet here I was two days in a row.) This time a state truck came by, division of highways or some such department, and gave me a ride to a nearby Harley shop. Inasmuch as the rear wheel, tire and tube were Harley products I felt confident they could help me. Nope, no deal. Not only did they not have this tube in stock, they called every bike shop in town and nobody had a “5.00 x16” tube. Provo was a good size city, second largest in Utah, seriously?

It gets better… in contrast to the day before, the guy at the counter asked if I was “LDS”. I had no idea what he was talking about, given my background I probably thought he was dyslexic and was referring to a psychedelic. He rephrased, “Mormon”. Ah, yes. Uh, no, not Mormon. He replied, “Too bad because if you were I would put you up for the night.” (I apologize to my LDS friends out there as I know very well that this guy did not adequately represent you all.) That hit me as a strange way to attract new adherents to the faith. In any event, they hot-patched the tube and I prayed all the way back to California, especially wending my way over the Sierra, that the patch would hold. It did.

A couple of thoughts. What are the chances of a 21 year old stoner, biker wannabe meeting God in the desert outside Bliss, Idaho? What are the chances of a “5.00 x 16” Harley tube being stocked by a gas station in Bliss, Idaho? Who was that man in the white Mercedes? Do you know what Bliss means? The joy of salvation or the joy of heaven.

God shows up in the most unlikely places. Where did Jesus do most of His miracles? Here’s a hint, not in the synagogues or the Temple. Before Christ how many of God’s supernatural works were accomplished in the Temple? Some things never change… He stills leaves the 99 to chase down the one who is lost…  I know, I was one.

Hope deferred…

Hope deferred… makes the heart sick!

Isn’t it true. Isn’t it so. Don’t we know the truth of this profound proverb in our soul? While we long to experience the truth of God, we find a different truth in our experience. It is all too common in our experience, in fact I would submit it is this delay in our experience of God that has caused most either not to believe or to fall away. It is, after all, hard.

The Hebrew word for “sick” can also be translated afflicted, severely wounded, grieved, even incurable. It is a serious word.

Paul wrote of these days, even though they are days so far off from the day that he had them penned that he could not have conceived of them.

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” 2 Tim.3:1-5

Does our society even hold to a “form of godliness”? We, in this country, are poisoned 24/7 by the prince of the power of the “air”. The evil poured out over the air waves in the form of “news” and “entertainment” that would be incomprehensible to a 19th century human. In 100 years we have managed to develop technology that allows for the poisoning of our people from cradle to grave, through every strata of our society. Our heart is indeed sick, but not because we grieve the lack of God’s manifest Presence among us, quite the contrary.

There is a sense that there must be a breaking point, a critical mass, wherein the axis of the world cannot sustain the weight of the garbage we continue to produce. The landfills, the seas, even space is littered with the refuse of a society, and a world, gone mad. The natural things speak of the spiritual. We see it. Our solution… environmentalism. Laws and regulation to curb our wasteful ways, never touching the “heart” of the matter or the “spirit” of our culture.

“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6

Israel’s political reality in those days is a picture of our heart reality today. We have no king, because after all we are far too wise, far too sophisticated, far too urbane, educated and enlightened to believe in a God who is over all. And, if we do believe, does that belief result in mere moral goodness or does it actually produce an experience in God that matches up with the New Testament believer’s experience?

I readily acknowledge my own deficit of experience. Where are the dreams and visions promised by Joel and referenced in Acts? Where are the signs and wonders that are to follow the preaching of the good news? Where are the healings? The miracles?

Yes, I know, they are occurring in third world countries. They are occurring at this revival or in the that ministry and God’s people chase around after them like cloud bursts in a drought. There are thousands of testimonials on YouTube. There are more cable ministry programs and networks to serve this country and the world than ever before. That’s good, maybe that’s great. BUT, I have been a believer for 40+ years, have been to many churches, seminars, conferences, countries… and while I have witnessed that which would necessarily be considered super-natural, yet those instances and experiences are a rarity, an exception as opposed to the rule. For years there has been talk of another Great Awakening, a great revival. Where is it? And, unless and until it visits the common people, sincere believers in Christ who are not “the gifted” then don’t bother trying to convince me of revival. Better yet, until there is an awakening such that our culture is changed there should be no talk or report of real revival. Every time there is another such “revival” reported in the Christian world, one which glows for a short time and then fades away, is it not as much an indictment as it is a blessing?

Proverbs 13:12 is probably most recited and recognized by the first phrase, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. But, the writer of wisdom completed the thought, “desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Where is God and where are His people? I wait. Heart sick. Grieving. Afflicted in spirit. Affected in soul. David could not find a place where God was not present, I cannot find a place where His Presence is a constant, not just as a theological proposition, but as an experience.

Perhaps I am the minority. Perhaps I am not committed enough. Don’t pray hard enough or long enough. Don’t give enough of my time, energy or money. For years I labored under the harsh taskmaster of religious piety and was easily persuaded that the lack was mine. I honestly don’t believe that’s the case. After 40+ years of touring Christendom I don’t know any Christians, personally, whose experience differs much from mine. I don’t know any whose experience matches that of the first century church.

To those who would argue that they have seen and do know, I ask where is the evidence of same in our society, better yet, in our churches? Sorry, I don’t see it. Ask the world they will tell you what they think of the church. We can blame them, criticize them, argue that they are blind and therefore cannot see, but I know many unbelieving folks who are not ignorant, unkind, or uncaring who see the church as a caricature of what it claims to be, the Body of Christ.

If Jesus were to walk into your church next Sunday would that shake things up a bit? Well, we have the mind of Christ, we have the Spirit of Christ, we have the Word of Christ, we are ambassadors of Christ, we have the gifts of the Spirit, we have been given the power to be His witnesses to the uttermost parts of the world. Where two or three are gathered in His name He is there, in our midst. So what part of Jesus are we missing? Why is there such a distinction between Him walking bodily into our congregation and we being His body?

Where is God? Where are His people?