The Walking Dead

For the past five years one of the most popular television programs has been “The Walking Dead,” a series about a zombie apocalypse.  We, human beings, are strange creatures fascinated with the gross and the bizarre.  Is it part of our natural curiosity or is it the fruit of our degenerate natures?  Perhaps it is a combination of both.
I thought about proposing the premise that the world is already full of “The Walking Dead.”  I was about to opine that anyone who has not accepted Jesus and the gift of eternal life is part of that lost group.  I was wishing them a really good life here since this is all they are going to get.  However, here comes the however, Jesus warned me against judging.  I am not the one positioned at the gate of heaven with the right to admit or refuse.  I do not know what goes on in people’s thoughts.
Could it be that God loves people so much that He decides not only who has accepted the gift but He knows who would have accepted the gift had it not been for the fact that they met us and we turned them off?  Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  Could it be that millions will be saved without ever hearing of Jesus because they did respond to the wonder of His power?
The Bible is very clear that there are among us “The Walking Dead.”   But it definitely is not our call as to who’s who.  God is more gracious and more generous and more merciful and more knowledgeable than any of us. 

It’s Simple and It’s Wonderful

It was April, 1945 and I sat on a throw rug on our wooden floor listening to a radio that was as tall as I was.  It had beautiful decorative wood carvings over the cloth covering the speaker and the dial was fun to play with because of the wooing and wowing noises that occurred on either side of a clear station.  But this day I was not playing.  I was listening to the voice of Arthur Godfrey and he was crying as he was trying to describe the funeral procession for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was my first experience with death.  That night when my father came home from school we talked about death.   This was different from what I had learned in Sabbath School.  I had seen pictures of Jesus on the cross but He lived again on Sunday.  Why, I asked, wouldn’t President Roosevelt be alive again next week?  Maybe he could be like Lazarus and Jesus would call him forth.
My theology hasn’t changed much since I was almost three.  I still believe and I look forward to a great day when Jesus will indeed call forth His children.  Paul wrote, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”  I Thessalonians 4:16.
There was no doubt and there is no doubt now.  Perhaps the only difference is now I know where the promise can be found.  This is what being a Christian is all about.  Death will be destroyed.  No longer will we fear its separating pain.  This is not complicated.  Even a very little guy can get it.

Happy are the Average

It has been my observation through the decades that some of the most gifted people I know are the most unhappy people I know.  They are highly talented or wonderfully skilled and can out do 98% of us.  But it is the 1% who are better than they that frustrate them.  It seems that to be almost the best at something is far worse than being mediocre.  Those of us who are mediocre know better than to dream of having the masses know our names.  But when you are so very close so as to see the top and not get there produces misery.  Perhaps a new beatitude should read, “Happy are the average for they shall be satisfied.”
Regarding those whose characters and behaviors are almost perfect Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ ‘And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; . . .’”  The danger of being too good is thinking we are very good and that will get us in big trouble.
Jesus did admonish us to seek to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  But we should never ever rely on that as a ticket to heaven.  Paul says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  
So if you are part of the 98% of us rejoice and be exceedingly happy with life knowing we are covered by Jesus’ love and we don’t need to worry about making it on our own.  Oh, that also works for the 2%.

What’s Your Favorite Hymn

Last week someone asked me if I had a favorite hymn.  That is tough to answer.  It is like asking if you like vanilla ice cream better than chocolate ice cream.   It depends on the situation and one’s mood.  There are great praise hymns and there are soft meditative hymns.  It is difficult to imagine when the Wesley brothers began writing hymns the saints were scandalized.  Before then they sang scripture passages.  How could they abandon God’s word to sing these insipid syrupy poems?  Now it is difficult to imagine worship services without them.
Most likely my favorite is a quiet hymn that speaks of friendship with God and talking with Him like you would with a walking companion.  “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses.”   It is the chorus that appeals to me.  “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.  And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”  I treasure the experience so much I almost get jealous thinking you might have the same experience.  I want it all for myself.  Sorry about that.
What is your favorite hymn and why?  Is it one of the majestic themes that carry you out of yourself into another realm?  Is it something you learned as a child?  Does it have words that carried you through a rough patch in life?  Do you ever turn off the car radio and just sing it when there is no one around to hear you go off key?  Music is one of God’s gifts to us.  It feeds a part of us neither prose nor poetry can do.

Move that Donkey Out of the Way

This afternoon on our way into our BJ’s (Costco lookalike) a car came up on my bumper blinking her lights.  I waved.  When we passed the main door I paused to wait for a family with a cartful and children in tow to cross in front of us.  The lady in the car behind started blowing her horn at me.  I made sure I parked close to her so I could get a good look at this very rude impatient person.  It was somebody’s grandma.  I certainly hope she has not lived her whole life like she was this afternoon.  When I greeted her she huffed off with her cart and her nose in the air.  I was tempted to follow her up and down the aisles but I resisted.  Who knows maybe she was packing a gun!
Have you ever had someone cut you off only for them to be stopped at a red light a block down the street?  You pull up beside them and smile as they must realize they endangered themselves and others for nothing. 
Our actions behind the wheel of our cars speak volumes about our characters.  It spills over into the regular routines and interactions with family and colleagues.  We sometimes wonder why we are so uptight and at odds with others.  Is it really the others?  Do we really have to allow others to control how we respond?  We pride ourselves on being free and autonomous and yet sacrifice our free will by acting so selfishly in response to others’ selfishness.
Perhaps our driving habits are a dipstick into the well of our Christianity.  Maybe when we drive we really should drive like Jesus would.  I have a difficult time picturing Him honking for people to get out of His way.

An Endless Series of Serendipities

In Plato’s ideal world the only area of study until the age of twenty was to be music and gymnastics. Twenty to thirty would be filled with math, logic and grammar.  Thirty to fifty would be a time to work in the community.  Fifty to sixty would be a time to study philosophy and finally at sixty one could be ready to serve in government.  If we had such a system in place several presidential candidates would have to withdraw and wait.  The emphasis is obviously on maturity with the assumption that young people think they know but don’t know because they don’t know what they don’t know.
This certainly brings I Corinthians 2:9 to mind.  “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love him–.”
I am often amused at people who speak with such authority about God and eternity.  We don’t know what we don’t know.  Paul also wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, . . .”  Ephesians 3:20.
Being a citizen of God’s kingdom brings an unbelievable series of serendipities.  Surprise after surprise awaits us.  I am not talking about Disneyland kind of surprises but surprises of the mind.  Doors opening to areas of thought expanding our horizons in a never ending road to maturity.   We will never be mature because there will always be something more to thrill our intellectual senses.  Each new area will be seasoned with God’s love.  This just cannot be missed.  Come and join us.  Please.

The Apple of His Eye

It’s apple picking time.  Branches are heavy with the makings of pies, cobbler, cider and sauce.  Roadside stands are decorated with baskets of Granny Smiths, Cortlands and Golden Delicious apples mixed with mums.  Big yellow school buses are unloading city children to roam orchards and perhaps to give them an opportunity to pick their very first apple.  Last week someone gave me an apple because I am a teacher.  It is sitting on my desk.  I probably should eat it but I like the idea of it being.
Twice in the Old Testament God’s people are referred to as being the “apple of His eye.”  (Deuteronomy 32:10 and Zechariah 2:8)  The Hebrew word translated “apple” really is the word for “pupil.”   Literally the Old Testament says we are the “pupil of His eye.”  The pupil lets light inside.  Maybe that’s why students are called pupils.  I like the idea that we are basically the light of God’s life.  Don’t you just love the expression on people’s faces when they are snuggling their child?  The light that goes in comes right back out as parents glow.  God must glow when He sees us do well just as parents almost burst when their child does well.
If you love God, and I’m sure you do, today try to do something that will make Him especially proud of you.  Give something to someone in need.  Help someone with a difficult project.  Make life easier for someone with heavy burdens to bear. Visit an old person.  No, don’t come to see me.  I’m not old yet.  I’ll let you know when I am ready for an old person visit.
In the meantime it really is grand to be the “apple” of God’s eye.

Standard Equipment

It was a glorious evening. We were sitting in our city park enjoying a band serenading us from the town gazebo.  As we were watching a little guy about four years old came running by going full steam.  There were bigger children chasing him but he need not worry.  When one got close he suddenly veered off to the side only to leave them going the wrong way.  Soon the older children tired and lost interest but that did not slow him down.  For almost two hours that little guy stayed in high gear.   He was never out of breath.  He was just running and running and running.  He could have been the model for the Eveready Energizer Bunny.  He kept going and going.
How could I not think of Isaiah 40:30-31, “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”  Isaiah obviously never saw our little guy in the park.  He never grew weary.  I have to admit I was so very envious of his seeming endless supply of power.  I wonder if he will grow up to be one of those ultra-marathon runners that go 100 kilometers or even the uber runners that do 100 mile races?
Don’t you love that promise in Isaiah?  Those who wait on the Lord will run and not get tired.  They will soar like eagles.  It’s one of the gifts we will get.  It comes as standard equipment with the new bodies promised to us in I Corinthians 15. 

Thoughts While Chopping Wood

It’s time in New England to start building up one’s supply of firewood for the coming winter.  When I take my axe in hand I feel like one of the ants and not the grasshopper who played his fiddle.  I have done my fiddling for the year. It is time to pay attention to the calendar.  It feels very manly to raise the axe overhead and bring it down on a nice round of maple.  It is a game to see if I can hit the mark for which I am aiming.  When I miss I hope no one was watching.  One would not want to hold the round of maple unless they have an excellent surgeon standing by.
It must hark back to Greek class in the seminary so long ago, but I can’t do this without thinking of “hamartia.”   “Hamartia” is one of the first Greek vocabulary words we learned.  It means to miss the mark.  Paul often uses it for the English word “sin.”  There is something almost comforting about “hamartia.”  It might indicate one was trying to do what was right and just missed the standard.  However, Paul does use the word in Hebrews 10:26, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, . . .”  In this verse it doesn’t sound like one is trying and therefore there is no forgiveness.  It is true we are saved by grace and all can be forgiven but we cannot spit on God’s grace by deliberately missing the mark.  Jesus offers to help us with our aim.
Just some thoughts while chopping wood on a September afternoon.

Extra Beatitudes

It occurred to me this afternoon had Jesus lived into His seventies He would have added a few beatitudes.  “Blessed are the nappers for they shall be refreshed.”  “Blessed are the early risers for they shall see each dawn.”  “Blessed are the grandparents for they shall spoil their grands.”  “Blessed are the walkers for they shall not be stiff.”
Jesus was a great observer of people.  His beatitudes and the entire Sermon on the Mount is one of the greatest philosophies ever written.  It is intriguingly simple and astonishingly difficult.  There is something for everyone.  His challenge to be perfect as God is perfect takes one’s breath away just by thinking about trying to do so.  Fortunately for us it is not the requirement for salvation.  Yet it is.  The answer to the enigma is how.  Paul answers that for us in his letters to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians.  Without Paul’s counsel we would be most miserable.  He wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, . . . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  Eph. 2.
Jesus’ insight in Matthew 5 regarding sin’s most dangerous state being internal instead of external shocks us with a description of our true human condition and how much help we really need.  Teaching us to turn the other cheek when abused challenges the heartiest among us.  How often do we want to hit back and of course hit back a bit harder.  Kermit once sang, “It’s not easy being green.”  I would like to add it is not easy being a real Christian.